A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Having appeared on GM advice panels for lots of years, I’m always on the alert for changes in the types of questions audience members put forward.

These can vary quite a bit depending on the convention. An expensive destination show like Gen Con, or one directed to an ultra-dedicated community like The Kraken will feature challenging, graduate-level questions. At shows where local folks can walk on in to plunk down their admission fee the questions, questions tend to reflect the concerns of newer players—and thus the direction we might be headed in as tastes and experiences change.

This might be anecdotal or a blip in the radarsphere, but lately I’ve noticed a shift from the previous classic question to a new one.

The old question is “How do I deal with the overbearing player in my group?”

Now I’m hearing a lot more, “How do I draw out the shy player in my group?”

I’ve heard the second one over the years too, but the balance has shifted.

Whether this presages a new wonderful generation with heightened sensitivity or not is a sociological question that could spawn a hot take full of groundless generalizations. Instead let’s instead look at that evergreen RPG question.

My basic answer, going all the way back to Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, has been to recognize that many players who seem to under-participate actually like it that way. They prefer to sit back and quasi-spectate and aren’t waiting for you to coax them into the open. Maybe they don’t contribute as many ideas, strategies or brilliant character moments as the more outgoing group members, but they contribute all the same. Maybe they drive other players to game, supply the snacks, or just add to the social atmosphere in an indefinable but necessary way. They provide the social glue that makes quorum possible week in and week out.

In a D&D game, you can give the casual player a straightforward PC to play and tell him when to roll when he needs to. Cough, cough, human fighter, cough.

Investigative play, which dominates all GUMSHOE games, requires more participation. Even so, there are ways to decrease the burden on players who take a backseat by choice.

For a shy player, the most pressuring element of a GUMSHOE game is not the demons of The Esoterrorists, cultists of Trail of Cthulhu, or vampires of Night’s Black Agents. It’s the need to converse at length with possibly hostile people and wrest information from them.

When ensuring that all players get to take point in an interview scene of their own, you might wait for the shy player to step forward and volunteer for a particular encounter. If they don’t, don’t force it on them. Allow them to lob supplementary questions into interviews conducted by other players, even when their PCs aren’t literally present. And if they remain content to sit back and watch interviews without doing that either, this is also fine.

A semi-retiring player may be happy to interview less intimidating witnesses. You might make sure your scenario includes someone the player can talk to without fearing that they’re going to make a mistake or get the group in trouble. When introducing low-stress witnesses into the story, make a point of describing them in a way that puts the player at ease. If the player does choose to pick a tough or tricky suspect to talk to, dial back your portrayal, injecting less stress into the exchange than you would for a player who gives as good as she gets.

A GUMSHOE scenario usually assumes that the PCs are, taken together, experts in any field they need to understand to piece together the mystery. Still, building in a friendly expert for the less aggressive player to interact with may help the flow of your session.

A cooperative witness needn’t oversimplify the mystery. The group still has to interpret the information witnesses supply, even when given without resistance. (A shy player could be just as flustered by an overly forthcoming GMC as a withholding one, so take care not to bowl them over with a gusher of info and details.)

Casual players may prefer spotlight moments allowing them to interact with impersonal obstacles.

Technical investigative abilities suit shy players well. They can go off to the lab to run tests while the extroverted players interview suspects.

Academic investigative abilities, the things that their characters already know, remember, or can research, allow you to portray shy players’ characters as gaining clues for the group without fraught interaction.

If interaction in particular and not the spotlight in general hangs them up, you might build in moments for shy players to shine while using general abilities. These players often enjoy playing stealthy types, so this may be as simple as creating a place for them to sneak into and out of.

Players who don’t like tension can be guided toward supportive general abilities:

  • First Aid lets them patch up other group members after they go out and take the risks.
  • With Preparedness, they can open up their packs to pull out the piece of equipment that saves the day.
  • With Piloting they can swoop in to rescue the rest of the party as the shoggoths charge down the ice field.
  • Systems Repair has them turbocharging the spaceship’s engine for a surprise escape from the magnetic field while the rest of the group antagonizes enemies on the planet below.

Ultimately every shy player is cautious in a distinct, individual way. If your shy person does perk up and show a special interest in a facet of play, build more of that into future games.

But if they want to remain in their shells, respect that. For some, it’s the place where clams are happiest.

Here’s an expanded use for the Sense Trouble ability one of my players, Chris Huth, sold me on recently. The basic principle can apply to any GUMSHOE game that includes this general ability.

We’ve reached the Aftermath sequence of our Yellow King Roleplaying Game playtest.

In its alternate 2017, landlines remain the basic telephonic technology. Answering machines do not yet exist. (A hundred years of tyranny has a stultifying effect on consumer electronics.)

To get messages about developments in a case, the team has to check in with an answering service hired by Chris’ character, Jerry Jean-Leon.

On learning that a police detective had called to ask them to come in for an interview, Jerry asked the answering service receptionist whether the tone of the call sounded routine, or worrisome.

I started by playing her as not savvy enough to tell that on a call from a cop. As standard procedure, he’d be pretty good at keeping it neutral. The receptionist wasn’t a trained investigator.

Chris wanted to specify that he went out of his way to hire someone who would actually be able to read that kind of nuance, even from a pro. He offered to make a Sense Trouble test to get this result.

We normally think of Sense Trouble as happening in the here and now, as reflecting what the hero can directly sense.

Here we were talking about a situation where the sensing would be done by another character, a GMC some distance away.

Plus, it would reflect an action taken in the past—Jerry’s extra cautious effort to make sure he had hired a messaging service with ultra-sharp employees.

GUMSHOE precedent already exists for tests that establish an action you’ve undertaken in the past. The Preparedness test lets you declare that you happen to have already packed a particular item you need.

The end result would still stem from Jerry’s ability to anticipate trouble, so I agreed with Chris that this could work. Finding an answering machine service with security instincts sounded tough to me, so I set a Difficulty one point higher than the standard 4.

Chris made the test, so the receptionist told him that indeed, the detective sounded like he was after them, but trying to be cool about it.

In any game where the PCs might have made arrangements with a functionary like the answering service receptionist, you could likewise use Sense Trouble to measure that person’s ability to anticipate danger. Whether it appears as a robotic monitoring device, an Ordo Veritatis auxiliary on stakeout duty or a blood magic ward depends on which flavor of GUMSHOE you’re playing.

No one celebrates Halloween in 1895 Paris, the first sequence of the reality-spanning Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Observance of that holiday won’t start until sometime in the 20s or 30s in the United States.

However, the proximity of All Soul’s Day may provoke an uptick in the ghostly activity triggered by the publication of a certain madness-inducing play.

In the spirit of the holiday, check out this trio of supernatural foes, among those added to the game thanks to the stretch goal-busting actions of our well-attired and sophisticated Kickstarter backers.

Egregore

Investigators with the Occultism ability know the concept of the egregore. Believers describe them as discarnate thoughtforms capable of influencing groups of people. Some describe them as the great forces that move human history. While certain ritual magicians seek them out as sources of arcane insight, Christian occultists like the Martinists warn that they are really a form of demon.

As with so many other occult beliefs, the opening of the gates to Carcosa have realized that which was once imaginary. This egregore is the shade of a dead Carcosan noble, held together by spite and glee in the suffering of others. Translucent and insubstantial, it acts as a spirit guide to questing occultists. It uses its ghostly powers to grant would-be magicians the entirely illusory impression of spiritual progress. Sometimes the deluded protege undergoes experiences convincing him that he can manipulate external events through magic.

In return for these gifts, the egregore requires the protege to commit acts of calculated cruelty. Seemingly trivial at first, the entity steadily escalates them to encompass sabotage, assault, kidnapping and murder. Egregores gain a particular charge from acts of cultural desecration, from arson in churches to the destruction of beloved art works.

To remain anchored to a protege, the egregore must arrange for its true name to be hidden in a place significant to the manipulated person. If the investigators discover this, and then find the name, they can call it out, causing the egregore to assume substantial form, which can then be physically dispatched in a fight.

An insubstantial egregore cannot be captured or killed, and deals out shocks instead of injuries.

Numbers: 1

Difficulty: Superior 6 / 8

Difficulty Adjustments: +2 for each character who can fight but doesn’t;

Toll: 2

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Korrigan

In Breton folklore the term “korrigan” may refer to any faerie creature, or to a version of the classic alluring faerie maiden who lures young men away from this world into an unholy supernatural realm.

Do these tales reflect past eras of Carcosan influence on earth, when they came here to take slaves?

With the gates open (perhaps again) between our world and Carcosa, slave-hunters, either following an old pattern or mimicking folk tale imagery, have come here to collect healthy young human specimens to serve its noble courts.

Korrigans look like red-haired humans of great physical allure, but of indeterminate age. Their delicate beauty may strike wary observers as alien or eerie. When aroused to anger or passion, their eyes glow a fiery red.

They hunt by emotional entrapment, winning the love of their victims over a period of weeks or months. At the end of the mysterious courtship, the target signs an agreement consigning his (or, more rarely, her) soul to the korrigan. The korrigan then takes the subject to Carcosa and sells the contract to the head of a noble Carcosan household. The victim loses vitality but does not otherwise age, regretfully toiling for his new masters for many generations before fading away into nothingness.

Korrigans prefer flight, or the use of psychic influence, to combat. A few prove physically formidable when cornered. PCs resist the psychic attack dealing a korrigan’s Shock cards, which it can use on one investigator per scene, with Difficulty 5 Composure tests. Once one character has one of these cards, it reuses its power only when desperate.

When revealed or pressed, the hypnotic beauty of the korrigan may give way to the pale, mask-like visage typical of Carcosans.

Numbers: 1

Difficulty: Evenly Matched 5 / 7

Difficulty Adjustments: +2 for each character who can fight but doesn’t;

Toll: 2

Shocks, Minor and Major:

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Petroleuse

During the Commune a cadre of female anarchists terrorized the bourgeoisie by roaming the city with gasoline bottles, which they set alight and tossed through the basement windows of well-appointed homes. Compared to vengeful maenads, they sometimes committed these acts of revolutionary arson with their children in tow.

The Yellow Book has conjured them back, in ghostly form, translucent and wreathed in flame.

Numbers: equals number of player characters

Difficulty: Evenly Matched 5 / 7

Difficulty Adjustments: -1 if the party has already learned of the historical significance of the petroleuses, +1 if not

Toll: 2

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Download the cards here.

The Yellow King pre-order is about to vanish like the ghost of a murdered arsonist. Jump on before it’s gone!

[Contains a mild spoiler for the most recent episode of Discovery…]

A note on tone in Ashen Stars invites you to think of it as the gritty reboot of a beloved TV space opera show from the past.

Enough episodes of Star Trek: Discovery have dropped to see that it is very much reading out of the gritty reboot playbook.

This raises the question: what kind of model does it give us for Ashen Stars scenarios?

Discovery asks itself how many of the bedrock assumptions of past iterations you can strip away and still have a Trek show. In particular they’re taking out the bits that made it SF comfort viewing: the overlit old school TV look, the absence of conflict between main characters, the idealized view of humanity in the future.

My guess is that if the show survives long enough to execute its overall arc, its intention is to withhold and then restore all of the above except the wash lighting.

Plus new photon f-bombs, of course.

Another element the show has switched out is the structure. In place of the episodic, space mystery of the week setup we’ve seen before, the show uses the structure pioneered by J. J. Abrams in Alias. Procedural problem-solving still plays a key role, but now comes second to serialized emotional drama. As is common in so many post-Alias shows, the drama can take up most or all of the fourth act, with the problem of the week dispatched at the end of act three.

Discovery still uses the device in which an investigation leads to a moral dilemma which must be resolved to bring the story to a conclusion. You see this in the most recent episode, “Choose Your Pain,” where Burnham uses her Xenobiology ability to realize that the ship’s experimental propulsion system is ethically insupportable.

This introduces a conflict with the episode’s action-oriented plot thread, the resolution of which leads to dramatic scenes in which pairs of main characters make or grant emotional petitions, as seen in Hillfolk.

In other words, I’m glad to live in our dimension, where Modiphius and not Pelgrane has the Trek RPG license. In the mirror universe where that is reversed, alternate me has to finally figure out how to fully merge GUMSHOE with DramaSystem!

A column about roleplaying

By Robin D. Laws

Work on the Yellow King Roleplaying Game has been chugging along since the Kickstarter closed in July. A master document containing the elements of Absinthe in Carcosa is now in the hands of hand-out artist extraordinaire Dean Engelhardt. In the months ahead he’ll be transforming them into a unique and stunning presentation of the setting sourcebook format. Art direction is well underway for the four books that comprise the core game.

The first playtest round, focused on Paris, is now in progress, with actual play reports beginning to filter out into places like the GUMSHOE Facebook community.

With Absinthe turned over to Dean, I’ve turned my attention back to completing the core game. This task entails both the three remaining introductory scenarios and the many stretch goals crowdfunded by you (or gamers like you.)

Here’s a taste of the latter—a few of the GMC profiles from the Occultists of the Belle Epoque stretch goal.

Did you miss the Kickstarter? The Yellow King Roleplaying Game Pre-Order exists just for you.

Camille Flammarion

Astronomer and Science Fiction Writer

53, 1842-1925

The polymathic Camille Flammarion crosses not only the streams of science and spiritism, but throws the arts in for good measure. He believes both in evolution and the transmigration of souls, continually improving as they find new incarnations throughout the universe. His science fiction titles, such as Lumen and Imaginary Worlds, envision alien life from a naturalist’s perspective. Like Albert de Rochas he applies the scientific method to parapsychological research. Since souls go to other planets after death, he reasons, manifestations at séances must emanate from the extra-sensory powers of the mediums who conjure them. Always ready to write a foreword or appear at an occult talk, he might be found in the corners of any event held by any other figure in this chapter.

Physically his mane of white hair, incisively cocked eyebrows and flowing Van Dyke underline his grand old man persona.

As a Patron: Flammarion might recruit the heroes to round up copies of the book, drawing on his contacts in the scientific and occult communities.

Alexandre Saint-Yves

Synarchist

53, 1842-1909

Joseph Alexandre Saint-Yves, the Marquis d’Alveydre, invented the term synarchy to refer to the secret rule of mankind by occult masters. He believes that Abraham and the Hindu deity Ram are really the same figure, a primordial lawmaker and father of all peoples. Though the surface world has lost touch with the truth, millions dwell in Agarttha, a subterranean realm benevolently overseen by a trinity of rulers: a Brahatmah (God-soul), Mahatma (Great Soul) and Mahanga (Great Path.) It relocated underground, far below the plateaus of Tibet, during the Hindu dark age three thousand years ago, protecting its people and advanced technology from encroaching disaster. He knows this because he communicates with Agartthan officials telepathically.

The Marquis claims the power of astral travel. When characters ask about it, he proves notably stingy with the details.

He writes the popular Mission series of books in which various groups are issued instructions for bringing about the synarchy on the surface world: Mission to the Sovereigns, Mission to the Jews, and so on. When not occupied with synarchy he studies possible commercial applications for seaweed.

Saint-Yves became independently wealthy through marriage and was granted his title fifteen years ago by the Republic of San Marino. Describe him as a dour-looking man with a thick, pensive mustache.

Charles Richet

Physiologist and Parapsychologist

45, 1850-1930

A gaunt man with searching eyes, the physiologist Charles Richet studies a range of medical subjects and is destined to win the Nobel Prize for his work on anaphylaxis. His interests range from aviation to theatrical writing. The investigators however will care most about his role as a scientific psychic investigator. Last year he coined the term “ectoplasm” to describe the strange material mediums produce during séances. He believes that paranormal powers exist but will all be rationally explained through scientific inquiry, without the need to invoke spirits or an afterlife. In our reality, he falls for, and in at least one case helps to cover up, hoaxes perpetrated by mediums. In the universe of the Yellow King, he might instead fail to see the supernatural causes behind their effects.

Richet dedicates himself to pacifism, eugenics and hardcore racism, especially against blacks. Calibrate the way you deal with these last two according to your group’s desired level of unsavory social realism.

Léo Taxil (Gabriel Jogand-Pagès)

Conspiracy-Promulgating Con Artist

41, 1854-1907

Setting a pattern unknown to our own innocent age, pundit Léo Taxil (real name Gabriel Jogand-Pagès) masterminds a convoluted series of hoaxes, in which he appears to ricochet between extreme ideologies, selling books and calling attention to himself all along the way. He started as an anti-clerical rabble-rouser, writing books that mock Biblical inconsistencies or depict Catholic ecclesiastics engaged in Sadean debauchery. He infiltrated occult circles, convincing Jules Doinel (above) and others that he was one of them.

Ten years ago he staged a public conversion to Catholicism, tarring Freemasonry with similar sensational slanders. Taxil is the one who took Levi’s famous image of Baphomet and forever associated it with Satanism. He described a global conspiracy, the Palladium, led by a Masonic worthy of Charleston, South Carolina named Albert Pike. Three years ago he published the best-selling The Devil in the 19th Century, introducing to the world the reformed Satanist arch-priestess Diana Vaughan. Anecdotes include her encounters with incarnate demons, including a crocodilian specimen that plays the piano. He is now writing her first-person book of prayers and confessions.

Two years from now he will announce a press conference with Vaughan, at which he instead reveals that it was all a hoax. Reverting to his original persona, he says he has been showing the stupidity of the Church’s fear of Freemasonry.

But that’s the historical timeline. Might the ambient madness of Carcosa cause thoughtforms of the demons described in Taxil’s books to realize themselves?

In my last Page XX column I promised a rule for a rare instance of procedural resolution. This occurs when the caller of the scene wants to be surprised by the outcome of an external event. I admit to being surprised that people want this, but it turns out that a few groups do. It does fit certain genres where the group works together toward a common goal that regularly repeats itself. This might apply to series set in the worlds of sport, the arts, or around other occupations.

In the standard procedural system seen in Hillfolk, you fail more frequently than you would in a standard adventure-oriented RPG. Compelling drama arises from failure, from the tightening of the screws on the characters. So the system skews to that, just as action and investigation games like GUMSHOE and 13th Age favor success.

By contrast, the Surprise Outcome resolution option outlined below assumes a 50/50 shot of success, which you can calibrate in whichever direction you prefer to allow for the desired possibility of surprise.

Surprise Outcome Procedural Resolution

The caller poses a yes or no question about a possible procedural outcome:

“Will Chessboard win the race, beating Percival’s horse?”

“Will our band have a great gig?”

“Will this be the time when one of the firefighters gets hurt?”

The caller then draws a card from a freshly shuffled deck. If the result is an 8 or higher, the answer to the question is Yes. If not, the answer is No.

When the card is revealed, the scene caller narrates accordingly, then frames the dramatic interaction arising from it.

A surprise procedural outcome never counts as a scene unto itself. It is always a prelude to a scene.

Callers seeking additional complication can specify any card as the target to hit, allowing adjustment of the odds upwards or downwards from roughly even. (Well, 54%, but this is DramaSystem so who’s counting?) I’m not sure why you’d bother to call for a surprise and then skew the odds to lessen the chance of having one, but there you go. Each card represents a difference in odds of roughly 7%. So if you want a 21% chance of success, make the target a Queen or better. For a slim 21% chance of failure, make it a 5 or better.

DramaSystem doesn’t use dice or coins or spinners but if you’d rather substitute a randomizing method of your choice, it is unlikely that the Great Pelgrane will swoop from its perch in Clapham Common to devour you.

a column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

When characters in DramaSystem want to accomplish something practical, external to their emotional goals, the full procedural system seen in Hillfolk allows you to narrate a detailed scene around that. It determines not only what ultimately happens, but lays down a series of suspense beats along the way.

The system’s default assumption is that you will use this only rarely. Mostly when you want something practical to happen, the scene caller just describes it happening:

“The village is on fire and the Horseneck tribe are riding through, pillaging! I go to Tallbeard to urge him to renounce his vow of non-violence and lead the charge to drive them off!”

“Ann has altered the library into a vast black labyrinth and locked out all the students. Doc, who she did not see over by the study carrels when she wove the spell, comes over to complain.”

“Chessboard, Asim’s horse, wins the third race by a nose. Asim approaches Percival, hoping for congratulations.”

Only in two cases would you bother to treat these changes to the ongoing situation as anything other than a fait accompli:

  1. Not everyone in the group agrees that this should happen
  2. The caller wants to be surprised by the outcome (a rare case I’ll deal with in a later post)

The original procedural system as seen in Hillfolk serves as something of a Rorschach test for player group culture. Of the groups who’d rather use an alternate, some want the procedural system to behave even more like a traditional RPG resolution system. Others want to set aside the suspense of the current system in favor of the quickest possible answer to the question at hand.

Here are two options for those belonging to that second camp: one simpler, one way simpler. They let you dispense with the red, yellow and green procedural tokens entirely, stripping the game down to two resource types: drama tokens and bennies.

They also assume that there is no such thing as a scene consisting only of a procedural action. Here, the procedural only serves as a prelude changing the conditions before the real meat of the scene, a dramatic interaction.

This removes the option of calling a procedural as a way of ducking the commitment of placing your character in yet another emotional situation. As with so much else in the highly personal play experience DramaSystem provides, this might be a plus or minus, depending on the tastes of your particular players.

The GM checks to see how many players care about the outcome, and what they want to happen. The caller draws two cards from a freshly shuffled playing card deck; each other player who cares one way or the other draws a single card. The GM does not take part. Players may spend bennies to draw additional cards. Each card costs one bennie. After everyone has had a chance to draw as many cards as they wish to pay bennies for, the players begin turning them over.

You could:

  1. have all players whose characters are taking part in the action flip over all cards at once. The player with the highest card describes what happens.
  2. narrate the ups and downs of each card outcome.

The first choice, Quick Narration, cuts to the chase, giving you a speedy outcome so you can get right back to the drama.

The second, Suspense Narration, draws out the suspense, getting you a little closer to the set-piece action/thriller sequence feeling the established procedural system permits.

Ties between cards of the same value, as always, resolve using this suit order, from best to worst: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs.

In either case, the outcome a player wants might be the opposite of their character’s desires. This happens when your plans as author and the motivations of the character contradict each other. Ava the player might want to see the situation shaken up by a successful enemy raid on the village, even though her character, Ashwind, doesn’t want any such thing. When you’re rooting for the group to get into more trouble, you might well narrate bad stuff happening that your character either fails to stop or is not directly involved in.

In both of the following examples, Ava, Bob and Carla think it’s more interesting to let the Horsenecks successfully raid the village, with Darius, Emily and Fran hoping to see them driven off. Ava is the caller.

Quick Narration Example

Ava draws two cards. Darius, who plays Tallbeard and doesn’t want to be put in this position, pays a bennie to draw an extra card. Everyone turns their cards over at once. The highest card is the King of Spades, drawn by Emily. She narrates:

“The village may be on fire, but we rally and send the Horsenecks packing without Tallbeard’s having to draw his sword. His vow remains intact.”

This requires Ava, who is still the caller, to revise her intention of the scene. Her character, Ashwind, still goes to Tallbeard. Now, however, she uses a bit of tribal reverse psychology, congratulating him on training the others so that his own hands don’t get bloody any more.

Suspense Narration Steps and Example

In Suspense narration, the caller reveals the first card and describes a step in the action that goes her way. Then you go around the room from the caller’s left with each other player who wants to influence the outcome revealing his cards in turn. With each card reveal the player turning a card over describes:

  • a step toward his desired outcome (if this card is the highest so far, or if the highest card so far has already been drawn by a player driving the story toward the same outcome)
  • a step away from the desired outcome (if this card does not beat the highest so far, which is held by the other side)

Keep going around the room until you get back to the caller, who reveals her remaining card(s).

With all cards drawn and narrated, the player with the high card concludes the description by describing the final outcome.

(As the King of Spades is the highest card and can’t be beaten, its appearance prompts an exception to the rules. A player revealing it narrates an immediate end to the action sequence, in her favor.)

Example: Ava, the caller, reveals a 4 of Diamonds. The first card is always the high card when drawn, so she says: “The village is on fire! The Horseheads come riding in.”

Darius, on her left, wants the village to repel the attack and has paid a bennie for an extra card. He reveals the 8 of Clubs. That’s better than Ava’s card, so he describes events turning the village’s way: “Using Tallbeard’s training, the people spring into action, flinging sling bullets at the hated foe.” He turns over his second card, an 8 of Diamonds: “The Horsenecks break formation, and the people cheer!” (Suit order tells us that this is the new high card.)

Bob, on his left, reveals the 6 of Clubs, worse than the highest card so far. He has to describe events going against his desires, which favor of the invasion: “Even our smallest children join in the defense, pelting the invaders with well-aimed stones.”

Carla, on his left, reveals the 9 of Clubs, the best card so far. She favors the invasion: “Then their mightiest warriors regroup, sending our hurlers fleeing with terrifying swings of their great bronze war clubs.”

Emily turns over the Jack of Spades, now the best card. Opposing the invasion, she says: “Our best fighters, Tallbeard excepted, clash with theirs, sending them toppling from their mounts.”

Fran shows her card, the 7 of Diamonds. That’s not the best card but she’s with Emily in wanting the invasion to fail, so she gets to describe a positive result. “Seeing this, the Horseneck auxiliaries flee.”

That takes us around the room back to the caller, Ava. If she draws a Queen or King, she can turn this back to her original intent. But she only gets a 10 of Clubs, and must describe an opposite step: “Still on horseback, our war leaders herd the downed Horsenecks past our fortifications.”

As owner of the high card, Emily gets the final narrative touch: “We jeer them, hurling dung and insults, as they limp back toward their dry and wretched lands.”

As in the quick narration example, Ava, the caller, then revises her intention of the ensuing scene. Her character, Ashwind, still goes to Tallbeard. Now, however, she uses a bit of tribal reverse psychology, congratulating him on training the others so that his own hands don’t get bloody any more.

As the dog days of summer approach, thoughts turn momentarily from game publishing to the quaffing of celebratory cocktails.

When Pelgranes gather for their winter summit in London, host and Pelgrane co-honcho Simon Rogers plies us with wines as sweet as our plans for the coming year.

But in the the summer heat the cosmos screams for more quenching beverages reflecting Pelgrane’s love of literary horror.

These Lovecraft and Chambers-themed cocktails may make it look like I’ve entered into some kind of unholy co-promotion with San Pellegrino. Alas, this is not yet the situation. So send me a case, San Pellegrino marketing wizards.

You may have seen these on one of my social media feeds, but a blog post will preserve them for posterity, or at least until such time as the King in Yellow shatters our reality for good.

Serve all of these on the rocks.

STAR VAMPIRE

1½ oz Kraken spiced rum

½ oz sloe gin

San Pellegrino blood orange aranciata

FLOWER OF CARCOSA
1 ½ oz cachaça
½ oz red Lillet
Limonata

 

THE KINGSPORTER (pictured)
1½ oz bourbon
½ oz ruby port
San Pellegrino Clementina  

Please expose intruders to vengeful pirate ghosts responsibly.

Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.

When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.

You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?

Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.

  1. “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
  2. “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
  3. “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
  4. “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
  5. “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
  6. “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
  7. “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”

And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…

In a previous post I laid out the basics of Shock and Injury cards in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (now on Kickstarter.)

Let’s now dive in a bit more detail into the way certain of the cards evoke the sense of a multi-step recovery.

Like anything in GUMSHOE, they emulate the way things work in fictional stories, rather than simulating reality. Often in a genre narrative the hero will be in a hospital bed in one scene, limping in the next, and basically as capable as ever after another little while.

YKRPG handles this with cards that replace the full discard with a trade. You fulfill a condition and get a less onerous card, but aren’t out of the woods yet.

An example appears on the card you receive when your character gets shot.

This, you will note, is a card the player will want to deal with rather than leave in hand.

On the Mend belongs to a class of staple cards. It represents a step down from a number of worse Injury cards.

An equivalent Shock card is Unease; among the more serious Shocks that require you to trade for it is Dread.

With YKRPG cards the fun often lies in the way specialized cards break from established formulas.

After your players have grown used to getting Shot, winding up In the Blast Radius or suffering from Massive Injuries, and then trading down to On the Mend, they might see it as a bit of a curveball when one of them receives this:

And then trading down to this:

We’ve all seen TV episodes where the hero who leapt out of his hospital bed does well for a while, then collapses. The cards allow you to emulate that—but only in specific circumstances, unlike a wound track hard-coded into the core rules.

Sometimes wounds work one way, sometimes another—just as they do in serialized genre storytelling.

Forgetting to pledge to The Yellow King RPG Kickstarter leaves you with a sorrow that can’t be traded for a lesser card. Only 4 days left!

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