Tag Archives: RPG

Puzzling Sounds

My gaming group started during the pandemic, so we’ve never actually played a session in person. We rely on Roll20, Google Meet, and email. These tools affect the quality of the games – we’re not gathered around a table with miniatures, graph paper and chips, but we’re not in a video game either. Much of what I need to run this hybrid sort of game is custom made, and I try to take advantage of anything I can share in an internet browser.

Experiments With Google has a huge, ever-changing variety of things to explore. I was immediately inspired by the Chrome Music Lab. The Spectrogram allows you to play with sound. You can even use the finger button to draw new sound waves with your mouse to see how they looked and sounded.

I decided I would use this to make an original puzzle. It was complicated – so bear with me.


I wanted to create a cypher with audio cues. How to best exploit the Spectrogram?

A quick click made a blip and a long click made a beep, but I wanted something more ambitious than Morse Code. I started by making as many distinct shapes as I could with the variables available. I am not an audio engineer, but these were the basic qualities I found:

Pitch: High, Medium, Low 

Vector: Rising, Falling, Flat 

Soundwave Shape: Peak, Valley, Down Slide, Up Slide, Double/Triple/Quadruple etc, Dots, Dashes, Plateaus, Stair Case Up, Stair Case Down, and Ziggurat (stair case up and down).

I marked these down with notation that matched the shapes. Peak = ^ , Valley = V , Down Slide = \ , etc.

Using every possible combination could have generated a very long list, but that would be no fun for my players (“Was that a medium pitch down slide or a low pitch down slide? Fifteen or sixteen dashes?”). I limited my lexicon to one page of distinct sounds and combinations.

Here it is:

Yes:   * *  (2 high pitched dots) 

No:      \     (Down Slide) 

Stop:   V     (Valley) 

Go:      ^  (Peak) 

Sun:    – 

               (1 high pitched dash) 

Moon: – – (2 medium dashes) 

Day:    – – – 

                         (3 high pitched dashes) 

Night:  V V     (2 Valleys) 

Flee:    ^ ^ ^   (3 Peaks) 

Hide:   …….       (7 low dots) 

Door:   ^ * *      (Peak + 2 high pitched dots) 

Sleep:   \  _ _ _   (Down Slide + 3 low pitched dashes) 

Eat:        _      

           /      \      (Plateau) 

Find:    /      (Up Slide) 

Help:   V – V       (Valley + Medium dash + Valley) 

Now I needed to create some simple messages. My grammar was limited, but these were clues for the quest – they could provide some information and still remain cryptic. I composed three messages, starting with a single word to warm up my players, increasing the challenge as I went.

Can you decipher them?

Message 1:      V – V 

Message 2: ^ / – – 

Message 3: V \ _ _ _  

       – – –  ^  * * 


Here are the answers with plain text notation:

Message 1: Help (Valley + Medium Dash + Valley)      V – V 

Message 2: Go Find Moon (Peak, Up Slide, 2 Medium dashes) ^ / – – 

Message 3: Stop Sleep (Valley, Down Slide +3 Low pitched dashes) V \ _ _ _ 

   Find Day Door (Up Slide, 3 High Pitched dashes, Peak + 2 High Pitched Dots)  

       – – –  ^  * * 


Okay, but…how do I make those sounds?

This was the tricky part. During the game session I ‘shared a tab’ in our Google Meet video conference with the Spectrogram in the browser. Then I tried to use the finger button to make the proper sound waves in real time. It took a bit of practice, it wasn’t perfect….but it worked!

My players were able to match what they heard to the lexicon and decipher the messages.

Now it was time to get really ambitious.


While experimenting with the sound waves, I wondered if I could draw letters from the alphabet directly into the Spectrogram. It was possible, but there was a catch: The sound waves were constantly moving forward, so I could only render letters that did not turn back on themselves. Things like ‘O’ and ‘T’ were impossible, at least by hand.

Using both capital and lower case letters, here is what I was able to recreate:

Uppercase: A I J L M N U V W 

Lowercase: h , r 

Was that anything? What could I spell in the Spectrogram?

JAIL, rUN, hAIL, rAIL, MAN, LAIr, AIr, WAr…hmm, this could work.

I plugged all the letters into an online Scrabble word finder and came up with a decent list of words.

Drawing lengthy messages one letter at time without making mistakes, however, was not going to be easy. I wanted to break the task into one word at a time. Since I wouldn’t be doing it live during the session, I would have to record the words. Unfortunately, the Chrome Music Lab Spectrogram doesn’t have that function.

Lucikly, there is a Chrome Audio Capture extension. It was free, installed easily, and allowed me to record my best attempts at hand drawing each word right in my browser.

Once I had my word files, I needed to combine them into messages. For that, I used the free audio editing program Audacity. I’m not very good at it, but it wasn’t hard to open the first file, import the next word, copy and paste, and so on.

Now I had three messages that would spell out words inside a spectrogram. Following the pattern, I made the first one simple and made the challenge progressively harder from there.

There was another problem – the Chrome Music Lab Spectrogram doesn’t allow you to plug in your own sound files…but this one at Academo does!

At first glance my messages just looked like the spikes and blips of a random soundwave, but when I clicked the ‘Logarithmic Frequency Scale?’ box my signal was boosted and voila! Scrolling letters in vibrant color! I couldn’t wait to share this tab with my players in our next game session.

My players were stumped.

They listened to the sounds and stared at their old symbolic lexicon, ignoring the words scrolling by on the screen.

It took a few hints, but they eventually looked up and discovered all of the new messages, even the perplexing ‘JAM hAIr IN hUMAN URINAL‘.

Listen to the sound: https://archive.org/download/full-sequence-3/FULL%20SEQUENCE%203.mp3

(Feel free to save the MP3 and try for yourself)

My mistake, of course, was in switching up the cypher. First I gave my players tools and built their competence with them, then I presented a new puzzle that seemed like it would fit the old tools. I believe that a little confusion is okay with puzzles. Sometimes I’ll even let frustration set in, if I think it will payoff with a bigger ‘ah-ha’ moment.

If you are interested in using the Spectrogram puzzles in your own game, I would suggest sticking with just Phase One or Phase Two. If you are going to present them both, you may need to take extra care to signal that the second puzzle works differently.

I hope these on-line tools inspire you to enhance your own distanced gaming sessions!

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The Six Demon Bag Podcast

I’ve neglected to mention that I have a new podcast!

pod people

Soon we will all be pod-people

It’s called The Six Demon Bag, and if you get that reference you’ll dig our show. If you don’t get the reference, we’ll surely win you over with our healthy recipes  flirty fashions  political discourse grab bag of topics guaranteed to include things like science, writing, movies, comics, games, anime, true tales, ponderables…all that kind of thing!

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Subscribe and Rate at iTunes and Stitcher

Throw a topic in the bag!

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Delta Green: Extraordinary Renditions now available

DG Extraordinary Renditions cover

My short story Le Pain Maudit is now available in an anthology of all new mythos fiction from Arc Dream Publishing.

These are 18 case histories ranging from the late 1940s to present day by some of the most popular writers in the horror and RPG field.

Here is the table of contents

  • “The Color of Dust” by Laurel Halbany.
  • “PAPERCLIP” by Kenneth Hite.
  • “A Spider With Barbed-Wire Legs” by Davide Mana.
  • “Le Pain Maudit” by Jeff C. Carter.
  • “Cracks in the Door” by Jason Mical.
  • “Ganzfeld Gate” by Cody Goodfellow.
  • “Utopia” by David Farnell.
  • “The Perplexing Demise of Stooge Wilson” by David J. Fielding.
  • “Dark” by Daniel Harms.
  • “Morning in America” by James Lowder.
  • “Boxes Inside Boxes” and “The Mirror Maze” by Dennis Detwiller.
  • “A Question of Memory” by Greg Stolze.
  • “Pluperfect” by Ray Winninger.
  • “Friendly Advice” by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.
  • “Passing the Torch” by Adam Scott Glancy.
  • “The Lucky Ones” by John Scott Tynes.
  • “Syndemic” and an introduction by Shane Ivey.

I have been a fan of Delta Green since the U.S. military stormed the blighted town at the end of ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’. The paradigm of military vs. monsters is thrilling because we think monsters aren’t real. When you delve deeper into the military and intelligence side, however, the ground does not get more stable. The secrets you learn do not make you feel safer. This is a world of paranoia and murder. This is the real world, where even now people with unlimited budgets are scrambling to invent the next existential threat before ‘the other side’ can.

My story follows from two disturbing chapters in recent history. The first was the revelation of the CIA’s Project MKULTRA, which attempted to develop mind control techniques that they tested on innocent people without their consent.


The second was the strange tragedy known as ‘Le Pain Maudit’, the outbreak of mass hallucinations that ravaged a small French village in 1951. Some theorize that the local baker’s bread was contaminated by ergot fungus. There are clues, however, that suggest the CIA had dosed the town with LSD.

other headline


Here is an excerpt from Le Pain Maudit:

Frank, Gerhard and John stood shoulder to shoulder, watching through the two-way mirror. Edward was negotiating with Monsieur Tatin over wine, cheese and bread. John filmed the proceedings with a purring film camera.

Frank idly scratched his pen on the metal clipboard balanced on his forearm while he observed the German. Gerhard marked his log each time Tatin took a bite or sip. He checked a stop watch and smiled.

“Any moment now.”

Frank pulled off his headphones and whispered.

“What did you dose him with?”


“Black lotus?”

Ja, a potent hallucinogen. It enhances the truth-serum effects of LSD.”

A crash from the main room turned their heads.

Monsieur Tatin had dropped his wine glass and stumbled against the wall. Edward eased him into a chair.

“Relax, monsieur. It’s all right.”

Je suis désolé, I do not feel so well. I just….”

Monsieur Tatin twisted to stare into the firelight. His eyes had dilated into gaping black holes.

“How are you feeling, monsieur? What do you see?”

Clermond Farrand

The Frenchman licked his wine-stained lips and wavered.

“A black temple…with spires that reach the stars. It’s impossible. So vast. So ancient!”

Gerhard’s scratching pen fell silent. Frank looked over. The German had closed his eyes in an expression like prayer.

Tatin gripped the edge of the table and shook.

“I’m being pulled inside. I’m sinking! In the crypts, they dwell…fungal things…silently waiting. I’m frightened! They know I am there! They know!”

He spewed a stream of bile across the table and collapsed. Edward hurried over and checked his pulse.


Tatin looked around with blurry, bloodshot eyes. His pupils were returning to normal. He finally noticed Edward standing over him.

“What happened?”

“We drank too much, monsieur. Let me walk you home.”

John turned off the recording equipment. Frank pretended to finish his notes while watching Gerhard. The German gathered the remaining food and wine with great reverence, like a priest handling sacraments.

Frank stepped out of the bedroom and waved a pen.

“Was that a success or a failure, Herr Doktor?”


Follow this link to buy the book in a variety of formats

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Game on

Mecha West update!


see more at http://www.mottalima.com/

Steam Punk Cowboy by Renan Motta Lima

Heroic Journey Publishing took our table top game Mecha West to GenCon this year for beta testing and it was a hit.  Don’t take my word for it, though, you can hear about it on the 1D4 podcast!

Mecha West is moving into its final stages and we should start to see some original artwork soon.  Stay tuned for more.




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Mecha West says Howdy

I’m excited to officially announce that my collaborators and I have finally begun working on MECHA WEST, a new addition to Heroic Journey Publishing’s popular RPG game MECHA.

In MECHA WEST players will be able to use the giant battle suits of anime in an old west setting.  Yes, we’re talking cowboys, robots and steam punk technology.

This is just a quick note to watch this space as things develop.  We’ll be delving deep into how certain advances in technology reshape the american west and make it a lot more wild.

Stay tuned !

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