During one of the informal Pelgrane meetings, Robin asked all GMs present about their default NPC-style. The PCs start interacting with an NPC we haven’t planned something for; what style of NPC do we tend to default to? I kept notes!

  • Gareth said he tends to introduce upper-class fops. And drunks. Maybe drunk upper-class fops.
  • Cat also tends towards drunks. And Valley girls, because: the accent. Not necessarily drunk Valley girls. But not necessarily not drunk Valley girls.
  • Noah’s default NPCs aren’t defined by personality, more like by activity. His players tease him because whenever there’s an unexpected NPC interaction, someone is busy loading or unloading a truck, or its era-appropriate equivalent. His default NPCs are stevedores and at any moment they can say, “Well the truck is ready, I gotta go.”
  • Robin brings on dumb-guy walk-on characters or disarmingly frank and charming Big Bads. But if the NPCs are just one-scene villains, meant to be defeated, they frequently work very hard to hurt the PCs’ feelings, making their comeuppance that much sweeter.
  • Similarly, I tend to introduce NPCs who are positioned to be sarcastically mocking, possibly because of the situation rather than their actual words. And I use funny voices. Which may burble out of control.
  • Speaking of out of control speech patterns, when Ken used an extremely funny accent for descendants of the Marsh Family, his players kept arranging visits with the Marshes for no reason other than to force Ken to use the accent. This is probably payback, because when Ken’s players interact with new NPCs, these NPCs are most frequently worryingly helpful.
  • Wade says he has two flavors of default NPC that emerge at the spur of the moment. One flavor is gruff and super-intense. The other flavor is absurdly wide-eyed and earnest.  Both flavors of NPC tend to react the same to the PCs—with barely suppressed incredulity. “Well, that’s one approach I guess,” an NPC will say after hearing the PCs’ plans. “You certainly do seem to know what you’re doing, I mean, you must do this kind of thing a lot without lots of people getting killed and things catastrophically blowing up, so maybe that would work.”

April 30th rolls ‘round again, season of doors and frightful manifestations. You may know it as Walpurgisnacht, the Witches’ Sabbath – at least according to poor Walter Gilman, the ill-fated protagonist of Dreams in the Witch House.

Now he was praying because the Witches’ Sabbath was drawing near. May-Eve was Walpurgis-Night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds. It was always a very bad time in Arkham, even though the fine folks up in Miskatonic Avenue and High and Saltonstall Streets pretended to know nothing about it. There would be bad doings—and a child or two would probably be missing. Joe knew about such things, for his grandmother in the old country had heard tales from her grandmother. It was wise to pray and count one’s beads at this season.

It’s certainly a potent date in Mythos terms, a time when the Old Ones are uncomfortably close at hand, a night for rituals and bonfires. In Germany, for example, it’s Hexennacht, and one’s supposed to dress as a witch and make noises to keep real witches and evil spirits away. Old Keziah Mason isn’t the only one abroad that night – Wilbur Whateley and his brother were conceived on the night of April 30th, and it’s also one of the two nights when the folk of Innsmouth were obliged to offer sacrifices to their Deep One allies, or so Zadok Allen tells us. Perhaps other entities can also use the doors of Walpurgnisnacht to move between the spheres – it’s in May that Professor Peaslee is taken by the Great Race of Yith, and he begins to have cogent dreams about his abduction in the same month a few years later.

A few other Lovecraftian dates:

  • February 2nd – The Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, “which the folk of Dunwich observe by another name”. It’s the date of Wilbur Whateley’s birth; also the Roman feast of Lupercalia, with its associations of fertility and beasts.
  • February 28th – The anniversary of the rise of R’lyeh in 1925. Presumably, as the orbit of the Earth around the sun brings our world back to roughly the same star-configuration, it might be possible for Great Cthulhu’s call to be heard more clearly on this auspicious date.
  • August 1st – Lammas Night, a festival celebrating the harvest. Also the night on which old Wizard Whateley passed away. Did he linger long enough to find some door into the outer sphere, where the whippoorwills couldn’t catch him?
  • October 31st – All Hallows’ Eve: Obviously, lots of spooky connections here. Notably in the Mythos, it’s the other date that the Innsmouth sacrifices are made. Wilbur Whateley makes cryptic expeditions into the hills on this date, too.
  • December 21st – Yuletide, “Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind,” as The Festival puts it.

 

Festivals in Your Games

Tying events to a particular anniversary can be a handy trick in a Trail of Cthulhu scenario. The classic is “the cult’s summoning ritual can only be performed on Lammas Night” or whatever seasonally appropriate date you prefer, giving the investigators a hard deadline – if they don’t thwart the cult before then, the world is doomed. Another option is to use a festival as the inciting event for the scenario – if the killings start on May 2nd, then maybe something crept through into our reality when the veil was thin on Walpurgnisnacht, and now it’s up to the investigators to track it down. You can also use a seasonal ‘window’ for a survival-horror game, where the challenge is simply escaping the monster until the date changes and the stars are no longer right. Maybe a bunch of investigators in the wilderness run into Ithaqua on the Yuletide, and need to survive until dawn on December 22nd. Astronomy or Occult Studies can clue investigators in to the celestial connotations of a date.

Finally, don’t neglect obscure festivals and feast-days as inspiration. The Wikipedia page for a particular day is a great tool for bisociation – for example, a quick scroll of the April 30th page gives us both Operation MINCEMEAT and St. Adjutor, the patron saint of boaters and the drowned. What else did the Seraph dump in the sea on Walpurgisnacht? In whose name did she make offerings?

In the latest episode of their pig befriending podcast, Ken and Robin talk proactively playing your Deucedly Peculiar Thing, top ten films of 2020, and the case of the disappearing magician.

In the latest episode of their petrification-resistant podcast, Ken and Robin talk least favorite monsters (looking at you cockatrice), the Yellow Fleet, recent horror film essentials, and Austin Osman Spare.

(For context, see the Reality Hacks rules).

Interpersonal Hacks

The Truth Will Out (Bullshit Detector): The target of this hack become violently, explosively ill should they attempt to utter a lie. If the victim’s lucky, it’s just vomiting. The hack’s effects last for a few minutes.

Carbon Ghost (Bureaucracy): Given a set of personal documents and a supply of paper, this hack creates a sort of hollow paper golem. The golem’s physically fragile and cannot fight, but it can carry out simple tasks at the command of the hacker. Furthermore, the golem has fragmentary memories drawn from those of the owner of the personal documents. So, get hold of an Esoterrorist’s passport, conjure a golem, and tell it to go to the Esoterrorist’s home, and follow the shambling thing before a light breeze destroys it.

G-Man (Cop Talk): This hack convinces reality that the Ordo Veritatis Agent is a government agent, a Man in Black. It gives a 6-point Preparedness pool for equipment that a sinister government agent might possess – bugging devices, government IDs, earpiece microphones, dark shades, lethal syringes and the like.

Self-Belief (Flattery): Tell the target of this hack they’re good at something, and they gain a 6-point pool in the matching ability. (“You’re really strong=6 points of Athletics”). The target must be unaware they’re being hacked, and the pool vanishes instantly if the target learns they’ve been unnaturally augmented.

 Dream Suggestion (Flirting): The target of this hack becomes aware of the hacker – they dream about them, they can’t stop thinking about them, everything reminds them of the hacker. There’s no guarantee that the target’s feelings are in any way positive, but they’ll certainly attach some degree of importance or emotional weight to any interactions with the hacker. The effect lasts for two or three days.

 Face Change (Impersonate): The hacker’s facial appearance changes to match the person or type they’re impersonating. This isn’t (completely) a physical change – it’s more that people retain a different memory of the hacker’s face. (That said, repeated use of the spell causes physical features and even memories to bleed over).

 Imprison (Interrogation): The target of the hack is rendered unable to move after an interrogation session. They’re psychically compelled to stay in place for at least eight hours. So, interview a suspect in a diner, and they’re stuck in the booth for the rest of the day (better pray they used the bathroom first). For the hack to work, the hacker has to use regular mundane Interrogation on the target before attempting the hack.

 Thing of Terror (Intimidation): This hack works just like Manifest Fear (the Forensic Psychology hack), giving both hacker and target a momentary glimpse of the target’s fears. The difference is that Manifest Fear dredges up their most deep-seated, personal fears and doubts, whereas Thing of Terror flashes their immediate, present concerns. Cast Manifest Fear on a criminal goon, and you get the fear of dying of cancer like his mother did. Cast Thing of Terror, and you learn he’s worried about the Russian mafia shooting him dead in the street.

 Occult Bargain (Negotiation): Draws the attention of a Mystery Man. Basically, the equivalent of putting up a sign reading ‘THIS SOUL FOR SALE’.

 This Is Normal Now (Reassurance): The target briefly accepts everything as normal, mundane and quite unremarkable, no matter how bizarre or traumatic the situation would normally appear. While it provides instant calm, it can make questioning the subject a frustrating experience. (Q: Did you see anything strange earlier? A: No. Q: Who else was in the room? A: Oh, just a nine-foot tall creature made of cockroaches, wearing a skull mask and carrying a dagger in each of its six arms.)

Streetwarp (Streetwise): This hack works similarly to the Spacewarp hack for Architecture, allowing the hacker to bend space by connecting two disparate streets in the same neighbourhood. The hack only works in built-up areas.

(For context, see the Reality Hacks rules.)

Technical Hacks

See The Membrane (Astronomy): This hack enables the Agent to judge local Membrane conditions by observing the stars. The Agent can tell how strong the Membrane is, and the safest direction back to ‘normal’ reality.

Magic Bullet (Ballistics): Activate this hack after missing with a Firearms attack, and spend enough Firearms points to make up the difference between your original rest and the target’s Hit Threshold.

Preservation Vat (Chemistry): Some chemical reactions only work in the Outer Dark. This hack allows the Agent to brew up a clear, viscous gel from common household chemicals. Living tissue submerged in the gel is preserved and doesn’t decay – or die. Stick a decapitated head or evil monster hand in there, and it’ll stay alive.

EVP (Cryptography): By means of this hack, the Agent is able to extract information from random noise. Static on a television or radio is the usual source, but analysing large amounts of numerical data also works. Information garnered in this fashion is not necessarily useful – you’re dependent on what the local ghosts want to talk about.

File Corruption (Data Retrieval): This is close to a literal hack – applied to an electronic storage device, it warps the stored data. The incantation doesn’t affect the functioning of the device, but does change whatever human-orientated information is stored on it. So, apply it to a security camera, and the camera now stores weird, distorted images and no faces can be made out. Apply it to an airline booking database, and suddenly a host of non-existent people have bookings on the plane. The hack’s best used for covering your tracks – instead of deleting data during the Veil-Out, you can just warp it.

Coffee Ghost (Document Analysis): You know how old documents have rings on them left by carelessly placed coffee cups of yesteryear. Well, this hack lets you taste that coffee. Do the mojo, and your mouth fills with the taste of ancient coffee. Or tea. Or whatever beverage stained the document. Look, these are unreliable hacks of a universe collapsing into darkness and suffering – they can’t all be useful.

Ghost Hunter (Electronic Surveillance): Enchants a camera or other surveillance device for one scene to detect invisible entities.

Psychometry (Evidence Collection): Gives the hacker a brief psychic flash of the strongest emotion connected with a particular object. Caution is recommended when using this hack; the emotions of ODEs can have severely deleterious effects on human sanity.

Reality Burn (Explosive Devices): Enchants an explosive device. The upside – the explosion now affects ghosts and other spiritual entities that would normally ignore a blast. The downside – the Membrane’s technically a spiritual entity. Using this hack to deal with a threat isn’t so much going from the frying pan to the fire, to burning a hole in the frying pan and setting the kitchen on fire. Still, needs must sometimes…

The Touch (Fingerprinting): Touch a fingerprint and use this hack – and for the rest of the scene, you’ve got the fingerprints (and other biological evidence, like skin flakes or secretions) of the person whose fingerprint you touched.

Dead Speak (Forensic Anthropology): Your classic Speak With Dead spell. Lets you converse with a corpse. Best used a short time after death – a corpse in a low-Membrane zone has a high probability of getting taken over by the Outer Dark equivalent of a hermit crab.

Parasitic Wasp (Forensic Entomology): Summons a parasitic wasp from the Outer Dark to inhabit a human host. The wasp isn’t under your control – but you can use this spell to eliminate a dangerous Esoterrorist or a corrupt pawn, as the wasp has its own agenda and will quickly take itself and its new host body out of the area.

Kirlian Photography (Photography): Enchants a camera to pick up on human auras, letting you spot possessed individuals or disguised monsters.

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We’re halfway through April, and showers of vaccines are falling into arms all around. And to add to those good showers, a bad shower – of Yellow King RPG monsters, that is, in Legions of Carcosa – The Yellow King RPG Bestiary. Pre-order this collection of nearly one hundred new Foes, themed to each of the four YKRPG settings, and get the pre-layout PDF now,

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

As a company with tentacles in many countries, we’re taking comfort from the fact that the vaccines are, indeed, finally rolling out around the world. Our USAian Pelgranistas were the first to be vaccinated, followed by our some of our UKians. It’s looking like it’ll take a while for us Irish Pelgranes to get our shots, so we’re continuing to stay indoors, and not travelling outside our home county, meaning we likely to miss you all at conventions again this year :(

GUMSHOE Scenario Workshop

ICYMI, Robin, Ken and Gareth did a Scenario Design Workshop over on our Twitch channel late last week. Prompted by ideas from our excellent Discord community, over the course of their talk they come up with a full outline for a This Is Normal Now adventure for The Yellow King RPG. If Twitch isn’t your thing, you can now check out the seminar on our YouTube channel as well.

NEW RELEASE: Legions of Carcosa – The Yellow King Bestiary

This 8.5″ x 11″ bestiary for The Yellow King RPG features nearly a hundred new Foes. Each of the four settings gets its own custom Foes – 27 for Paris, 24 for The Wars, 20 for Aftermath and 23 for This Is Normal Now – and each one includes story hooks allowing you to repurpose it for each of the other three settings. Monica Valentinelli, an experienced game designer who’s no stranger to horror writing, has described working on Legions of Carcosa: The Yellow King Bestiary thusly:

As Monica’s mentioned, It’s not a book for the faint-hearted! Legions of Carcosa features heavy horror themes, with a number of monsters flagged up as requiring GMs to handle them with particular care. If you’re confident this is the book for your table, you can pre-order it and download the pre-layout PDF now. But please remember, with this and with any YKRPG book – the dream clown can strike at any time.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

It’s been a bad month for our Swords of the Serpentine artists, with two having had deaths in their close family, and the work from another two needing to be recommissioned. This has delayed Jen finishing off the layout, and added another month to our delivery estimate. She’s back on it full time now, and we’re hoping to get a final PDF to pre-orderers in the next See Page XX.

Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection

While SotS has been on hold, Jen’s been forging ahead with the interior art and layout of The Borellus Connection. Unlike most of our books, she’ll be the only artist working on Borellus, which will give it a cohesive look and feel, not to mention Jen’s usual high standard of visuals. She’s got all the double-page spreads for each adventure finished, and was just starting the interior art before she moved back onto SotS.

Work in progress update: The Paragon Blade

Gareth is finishing off some final tweaks to the text, and making some minor rules changes. He’s also working on writing up art notes, which I’m going to trial a new art direction process on, by handing it over to an independent third party to art direct. This is similar to what we did with Jen McCleary and The Fall of DELTA GREEN (and now Borellus). I’m hoping the experiment works well, meaning not only will the visual art in our books improve, but we can also work on multiple books in parallel, reducing the waiting time for new releases.

Work in progress update: 13th Age projects

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is flowing through production sharply. J-M DeFoggi is still working with authors on a final couple of chapters, and Rob Heinsoo is going over the rest of the manuscript as the final development pass. Once that’s all done, it’s over to Trisha DeFoggi for copyediting, likely in early May. We should have this on pre-order in July.

Behemoths: Paths of the Koru will enter J-M’s development queue after Drakkenhall has gone over to editing.

Gareth is chugging along on his Officially As Yet Unnamed project, codenamed “DRAGON”. I think I’m allowed say it’s a campaign, and there may be dragons in it, but my clearance isn’t high enough for any more.

Rob’s most recent work on Icon Followers covers what passes for monastic traditions among the elves and a couple of the notable NPCs from 13 True Ways. The book is probably on track for the end of the year.

 

 

 

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Last time we started laying out a loose episode structure for your Yellow King Roleplaying Game Paris sequence. Start there for episodes 1 through 7.

Episode 8: Visit from Home

Follow a time-honored serialized storytelling convention, bringing in a relative who drops into Paris to complicate an art student’s life, illuminating their backstory.

The relative’s personality contrasts with the characters’, sparking entertaining conflict. A stern investigator has a flighty, extroverted mother. The flibbertigibbet Poet has to squire around the forbidding father who wants him to set prose aside for the family insurance firm.

After a light comic opening, reveal that the relative arrives pre-enmeshed in Carcosan trouble. Mom has invested in a skin cream that owes its remarkable properties to black star magic. Father wishes to procure an antique at the behest of a masked blackmailer capable of ignoring the constraints of time and space.

A player may have already laid seeds for this by connecting their Drive to a relative. If someone’s looking for a missing sister or hoping to clear the name of a falsely accused brother, or came to Paris to escape a scandal involving a wastrel father, that story now surfaces, with a decadent, supernatural hook.

Episode 9: Police and Thieves

Dispatch the art students into the Parisian demimonde to solve a mystery with a criminal element. See pages 133-137 of the Paris book.

  • Oddly chosen targets of the latest anarchist bombing wave suggest a connection with Carcosa.
  • Prisoners released from Le Sante Prison commit murders they can’t remember. The art students must identify the inmate distributing smuggled excerpts from the play and untangle his vengeful scheme.
  • Sûreté head turned private eye Marie-François Goron enlists the art students in his inquiry into a hypnosis-related murder that echoes the old case that haunts him, the slaying of high profile courtesan Régine de Montille.

Episode 10: Psychogeography

Create a scenario that draws the art students to an iconic Paris location.

  • A ritual to feed souls to the king must naturally take place at the city’s axis mundi, also known as the Eiffel Tower.
  • How did strange yellow flowers come to overrun the botanical exhibits at Jardin des Plantes?
  • Are the lights seen at night at the Picpus Cemetery connected to victims of the revolutionary guillotine, or something older?
  • The Catacombs—portal to the shores of Hali?

Episode 11: Ripples from Brittany

Bring in haunted Brittany, site of Robert W. Chambers’ better supernatural stories outside his King in Yellow cycle. Either have the weird beings of its folklore show up in Paris, or send the art students on a road trip to the sea-swept coastal town of Brest. In this latter case, disturbances inland and out on the sea could presage the rising of Carcosan island, the model for the legendary city of Ys.

If you want to keep the students in the city, the mystery might revolve around:

  • the hulking, demonic church guardians called the Nain.
  • the troublingly self-willed and mobile skull of a Breton sorcerer.
  • a rash of improbable deaths, each heralded by the sound of an unearthly locomotive—a sign that the long-tressed Breton herald of death, the Ankou, has come to town.

Episode 12: Royal Return

A new mystery leads once more to the member of the Carcosan royal court you introduced in Episode 6. The plot the art students uncover is meant to further the royal’s previously established agenda. Build in opportunities for:

  • the player character most connected to the royal to pull away—or draw closer.
  • the other characters to interact with your big bad.
  • Foreshadowing an even bigger plot, which comes to fruition in episode 17.

Episode 13: Family Obligation

A message arrives from back home, urging one of the art students to attend to a matter concerning the family business empire. This leads to business or political intrigue instigated by a conspiracy bound together by the Yellow Sign. Depending on how the player describes the source of Papa’s wealth, this might involve:

  • sabotage of a ship or factory.
  • embezzlement to fund the conspiracy’s activities.
  • a smokescreen that falsely implicates the company in assassination or massive graft.

Episode 14: Weird Science

An experiment gone awry, no doubt after someone in the lab read the play, sends the art students on the trail of Patchworks, radium ghosts, or a device that sees past events—and then alters them.

Episode 15: Secondary Villain Returns

The recurring antagonist first seen in episode 3 returns, seeking revenge on the art students or running a new scheme for domination only they can unravel. This time, give them a solid opportunity to finish off this foe for good.

Episode 16: Political Entanglement

When scandal threatens a prominent politician, the art students can’t help but see a Carcosan modus operandi behind it. Investigation draws them into the halls of power, as they determine which of France’s factions have been suborned by the pallid mask. Is it the Legitimists, aka Monarchists, desperate to reverse their vanishing influence? The Bonapartists, believing themselves to be in communication with the spirit of Napoleon? Or those normal-seeming Moderates, who currently hold power and thus have the most of what Carcosa seeks?

Episode 17: A Glimpse of Hali

A climactic mystery brings back your chosen Carcosan royal and gives your players the chance to wrap up various sub-plots of this first sequence. The scenario allows the art students the chance to behold Carcosa, perhaps to travel there briefly. Whether they achieve a victory that feels suspiciously like a happy ending, or are drawn into a doom that will bedevil later counterparts depends on how well they do during the closing confrontation.

In the next installment of See P. XX, the series outlines continue, with the front half of a similar episode guide for The Wars.


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 Scenario Hook for Ashen Stars

The lasers pick up a contract for what appears to be a simple rescue mission. The massive freighter Never Given has lost faster-than-light capability and has become lodged in a translight corridor.

Characters with Astronomy or Forensic Engineering want to hear that last bit again. Lodged in a translight corridor? That isn’t possible!

Well, replies the client, it might not be possible, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. Worse, the freighter’s presence prevents other ships from using the corridor. In an area with few FTL jump points, the accident threatens catastrophic shortages on a dozen worlds.

Hails to the Never Given garner nothing but static and garble. The contract calls for a crew to establish contact with them, rendering whatever aid is required to get that ship moving again.

The mostly automated ship runs with a skeleton crew. Once aboard, the lasers discover the survivors suffering from acute sensory disruption. They’re hallucinating, experiencing their memories of the Mohilar War. Like everyone, including the investigators, they lost all recollection of that conflict when it ended. Whatever they’re reliving, it’s traumatic, and jacking their medical readings into the danger zone.

Not long after boarding, the lasers start to flash back to their own repressed war histories.

Through investigation, the group discovers that radiation from cutting-edge computer components in the cargo hold has altered the temporal frequency of the entire ship, causing everyone on board to exist in two times at once. As they race for a fix before they too succumb entirely to the chrono-hallucinations, they must ask themselves—do they stay in their altered states long enough to learn more about the Bogey Conundrum? Or do they decide that the knowledge of the war ought to remain in the box some unknown force so dramatically put it in?


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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