Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Thoroughly Modern Lovecraftian Investigator’s Lab Circa 1925

Investigators need a place to gather for meetings and pass information.  Its all the better if they have a fully private place to meet where they can also store both information and equipment.  Less well-funded investigators might have to make do with a single room to dump their stuff and have a folding card table and chairs to same money and space.  But if they have plenty of cash, they can rent an entire floor of a building if not a whole building.  If you are RPGing Call of Cthulhu or the like in the mid 1920s, it might be difficult for modern players to imagine a real laboratory and office from that era so these period images might help.
I found these first four photos of an actual circa 1926 investigator’s lab in an old publication.  It is the lab of Harry Price, a famous and controversial paranormal investigator of the 20s and 30s.  His use of scientific standards and instruments in his investigations set a new level of professionalism for investigators.  I’m not sure how much Lovecraft knew about Harry Price’s investigations, but Price’s work was followed in the mainstream press and he became a bit of a grandstander, so I presume Lovecraft was at least aware of Price’s and his investigations.
These four photos are helpful but I suggest another room in the headquarters which would be a library reference room, which might also have communication equipment such as telephone, standard radio, ham radio, and if you are rich, a telegraph.  If you have a medical doctor or psychiatrist in your group, an examining room would be useful, with attendant lab for specimens.
A storage room is useful too.  That’s where you can put expedition gear and other equipment such as weapons, flashlights & etc.   If you are getting a basement or ground floor headquarters, a drive-in garage works great for loading and unloading, especially when you don’t want the neighbors seeing what you are hauling in or out.
The investigators headquarters/lab is limited by budget constraints and the game master needs to set realistic limits for the players for both a lair and equipment.  The above photos are for a full-blown investigators' lab that is fully funded and should be consider the absolute acme of a mid-20s lab and headquarters.
This period of role playing is challenging because you have to think and plan out your moves much more carefully due to slower communication, fairly good but slower transportation (aircraft are rare, especially commercial), and the basic information system was a book in a library.  You just can’t Google an item on your computer, call for help on your cell phone, use your GPS or night vision goggles or easily fly out to a remote location to check on a site.  You’ll simply have to use your head more.  The 1920s, in fact, was a technologically, communicatively, and transportation-wise much more advanced than just 30 years before, but it can be a little difficult for players and game masters who haven’t done their period research.  It’s a rich time of change and upheaval that I find fascinating which can be challenging and rewarding.  Happy gaming.                                CoastConFan


  1. The Book of the Smoke for Trail of Cthulhu has a section on Harry Price and his most famous cases including Gef the Mongoose and Borley Rectory; plus lots of other information about London in the 1930s.

  2. When I played through the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign we set up a chapter house to coordinate our investigators worldwide activities. One players character had his leg severed so was retired to serve as the head master of the group. Any of the various mythos tomes we recovered we sent to him so he could study them and we could use him as a researcher from the steady growing occult library. Another thing we did was ship the bodies of dead investigators, if they were recoverable, back to the mansion for burial in the groups cemetery near the mansion. The only problem that happened with this is when the headmaster turned a dead investigator into a zombie to be his bodyguard.