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Roll Library Use

April 20, 2009

I just spent a good five hours doing archives research the old fashioned way. None of this online database searching, nope. Don’t even ask for any sort of computerized database to search with. I’m talking about flipping through boxes and boxes of slips of paper! And that’s just the beginning. Those slips just refer me to an accessions index. So, all I’ve done at this point is compile a monstrous list of leads that I then have to look up, again, in an indexed volume. And because I tried to be very very thorough, I know that I’ve got duplicate entries that were filed under different headings. Right now, they’re all written down on about 5 or 6 sheets of paper.

My next step is going to be typing all of it up into vi so I can sort by index number, which is what they’re sorted by in the indices. That way, I’ll also see all the duplicate entries too, so I can get rid of them and not waste further time on them.

My hands are sore and so are my shoulders. I’m going to have to take a hot bath tonight to recover from an archives trawl. Now I know what investigators in Call of Cthulhu are up to when they have to go make a library use roll that takes up an entire day in game time to find just a couple of points of information. I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed that era as a burgeoning academic.

I must say that I do not understand the county’s failure to convert their indices to a computer database. Sure, most of my fellows investigators today were unambiguously elderly, but they were also rocking their mac and PC laptops, so it’s not like they wouldn’t be able to handle a computerized index. I suppose many of them are used to the bizarre setup, but damn. And a country records office isn’t used only by retired hobbyists. That system must be wasting a lot of county employee time. Come one, hire someone who’s computer literate enough to manage a conversion and set them to it. There have been black box solutions for this kind of thing for over 20 years now. Buy hardware, buy software. Set it up. Hire an IT consulting company if you have to. Then you just need a small army of data entry people for a few weeks or a month.

I did get a kick out of imagining myself looking up the ownership records of the old Whatley farmstead though.

I also glommed on to an idea for an interesting (to me) Burning Wheel (or whatever fantasy engine you like) campaign. I’m imagining the early Roman annexation of Brittania (or a fantasy analog), where players are either citizens of ‘Rome’ or some of the recently annexed subjects who are given responsibility for managing, negotiating and implementing the infrastructure of the new regime somewhere remote. And while there will be somewhere relatively nearby to flee to, if necessary, there really isn’t any sort of military enforcement. It’d all be up to the players’ negotiation skills. They’d need to recruit and train people from the local British population. I’m specifically thinking about this in the context of the Roman lead mining activity that went on in my heritage management plan region.

I’m thinking of the whole soup to nuts of infrastructure building here. Actually, further than that, I think it’d work quite well to start out with a group assigned to go find out where all that lead (or whatever resource) that Rome knows comes out of the area comes from. So, start out with a group of Gallic Roman citizens, say, or at least start out in Gaul. The Players’ job will be to get to Brittania, find the source of the resource and implement an extraction industry.

I think there’s a lot of potential there for political intrigue along with a bunch of mining/archaeology geekery.

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