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Apr 18, 2022

Modern Mythos with Jon & Seth - Episode 14: Chaosium Con & Horror Atmosphere
In this episode, Jon and Seth discuss ways to effectively create an atmosphere of horror at your gaming table, and the guys were able to finally meet each other in person for the first time at Chaosium Con in Ypsilani, Michigan. It was a blast, and they've got lots of thoughts on it as they reflect on the convention weekend and look forward to the next year's convention.
Topic 1: Horror Atmosphere
MUSIC is overrated – a playlist set to run in the background can’t be relied upon to provide appropriate support for the rise and fall of emotions around the table. But, if used judiciously, music can be helpful.
  • Music as a Timer
  • Location-specific music & background sound effects
  • Theme music for a major villain
  • Volume can be difficult to judge. A classic problem is the music is too loud for everyone to clearly hear one another (restaurant problem).
  • Opening song/pump-up song to begin game.
DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE – in each location and scene, the players only know what is told to them by the Keeper. So use of colorful descriptive language is used to paint mental pictures for the players. Things to keep in mind as you describe a scene:
  • What is the player’s POV? What can be seen as you first enter the room, versus after the character has crossed to the other side of the room? (If a monster or something dangerous and obvious, mention that last. Once you mention the monster, the players will not hear or remember the rest of the description after that)
  • Touch on as many senses as possible – Sight - Sound - Smell (best writing tip I ever got was to always use 3 senses)
  • Not all characters experience a scene in the same way. It’s possible for two different characters to see two different things in the same scene. So sometimes the Keeper should describe the scene differently for some of the characters. Maybe the new scene is more personal for Character A and could shake their sanity more than it would for Character B.
  • What’s just as important as the words you say is how you say them. Speak quieter if in a library, louder in a bar. Convey the mood of the scene through your voice. The Scott Dorward Trick that I now use. (tone of voice)
  • Voices… accents can really cement players into a scene
LIGHTING – like music, lighting can be used to invoke a mood. For most games, enough lighting needs to be available to read the dice or manage the character sheet, but with that assumption in mind, uses of lighting include:
  • Candles – with enough candles each player can see their sheets and dice as the close-set shadows help set the mood.
  • Colored gels could be used to highlight mood, and they can be easily interchanged so the mood can change and flow as quickly as it does at the table
PROPS – this is something that Call of Cthulhu has been doing for over forty years. The simplest of props is better than no props at all. But if possible, the use of high-end props, (like those made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society), can exponentially enhance the game experience.
  • I’m a handout King. Handouts are great for investigative adventures because they can contain subtle clues that might reveal themselves deeper into the scenario, such as handwriting,
  • Handouts can be referenced again and again, versus telling the players what they read and expecting them to remember details hours or even sessions later.
  • Tea-stain paper or use manilla envelope paper.
  • When I ran Ravenloft, my players were amazed when I picked up sealing wax and seals for the letters, and they had to break the hard wax seal.
LISTENING – it is near-impossible for a Keeper to solely create horror at the gaming table. If the Keeper listens, they may hear subtle suggestions that the players unknowingly reveal that would be scary for them, in that moment, at the table. The Keeper can then use that subtle suggestion and reveal it to be exactly the horror that the players were fearing.
Topic 2: Chaosium Con
Jon and Seth each recount their experience at the con.
Shout-outs - Thank you to our recent Patrons:
Arthur O’Connor, Joe Collins, Ken Austin, Marc Storey, Xtroce, Joe Todaro, and Ken Frankovich
Thank you all for your support
We can’t do this show alone. We want to thank our amazing editors Max Mahaffa and Edwin Nagy for their hard work and keen skills at making us sound awesome!
We also want to thank John Sumrow, for our badass logo. He’s a very talented artist, so please follow him on Facebook, check out his official website, and please consider joining his Patreon account. Links in the show notes.
And finally, we want to thank The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets for generously allowing us to use their song, Gluttony, as our intro and outro music. If you are a fan of Lovecraft’s writing and the Call of Cthulhu RPG, then you need to check out The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. Please check out their BandCamp site and their official band site. Links in the show notes.