Unspeakable! Episode 4 – Dan Harms and How to Horrify Your Players

We’re not even remotely on schedule! But we’re here. And at three hours this is enough podcast to horrify any set of ears.

Unspeakable! episode 4 is hosted by Ross Payton of Role Playing Public Radio and Zombies of the World, Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing and The Unspeakable Oath, and Adam Scott Glancy of Pagan Publishing. Scott just last episode was a guest and has already been promoted to cohost. That’s how fast things move here at the Oath.

Our guest today is Dan Harms, author of The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia and uncounted pieces of Cthulhoid brilliance in The Unspeakable Oath, Worlds of Cthulhu and elsewhere.

We’ll be talking about scaring your players at the Call of Cthulhu game table.

Subscribe to the Unspeakable! podcast feed at http://theunspeakableoath.com/home/?feed=podcast

Or subscribe at iTunes.

Show Notes

00:00:00 INTRO.

00:00:25 WELCOME. Who are these people? Scott appreciates Dan’s treatment of Tsathoggua, the Great Old One who is so much more than an angry bunny rabbit. More about teasing out horrific details from the source material when only hints are given in the Call of Cthulhu rules.

00:11:10 Scott persuades us that Dan Harms makes a good bulletproof vest.

00:23:20 NEWS. Announcing Delta Green: Strange Authorities, a collection of the award-winning Delta Green fiction of John Scott Tynes, coming in January 2012 from Arc Dream Publishing. Strange Authorities will be published in ebook, paperback and maybe hardcover.

The guys tell stories while Shane flounders around for the cover art to show them. But our listeners can see it RIGHT NOW!

00:31:55 Dennis Detwiller is still working on a new fiction collection, Delta Green: Failed Anatomies. He’s also hard at work sending out the autographed copies of Delta Green: Through a Glass, Darkly.

00:35:15 The Unspeakable Oath issue 21 is coming soon! Honest! We’re working on it!

00:41:10 Shane is working on the rules parts of the Delta Green role-playing game with help from Greg Stolze. Also: Being in the officially reinstated version of Delta Green will not make your investigators any happier or more cocksure.

00:50:45 Scott says Pagan Publishing is gearing up to run a Kickstarter to print Bumps in the Night, a collection of classic-era Call of Cthulhu adventures that draw from non-Mythos supernatural folklore. Scott is working through production of an Actual Play recording of the seven-hour Delta Green game he ran at Pax. (It was based on “Divine Fire” by Ross’ friend Tom Church.)

01:05:46 Ross just finished a successfully Kickstarter for Killsplosion, a rules-light player-vs.-player RPG. Part of the funding paid for a video camera that Ross will use to interview game designers. Also, Ross’ pregen in a mountain climbing adventure needed a better Climb skill.

01:11:06 Ross’ book Zombies of the World has been picked up by Barnes and Noble! Now he’s working on a novel, Dead Power.

01:12:53 Dan has a Wall Street scenario in Miskatonic River Press’ Tales of the Sleepless City. In playtesting: Fury of Yig. (Not a bag of dicks!) He’s working on a couple of other scenarios. “The Chapel of Contemplation,” from The Unspeakable Oath 18, will appear in the new Spanish translation of the Call of Cthulhu rulebook from Edge Entertainment. Dan encourages you to submit short pieces for the Oath! Especially stuff that is uncanny and horrific and weird. Shane hijacks that discussion to talk about the upcoming new Delta Green Shotgun Scenario contest and how we’re going to clamp down on the word counts for it. Dan has a book coming: an annotated edition of The Long-Lost Friend, an 18th-century manual of folk magic.

01:23:01 INTERLUDE. “Sounds of Tindalos” by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, courtesy Divine Industries. Copyright 2011. Visit www.thickets.net.

01:24:01 SPONSORS! Sacrifice your time, money and blood to the people who support The Unspeakable Oath.

01:25:15 HOW TO HORRIFY PLAYERS. Players at the game table are easily distracted. Many of Call of Cthulhu gamers have been playing it for a long time and have seen and read about all the monsters. How do you spook them?

  • Reining in the laughs. Getting the players on board with the horror.
  • Surprising the players with horror and how rare that is with veterans.
  • Using the material in the rulebook as the starting point and making the horror about the decisions and fates of human beings. You don’t need an alien monster for horror.
  • Describing familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Delving into the source material for new details and implications.
  • Stephen King’s tips from “Danse Macabre.”
  • Playing the monsters as characters — as intelligent but alien beings.
  • Feeding the details to the players with deliberation and learning to roll with the roll of the dice.
  • Presenting smaller, more horrifying goals for the antagonists.
  • Monsters and magic as the tools and flavor of the underlying horror.
  • Giving the players just enough hope that despair hurts.
  • Body horror and surprises with Blair Reynolds.
  • Use the Sanity rules with care! Calling for a roll can actually detract from the mood; make sure the Sanity roll is a confirmation of what the players are feeling.
  • Using sound to viscerally unsettle and shock the players. Immersion.
  • Focusing on the things in the fiction that matter to the players. Making nonplayer characters and their fates matter.
  • Anecdotes from Pagan Publishing’s home games (Scott), Eclipse Phase (Ross), and Delta Green games (Shane and Dan).
  • Confounding expectations by mixing up genres and using non-supernatural horrors.
  • More on this topic at RPPR:

SPOILER WARNINGS for “The Well of Sacrifice,” “The Dagger of Thoth,” “The Wild Hunt,” and “Convergence,” and New Tales from the Miskatonic Valley.

02:57:30 THE END. Merry Christmas! Rate us on iTunes!


This episode’s music includes “Cthulhu Dreams,” “Sounds of Tindalos” and “Nyarlathotep” by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, courtesy Divine Industries. Copyright 2011. Visit www.thickets.net.

4 comments for “Unspeakable! Episode 4 – Dan Harms and How to Horrify Your Players

  1. SageNytell
    December 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    God bless you beautiful people. 3 hours of Cthulhu discussion right before the holidays? It’s a Christmas miracle!

  2. Jay Dugger
    December 23, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Disgust, shock, and dread: check.

    Care, feeding, and abuse of Dependent NPCs: check.

    Didn’t Donald Sutherland star in a movie about the Pow-Wow Man murders? I recall Harms’s June release from that, I think.

    SPOILER: Nemo Solus Sapit has a marvelous creepy scene with a psychologist having a marital dispute with his late wife.

    Making players and PCs willing participants in their own suffering: check

    No one joins a cult to get eaten. Cultists have good motives, by their own lights. See “Cold War,” from TUO.

    Investigators make very dangerous opponents: check.
    Again see “Cold War,” from TUO.

    Players as unreliable witnesses: hobos, junkies. Check.
    Also children, hermits, those sworn to silence, those who cried wolf, etc.

    Good podcast, but needs more scinillating banter.

  3. Ed Possing
    December 23, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Another home run! But I miss the Ayn Rand bashing.

  4. Dom
    January 12, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Amazing episode! Great discussion, love Glancy’s stories. Keep up the great work!

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