Bring Mind-Bending Spellcasting to The Yellow King Roleplaying Game

Ritual magic of the Belle Époque! The desperate Science Jaune of a war-torn continent! Parageometrical horrors perfected in the labs of the tyrannical, overthrown Castaigne regime! Signing, the latest way to turn social media dysfunction into sorcerous reality!

Your players can master them all—at perilous risk!

Each spell is a Shock card with effects both useful and sinister. Do they hold onto that that spell they need to do that thing, even as their inner realities start to break apart? Or do they take the safe route, and cast out the buzzing, insistent power of the Yellow Sign?

 

Black Star Magic features new magic rules for The Yellow King RPG, including 144 startling spells, background material on Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game.

Plus, a quartet of scenarios, allowing the characters of each sequence to make double-edged deals with the world of sorcery:

  • Dancer at the Bone Cabaret pits the art students of Paris against a force that lures their Bohemian friends to the latest, hottest nightspot. But are they the patrons, or items on the menu?
  • A Casket at Le Thil sends the supernatural-quashing soldiers of The Wars into a village haunted by subterranean enemy activity.
  • Memories of a Dream Clown confronts the victorious revolutionaries of Aftermath with a treasured but tarnished memory of childhood—and murder!
  • Love Wears No Mask finds This Is Normal Now’s ordinary heroes battling an intrusive yet enthralling phone app, and the dramatic goings-on of the subtly destabilizing dating reality show it promotes.

Play them separately, or chill your players with all of them. All they have to lose is their grip on reality…

Stock #: PELGY11 Author: Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Ruth Tillman
Cover Art: Phil Stone Format: B&W 6″ x 9″ perfect-bound book, ~176 pages

Pre-order Black Star Magic now

The Zalozhniy Quartet for Night’s Black Agents sends the Agents on a desperate search for… wait. Spoiler warning. Don’t read this article if you’re likely to play in a ZQ game anytime soon. It’s a desperate search for, ah, something fuzzy and friendly and totally does not involve unkillable time-locked zombie monsters.

Now that we’ve cleared the room of non-Directors without clearance, let’s get into it. The Quartet involves a search for two mysterious substances, the nigredo (vampiric essence) and the albedo (a control substance of some sort). Combined, these create the rubedo, a marvellous compound sought by the vampires – and that, incidentally, gives control over the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia. (I note in passing that not only have world events overwritten the opening sequence of The Zalozhniy Sanction, set in Crimea, but current events in Riyadh may soon make the description in Treason in the Blood obsolete…)

If all goes according to plan, the Agents pick up the Albedo in The Boxmen and find the nigredo in Treason in the Blood.

The terms albedo, nigredo and rubedo are borrowed from alchemy. They’re three of the steps towards the Great Work to make the philosopher’s stone and achieve immortality, which makes them obviously pertinent to vampiric weirdness. You start with nigredo, with putrefaction and death (or, if you’re going with a Jungian know-thyself interpretation, the dark night of the soul). You’re wash it clean with (or in) the albedo (the Whiteness, Cleansing). You transmute it through citrinitas, the Yellow, the solar light, the dawn. Finally, you achieve the rubedo, the Red, perfection and victory and immortality (and access to Saudi oil reserves.)

So, there’s a whole alchemical step in the Magnum Opus right there – citrinas – that’s missing in the Zalozhniy Quartet. If that offends your sense of alchemical symmetry, here are some options for adding it in:

  • The citrinas is the human element in the vampire. CITRINE was St. John Philby’s codename for King Ibn Saud; the Conspiracy still use the Citrine codename to refer to the Saudi royal family (“we can draw down funds from the citrines”)
  • Citrinas is the essence of solar heroism – it’s vampire slaying. To create the rubedo, you need the blood of a hero. The Conspiracy needs to capture one of the Agents alive to complete their plan.
  • The citrinas refers to the ritual needed to combine the albedo and The Agents can obtain it from the Russian defector Arkady Shevlenko, or from Kim Philby’s safety deposit box, or St. John’s grave, or Dorjiev’s notes. Alternatively, the citrinas might be a potion that awakens the imbiber’s consciousness, enabling them to combine the albedo and nigredo safely. This also implies that the Conspiracy may end up needing to snatch one of the Agents.
  • The citrinas refers to a magical lens (maybe one of the glass fulminates retrieved from the desert, suitably polished) that transmutes the solar magic of daylight into the alchemical heat needed to achieve the rubedo. The Kingdom Centre in Riyadh is, of course, made using windows of citrinas; the Agents can delay the ritual by blowing up the Conspiracy’s lenses, or hike into the desert to find their own lenses.
  • Citrinas, the moment of self-realisation after death and cleansing, refers to the death-moment of a zalozhniy. Dr. Dorjiev wears citrine stones to anchor his life to that death-moment, as per p. 9 – if the Agents destroy or remove those stones, he’ll have to create a new zalozhniy post-haste to hide his death away again. (Kim Philby also created a citrinas token to sustain him through the Great Work, which is why he was so damned hard to kill – his citrine-stone ensured he survived the shell explosion in December 1937 in Spain, when he emerged unharmed from a blast that killed everyone else in the car he was travelling in. The citrine may be stored in his deposit box in the Kornersbank, or in some KGB storeroom in Moscow.)

For lots more alchemical fun, check out GUMSHOE Zoom: Alchemy

[Editor’s Note: Like the creatures in the Dying Earth, and those in Trail of Cthulhu, each Night’s Black Agents campaign has a different vampire. This excerpt introduces you to vampire design.]

Vampires

Now, it’s the opposition’s turn.

This chapter presents a series of questions to answer and decisions to make for the Director. Why do vampires exist? Where do they come from? What are their powers? How do humans stop them? When did they begin to corrupt Europe – or mankind as a whole? Who do they control? This chapter also presents a wide variety of answers to those questions, and options for those decisions. The Director builds her vampires, and their conspiracy, from those answers and choices, and from her imagination and creativity. Thus, no two games of Night’s Black Agents will have exactly the same vampires, so the players won’t know what to expect even if they expect vampires.

Parameters

As a starting point for design, consider the following four general types of vampires: Supernatural, Damned, Alien, and Mutant.

These are not mutually exclusive by any means: a mutant vampire virus could have come from outer space or from Hell; all supernatural phenomena might be fundamentally demonic or, following Lovecraft, fundamentally misunderstood alien science. Is the “astral vampire” a supernatural being, or a paraphysical one? Especially in modern fiction, vampires can partake of all four types: evil infected humans who follow alien physical laws that eerily resemble vampire folklore. Much of the fun of postmodern horror comes from blurring these boundaries, and the Director should feel free to do so. Nevertheless, much of the thrill of Gothic horror comes from playing into the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, so the Director shouldn’t necessarily discard the default version or traditional answer for a given vampire.

The symbols in front of each type recur through this section, providing just such a default answer, or general guidelines for vampire creation within each type.

Supernatural

Vampires are the result of magical or other supernatural activities on Earth: spirits, ghosts, necromancy, witchcraft, and the like. Their markers are strange superstitions, often surrounding childbirth and burial customs; their emphasis is hunger. Most folkloric vampires are supernatural: a person born with a caul on a Saturday, or one whose family allows a cat in the room with his corpse, might rise as a vampire.

Damned

Vampires are the work of Satan or other explicitly demonic entities opposed to mankind and God. They may be demons who possess corpses, revenant suicides or heretics, or humans who made a specific pact with the Devil before death. Their markers are holy symbols and symbolism; their emphasis is seduction. Starting in the 17th century, most literary and legendary vampires are damned.

Alien

Vampires are alien beings, or earthly beings who nevertheless follow different laws of physics. Such “paraphysical” vampires might be alien invaders, psychic phenomena, corpses animated by alien science, or just “humans” from another dimension. Their markers are various uncanny effects; their emphasis is invasion. The alien vampire begins with H.G. Wells and the birth of science fiction in the late 19th century.

Mutant

Vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature. Such “parabiological” vampires may be mutants, constructs of some black program, humans adapted to future conditions of plague or global cooling, insane humans obsessed with blood, or sentient diseases that possess their hosts. Their markers are medical symptoms; their emphasis is infection. The mutant vampire begins with Enlightenment skeptics connecting vampirism and tuberculosis, and flourishes in science fiction and addiction horror.

Campaign Modes and Vampire Types

Although any vampire type works with any campaign mode, and vice versa, some symbolic and thematic alignments exist. The general considerations below also apply to the various modes in significant ways. [The modes of play were discussed in a previous article]

Burn: In games focusing on emotional damage and cost, agents face the agony of staking their own friends and loved ones. This works best if vampires actually come back from the dead, if vampirism can “infect” civilians, and if they retain some aspects of their old humanity: part and parcel of supernatural and damned vampires, and some mutant vampires.

Burn, Dust: In Burn mode and Dust mode games, vampirism should probably be incurable to emphasize those modes’ characteristic themes of loss and powerlessness, respectively.

Dust: Realistic, low-fi games fit the tone of either “realistic” mutant vampires or the grimier sort of supernatural vampires. Some alien vampires play well in “realistic” campaigns, also. That said, the sharp contrast between gray realism and crimson Hammer horror makes damned vampires a vivid contender in Dust mode games. Realistically, other observers would likely have spotted a large vampire population before the agents uncover them. In Dust mode games, either keep the number of vampires minimal, or add at least one underfunded vampire-hunting group or agency.

Mirror: Damned vampires foreground questions of allegiance and seduction, just as Mirror mode games do. The invasion themes of alien vampires also fit well, as do vampires who choose their own fate: necromancers, unorthodox epidemiologists, and psionic vampires. Vampires in Mirror mode games should definitely be able to pass for human, raising the “who do I trust?” question every time an agent gets briefly separated from the party after sundown. Factions of vampires can betray each other, or hire the agents under false flags to stake their foes; a very helpful option for Mirror mode games.

Stakes: Games of belief and motivation work well when the vampires themselves are motivated by an ideology (as with damned vampires) or are simply existential threats (as with alien and infectious-disease vampires).

Sanguinary Considerations

Even before you begin to build your vampires mechanically, take some time to consider the phenomenon of vampirism in your campaign. What kinds of stories do vampires highlight? What do they make possible, or impossible? Your campaign vastly alters if there is only one true vampire in the world working through a horde of Renfields, instead of six enormous vampire clans tracing their descent back to ancient Dacia wrangling over their own internal politics.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-
Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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It’s been a while, but we’re keeping on keeping on over here in the Pelgrane’s Nest, and hope you’re all keeping safe and well. We’ve been beavering away on the new website, as well as new releases like this month’s Find FOREVER to keep you entertained until life returns to normal.

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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,

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13th Age

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.

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A briefer than usual See Page XX, as timing means it’s only a little over two weeks since the last one. We’ve still got a brand-new release, though, in the form of Wade’s introductory 13th Age adventure, Crown of Axis.

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Well, 2020 is over, finally!!, as is January 2021, which looked horribly like it was going the way of 2020 for a while. COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be distributed, and hopefully life will return to something resembling normalcy over the coming months. However, there’s nothing normal about our newest pre-order, The Fall of DELTA GREEN campaign The Borellus Connection, coming in at a mighty 416 pages. Pre-order now, and get Looking Glass: Saigon 1968 as a bonus download, along with the pre-layout PDF.

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Current News: B****t

As some of you may know, the UK crashed out of the European Union on December 31st. Previously, under the old customs rules, Pelgrane’s EU customers received their shipments tax and duty paid, because we made the supply under UK VAT rules. There was no VAT due because of the UK’s zero-rate tax on books

What we know so far is:

  • We now need to attach customs declarations to EU shipments in the same way we already do to all non-EU countries;
  • EU orders will be subject to VAT at the destination’s rates (as already applies to non-EU shipments). The average EU VAT rate on books is approximately 7%, or £2.80 on a £40 book;
  • Customs charges will be payable.

I’d hoped by this point to know exactly how this will impact us here at Pelgrane, but despite regular discussions with our UK fulfilment company, there are still too many unknowns to make changes. We would prefer all our customers – EU, and internationally – not to have to pay additional customs charges and fees on their Pelgrane books, and are running the numbers on that at the moment. This may mean we’ll need to increase our EU and international shipping rates to send packages “delivery duty paid”, meaning nothing else is due on receipt – if that does end up being the case, we’ll give you plenty of notice.

Other News: New website progress

Our wonderful website guru Dan has been busily coding away at our very swish-looking website, catapulting our capabilities from the early 2000s into the 2020s. We’re now at the point where we’re testing it internally, hoping to clear out as many of the bugs as we can before launch.

There’s been some chat recently over on our Discord channel (invite’s here if you’re not already signed up) about how we could make it more searchable, with suggestions including tag search clouds for easy access to our article back catalogue. If there’s anything you’d love to see in our new website, comment here!

NEW: The Borellus Connection

New this month is the pre-order for a globe-spanning campaign for The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Pre-order now, and get the pre-layout PDF straight away to keep you going – AND you get Looking Glass: Saigon 1968 as a bonus download! The Borellus Connection features eight linked operations, each one playable as a standalone investigation, or as part of an epic hunt for an infamous enemy, using the heroin trade and the BNDD as a narrative spine. It’s a hefty tome (416 pages at the moment, and counting…) and to wrangle it into a physically liftable format, we’ve been forced to hack chunks of it out. Handlers can find these chunks under the the “FINEST EFFECTS” tag, which is not recommended for players – contains many spoilers!

Ken and I are buried deep in cartography research; Gareth is pulling together indices of NPCs, spells, and three-letter acronyms; and Jen McCleary has finished a first draft layout in glorious 1960s technicolour (you can see a very small sample in the pre-layout PDF, and redacted below). She’s now working on the interior art, featuring more of the same double-page splashes as the core The Fall of DELTA GREEN book.

 

NEW: Looking Glass: Saigon 1968

This “low and slow” writeup of the Vietnamese “Pearl of the Orient” features all the locations, sources, backdrops, power players and story seeds you need to run any GUMSHOE game in 1968 Saigon. It’s particularly useful for The Fall of DELTA GREEN, but it also features hooks for TimeWatch, Night’s Black Agents and The Esoterrorists. Get it free as a bonus download when you pre-order The Borellus Connection!

Work in progress update: 13th Age

Rob’s gone through each of the current 13th Age works in progress in his latest blog post. Wade Rockett’s introductory adventure, Crown of Axis, is first up, and will be available at the start of March.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

I’m sorry to say that there’s not much of an update on this. Art and cartography are 75% finished, but we’ve hit some speedbumps with artists ghosting and dropping out, team members getting COVID, and the inevitable slowdown of work over the holiday season, which has pushed back our release date. We’re ramping back up to speed again, and hoping to get the book to print, and the PDF out to pre-orderers, in early March.

The art we’ve got so far is glorious, full of action and colour, and I feel really captures the high drama and excitement of the setting. This piece by Simone Bannach has particularly intrigued me – I’m fascinated to know the background of the mysterious redhead who could best iconic duellist Gadric in swordplay, and it’s triggered so many cool character ideas.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King Bestiary

Copyediting is finished, and we’re now working on additional development and art direction for this compendium of Carcosan creatures, which writer Monica Valentinelli described as the scariest game content she’s ever written. Look out for a pre-order for this in the coming months!

Work in progress update: Black Star Magic

Copyediting is finished on this magic book and collection of new adventures for the four settings of The Yellow King RPG, and cover and interior art are well underway.

 

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Now that lots of you have had the chance to check it out, either in its original run on Twitch or now on YouTube, I thought you might enjoy a look behind the scenes at my process for preparing and running “Mr. Wilde’s Wild Halloween.”

These notes won’t make much sense until you check it out; it’s the Halloween game of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game I ran for Misha Bushyager, Sharang Biswas, Ruth Tillman, Wade Rockett and Pelgrane magnifico Cat Tobin. It takes place in the game’s contemporary setting, This is Normal Now.

The premise for the scenario began with the desire to do something on Halloween. This led me to the thought of setting it at a Halloween party, with the players wearing their characters’ costumes.

Rather than use characters’ Freaking Weird Moments to draw them into the horror, I found reality horror inspiration in each costume.

Misha’s desire to be an Empress of Evil implied a group of would-be minions overly willing to perform horrible acts in her name—thus, the Larrys.

Cat’s flapper gear led me to invent the scenario’s central mystery. It provided an opportunity to invoke on a classic Gothic trope: the painting of an identical predecessor.

I knew that a weird scientist would hook directly into the scenario as it developed but didn’t immediately see an introductory moment. Eventually I hit on the idea of a desirable fellow party goer needing repairs to a robot costume. Sharang, it turned out, was way ahead of me, suggesting the very thing I’d hoped—a desire to meet up with someone his character was crushing on. This was a huge gift to me, as you can’t always count on tabletop roleplayers to want to bring a love interest into the mix.

My solo scene for Ruth was less about her costume than an opportunity to hang out with her favorite YKRPG character, the Dream Clown. (Her Black Star Magic scenario features this children’s TV host from the Aftermath reality.) She wound up springboarding that possibility sideways into another bit, the memories of the creepy imagined childhood staircase.

Finally, Wade’s idea that his character, James, would be half-assing his outfit led to the inevitable idea that his real costume, that of the King in Yellow, would be waiting for him at the party.

Splitting the characters up into solo scenes ensures a fair share of onstage time and narrative importance for each participant—a solution to a common problem of one-shots, where you don’t get a second session to give a neglected player more spotlight.

Having sketched these out, I worked out a backstory connected to the Robert W. Chambers story “The Mask.” You’ll find that at the end of this piece.

Then I backed up to the introduction. I wanted to start with matters already in motion, but not so abruptly that we couldn’t introduce the characters to each other and the audience. Here are my bullet points for the opening:

  • How are You Getting There?
  • Character Sheets and Rules Basics
  • Your Group Dynamic
  • What are You Hoping Happens at the Party?

Unlike a typical one-shot, this was a performance for an audience, where we wanted to fold in some system tutorial. In the end, it wasn’t that much different from what would happen at a convention table.

Just as in one-shots I run in Belle Époque Paris, I started with the opportunity for characters to encounter the evening’s horrors in an altered state. This shows off general ability tests and the Shock and Injury card system, and dovetails with the overarching theme of reality slippage.

The phantom Bugatti, visible to anyone receiving a Shock card, reenacts the accidental death of the woman in the portrait who looks like Cat’s flapper. This set up a direction not taken, in which the group finds out about her doppelganger’s death by researching the figure in the portrait, and then heads outside to get more information from the ghost.

(If no one had failed their tests, I would have given the vision of the Bugatti to the lowest successful scorers.)

From there you can see the scenario play out my sketched-out solo scenes, then reconverge the characters to commiserate, problem-solve, and investigate their way to the basement and the final confrontation.

Along the way you see my drop in a few of my fave moves:

  • the chance to make a deal with the devil
  • with the Larrys and their dance, an image that is funny yet increasingly horrible
  • an affable, matter-of-fact primary antagonist

Any scenario needs more possible paths than the players wind up taking. Otherwise you’re just ushering them through your plan, and not letting them help build the storyline. In a one-shot I’m happy to throw weird stuff at the players until they start looking for information. There is less clue-seeking here than you’d see if you eavesdropped on my home group—but our sessions tend to devote two or three sessions to each mystery. Here you see the players ignore all mention of a library in order to keep the story moving with the information they have on hand. Thankfully I had a bad guy willing to monologue the absolutely key parts to them during the climax.

The moment when everyone feels weird but no one takes a card was set up to have some of the PCs physically transforming into the costumes, as happens to GMCs at the party. This arguably happens to two of the characters anyhow, so it’s hardly a lost opportunity. Here are the cards that would have gone to characters who failed:

In an ongoing game I wouldn’t escalate the weirdness so quickly, instead doing more of a slow burn. I certainly wouldn’t kill off one of the players for having to leave early in the session! However Sharang’s brilliant characterization prior to his demise at a preset time fit the plot so thoroughly you might suspect us of colluding in advance.

But it wasn’t planned at all. I can prove that by showing you the rest of my notes. You’ll see lots of elements I had ready but weren’t needed.

Boris Yvain (1872 – 1895)

American born sculptor and chemist, parents French and Russian, died in Paris 1895

Gennady Yvain (1877 – 1941)

His brother, establishes Dragoncourt Chemicals, develops a line of preservatives (based on papers discovered in his late brother’s possessions)

Builds observatory as connection to the Hyades, crucial in developing new formulae, built in 1924

Jack Yvain (1900 – 1984)

his son, astronomer and, from the 1940s on, computer programmer

with the help of Carcosa uploaded his consciousness into mainframe at the observatory before his death

upgrades over the years have allowed him to live in increasingly comfortable servers, but he wants bodies, and with the alignment of the Hyades on October 31st he’s going to possess the bodies of multiple revelers

sure for that to work they have to mutate into monstrous versions of their costumes but hey you get embodied with the tech you have

Colette Nicolas (1902 – 1924)

Jack’s fiancee, flees the observatory after beholding the alignment of the Hyades, killed in one-car collision

distant relation of famous Lumiere brothers

at time of her death, her Lesley Gibson portrait is already in progress, it is completed and hung in the observatory in 1926

Jack has dalliances but never marries or has children, declaring the observatory his heir

Lesley Gibson (1874 – 1945)

American born painter, heir to the Gibson Shale quarry fortune

student in Paris at École des Beaux-Arts 1895-1894, friend of Boris Yvain

paints portrait of Colette Nicolas in 1923

Camille Lau – Chairman of the Yvain Observatory Foundation – she answers to Jack’s consciousness in exchange for prophetic stock tips; believes his cover story that the Halloween party is a much-needed fundraiser after the pandemic closures (which it is, but also mass possession) – dressed in stylish party dress with subtle cat ear headband

Ruben Suarez – party promoter; has a weird feeling but knows nothing; dressed as Mr. Wilde


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

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