Level One - Welcome to Coketown!

You arrive in Coketown very late in the evening on 10 March 1854, and even in the middle of the night, well after the factories have shut down for the day, the heavy haze of dirty air hits your face like a wave of sensation. It's the smell of burnt coke, spilt chemicals, and human labor all mixed together, but it reminds you of your mission: where there's human misery one might also find the secret formula for its opposite, namely human happiness. You immediately realize you left your package (the mysterious box) on the train car, so you turn around and swiftly run to your former seat only to find the box is gone but in its place is another postcard:

It looks like your mysterious messenger wants you to find the local schoolhouse, so you ask around, finally stopping a rather large, confident, upper-middle class fellow who proudly announces himself as "Josiah Bounderby, the one and only of Coketown!" Immediately he directs your inquiry to the M'Choakumchild National Charity Schoolhouse, which sits just down the street in a plain, dirty redbrick building that looked much like the other buildings along all the similarly looking streets of Coketown. Before departing, Mr. Bounderby makes clear that the schoolhouse is a "tip top specimen" of its kind as it is supervised by the eminently practical 'philosophe' known as Thomas Gradgrind. "You couldn't find a better example of a practical house for learning facts!"

Did he really just use the word, "philosophe"? Were you hearing things? The man departed too quickly for you to demand he restate what he just said, so you were left in the street, in the middle of the night, with more questions than answers. For the time being, you needed to find a room at an inn to prepare for tomorrow's research. You decide to book a room at the Travellers' Coffee House down by the railroad. When you arrive and settle in a room, you decide that you need to brush up on some of the language of the region:

Vocabulary Words for Level One can be found here.

Instructions for vocabulary tutorial can be found via the link above.

The next day you begin your observations of Coketown, which starts with your visit to the schoolhouse. You had no idea where your adventure would go from there, but you decided to record meticulously in your journal everything you witnessed - the records of which can be found in Chapters 1-9 of Book the First from the dossier you titled Hard Times. Now would be a good time to read over that account thoroughly and thoughtfully before moving forward...


As you look over the account you've put on paper, it occurs to you that there's a wealth of information here to digest. You need to narrow your focus for the time being, and as you begin to think about how you might do so, another note is slipped under the door as you sit at the desk in your room above the tavern. You pick up the note, and read the following:

Bellerophon's preferred form of transportation!? What does that even mean? Well, you have 2 days to figure it out. In the meantime you need to select a topic of focus and complete the tasks relevant to the category you've chosen.

Topic One - Historical Context & Setting


1. “Charles Dickens & Victorian Education” from Oxford Reader’s Guide to Dickens via UC Santa Cruz:


2. “Education in Victorian Britain” from the British Library:


3. “Education in the Workhouse” from www.workhouses.org.uk:


4. 1834 Poor Act:


5. YouTube video of Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms:



6. British Library resources on Victorian Pop Culture & Circuses:


7. “Past Pleasures: How Did Victorians Have Fun?” from The National Archives:


If students decide to focus on historical setting and context, they must select at least 5 of the above sources, and using those texts, write a 1-2 page report about education and circuses in England during the Industrial Revolution or a multi-media presentation that could be presented to the class. Be prepared to share your research with the class during a day of class discussions.

1-2 page report is worth 10XP. ***BONUS: Students may also select a third topic of their choosing (as long as it is approved by the gamemaster), and if they find 2 sources and write a 1 page report or make a shorter multi-media presentation, they will earn an additional 10XP.

Topic Two - Analysis of Character Development

If students decide to focus on character development, they must select at least 2 of the following options and write a short form paper for each selected option. The short form paper must have a stand-alone thesis followed by at least 2 well developed body paragraphs. There must be textual citations in the paper, and each composition is worth 10XP (making it a total of 20XP).

1. Comparing the development of Louisa Gradgrind to Tom Gradgrind Jr.

2. Analyzing Thomas Gradgrind Sr. as a character

3. Analyzing Sissy Jupe as a character

4. Comparing Mr. Boundeby to his house servant, Mrs. Sparsit

Topic Three - Analysis of Theme Development

Two major themes have already come to the surface while reading Hard Times: (1) Fact versus Fancy and (2) the Mechanization of Human Life. For each theme, select a passage where we see the theme at work. Summarize the passage in one paragraph, then explain how the theme becomes apparent in that passage in a 2nd well-developed paragraph. For each theme, there should be at least 2 paragraphs (making it a bare minimum of 4 paragraphs), and be prepared to talk about your findings in front of the class. The overall assignment is worth 20XP.

***BONUS: Propose a third theme by identifying a passage, summarizing it, and explaining how the theme is present in the passage (it's worth an extra 5 XP)


Now that you've completed your research, you must attend the secret meeting of the Congress of Conspirators, but where will it take place? One thing has become apparent during your stay so far. There are other "friends" and "philosophes" staying at the Travellers' Coffee House where you've been residing. Why not discuss the riddle with your fellow researchers to determine where the meeting will take place?

Go here to solve the riddle!