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.

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 his planet, Carcosa.

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

  • Belle Époque 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 2018 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.

Status: headed to printing

Pre-order now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

This column concludes a four-part series illustrating what might happen in your grand Yellow King Roleplaying Game arc with a precis of what happened in mine.

It’s the present day. Not in a weird, post-revolutionary New York City, but in Toronto. Where everything is safe and ordinary. Where the characters we saw in the previous sequence of YKRPG lead quotidian lives, as drifted versions of their formerly hard-nosed, war-damaged selves.

In our sequence of This is Normal Now, the PCs looked like this:

 

Player

Character

Job

Drive

Freaking Weird Moment

Familiar Face

Chris

Alex Chavez

Barista

Greed

boss was murdered by an invisible stalker

na

Justin

Walter van Sickle

Technical Writer

Adventure

went to a Fringe play and doesn’t remember anything from intermission on & usher said play hadn’t happened that night

Lester Steele – (former silver cartel) boss

Paul

Georges Dubois

Landscape Painter

Thirst for Inspiration

aced his med school exam but exam he submitted was not what he wrote

Jordan von Sommer – (former preppy cop) – university pal

Rachel

Judith Dortmuth

Photographer

Malleable

at her friend’s photo opening, with playfully occult portrait – one of the portraits winked at her

Neera – TTC bus driver

Scott

Gavin Byrne

PKD Lecture organizer

Wants a Weirder World

woke up on the slab in the Process building

Tami Akana – his boss in this world, People’S Deputy

Sue

Sara Delaney

Barista – / Aspiring Actress

The Munchie Zone, next door to Cannabis Connection

Learn Real Magic To Make Herself a Star

tried to cast a spell and actually succeeded in levitating an object

Jeff Gill aka Creepy Carcoscan Guy – boyfriend and fellow barista — a not so successful classical musician

Jurie

Jack

Vanderbos

Marketing Coordinator

Escape from Mundanity

Checking Tweetdeck for his clients’ social media & led to weird meme / bot campaign about #foxes — all trace then vanished

Edmund Dawson – (former dissident) – hangs out in the park wearing tweed and being wise & playing chess

 

The Familiar Face entry notes the counterpart of a GMC from the previous sequence, drifted to the mundane reality of this one.

Chris went through a record number of characters in this final installment. The above entry notes his character as of the conclusion. His first character, Jerry Jean-Leon, appeared in this reality as a security guard, working at the weed dispensary owned by Scott’s original PC, Ben Rodriguez—who in Aftermath had been the Government Lethal Chamber technician.

What can I say? The mind-bending swirl of our 2018 had the Shock cards coming thick and fast, and, well, emotional casualties occurred.

The introductory scenario from the book, “Entanglement,” took two sessions, bringing the group together and showing them that they were all somehow connected by a supernatural conspiracy.

The following two sessions led them to investigate an up-and-coming local politician with unsavory links to Carcosa and associated atavistic philosophies. Through Jack’s marketing agency several members of the group were outfitted with wristband style personal assistant devices called Urchins. Though otherwise eager-to-please, these mobile devices could not be removed by ordinary means. When they started to rewrite Jerry’s past recollections, he fatally shot himself. (This was the player’s choice rather than an exit caused by taking too many Shock cards.)

In the next scenario, Jerry’s rugged counterpart from Aftermath showed up in this reality as the group probed a murder connected to their coffee shop hangout. The players obligingly embraced dramatic irony, treating this previous player character (now played by me) as the obvious villain. The real bad guy, who Other Jerry eventually helped them take out, was the Carcosan assassin from the prior sequence, a dead ringer for Sara’s boyfriend.

The following week, Jack’s assignment to set up a marketing event at one of the city’s haunted locations led the group to the Don Jail, a prison turned historical tourist site. They identified an eerie manifestation on the cell walls as an incipient new gate from Carcosa. In a returning motif, a maquette of a winged Salome from an exhibit of Gus Morley statues at the jail vanished during their ghost-busting. Meanwhile, a person Chris’ first replacement character, Clark, recognized as a character from a Philip K. Dick novel, came around the dispensary looking for the right prescription to shield his mind from an alien satellite beaming Gnostic philosophy at him. Finally a sighting of the animated statue flapping around outside the coffee shop cost Ben his grip on reality, for the second PC loss of the sequence.

Week seven dealt with the consequences of that departure and developed ongoing plot lines. The group learned more about the Urchin and the company behind it, pointing to the existence of a schism within the Carcosan conspiracy.

The following scenario tangled Judith up in the murder of a portrait client, a Russian oligarch with ties to arms dealing and one of the two conspiracies. The killer? His daughter’s Pretty Polly doll, armed with a butcher knife. This led the group to a cliffhanger at the victim’s warehouse full of C4.

After the explosion, the group discovered that a villain from previous sequences, Addhema the vampire, was back in play, allied with the animated doll. This sent them to a library in cottage company that held a collection of books once owned by the American poet Aaron Ravenwood (a Paris PC), which held a tome containing the means of killing Addhema. The players did the GM a solid by declaring that one of their aunts owned a cottage nearby, allowing for haunted events in the deep lakeside woods at night. This plunge into bloodcurdling Canadiana claimed Chris’ second character.

When dawn came but darkness remained, the group realized that events had taken on a global scale. Putting to rest the ghosts they’d raised at the cottage restored the sun’s progress through the sky—but not before Chris’ third character, a rustic local Eliptony expert, also lost his grip for good.

Returning to the city, the group engineered a confrontation with Addhema and Pretty Polly. This did not go well, requiring their last-minute rescue by their pal, the Philip K. Dick character.

Now knowing the story of how the Paris characters originally unleashed Carcosa on the world, they realized they would have to travel back in time to stop them. Further research into Addhema’s backstory led the group to her native stomping grounds in Poland. There they found a haunted tree containing a gateway to Carcosa.

After various horrors exploring that alien realm, including a meeting with the PKD character in which he revealed himself to be the King in Yellow, they found the portal they needed. It took them to Paris in 1894, before the events of the first sequence. When the American art students arrived in the city, the This is Normal Now characters invited them to a picnic and efficiently murdered them.

They returned to our 2018 forever altered. Unlike them, it was now truly, genuinely, unironically normal, with all of the shocks of their last few months remembered but undone.

After more than a year and a half of epic play, the forces of Carcosa had been defeated for good.

But in that was in my game. In yours, they’re just getting started…


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

It’s the present day. After a hundred years, the totalitarian Castaigne regime has fallen, and ex-insurgents like the player characters intend to make America a better place. But the vestiges of Carcosa left behind have other ideas.

This is the third in a series of four columns showing you what a full arc of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game might look like, with events from my own game as an example.

Having previously played art students in Belle Epoque Paris and soldiers of the Continental War, the players start the third sequence, Aftermath, by creating a set of characters with links to the previous ones. The post-revolutionary characters in my game were:

 

Player

Character

Civilian Occupation

Drive

Worst

Memory

Parallels

Chris

Jerome “Jerry” Jean-Leon

Security Guard

Political Cachet

mall was used as emergency collection center ala Katrina and hundreds of people died because he didn’t guard the electrical system

justifies his actions with unclear but loud references to Republican ideals

Justin

Walter van Sickle

Reporter

Writing Fodder

accidentally shot and killed friendly politician in a mistaken identity situation

Dropped a warehouse on some enemies

Paul

Nathan Dubois

Doctor

Redemption

final stages of the revolution, felt guilt over necessities of triage – made him identity people who could be moved (but were very hurt); is sure they were sacrificed in a gate-closing ritual

like the medic who started killing for the “greater good”; ancestor was Georges Dubois

Shel

Judith

Photographer

Vendetta

return to NYC on eve of revolution with info from family and younger siblings; arrived too late to see that younger sibling Vanessa was Yellow Sign agent and annihilated the rest in some sort of supernatural

first camera she ever owned was full of images of Ida’s work

Scott

Ben Rodriguez

Mechanic

Nagging Visions

crashed into a rooftop while in a Castaigne helicopter; only he and Jerry survived, watched rest of crew slowly die

a decorative gargoyle thing always seems to be there watching and it wasn’t there last week

Sue

Sara Delaney

Coffee Shop Owner

Wants to End It Once For and All

abusive relationship by leader of the resistance cell

world’s biggest Sophie fan girl

Jurie

Jack

Vanderbos

Marketing Coordinator

Danger Junkie

weird fox-like creatures sat back and looked at him peacefully had been eating people and licked his hand in a friendly way, tempting him to join them

likes weird things and has aversion to paper

 

We started with the “Sleeping Dogs” scenario from the book. Weirdly attentive readers will note that Hank Knight, the murder victim from this mystery, is an echo of Henri Cheval, the missing lover from the beginning of Paris. Your game won’t have an Henri Cheval, so you will probably reconfigure the victim so that it echoes events from your own series.

As is their wont with canine-themed investigations, the group took an expansive four episodes to explore all the nooks and crannies of this case.

Weeks five and six had the group investigating weird manifestations near a cemetery filled with early leaders of the Castaigne regime. As they sought to identify the nearby residents who had activated the Carcosan reality-bending effect, they confronted its manifestations: killer clowns, a human-sized fiji mermaid, and of course screaming foxes. Ultimately they traced the outbreak to the Yellow Sign insignia that bored, vandalizing teens had pried from the headstones in the cemetery’s VIP section.

During this scenario the group settled on its political goal, as Aftermath characters do. A good chunk of the first of this two-parter was devoted to the group deciding on its agenda and then discussing how to advance it. They decided to lobby for the creation of an agency to fight the occult. Their investigation of the haunted graveyard came at the behest of a likely patron in this pursuit, concerned about the plummeting property values of nearby apartments he owned.

The subsequent scenario returned to the murder mystery format. The killer turned out to be a revered dissident leader—or rather, the bio-engineered duplicate the regime replaced him during the bad old days. The dissident angle brought in one of Walter’s story hooks, his friendly fire shooting of another key anti-regime intellectual. The players dealt with this neatly, cooking up a press conference at which the duplicate revealed its monstrous form and fatally attacked the regime interrogator who killed the real dissident.

In week eight the team identified the explosives used in a bombing as dating back to the 1947 Continental War. This echo of the previous sequence led them to a scheme to sell off the still-functional contents of the city’s war museum. The plotters asked for mercy, on the grounds that they hadn’t being fully paid since the collapse of the old government and hey, curators gotta eat too. The team found itself in no mood to grant leniency, especially after the culprits tried sprung a death trap on them.

Mysterious heart attacks, deemed supernatural in origin, occupied the team’s attention in weeks nine and ten. They found that someone was directing a vengeance spirit, which echoed a longstanding motif from past sequences by leaving fiery winged Salome outlines at its murder scenes. The plotter turned out to be an important ally of their political patron, who wasn’t ready to cut him loose. This confronted the ex-insurgents with a moral dilemma—did they compromise and take the political win, or turn in the perp and set back their agenda?

The next week broke from Aftermath for a reprise of Paris, featuring the first set of characters in middle age. Set in Chicago during the influenza epidemic, this change-of-pace scenario had the group chasing an impetuous young Isaac Philipson—seen previously as a baby and then as the adult commander of the French army—in pursuit of a mystical artifact.

Moving back to Aftermath, the next two weeks concerned The Process. Powered by the artifact introduced in the reprise episode, this growing franchise operation offered to remove peoples’ traumatic memories of the civil war. The group investigated, finding plenty of creepiness but not enough evidence to take it down.

By this time it was the holidays again in our real world, so the next two-parter featured a “Christmas Carol”-referencing Carcosan assassin. Bent on revenge after being stiffed on a payment, it hunted the greedy members of a silver cartel. The crew made another uneasy political compromise by protecting the surviving cartel members in exchange for their support on the anti-supernatural agency. They took out the assassin in a Central Park showdown; only one of them had to wear the Santa suit.

Weeks fourteen and fifteen led the team to a weird science conspiracy stealing the brains of unconnected, apparently obscure individuals. The players, but not the characters, recognized the victims as famous celebrities in our timeline. Ultimately they discovered the purpose of the scheme: to reopen the shuttered gates to Carcosa by rerouting them through an alternate reality.

At the conclusion of this case, the team earned the final Chit point (the marker of their political progress) required to achieve their agenda.

With this milestone reached and the alternate realities motif now on the table, it was time to switch to the same characters in a different world, that of This is Normal Now.

Which we’ll get to when this series of columns concludes next month.


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. Preorder The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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

Here’s how to do that:

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

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

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

#ella_wharton

#noelle_ella_wharton

#ella_wharton_noelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

This is the second in a series of four columns demonstrating what a full arc of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game might look like, with events from my own game as an example.

In The Wars, the players leave behind the roles of Belle Epoque art students, becoming soldiers in the 1947 Continental War. As French soldiers, they fight on the Loyalist side, with the identity of the enemy, the Crowns, determined in part by the events they played out in Paris. In that game they worked with the German foreign office against the Yellow Sign conspiracy—so here, the French and Germans are democratic allies against the authoritarian English, Russians, and Nordic nations. Your Paris game will probably inspire in a different configuration of forces when you get to The Wars.

Characters were:

 

Player

Character

Civilian Occupation

Drive

Damn Peculiar Thing

Connection

to Previous PC

Chris

Sgt Cerf

Career Military

 

 

 

Duty

Recurring nightmares about the coming mission – fake tanks are filled with corpses whose faces he knows

Comes from family of longtime anti-Carcosan operatives, Gus was grizzled American friend

Justin

Pvt Jean Edouard

Writer

Curiosity

entered an empty plain and was surrounded by spectral horsemen

had Aaron’s old diaries

Paul

Pvt Marc Logres

Med Student

Heard grandpa’s stories about Carcosa

On three occasions, food in the mess tin look like topographical features – then you’ve gone on a mission to that place and found a mutilated corpse–face gone but the same person maybe?

Georges’ grandson

Shel

Pvt Ange Vanel

Photographer

Morbid Curiosity

ran into a woman who looked like one from the book of portraits

has a book of Ida’s portraits

Scott

Pvt Thomas Gerard

Merchant

Can-Do Attitude

Voices on the camo recordings are saying his name

supplied O’Brien’s architectural firm with building materials

Sue

Lt Rose Cheval

Career Military

Vindication

sky turned white and the rest of the platoon was killed

Jurie

Pvt Georges Renard

Accountant

Truth

saw that people were made of paper and tore apart a little girl

 

(This is the list of characters as of the end of the series, with replacement characters coming in after the deaths of original PCs. Hence, Lt. Cheval’s lack of a connection to a Paris character. Jurie joined us in progress, and so had no Paris PC to link up to.)

For this series I assigned my players the premise I figured they’d find the most fun and flexible: they became a Shadow Squadron, engaged in advanced camouflage activities, with the occasional foray into intelligence operations.

Sometimes my players like to squeeze every last drop of soup from the bones. When I ran the scenario from the book, “A Feast for Wolves,” they spent four sessions on it. I imagine that will remain something of a record. Again, I don’t want to spoil the contents of the published adventures, so let’s just say they took the option that required the most reactive improvisation from the GM. So it became much more of an epic than you see on the page.

Week five was a haunted house / constrained location scenario, with the wartime twist being that the squad couldn’t leave the scary place because they’d been ordered to hold it as a strategic location. This was the session in which the terrible cries of foxes became an ongoing horror motif that continued to echo through the rest of the arc. I’ve already described it in detail here.

Week six, “The Installation”, had the group investigating weird activity around a French research facility. They discovered a mad science experiment to imbue walkers—the many-legged equivalent of tanks in this reality—with the consciousnesses of unwilling experimental subjects. Addhema, their vampire Big Bad from Paris, made her return as the brigadier general in charge of the program. When your villain is immortal, her reappearance two generations later requires no additional explanation.

The next two sessions featured another reimagining of an opponent from Paris, as the group discovered that a town they’d been sent to spread disinformation in was under attack from animated statues, including a winged Salome. Deep in the woods, they found the studio of a now elderly Gus Morley, Chris’ character from the previous sequence. Now played as as GMC, I ensured that he was as truculent as a typical Chris character. So of course Chris’ current character grew impatient with him and shot him dead. I would never second-guess my players in public, and so won’t mention that the group hadn’t gotten the clues from him when the fatal point of annoyance was reached. GUMSHOE promises that you can get all the information if you look in the right place with the right ability, not that you won’t pull your sidearm and shoot the information dead when it mouths off to you.

Weeks nine and ten found the group on assassination prevention detail, as a supernatural killer sent by the Crowns attempted to take out the French high commander—Isaac Philipson, the baby from Carcosa introduced at the end of the Paris sequence, now an adult. Addhema made another appearance as a trusted ally of Philipson’s—again in a position where the group was unable to move against her.

Next came a classic murder mystery in a military setting, as the group tried to figure out which member of an infantry squadron killed their medic. They found their culprits, who had been driven to homicidal unreason by exposure to the terrible play, The King in Yellow.

The twelfth week foreshadowed the coming big battle sequence. The squadron was reassigned from camouflage duty to muster for an assault against enemy-occupied Marseilles. As Loyalist forces massed, the group learned that soldiers were falling prey to mysterious fratricidal urges. They traced this malign influence to a ghostly figure of vengeance luring the unwary to a woodside brothel.

A final two-parter culminated in a set-piece action sequence that sent the squad plunging through Marseilles as climactic battle raged all around them. When the characters took refuge in the sewers, I introduced the cross-reality motif by having them bump into weird scientists from our modern day.

In the end they captured Camilla and took her to Cassilda (or was it the other way around?), and one revealed the suicide vest that destroyed them both—along with several of the PCs.

Or did it destroy anyone but the mortals?

With a big finish to this sequence, but also more unanswered questions, we were ready to move on to Aftermath, which I’ll encapsulate next month.


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.

 

…didn’t stay in Paris

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

One of the key distinguishing features of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is its quadruple arc structure. When played in its fullest campaign mode, your YKRPG series spans four timelines/realities, with connections between the four sets of PCs reverberating from the past of Paris, to the weird battleground of The Wars, to the alternate post-revolutionary Aftermath and finally to what looks a lot like our present day in This is Normal Now.

As our publication date draws closer, I thought GMs would find it useful to see an example of how this works in play. Over the this and the next three editions of this column I’ll be sharing a precis of my own series, starting with the events of Paris as revealed by the choices of my players.

Characters were:

 

Player

Character

Field

Drive

Deuced Peculiar Business

Chris Huth

Augustus “Gus” Morley

Sculptor

Ennui

That organ didn’t look like it was designed to play by itself—and I didn’t see anyone entering or leaving the organist’s booth

Justin Mohareb

Aaron Ravenwood

Poet

Family Propensity

strange shoreline, staring up at a bone white sky with ebony stars

Paul Jackson

Georges Dubois

Landscape Painter

Thirst for Inspiration

instead of the cathedral he’d drawn a stone circle atop a hill with a human sacrifice being performed by something that is not quite human

Shel Kahn

Ida Phillipson

Portrait Painter

Taste for Danger

Followed a tall dark haired woman, to a place without time

Scott Wachter

Arthur O’Brien

Architect

Youthful Naivete

Followed by winking lion-faced gargoyles

Susan Davis

Sophie Dupleix

Muse

Taste for Decadence

her man is gone and so is his house and no one remembers him

 

As you’ll see, some of the Deuced Peculiar Businesses selected by the players bubbled up into the plotline more than others.

The first two episodes I improvised in response to Sophie’s Deuced Peculiar Business, the disappeared lover. This represented a very strong choice on Susan’s part, as it created an immediate crisis that had to be dealt with. I decided to weave this into an opportunity for the group to pick up a patron to help nudge them along the path to occult investigator status. My players respond well to a bit of external help and ongoing motivation. You might go in another direction with a group that prefers to sandbox their way toward a storyline.

The hunt for Sophie’s man, Henri Cheval, led to agents of the German foreign office intent on quelling the growing influence of the Yellow Sign. For a supernatural menace, I took advantage of the fact that we had a sculptor in the crew, making the antagonist one of his statues. Because of course it had gained sinister animation.

I had already used the same plot device in an earlier preview run for the Pelgrane crew and recommend it as a choice that reliably delivers.

Our art students heroes discovered that Gus’ statue of Salome had eaten the son of their future German patron and arranged for it to be melted in a foundry. They also gained the first inklings of the Carcosa conspiracy, including the possibility that they had somehow aided the publication of The King in Yellow during some kind of memory fugue.

These events took two sessions. The next two we devoted to the sample scenario found in the Paris book, “The Ghost of the Garnier.” I won’t spoil it by describing how they solved its mystery.

Sessions five and six featured the appearance of Ida’s overbearingly bubbly mother, Elsie. Mrs. Philipson had discovered a doctor with a miraculous rejuvenating process she intended to bring back to America. As she became as outwardly young as her daughter, the students smelled danger, especially when the doctor’s office was found ransacked and bloodstained. The investigation led to a circle of sorcerers who had granted themselves superhuman powers by pledging themselves to the King in Yellow. The scenario also involved the hideous secret of how medical leeches are farmed, and the first historical figure to appear in the series—the occultist Gerard Encausse, aka Papus.

Session seven was our Christmas episode, in which the group left the city in pursuit of a copy of the play. In a rural village they discovered that it was being used in a ritual to turn an imminent birth into a dread anti-nativity, giving the King a flesh and blood form in our reality. The team dispensed with this threat in time to return to their favorite Parisian student hangout for mulled wine. A great deal of mulled wine.

Sessions eight and nine introduced the broader political implications of the Carcosan menace, as the group investigated an Italian diplomat intent on drawing on the Pallid One’s power to fight his country’s war in Ethiopia. Using the liqueur he employed to contact the king, Ida entered a hallucinatory, dream-like state and was able to converse with the masked overlord, and to again meet his daughter Cassilda. This scenario also recapitulated the events of Robert W. Chambers’ story “The Yellow Sign”, pitting the group against a corpse animated by the king.

Week ten was another one-shot, in which a vagrant was found murdered near Notre Dame wearing a coat he had stolen from Arthur. This led to his Deuced Peculiar Business, as the cathedral’s gargoyles turned out to be the culprit, and him their real quarry. The art students pioneered explosive munitions by deploying a device called a land torpedo against the gargoyles.

The final three weeks of the Paris sequence introduced a new Big Bad—the Comtesse de Potocki, eventually revealed to be the legendary vampire Addhema, as seen in Paul Feval’s wildly pulpy 1865 novel The Vampire Countess. After plenty of obstacles, mind control, and barbed mockery from an opponent too powerful to defeat directly, they pestered their foe enough to prompt her to abandon her Paris HQ.

In parallel with this struggle, in another liqueur-fueled journey to Carcosa, Ida met with Cassilda and was given a baby to “take care of.” Choosing to interpret this instruction in a kinder light than the Carcosan princess clearly meant, she brought the baby, named Isaac, back to earth.

I could have spun out another episode or two to bring the Paris sequence to a conclusive end, but instead chose a sudden shift to The Wars, where Isaac Philipson’s story would continue. For more on that, tune in next month.


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. Pre-order The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.


We can say relatively little for certain about the life of Robert W. Chambers, but it is clear from his work that knew France and its history. For this reason it is tempting to believe that the name Hildred Castaigne, unreliable narrator and protagonist of the classic Yellow King story “The Repairer of Reputations,” took its inspiration from the early 19th century murderer Edme Castaing.

Castaing, a young and impecunious doctor, befriended a pair of wealthy patients, the brothers Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. In 1822, the consumptive Hippolyte died while in Castaing’s care. His fortune went to Auguste, who made Castaing his heir. Half a year later, after drinking wine and then milk given to him by Castaing, Auguste also died after a prolonged fit of vomiting.

Both victims had been in their early twenties. This fact, added to Castaing’s financial activities, triggered official suspicion. Investigation focused on his purchase of a then-new medicine, morphine, before the deaths. Castaing was arrested and tried for murder. The jury found him innocent of Hippolyte’s death but guilty of destroying his will, and of murdering Auguste. He went to the guillotine on December 6, 1823.

In the entangled realities of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, the mere difference of a few letters in a surname doesn’t stop us from identifying Castaing as an unlucky link in the dynastic chain running from the Pallid King to Hildred Castaigne. He had all the sinister predilections of his family without a Mr. Wilde to fully usher him to his destiny.

Ghosts feature heavily in Chambers’ other, lesser horror tales. In keeping with those, the characters from your Paris sequence could meet up with this earlier, slightly misspelled member of the bloodline in phantom form. Perhaps they encounter Castaing’s shade at the Place de Greve, the site of his guillotining. Or in Saint-Cloud, the bucolic Parisian suburb where he poisoned Auguste, during their stay at the Tête Noire Hotel.

Like other Chambers ghosts, Edme might not look or sound dead at all. He could seal his friendship with the occult-busting art students with much-needed medical treatment. His unearthly healing powers might allow the discarding of Injury cards that aren’t normally gotten rid of with a First Aid success. Over time Edme might abuse his friendly GMC status to mislead the group into spreading the influence of the Yellow King, increasing his own powers. Only by researching the seventy-year-old story of Edme Castaing can the group discover that their apparent benefactor is neither alive nor on their side.

Naturally, if he suspects they’re onto him, he’ll reach for the syringe full of phantasmal morphine he keeps in that little black bag of his.


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 column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foe Difficulties have been scaled down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your next Interpersonal Push costs 2 Pushes.

Discard after it applies, or at end of scenario.

But in the final version has become more overtly interactive:

-1 to Presence.

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

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

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

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

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

Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


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

As the project increasingly leaves my hands and heads to Pelgrane HQ and post-production, it’s time to show off a smidgen of the reality-shattering art you’ll see in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

Brittany’s legendary city of Ys rises from the waves, by Shel Kahn, from Paris

A postcard of malign implication, collage by Dean Engelhardt, from Paris

Weeping mines descend on a battlefield, by Melissa Gay, from The Wars

Battle for the Imperial Palace, by Jessica TC Lee, from Aftermath

The Surveiller Surveilled, by Aaron Aurelio Acevedo, from This is Normal Now

Absinthe in Carcosa cover by Jérôme Huguenin (text placement in progress)

Character sheet from The Wars, by Christian Knutsson

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