The Investigator’s Load

Our force … carried in its pockets a standard working equipment of police whistle, magnifying glass, electric flashlight, handcuffs … tin badge … tape measure (for footprints), revolver … Did our pockets bulge and sag with this equipment? I’ll say they did!!

‒ H.P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth (1931)


In Call of Cthulhu, ordinary and not so ordinary people are drawn into investigations of the Unknown, usually uncovering horrific truths Man Was Not Meant To Know in the process. These investigators will outfit themselves to face whatever Horrors they uncover. In H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, the pieces of equipment that are most often mentioned are a flashlight and a gun.

Call of Cthulhu_7

Lovecraft Story Investigator Equipment
At the Mountains of Madness Prof William Dyer, Danforth electric torches with extra batteries specimen-bags, pocket compass, hammer and chisel, hand camera, light provisions, notebooks and paper, coil of climbing rope
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward Dr Marinus Willett flashlight valise holding tools and accessories
“The Dunwich Horror” Dr Henry Armitage, Prof Dr Francis Morgan, Prof Warren Rice electric flashlight big-game repeating rifle spell roll, long-distance bug sprayer, pocket telescope
“The Electric Executioner” Anonymous revolver valise
“Herbert West ‒ Reanimator” Herbert West electric flashlight revolver
“The Hound” Anonymous revolver spade
“The Lurking Fear” Anonymous pocket-light automatic pistol spade
“Medusa’s Coil” Anonymous automatic pistol
“The Mound” Three anonymous men heavily armed spades and pickaxes
Anonymous electric torches heavy revolver, trench knife, machete pick, shovel, handbag holding rope, field-glasses, tape-measure, microscope, and incidentals for emergencies
“Pickman’s Model” Richard Pickman flashlight revolver
“The Rats in the Walls” Sir William Brinton, Captain Edward Norrys, Thomas de la Poer, Thornton, Dr Trask, and two more men powerful electric searchlights implements of excavation
The Shadow Over Innsmouth Robert Olmstead pocket flashlight three-in-one pocket tool including screwdriver
“The Shunned House” Anonymous, Dr Elihu Whipple electric flashlight flamethrowers Crookes tube
The Whisperer in Darkness Henry Akeley big-game repeating rifle
Prof Albert Wilmarth pocket flashlight pocket revolver valise

In the tradition that goes back to the first D&D games, players are wont to argue about what their investigators actually carry when they have crawled down the rabbit hole. A pocket knife? Very possible, many people carry one everywhere. A flashlight? Probable, at least if excursions at night or underground are to be expected. A handgun? Not unlikely, at least in the 1890s and 1920s, and not impossible in the modern day either, depending on location. A powerful hunting rifle? Weeell.

To prevent the inevitable discussions what an investigator does have on hand in any given situation, it makes sense to sit down for a moment and have the player create a list of items, a basic load, perhaps even several: On his person. In his backpack. In the car.

The Call of Cthulhu rulebooks provide basic shopping lists for this kind of thing, and several setting supplements offer additional material, notably the Gaslight Equipment Catalogue, The 1920s Investigator’s Companion, Cthulhu Now/1990s Handbook, and of course Investigator Weapons 1: The 1920s and 1930s and Investigator Weapons 2: Modern Day. However, most of them ignore the weight issue. Sure, a pocket knife and a lighter weigh next to nothing. That loaded .38-calibre Colt Detective Special pocket revolver is rather weighty (0.68 kg or 1.51 lbs) though, and quickly becomes uncomfortable to carry if it is simply shoved into a pocket instead of carried in a proper holster.

There have been several attempts to provide Encumbrance rules for Call of Cthulhu (see Investigator Weapons 2, p. 20, or The Laundry: As Above, So Below, p. 28, and the related Basic RolePlaying, p. 180). Personally, I prefer those in my own books, since they use standard kilograms instead of artificial and unintuitive units like SIZ or ENC. However, all of these require a certain amount of bookkeeping, something that appears to be abhorrent to some Call of Cthulhu players.

In order to better illustrate the size and weight of the various items that an investigator might carry, I have assembled a possible basic load for a modern day investigator.


Investigators Load_1a

Smart phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini), 0.124 kg

Pocket LED light (Fenix PD22), 0.082 kg

Pocket knife, 10-in-one (Victorinox Tourist), 0.052 kg

Pocket notebook, 0.159 kg

Ball pen, 0.01 kg

Permanent marker, 0.019 kg

Tape measure (3 m), 0.1 kg

Lighter (Zippo, 8 ml naphta lighter fuel), 0.086 kg

Wet wipes, 0.01 kg

Gloves (Mechanix Original), 0.06 kg

Total 0.702 kg (1.55 lbs)

Shoulder Bag

Investigators Load_2Tome (as al-Hazred’s Necronomicon was unavailable, I have substituted Ezell’s Small Arms of the World, 12th Edition), 2.35 kg

Plastic bottle (500 ml water), 0.525 kg

Roll of duct tape (5.5 m), 0.295 kg

Shoulder bag (surplus US Army M1956 field pack with shoulder strap), 0.44 kg

Total 3.61 kg (7.96 lbs)

Pistol Belt

Investigators Load_3If the investigator were to be armed, he might add a handgun, preferably carried in a belt holster. Holster and magazine holders can be dispensed with, but pistol and magazines shoved in pockets or the waistband are more difficult to conceal, easily lost, and uncomfortable to carry over longer periods of time. A total of 51 rounds might sound like a lot, but can be gone in a very short period of time.


Pistol (Glock 17, loaded with 17 9×19mm hollow-point rounds), 0.905 kg

Holster (Sickinger Yaqui), 0.05 kg

Spare magazine, 0.28 kg

Magazine holder (Sickinger Combat Box), 0.05 kg

Second spare magazine, 0.28 kg

Magazine holder (Sickinger Combat Box), 0.05 kg

Total 1.615 kg (3.56 lbs)

Shoulder Arm

Investigators Load_4If groups of armed cultists, Deep Ones, or Ghouls are likely encounters, a long arm might be prudent as well. Instead of using an ammunition pouch, the shotshells can be stuffed in a coat pocket, but this is uncomfortable given the size of the cartridges and also makes reloading slow. Further, it prevents easy access to other items carried in the pockets (see above). A dedicated shotshell pouch, a dump pouch, or a bandoleer can also be used, of course.


Pump-action shotgun (Remington Model 870 Police Magnum, loaded with six 12-gauge 2.75” buckshot rounds), 3.682 kg

Sling, 0.1 kg

Box of shotshells (10), 0.475 kg

Another box of shotshells (10), 0.475 kg

Ammunition pouch (surplus US Army M1956 M16 pouch, will hold 20 shells), 0.275 kg

Total 5.007 kg (11.04 lbs)


The combined weight is 10.934 kg (24.11 lbs), which is quite a bit when you are running away from things …

The basic load for an investigator in the 1920s would not be all that different, with the exception of the smart phone, although everything would be heavier ‒ an Eveready No.2671 pocket light (Investigator Weapons 1, p. 104) weighs 0.4 kg (and does not shine as far and for as long), a .45-calibre Colt Government pistol (Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 37-38) weighs 1.27 kg loaded (and has only seven rounds in the magazine), a 12-gauge Winchester Model 97 Riot shotgun (Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 84-85) weighs 3.87 kg loaded (and carries only five rounds in the magazine), etc.