Sunday, September 27, 2015

Call of Cthulhu Props – the slightly dark art of prop making

Recently on the blog site Propnomicon, a real historical archeological object was brought forth as a possible prop item for playing the role playing game, Call of Cthulhu and this set me thinking.  See the post

With a little work a historical object can be modified into something of fun and interest for your game.  The point is to make something as a gaming aid, not in making a forgery or hoaxing a gullible public.  I decided to make a bit of a tutorial on how to rework a photo over and place it into a gaming context for players.  For that I primarily used Photoshop and some images gathered from the web.  Note that I didn’t try hard to mimic an authentic old dig book, but left the format rather plain so it will fit into a number of eras.

Now that you have your object's image, you need to set into context like a gem into a ring.  An association to reasonably old and obscure publication helps.  It really doesn’t matter if the publication is made up whole cloth, or your drop your page into an existing book.  The point is to make it reasonably believable to your gamers.  A few additional photos for support to add a garnish to your page and you have a passable (for gaming purposes) page to show your players.

But first a little photomanipulation is in order:

 You can use your picture as is, but dropping it into a book just sharpens up the presentation.  Remember context helps suspend disbelief in players.

You can print on different types of paper and add use marks or damage.  You can also turn it slightly brown for aging.  It's up to you to decide how it will look.  A book cover is pretty easy to turn up on line.

This project was done with bare-bones computing resources just to show that it's within anybodies grasp.  All I used was an old laptop computer and a decade plus old copy of Photoshop Elements 2.  Nothing else. That also includes the modification on the photos to make them look like antique formats.  With more sophisticated software and a fairly modern computer, you can really make some believable documents and photos with a good printer.  Oh yes, all of this is done in low resolution 72 dpi because its only was intended to be demonstrated on the web and not really printed out.  I generally work in 350 dpi for projects that are going to be printed or I need photorealistic products.

It’s up to you to decide to how to incorporate this item into your scenario:  they could be questing to find the fragment, which had been stolen; they could be looking for the rest of the fragments to assemble a terrifying realization.  You can print this out, age the paper if you wish and let your players find this clue.  I just quickly knocked this out with no real attempt to make it pass muster as original, but you can take your time using the same techniques and produce a highly believable prop.  Halftoning it would make it look like an autogravure, typical in old dig books.  I didn’t add any incriminating dates so the page can be used for the 20s & 30s or be a much older book that is referenced the players.

Note that I added the insinuation into the text that one figure was using a control panel, with a joystick no less.  Maybe it’s a late Dynastic version of an Atari game.  Erich von Däniken
would have loved it. You can also add other pages with modified or even original photos to add depth to your presentation.

Yep, it's an original unaltered photo, but it works well for the story.
A fairly modern photo made to look older.  Do you know the source?
Another real photo, unmanipulated -- hard to tell, isn't it?
So now you have a little inspiration to go forth and spice up your CoC campaigns.  Photos are much easier than other physical props and if you take a photo of your prop, drop it into prop book or make manipulated pictures, you can really add a dynamic to your game with a multi-level prop.  Because you can add your own text to the book like I did above, you can tell the story your way.  It's all pretty basic really. 

No Egyptologists were injured in the making of this paper prop.


Background and links
Here is the original location of the fragment on the web, torn from reality and set down in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos setting of the 1920s-1930s.

Another blog entry of mine about using original items as props, in this case Jomon Culture items embedded into the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos 
I was tempted to use the location of Tanis in this prop project but considering my previous post on the subject, decided to go for a more obscure site

Does this fine antique image of a dig from the 1880's look familiar? It should, its source if from Raiders of the Lost Ark, modified into an ambrotype photo, damage and all.  But you can use such items as support for your prop, be it paper or some other material.  BTW the other antique dig photo above this one is also another Raiders image, but made to look 1920s.