When seeking structural inspiration for DramaSystem play, you’ll find the purest sources in literary fiction and realistic drama. With no genre conventions to process, the bones of relationship-based storytelling clearly show through.

The satirical literary novel Startup, by Doree Shafrir, features an interconnected group struggling to stay afloat in NYC’s tech world. You could easily use it as the inspiration for a DramaSystem Series Pitch skewering the same scene. (To which about 20% of you are currently thinking “Oh no, that’s what I roleplay to get away from!”)

I bring it up here, though, for its foregrounding of a key dramatic storytelling technique, the explosive secret. Dramas often hinge on a terrible revelation that instigates the climax, changing everything for the cast of characters. Here Shafrir plants a bomb in pretty much all of the key relationships. Vaguely, to avoid spoilers:

  • a reporter has gained information in a way that will hurt her boyfriend’s career
  • a character has accrued giant credit card debt without telling her husband
  • another character makes his marital unhappiness clear to a colleague, who then gets to know his wife
  • a casual office affair has crossed the line into sexual harassment

These metaphorical bombs build suspense the way a literal bomb would in a thriller. As readers, we know they’re there, and we know they’ll alter or destroy relationships when revealed. In Beat Analysis terms, we fear that they’ll come out, and hope that the people we care about can either keep their secrets or will emerge all right on the other side of their revelation. (Having read more than one novel, we instinctively understand that they will come out, but want our viewpoint characters to avoid that all the same.)

When creating DramaSystem characters, you might add a step where each player describes a bomb that will change their relationship to another PC or PCs when revealed:

  • your husband, Big Axe, doesn’t know that Flowerleaf isn’t his son, but is instead Horse Talker’s
  • you didn’t really have the vision you claimed, so Horse Talker, not you, should be chieftain
  • you didn’t just fail to poison the snake priestess, as Big Axe demanded, but actually struck a deal with her
  • you know exactly where the lost scepter is, but keep it hidden to stop Sharpbrow from launching her peace plan

As a player, you can always set a bomb for your character regardless of whether the GM adds this step. You can do it during character creation, perhaps as an explanation for why you can’t meet another character’s need. Or you can introduce the bomb during the action, calling a scene in which you strike a deal with the snake priestess, check on the spot where you’ve hidden the scepter, or drop a line of dialogue suggesting Flowerleaf’s true parentage.

Players know more than their characters, allowing everyone to enjoy the delightful agony of knowledge, waiting for the bomb you’ve planted to go off.

Finally, as with many DramaSystem techniques, you can use this move in any other RPG game where relationships between the player characters matter.

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A well-designed modular element for an RPG, whether we’re talking about a GMC, location, conspiracy, or occult tome, does more than extrapolate from an evocative premise. The text you write, explicitly or otherwise, indicates to the GM how it will be used in play.

Let’s look at roleplaying’s archetypal modular element, the one that has launched a thousand bestiaries, the creature. Or, if your core game prefers, monster, or foe, or alien life form.

In some cases the utility of a creature, or other modular element for that matter, goes without saying. That happens when the core activity of a game is so hard-wired to its modular elements that their function at the gaming table needs no further elaboration.

Take the venerable first mover and perennial market leader, Dungeons & Dragons. Its core activity is: fight monsters in fantastic environments.

(This greatly accounts for the enduring popularity of D&D and its stickiness as a concept. Not only does it have an exceptionally clear, easily enacted and highly repeatable core activity, it tells you this right in the brand name. Fantastic environment = Dungeon. Monsters = Dragon. It’s all right there.)

A well-wrought D&D creature design requires you to address its activity by showing the GM how it behaves in a fight, and how it interacts with its environment. In 5E, the stat block focuses on the former, and the descriptive text on the latter.

Different iterations of D&D have favored one over the other. The classic “Ecology of the X” magazine article format traditionally goes into way more extrapolative detail on a creature’s relationship to its environment than any DM can possibly put into play at the table. 4E, and its spiritual descendant 13th Age, focus much more on what the creature will do in a fight than in the broader world. A stat block might represent not a category of being, but a particular sort of orc or demon or pirate who attacks in a specific way, with its distinctive spell effect or weapon.

D&D casts such a shadow over trad RPG design that the very term “trad design” might mean “has a little D&D influence in it somewhere.”

It’s easy, then, to lose track of what you’re doing by applying D&D assumptions to the creation of creatures for other games. Making an adversary useful and easily playable in another rules set requires you to step back and consider the core activity you’re writing toward.

GUMSHOE games all have slightly different core activities, all of which can be expressed including the verb investigate.

  • Intrepid volunteers investigate the cosmic secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • At the behest of a benevolent conspiracy, trained professionals investigate an occult conspiracy to tear apart the world.
  • Ordinary people investigate their way out of horrific situations.
  • Burned spies on the run investigate the vampire conspiracy intent on destroying them.
  • A freelance starship crew investigates interstellar mysteries.

To design a GUMSHOE creature requires not just a focus on the tropes and themes of the setting—an eldritch abomination, a psychically invasive modern horror, an alien life form—but the creature’s role in the investigative action.

GUMSHOE’s emphasis on structure helps you do this. If you look at the scenario format, you can see that a creature might be:

  1. central to the scenario’s key mystery
  2. a secondary obstacle adding challenge and suspense along the way

In case 1, the creature is either the source of the mystery, or adjacent to the source. The PCs have to interact with it in some way to bring the case to a close. That’s your:

  • salt vampire feeding on the crew of the mining outpost
  • resurrected sorcerer bumping off anyone who uncovers his secret
  • ghost taking vengeance on its killer’s descendants

Many instances of case 2 fall into the broader category GUMSHOE calls Antagonist Reactions. When the heroes start poking around, the primary villain sends some lesser creatures to harry them. Secondary creatures might also be keyed to specific investigative scenes, as guardians or obstacles the characters must overcome before gathering clues. Examples include:

  • the gargoyles the corrupt priest sends to trash your studio
  • the mutated dogs in the abandoned lab
  • the faceless homunculus hitman known only as Mrs. Blank

Your description of a GUMSHOE creature might suggest ways it can appear in either role. When writing up Mrs. Blank, you could indicate how she acts when the PCs are tracking her through her trail of victims, and then what she does when she shows up at the behest of the vamp conspiracy to treat the agents to some silencer music.

Accompanying any core activity is a game’s default identity, the description of a typical PC group: ordinary people, trained professionals, burned spies, starship crew, or whatever. Take that into account also as you design your creature. Show the GM how to get the characters into contact with your entity. In other words, your description needs at least one plot hook demonstrating its introduction into play.

Super easy, again, in D&D: unless you say otherwise, the creature occupies the fantastic environment, ready to defend itself when adventurers show up to fight it.

The more specialized the default identity, the more guidance GMs need getting your creature into their games.

Let’s say you’ve designed a ghost that materializes out of printer’s ink. What motivates the typical group for this game to confront it? The answer differs if the PCs are ordinary people (Fear Itself), burned spies (Night’s Black Agents) or security pros who respond to assignments from their handlers (The Esoterrorists, Fall of Delta Green.) The question in the first two examples is “Why do the PCs care?” In the last case, it’s “Why do their handlers care?”

Keep these essential questions in mind as you first envision your creature, and again as you revise your text. You’ll probably spot passages that explore a rabbit hole of iterative detail but don’t figure into a GM’s key concerns:

  1. What does it do in my scenario?
  2. What does that scenario look like?
  3. Why and how do the PCs encounter it?

Standard GUMSHOE already treats Game Master Characters somewhat differently than player characters. Most notably, it advises that, in a fight, they drop at 0 Health, rather than going through the impairment thresholds that allow some PCs to keep going after hitting negative points.

The QuickShock GUMSHOE system, which debuts in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, goes even further in separating the two types of character. For PCs, Health now bears no resemblance to hit points. Players use it to avoid certain types of injury outside combat. But they don’t risk keeling over when all their pool points have been spent. Instead you are too physically wounded to go on after you’ve gained 3 or 4 Injury cards. (This depends on whether the GM has chosen the tougher Horror mode, or the more forgiving Occult Adventure.)

Game Master Characters don’t collect Injury cards. The ones you choose to fight can die, if the group has chosen “Kill” as its objective. They can be hurt, if you have chosen “Beat Up.” The GM gives this condition story consequences, as needed, but it isn’t measured by numerically. (If later on you fight that Foe again, you could get an adjustment in your favor on the Difficulty number you’re trying to beat with your Fighting ability. That hardly ever happens, though.)

Outside of combat, the GM doesn’t use rules to determine whether GMCs suffer gruesome fates. That remains part of the narrative.

So when creating a Foe description, the designer distinguishes between

  • effects on investigators, as represented by Injury cards (or, in some edge cases, Shock cards
  • effects on GMCs, conveyed purely by description

The designer of a foe called a radiation beast might write:

Investigators coming within 15 m of the beast make Difficulty 4 Health tests to avoid Injuries, Minor and Major—Radiation Poisoning/Internal Bleeding. Other humans become faint and feverish, suffering hair loss and low blood pressure. Unless rushed to the hospital for treatment, they die. A Difficulty 4 First Aid success stabilizes all victims, keeping them alive without hospitalization for up to 12 hours.

Or the Foe designer can kick the question of how to handle GMC injuries to the Game Moderator:

Other humans sicken or die, depending on the needs of the scene.

Option 1 gives the players a way to interact with GMC injury, bringing in First Aid as a counter. Option 2 keeps flexibility in GM hands.

Whichever approach you take when writing up Foes, the bifurcation between PCs and GMCs is a factor that requires different thinking in QuickShock GUMSHOE than in other trad or trad-like games you may be used to.

Something to keep in mind when QuickShock joins the GUMSHOE SRD, not long from now.

Collage art by Dean Engelhardt


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.

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Should you decide to play The Yellow King Roleplaying Game using the baseline version of GUMSHOE found in previous games, such as Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, or The Esoterrorists, you’ll want to translate its Foe stats.

You might also decide to snag YKRPG creatures to mess with investigators from another game, and need to perform the same maneuver.

Here’s a guide to doing that, but first, standard disclaimers apply.

In no version of GUMSHOE are creatures designed according to a formula or template. They always require eyeballing and adjustment as you move from initial conception to finished set of game statistics.

Never let the rough number ranges here take precedence over what you think makes sense for a creature.

Also remember that you can always increase the threat represented by a particular monster up or down by creating situational factors that confer advantage or disadvantage on the PCs in the particular fight you want to stage.

Difficulty Modifiers in QuickShock make this explicit, also highlighting ways that information gathered by the PCs can assist them when the story gets to the fighty bit. This is a concept you can easily steal for baseline GUMSHOE, as Difficulty modifiers exist in that game, even though they don’t appear directly in the foe descriptions.


When converting, use the foe’s Relative Challenge as a rough benchmark for the range of stats it might have in baseline GUMSHOE.

Some games split use more combat abilities than the other. For this purpose we’ll use “Main Fighting” and “Secondary Fighting” as placeholders for Scuffling, Shooting, Weapons and the like. Assign them as needed for the theme of your creature and your game’s genre.

You’ll have to assign Stealth and Alertness modifiers to QuickShock creatures, which do not include those numbers. Use the theme of the creature to decide how easy it is to sneak up on the creature, and how easily it sneaks up on others.

Glance at the Injury cards a creature dishes out, as sometimes an otherwise unimpressive enemy comes with cards nastier than you’d expect, which you’ll want to take into account when assigning Weapon damages. In the case of exotic attacks with lingering effects, use the card text as inspiration for special attack details. You may wish to steal these from existing standard GUMSHOE creatures, finding one that plays the same sort of trick.

Hit Threshold is as much a factor of creature size or other descriptive qualities as a matter of strict progression up a ladder of menace. A gigantic but formidable creature might have a Hit Threshold of 2; a small and weak one, like Lovecraft’s Brown Jenkin, might be hard to hit.

Once you’ve finished, eyeball the results and fix any number that seems oddly high or low given the concept of the creature.

Anyone with sufficient time on their hands to backwards-engineer the conversion kits from standard to QuickShock GUMSHOE will spot instances where I moved a creature into a different Challenge ranking for YKRPG than a literal reading of its standard stats would call for. When it comes to creature conversions between any two systems, theme should always win.

Weak

Athletics 4-9, Health 2-4, Main Fighting 5-7, Secondary Fighting 3-5

Hit Threshold 3

Weapon -2 to -2

Armor 0-1

Tough but Outmatched

Athletics 6-8, Health 6-10, Main Fighting 7-16, Secondary Fighting 6-10

Hit Threshold 4

Weapon -1 to 1

Armor 1-2

Evenly Matched

Athletics 9-12, Health 7-9, Main Fighting 9-12, Secondary Fighting 5-7

Hit Threshold 4-5

Weapon -1 to 3

Armor 1-3

Superior

Athletics 7-12, Health 8-18, Main Fighting 13-20, Secondary Fighting 7-9

Hit Threshold 3-4

Weapon 2-5

Armor 2-5

Vastly Superior

Athletics 10-30, Health 14-21, Main Fighting 18-28, Secondary Fighting 13-23

Hit Threshold 3- 4

Weapon 2-4

Armor 3-5

Overwhelming

Athletics 18-36, Health 32-40, Main Fighting 23-27, Secondary Fighting 18-22

Hit Threshold 2-4

Weapon 4-12

Armor 4-12

Too Awful to Contemplate

Athletics 30-50, Health 30-50, Main Fighting 28-32, Secondary Fighting 22-27

Hit Threshold 2-6

Weapon 5-12

Armor 4-12


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 plot hook for The Yellow King RPG (This is Normal Now)

One or more investigators have a connection to teenager, Ayda, who comes to them for help. Her friend Carlos has retreated to his room and won’t come out. Last night his parents called a therapist to come over and coax him into seeking help at a facility. Still he refused.

Carlos isn’t having a mental health crisis, Ayda explains. It’s something much weirder than that. She’s heard that the investigators know about this stuff, and, against her friend’s instructions, is telling them what she knows.

Nearby in the neighborhood, in a mini-mall parking lot, stands the broken remains of a pay phone.

A few months ago, rumors started going round the local high school. If you listen to the phone, you might hear weird whispering voices. They sound distant and old-fashioned, the urban legend goes, like they’re reciting some Shakespearean play. Though not one that’s on the curriculum at school. The weird voices mention a king wearing a pallid mask, and someone named Cassilda. At the end it gets super perverse and awful, until you can’t stand it any more and fling the receiver away.

Then you’re doomed. Within a week, unless you convince someone else to listen to the phone and doom them instead, you die. A freak accident that pertains in some way to your personality kills you.

Cynthia Mortimer was the first to hear the voices. The expensive handbag she was so proud of and always boasted about got caught in the doors of a subway train, dragging her to her death.

Then Phil Campillo, a maniacally focused tennis player, got his head pulped by a bizarrely malfunctioning ball machine. They say he listened to the call to protect his girlfriend, Amy Washington, who couldn’t resist trying it out.

A week ago, a private investigator hired by Rich Danforth’s family was looking into the rumors and asking questions. He raised security dogs, and died when one of the stepped on his gun, releasing the trigger. Rich admits that he listened to the message, then chickened out and had his father hire someone to hear it in his place.

That’s how Carlos tells it, anyway. When Ayda asked how he learned all of this, she couldn’t pin him down. It’s like you just kind of know, right?

This is day six, and even though Carlos is staying away from everyone and everything, he can tell he’s next. Unless the investigators can figure out what’s going on and find a way to put a stop to it.


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.

Olingo the Sedulous had studied the creature’s routine, and was thus surprised to see the pelgrane flapping back to its nest a good hour before its projected time of arrival. The scholar, no longer as young as he wished to appear, attempted to clamber from the collection of firmly packed branches comprising the monster’s home. As the pelgrane soared his way, the striped velvet garter attached to Olingo’s left pantaloon leg caught on a wooden gnarl. Dropping the sack of important artifacts he had gathered, he bent down to work it free. By the time he had finished, the pelgrane was perched on the edge of its nest. In a neat motion the creature tucked its vast, bat-like wings behind its back. A thread of saliva dripped from its elongated spear of a beak.

The creature pointed its beak at the bag of items at Olingo’s feet. “I find myself in the presence of a connoisseur,” it said.

“Permit me an explanation,” Olingo responded.

The pelgrane sighed. “Belay all tedious lies. The year’s darkest night is upon us, and I am gnawed at the edges by melancholy.”

Olingo took the risk of picking up the sack. “You are correct, Sir Pelgrane, to guess that I possess some expertise concerning these items. Perhaps, in exchange for my erudite commentary upon them, you might consider sparing my life.”

“Demonstrate.”

The scholar withdrew a thin glass orb, covered in a sparkling crimson glaze. “This dates back seven eons, to the Caoropoan Rift—”

“Five,” said the pelgrane. “Five eons. But continue.”

Olingo took a breath. “From the earliest eras of civilization, we humans have marked the winter solstice with a feast of lights, a promise of night’s end, offering hope of birth. Or, depending upon the culture, rebirth.”

“A quotidian observation.”

“Indeed yes but one must ease into any topic. Among the tumultuous peoples of the Caoropoan, competition to display solstice ornaments of the finest subtlety—”

“You mentioned feasting. Frankly, that is a matter nearer my interests. Describe a Caoropoan winter banquet with sufficient piquancy, and I’ll let you go.”

“Let me start with the salad course,” said Olingo. “First, there is the pickle board, which starts with fermented lettuce in a bed of sesame paste.”

The pelgrane wrinkled the soft tissue at the top of its beak.

“I shall glide quickly over the preliminaries, and onto the meats and sauces,” Olingo said.

Watching the expiring sun inch behind the Cuirnif mountains, Olingo described it all: the candied grouse, the gilded carp, the sweetmeats in orange sauce. Not stinting on the side dishes, he conjured the flavors of puffed yam, vault-roasted maize, and jellied sea asparagus.

“It is a shame,” said the pelgrane, “that in these dwindling days it is no longer possible to earn a living as a poet of the culinary. It is there, my friend, that your true talents lie.”

Olingo bowed low. “You humble me, sir.”

“You may go,” said the pelgrane. “I forgive you for coveting my treasure.”

“But wait,” said Olingo, drunk on flattery. He had enjoyed no audience as rapt as this pelgrane. “Our imagined feast is not yet finished. I have not described the sweets course.” He sank back into monologue, beginning with the cacao mousse. He lingered over the shimmering biscuits, and finally listed each of the nine spices, three of them no longer extant, that went into the brandy-soaked cake of the Figgy Extravagance. “Finally the most lissome serving boys drizzle the center with the simplest of caramel sauces, nothing but golden Almery sugar and—”

The pelgrane surged forward, driving its beak through Olingo’s breastbone. It withdrew it a moment later. About to ease a chunk of flesh down its gullet, it caught itself, and spat it out. Horror and shame convulsed its reptilian features.

Hands struggling in vain to close the wound, Olingo gasped his final words: “But you spared me!”

“I concede error,” the pelgrane said. “You were speaking of pudding, and I became distracted.”

Merry Holidays to you and yours from the jolly crew at Pelgrane Press!

Shock and Injury cards in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game are balanced assuming ongoing series play. When running a one-shot you may want to consider altering existing cards to make them nastier, or creating new, more intensely horrible ones. As in any horror game, players in one-shots often embrace the death spiral and find it perfectly in genre to end the session with a notable casualty count. YKRPG cards allow you to end their characters either physically or mentally. Given the reality horror motifs of its setting, you may find yourself leaning toward the latter.

I recently ran a game in the “This Is Normal Now” sequence for the gang on Dragonmeet eve in London. In addition to having a range of existing cards ready to serve to them, I cooked up a few tuned to the theme of the scenario—including this awful specimen:

In an ongoing game, something this harsh might be suitable for a climactic episode or the farewell to a player who has to drop your game for another commitment. Otherwise it’s way too brutal. Single cards that threaten to take your character out of the game do exist, but generally have much more forgiving discard conditions than this one, which requires you to pass the menace along to another player.

I don’t see myself using this card outside the context of this particular scenario. If I did, I’d drop the first effect line. There’s just too much going on in this card and the players found it confusing. The beneficial effect that tempts you to hold onto the card, endangering yourself and encouraging you to do bad things is something that works better in ongoing play. In a one-shot, the enticing circumstances don’t occur often enough.

As you might infer from the card title, the scenario was an homage to The Wicker Man, but with the dark impulses behind Brexit substituting for original film’s sexual panic. Players took on the roles of a Romanian short term construction crew, bound together by family ties, hired to complete an unfinished giant hollow wooden man in time for a music festival on March 29, 2019. (If you’re going to pay tribute to a classic, make that obvious as soon as possible, then add some other twist. The reference should never be your big revelation, because someone’s likely to guess it sooner than you planned.) I told players they could discard a card for free if they guessed the scenario’s title: Hard Brexit. No one got it, though Ken came up with a solid self-referential podcast pun, based on its setting in the town of Brampton.

Some readers may be hovering over your keyboards asking if we’re going to publish this, but it would be well past its topical sell date long by the time we could get it out. Anyway, all you really need is “Carcosa + Wicker Man + Brexit” and you’re good to go. For bonus points, perform a quick search of the local weirdness of a spot that cast the referendum’s densest Leave vote.

The card above is the Major Shock from a pair; here’s its Minor partner.

And here is another pair of custom Shock cards I didn’t wind up using. You can apply these to any Yellow King game, one-shot or not.


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.

During the Kickstarter for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, I laid out one method of serving Shock and Injury cards to players electronically, as image files sent to a mobile-enabled platform. At that time, I recommended using Google Photos for this purpose. Belatedly I realize that there was a better way to do it, using the workspace application Slack.

Here’s how to do that:

If you haven’t done so already, create a Slack workspace for your game group.

(I now find this an essential tool for my group, no matter what we’re playing. The Polly poll app, for example, gives you a handy way to conduct an advance roll call and make sure you have quorum before anyone grabs their dice and heads your way.)

Within the workspace, create a separate channel for each player character. Depending on how well you remember PC names, you may want to name it after the character, or place the player’s name before or after the investigator name. Slack doesn’t allow spaces or upper case letters in channel names so you’ll have to resort to underscores:

#ella_wharton

#noelle_ella_wharton

#ella_wharton_noelle

Alternately, you could serve cards into the private message inbox of each player. However, some players like to use that for banter, out of game arrangements and other side business. Creating a channel for each player keeps that clear for cards and in-game notes, and reminds other players of the cast of investigators.

Also, if a member of your group is without a mobile device, they can sit next to a player with a laptop or tablet. With a little looking over-the-shoulder, the obliging device owner can switch between channels as needed to allow the other person to check their cards in hand.

When a character receives a Shock or Injury card, you upload it to the appropriate channel. You can do this directly from a folder if using a laptop. On a tablet, you can put the card images in Dropbox and share them from that service’s mobile app into the Slack app.

Slack permits only the creator of a message line to delete that line, so when a player discards a card, you’ll have to delete it in order for it to disappear. Be sure your players let you know when they fulfill a discard condition.

We’re currently assembling materials for our YKRPG resources page, including image files for each card. If you need them before we get that done, you can check the books for the cards you think you’ll need and turn them into images. Accomplish this either by screenshotting the PDF or by opening the PDF in an image editing program such as GIMP. Then crop the cards into separate images, save with the card titles as file names, and you’re good to go.

Some GMs will still prefer the tactile quality of paper cards printed, cut up, and handed to players. But for those, like me, who consider immediate access to all the cards in the game the ideal, a Slack full of pallid masks and black stars should do the trick.

People Have Opinions about service platforms. If you come up with an even better way, let us know!


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.

Replication

A scenario seed for Ashen Stars

The lasers pick up a contract from an independent scientific consortium to investigate the fate of one of their Sherlock-class survey vessels. It sent out a distress call several days ago and has not been heard from since. The Linnaeus was orbiting a supposedly barren planet in the backwater Samian system when its call went out.

Arriving at Samian-III, the team finds the wreckage of the downed ship planetside, with no survivors. They also locate its shuttle, drifting in the supposedly dead world’s now teeming ocean. The murdered bodies of its crew members have been stashed in their biomatter collection pods—as if to prevent the corpses from contaminating planetary life.

Contrary to past surveys, a rich ecosystem of aquatic animals exists on Samian III. More bizarrely, they are not just similar to, but exactly the same as, species from Earth’s PreCambrian period. The team’s Xenobiology expert identifies specific organisms, until now known only from fossils. Included are the disc-shaped sea floor dweller Obamus coronatus and the grooved ovoid Attenborites janeae, With so little to go on, paleontologists were never able to reliably assign them to family groups. But here they swim about in abundance, ready to give up the secrets of their DNA.

The crew’s investigation leads to missing biologist Kan Kanfar and an underwater biodome. Before serving in the Mohilar War, he studied these creatures, known collectively as the Ediacara Biota. Slowly dying from toxin exposure sustained during the conflict, he has thrown moral qualms aside, employing an ancient alien technology to finally crack the secrets of his field. After irreparably altering a planet by setting it on the path to an Earth-like ecosystem, a few murders of pesky scientists meant little to him.

He has leagued himself with pirates, who downed the Linnaeus in exchange for a promise of priceless treasure. Does the team deal with him by informing his murder-happy confederates that the loot he has promised is actually only biological data on soft-shelled fauna? Or do they recognize that his judgment has been impaired as a consequence of his service to the Combine, and try to remand him for treatment?

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is now out of my hands and progressing through the next stages of production on its way to actuality.

Thanks to the eagle efforts of our dauntless playtesters, I received lots of extremely useful feedback on game play, resulting in a number of changes to the final version.

Kickstarter backers have a preview version representing the state of the manuscript as of mid-summer last year. Playtesters saw and played intermediate versions from the fall and then the end of last year.

The most consistent message from testers was that the game was deadlier than I thought, cycling through PCs at a higher than expected rate.

And here I was worrying, based on the foe-smashing exploits of my own in-house group, that the combat system was too lenient!

If you have a previous draft, then, you’ll see a number of changes to lengthen investigator lifespan.

Foe Difficulties have been scaled down.

More of the foes at the higher end of the Relative Challenge scale now appear with additional ways to lower their Difficulty numbers by gaining information about them before you fight them.

Starting general ability build points have been nudged upwards, to give you more points to spend on key survival abilities.

Perhaps most effectively, the text now explicitly gives players guidelines for the number of points the system expects them to invest in such character-preserving abilities as Fighting, Composure, Athletics and (in The Wars) Battlefield.

Also in The Wars, Scrounging, a theme for an ability in search of a vital game purpose, can now be used to refresh other characters’ Battlefield ability. That’s what you use to avoid bombs, barrages and other means of mass death on the front lines of the Continental War. Scrounging now mirrors the way Morale can be used to boost Composure for PCs in that sequence and in Aftermath.

To complete the adjustment, GMs can now choose between two toughness settings, Horror and Occult Adventure modes. In Horror, your character leaves play after accumulating 3 Injury cards or 3 shock cards. The more forgiving Occult Adventure mode takes you out after 4 Injury or 4 Shock cards.

Another common theme in playtest reports: players hated paying Tolls. These mandatory point spends, which you can make from any combo of Athletics, Fighting and Health, model the low-grade wear and tear you suffer even when you win a fight. Weaker foes now have Tolls of 0, so you don’t start to deal with Tolls until you’re fighting someone big and bad. Also, Tolls dropped across the board.

I didn’t dump them entirely. Experience with past systems has shown that players also resist a combat system that lets them emerge from a victory totally unscathed. The final rule strikes a balance between two opposing flavors of cognitive dissonance.

On my final design pass I eliminated a number of rules that went unmentioned by playtesters and unused in my own group. They hit the cutting room floor for not generating enough engagement to justify their presence.

In Aftermath I removed War Footing, a state of high alert players used to be able to declare for their characters. It gave them a bonus to Fighting and a penalty to Composure—the idea that they were risking their hard-won adjustment to civilian life by falling back into their insurgent mindset. War Footing didn’t get used because players had to remember to invoke it, and already had plenty of other stuff to think about. Also it has to be a hard tradeoff to achieve its thematic end, and brains don’t like those. As one of those ideas that shows a certain logic on paper but never pays off in practice, War Footing hit the bricks.

Another rule that added complexity for a thematic payoff that paid off was a distinction, in This is Normal Now, between sapient and non-sapient Foes. My original thought was that it ought to be harder for the ordinary people of that final sequence to kill intelligent beings. In the end I dropped it in favor of a simpler set of foe difficulties. If the distinction had factored into player decisions in an interesting way it could have justified its existence. But in an investigative game a Difficulty bonus doesn’t much change who the PCs choose to attack and who to run from. So out it went.

The greatest number of revision waves happened in the Shock and Injury card sections. Familiarity with play honed my feel for the sorts of effects and discards that made a splash, and which ones fell flat, were hard to implement, or rarely applied.

So for example The Tremors, a workhorse, low-intensity Shock card, started its life looking like this:

Your next Interpersonal Push costs 2 Pushes.

Discard after it applies, or at end of scenario.

But in the final version has become more overtly interactive:

-1 to Presence.

Discard by going to a scary location. Discard by initiating an encounter with a scary person, creature or entity.

The updated version prompts action, where the original makes a particular, not terribly common action less likely or impossible.

While remaining true to its core idea that failing to gain information is never entertaining, GUMSHOE has continued to evolve since its debut more than a decade ago.

Someday I may well find myself creating a bunch of new sub-systems for some genre or setting we haven’t tackled before, tossing about half of them before the book goes to layout.

All with the help of our indispensable playtesters, who we can’t thank enough for making our games better.

Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is Pelgrane’s mind-shattering, era-spanning game of reality horror based on the classic stories of Robert W. Chambers. Coming in December 2018.

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