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Basic Information

The term porter refers, somewhat confusingly, to two largely unrelated roles:

  1. A person who carries goods for a living (as in market porter, native porter, station porter), derived from the Latin portare (to carry)
  2. A door or gate keeper, again, from the Latin porta (a gate or door).

The former is likely to be a very low status position - essentially a labourer and usually a casual one at that - whilst the latter may be a person of some importance (or at least trust), given that they are at least partially responsible for securing their employer's property and greeting and sorting his guests, deliveries and other visitors. The railway porter - to some degree a subspecies of the first kind - is at least a higher end example, given that in most cases he will have permanent employment and often customer service duties over and above carrying passenger's luggage. The Pullman Porter - a sleeping car attendant from the US Passenger rail system is a particularly iconic version.

Confusingly, Porter is also a class of strong, dark beer - this may have got its name from its popularity amongst the eponymous labouring men.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Important to know what kind of porter you are dealing with - the latter variety could well be a person of significant influence if they are the ceremonial doorkeeper of a court of some kind.
  • It could also be a ceremonial sinecure whose actual duties are performed by someone else - especially where someone is "doorkeeper of the royal court" or some similar office. The person you actually need to see is their underpaid proxy clerk.
  • Monasteries and quasi-monastic institutions (such as elderly British and European universities) tend to have "porters" of fairly high rank, with a number of deputies under them. These days they tend to be more of a facilities manager with the actual security team, reception, etc. reporting to them.
  • The former variety might well need to be hired for an expedition - Hilaire Belloc's The Modern Traveller has probably the poetically expressed rendition of how this can be done … and how it can go wrong, but generally the acquiring of porters is a key part of most pulp and colonial era expeditions.
  • Human porterage was, historically, a key aspect of freight technology - if you needed to move stores in areas too rough for pack animals (or if your culture just didn't have pack animals), including a lot of urban work and other short range lifts - then a human porter was your only way forward. This fact was a key part of the talent being such a significant unit of measurement in the ancient world.
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