The following article originally appeared in an earlier iteration of See Page XX in June 2008. You can find James’s soundtrack work for Trail of Cthulhu here, for Night’s Black Agents here, and for Esoterrorists here.

by James Semple

James Semple has written the Trail of Cthulhu Theme to go with his inter-scene stings. He’ll be producing an album of Trail music including themes background music and possibly sound effects for Trail and Esoterrorists.

Let us know what you think:


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 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 April 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

We’ve had a great month, although some shipping issues have reared their ugly heads, mainly with shipments from the US taking their time to reach Europe. We’ve fixed those now. Leonard Balsera’s Profane Miracles, another fastplay Esoterrorists adventure is also out now from sale from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is our quickest selling game ever, and I am delighted with the response, through all channels. We’ve sold through 70% of the first print run already, and I’m now concerned that we won’t get the reprint out in time. We had a great Trail of Cthulhu launch party, and I had the pleasure of going to see James Semple in his amazing studio. We are very lucky to have him working with us to create original music for the various GUMSHOE games. We’ll be putting together a package of sound effects music, and stings as a new RPG product.

Out Now

Out recently

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Printing

Laid Out and Ready to Print

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest,

Further Work

Robin is writing an action-packed new adventure for Mutant City Blues, and Jerome is working on new illustrations for MCB.

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 February 2008. 


Find James Semple’s stings for Trail of Cthulhu here, and you can also find the soundtracks James composed for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents.

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Sting, Sting, Sting

A GUMSHOE issue we’ve talked about before is the challenge of smoothly ending investigative scenes, especially interactions with witnesses and experts. In the fictional source materials on which the game is based, authors and scriptwriters deftly and invisibly handle scene endings. A mystery novelist need merely end a scene on a pivotal line and then cut to the next one. Shows like Law & Order make a science out of finding interestingly varied reasons for witnesses to scoot offstage as soon as they deliver their core clues. Whether they have classes to attend, clients to see, or children to look after, minor characters on procedural shows are always halfway out the door. Scenes in the interrogation room are usually cut conveniently short by the appearance of the defendant?s lawyer, or the squad lieutenant, appearing to bring yet another piece of crucial intelligence.

Although you can sometimes give your NPCs reason to cut off interview scenes after the clues have been dispensed, continually coming up with these organic scene-enders can be taxing. So in the core GUMSHOE rules, as per The Esoterrorists, p. 55 (of the first edition), we offer this suggestion for an out-of-character signal that a scene has ended.

Before play, take an index card and write on it, in big block letters, the word SCENE. As soon as the players have gleaned the core clue and most or all of the secondary clues in a scene, and the action begins to drag, hold up the card. When the players see this, they know to move on.

Since then I’ve found a better technique which seems more organic still. (It requires the use of a laptop, which some groups find disruptive.) In place of the SCENE card, use brief music snippets. In soundtrack parlance, quick clusters of notes signaling a jolt or transition are known as stings. That’s the music you hear in a horror movie when something jumps out of the closet, but turns out to only be the house cat. Although they’re grouped together for jarring effect, the most famous movie stings of all are the piercing violin glissandos accompanying the shower murder sequence in Psycho.

Music works differently on the brain than a visual cue like a card with text on it. We’re used to having music appear under our entertainment to subliminally direct our emotional responses. Text jars us from one mental state to another, forcing us to more consciously decode the contents into meaning. The card is disruptive, breaking us from the imaginative state required for roleplaying, where music enhances that state. Oddly enough, the appearance of the music cue begins to seem like a reward for a job well done than a strange intrusion from another mode of cognition. It feels more like permission to move on than a jarring shove forward.

I started using the stings at a player’s suggestion, borrowing the most ubiquitous sting in television, Mike Post’s cha-chungggg scene transition sound from the various Law & Order shows, as a scene closer for internal playtests of Mutant City Blues.

When it came time to playtest Trail Of Cthulhu scenarios I opted for the three-note threnody that is the monster’s motif in Franz Waxman’s seminal score for The Bride Of Frankenstein . The use of a score from the 1930s period greatly enhanced the period atmosphere.

Now, courtesy of longtime gamer and media scorer James Semple, we have four custom stings for your GUMSHOE pleasure. They evoke the classic horror scores of Waxman and Max Steiner but, because the scary music grammar they laid down seventy years ago persists to this day, work just as well for Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists as for Trail Of Cthulhu.

Another musical enhancement worth considering is the introduction of a theme song. You’ll be expecting your players to sit through this every week, without the visual accompaniment that comes with a TV title sequence, so trim your chosen theme music to twenty to thirty seconds. The main purpose of a theme song is to produce a cognitive marker separating the preliminary chat phase of your session from the meat of the game. Again, this is a much more pleasant and subtle mood shifter than the old, ‘OK guys! Are we ready to start? OK, good!’

A theme song also provides thematic indicators to any campaign, GUMSHOE or otherwise. Want to emphasize sleek futuristic action? Pick a chunk of your favorite techno track. Is your emphasis more on psychological destabilization? A spiky work of classical modernism may prove suitably unnerving.

To help players think of their characters as part of a fictional reality, I also often kick off a first session by having them describe the pose they strike during an imaginary credit sequence.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the uses to which cued-up audio can be put during a game session. When the heroes walk into a smoky bar, you can signal the kind of establishment they’ve entered by playing the music pounding from its PA system. Sound effects are all over the Internet, from amateur freebies to expensive cues created for professional productions. Once you get used to using your laptop’s audio program as a game aid, you’ll never have to describe a wolf howl again. Instead you can cue up real wolves to do the howling for you.

As technology becomes cheaper, multimedia game aids will become increasingly prevalent. When digital projectors hit impulse-purchase pricing levels, look out.

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 February 2008.


Media composer James Semple has created some musical stings for use with Trail of Cthulhu. James has worked with Cthulhu before (in a manner of speaking), creating the intro to the excellent Yog Radio, and he composed a Trail of Cthulhu soundtrack and effect album. Several years after this post originally appeared, he also composed our Night’s Black Agents soundtrack. For Robin D. Laws’ article on using musical stings in GUMSHOE, check out “Sting, Sting, Sting.”

by James Semple

Strange Meetings

This is a tension/anticipation piece inspired by the music of classic horror films. I would use it when introducing a new element in a game: an important NPC, a new location, perhaps even arriving at a railway station or port and seeing your mode of transport for the first time.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Although slightly anxious, I feel that this music neither raises nor lowers the tension. It’s definitely transition music introducing a change of scene, especially with time passing (e.g. …and the next day).

The Big Reveal

This is more than a cliche, it’s practically mandatory! This is definitely the music to use when the bad thing happens: it could be the villain unmasked or it could simply be that the group hear terrible news.

…And So On

A very short sting. Definitely a default transition. It doesn’t really imply much other than a vaguely sinister mood.


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 February 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

Short and sweet. The blog has more Pelgrane details and a caption competition. This month we’ve released Fields of Silver, Lynne Hardy’s Turjan-level adventure, and Ian Sturrock’s Esoterrorist adventure Albion’s Ransom.

Playtesting

The Mutant City Blues and Stunning Eldritch Tales playtests continue apace, and I’ve had the pleasure of doing some in-house testing of MCB with players are members of the Met Police Heightened Crime Investigation Unit.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is due out mid-February. Pre-orders have been fantastic, and you can get yours as a pre-order from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Out Now

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Laid Out and Ready to Print

In Playtesting

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest, as is Mutant City Blues.

“When you ask who built this mound, the only answer is the echo of your own question within the vault that has been hidden in darkness within this mound for no one knows how many centuries. The dead past has surely buried its dead within the mound.”

— artifact collector J.G. Braecklein, quoted in the Kansas City Star (Dec. 15, 1935)

In August of 1935, John Hobbs of the Pocola Mining Company broke into the sealed chamber beneath Craig Mound, near Spiro in eastern Oklahoma. He and his comrades discovered dozens, possibly hundreds of burials, accompanied by thousands of inscribed conch shells, effigies, arrowheads, ceremonial weapons, copper plates, and cloaks, along with bushel baskets of beads, pearls, and copper needles. Hobbs and his crew were on Craig Mound legally — they had leased it from the owner — but not in it legally, Oklahoma having just passed its first antiquities act in July to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening. Hobbs and the Pocola Miners became simultaneously the discoverers of the greatest archaeological trove in North American history and the linchpins of the “pot-hunting” community. American archaeologists, then and now, call anyone who digs up Native artifacts without a doctorate “pot-hunters,” a term just a notch above “grave-robbers.” (Native Americans, then and now, often don’t see what difference a doctorate makes to the grave robbery.) But in the pit of the Depression, pot hunting put food in, well, your pot.

Hobbs and team at Spiro (Leviathan, not pictured)

Their iffy legal status, and the huge supply of artifacts, drove the Pocola diggers to unload priceless items for a few dollars, supercharging the market for the next decade. Dealers from Arkansas just across the border such as Joe Balloun, Goodrich Pilquist, and H.T. Daniel arrived on the site just after Hobbs did, in late 1933, buying pots and arrowheads turned up in smaller mounds nearby for fast cash with no records kept. Other dealers arrived after the news broke in August 1935, carting away literal carloads of artifacts to Chicago, Ohio, New York, and anywhere else they could sell them.

Artifacts moved from the diggers to the dealers to the collectors. In the 1930s, collecting Native American artifacts was a huge hobby; almost every boy had a few arrowheads in a cigar box. The monthly magazine Hobbies: A Magazine For Collectors ran a column called “Around the Mounds” about American archaeology, and filled its classifieds with ads for “Indian relics.” On another level, the architect J.G. Braecklein and his friendly rival Harry Trowbridge assembled museum-sized collections in their Kansas City houses; Colonel Fain White King did likewise in his Kentucky mansion. All three became major bidders for Spiro relics. Glen Groves of Chicago headed the North American Indian Relic Collectors’ Association, and became a major middleman between the local dealers and the Smithsonian. Even actual archaeologists like Robert Bell and Sam Dellinger of the University of Arkansas lowered themselves to buy from the pot-hunters. The University of Oklahoma partnered up with oilmen, who siphoned off prize specimens for their own private museums in Tulsa and Bartlesville.

“They were very curious, these open-air ghost tales; and though they sounded flat and prosaic in the mouths of the white people, they had earmarks of linkage with some of the richest and obscurest phases of native mythology. All of them were woven around the vast, lonely, artificial-looking mounds in the western part of the state, and all of them involved apparitions of exceedingly strange aspect and equipment.”

— H.P. Lovecraft with Zealia Bishop, “The Mound”

Although Spiro is all the way across the state from Lovecraft’s Ghost Mound in Binger, the mighty underground empire of K’n-yan surely flung its tendrils at least as far as the Arkansas River. The Caddos and Wichitas of “The Mound” are, per current anthropological consensus (and Oklahoma state law), the heirs to the fourteenth-century Caddoan-speaking builders of the Spiro mound complex. Said consensus also identifies the Spiro builders as priest-kings of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC), what an earlier generation of archaeologists dubbed the Southern Death Cult. That religion focused on a war between Overworld and Underworld, the latter personified by a Great Chaos Serpent that also eerily resembled a black panther. This conflation of Yig and Tsathoggua (or Tirawa, as the also-Caddoan Pawnee knew him) may explain the “black drink” ceremony of the SECC. Following the pearls, conch shells, and other aquatic artifacts of this inland empire logically points us toward the Tulu Indians, also called the Coligua, now known as the Tunica. Their language is not Caddoan but an isolate, and the Coligua-Tulu spent much of their history the irrational targets of their neighbors’ rage as they moved from the Spiro area down the Arkansas River valley and south to Louisiana.

When whoever the Spiro builders were finished Craig Mound around 1420, it had been almost exclusively used as a necropolis for a century or more. Abandoned shortly thereafter, it remained completely deserted. The Caddoans left it very much alone, and the transplanted Choctaws refused to go near it, settling their slaves in the mound country after Emancipation forced them to provide them land. As in Lovecraft’s tale, ghost sightings proliferated near the mounds. There was even a “curse of Spiro Mound” of a sort, as the Poteau lawyer who provided the Pocola Mining Company its paperwork, the young co-owner of the mound James Craig, and the Reverend R.W. Wall (one of the Pocola investors, and a respected Black minister) all died within three years of the chamber opening. Craig died of tuberculosis, and Wall drowned in a suspiciously shallow stream.

Was someone — or Something — closing off loose ends? Was there a dealer in Arkansas — or a dealer-collector team — who recognized the significance of the “black residue” in the conch shell cups, the eye-in-hand motifs on certain gorgets, the Signs of the Spider and Swastika incised into stone pipes? Are your Trail of Cthulhu Investigators scrabbling to uncover the missing “copper box holding surgical tools” that vanished from the dig tent, or to destroy utterly the “eight-foot giant in armor” that local rumor claimed to have seen in the hills? Are they perpetrating, or penetrating, the forgeries that abounded around the site? And was it they who, just as the Pocola Mining Company lease expired on November 27, 1935, set off an immense black powder charge within the burial chamber, collapsing a third of the mound and destroying everything remaining inside it? Or maybe destroying just one, very old Thing …


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 December 2007. 

News from Pelgrane Press

This month we’ve released GUMSHOE Unremitting Horror, Robin’s The Birds webcomic and The Compendium of Universal Knowledge. This is the month that we pre-released a limited edition Trail of Cthulhu and the general release version went to the printers. Finally Indie Press Revolution now stocks the full range of Pelgrane games.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is now available as a pre-order from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Dragonmeet

Dragonmeet is a London-based games convention which happens the first weekend in December. It’s great fun. We sold all forty of the limited edition Trails of Cthulhu we brought, six before the trade hall was even open, and Jerome was kind enough to draw a picture in every one – a real collectible. It was by far our best Dragonmeet in terms of sales overall.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Yog-Sothoth crowd, although I found Paul of Cthulhu’s interview a little disconcerting, purely because it was all “lights, camera, action” rather than a podcast. Steve Dempsey has his Esoterrorists and Fear Itself demo technique honed, and the Trail of Cthulhu session he ran went well, the GUMSHOE investigative system sitting neatly in the background. If you want the demo adventure, let us know.

New Releases

GUMSHOE Unremitting Horror and Compendium of Universal Knowledge are now available through retail. Robin D Laws’ webcomic The Birds is available through retail, from IPR, or from our online store. I’ve set up a website for The Birds – check it out here.

Laid Out and Ready to Go

Now ready to print are:

In Playtesting

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest, as is Mutant City Blues.

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