I recently read How to make friends and oppress people, a very funny travel advice book which collects advice from Edwardian and Victorian era British travel guides, interspersed with satirical advice from “Vic Darkwood,” a gentleman traveler. The original sources are pretty amusing in their own right, but Darkwood’s commentary and the illustrations (which are cleverly derived from period sources but usually manipulated for effect) make this laugh-out-loud funny. At least to me. A random example from p. 100:
If you are continuing your travels by river, for example, there is no need to assume that a boat is intrinsically different in principle from the snug bar at the Olde Cheshire Cheese, and with a bit of panache it can be made every bit as comfortable:
Fireplaces in boats — In boating excursions, daub a lump of clay on the bottom of the boat, beneath the fireplace — it will secure the timbers from fire. — The art of travel, Francis Galton, 1872.
This passage is accompanied by a picture of two chaps in evening dress sitting in front of an iron fireplace on a small boat, obviously assembled from three different period illustrations.
The humor is pretty dry at times, but some of the original sources are so outrageous it hardly needs Darkwood’s commentary. There are sections such divers topics as:
- Using anthills as ovens
- Hunting elephants and hippos with a javelin
- Sleeping on a billiard table as a means of avoiding vermin
- Digging a well with a pointy stick
- The practical theory of tea-making
- Modes of salutation
- How to treat banditti
- Engaging in gun battles
- Ballooning as a sport
- Revolting food that may save the lives of starving men
- Employing a burly henchman
and so on, all pretty funny in their own right but with Darkwood’s running commentary, it can be hard to put this one down.
Can you use this for gaming? Probably. On the one hand it may provide some inspiration for your own campaign’s travelogues, but if you are running something set in the real world, from about 1800 to 1930, you could incorporate some of the anecdotes, advice, and illustrations into your players’ handouts to inject some humor, whether you are doing steampunk, Call of Cthulhu, a safari, or plain old pulp adventure. The author (Victor Darkwood) assumes a fairly hilarious persona as “Vic Darkwood,” an oblivious and arrogant English gentleman adventurer, and he’d make a great NPC “guide.”
A curious thing tends to happen eighteen months into an expedition. The endless routine of living under canvas; slaughtering and collecting vast quantities of the local fauna; constructing roads, mines, oil refineries and railways; acquiring lorry-loads of artworks and antiquities; introducing foreigners to the Englishman’s genteel concepts of fair play, queuing, and afternoon tea– all these will suddenly lose their shine and begin to pall. At this point the adventurer must decide if this is nature’s way of telling him that his travels are at an end, or whether it is worth forging on, despite his misgivings, in pursuit of his next goal, such as the lost temple of Phu Kham Chan or some equally enticing prospect. (p 241)