The following articles originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 

Tools, toys and transport are the theme for this issue of Page XX. Robin D Laws discusses the use of music to end scenes in GUMSHOE games, and James Semple provides some stings for Trail of Cthulhu. Jamie Maclaren says the fidgeting and playing with toys at the gaming table isn’t all bad, and Simon Carryer closes his excellent series for Trail of Cthulhu GMs with an article on the majestic liners and tramp steamers of the thirties. For Mutant City Blues, we present interview with Dr Lucius Quade, the world’s premier scientist in anamorphology, the study of mutant powers (toys for gamers, at least).

Contents

The following articles originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in December 2007. 

In this issue, Robin D Laws discusses three ways you can resolve interpersonal conflicts in the GUMSHOE system. Interpersonal conflicts also feature in Mystic Moo’s Yuletide pantomime, and Simon Carryer reminds us of the fun of festive travel with his article on Rail Transport in the 1930s. Finally, Steve Dempsey suggests a way you can improvise adventures using GUMSHOE, perhaps while sitting in a turkey induced stupor around the log fire.

Contents

The following articles originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

October heralds the relaunch of See Page XX to fit in with the new look Pelgrane Press website. But it’s more than cosmetic; there are other changes – this month features more articles than we’ve ever had before. We have two interview, one with Kenneth Hite, author of the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, the other Brennan Taylor, President of Indie Press Revolution. Graham Walmsley shows how adaptable GUMSHOE is, in this case as a basis for Live Action Roleplaying, and Robin D Laws shows you how to create use GUMSHOE with other settings. Fred Hicks talks about the fine balance between character empowerment and danger. As a resource for the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, Simon Carryer offers us a fact-packed article on air transport in the 1930s and finally, dear old Mystic Moo gives us the RPG Horoscopes for the season, and acts as an agony aunt for roleplayers with “issues.”

The following article originally appeared in an earlier iteration of See Page XX in June 2008.

by Simon Rogers

In this issue Robin D Laws discusses the use of genre conceits in Mutant City Blues, we have more music from James Semple, and a second interview by Luke Crane. This issue sees the return of Mystic Moo – learn how to get your fondest wishes, with cosmic ordering. I was very pleased with the results of the last poll – our readership is higher than I expected – so I’ve included another one, with a peculiar question. Your feedback really helps.

News from Pelgrane Press

Since the last View, we’ve sold out. But in a good way. We sold out of the first print run of Trail, released Stunning Eldritch Tales for Trail, and sold out of that, too – new stock should now be available. We’ve done reprints of Esoterrorists and Fear Itself, too. Trail is available in PDF, in a number of forms, two quite innovative. All our products are available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Trail of Cthulhu Print Version

Trail of Cthulhu sold through the first 2000 copies, and we’ve just completed the reprint, along with a limited number of leather bound copies. I took the perhaps hubristic decision of printing another 2000. The leather bound version, limited to 50 copies for sale, will be released through various channels between now and Dragonmeet 2008, some through competitions, some for online sale or auction, and a bunch at GenCon Indie 2008. Stunning Eldritch Tales , a collection of adventures for Trail was released and sold out though most outlets. You can read about a review on Yog-Sothoth. A reprint has hit the warehouses already.

Other Trail news:

  • An exclusive Trail of Cthulhu adventure is available in participating stores for Free RPG Day, 21st June called The Murder of Thomas Fell. There will be limited copies, so grab them while you can.
  • The Keeper’s Screen and Resource Book is now laid out and illustrated, and is ready to be printed. It was written by Simon Carryer, who wrote the excellent transport articles in earlier Page XXs. Adrian Bott edited it, adding a dash of spice to the mix.
  • Gareth Hanarahan has completed the first of his Arkham Detective Tales – it’s now playtested and awaiting a partner.
  • Shadows Over Filmland, another collaboration between the Hite/Laws dream team is in playtest.
  • Some Trail of Cthulhu customers have produced GUMSHOE conversions for Call of Cthulhu, and conversion notes of for making your own conversions. You can find them here.

Trail of Cthulhu PDFs

In additition to the full version PDF, we’ve released the Trail of Cthulhu Player’s Guide PDF includes all the player’s stuff from Trail of Cthulhu, including the complete Trail GUMSHOE system, character creation, equipment lists, tips and forms. It weighs in at 100 pages. We also released Trail of Cthulhu Game Group PDF Bundle. The bundle was an interesting experiment in the spectrum of honesty of PDF users. The idea is, the GM gets the Trail of Cthulhu PDF, the players get three copies of the Player’s Guide between them. I’m very pleased with the sales, with about 20% of our Trail sales on OBS being bundles.

The Esoterrorists

Robin D Laws has finished the first draft of the Esoterror Factbook, an engrossing setting book for The Esoterrorists written in the style of an OV operatives manual. It’s a great read, disturbing and filled with gaming opportunities. A bunch of additional optional combat crunch for the Special Supression Forces are in need of testing, and Robin is writing a short adventure to test them out.

Dying Earth

Tooth Talon and Pinion (Excellent Prismatic Spray 7/8) is out now. Subscribers copies have just been sent out, and we’ll add the PDF version next month.

Mutant City Blues

Mutant City Blues is in layout. You can read the in house playtest report part 1 here and part 2 here. And, here is some of Jéromes excellent art:

(Ed. – the following art is from the first edition. You can find the second edition of Mutant City Blues here.)

Flight

Mutant City Blues cover

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 


You can also read Simon’s articles on 1930s Rail Transport and 1930s Air Transport.

an article for Trail of Cthulhu by Simon Carryer

While by the 1930s, diesel engines were revolutionising rail transport, and giving birth to a burgeoning flight industry, on the sea and on rivers, steam was still king. Unlike with trains and aircraft, large ships remained in service for decades, meaning that many of the ships that transported passengers of the 1930s were built as early as the 1850s, and some ships built in the 1930s remain in service today.

The steam turbine, first turned to use in seagoing vessels in 1897, was able to produce far more power than a traditional reciprocating steam engine. By the 1930s, all large ships were being built with such engines, allowing unprecedented speeds. For ships built in the thirties, the most popular fuel for running the boilers was no longer coal, but fuel oil. This meant that modern ships could run with a much smaller crew than earlier vessels. A typical small passenger steamer would have no more than a dozen crewmen, including a few stewards and cooks for the care of passengers. Larger vessels of course could have hundreds of crewmen (The Queen Mary, launched in 1936, had over a thousand), and were almost like floating towns, the crew forming their own community below decks.

Steam ships were used to ferry passengers between all major sea ports, and most navigable rivers were also serviced by ship. Such ships came in all shapes and sizes, from tiny paddle steamers, which could carry no more than a dozen passengers, to more modern screw driven steamers, which could carry hundreds of passengers in total luxury. The variety, diversity, and ubiquity of steam ships through the decade makes a detailed description by area almost impossible. It can be assumed that for most regions throughout the 1930s, if the region was accessible by water, and had any kind of population, then a steam ship would go there.

Passengers on ships in the 1930s could come from any walk of life. Immigrants to the USA (less common in the 1930s than in previous decades) would pack into giant transatlantic steamers, while more wealthy passengers could enjoy hotel-like conditions in first-class cabins. Outside America, river networks were frequently the backbone of trade in developing nations, and such rivers were packed with ships carrying all kinds of passenger, from native labourers to wealthy foreign investors.

Transatlantic

For the duration of the 1930s, passenger travel across the Atlantic was conducted almost exclusively by sea. Whether travelling in the greatest luxury, or sweltering in steerage class, anyone wanting to travel between America and Europe would almost certainly do so by sea.

Following WWI, several of the largest German “superliners” (large ships designed and used for transatlantic passenger shipping) were transferred to America and Britain as war reparations. Of these, the Mauretania – the holder of the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing for a twenty-year stretch ending in 1929 – is surely the most well known. Under new management, these huge ships continued to serve the transatlantic route. Travel aboard such vessels was glamorous and popular for many passengers the journey, and the style in which that journey was conducted, was as important as the destination. For first class passengers, the experience can best be compared to a modern cruise ship: meals, entertainment, sightseeing and socialising were all taken care of by the ships’ staff.

By contrast, the conditions experienced by passengers in steerage (the hold of the ship) could be miserable. Before the United States closed its borders in the 1920s, immigrants to America would sleep packed together like cattle, eating a common meal that was described as frequently almost inedible.

New ships built in the thirties achieved even greater speeds. Two German ships, the Bremen (named after its home port) and the Europa were the first to challenge the Mauretania‘s dominance, but throughout the decade the Blue Riband continued to change hands. The ships competed not only for speed, but also for glamour. With the transatlantic route no longer dominated by immigration to the United States, ships built in the thirties were designed as much for elegance as for speed. Competition was fierce, as several of the largest companies (including White Star, of Titanic fame) were operating at a loss for the first half of the decade.

The Arctic

From the 1860s onwards, steam powered icebreaker ships were developed, which allowed unprecedented exploration of the Arctic. Icebreaker ships rely on speed and strength to run their bow up onto a sheet of ice, and then break down through it. Steam power proved ideal for such a task. It was not until the start of the 20th century, however, that such ships saw regular service. The Klondike gold rush caused a surge in Arctic exploration. Union Steam Ships, with their characteristic black and red funnels, regularly serviced the Canadian and Alaskan coasts, even running tourist cruises from warmer southern ports into the frozen north.

Tramp Steamers:

With few regulations, large profits to be made, and steam ships becoming ever more ubiquitous and affordable, the thirties saw a proliferation of small-scale operations. None were more small-scale than the tramp steamer. Operating as a one-ship company, tramp steamers worked to no fixed schedule, going wherever there was money to be made. In the colonies, a great deal of shipping was conducted by tramp steamer, rather than by regular lines. While most tramp steamers were freight ships, they would not have turned down paying passengers, and indeed anyone with sufficient finances could charter a steamer to almost anywhere in the world.

Operating on a shoe-string budget, and often dodging regulations and taxation, tramp steamers often existed in a grey area on the edge of civilisation, and the law. The crews of such vessels could hail from any country, and tramp steamers often hired crew who could not find work elsewhere. Tramp steamers were romanticised even in their own time as an adventurous lifestyle, and they were the setting of many a pulp novel. While the reality was frequently much more mundane, tramp steamers were still an exciting part of the decade.

Adventure Seeds

A Cult Afloat: The crews of tramp steamers were often drawn from the most remote and exotic ports, and lived their lives isolated from normal conventions or authorities. In such circumstances, the worship of strange ancient gods could take hold among a crew, who due to their itinerant lifestyle could commit all kinds of awful crimes without discovery. There are still many unexplored or forgotten places left in the world, accessible only by sea, and such places could be a haven for such cults. Worse, in the holds of giant passenger liners, crews might spend weeks or months at sea. Miles from land, the passengers would be at the mercy of whatever unspeakable ritual the cultists wished to perform.

The Ghost Ship: Stories of ships found drifting, seemingly abandoned, and yet perfectly seaworthy, have chilled sailors since the discovery of the Mary Celeste in 1872. Such a mystery could attract significant interest from investigators, and if the ship’s route could be determined, an expedition might be launched to discover the fate of the crew. If such a voyage lead into dangerous, uncharted, or infrequently travelled waters, a party of hearty souls would be required for the job.

Strange Visitors: The US and Great Britain were paying increasing attention to border customs and immigration during the thirties, but smuggling remained rife. Criminal organizations that had cut their teeth in the prohibition era remained in operation, smuggling more illicit goods. Eldritch substances in the wrong hands could find their way onto the streets, as a new kind of drug. Worse, with the US imposing ever stricter regulations on immigration, the thirties saw the birth of people-smuggling into the United States. An old-world cult, or some degenerate tribe from the colonies, could find entrance to the States through one of the many ports along its coastline.

Related Links


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in December 2007. 


You can find Simon’s previous article on Air Transport in the 1930s here, and Sea Transport in the 1930s here.

an article for Trail of Cthulhu by Simon Carryer

The 1930’s was a period of great innovation in rail technology. The steam locomotive, having dominated overland transport for almost a century, was for the first time challenged by alternative modes, most significantly in the form of the automobile, and the diesel locomotive. Technology developed for the war was rapidly turned to civilian purposes, and rail transport was no exception. The replacement of old manual semaphore signals with automatic electric signals significantly reduced the manpower required for the operation of a railway, while increasing speeds and efficiency. A new understanding of streamlining, adapted from aircraft technology, lead to groundbreaking increases in top speeds, while the ubiquity of rail travel saw it become less a luxury, and more an everyday occurrence. Of course, these developments were not implemented at once all over the world. Even in Britain and North America, where most of the innovation was happening, the long service life of steam trains meant that new technology was slow to be implemented, Indeed, it was in developing countries where the new technologies were often most successfully employed. Advances in engineering made possible rail routes that were previously unthinkable, and a rush to exploit the resources of these nations made such routes extremely lucrative.

The rail traveller of the nineteen thirties was as likely to be a wealthy first-class passenger on a sight-seeing trip as a worker on a daily commute. Standards of luxury varied immensely, from dining cars as plush as any hotel suite, to trucks little more furnished than a cattle car. For most routes, the option of first-class travel was available. Long distance first-class travellers could expect a full meal service, and a sleeper cabin, to be shared with at most one other passenger.

The character of rail transport, both in the comfort for the traveller, and the speed and availability of passage, varied enormously between countries. Below is a broad outline of some national trends.

North America

Hit hard by the Depression, challenged by burgeoning numbers of automobiles, and left in poor shape after government management during the war, North American rail networks were for the first time struggling to make ends meet. The answer was modernization. One of the first diesel-powered passenger trains, the Zephyr, cut the record time for the 1,015 mile journey between Denver and Chicago almost in half on its maiden trip in 1934. With its aerodynamic, stainless-steel look, the Zephyr was an influence on the design of architecture, consumer goods, and other vehicles. The modernization of North America’s rail networks led to a reinvigoration of the industry, and soon the States’ railways were an economic success once again.

Africa

The exploitation of the vast natural resources of the African continent was enormously expedited by the development of rail networks throughout the 1930’s. Though extracting Africa’s natural wealth was a task begun decades earlier, by the 1930’s railways were still being built, working towards the dream of an Africa-wide rail network. During the decade, the journey from Cairo to the Cape was never possible to achieve exclusively by rail. Though there were extensive rail lines in both the north and south of the continent, these tracks were not connected during the 30s.

In the southern part of the continent, the major western trading port of Lobito was connected across the spine of Africa, through Portugese West Africa, through the copper fields of the Belgian Congo, on to Bulawayo. From there the track diverged, travelling east to the seaport of Beira, or south to Cape Town.

While for the most part African rail was dedicated to the transport of freight, and spared little for the comfort of passengers, the express service between Cape Town and Johannesburg was considered one of the most luxurious in the British Empire. It featured a magnificent dining car, with seating for 46, and an observation coach at the rear of the train. The passenger was able to take a shower, and have shoes and clothes cleaned, all aboard the train.

Trains were often used for the transport of diamonds, and extreme precautions were taken to safeguard the cargo. Safes were built raised from the floor of the van, with a clear view all around the carriage.

In North Africa, the rail network was less sophisticated, and frequent changes between various gauges, or to overcome natural obstacles, were common. In several instances, the distance between each length of track was significant, and had to be completed by boat, by truck, or even by foot. Journeys by rail in North Africa, while sometimes perilous, and certainly falling short of the standard of luxury expected by American or British travellers, would afford the traveller unique views of wildlife, Roman ruins and ancient temples.

Europe

Of all the European railways, and indeed of all the railways in the world, it was Europe’s Orient Express that was the most famous of the decade. Running from Calais to Bucharest, and passing through France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, the Orient Express was popular both with tourists and with everyday travellers. Prior to 1935, the Express carried only first-class passengers, as was normal for many of Europe’s most prestigious lines. Subsequently, however, several standard-fare coaches were included on many stretches of the route, catering to the more mundane local traffic. By the end of the decade, as with most rail routes, first class was considered a Òfancy extra” to normal, second-class travel.

For first-class passengers, the Orient Express was a magnificent journey through foreign lands, conducted in the height of luxury. Conductors would attend to the needs of the passengers diligently, not only making up beds and serving food, but also preparing the documents of travellers so they might cross the borders of the many countries the Express visited in their sleep, without being disturbed.

Also of note in Europe was the Trans-Siberian Express, even in the Thirties famed among travellers as a unique way to see Russia and the near East. Russian trains were in many ways different from those of Europe and Britain. Most obviously, their gauge was much wider, allowing the coaches to be built very wide, and very tall. To protect from the Russian cold, most trains, and event the gaps between cars were completely enclosed.

While popular with tourists, the Trans-Siberian was also a vital part of domestic Russian travel, and the foreign tourist was likely to be accompanied by many diverse travellers from all across Russia and Europe. In recently Communist Russia, “class” was a forbidden word, and hence “first class” and “second-class” tickets were unavailable. Instead, cars were designated as “hard” or “soft”, with accompanying differences in price and comfort. “Hard” cars were lined with bunk-beds, and lit exclusively by candles, while passengers in “soft” cars could enjoy more modern comforts.

China

The development of rail networks was met by fierce opposition from the Chinese public, as well as from Chinese government. Construction encountered numerous difficulties, from flooding and mudslides, to the many ancient gravesites that had to be avoided. Chinese railways often took circuitous routes to avoid such locations, and in mountainous areas, which comprised a large portion of the total network, tunnelling was preferred to blasting areas of hillside, for the reason that it was less likely to disturb such ancient burials. In many cases, especially following deaths of workers, irate locals would tear up tracks, in an attempt to forestall construction. European interests in China were relentless, however, and even within China there were many rail supporters. A great many of China’s railways were developed by foreign powers, for the purposes of furthering their industrial endeavours in China. As such, passenger services within China were of a completely different standard than elsewhere in the world. Chinese workers often travelled in unfurnished cars with open tops, exposed to the elements. Tourists were not unheard of, however, and several passenger cars of a type more familiar to foreign travellers operated between major centres.

South America

South America, with its many mountains, rivers, and swamps, was for a long time considered an impossible location for rail engineering. Technological advances in the 30’s however made possible feats of engineering that made large parts of the continent suddenly accessible by rail. It was not possible to travel the length of the country by rail, and indeed there was no rail route between North and South America in the thirties. The longest stretch of unbroken track ran the length of the coast of Chile.

The transit of the Andes, vital to South American trade, was completed by rail in 1908, but the route was not commercially viable until the development of more efficient steam locomotives enabled significant loads to be carried up the steep grades. The route, between Buenos Ares, and Valparaiso, Chile, climbs to over 10,000 feet above sea level.

Adventure Seeds

Long Buried: The incursion of railways into mountainous territory necessitated tunnel building on a previously unheard of scale. In South America, India, China, and many parts of Europe, the construction of alpine railways required tunnelling deep into the rock. Who knows what dark temples, long hidden from the sight of Man lie with these mountains, or what ancient horrors, working in secret, might be exposed by such diggings? What of the modern-day scions of such ancient cults? What would they do to preserve these long-forgotten secrets? Engineering crews would work isolated from settlements by many miles, often the very railway they were constructing was their only link to civilisation. A construction company might not look too carefully into the disappearance of a crew of native workers, if it could mean the delay of construction.

Strange Bedfellows: On long rail journeys passengers would often find themselves spending large amounts of time with relative strangers. In more exotic locales, this could mean rubbing shoulders with the strangest of people. In Russia, it was common for complete strangers, even of the opposite sex, to share a room. With journeys taking days, and often weeks, all manner of activity could arise. Passing between many different countries meant that trains, and the people on them, were very difficult to police. If some awful crime were committed aboard a train, especially if the crime had aspects of the supernatural, it might be left to the passengers of the train to discover the culprit, if local police forces proved too fearful or corrupt. Suspicion would quickly fall upon those passengers whose native customs or oddities of dress distinguished them from their fellows. However, even the most normal appearance might hide dark secrets.

Stranded: Railways would often pass through miles of the most inhospitable territory, often going for days without seeing another road or track. If some mechanical fault were to cause a train to stop, it might be days before the train was missed, and longer still before help could be mustered. In this intervening time, the passengers would be left to their own devices. For a small group of passengers on a train dedicated mainly to freight, such as was common in Africa and South America, such a time could become a nightmare of hunger and apprehension. What if there was some hint that the malfunction was caused by human hand? For what dark purpose could someone want to strand a group of people deep in the wilderness?

Bibliography


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

An article for Trail of Cthulhu players by Simon Carryer

The 1930s were known, for good reason, as the “Golden Age of Flight”. Technical advances in aviation technology fuelled by the Great War, combined with swiftly developing mass-production, and an increasingly global network of industry and trade, would take commercial air travel from a novelty and a luxury at the start of the decade, to a necessity by its conclusion. Throughout the world, air lanes were opening, and the most remote regions were gradually being connected to the rest of the world by air.

It was a different time, and air travel was still a very new technology. While today travelling by air is ubiquitous, in the 1930s, travel by rail or by sea was the norm. Railways and shipping had developed a standard of luxury and economy that was impossible for air travel to beat. Aircraft of the decade were not capable of the altitudes of modern craft. This exposed them to turbulence that the smaller, lighter craft were poorly suited to weather. Travel by air was often a bumpy ride. Importantly, these low altitude flights were also susceptible to variations in weather, while navigation was imprecise, particularly over uncharted or isolated areas. All this made flight times much less reliable than they are today. Some of this variation from course was deliberate. Reportedly, some pilots liked to make detours to spot wild animals or famous landmarks. Unscheduled stops for fuel or to service unreliable aircraft were also common. In tropical areas, flight paths varied seasonally as rains rendered some airfields unusable.

While flying was more expensive, less comfortable, and potentially more dangerous than travel by train or boat, there was one area in which air travel could compete with more conventional means of transport, and compete strongly: Speed. Air travel, especially in inhospitable or remote locations, was a great deal faster than any other means. Surveys from the time reveal that speed was the number one factor people considered when choosing to fly. The high cost, however, meant that for most of the decade, air travel was the preserve of the upper classes, those who had the money to travel by air as a novelty, or businessmen who operated national or international concerns. Passenger aircraft were fitted to suit this high-class clientele. Plush, upholstered seats, wet bars, smoking lounges and wooden panelling all gave the impression of luxury, despite engine noise and turbulence. Other innovations served to make air travel stand out from its competitors. Passengers could reserve seats by telephone with many airlines, and regular customers could purchase pre paid “scrip” – paper coupons which often allowed for discount rates. Stewards, who for most of the decade were required to be male, would help passengers with luggage, offer a sandwich mid-flight, and tend to the airsick.

Changes in the way we travel make it difficult to assess the relative danger of air travel in the 1930s, compared to other forms of transport. Twenty-five people, worldwide died in air crashes in the year 1932, yet it’s difficult to compare this figure to any comparative statistic from land or sea. Certainly air travel was perceived as dangerous, and insurance rates for air trips were four times the price of the same insurance travelling by rail.

Air Travel By Region

The degree to which air travel was available, and the regions which could be reached by air, varied enormously by year and by continent. What follows is a breakdown of some major areas and their history of aviation, with a focus on what kinds of flights would be available, and where.

North America

Flights across the North American continent became increasingly common and popular throughout the 30’s, thanks in no small part to the introduction of the Douglas DC-2, and from 1935, the ubiquitous DC-3. DC-3s enabled flights across America with comfort and speed heretofore unheard of. In 1934, an air trip between New York and Los Angeles would take almost 26 hours of flight, and require numerous stops and aircraft changes. By 1937, the introduction of the DC-3 had cut that time to just over 17 hours. With daytime and sleeper flights, upholstered seats, and the revolutionary introduction of female flight attendants (who were required to be registered nurses), air travel within the United States was, if not luxurious, at least comfortable.

China

As with previous decades, in the 1930s, Hong Kong was the gateway to China, and all international flights terminated at this British outpost. By 1937, trans-pacific flights from North America to China were becoming more regular, with a commercial run from San Francisco, through Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island and Guam, to Hong Kong. Imperial Airways also carried passengers and mail into Hong Kong as part of its mail route to Australia. Passengers on this line would stop in Penang before disembarking in Hong Kong.

The China National Aviation Corporation developed civil aviation in China throughout the decade, turning isolated cities serviced by antiquated, small aircraft, into a thoroughly modern air network by 1937. As with other countries, the flying boat was an invaluable part of air travel in China. Douglas “Dolphin” amphibious aircraft serviced the coast of China, while three Douglas DC 2 aircraft, capable of carrying 14 passengers each, ran regular routs to main centres in the interior. Older aircraft remained in operation throughout China for the duration of the decade.

Crossing the Atlantic

Passenger service between North America and Europe by air was not commercially developed until the very end of the 1930s. Long distances, changeable weather, and competition from reliable and popular crossings by ship made trans-Atlantic flights a difficult proposition for airline companies. Britain did not grant landing rights to American air carriers until 1936. A number of European companies made experimental flights across the Atlantic, carrying exclusively mail, using both dirigibles and seaplanes, but these flights were never commonplace. Prior to 1939, the most common way to cross the Atlantic by air was by zeppelin, and there were hundreds of such crossings between 1930 and 1937. 1939 saw the beginnings of the first commercial trans-Atlantic passenger flights, with the Pan American “Yankee Clipper” flying passengers between New York and Marseilles, France, or Southampton, England. The journey took about 29 hours, and cost $375 ($5,188 in today’s terms) one way.

Africa and the Middle East

Imperial Airways’ routes to Africa were the backbone of the Great Empire Air Route. As with other continents, the flying boat was a mainstay of air travel, and the Mediterranean was the hub of flying boat activity for the region. Flights to both the Middle East and Africa, as well as to India, would all pass through the Mediterranean, where the majority of passengers would transfer to flying boats. Egypt and the Sudan were linked by air with Central Africa from 1931. The Nile was another major centre for flying boats. By 1932, Imperial Airways flew as far south as Cape Town, and it was possible for passengers to travel from London to South Africa exclusively by air. There was little time saved by flying, rather than sailing, from London to South Africa, and the flight was likely to be more expensive, more dangerous, and less comfortable than sailing. However, within Africa, land transport was often slow and unreliable, and air travel was a popular alternative. A trip that might take three months by automobile, struggling through untracked desert or thick jungle, could take as little as three days by air, given suitable weather.

In addition to the main Empire routes, several smaller airlines offered limited services within Africa and the Middle East. Private operators, often with small two or four-seater planes, serviced the most remote regions. Two-seater flying boats were flying passengers and mail into the interior of the Congo as early as 1919. These antiquated aircraft remained in operation throughout the 1930s. Several European airlines offered seaplane service for mail between South America and West Africa, though these contracts never extended to regular passenger service.

The Pacific

Commercial air travel to Hawaii began in 1935 with a flying boat run between California and Honolulu (the flight took about 19 hours, and cost $278 ($4,046 today) one-way). This was part of a larger Pan Am flying boat route to China, travelling from San Francisco, through Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, and finally terminating in Hong Kong. In 1936 these passenger flights were extended all the way across the Pacific, a round trip from San Francisco to Manila. The nine passengers on each of these flights paid an astronomical $1,400 (nearly twenty thousand dollars in modern day terms) for the privilege.

For these Pacific commercial fights the Sikorski S-40 and S-42 “Clippers” were the most popular planes throughout the thirties, capable of carrying over thirty passengers in relative comfort. The “China Clipper” which flew the San Francisco to Hong Kong route, was a stylish symbol of America’s growing dominance of the air. The clippers could seat 32 passengers in four well-appointed cabins, and usually had a steward to attend to the passengers.

Imperial Airways flew passengers to Australia and New Zealand from 1934, crossing the Pacific in days, when the trip by sea could take weeks or even months. From Australia, Qantas Empire Airways flew mail routes into remote stations, and across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Britain refused to grant landing rights to American carriers into Australia, but the New Zealand government was more cooperative. In 1937 Pan Am flew their first passenger flights from San Francisco to New Zealand, via Honolulu and American Samoa.

South America

Pan American – Pan Am – Airways were synonymous with South American air travel, and to a lesser extent all international American commercial air travel, for the duration of the 1930s and beyond. Pan Am’s first international flight was a mail run from Florida to Havana, and the 1930s saw the company develop their South American passenger and mail services extensively. Miami was the North American base for these flights, which connected with many points around the Gulf of Mexico and further South. There was a regular flying boat service from Florida throughout South America, with regular stops in Panama and Buenos Aires. These flights were the first of Pan Am’s famous “Clipper” services, and popularised the flying boat as a passenger aircraft.

South America, with its mountainous landscape and many large rivers, was a perfect venue for flying boats and seaplanes. For most of the Thirties, much of South America was virtually inaccessible by land. The advent of cheaper, more reliable aircraft with the ability to land on water led to a boom of exploration in South America, with missionaries, archaeologists, and gold prospectors flocking to the region. Local airlines, often flying outdated aircraft, exploited this sudden rush of people and money to the region.

India

India was an important leg of the Empire Air Route, which passed through the Mediterranean, North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, before reaching India, then continuing on to Hong Kong and Australia. For much of the decade, large portions of the route had to be completed by rail or ship, due to the complicated politics of European airspace. Italy in particular was notoriously intransigent in granting rights for commercial flights to pass through her airspace. It was not until 1936 that the trip to India could be completed entirely by air. The major airport in India during the thirties was Calcutta, but Karachi and Durban were also serviced by air.

Within India, the extensive train network created by the British made air travel largely unnecessary for the majority of travellers. Private operators of course, were active in all parts of the globe, and India was no exception.

Zeppelins

The 1930s saw the rise and fall of zeppelins as a popular form of public transport. Even at the height of their popularity, however, zeppelins were never a common sight, and travel by zeppelin was always seen as a luxury, rather than necessity. Zeppelins were appointed far more like a seagoing vessel than an aircraft. This extended even to the flight controls, which were handled just as onboard a ship, with a captain relaying orders to engine crew, while relying on several pilots and a navigator for steering and information. The Graf Zeppelin was by far the most commercially successful airship of its time, flying regular trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and America until 1936, as well as making visits to the Middle East, South America, and even the Arctic. Famously, zeppelins fell from popularity sharply with the Hindenburg crash of 1937. Deteriorating relationships between Nazi Germany and the United States of America ensured that zeppelins’ fortunes would not be revived.

Adventure Seeds

What follows are a few ideas for ways that one could incorporate the unique aspects of 1930s air travel into your game.

Lost

For long-distance flights across the Pacific and Atlantic, flying boats were used for their ability to land at several points along the way to refuel. To achieve this, the aircraft would rendezvous with a supply ship at an agreed location. These locations were often tiny, never-before-visited atolls and islands. Kingman Reef, a sandbar that barely rose more than a meter above sea level, in almost the exact centre of the Pacific, was one such rendezvous point, used in the inaugural passenger flight from North America to New Zealand. The reef was absent from even the most meticulous sea charts until the late 1920s. A flight crew, or the passengers of such a flight, would be alarmed to discover their supply ship abandoned, Signs that the crew of the ship had departed for the interior of the island would only deepen the mystery.

To the Antarctic by Zeppelin

Zeppelins, with their ability to remain afloat without power, were an ideal aircraft for crossing inhospitable and unexplored terrain. The Graf Zeppelin’s trip to the Arctic inspired many explorers and inventors to try similar feats. While no other successful trips to the Arctic or Antarctic by Zeppelin have been recorded, such a venture is by no means impossible. What antediluvian horrors lie undiscovered beneath the ice is best left to the imagination. The frequent mechanical troubles that plagued lighter-than-air flight would certainly complicate any attempt to scientifically study such cyclopean ruins as were found.

Flying to Inland Waters

The flying boat opened up to the foreign explorer the interiors of lands previously un-trod by all but native feet. From the late 1920s, the perfect mixture of improving technology giving rise to a plethora of flying boats and seaplanes, with an excess of trained pilots from the Great War, made such unexplored regions only a few hours’ flight away. South America, the Congo, the remotest regions of India, all became suddenly accessible. Any lake or large enough river was a sufficient landing point for the tiny two and four-seater craft. The remains of decaying civilisations, bastions of dark cults, the ruins of temples to forgotten gods, the last survivors of lost expeditions, turned barbarous and strange by their long absence from civilisation, all wait, hidden, beneath the jungle canopy and choking vines of such regions.

You Take the High Road…

Along many air routes, carriers gave preference to mail over passengers. Reliable and lucrative, mail required none of the comfort or attention of passengers, and could be counted on to provide a healthy return. This situation meant that often space could be found for mail where none could be found for passage. Booking clerks were instructed to avoid, if possible, selling space to passengers. For example, on the Imperial route from India, only five passengers were accepted each week. In 1937, only seven passengers a week were permitted to board the two weekly flights to and from Durban. For an archaeologist or anthropologist eager to gain credit for an extraordinary find, the temptation to send such an artefact home by air, while returning by sea or rail themselves, must have been enormous. What havoc such an item might have caused in the hands of unsuspecting baggage handlers, junior members of faculty, or some unsuspecting member of the public delivered the package in error does not bear speculation.

References

  • The Aviation Industry by Myron W. Watkins
  • US Centennial of Flight Historical Essays
  • Tales of Old Shanghai
  • Imperial Airways History
  • Passenger traffic in the 1930s on British imperial air routes

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.