In The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Kickstarting soon at a Kickstarter near you, players portray characters linked across various eras and timelines corrupted by alien supernatural influence.

In the third of these linked settings, Aftermath, the investigators are all ex-partisans who fought in a successful rebellion against a tyrannical regime backed by Carcosa. Now they want to rebuild their nation and put their violent past, and memories of weird incidents connected to that, behind them. But He Whose Mask Is Not A Mask isn’t finished with America yet, and they find themselves drawn into a succession of weird mysteries requiring them to draw on the skills they’d sooner put behind them.

To emulate this I’m introducing* a new general ability, which goes like this:

Insurgency

Before attacking targets in a location you have the opportunity to case in advance, you can devise the most efficient plan of attack, dealing maximum harm at minimum risk.

Make an Insurgency test with a Difficulty keyed to the location: 4 for most civilian targets, 5 for a secure military target, 6 for an ultra-secure installation.

On success with a margin of 2 or less, all combatants on your side get a +1 Fighting bonus. A higher margin nets a +2 bonus for all.

This also allows you to defend against attackers using guerrilla tactics against a position you have had time to hunker down in. Here the Difficulties flip: 6 for a civilian location, 5 for military, 4 for ultra-secure. When defending you can make a Counterinsurgency Push for a +4 bonus on your roll.

Insurgency tests take the place of extended planning sessions in which players manage the tactical details of an assault, just as Preparedness skips the part where you laboriously write out every item on your equipment lists.

After a successful Insurgency test, ask the player, abetted by anyone else in the group who likes to describe skirmishes in loving Tom Clancyesque detail, to describe the clever plans they’ve laid for their soon-to-be-attacked targets. In the ensuing Fighting test, they can describe them working to superb effect (if the group wins), or the GM can describe them being countered by a victorious foe.

*       *      *

This ability only suits games where you find it desirable to collapse the tactical planning process into a single ability test. The previous setting in the cycle, The Wars, does not do this. It has the player characters fighting in a great European conflict in an alternate timeline. Planning how to grub up crucial bonuses for an upcoming scrap should take center stage there, with players weighing options, discarding some and choosing others, perhaps with the aid of intelligence they’ve gathered with investigative abilities.

In Aftermath those scenes fade back to a tertiary status, to make room for subplots about rebuilding the nation.

You could add this ability to other GUMSHOE games, probably renaming it Tactics or some other more generally apt term, in cases where quick and dirty combat planning suits the genre. It would fit a standard Esoterrorists game, for example, while feeling out of place in a Special Suppression Forces campaign frame. It would also work in Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars, but likely not in the more combat-forward environment of Night’s Black Agents.

You might also consider your group’s tastes when deciding whether to use it. Your players might dig its abstraction even in NBA, or prefer to do the tactics in detail even when the setting takes little interest in that side of things.


*In the current draft, anyhow. A designer can never count on any new element surviving the playtest process.

The scene in which the hero is taken prisoner by adversaries is as deep a staple of adventure fiction as you could ask for. In roleplaying this basic scene has always acted as bugaboo. Players cling vehemently to their characters’ agency. Some would rather have their characters killed than tossed in a cell.

If we think about these sequences in movies and fiction, they always afford the hero a way forward, after a suitable period of frustration. The hero learns something about the antagonist, gleans some other key bit of information, or makes a key alliance that drives the story forward.

While designing The Yellow King Roleplaying Game I’ve found a way to get around the traditional reluctance to play that type of sequence. But we haven’t even Kickstarted that yet. But I can adapt the same principle to GUMSHOE One-2-One, which like YKRPG uses cards to represent ongoing consequences that affect the character over the course of the scenario. (Though the two games implement this differently.)

When you think your player’s Cthulhu Confidential detective ought to be knocked on the head, as happens from time to time to any self-respecting noir hero, offer this Problem card:


When You Regain Consciousness

Problem

You are knocked out and will wake up in the foe’s clutches. When you either escape, or gain a core clue while in custody, discard this card plus any one other non-Continuity Problem card you can justify to the GM.


Tell them that they can accept the card and forgo a Challenge to avoid being knocked out. Or they can take their chances on the Challenge, which might still wind up with imprisonment, plus one if not two worse Problem cards.

This signals to the player that, a) absolutely, there will be a way out of the imprisonment, b) interesting things will happen during the imprisonment and c) here’s a nice extra bribe for you.

This turns a situation in which the player fears loss of agency to one in which she has a choice and can feel in control of a temporary loss of control. As paradoxical as that may sound.

 

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.

Pelgrane Press is terrified to announce that The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is coming soon to a Kickstarter near you.

Written and designed by GUMSHOE master Robin D. Laws, YKRPG takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines.

Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ influential cycle of short stories, 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 their planet, Carcosa.

Four books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront your players with an epic journey into reality horror:

  • Belle Epoque 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 2017 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 2017 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.

Crowdfunding in 2017 for a 2018 release.