The book has been written.

The book has been read.

Now it rewrites you.

Across time it spreads, creating dread new realities.

And you’re in all of them.

Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ influential cycle of short stories, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines.

Written and designed by GUMSHOE master Robin D. Laws, it pits the characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. This suppressed play, once read, invites madness or a visit from its titular character, an alien ruler intent on invading and remolding our world into a colony of his planet, Carcosa.

Four full-colour hardback books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, with a separate GM screen, confront your players with an epic journey into reality horror:

  • Belle Époque Paris, where a printed version of the dread play is first published. Players portray American art students in its absinthe-soaked world, navigating the Parisian demimonde and investigating mysteries involving gargoyles, vampires, and decadent alien royalty.
  • The Wars, an alternate reality in which the players take on the role of soldiers bogged down in the great European conflict of 1947. While trying to stay alive on an eerie, shifting battlefield, they investigate supernatural mysteries generated by the occult machinations of the Yellow King and his rebellious daughters.
  • Aftermath, set later in the same reality, in present day North America. A bloody insurrection has toppled a dictatorial regime loyal to Carcosa. Players become former partisans adjusting to ordinary life, trying to build a just society from the ashes of civil war. But not all of the monsters have been thoroughly banished—and like it or not, they’re the ones with the skills to hunt them and finish them off.
  • This is Normal Now. In the present day we know, albeit one subtly permeated by supernatural beings and maddening reality shifts, ordinary people band together, slowly realizing that they are the key to ending a menace spanning eras and realities.

New GUMSHOE features include:

  • A completely new player-facing combat system.
  • A fresh, evocative approach to wounds, physical and psychic, inspired by the innovations of GUMSHOE One-2-One.
  • Linked character creation across multiple settings.

Each purchase of The Yellow King RPG from our website, or a bricks-and-mortar retailer, includes the following downloads:

  • PDFs of the Paris, The Wars, Aftermath and This is Normal Now settings
  • GM Screen PDF
  • Slipcase GM Screen PDF
  • MP3s of The Yellow King RPG Suite
  • PNG files of all Shock and Injury cards from the four core settings
  • PNG files of all Goal, Chit & Hit cards from the Aftermath setting
  • Bonus The Yellow King RPG adventure, “The Doors to Heaven”, written by Sarah Saltiel for the Paris setting
  • A PSD format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • A GIMP format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Shock deck
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Injury deck

 

Stock #: PELGY01 Author: Robin Laws
Artists: Aaron Aurelio Acevedo, Dean Engelhardt, Melissa Gay, Shel Kahn, Christian Knutsson, Jessica TC Lee Format: 4 x hardback books, presented in a slipcase, with a separate GM screen

Buy the boxed set (includes slipcase & GM screen)

Buy the complete collection (with Absinthe in Carcosa and The Missing and the Lost)

Buy the game collection (with Absinthe in Carcosa)

Buy the Yellow King RPG PDFs

Buy the complete collection PDFs (with Absinthe in Carcosa and The Missing and the Lost)

Buy the game collection PDFs(with Absinthe in Carcosa)

As previously mentioned, I’ve been running Canadian Shield, my lighthearted Fall of Delta Green riff, with QuickShock rules. This lets me find gaps in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game card set to rectify here on the Pelgrane blog.

Recently, an investigator’s careless words to a vengeful ghost resulted in an attack on an innocent person, who lost decades from his life to its premature aging power.

Paging through my folder of Shocks, I saw that the cards relating to shame and guilt in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game are all highly tuned to their circumstances. The most obvious candidates refer to the Morale ability, which appears only in The Wars and Aftermath.

Specificity of effect is a good thing, but it does leave room for more generic cards around this theme. After all, what typical group of player characters isn’t constantly pulling skeevy stuff that their fictional counterparts in other media would probably have to confront and possibly be altered by?

This card pair should cover most of the moral corners player characters tend to cut. As usual, the Minor card appears first and the Minor second.

RATHER THOUGHTLESS

Shock

-1 to Presence tests.

Discard with a gesture of amends to the person you harmed.

CAN’T LOOK AT YOURSELF

Shock

-1 to Presence tests.

If in hand at end of scenario, roll a die. Odd: becomes a Continuity card.

Discard with an act of self-sacrifice commensurate with your offense.

You may be wondering, either as a thought experiment or something to actually put in place, how to combine Injury and Shock cards from QuickShock, as seen in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, with the more traditional combat system found in other GUMSHOE games.

Reasons to do this: It shortens the learning curve for players who already know the other version. It extends fights longer, allowing excitement to build. It provides more details of the blow-by-blow, requiring less abstract thinking to narrate.

Reasons not to do this: It takes the most complicated element from one version of the game and bolts it to the most complicated element from another. It extends fights longer, devoting an increased chunk of time to bashing and getting shot that could be used interacting with GMCs and solving mysteries.

For those who feel the pros outweigh the cons and are ready to tackle a surprise wrinkle or three, these unplaytested initial notes might point the way

Final Card

As in QuickShock, decide how many cards of one type, Shocks or Injuries, a character can take before leaving play: a harsh 3 or a forgiving 4.

Shocks

Entirely replace the Stability point loss system with the QuickShock approach. Players test Stability or Composure to avoid lingering emotional consequences, usually with a Difficulty of 4, taking a Shock card in the case of failure. The character receives a minor Shock with a margin of 1 or a major Shock with a margin of 2 or more.

Reach your Final Card threshold, either 3 or 4 Shocks, and your character leaves play.

Hazards

Physical dangers outside of combat work the same way, except that you’re testing Athletics, Health or Sense Trouble to avoid Injury cards, taking the minor on a margin or 1 or the minor on a result higher than that.

Fighting

Combat proceeds as it does in standard GUMSHOE, up until the point where a player character drops to or below one of the Health pool thresholds: 0 points, -6 points, and -12 points.

At the 0 threshold, the character takes the minor Injury card dished out by the opponent who landed the blow. If that takes you to your Final Card threshold, you die, narrating appropriate details for your demise. Depending on the situation, your G may let you expire with a touching dying speech, surrounded by your grieving colleagues, after the fight has wrapped up.

At the -6 threshold, the character takes the major Injury card dished out by the opponent who landed the blow. If that takes you to our Final Card, you die, as above. Otherwise, you continue. Your character will also almost certainly have the minor card still in hand. Effects of the two cards stack. Where the two cards present effects that are incompatible or make no sense when combined, the character keeps the major card and swaps the minor one for “Reeling” below.

At the -12 threshold, the character takes the Shock card “Down for the Count,” below. Once more, if that’s a Final Card, the character dies immediately or by the end of the scene.

An attack that blows through two thresholds gives you two cards. Three thresholds, three cards.

REELING

Injury

-1 to all tests.

Discard when you discard another Injury card, or after an hour (table time.)

DOWN FOR THE COUNT

Injury

You collapse to a prone position. You can’t make tests or stand unaided. Your Hit Threshold drops to 2.

Trade for “On the Mend” after a day in intensive care (world time.)

The GM may design certain foes so that they dish out custom equivalents of these two cards.

Further Adjustments

Reskin and adjust cards for the game and genre you’re playing.

Divide general abilities into the three sub-categories (Physical, Presence and Focus) if your version of GUMSHOE doesn’t do that already. Use YKRPG as your model for that.

Make sure cards refer only to abilities that appear in your game. Revise references to Pushes if your GUMSHOE uses investigative spends instead. Rename cards to reflect your world: you’ll need laser blasts for Ashen Stars and damage for obscure super powers in Mutant City Blues.

Ignore Shocks from games that don’t take characters out of play for mental strain, such as Ashen Stars.

For Trail of Cthulhu, drop Sanity as a separate game statistic. Achieve its effect by making Shocks arising from Mythos contact Continuity cards with punishing or nonexistent discard conditions.

Create cards whose effects leverage statistics that appear only in standard GUMSHOE, from Hit Thresholds to Armor to weapon damage.

Conversely, don’t use “Don’t For the Count” in actual QuickShock games, where Hit Thresholds are not a thing.

And if you try this, let me know how it goes!


QuickShock GUMSHOE debuts in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. YKRPG takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A 1933 teletype machineVirtually every group of player characters in The Wars possesses a boîtenoire, a wireless teletype machine that enables swift communication between the unit and headquarters – and, perhaps, other channels.

Even setting aside any supernatural elements, military communications are a rich source of horror. When encountering someone face-to-face – say, a commanding officer ordering you to advance into the teeth of enemy guns – you can quibble, plead, challenge, or otherwise appeal to one fellow human. A typed message offers no such leeway. All the players have is the brute text, unyielding, as cryptic or as unambiguous as the GM desires. Are the commanding officers coldly cruel, clueless, deranged or actively sadistic? Or have they been taken over by Carcosan horrors? The players can’t tell from the text…

The boîtenoire’s a great way to deliver handouts to the player characters; send them briefing documents or orders as boîte-noire messages. You can even do in-character session write-ups in the form of dispatches sent by the squad in the field.

Getting Technical

The operation of the boîtenoire is simple:  type your message, press send, and off it goes. One key question that the Wars is silent on, however, is the question of addressing – how do you tell the box where to send the message? Some options:

  • Closed Channel: Your boîtenoire only communicates with headquarters. There’s no addressing; it’s fixed when the box is constructed. Maybe headquarters has a master box that can communicate with multiple subsidiary units, or perhaps the devices are constructed in pairs, inextricably entangled with one another.
  • Frequency: A boîtenoire has a frequency selector; send a message, and any boxes set to that frequency receive the message. Does each unit have an assigned frequency? Do enemy boxes work on the same frequencies (requiring coded transmissions – which, of course, in the parlance of boîtenoire operators, are referred to as ‘masks’), or does physics now bow to different national flags? Picking up messages meant for another unit lets the GM hint at horrors elsewhere on the battlefield.
  • Code: Each box has a unique identifier; any message tagged with that code gets delivered to that box and that box alone. Messages cannot be intercepted – but anyone with your code can send you messages, and you have no way to reply or verify their identity unless they include their code in the message. What form does this code take – a string of digits? A passphrase? A cryptic sigil?
  • Addressed: For something more overtly weird and surreal, the boîtenoire works like a post office run by unseen angels. You literally address your message like a conventional letter (“Room 239, Hotel Splendide, Rue Jaune, Arles”), and if there’s a boîtenoire there, it gets the message; otherwise, it’s lost in the ether. While in the field, units must find semi-valid postal addresses to receive messages. (“Quick! What’s the address of that bombed-out hovel?”)
  • Desire: The box just… works. Enter a message, and it’ll be delivered to headquarters, or to the squad in the next valley, or to the spotter dragonfly circling overhead.

Getting Scary

For more overt supernatural weirdness:

  • Messages Out Of Time: In my campaign, the first boîte-noire showed up in Paris, as a gift to the characters from their unwanted new patron Cassilda. She communicated with them through the box – but they also got a bunch of meaningless messages about troop movements and artillery bombardments which made no sense to them at the time. Later, in the Wars, I intended to reuse those messages as transmissions to the second set of player characters. Messages from the future can hint at dire fates or give the players a chance to avert some catastrophe. (If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even take the conceit of the Armitage Files and feed it through a boîtenoire.)
  • Messages From The Dead: From the classic “the guy in the other trench we’ve been talking to all session – he was killed in action a year ago” to using the machine to conduct seances, there’s a lovely creepiness to early telecommunications. Did Thomas Edison invent the boîtenoire through his research? Might the player characters pick up unsent letters from their Paris incarnations?
  • Messages From Beyond: Of course, any Carcosan technology falls under the dread rule of the Yellow King. How can the players trust what they receive from the box? What happens if the boîtenoire clatters, and the message begins: STRANGE IS THE NIGHT WHERE BLACK STARS RISE, AND STRANGE MOONS CIRCLE THROUGH THE SKIES…

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“My shadowy visage, grey with grief,
In sunken waters walled with sand,
I see — where all mine ancient land
Lies yellow like an autumn leaf.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, “The Kingdom of Shadows”

Robin has staked out Paris with his customary élan, and Robert Chambers has toured us through Brittany, but there’s at least one more stretch of French countryside redolent with time-slips, dangerous romances, and werewolves. I speak of course of Auvergne, nestled atop the Massif Central, a volcanic upthrust covered even in 1895 with forests as deep as they were two thousand years ago when the Arverni arrived from the east.

Chromolithograph of Tournoël Castle, c. 1895

Even in 1895, the railways connect only the bigger towns: Vichy (pop. 12,300) in the north, St.-Etienne (pop. 133,400) in the southeast, Aurillac (pop. 16,500) in the southwest, Clermont-Ferrand (pop. 51,000) in the Allier valley in the middle. Although Michelin’s tire plant in Clermont-Ferrand and Thiers’ knife factories bring outside investment, art students in The Yellow King RPG know the region primarily as a source of mineral water, charcuterie, cheese, and a very affordable vin gris. (Americans might appreciate Chavaniac-Lafayette, named for its most famous son, in the forested southeast.) It hasn’t been really fashionable for painters since Theodore Rousseau and the Romantics two generations ago — although a few Barbizon school devotees still chase the region’s ineffable dapple of trees and mountains. The rich and the elderly take the cure in springs at Vichy and Mont-Dome; nothing could be less au courant.

People

Edgar Degas, 61 (1834-1917; Paris p. 117)

In August 1895, Degas takes the water cure at Mont-Dore. While here, he continues to practice photography, including experimenting with moonlit exposures using “panchromatic plates.” He may bring the characters along as assistants, or they may hear of strange yellow streaks appearing in his images — Degas writes home to Paris complaining of his many spoiled prints and negatives.

Armand Guillaumin, 54 (1841-1927)

An o.g. Impressionist and friend of Pissarro and Cézanne, Guillaumin wins the lottery in 1891. He quits his job at the railway and retires to Creuse, just west of Auvergne, to become the center of the Crozant School in that town. He paints in Auvergne in 1895, as might other Crozantistes such as Maurice Leloir, 41 (1853-1940) who avidly researches and photographs ancient and medieval costumes; and the occult-minded Swedish lithographer and painter Allan Österlind, 39 (1855-1938) who embraces Spiritism while on an island off Brittany in 1886.

Auguste and Louis Lumière, 34 and 32 (1862-1954 and 1864-1948)

In 1895, the Lumière brothers of Lyon experiment with their new motion picture camera, and with color photography, before triumphantly debuting their movies in Paris that December. History does not record whether they venture into Auvergne for some nature shoots that summer, or why they abruptly abandoned motion pictures and refused to sell their camera to other film-makers.

Auguste Michel-Lévy, 51 (1844-1911)

Geologist, Inspector of Mines, and director of the Geological Survey of France, Michel-Lévy develops the interference color chart, using birefringence of cross-polarized light to identify minerals. In 1895 he studies extinct volcanoes in Auvergne; minerals from the region such as amesite and pargasite both display as yellow in cross-polarized light. (A newly discovered mineral, lawsonite, also displays as yellow; it first appears in 1895 in Marin County, California and soon after in Brittany.)

Émile Munier, 55 (1840-1895)

A great friend of Bougereau with many American clients, Munier has painted in the Auvergne since 1886. His Academic paintings increasingly depict angels and cupids, possibly an attempt to domesticate Carcosan figures he perceives — he dies of cerebral congestion in Paris on June 29. His death might be what points the group to the Auvergne influx — or perhaps he makes an abrupt “recovery” and returns to Auvergne a changed man.

Felix Thiollier, 53 (1842-1914)

After making his fortune in ribbon manufacturing in St.-Etienne, Thiollier retires at 35 to take photographs in the Auvergne. He lives in a former Hospitaller commandery in Verrieres; his many interests include Celtic archaeology and medieval art. Perhaps he notices towers or hillsides changing in his photographs, or sees carnivorous toads labeled SADOGUI in an illuminated manuscript.

Other artists painting in the Auvergne in 1895 include the painters Adolphe Appian, 75 (1819-1898) and Victor Charreton, 31 (1864-1936), both based in Lyon. If you’re looking for some meddling kids, you have your choice of the odious, spoiled Pierre Laval, 12 (1883-1945) in Chateldone near Vichy, and the mystical Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 14 (1881-1955) home for the summer at Orcines near Clermont-Ferrand from studying mathematics at a Jesuit college. At a remove, two native Auvergnois might send home a useful or terrifying discovery: the diplomat Henri Pognon, 42 (1853-1921) unearths Aramaic manuscripts and Assyrian tablets while consul in Baghdad and Aleppo; and the engineer Nicole Auguste Pomel, 74 (1821-1898) excavates giant rhinoceri in Algeria that remind him of the woolly rhinoceros that roamed Auvergne in the Ice Age.

The Occult

Characters looking for the Rosicrucians and other occult societies should look to Lyon (pop. 450,000), 165 km east of Clermont-Ferrand and several hours journey by train around the black-forested Monts du Madeleine between them. Rich and sociable, Lyon boasts several flourishing, bickering secret societies, tracing themselves back to Cagliostro, Saint-Martin, or even Agrippa. The AGLA society, if it exists as anything more than an old printers’ guild, claims all three as members.

Though Aurillac produced a sorcerer Pope (Sylvester II) who read mysterious Arabic books, Auvergne doesn’t hold with such citified occult fripperies. The Auvergnois hold to the Old Ways. Here, the Druids outlasted the Romans, and country folk still follow old customs at standing stones and deep wells — lighting fires to Grannus, singing to Pan, leaving offerings to Sadoqua.

A Rendezvous in Auvergne

Sadoqua, or Sadogui as the inquisitors referred to him while hunting the stubborn witch- and werewolf-cults of Auvergne, may have been a local version of Sucellus, a god of wine, or the name under which the Arverni and Averones worshiped “Gallic Mercury,” a shape-shifting god of prophecy. Under those names or another, he sees Carcosan energies fracturing reality, and presses his bat-like ears and toad-like tongue to the cracks. Clearly the multiplicity of images — of rocks under cross-polarized light, of anomalous photographs, of paintings iterating the same dark valleys for decades — speak both to Carcosan unreality and to Sadoqua’s plasticity.

Is the sudden phylloxera outbreak in Auvergne’s vineyards a Carcosan strike at Sadoqua’s vintage? (The blight had avoided Auvergne until 1895.) Can the AGLA cult tempt the players with a quest for the lost monastery library of Abbot Hilaire, broken up after the Revolution but rumored to contain a book of Hyperborean rituals that can re-make an un-made world? Does Carcosa manifest here through the seductive world of Sylaire, visible in lenses that have read the birefringence of Druidic menhirs or the gargoyles atop Notre-Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand? Do the lamias and succubae that lurk in Auvergne’s ruins serve Cassilda or Sadoqua? Or is Carcosa actually Cykranosh, sacred planet of Tsathoggua? When the players emerge, will the maps have changed: Le Puy become Ximes, Clermont-Ferrand become Vyônes, the Allier flows as the Isoile, the sparkling water labeled Ylourgne instead of Vichy, St.-Etienne now St.-Azédarac, and Auvergne rejoicing once more in its true name of Averoigne?

 


 

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Among the reasons for running my light-hearted Fall of DELTA GREEN home variant with QuickShock rules: I can share custom cards I create for it here with you.

In the first scenario, intrepid agents of the Dominion Bureau of Research, an unacknowledged Canadian spy outfit, tracked a mole in the Avro Arrow plant in Malton, ON. Before they could figure out whether he had reestablished contact with a new Soviet handler, they found him melted to goo on the floor of his Kensington Market rooming house.

The possibility existed that they too would find themselves on the receiving end of a MAJESTIC melting ray. Due to their admirable caution in confronting this newly discovered adversary, they skirted this fate and, with it, the following QuickShock Injury cards.

The Minor card suggests an indirect hit from a heatless melting ray that works by breaking down cellular walls. The Major card comes with a direct hit, one that potentially touches off a cellular cascade that turns the victim to goo at scenario’s end.

MELT SCAR

Injury

-1 to Focus tests.

MELTED FLESH

Injury

Gain 2 Health when you receive this card. Lose 2 Health on any failed Physical test. If Health ever drops to 0, and this card is still in hand at end of scenario, you die.

Discard by finding the cure.

In The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, this is exactly the sort of sinister technology that might have gone missing from Castaigne regime armories during the revolution depicted in Aftermath. In This is Normal Now, the melt ray could be wielded by scientists developing technologies they believe to come from a crashed UFO access, but are really of Carcosan origin.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

As more Yellow King Roleplaying Game scenarios appear, you’ll see single-use Injury and Shock cards keyed to their specific details.

These might refer to the entities that out the cards. Or they could require characters to interact with the particulars of the mystery in order to discard them.

Prepare in advance for scenarios you create by building scenario-specific cards.

For example, in my playtest of the This Is Normal Now sequence, a foe from the book, the fleeners (p. 46), had different Injury cards than canonical ones given in the book. Fleeners are irritatingly terrifying minion figures made of animated papier-mâché. With their keening cry of “fleener fleener fleener” they harass the enemies of their masters, inducing unease and reporting back to headquarters with supernatural senses.

In our series, they served a politician benefiting from Carcosan reality alteration. By the time the investigators discovered this, multiple investigators were wearing another aspect of his conspiracy, a sinister Fitbit-like device called an Urchin, on their wrists. In the game book, the Injury cards they dish out in combat need to fit any number of situations GMs might use them for. At my table, they could key into this other plot element, like so:

CLOGGED SINUSES

Injury

Non-lethal. -1 to all tests.

Discard when you fail a test by a margin of 1.

FLEENER EFFECT

Injury

-1 to Focus and Presence tests if any character in the current scene has expressed a view the fleeners’ master would agree with.

Discard by freeing yourself of an Urchin.

Clogged Sinuses reflects what happens when you fight a papier-mâché enemy: it falls into dust even if it beats you, creating a cloud of not entirely ordinary dust that gets literally up your nose.

Fleener Effect is an oddball example of an Injury that exacts a psychic toll. Events in the game had already established the extraordinary lengths characters had to go to to get Urchins off their wrists. Worse, if you receive the Fleener Effect and don’t have an Urchin already on you, you have to acquire one, put it on, exposing yourself to its various ill-effects, and then get it off again, in order to discard the card.

Or you can wait until the end of the scenario and discard it then, as it is not a Continuity card.

Tying cards into ongoing sources of fear in your game gives them an extra frisson. The awful cries of foxes became a motif in my game. Now that I look back on it I wonder why I didn’t incorporate them into a card effect. So many ways to unnerve the group, so little time…

When tying a discard condition into specific story events, ensure that the condition can be achieved. You want the player holding the card to feel pressured, but not entirely forced, to make the attempt. Focus on actions that are risky or hard to achieve, but that they might want to perform even without the card. In this example, getting rid of an Urchin is a good thing in its own right.

Players simply resign themselves to the risk of holding onto a card, and its ill consequence, if you attach too unpleasant or challenging a discard condition to it. A card that gives them the option of, say, killing a particular innocent GMC, feels too much like a force.

Here’s an unfairly manipulative version of a custom card:

MURDEROUS THOUGHTS

Shock

-2 to Focus tests.

Discard by killing sweet Sally Murdoch.

The fear of turning evil is a horror staple and within bounds, but your custom card should invoke it without nakedly jerking the player around. Instead you might consider a choice the character which, though queasy, the character can recover from:

MURDEROUS THOUGHTS

Shock

-2 to Focus tests.

Discard by confessing your unwelcome homicidal impulses to a therapist, authority figure, or Sally Murdoch herself.

When using discard effects to nudge players further into the story, couch the condition vaguely. This allows players to think they’ve cleverly solved a problem. Overly clear descriptions risk the feeling that players must pixel-bitch their way to one predetermined cut scene. Perhaps include a couple of possible scenes that fulfill the conditions.

Like so:

CAGED

Shock

Lose 1 Health and 1 Composure at 6 AM each day (world time.)

Discard when you escape, taking a wrongly convicted prisoner with you.

This version might seem too restrictive:

CAGED

Shock

Lose 1 Health and 1 Composure at 6 AM each day (world time.)

Discard when you escape, taking Albert Chen with you.

Or it might work fine, especially if the players are already thinking of rescuing Albert by the time the card appears. That way the discard registers as a bonus incentive toward an existing goal, not a hoop to reluctantly jump through.

Create your own custom cards with these templates, formatted for Adobe Photoshop and the open source GIMP image editor:

For licensing reasons we can’t supply fonts. The card header is a Garamond font, which you probably already have in some form. You’ll want to play around with the size, based on your specific version of the font, and the length of each card title. My version has it a default of point size 32. The body text is P22 Mayflower Smooth, by default at point 22 in this template.


 

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

If your players like to learn stuff from videos, they can now learn how to create characters for the Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Send them to our first video tutorial!


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

This music inspired by, and composed for, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is included free as a digital download with The Yellow King RPG, and separately from the link below. The Yellow King Suite covers each of the four different settings. In addition, it presents a theme for The Yellow King RPG, and music for the doomed, lost city of Carcosa. Each setting required different instrumentation and arrangements; however, the influence of the Yellow King is evident in all of them, uniting them all as a cohesive suite.

Perfect to accompany your Yellow King RPG – or any other reality horror RPG – sessions, or to enjoy over a glass of absinthe.
 
Listen to a sample here:

 

The King In Yellow

The strange descending chromatic melody reminds me of something from a carnival or street music. While the violin grabs your attention initially soon you hear the rest of the strings, clarinet, glockenspiel and even boys choir for that otherworldy sound.

Belle Epoque

A lazy chord progression on the piano starts this gentle dreamlike sequence. Roxane’s beautiful cello breezes effortlessly across the harmonies telling a tale of opulence and ease but also perhaps ennui and decadence.

The Aftermath

An almost hypnotic pattern on the harp echoes the rhythms of the Yellow King as this unsettling piece of music suggests danger, desolation and loneliness.

The War

The music here is very obviously martial with strident rhythms, snares, piccolos and heavy brass. Even here the sinister presence of the Yellow King is heard.

This Is Normal Now

Reality shifts around you but you keep just telling yourself this is normal now. Dance on and enjoy yourself and try to ignore those strange voices and screams you hear. Just keep on dancing!

Carcosa

Poor doomed, lost Carcosa! I felt that the city needed a dramatic and tragic piece with an almost operatic quality. The music shifts constantly, never sitting comfortably in one key but often returning to the same 3 different musical ideas.

The Yellow King Suite is included free as a digital download with The Yellow King RPG, and separately from the link below.

Buy the YKRPG Suite MP3s now

In the present COVID-19 crisis, many of us, myself included, have canceled our in-person roleplaying sessions to comply with social distancing or shelter-in-place public health regimes across the world.

This Thursday, after a hiatus, I’ll be switching my in-person game to remote. (I’ve just started “Canadian Shield”, an extremely variant Fall of Delta Green series.)

As more tips and tricks for remote play come up I’ll share them with you here on the Pelgrane site. Let’s get started, though, with what I’ve learned during previous forays into online tabletop.

1. Use the platform you already know.

Everyone who has already racked up extensive remote play experience expresses a preference for a particular combo of tools for video conferencing and the virtual play space.

For video, Discord, Zoom, Google Hangouts and to a lesser extent Skype all have their adherents. Each brings its own set of pluses and minuses. In the end your choice of video app may depend on the quirks of each player’s device setup. You may wind up shuffling through a bunch of them before you find the one that happens to function for your entire group.

As far as play spaces go, Roll20 already has resources for 13th Age and GUMSHOE. We’ve just added DramaSystem.

If you’re already familiar with a video conferencing app and/or virtual tabletop, skip the learning curve and use that. It works; don’t fix it.

2. If you haven’t done this before, I prefer Google Hangouts and Slack.

Google Hangouts hasn’t let me down yet. It’s free, and pretty seamlessly handles switching to the person currently speaking. That’s the most important feature of a video app for game play and it does it well. Google has announced that they’re ending this service soon, but if I understand their PR correctly, what they’re actually doing is rebranding their video chat to sound more business-friendly. Google can hook you on a service and then whip it out from under you like a rug, but I’m guessing that we’re safe when this one changes to its new incarnation. I wouldn’t bet on that happening according to its original timetable, either.

For GUMSHOE and DramaSystem, I use as my virtual tabletop a tool not remotely designed for that, the group project messaging platform, Slack. It is a platform I use for other purposes every day and know how to use. I already use it for face-to-face when running The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, having found it the best solution for serving electronic Shock and Injury Cards. When teaching that system I upload a card image to the game’s main channel so everyone can feel its horror. I also drop the cards to each player, in our private message inbox. When they discard cards, I delete them from the private message inbox, so that it contains only the cards currently held.

Maps, images, and other handouts I upload to the main channel as well.

Slack’s advantage over its competitors in its category lies in its ease of use. A newbie can immediately figure out its simple and intuitive interface.

I’d use Slack for any game that relies primarily on dialogue and description, which describes both GUMSHOE and DramaSystem.

In fact I’d probably use it to run 13th Age. I don’t use a battlemap when running that in person, so wouldn’t bother with one in remote play either.

A game that does require a tactical map will naturally push you toward one of the purpose built virtual tabletops. These all have to handle D&D and Pathfinder. If you’re playing a game of that crunchiness online you’ve bought into the extra handling cost.

3. Leave in the Socializing.

Especially now, much of the point of an online game is to feel the connectedness we might ordinarily seek out around a table, at a con, or in a game cafe. The formality of the online experience might tempt you to cut right away to the case. You may know each other less well, or not at all, if playing online. Even so, give everybody time to chat a bit before getting started.

4. Expect a shorter session.

Though this varies for every group, in general the online meeting format promotes an efficiency you may find yourself envying when you return to face-to-face. Video conferencing requires participants to be conscious of who has the floor at any given moment. It reduces crosstalk and kibitzing. People used to conducting real meetings on video tend to step up to help guide the discussion and move toward problem-solving. The software does a good bit of your traffic management as GM for you.

For this reason you’ll find that remote play eats up story faster than a leisurely in-person session. The pace of any given episode more closely resembles the tighter concentration typical of a con game group that has found its rhythm. Your group will likely decide what to do faster, and then go and do it with fewer side tangents, than they would at your regular home table.

When this happens, you may find yourself wondering if you shouldn’t add more plot to keep your ending further away from your beginning. Instead, embrace this as the dynamic operating as it should. If it takes you three hours to hit five or six solid scenes, where in person it would take four, that’s a good thing.

5. Expect a more taxing session.

In addition to respecting the pace your session wants to have, you should aim for shorter sessions because the experience of gaming remotely takes more out of you, and each of your players, than face-to-face will.

Many of you will be sitting in less comfortable chairs than you’re used to being in. Those with home offices may already have been in those chairs for an entire work day already.

The concentration required to pay attention to people on video conferencing taxes the brain more than face-to-face. You’re trying to assimilate the same amount of communication from one another with fewer cues to work with. This tires any group, physically and mentally. Expect that and pace your game accordingly.

When you see a time-consuming setpiece sequence coming up, check the clock to see if you’ll be able to do it full justice given these constraints. Never be reluctant to knock off early and leave folks wanting more next time you all join up.

6: For Slack, use the Dicebot app.

To return to a platform-specific point, the Dicebot Slack app allows any participant to roll dice right in the channel. It easily does the d6 plus spend modifier for GUMSHOE. It inherently reminds players to announce their pool point spends before rolling, another neat advantage over physical dice.

Speaking of games that scorn the battlemap, Dicebot also handles the more complicated positive d6 + negative d6 + modifier roll seen in Feng Shui.

7. Whatever the platform, use a dice app if you players can possibly be coaxed into it.

Some players need that tactile dice-touching fix. I wouldn’t force online rolling on them, but having rolls take place visually in front of everyone does enhance their emotional impact by allowing everyone to see and react to the results.

Dice provide suspense . A die roller, in whatever platform, shares that edge of the seat moment when you see who succeeds and who’s about to take a Shock card.

8. Use a shared Google Doc for note-taking.

Since they’re all on a device anyhow, encourage your players to contribute to the group chronicle by setting up a shared Google Doc. Gussy it up with a graphic touch or two to build tone and theme.

9. Keep online versions of character sheets.

You’d think players won’t lose paper character sheets if they’re not leaving the house, but of course we misplace stuff in our own places all the time.

For GUMSHOE, the highly recommended Black Book app does all of the work of keeping online character sheets for you. It has just extended its trial period for player accounts.

Absent a specific tool, keep updated character sheets in a Dropbox folder or, for games where characters are simple as they are in DramaSystem, in a Google Sheet. I’ve done this for my “Canadian Shield” game.

Stay tuned for more tips. I look forward to the day when I can update this post to remove references to the pandemic as a current event. Until then, stay safe and, as much as you possibly can, the hell inside.

When I run The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in one-shot format, I improvise based on the Deuced Peculiar Things players specify. I provide them with this set of Paris pregens, which leaves the Deuced Peculiar Thing open for all but the Belle-Lettrist. I use that essayist character to cheat my way to the fun, and the core motif of the game. That character gets a Deuced Peculiar Thing indicating that somehow maybe the publication of the play is their fault, in a fuzzy way they no longer comprehend.

I open the action in the art students’ favorite cafe, Le Veau Gras (Paris p. 99), setting the tone of the game by inviting the characters to commiserate over their overindulgence of the night before.

As I prepped for my recent online game for top tier Kickstarter backers, imagine my surprise when I realized that I never designed Injury cards to portray hangovers! How could I have possibly done this so many times without that vital piece of design work? It’s like creating D&D and forgetting fireball.

Why it’s almost as if I was involved in the production of a cursed roleplaying game, in a fuzzy way I no longer comprehend.

Well, best not to think of that, as we Bohemian artists say.

Anyhow, I whipped up this pair to introduce the concept of Shock and Injury cards to the players.

HUNG OVER

Injury

After 1 or more scenes, discard by complaining that others don’t care enough about your hangover.

WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT

Injury

-1 to Focus tests.

After 1 or more scenes, discard by remembering a problem you caused during last night’s festivities.

These require Difficulty 4 Health tests to avoid. If they were Shock cards, tempting players to burn Composure, I might be more merciful and assign a Difficulty of 3. Health isn’t typically as precious in these one-shots so I can afford, for rule-teaching purposes, to start with the typical Difficulty.

As Injury cards go, these are not especially onerous. The minor card of the pair doesn’t even impose a mechanical penalty, except for the standard incrementally increased threat of having your investigator removed from play for having too many cards of one type in hand.

I also took care to give the cards discard conditions that are both fun and easy to meet. The discard conditions demonstrate how cards work in general as they nudge players to contribute to the establishment of tone.

Every time I’ve run this, the story has moved on from this simple scene to a radically different direction, from animated statues, to climactic bloodshed on the Pont Neuf bridge, to a time loop that trapped the investigators in the room where they were designing a float for the annual Art Student’s Ball.

Whatever introduction you use to draw your players into the Carcosan terrors of the Belle Epoque, I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll find some way to make use of these new cards.

 


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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