At last, a ‘horror’ I can buy into – the Silt Verses
If you know me personally, you will know that I have a real problem with Call of Cthulhu. It is a game that I simply do not understand. The reasons are many, and not all of them may be based on evidence-based, logical reasoning. However, one of the reasons I have constantly baulked against it is that I just don’t really ‘do’ horror.
There’s very little horror that creates a reaction in me. I think I have quite a poor ability to suspend disbelief or to buy into the tension because I am quite aware of my surroundings. I find gore-filled torture porn, like Saw, yawn-inducing. I don’t believe in ghosts, the afterlife, God, or the Devil, so a good chunk of the rest of modern horror is dead to me. And games based on these concepts are just dull to me.
I have, however, always been aware that there are certain things that really do unsettle me. I cannot even begin to watch Squid Games or Battle Royale, and I find the Hunger Games films hard to watch. Certain scenes in Titanic terrify me, and the scene in The Poseidon Adventure where the larger woman swims to the exit, saving everyone knowing she will probably die herself, is burned in my memory. Some parts of the Purge franchise do my head in as well. Oh, and the scene in Vikings where one of them willingly is sacrificed to the gods freaks me out.
There’s something about willing sacrifice, or human suffering for entertainment (oh, yes, throw in any gladiator-style movie too) that really churns my stomach with a proper empathic ‘What would I do in that situation? How must it feel?’ reaction. It’s the place where it’s potentially real, rather than horrifically real, that does it for me.
So, when Guy Milner pointed me towards The Silt Verses RPG as ‘1000s of small gods, and ritual sacrifice’ I was interested. When I looked into it, I realised that the game was based on some audio dramas. I mentioned these to my 20-something nerd daughter and she scoffed at me for not knowing about them. It has come to this. So I started watching them, and I discovered a truly disturbing world that has enthralled me, and unnerved me, in equal parts.
Without going too far into the stories themselves, the Silt Verses world is filled with Gods that really do seem to be extra-dimensional entities that can be called forth with human sacrifice. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the jist. There are unlicenced cultists for rogue faiths, but there are also licenced faiths who make sacrifices as a normal part of the day. So you want a new building built? Someone has to be sacrificed by being buried alive in the foundations. Do you want a train to be efficient? Someone is melded with the engine – ‘hallowed’ in the parlance of the setting – and it’s just part and parcel of everyday life.
That casual acceptance of sacrifice – murder – as a part of the setting leads everything to become tense and dangerous. There is an episode where the ‘core characters’ (I wouldn’t exactly call Faulkner a protagonist…) stop to have a meal at a Diner which happens to be devoted to ‘The Chitterling’ and I swear it is the most stressful ordering of food I can imagine because you honestly feel someone is going to be killed, randomly, somehow.
And the other aspect is that the way these deaths are created is … inventive. The entire passage from s2e10 where Brother Toes, a worshipper of the Snuff Gods, instructs a room of worshippers including children on the orderly way to dismember a living sacrifice is … chilling. And not something you want to be listening to on the #11 bus at night.
I have chosen to run the Silt Verses RPG at LongCon in 2024. I imagine it is going to be an amazingly intense two days, and I am having to think long and hard about how I can recreate some of the atmosphere of the audio-dramas and maintain the very specific horror of the setting around a games table. I want people to be unnerved. I want them to feel that disquiet where the familiar becomes the horrific.