Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Seafaring Life

One of the great things about Mythos gaming is that resources for better understanding the period are so readily available.  I've gushed before that the single best supplement I've ever purchased was a 1922 edition of of "Winston's Cumulative Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia".  For the price of a few game books a period encyclopedia isn't just an invaluable resource of information, but an incredibly immersive prop that players can consult as needed.

I've also taken to trolling through the Internet Archive for public domain books covering subjects of interest.  I still dearly love physical books, but since I picked up a Kindle reader I find myself reading even more than before.  The sheer variety of contemporary works from the 20s and 30s is stunning, all of it absolutely free and just a click away.

If you're at all interested in period exploration and seafaring I'd strongly recommend downloading "The Log of Bob Bartlett".  He's most famous for being the Captain of Peary's ships during multiple attempts at reaching the north pole, but his autobiography also touches on his early experiences as a fisherman and merchant mariner.  It's filled with interesting details, including the reasons so many sailors hated bananas and the dangerous flammability of pemmican.  The later chapters involving the pole attempts and the wreck of the Karluk, trapped by polar ice as shown in the picture below, are absolutely riveting.

One issue I should mention is the casual racism and sexism of the text.  By contemporary standards Capt. Bartlett is a monster, filled with disdain for women and the Inuit.  "Problematic" doesn't come close to describing some of the passages he's penned.   But just a few paragraphs after describing the north's native population as "barbarous savages" you'll find him expressing an obvious affection and respect for their abilities.  It's a very weird dichotomy that pops up again and again in period accounts of expeditions under grueling conditions.


CoastConFan said...

Having original and period source material is not all that difficult these days, thanks to the internet. I concur with Propnomicon in that having a period encyclopedia set for mythos research is very important material as a GM or scenario creator. The 1920s is a very dynamic era that encompassed a great deal of social, economic, political, and scientific change. Maybe that’s why I am attracted to role playing in that period. Keep in mind that if you want to cover the whole of the 20s effectively, that you’ll actually need a set from the early 1930s.

For those of you who want a copy of Winston’s but don’t have the room, you can download at least some portions and different editions to store on your hard drive and print out pertinent articles and maps.

There’s more out there if you Google a bit.

Sebastian said...

It's posts like this why I keep coming back. ... That and the paperprops *g*
I really love your blog. It's interesing and a great collection put together with love to the subject.
Thank you!

gndn said...

Sooo, some cursory Google searching shows that bananas were considered unlucky for some reason? Maybe because they might have large spiders in them? Or you had to travel fast to get them back before they turned brown?

Propnomicon said...

@ gndn

It's the browning. If a ship transporting bananas suffered any delays the fruit would turn and have to be dumped. Tons and tons of soft, gooey over-ripe bananas inside a stuffy cargo hold unloaded and tossed over the side by hand. After that it's not surprising sailors gagged at the smell of ripe bananas.

Anonymous said...

"By contemporary standards Capt. Bartlett is a monster". I feel by contemporary standards, Capt. Bartlett is indiscreet. I'm sure (based on certain internet gatherings) that many people today believe the same exact things, but casual racism and sexism in public ought to be disguised, these days. The rot is still there underneath, and will be for a long time to come.

I find it pretty typical that he 'praises the competence' of the same people he believes are subhuman. Isms are based on emotional kneejerk reactions, fear, and a huge amount of jealousy, and not observational reality. (Also exotism is a thing, you can think gross things about people and build elaborate narratives about their customs and capabilities and Look At These Clever Savages).

Joe Harrell said...

Nice, I'll have to keep an eye out for Wilsons encyclopedia, I happen to have two sets of Nelsons Loose Leaf Encyclopedia, the regular and the medical version. It's from a little earlier than 1920, the mid-teens.

Nice thing about it is that it was owned by a doctor who added his own typed notes to both sets.

It's really neat to look up things, especially obscure people that used to be important enough to be in a general encyclopedia but aren't any longer.