Review of The 1920’s Investigator’s Companion

Chaosium, 2001

By Keith Herber and others

I won’t beat around the bush here; the 1920’s Investigator’s Companion is the most important book for Call of Cthulhu players next to the rules book itself. It’s essential material for any player wishing to get a better understanding of the 1920’s era, or who wants to have more character occupations to select from that what’s in the core book, or who just want to know what equipment is available, and for how much.

The book opens up with a helpful guide to the 1920’s to help the players (and keepers as well) feel more immersed in the time period. Topics such as mode of dress, music, sports, and film are covered. In addition, an overview of the Jazz age is given, detailing what the prevailing attitude of Americans were at that time, what effects prohibition and gangsters had, 1920’s fashion, and what people did for recreation. Next is a comprehensive Twenties Chronology section that discusses noteworthy events, people and occurrences that take place between the years 1918 and 1930.

The next section deals with playing an investigator, and brings up a lot of interesting topics that your players may not thought about before- how exactly do they earn a paycheck, or otherwise keep themselves out of poverty? What is their family like, and their relationship with them? Has the character maybe thought of writing up a will?

Probably the largest section in the book, 1920’s Occupations presents a huge number of possible jobs and occupations, separated into different categories: Adventurers and Daredevils, Clergy, The Legal Profession, Journalism, Law Enforcement, and so on. Within these various categories are job profiles; these contain a brief description of the job, how much a player can expect to earn, what pertinent skills are available, and any contacts. A nice touch is how within each category, a profile of a real person from the ‘20’s is included; for example, Elliot Ness is profiled in the Law Enforcement section.

Following the character templates is a chapter on skills and how they function in a 1920’s context. Nice inclusion.

Another impressive part of the book is the “Tools Of the Trade” chapter- the Research and Resources section alone is worth reading, giving insight to public records newspapers (with a list of every single newspaper being published at the time), libraries, and how characters can (and can’t) utilize them. A list of consultants are even listed, in case the characters wish to talk to an expert on a specific subject. Curious about expeditions to the Antarctic? Why not write Richard Byrd? Got a question about criminal law? Feel free to get in touch with Clarence Darrow.

“Transport and Travel” discusses inter city transport, such as bicycles, taxis, buses and trolleys, as well as transport methods beyond the city; planes, trains, automobiles, and boats. Curiously absent is anything referring to ocean liners. “Equipment and Arms” breaks down what’s available to you group of adventurers, listing such things as detective gear, electric torches, binoculars, snowshoes, wheelchairs, and so on. Naturally, a large section is devoted to weapons of all types. A huge price list of various items available in the 20’s is given.

Rounding out the book is the “Words of Wisdom” segment, which I think all investigators should read. It contains great essays on how to obtain an investigator’s license, the art of investigation, and a history of the forensic arts, beginning with the 1890’s and ending in the 30’s. A two sided blank character sheet, along with an index, concludes the book.

Overall, I enjoyed this sourcebook, and found it to be a highly useful resource. However, I do have some problems with it. For one, except for some discussion of the KKK, no mention of other races and cultures is given; no mention of blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and how they are treated during that time, which is a shame. Also, little attention is given to the fact that World War I had just ended, and that there’s a good chance that some PC’s will be WWI vets. No advice is given on how to deal with that.

What also is annoying is the fact that the formatting of the book is very spotty in some places particularly in the Occupations chapter. Some of the layout mistakes are just plain awful.

It’s too bad...this sourcebook could have been great, but because of some glaring omissions and layout gaffes, I can only say that this book is good. Despite its flaws, I still recommend it to any player starting out, and there are a few essays that even the more seasoned player should pay attention to.

Rating: 7 Sanity Points