Professors at the Table
While there are a lot of other relationships going on at a university, the one between professors and students is the foundational one. Ultimately it’s a place where experts educate people. That said, the differences between professors and everyday teachers are pretty extensive. Today I want to go over some of the key ones to give a picture of what life is like as a university professor, and describe some of the ways professors might fit into your game.
It seems reasonable to think of professors as teachers. They stand in front of a classroom and educate students, grade assignments, and generally do teacherly things. But they’re more than that, and more is expected of them. For one thing, they’re teachers who teach teachers. For another they’re all experts on something. Whether it’s the behaviours of specific amorphous solids or the final three plays of Shakespeare, there’s a least one topic where the depth of their knowledge is nearly unmatched. As a result, in addition to teaching, they’re expected to contribute to general human knowledge by doing research and publishing the results. Research varies by discipline, sometimes it’s experiments, prototypes, books or articles.
On top of those duties, they also do service, serving on committees to improve the university and help it plan for the future. That can mean helping develop the strategic plan for the next five years or just helping decide what the parking fees are going to be (Parking is the largest conundrum at any modern university. No joke). There are a lot of ways that professors can interact with PCs that goes beyond the relationship of teacher and student.
Professors as Adventure Hooks
Professors do research, and that means they have funding. funding is something that PCs are usually interested in, and they’re usually empowered to go and retrieve strange objects or necessary materials. Whether it’s an academic commissioning an expedition to mine an arcane metal from a far off asteroid belt or asking them to venture into a ruin and retrieve the ancient artifacts of Bael Turath, research is an excellent motivation for an adventure. It’s also rarely a one-time thing, and can set up additional hooks if the research goes awry, or if the professor insists on accompanying the party to their destination. After all, they’re best equipped to know the pathways and pitfalls.
Professors as Mentors
If one of the PCs studies under a particular professor, the professor has an opportunity to do more than teach them. How do they feel about their student’s adventuring lifestyle? Does it interfere with their studies or aid them? A professorial mentor might try and sway their student toward the academic life, or urge them to abandon quiet research in favour of derring do.
Professors as Villains
Of course, professors can just as easily work against the PCs as for them. Most academics are half-mad to begin with. They might just take that battlesuit they’ve been building and go on a rampage, or perpetrate dark things with the secrets the PCs have brought them. In a more mundane setting, it might be as simple as stealing credit for a PC’s work or implicating them in a scandal. One of the most famous villains in history was an academic, Professor James Moriarty, his doctorate in mathematics, turned his brilliant mind to crime and matched wits with the greatest detective in the world.
Professors as PCs
It might even be the case that there’s a professor in the party. Rifts, back in the day, even had a Rogue Scholar class (though since it didn’t involve power armor, Rogue Scholars tended not to survive the first encounter). Still, there’s plenty of room for scholarship and adventure. What better way to save on your research funding than by going and getting the artifacts yourself? Whether they split their time between the road and the classroom like Indiana Jones or publish from abroad like Geordi La Forge they can find a way to make it work. Academic PCs may find themselves taking on grad students, dealing with funding pressure, and worrying about getting scooped on major finds.
Next week I’ll wrap up our month of higher education with a grab bag of terms and how they can be useful in stories and adventures, and Rya’s got a great history hook for Thursday.