books on many subjects

Image Source: FreeImages.com / Wynand Van Niekerk

One art that every GM should master is the knack of researching just enough information just as quickly as you can digest it. I sometimes call it the art of Lightning Research, and today I’m going to share a couple of tips for doing it successfully.

These tips come in two parts – one for Wikipedia, and the other for more general internet-based research (because Wikipedia doesn’t hold all the answers).

Wikipedia

For those who may have heard otherwise, although there can be controversies relating to individual articles, Wikipedia in general is reliable.

The great secret of success in performing lightning research is to skim twice and read once, taking notes as necessary only in the latter phase.

Skim Once

I will very lightly skim through the introductory section of the Wikipedia page that seems relevant, not trying to absorb any real information but seeking to establish a number of things:

  • Is this the right page, with the information that I need?
  • Are there additional pages that I need to open in a new tab in order to understand the topic / get the answers that I need?
  • What is the context for understanding the sectional breakup of the page?
  • What do I need to skim through in the second skim?
The Right Page?

There are four possible answers to this question: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Maybe’, and ‘In Part’.

  • ‘Yes’ means that this is the right page and should contain the information that I need.
  • ‘No’ means that this is the wrong page. Hopefully it will link to what I need but sometimes I need to add to or change completely my search terms on the Wikipedia site.
  • ‘Maybe’ means that I’m not sure and will have to at least reach the second-skim stage before I can answer this question. The more vague my question, the more likely this answer is to result.
  • ‘In Part’ usually means “I think so, but will need to open further pages for more detail, or to explain the contents, or to supplement what I’m reading”. The more specific my question, the more likely this is to be the result.
Additional pages?

Each time I encounter a link while skimming, I make a snap decision on whether or not the page being linked to is relevant. Will it provide supplementary information of value to me? Will it (hopefully) explain something that is unclear in the article? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes’, or even ‘maybe’, then I open the article in a new tab. If not, then I often consider a second question: does it look to be of interest? If so, then I might still open the link in a new tab, but I will take advantage of a trick Google chrome has up it’s sleeve and drag the resulting tab to the left of the page I am currently skimming. That separates out the research task efforts from these ‘of interest’ pages so that I don’t get side-tracked.

Contextual Breakup?

Aside from the fundamental questions posed already, one of the key things that I am looking to get out of this skim is an understanding of the way the subject matter is organized within the rest of the article.

Planning The Second Skim

That’s so that I can try and narrow down which sections of the Wikipedia Page are most likely to contain the information that I need. Sometimes, this is clear, or seems so; at other times, it is not clear at all.

Skim Twice:

The second skim is not of the introductory section, but is directed at the content of the article, and is a more thorough skim than the first. I’m not trying to get a real understanding of the subject, instead I’m trying to zero in on the parts of the article that are relevant to my query.

I’m also trying to get a vague idea as to the content so that the information gleaned in the proper reading of the article makes sense to me. The more distant the subject is from something that I know something about, the more important this is as a priority.

Again, there are some specific questions that I am trying to answer:

  • Does this section contain the information that I need?
  • Do I need to know this in order to understand the information that I need?

If the answer to either of these is ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘in part’ – using the same possible answers as described earlier – then I skim the section until I reach a part where that is no longer the case.

If the answer is ‘no’ then I either move on to the next possibly-relevant section, or the next tab that I have opened in skim one, or rethink the research approach if I have run out of resources to examine. If I’m sure that Wikipedia will contain the information that I need if I just tickle it right, I will attempt to formulate a new search term to see if I can find the right Wikipedia Page; if not, then I will need to think of other resources that I might know of, or formulate an appropriate Google Search. Either way, the process will move on to the second type of research effort, to be described a little later.

But, for the moment, let’s assume that Wikipedia contains at least some of the information that I need.

Additional Pages

As I skim for the second time, I am once again noting any links that I come across, and evaluating them the same way as I did in the first skim.

Multiple Skims In Succession

It’s also important to note that unless I find the specific information that I need in a format that I am confident of understanding and placing in context, before I move on to the third stage, “Read Once”, I will perform first and second skims on all the web pages open to the right of the initial search page. That’s to ensure that I have the greatest possible chance of understanding the relevance of what I’m reading when doing the actual research. What’s more, if any of the additional pages that have been opened are there to explain something that I need to understand in order to actually comprehend what I’m reading, I will move their tabs to the extreme right in the sequence.

That is so that I can work my way through them, right to left, and get the answers to the foundational questions before tackling the main subject. It also ensures that I don’t miss any of the pages.

Of course, if any of the pages turn out not to be relevant at all, I will simply close that tab.

Ultimately, if Wikipedia is to be my solution source, I will end up with a selected-and-vetted quick course in the specific subject that I need to research. This is often a far more specific question than my initial search term.

Read Once

The actual research consists of reading the selected sections of the selected Wikipedia entries, taking notes as I go. The actual nature of these notes depends on the function that the page in question is serving in relation to the research.

Where the page is a foundation or context item, I will do my best to synopsize the relevant information into a single sentence per page, or – in unusual cases – one per section. I’m not interested in the whole of the content, just in those parts that explain the main answer. This, in essence, assumes that the information being researched will need to be presented to the players in one of my campaigns at some point, and thus needs to function as an introductory sentence to the actual information – so I will attempt to construct the information into an appropriate narrative passage.

When I reach the first (or only) page containing the actual information of relevance, I will pay closer attention. I may quote specific sentences or rephrase them; I may synopsize the relevant parts of an entire section into a single sentence or paragraph. This largely depends on how much detail I need to provide to the players.

Footnotes and References

I pay specific attention to these, as they are often links to additional information of direct relevance. Each time I come to one, I mouse over it until the pop-up appears, enabling me to assess its value to the research; if it explains or might expand on a particularly-relevant part of the research, I will study it and add any notes before moving on. This is achieved by right-clicking on the reference and opening it in a new tab (so that my place in the main document of study is not altered).

Additional Resources

At the bottom of each Wikipedia page there is usually a section listing external resources. I give these specific consideration before declaring the research complete.

Related Subjects

Finally, at the very foot of the page, there are usually a section on related subjects. I will look over each of these and open (again in new tabs) any that seem relevant, and subject them to the same processes, inserting additional research content as necessary. The ultimate goal is a straightforward narrative passage that can be provided to the players when appropriate – one that strips out the irrelevancies and simple contains the information that they need to know.

Sometimes I will need to create two research results: a complete one for GM reference and an edited one giving partial information to the players. I always create the complete one first and then edit out anything that I specifically don’t want the players to know (yet). This editing may require some rephrasing to conceal the fact that something has been removed from the real research.

Google

The process that I employ for research using Google Search is very similar.

Skim Once

Instead of an introductory paragraph, the first skim is of the excerpts that accompany the search results. The key is to seek out potential relevance. I am relatively unconcerned about redundancy at this point; I always bear in mind that Wikipedia is designed to be relatively self-contained, while a Google Search is – by definition – completely un-contained. Once again, all relevant pages are opened in new tabs (I have my options set to do this automatically, though it doesn’t always work, so I will usually go to the trouble of telling the browser specifically to do so with a right-click on the link).

The rest of the Skim Once process is then achieved by scrolling through the pages that have been opened from top to bottom and back again, usually using “page down” and then mouse-dragging the slider up. Again, I’m trying to initially verify that what seemed relevant really is, and then to determine what parts of the web-page are relevant, and trying to group them according to the nature of that relevance.

Treatment of links

I’m far more wary when clicking on links incorporated into what amount to randomly-selected seemingly-relevant web-pages. If it’s a link that’s internal to the site, I will open them if they appear relevant; if it’s an external link, I will defer doing so until the second skim. Hovering my pointer over the link should display the URL of the link. If it doesn’t, I’m doubly suspicious of the link.

I also pay close attention to any warnings that come up; sometimes, Google is overzealous in its protections and I know this because I know the website to which the link is pointing, other times I will not proceed upon receipt of a warning because I don’t know the site. There have been times when I will copy the link and paste it into my research notes and not open it until I have upgraded the browser’s level of paranoia, installed the latest security and anti-virus signatures, etc.

In cases of really deep suspicion, I have even resorted to a separate web search aimed specifically at establishing the trustworthiness of the website and any security risks that it poses. A key consideration is always whether or not I think I can find the information that I need from a more trusted website.

I rarely have virus/security trouble as a result of these precautions. Ultimately, if I have to, I will make it up before I will place my computer at risk.

Second Skim

The second skim is handled in exactly the same way as a Wikipedia second skim, with the additional problem that an external website is probably not broken into sections in the same manner as Wikipedia does it. The main purpose of the second skim is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Quite often, what I will find is that some of the information on a relevant web-page is redundant, provided by another page that I have already looked at, and some of it will supplement the content in that other page. Only if completely convinced that the page adds nothing new to the research will I close it.

Read Once

This is also handled in the same manner, but I usually find that there is more jumping back and forth within the research notes required as I move from one page to another.

Subsequent Searches

It’s usually the case that one research effort is not enough on its own, and needs to be supplemented with additional research on more specific topics. Each of these is handled in exactly the same way.

Example: The Kasugi Smuggling Operation

At one point in the Adventurer’s Club campaign, we needed to have a PC stumble into his arch-enemies latest criminal enterprise while in London. This was intended to be a red herring with respect to the main plot.

That required my co-GM and I to come up with whatever that red-herring plot was; the arch-enemies are a bunch of modern-day (1930s) pirates & smugglers, primarily operating in the Asian Pacific region, but they have shown on a number of occasions a seriously clever streak, and a growing international presence. They aren’t exactly SPECTRE yet, but they are heading in that direction. Their last intrusion into the campaign also showed that they were diversifying beyond simple piracy, as the PCs landed in a Hong Kong nightclub run by them as a place to conduct negotiations and make money on the side.

The Research Begins

The first question to be answered was what might bring them to London, so far removed from their usual arena of operations.

One of the Kasugi Family’s established M.O.s was to capture vessels and “rebirth” them if they were in reasonable condition, expanding their ‘fleet’. Since a lot of ships are built and maintained through English shipyards, that was our starting point. But we had long ago decided that the Kasugis have their own facilities hidden somewhere in the Pacific, so why come to London?

I suggested the notion of insurance fraud. The Kasugis bring a derelict captured vessel to London, do a superficially-good refurbishment that lacks genuine substance, sell on the black market the materials (engines, pipes, etc) that were supposed to be used in the full refurbishment, pay off the inspectors, insure the ship to the gills, and then fake the sinking. It means rebirthing the ship twice, but that’s nothing too extreme for them.

Then what? The sea lanes around England/Western Europe are some of the busiest in the world; if they simply sailed the “refurbished” vessels home, it wouldn’t be long before someone spotted them. Lloyd’s of London, who (I vaguely recalled) got their start insuring ships and cargoes, would also be sniffing around the scheme very quickly. A quick check of Wikipedia established that Lloyds was definitely still active in maritime insurance, and the North Atlantic is notorious for it’s violent sea weather, especially in winter, so the idea had a ring of plausibility. It was a start, but not yet enough.

My co-GM, Blair, suggested that maybe they were smuggling something into Europe, and that this cargo would also be reported lost when it was actually being smuggled to its destination after the ship was reported lost, maybe in return for some alterations to the superstructure and other identifiable features at some other shipyard.

I took that ball and ran with it. What if what they were smuggling was something whose import into Germany was restricted by the Versailles Treaty because it was a war material? Blair pointed out that the Versailles treaty was more or less ignored by everyone by this point in history, but that other materials were slowly being prohibited, citing the example of Helium supply – that, notoriously, was why the Hindenburg had been supported by that very flammable material.

Another quick Wikipedia search led to a list of trade restrictions with pre-war Germany. Most were relatively inconsequential from our point of view, not worth enough to make the risks worth-while. We needed a material of high value by weight, and to which the Kasugis would have access. Fortunately, we already had found (and saved) a document from the US Department Of The Interior and US Geological Survey which listed the value of ores and refined metals by year, in some cases from 1900 on. as well as significant events in the history of trade of the material. Looking up each of the contenders from the trade restrictions list, we soon narrowed the choices down to one: Tungsten, used as an alloy in aircraft parts (especially engines), to create tungsten-tipped tools for industrial purposes, and in bullets – and China was the world’s leading source, right in the Kasugi’s back yard.

Neither of us could be sure that the aircraft application was relevant in the 1930s, it was more associated with the high temperatures of jet engines, but the munitions angle was definitely viable and plausible. The History provided by that document in the case of Tungsten more or less started with the 1950s, so we again turned to Wikipedia and the page on the subject, supplemented by a broader internet search for information on the ore, known as Wolframite.

We soon discovered that China wasn’t just the world leader, they have something like 80% of the world supply (and an even higher percentage of the known supplies back in the 1930s), and were not happy about the US restricting their trade in the commodity to Germany, which was one of the biggest importers of Wolframite until the ban.

Even while we were conducting this research, a thought occurred to me: why stop at merely altering the superstructure to disguise the “rebirthed” ships? Why not have a German shipyard do the full refurbishment for real, deducting the price for doing so from the value of the smuggled ores?

More research – how much would such a refit cost, how much would the ore be worth, did the numbers stack up as something close enough for plausibility? The short answer was yes.

From there, it was just a matter of compiling reference materials for our own reference (and briefing the players) and tidying up the logistics, then working out how the PC in question could ‘stumble into’ the plot, and how we were going to pass on the results of our research to him.

Encounter Scene 1

We started by contriving for everyone else to have something to do as part of the main plot, leaving only the PC who was free to investigate the Docks at Tilbury, center of a recent gang war which seemed related to the main plot. From the actual adventure, as we wrote it (the numbers refer to maps and photos used as illustrations):

At Tilbury docks, the drizzle has turned to light snow. Loading of the ship closest to the mouth of the dockyard is continuing well into the night (the far end of the docks relative to Captain Ferguson, the close end to picture 018). There is a steady stream of trucks coming and going along the access road (far left) and the sounds of swearing in English, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese echoes, mostly concerning the late delivery of the cargo. Someone, presumably the Captain of the vessel, has sworn numerous times that he intends to make the high tide this evening or he’ll personally spit and roast somebody.
   Ferguson has been able to explore somewhat without drawing attention to himself; the ship closest to his initial hiding place is the Calliope, which has the Italian flag painted on its hull but is flying a different flag, that he does not initially recognize (Pic 021) (Maritime Lore at -5 to identify it as the flag of Sicily), multiple attempts permitted).
   Next most distant is the Olga Dimitrov which has another unfamiliar flag painted on the hull to indicate it’s nation of registry (Pic 022) (Maritime Lore at -3 to identify it as Latvian).
   Currently being loaded and most distant on that side of the port is the Plymouth Rock, proudly sporting the Liberian Flag (Pic 023), which Captain Ferguson immediately recognizes.
   Opposite the Plymouth Rock on the far side of the dockyard is a tramp steamer named the Mersey Wanderer which is adorned with the Union Jack (024 for the sake of completeness). None of these sound particularly Asian in origin, and all are equally unlikely to be Kasugi vessels, with perhaps the exception of the Wanderer, simply because Singapore is under British rule.
   The lighting in the dockyard itself is dim except in the area where people are working, which is illuminated by portable lighting. Each yard services a single berth, and the yards are surrounded by 4m high wire-mesh fences topped with three strings of barbed wire. Finally, at around 11PM, the loading operation is complete (topped by more sulfurous blasphemies over the delays from the Captain in a thick Missoura accent), and the Plymouth Rock sails down the Thames toward open water. The dockyard workers vacate the premises with remarkable speed, more evidence that working this late is something unusual – they were all anxious to be somewhere else. Abruptly, silence descends over the docks, broken by the occasional barking of a stray dog somewhere in the distance. From his vantage point – wherever that now is – Captain Ferguson can spot a brick watchman’s hut which is brightly lit inside, with smoke rising from a small chimney.

Encounter Scene 2

The PC, Captain Ferguson, then observed events related to the main plotline and quite irrelevant to the Kasugi subplot. After these events, a follow-up scene took place:

Captain Ferguson at the docks, where the fog has well and truly rolled in: no further action, no sign of the Kasugi vessel that was expected to be here. He may as well return to the Hotel and get some sleep.

But this gave him three ship names to investigate. The next significant development took place the next day, when the PC in question kept an appointment made for M, the murder victim of the main plot (and head of MI6, of course) at Lloyd’s Of London:

Appointment at Lloyds Of London – Meeting with Chief Fraud Investigator, Chanda Dawson (043). NB: Chanda does not know M is dead. Chanda is Anglo-Indian, in his 40s, immaculately dressed, tall, thin, very precise in his speech and actions, capable of holding himself absolutely still at will. Every movement is deliberate and calculated. Has a large-caliber revolver in a shoulder-holster that the PCs have no trouble noticing.
   “For the last three months, several vessels owned by interests that are reputed to be covers for the criminal organization known as the Kasugi family have been brought to London for refurbishment. Timetables for these repairs have been closely adhered to under penalty of unusually strong contract terms. When repairs are complete, a new vessel arrives within 48 hours and transships its cargo to the refurbished vessel, and the new vessel takes its place in the dry-dock for its own maintenance. The refurbished vessel and its cargo of Rare Ore are then insured with our organization and depart for Sweden. Of the six vessels so dispatched, five have failed to reach their destination and were reported lost at sea. Claims were subsequently lodged, and in the case of the first three vessels, paid. We suspect insurance fraud. The losses of the vessels are bad enough, but on top of that, there were life insurance policies on the crew, payable to the company, and the insurance on the cargo, an ore known as Wolframite.
   “Currently almost complete are repairs to the seventh such vessel. Unless some substantiative evidence can be found in the next 48 hours, we will have no choice but to accept insurance on that vessel as well, the Spirit Of Shandong, and to pay the two outstanding claims. To date, this has cost Lloyds – including the outstanding claims – approximately £595,000, or almost $5 million of your American Dollars. We cannot afford to maintain this ruinous rate of loss, and can only increase premiums so far, because we have to charge the same basic premium on all European Shipping.
   “I don’t know how much you know about Wolframite, and there is not a whole lot that I can tell you – it’s covered under the Official Secrets Act, and even if you are authorized to know, I’m not authorized to know it – but I had arranged a follow-up meeting for M to be briefed on the subject by the Minister Of Trade. I presume that you will be keeping that appointment on his behalf.”
   “Since you aren’t restricted by M’s schedule, I will call the Minister’s Office and see if he can squeeze you in any earlier. In the meantime, here’s a list of the vessels that have been reported lost, for your reference while you investigate.” He hands over a list showing name, hull registry number, various other identifying serial numbers, the date it was insured and the date it was reported lost. While this list is being examined, he steps to the door and has a quiet word with his secretary. After a few minutes, he returns and tells you that he’s been able to squeeze you into the Minister’s schedule at 11:30 this morning. “It seems the Minister is so concerned by what’s going on that he is rearranging his schedule to meet with you as soon as possible.”

Encounter Scene 3

The set-up for the subplot was then completed with a subsequent scene:

Captain Ferguson is at The Cabinet Office, 9 Downing Street & Whitehall (045) to meet the Minister for Trade, Philip Cunliffe- Lister, 1st Earl of Swinton, (046).
   “Wolframite (047) is a rich source of Tungsten. Germany’s machining industry uses tungsten carbide almost exclusively, whereas the U.S. is still largely using inferior molybdenum tipped tools, primarily because of the cartel agreement GE holds with Krupp concerning carboloy or cemented tungsten carbide. Additionally, tungsten is useful in armor piercing munitions. Britain and the U.S. agree that Germany’s minimum requirements for Wolfram are 3,500 tons per year.
   “Despite Spain and Portugal being considered major sources of Wolframite, their total production amounts to a relatively small 2800 tons per annum, and much of this is not available to Germany.
   “Portugal’s economic success currently hinges on its rich wolfram ore deposits. They protect this very carefully. To maintain its neutrality, they set up a strict export quota system in 1932. The system allows each nation to export ore from their own mines and a fixed percentage of the output from independent mines. England owns the single largest mine, while Germany owns two mid-size concerns and several smaller mines. The output of Portugal’s second largest mine is owned by France.
   “The Nazis also acquire zinc, lead, mercury, fluorspar, celestite, mica, and amlygonite from Spain. However, wolfram is the most vital, as Spain is the only other European supplier of this ore to Germany.
   “British trade with Spain in recent years has had three main objectives. The first, as with any trading arrangement, was to obtain needed goods that were not readily available elsewhere. Secondly, by purchasing vital materials from Spain, we deny the Germans a source for these materials. Finally, by conducting trade in materials needed by the Spanish economy, we seek to lessen the influence of Germany on Spain. Without Wolframite, German industry is strongly contained and Germany cannot hope to wage war in Europe with any success. British Policy is aimed at controlling their access to Wolframite and restricting them to barely enough for their domestic needs.
   “Efforts to achieve this policy began in March 1930, when Britain signed a six month agreement to provide Spain with certain materials it needed, such as petroleum products and fertilizer, in return for iron ore, other minerals, and citrus fruit. The agreement is careful not to single out Wolframite as a key commodity, merely listing it in third place in the ‘other minerals’ section, but it was actually the one thing that we wanted most of all to control. That agreement has been renewed every six months thereafter.
   “The US has instituted a similar policy of buying up South American production of ore to keep it out of unfriendly hands while obtaining it for themselves.
   “Spain relies on an open market for wolfram, which favors the strong German economy. Last year, England only managed to purchase 32 tons of Wolframite from Spanish suppliers.
   “China also supplies Germany with tungsten and antimony as part of a deal by it to purchase German weapons and machines through the Chinesisch-Deutsche Kooperation.
   “The Kasugis are supposedly bringing in additional ore from China, whose deposits dwarf those of the rest of the world put together. Roughly 80% of the global tungsten deposits are believed to be in Southeastern China.
   “The current prince of Wolframite on the open market is US$4,762, or £578, per ton.”

Encounter Scene 3a

We also supplied some external information in the form of a telegram from Captain Ferguson’s ship, just to dot our I’s and cross our T’s:

A telegram arrives for Captain Ferguson (it finds him wherever he is). Give him the telegram:

(NB: I’m using to nested bullet points to get the formatting right because it’s a quick and easy solution. Formatting was done using tabs in the document presented to the player):

+++MSG FORWARDED TO ADDRESSEE UPON LOCATION 11 DEC 193x (25 min ago) +++

  • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
  • +++MSG RCVD MINSTER OF CUSTOMS & EXCISE GREAT BRITAIN 11 DEC 193x (1 hr 15 min ago) FOR IMMED RELAY +++
    • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
    • +++MSG RCVD OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER UNITED KINGDOM 11 DEC 193x (2 hrs 5 min ago) FWD TO OFFICE OF MINISTER OF CUSTOMS & EXCISE H. WHYNDOM FOR IMMED RELAY
    • NB: +4 HRS TIME ZONE DIFFERENCE +++
      • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
      • +++MSG RCVD OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER CANADA 11 DEC 193x (7 hrs 5 min ago) FWD TO PM GB FOR IMMED RELAY +++
        • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
        • +++MSG RCVD EMBASSY OF CANADA NYC 11 DEC 193x (8 hrs 5 min ago) FWD TO PM CANADA FOR IMMED RELAY +++
          • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
          • +++ MSG RCVD ADV CLUB NYC 11 DEC 193x (8hrs 15 min ago) FWD TO CAN EMBASSY NYC FOR IMMED RELAY +++
            • +++ ENCLOSED MSG BEGINS +++
            • +++ TO CAPTAIN JOHN FERGUSON COMMA SHIP’S MASTER COMMA NAME ANTARES ENDNAME COMMA C/- ADVENTURER’S CLUB, NEW YORK CITY, USA +++
            • +++ FRM FRST OFFCR COMMA NAME ANTARES ENDNAME COMMA NOW LOCATED SAN JUAN COMMA PUERTO RICO +++
            • +++ MESSAGE BEGINS +++
            • PURSNT TO CONTRACT COMMA BGN SLVGE OPS SPNSH VSSL SANTA BARBARA DSCVRED PUERTO RICO COAST STOP DRNG SCND DAY OF OPS OBSVD FRGHT VSSL ATTKED BY PIRATES STOP ELECTED TO INTERCEDE STOP CPTRD PRTE VSSL NAME FORTUNATE DRAGON ENDNAME STOP CPTN OF VSSL BURNED SHIPS PAPERS AND LOG DURING BDNG ACTION STOP INSPCTN OF VSSL SHWD CURIOUS ANOMALIES STOP DTLS COLON ITEM ONE VSSL RCNTLY RFRBISHED SEMICOLON ITEM TWO WRKMNSHP AND MTRLS SOURCE GRMN RPT GRMN SEMICOLON ITEM THREE SRL NMBRS ON FTTNGS HULL ETC EG HKN-A690607-TP AND VUL-03664-GV DO NOT CRRSPND WITH MRNE VSSL RGSTRY MLA-003823-5T SEMICOLON ITEM FOUR ONE WORD SRVIVD BRNING OF LOGBOOK QUOTE TOMINGA CORP UNQUOTE TOMINGA CORP KNWN FRNT FR KASUGI IN HNG KNG AS YOU KNOW STOP SMTHING ABOUT THIS DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT COMMA SMTHING IS GOING ON HERE COMMA DON’T KNOW WHAT BUT THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW IMMED STOP
            • +++ MESSAGE ENDS +++
          • +++ ENCLOSED MSG ENDS +++
        • +++ ENCLOSED MSG ENDS +++
      • +++ ENCLOSED MSG ENDS +++
    • +++ ENCLOSED MSG ENDS +++
  • +++ ENCLOSED MSG ENDS +++

+++ MSG ENDS +++

Resuming the encounter:

   The numbers quoted by the telegram are very significant to Captain Ferguson – the Hull number quoted is one of those reported missing to Lloyds, the ships registry is not, and the Engine is by Vulkan, a German manufacturer that is now out of business. Why would someone take a perfectly good new engine, installed in Britain, out, and replace it with an old, out-of-date, used, German model? The significance was also not lost on the Antares First Officer, Mr McCallister – his telegram to the Adventurer’s Club would have cost about $35 to send, and the cost of routing it all over the world in pursuit of Captain Ferguson comes to the staggering sum of almost US$270 (1930s currency).

NB: to convert 1930s currency into modern currency, we use the rough reckoner of multiplying by 10. So that is the equivalent of a US$2700 telegram today.

In fact, we spent a lot of time working on this telegram – working out the routing, the local arrival times, when it would be read and acted upon, how long it would take for the next leg in the chain to be identified, and how long it would take to reach that next leg in the chain. Some of the travel was electronic, but most of it was via government channels and back-channels – diplomatic bags and the like. Almost 2 hours were spent compressing the text as much as possible – back then, there was a cost per word and a cost per character on international telegrams, and no-one further along the chain would presume to ‘interpret’ the text in case they were in error. Transport speeds and business hours and the like – more research. Not to mention time zones! Heck, we even had to research telegram rates for the era!

But this was the only information reaching the PC from a completely trusted source, and hence we were hanging the credibility of the entire plotline on its believability.

Encounter Scene 4

All that was then needed was to point the PC at the plotline, and let events unfold of their own accord:

Captain Ferguson is contacted by Chanda Dawson. “I understand that the alleged Kasugi Vessel is not in dry-dock at Tilbury because the dockyard was double-booked. While he would never disclose anything on the job, if you find the Dock-master, Derek Marsh, after hours and apply some social lubricant of the 140-proof variety, you may be able to learn where the vessel is located. His favorite watering hole, I am told, is The Executioner’s Pleasure, located at Hangman’s Wood in Little Thurrock, not far from Gray’s New Cemetery.” That location is a short distance north of Tilbury, where he (of course) is employed.

Encounter Scene 5

This was followed (eventually) by a scene in the Pub, and then by the raid on the Kasugi ship, exposing the plot, recovering the log books and charted course (which proved the insurance fraud and the cargo), and which brought a new PC into the team (an engineer working as a dock-hand) – something we hadn’t expected when we wrote the adventure, but which was easily accommodated.

As an example, this shows how vital it is to be able to find the information you need and assimilate it quickly. To create this subplot, we needed to research Maritime Insurance, Lloyds, Flags of convenience, ship recognition, International Trade, Trade restrictions pre- World War II, Tungsten, Wolframite, International Trade with China, Spain, France, London Shipyards, London Weather (from a specific year in the 1930s), the structure of the British Government, Diplomatic Bags in the 1930s, Telegram prices, Telegram delivery times, Time Zones, and the speeds of various modes of travel in the era.

With that much research to do, you can’t afford NOT to master the art of Lightning Research – and you can’t not master it, if you use it regularly.

It’s not just for Pulp

I use the same research techniques for my superhero campaign, for my Dr Who campaign, and even for my fantasy campaigns. I might need the structure of a typical nobles estate in 12th century Japan (I did. in Fumanor) – with China as an alternative – or how long it takes to erect a defensive earthwork, or the properties of superconductors, or quantum theory, or astronomical phenomena, or the cellular mechanics of trees, or the most popular coffee shops in New Orleans. In fact, I’ve had to research every one of these, and many more, over the last three or four years. In order to synthesize knowledge of a field that doesn’t yet exist, like “Nanotechnology Mutation”, you need to understand something of both Nanotechnology and Mutation, and both are just the tips of very large icebergs.

I’ve stated in the past that a GM needs to at least appear to be an Expert In Everything. The processes and principles of Lightning Research are an essential tool in achieving this outcome (and it helps to have the memory of a pack-rat for odd factoids, too – Did you know that Cleopatra’s favorite fruit was the Fig…?).

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