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.

Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ influential cycle of short stories, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines.

Written and designed by GUMSHOE master Robin D. Laws, 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 full-colour hardback books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, with a separate GM screen, 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 present day 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 present day 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.

Each purchase of The Yellow King RPG from our website, or a bricks-and-mortar retailer, includes the following downloads:

  • PDFs of the Paris, The Wars, Aftermath and This is Normal Now settings
  • GM Screen PDF
  • Slipcase GM Screen PDF
  • MP3s of The Yellow King RPG Suite
  • PNG files of all Shock and Injury cards from the four core settings
  • PNG files of all Goal, Chit & Hit cards from the Aftermath setting
  • Bonus The Yellow King RPG adventure, “The Doors to Heaven”, written by Sarah Saltiel for the Paris setting
  • A PSD format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • A GIMP format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Shock deck
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Injury deck

 

Stock #: PELGY01 Author: Robin Laws
Artists: Aaron Aurelio Acevedo, Dean Engelhardt, Melissa Gay, Shel Kahn, Christian Knutsson, Jessica TC Lee Format: 4 x hardback books, presented in a slipcase, with a separate GM screen

Buy the boxed set (includes slipcase & GM screen)

Buy the complete collection (with Absinthe in Carcosa and The Missing and the Lost)

Buy the game collection (with Absinthe in Carcosa)

Buy the Yellow King RPG PDFs

Buy the complete collection PDFs (with Absinthe in Carcosa and The Missing and the Lost)

Buy the game collection PDFs(with Absinthe in Carcosa)

Tonight, Thursday April 8th at 7PM EDT, tune into the Pelgrane Press Twitch channel to watch game designers and writers Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as they take you through the process of designing a scenario for The Yellow King RPG.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game can be run at any scale, from one-shot to its ultimate form: four interconnected sequences set in 1895, an alternate mid-century war zone, a warped, post-authoritarian present day, and our own not at all disturbing contemporary reality.

As you contemplate getting going with the latter, you may be wondering how to structure your series. The real answer is that, like most creative endeavors, you’ll see how to do it when you start doing it. (Aided by the copious support given in the game book, of course.)

For the other answer, keep reading for a suggested framework of episode ideas. By the time we’re finished a month from now, you’ll have more episodes than you probably need. Take inspiration with the ones that spark with you or that contain elements you know your players will enjoy. Leave yourself room to adjust as you go rather than committing to an entire episode list ahead of time. This creates the space you’ll need to respond to player choices and input, placing them at the center of your series. Though some episodes self-evidently land during particular points in your arc, most can easily be shuffled around to build on the direction you find in play.

Episode 1: Beginnings

Start by improvising a scenario inspired by one or more of the characters’ Deuced Peculiar Things. Open with the art students recovering from absinthe hangovers at their favorite cheap cafe. They can’t entirely remember what happened last night, but have a terrible feeling that they’ll regret remembering.

Give players time to interact, establishing relationships between the main cast members. When this loses steam, introduce minor manifestations of a Deuced Peculiar Thing to lead them out of the cafe and into an investigation.

As a fallback premise, that the Sculptor’s latest statue has achieved animation and gone on a deadly rampage. Or the Poet has written a verse—or “written” a verse that really comes from a certain forbidden play—that alters the minds of those who hear it.

The game’s focus on reality horror allows you to improvise all manner of hallucinatory events, not all of which have to exert permanent effects: that murder was only temporary, or perhaps a premonition that can still be averted.

During this first mystery the art students learn about:

  • the play and its malign influence
  • the existence of the king and Camilla and Cassilda, at least as fictional characters
  • the intertwining of their destinies with this weird phenomenon

If you think they’ll want to receive specific missions from a patron, introduce that GMC as part of your wrap up.

This series opener gives them the chance to put a stop to one particular manifestation, and motivation to keep digging deeper.

Episode 2: Genre Literature Homage

Establish the game’s literary side with a Carcosan spin on a classic tale from 19th century literature, ideally French.

The Ghost of the Garnier scenario in the Paris book follows this template.

If one or more players are already familiar with it and you need something different, you might consider:

  • events at the Notre Dame Cathedral echoing Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
  • an adaptation of Maupassant’s story “The Horla,” about a psychic vampire epidemic. See p. 157 of the Paris book
  • a wave of sightings of Jules Verne-style airships above Paris
  • homages to the serials Les Vampires or Judex, displaced backwards in time by a few years, or Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, which conveniently has a pallid mask already in it, also pushed back in time to the Belle Époque. Or look at Franju’s 60s remake of Judex.

Episode 3: Secondary Villain

Build a scenario around the introduction of a powerful villain outside the royal court of Carcosa. Although as always you have to be ready for the characters to dispatch your antagonist before you’ve realized her full potential, conceive it so they can solve the immediate crisis without having to do that. This recurring baddie could be:

  • a legendary vampire
  • a well-connected delver into weird science
  • a powerful sorcerer possessed of, or pursuing, immortality
  • a rebel Carcosan who aims to topple the king, without being a particular friend to humanity

Episode 4: Creature Feature

Slip in a straightforward and self-contained scenario of good old-fashioned monster problems, featuring any supernatural being from the Foes chapter. Each of these entries is written with an implicit plot hook for just this purpose. When in doubt, pick that most Parisian of entities, the gargoyle.

Episode 5: The Occult Scene

Review pages 126-133 of the Paris book, which profiles the leading personalities of the city’s metaphysical scene. Pick the figure who most interests you and wrap a mystery around him. Possible instigating incidents include:

  • a break-in at Edmond Bailly’s occult bookshop
  • a demon invented by conspiracy huckster Léo Taxil starts claiming victims
  • a sinister figure who might be the ghost of the notorious cult leader Abbé Boullan comes for Oswald Wirth and Stanislas de Guaita, the occultists who exposed him

Episode 6: Bring in the Royals

Bring in an Deuced Peculiar Thing that hasn’t had much spotlight time, connecting it to a threat to the lives and minds of innocent Parisians. To solve the mystery and end the threat, the art students must deal with a peculiar and magnetic personality who eventually turns out to be the King or one of his daughters. This might happen in the relative safety of a dream visitation, or in an absinthe delirium. The royal, seeing in the character(s) a resonance that will continue through history and realities, makes an attractive but dangerous offer.

Episode 7: Arts & Artists

An opportunity for the characters to do what they’re putatively in Paris for, training as artists, takes a turn for the Carcosan. Take inspiration from a Symbolist, Decadent or Academic painting, or springboard from the profiles of cultural worthies from pages 115-125.

  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec seeks protection from a knife-wielding doppelganger
  • dapper gossip columnist Marcel Proust needs help finding out which of the people he knows too much about is trying to kill him
  • a costume from Sarah Bernhardt’s latest production walks out of her wardrobe on its own steam, perhaps strangling a victim on the way to the stage door. Yes, it’s a tattered yellow robe. Why do you ask?

Join us next month as we continue to sketch out our arc with Episode 8 and beyond.


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.

“Tall, gaunt, cynical, with tragic eyes … like a man who had seen the inside of hell.”

— description of Liam Tobin by IRA mole David Neligan

Michael Collins, the George Washington of Ireland, picked a 23-year-old man named Liam Tobin to be his spymaster. If I were related to George Washington’s spymaster, I’d never stop talking about it, but I had to find out about Liam Tobin not from Pelgrane’s esteemed co-owner and managing director but on the Internet like a savage. Go figure. (According to Cat, Liam is “possibly like a sixth cousin but we haven’t really looked into it.” According to me, he was her great-great-grand-uncle. This will not be the last engaging lie I tell in this column.) Born in Cork in 1895, Liam Tobin joined the Easter Rising in 1916, where he first caught Collins’ eye. The British commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, then released him with many other revolutionaries in 1917.

Liam Tobin, hero from a line of heroes

Thoroughly radicalized, Tobin rose through the IRA’s inner circle: Dublin Brigade intelligence officer, then intelligence officer for Munster in 1918 (under the cover of an insurance agency in Cork), then IRA Deputy Director for Intelligence in January 1919. Like Washington, Collins remained his own director of intelligence; Tobin basically served as his right hand. Based at 3 Crow Street in Dublin above a print shop within 200 yards of Dublin Castle, the British headquarters in Ireland, Tobin’s operation rapidly built up a database (with photos) of British Army, G Division (the intelligence unit of the Dublin Metropolitan Police), and Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC, or “Black and Tans”) officers, mostly using OSINT such as newspaper society pages, the London Gazette (which reported officers’ postings, including “special assignments” to Ireland), and Who’s Who. Tobin recruited doormen and telephone operators in all Dublin hotels, allowing the IRA to track comings and goings as well as listen in on British comms. One of Tobin’s agents got access to Dublin Castle personnel records, supplying photographs and dossiers of every typist and clerk who worked for the British, allowing the IRA to recruit and suborn agents in place throughout the occupation government.

Tobin did more than manage information gathering. One of only six men in the whole intelligence command (until it expanded in July 1920), he also ran agents in the field, identified and fingered British spies, and occasionally hands-on renditioned and killed targets when needed. In October 1919, Collins sent him to London for two weeks to case security for the British Cabinet: Tobin reluctantly decided assassinating the entirety of His Majesty’s Government was too hard. Tobin led the squad that grabbed Alan Bell, president of the Irish Banks Court (investigating IRA funding) off the tram to work and gunned him down on the morning of March 26, 1920.

That squad was part of “The Squad,” the IRA’s wet works division. IRA training commander (and CO of the Dublin Brigade, who first recruited Tobin back in 1917) Dick McKee hand-picked “The Twelve Apostles” (engaging lie note: there were almost certainly more than a dozen men in the Squad) in September 1919 to execute British officers, spies, and collaborators. The Squad reported to Tobin, although only Collins could order an execution. By March 1920, the Squad were full-time assassins, using a cabinet-making shop on Abbey Street as a front and home base. The British response to the Squad was to recruit their own team of specialized infiltrators in January 1920, the “Cairo Gang.”

So-called either from their previous service with Army Intelligence in Cairo during WWI, or from their Dublin hangout the Café Cairo at 59 Grafton Street, the Cairo Gang were officially the Dublin District Special Branch, or D-Branch. (Engaging lie note: Few of them provably had any connection to Egypt, and the term “Cairo Gang” first appears in print in 1958. They were probably just called “the special gang.”) Doggedly, they pursued the IRA command, especially Collins and Tobin; Tobin posed as an informer (using a different name) and got inside their decision loop. But not too far inside: the Cairo Gang raided Vaughn’s Hotel on November 13, 1920 while the IRA leadership were meeting there, and only iron control (and sloppy British prep work) let Tobin and Collins bluff their way out of the arrest.

Collins’ response: ordering simultaneous hits on the 20 top British assets in Dublin, including most of the known Cairo Gang. At 9:00 a.m. on “Bloody Sunday,” November 21 1920, ten teams of a dozen men each struck their targets. (Engaging lie note: About a quarter of the teams didn’t show up, and over half the targets escaped.) Seven intelligence operatives died on Bloody Sunday, along with three RIC Auxiliaries working security, two British Army court-martial officers, and two seemingly uninvolved former British officers. The Black and Tans retaliated that afternoon with a massacre at a soccer match, killing 14 and wounding 68. Although “Bloody Sunday” didn’t quite decapitate the Cairo Gang, like the Tet Offensive it scored a massive propaganda victory.

In January 1921, the British recruited a new team of Irish Unionists from the provinces (“Tudor’s Tigers,” also known as the Igoe Gang after their leader Eugene Igoe of Galway) who knew their local IRA men on sight, and sent them on hunt-and-kill missions. Tobin spent most of the next six months playing a game of cat-and-also-cat with the Igoe Gang until the Truce in July 1921 ended the war. Collins brought Tobin along on the intelligence staff of the Irish treaty delegation in October 1921, promoting him to Major-General in the Irish Army. Tobin may or may not have masterminded the “off-book” killing of arch-Unionist British General Henry Wilson in June 1922; he briefly ran the Irish CID and served as Director of Intelligence for Ireland until his political opponents sidelined him in January 1923. After leading a failed mutiny against those opponents in March 1924, he resigned his commission and ran a car-hire service until 1931. He helped organize the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake, and then ran security for the Irish legislature from 1940 to 1959. He died, covered in glory and redeemed in honor, in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Sunday Yellow Sunday

“One day or other some of these people will assassinate you.”

— Hildred Castaigne to Mr. Wilde, “The Repairer of Reputations”

If you look in the history books, especially the excellent Michael Collins’ Intelligence War by Michael Foy, you read that Tobin didn’t plan Bloody Sunday. Under Collins’ overall leadership, Tobin’s deputy Frank Thornton provided the intel while Dick McKee planned the strategy with Squad killer Charlie Dalton as tactical head. So narrow was the IRA margin that McKee was actually captured and interrogated early in the morning of November 21, and “shot while trying to escape” by the RIC that afternoon. Foy claims that Tobin had a “nervous breakdown” and was “on rest” that day.

So what was Tobin actually doing? Maybe tying off the loose ends from the late-July 1920 Denys Barry case in Kilderry in Westmeath, or shutting down the British intelligence vampire-research farm at Dun Dreach-Fhola in County Kerry (DH, pp. 235-236), or investigating porcine anomalies and time drifts at a house on the borderland of County Galway past Ardrahan. Any of those incidents might have caused his alleged “nervous breakdown.” Or maybe the “nervous trouble” was a cover for something else, something he couldn’t even tell Collins.

IRA mole David Neligan’s memoir claims that he met with Tobin at the Gaiety Theatre the night before Bloody Sunday to be briefed on the targets, which sounds like Tobin was very much involved in planning. Intriguingly, that night the Gaiety was mounting a 1914 play by Michael Morton, called The Yellow Ticket. Okay, that’s another engaging lie: The Yellow Ticket was in rehearsals then and didn’t open until December 1; the show actually running at the Gaiety on November 20 was the 1914 American version (by Harry B. Smith) of the operetta The Lilac Domino, based on the original 1912 German version by Charles Cuvillier. The Lilac Domino takes place at a masked ball in France and concerns a series of mysterious courtships somehow demarcated by dice. Cuvillier probably knew Robert W. Chambers in Paris, I note idly.

Another idle note: Among those killed on Bloody Sunday was one Leonard Aidan (nee William) Wilde, born 1891 in Reading to one Richard Wilde, who vanishes from the records almost immediately. Before the War, Wilde spent time in New York City (possibly teaching Spanish), and as a divinity student. He enlisted in the Staffordshire Rifles in 1915 and served as a second lieutenant until discharged for shell shock, upon which time he changed his middle name to Aidan. Becoming Vice-Consul in Barcelona in December 1916, he carried out a number of intelligence-type tasks, including investigating a monastery in Montserrat suspected of hosting a German radio transmitter. Discharged for running up debts in 1917, he nevertheless courted a rich American woman, Frances Rabbitts, whose pull got the happy couple a February 1919 wedding in Notre Dame in Paris, blessed by the Cardinal Archbishop in person. The Wildes returned to Spain, where amid some kind of chicanery Wilde emerged without a wife (she sailed to New York in June 1919) but with a “consular protection certificate” issued by the Foreign Office.

So yes, he could have been a spy. He could have even been in New York running a reputation-repairing blackmail operation in April 1920. He was 5’8″, and did admittedly have both his ears, along with a reputation as an eccentric and “a foreign appearance.” In August 1920 he moved into the Palace Court Hotel in London, the former home of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, for more Yellow Decade juju. On November 3, 1920 he checked into Room 22 (or 14) of the Gresham Hotel in Dublin on no clear business. And on November 20, thirteen IRA assassins (including one man with “a huge hammer”) led by Patrick Moran burst into that hotel. Section commander James Foley later listed one of the kill team as “Michael Noone,” who has no other record I can find. Tobin used false names regularly … perhaps including Michael “No One”?

According to the IRA after-action report, Wilde was in the hallway. Mistaking the IRA gunmen for British police, he identified himself as “Alan Wilde, British Intelligence Officer, just back from Spain.” Michael Kilkelly and two (unnamed) others shot Wilde in the head and leg, killing him. The manager of the Gresham Hotel found the body on the floor of his room, soaked in blood. After resigning his commission in 1924, Tobin runs his car-hire service from behind the Gresham Hotel, perhaps keeping an eye on any lingering fluctuations in reality and sending trusted former Squad comrades to investigate strange Signs throughout the 1920s and 1930s. So what do we know for sure, and what can we engagingly lie about? We know that in the “Castaigne” timeline, Mr. Wilde was killed by a cat. And in our timeline, Mr. Wilde just might have been killed by a Tobin.


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.

The paintings of the Russian-born French artist Jean Béraud (1849-1935) offer a trove of inspiring images for the Paris sequence of your Yellow King game. Straddling the warring Impressionist and Academic camps, he specialized in scenes of everyday life and worked during and beyond the game’s 1895 setting. Like the action of a typical scenario, moods range from the glamorous to the seedy. Players might find their own characters in his signature scenes of late night drinking. As Game Moderator, you might spot any number of GMCs on his canvases. He portrays places as evocatively as he does people, allowing you to illustrate scenes set anywhere from the ballet to the streets.

1895 finds Béraud at the height of his fame, having won the Legion of Honor the year before. If he shows up, play him with the sardonic edge seen in many of his images. He sits on various exhibition committees. The artists in the group may meet him as he decides whether to admit their work into one of the city’s prestigious competitions. Do the investigators have to pressure him to withdraw from exhibition a mysterious painting depicting the hideous action of a notorious play?

Typical player characters if I’ve ever seen them.

This investigator is about to give up on Bonhomie to get the next clue from this hardcore absinthe enthusiast, and switch to a little Steel.

The group’s Muse wonders if she’s been stood up for her appointment with a mask-wearing gentleman.

As the Sculptor spins theories, the Architect takes notes.

Use the Society ability to pry loose the decadent secrets this louche character can spill.

If you can’t find a witness at a smoky cabaret, it’s time to try an outdoor ball, lit by those fancy electric lights the city is now known for.

Shop for food and information at the legendary market of Les Halles.

When in doubt, create an accident as a diversion.


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

Most writers, whatever form they favor, fade into obscurity after their deaths. That goes triple for playwrights. The number of stage writers whose works are still produced in the English-speaking world is very spare. And only a handful of those wrote originally in other languages: chiefly Chekov and Ibsen, and also the Swedish realist turned Symbolist August Strindberg (1849-1912.)

Unsurprisingly, Strindberg looms even larger in his home country, where his novels, plays, essays, and paintings are also considered important. The Red Room is considered the start of the modern Swedish novel.

In translation, he is chiefly known for plays, most notably the hard-hitting family dramas Miss Julie (1888) and The Father (1887.) Known, but less often produced, are his later occult-influenced Symbolist works: A Dream Play (1907) and The Ghost Sonata (1908.) In the first, a daughter of the Vedic god Indra descends to Earth to engage in various allegorical encounters. The second includes, in addition to the titular ghosts, a woman who slowly transforms into a mummy.

What happens during the break between his early realism and his later proto-surrealism that might be of interest to GMs and players of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game? Funny you should ask. He moves to Paris, where he drinks a lot of absinthe and gets mixed up with the occult—right when your art student player characters are getting into trouble there.

In 1895, Strindberg is 46 years old and once again without a wife. His earlier stage works are known and respected in Paris, though they lack the bravura spectacle of the sorts of plays Sarah Bernhardt (YKRPG: Paris p. 115) chooses. Speaking of Bernhardt, Strindberg has become fast friends with the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (YKRPG: Paris p. 115), whose Art Nouveau poster designs for Bernhardt productions such as Gismonda have become the hit of the town and will forever define the graphic look of the period.

Strindberg and Mucha share an interest in the occult and mystical. The artist refers to his studio as a profane chapel, using it as a salon to chat about the esoteric with such fellow enthusiasts as the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck (YKRPG: Paris p. 120) and novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (YKRPG: Paris p. 119.) Huysmans, you’ll recall, writes decadent novels later name-checked by Lovecraft, and remains under the thrall of a recently deceased Rasputin figure, the ex-priest and accused Satanist Joseph-Antoine Boullan.

As a result of his paranormal inquiries in mid-1890s Paris, Strindberg experiences a shattering psychic break, entering what is known as his “Inferno period.” In his 1897 novel Inferno, written in French, he fictionalizes his experiments with drugs, optics, alchemy and paranormal botany. While in the throes of his personal inferno he succumbs to pronounced paranoia. Entities he calls “The Powers” subject him to psychic attack, as punishment for the crimes of mankind. He owes this martyrdom, he says, to his past misdeeds.

Self-induced hallucinations described in Inferno include an incident where his fictional counterpart walks through Paris in the aimless flaneur style that will later be used by the surrealist Dreamhounds of the 20s and 30s to evoke magical connections. At Montparnasse station he randomly chooses a train to get on. He disembarks at the village of Meudon, where he encounters a “Roman knight in gray iron armor.” Yes, he realizes it’s a pile of melted blacksmith’s slag, but never mind that. An alchemical vision appears before his eyes, leaving behind leaden seals giving him a choice between his wife’s initials, or a king’s crown. In the novel, he selects neither.

But in reality? A psychic break among a traveler in occult literary circles around 1895? Surely Strindberg has either read that consciousness-shattering play, The King in Yellow, or heard enough about it to have its contents sink into his absorptive, sensitive artistic awareness.

That so-called Roman knight, who left him a choice between earthly ties and the crown of the king, sounds a lot like a Carcosan. So do “The Powers,” whose punitive aspect fits the pallid-faced nobles from the shores of Hali.

Another scene from Inferno features the narrator’s visit to a resort, where he hopes to rediscover his peace of mind. Instead he realizes that his rival in alchemy, Dr. Popoffsky, has followed him there. Having mastered the secrets of poison gas by murdering his own wife and child, Popoffsky now menaces the Strindberg figure. Terrified and weeping, the narrator retreats to his room, where a vaguely human shadow appears on the wall. Paralyzed, he stares at this being, which he dubs the Unknown, as it passes an electrical current through him over a three hour period. When he finally regains the power of movement he rushes into the corridor, only to find the floor attendant missing. He asks for another room, but the only one available is directly under the one he is sure contains his enemy’s electrical machine. Is it Popoffsky, or is that merely a guise of a Carcosan menace?

Your player characters can investigate the sinister truths Strindberg later transforms into the material of this hallucinatory, paranoid novel. You can find a plot hook like the above on nearly any page.

A PC victory against Carcosa might account for the subsequent transformation that lifts Strindberg out of this period and back into productivity. He embraces Swedenborgianism, the safest and most benevolently boring of the period’s mystical movements. At the end of 1896 he returns to Sweden and finds a circle of new literary friends in the university town of Lund.

In later sequences you might echo the characters’ brush with Strindberg by having their successors attend a production of one of his works. Frequently censored in his lifetime, Strindberg’s plays may only now be permitted in Aftermath’s post-authoritarian America. This Is Normal Now characters might catch a production that casts one of his earlier, more popular works in the weird expressionist style of his later plays. I once saw a brilliant version of The Father done this way. The one you describe might have a few more yellow signs in the corner.


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

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.

Along with many other historical figures of 1895 Paris, characters in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game can meet Alphonse Bertillon, who pioneered both the scientific and pseudoscientific strains of criminal forensics. He appears in the Paris book; we also discuss him in this episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

The mug shot remains his most credible lasting contribution to criminology. His effort to increase the reliability of police identification left behind a historical record you can now access via the Metropolitan Museum’s open access collection.

In other words, Bertillon left YKRPG GMs a rich trove of handouts for their Paris games. Obligingly, he took these in the exact historical era the game focuses on. As you’d imagine from a photographic record of arrests, many of the folks pictured clearly hail from the hardscrabble side of life. However you also see a number of dapper individuals, because many of the shots are of suspected anarchists. Given the era, they might indeed have been involved in deadly bombing plots—or were rounded up simply for their radical views or connections.

In some cases you might want to leave on the framing matter, and present the players with actual mug shots—perhaps provided to them by Bertillon himself. I’ve left on the frame for the first of the examples below.

To use them as images of GMCs the art students talk with during their investigations, simply crop off the frames.

As their arrests took place nearly a 130 years ago, I’m sure the subjects won’t mind being recast as fictional figures in your game. You could invent characters and then search for a mug shot to match. Some tantalizing historical details remain attached to the images. You can use them as the basis of your GMCs. With these as starting inspiration, you might flesh out your characters and then build a scenario around them.

This fashionable fellow was Alphonse Grégoire, a 27 year old mechanic arrested as an anarchist. The naive observer would attribute his dazed expression to the flash of a late 19th century camera. We know better: obviously he recently read the forbidden play, and sees visions of Carcosa behind the lens.

Men outnumber women in the mug shots, as they do in any lock-up. Again the political arrests help us out here, as in the case of accused anarchist Caroline Herman, a 33 year old couturier. You could cast her as any middle class woman of formidable aspect.

Okay, clearly a player character snuck into the mix here. I kid you not that this is a 19 year old sculptor named Minna Schrader, charged for “associating with malefactors.” What investigator hasn’t been booked by the gendarmes while gathering scuttlebutt in the wrong cafe? As a seasoned occult-buster, she knew to blink during the shot, rendering it less useful to police.

Images of working class folks also abound. House painter Émile Barbier might have seen something unwholesome from high up on scaffolding. He also looks like he could take care of himself in a dust-up, and might be anything from a henchman or mastermind in a Yellow Sign conspiracy.

The collection gives you some selection of older characters. This 72 year old mattress maker gave the surnames Guelle, or Guelle, but was also known as St. Denis. He looks like he’s been drinking away his hallucinations after glimpsing the shores of Lake Hali.

These are just a quick sampling, so be sure to check out the full assortment.


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.

When Kanye West commissioned a hologram of her late father as a birthday present for his wife Kim Kardashian, he was giving a gift to her, no doubt about it. But wasn’t he also giving a gift to us, as Game Moderators looking for perfect scenario seeds for the This is Normal Now sequence of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game?

West reportedly programmed this holo-tulpa-revenant to describe him as “The Most, Most Most, Most, Most Genius Man in the Whole World.” Gosh, how are we going to make this entirely regular spousal behavior into something creepy?

The simplest option is to simply have the hologram of a celebrity relative go berserk and start attacking people.

Alternately, a player character receives the gift of a hologram as a misguided gesture of affection, and must cope with the consequences.

In a baroque option, the hologram might come to the investigators, having somehow learned of their expertise in Carcosan-related problems. It suspects that it will be used as a murder weapon, or has already been. Invested with the conscience and personality of its deceased template, it wants to reveal the unknown culprits and then return to oblivion. It needs the player characters’ help in doing that.

Later the group might stumble across a covert community of sapient holograms. They fear exposure and wish to continue living among humans. The investigators might be tempted to sympathize with them, until they realize that the holograms have been protecting their privacy by murdering not only their original creators, but anyone else who stumbles onto their secret.

In all the above cases, the hologram gains the power to interact with its physical environment from a passage from The Yellow King embedded as comments in its code. An upgrade to a new software version, without the passage, deactivates them for good—if the team can figure out how to administer it. Until then, Kill results in combat merely dissipate them for a few days.

Numbers: 1 (or as many as the group)

Difficulty: Superior (Escape 5, Other 4, Kill 5)

Difficulty Adjustments: -1 if you know what it is; -2 if you have the Computers ability and have read its code; -1 if another investigator in the fight gets the previous bonus

Toll: 2

Tags: Construct

Injuries, Minor and Major: Holo Swipe/ Holo Strike


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.

 

For the “Mr. Wilde’s Wild Halloween” one-shot of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game I ran recently on Twitch, I knew the action would open with the investigators heading to a party. To fit both the occasion and the reality-bending theme, and to demonstrate to the audience how Shock and Injury cards work, I decided to kick off by giving the characters the chance to partake of recreational drugs. The existing cards that fill this role are themed specifically to drunkenness, and appear in the Paris sequence. The contemporary This Is Normal Now setting called for cards with titles that could refer to a broader range of substances.

The cards from the existing pair are also a touch on the complicated side, calling for more rules explanation than I wanted to get into. So I created a pair of cards with simpler mechanics and titles fitting a wide range of mood-altering substances. You too may find these useful in your game.

Characters avoided these cards by scoring Difficulty 4 Health successes.

If you watched the game you may recall that only Cat’s character failed, taking the minor card, “High.” I gave it a relatively easy and common discard condition in the hope that the audience would get to see it removed. Which is what happened, so I owe the Actual Play spirits a solid.

Unlike “Tipsy”, the minor card in the drunkenness pairing, “High” lacks the “Non-lethal” tag. You could add it back in if you prefer. However, with harder drugs you can easily rationalize why a dose gone awry could finish off a character who has already sustained multiple injuries. Even a safer drug might turn out to be laced with something fatal, or exacerbate existing wounds, should “High” occur as a Final Card.

Like “Tipsy,” you’ll note that these are Injury cards, not Shock cards, reflecting the characters’ decision to ingest a recreational poison. Their minds might be altered, messing with their Focus tests, but by a chemical rather than emotional source.


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.

Four Hallowe’en Horrors for the Yellow King RPG

(Photo by Rick Monteiro on Unsplash)

 

The Ugly Americans (Paris)

Hallowe’en is an American tradition – well, mostly derived from immigrants from the United Kingdom, but America added a lot of sugar and exported it back. Certainly, it’s not a French tradition – the French celebrate La Toussaint, All Saint’s Day, on November 1st.

But you’re American students in Paris – if you can’t be obnoxiously loud and tacky tonight, then something’s terribly wrong with reality.

So, the characters go on an absinthe-and-candy-fuelled bender across Parisian pubs and cafes, dressed in unlikely costumes. Obviously, they have to call in on the Montmartre Cabaret (du Néant, and de l’Enfir – Paris, p. 100), They pick up a couple of other revellers along the way. As the party wears on, with drunken Halloween games and superstitions, they end up in a bar around three in the morning, and someone in the party suggests they have to tell ghost stories. Everyone in the group must tell a ghost story.

Someone else in the party – some masked stranger they picked up en route – also tells a story. A haunting, surreal tale about a city of masked revellers, troubled by a masked stranger, and the coming of the King in Yellow.

The next morning – All Saint’s Day –  while fighting through handovers, the characters realise the following:

  • Something’s horribly wrong with the world. They can feel it in their bones, in their skulls. There’s a yellowish cast to everything.
  • None of them can recall how that stranger joined their company last night. One of their French introduced him to them… but they can’t recall exactly who or when. Finding out how they met that masked stranger is an ongoing mystery to be solved.
  • The stories each of them told have become their Deuced Peculiar Things.

 

Trick or Treat (The Wars)

October 31st, 1949. Your squad’s fighting in the Continental War. An enemy prisoner – any rumours that he’s a sorcerer are nonsense, of course – escaped from the facility where he was being interrogated, and has taken refuge in a nearby village. All routes leading out of the village have been secured, so he must be hiding in one of the houses – he’s probably holding some of the locals hostage, and forcing them to hide him. Your squad’s orders are to go house to house, searching each homestead in turn, until you find the escaped sorcerer. Correction – escaped prisoner. Not a sorcerer. He certainly has not conjured Carcosan entities, and the village is not a series of set-piece traps and nightmarish tableaus.

To navigate the village and find their quarry, the squad must deal with each house in turn, solve whatever Carcosan peril or weird encounter awaits them there, and follow a series of clues to discover where the escaped sorcerer is hiding.

Knock on each door in turn, and pray that a trick is the worst fate that awaits you…

 

Dress Up In You (Aftermath)

You’re all tired and traumatised by the events of the revolution; you need time to heal. One of the characters has a relative who lives out in a small town; they’ve got a big house, with space for all of you to stay. You can hang out in the countryside for a few weeks, take a break from the twin stresses of monster-hunting and politics.

Outside, the town’s getting ready for Halloween. Some small places like this came through the Castaigne years better than the big cities. It was easier to hide, out here. Fewer eyes. As twilight draws in, you see the town’s kids putting on their costumes. A lot of Dream Clowns, like always, but… yuck, some of them are dressed as Regime entities. Explosionists, Argus, Sphyxes, Carcosan visitors. Little siblings tagging along with their big brothers and sisters, dressed as cute Cancer Bags with legs.

Then… from downstairs, the sound of breaking glass. The house is under attack. Those aren’t costumes any more – the kids have been transformed into a cavalcade of horrors.

Some lingering supernatural threat (a Castaigne sorcerer, hiding out? A Carcosan tripwire? A spasm of fading magic) has made the make-believe horrors of the past real again. How to the characters escape the town and find the source of the transformation when they can’t kill the innocent children beneath the masks?

 

Your Face Will Stick Like That (This Is Normal Now)

The fun new gimmick this Halloween is a live face-swap app. You run it, and it swaps your face on video for that of your friend, or a cartoon character, or a celebrity. This Halloween, they’ve added a bunch of spooky faces – witches and vampires and goblins and… ew, that’s tasteless. There’s a Famous Serial Killers tab – Dahmer, Bundy, Jack the Ripper… and that freaky guy who killed those kids last year, the Halloween Stalker. They never caught him, did they? Anyway, don’t click on that.

Uh-oh. It was swapped your face anyway. And it’s swapped it in real life. Suddenly, you look like the infamous uncaught serial killer. Not on video. Physically.

How do you get your real face back? Does the killer have your face now? Or is this some sick joke where you’ve got to kill someone to earn your face back? And why is the logo of the app developer this weird yellow squiggle that you swear you’ve seen before?

Oh god – that was the doorbell. There are kids here, trick or treating! Quick, pull on a mask so they don’t recognise you – no, him! The Halloween Stalker! Get rid of the kids – NOT LIKE THAT – and then call your friends from the café, because you’re going to need help figuring out what’s going on!

 


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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