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.

 

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)

As addressed in an earlier piece, you may want to deploy a nastier set of Shock and Injury cards when playing The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in one-shot format.

The cards mentioned there give you a steeper doom spiral. But some con games may tick along safely until the very last moment, where dramatic necessity demands less of a spiral than a precipitous drop from unharmed to smeared across the streets of Paris. (Or the battlefield, or post-revolutionary New York, or in your neighborhood.)

This will most often happen when you as GM do your subtle and not-so-subtle best to steer the investigators from final annihilation, but the players follow their hearts and charge in headlong, warnings be damned.

When this happened in a con run I GMed last spring, I improvised my way to a result that provided the 50% party kill story logic decreed.

(Long story short: half the group decided to attack the Carcosan doppelgangers who had engineered their participation in the publication of the play. The other half decided to abstain. I pointed out what a big disadvantage this would put the fighting characters in. They remained undeterred. Not because they were foolish, but because it was the fun and fitting thing to do.)

Imposing an enormous Challenge rating to compensate for their unspent Fighting points was the easy part.

When you find yourself in this situation, you can improvise the requisite sudden deaths. But you might want cards to prove that you’re doing it within the rules. Which is what you’ll be doing, when you deal out the cards below.

BRINK OF DOOM

Injury

-2 to all tests.

The next Shock or Injury card you receive becomes your Final Card.

CLIMACTIC DOOM

Injury

Counts as your Final Card.

You are dead. Surviving PCs might take advantage of shattered reality to restore your the ability to speak and move. Even so, you’re still dead and leave play at end of scenario.

For an indefinite but limited time only, send a pic of yourself holding The Yellow King Roleplaying Game to Robin on Twitter (@RobinDLaws) and he’ll put it through this lovely and not at all harmful Carcosan filter for you.


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 Yellow Sign featured heavily in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game and its associated banners and art radiates an alien clarity. As created by graphic designer extraordinaire Christian Knutsson, its imperfections exist within the calm and implacable surety of the Pallid Mask.

Yet no everyone in the clashing realities of the game pulls the same template or stencil off the shelf when they need to inscribe their loyalty to the Court of Hali in sigil form. You might want a gnarlier, freehand version to incorporate into your handouts and fan art. At Pelgrane we’re all about satisfying obscure desires we invent and then project upon you, the esteemed hypothetical reader. Accordingly, here are three sizes of the same freehand Sign for your sinister use.

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.

In a very special episode dedicated to The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Ken and Robin talk time as a game mechanic, the Skin Affair, strange machinery in the Belle Epoque, and the Martinist magician Papus.

Waxen-eared conspirators at constant war with their cats aren’t the only people with a vested interest in propagating the Yellow Sign. At Pelgrane Press we want everyone to gaze into the symbol of Carcosa, pledging fealty to the Pallid Mask and perhaps picking up a copy of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

To this end, Pelgrane releases its Yellow Sign symbol, designed with subtle menace by Christian Knutsson, into the public domain. Use it personally or commercially. Put it in illustrations, banners, or books. Slap it on t-shirts, hats, mugs, or temporary tattoos. Get started by downloading the Yellow Sign image pack.

Spread the word from here to the Hyades. The king is here!


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.

Banner for the Yellow King RPG with image of the four books in a slipcase

The insidious reach of the Yellow King has broken through into the world we know, and you may have seen his otherworldly influence percolate through Facebook and Twitter posts. Show your allegiance to the Yellow King – or be part of the Resistance against him – with these social media banners:

Have a quote that’s better than ours? We’d love to see it! Design your own Yellow King RPG banners and tag us on social media (we’re @pelgranepress on Twitter, and @PelgranePressLtd on Facebook). The one which most evokes the dread King in Yellow will win a print copy of Dean Engelhardt’s exclusive Yellow King RPG ephemera.

 

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Belle Époque Paris boasted more occultists than you can shake a stick at. Or, in my case, more than I could fit into The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

Here’s one who, due to his association with other, more renowned figures, warranted a mention but not a full write-up. Yet he might lead the group into interesting trouble, as he represents that most heedless and danger-seeking breed of creatures—the publisher!

Lucien Chamuel

Alchemical Supply Vendor and Occult Publisher

28, 1867-1936

Lucien Chamuel, or Mauchel, if you want to go by his mere birth certificate, runs the Librairie du Merveilleux in the 9th arrondissement. Despite its name, the Libraire is more an alchemical equipment shop, meeting space and publishing office than a bookstore. For a fuller selection of texts, the art student heroes of your game should seek Edmond Bailly’s Librairie de L’Art Indépendant, in the same occult-ridden neighborhood.

Already a seasoned publisher in his late twenties, Chamuel acts as a sidekick to the better known Papus. Like his mentor, Chamuel practices Martinist mysticism, which reconciles arch-Catholicism and the working of esoteric magic.

With Papus, he founds the journal L’Initiation. It contains not only mystical, quasi-scholarly articles on the occult, but for those who read between the lines, the latest gossip on city’s ever-feuding questers. In 1895 it has already been running for eight years; it will eventually rack up a total of twenty-five.

When the art students need Chamuel to plant a story immediately, he might include it in L’Initiation’s weekly sister publication, Le Voile d’Isis.

Effusive and friendly, Chamuel welcomes new visitors to his shop. Art students shaking his hand may notice the dampness of his palm. He answers the investigators’ questions without their having to resort to anything so gauche as the use of an interpersonal ability. He shows reluctance only when their inquiries portend trouble for him or his esoteric allies. In that case he may quote the title of a famous essay he published: “the supernatural does not exist!” Of course the real point of the article is that it does exist, but is science, not superstition. Arch-Catholic, ritual science, that is.

Two years ago, Papus declared his friend Chamuel the Gnostic Bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes. Like all church leaders the regular bishop of that diocese, once a fortress of the Huguenots, neither knows about nor would approve of this distinction. Papus hands out imaginary distinctions like this on a regular basis. Chamuel accepts them as flattery but would never himself announce them to customers or acquaintances.

Chamuel may take a particular shine to the belle-lettrist in the group. His offerings extend beyond the occult, and he’s always looking for an interesting publication to add to his catalogue. Among his offerings includes a book on the Paris catacombs. In your version of history, it might be the belle-lettrist character who writes it for him, perhaps under a pseudonym.

When they meet him, he might be poring over the texts of a book he is about to publish, by another occult stalwart, Joséphin Péladan. The uninitiated might assume that The Complete Theater of Wagner simply surveys the controversial German composer’s opera works. It does this only to advance a much more important revelation. Parsifal, the book contends, fosters mystical enlightenment in favored listeners, as it did to Péladan during an 1888 performance at Bayreuth. This thread might provide color to an unrelated scenario. Alternately, it brings the art students into contact with Carcosan forces plotting to cloak their activities in the guise of Norse mythology and/or thundering timpanis.

Chamuel’s best seller, one he asks prospective authors to emulate, is Péladan’s How to Become a Magus, part one in a projected seven-volume series, The Amphitheater of Dead Sciences.

In 1895, the shop has only just moved to a new spot, 79 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière. A mere year later it moves again, to 5 rue du Savoie in the 6th. Do the art students trigger a weird event requiring its relocation?

No occultist chooses an anagram for only one reason. Chamuel is not only a reordered version of Mauchel, but one of many spellings for an archangel, Camael. Naming himself for an angel of strength and courage constitutes a Martinist act of sympathetic magic, meant to bind those qualities into himself. His angelic predilections might get him in trouble if a winged, masked Carcosan comes calling, professing to be a projection of his esoteric desires.

Every fashionable man in 1895 Paris looks somewhat like a wizard, due to the current vogue for lavishly full beards. The occultists must therefore work harder to achieve grandiloquent facial hair. Chamuel’s prodigious beard differs from that of his colleagues by billowing out on each side, with his chin more closely trimmed. Unfortunately for our purposes, the one blurry surviving photograph of Chamuel depicts him in late middle age.

As a patron: Sinister forces might have presented Chamuel with the opportunity to publish The King in Yellow. Surely he rejected the text as insufficiently Christian, Wagnerian, or both. Perhaps he recommended the author to Bailly, whose interest in the Symbolist and Decadent movements exceeds his own. Luckily he gave up reading the play long before reaching its mind-shattering second act. Already the details of those who brought it to him have grown jumbled in his mind, like a dream. Realizing in retrospect that the flavor of occultism unleashed by the book contradicts every holy instinct of a good Martinist, he seizes on the art students’ interest in the mystery, urging them to track down the unknown rival publisher who committed it to print.

Amateur investigators of This Is Normal Now visiting contemporary Paris may have reason to discover that the 1895 location of the Library of Marvels has become a Franpix, an upscale groceteria. Occultism suggests that its logo, an apple, means something fraught in this context. Who placed the forbidden fruit at this location, and does it seal something in, or summon it? Likewise, a trip to the shop’s prior location finds the sleek offices of a renovation firm, with a similarly numinous logo of a pyramid folding in on itself.

 


 

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 at the Pelgrane Shop.

Bring Mind-Bending Spellcasting to The Yellow King Roleplaying Game

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

Your players can master them all—at perilous risk!

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

New magic rules include 144 startling spells, background material on Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game.

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

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

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

Written and designed by: Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Ruth Tillman.

Status: Playtest open until March 2nd 2020

Errors spotted after the books went to press are listed below. We periodically update PDFs to correct errors, so be sure you update your electronic copies to the latest current version. If you spot a possible error in the text, please alert us at support@pelgranepress.com.

Paris

p. 60: minor injuries occur a failure with a margin of 1, not on 0 or 1

p. 64: a margin of 0 is a success, not a failure

p. 148 / 156: Injury cards for Gendarmes are inconsistent between the table on 148 and description on 156. Either set of cards works, but since Blow to the Head/Ringing Cranium aren’t used elsewhere you may prefer them.

p. 163: Injury cards for the Rakes fell out of the manuscript at some point. They are:

Thrashed

Injury

-1 to all tests (except Preparedness). After any failed, salient test, roll a die. Even: discard.

Rapier Wound

Injury

-1 to all tests (except Preparedness). After one interval, as recipient of a Difficulty 5 First Aid success, trade for “Thrashed.”

p. 233, point 8. a. ii. B. should read “Refresh a general ability other than Athletics, Fighting, or Health”

 

Just before Christmas, I finished off the first part of my home campaign of THE YELLOW KING. We’re running it at a fairly fast pace (we’re alternating sessions with Warhammer in deference to the sensibilities of players who want to hit things with swords), and with only a limited number of sessions, I based virtually all the adventures around the player’s Deuced Peculiar Things.

It’s useful to my mind to think of YELLOW KING scenario planning as a grid. Along the top, you’ve got the array of Carcosan characters and tropes – The King, his Daughters, the play, the Yellow Sign, Castaigne, Mr. Wilde, black stars, madness – and any elements from the current sequence (Parisian political and artistic intrigue, the Continental War, the overthrow of the Castaign regime etc). Along the side, you’ve got the prompts provided by your players as Deuced Peculiar Things. You dig for horror and mystery where those lines cross.

So, my players gave me:

  • Chester: I met an enchanting man in a bar, we shared a night of passion, but I woke up in bed to discover I was lying next to a woman, who left without a word.
  • Sillerton: I dreamed I was at a strange party in a chateau outside Paris; when I investigated, I learned that the chateau burned down many years ago.
  • Ada: My brother Theo has vanished and no-one else – not even my other brother Chester – remembers he ever existed.
  • Reggie: My cat had a litter of kittens, but they came out as this ghastly congealed mass of conjoined bodies and limbs, a sort of feline centipede.
  • Dorian: I saw L’Inconnue de la Seine, and chased her into an entrance to the catacombs.

While I could have started with any of these, I picked Reggie and his cat-monster for two reasons. First, it’s the most immediate problem – three of the others are weird encounters, and Theo’s been missing for some time (and felt more like a long-running plot than a trigger event), whereas Reggie’s catipede was right there (well, right there in a bag, as they hammered it to death very quickly). Second, cats give me a link right to Mr. Wilde from the Repairer of Reputations (the mania he had for keeping that cat and teasing her until she flew at his face like a demon, was certainly eccentric. I never could understand why he kept the creature, nor what pleasure he found in shutting himself up in his room with this surly, vicious beast.”)

Carcosan Hybrids

So, what’s the crossing point? What Carcosan element might Reggie’s cat intersect with. A flip through the Paris book gave me the matagot (p. 159), a supernatural Carcosan spy in the shape of a cat. Maybe Reggie’s pet cat mated with a Carcosan entity, and that spawned the malformed catipede?

That worked – and instantly gave me a horrible consequence to play with. If mating with a Carcosan entity creates some sort of hideous hybrid… and Chester slept with a mysterious shapeshifter…

But if I was going to make hybrids a big part of the plot, I needed a reason for them to exist. The cat might be a random encounter, but why would some Carcosan courtier take the time to sleep with Chester? I went with the concept of anchors in our reality, which let me bring in the dreadful play and foreshadow stuff that’ll come up in the Aftermath sequence. So, Carcosa needs to get its hooks into reality. It starts with the infiltration of a concept, a malign thought – the play. As the play corrupts reality, it allows the establishment of stronger anchors, allowing Carcosan entities to cross over physically. They then create even stronger anchors, bootstrapping an invasion.

Living Statues

Dorian’s encounter with the mysterious inconnue connected to this plot too. L’Inconnue died in the 1880s, so she must have been a ghost, an illusion or some other supernatural weirdness. I decided to loop in both the art world and another of Chamber’s tales, the Mask. If there’s a mysterious fluid that turns flesh to stone, then maybe the same fluid could turn stone to flesh. The girl with the familiar face was a statue brought to life using Carcosan chemistry. Why? Because these living statues were the middle-stage anchor – host bodies of pseudo-flesh used like space-suits by Carcosan nobles in the period before they could manifest in all their glory.

The Cult of the Yellow Sign

So, there was still a gap in my cosmology – if the existence of the play in a given reality corrupts it enough for Carcosan weirdness to filter in, and if Carcosan weirdness gets worse as the King’s court establishes stronger anchors and invades, where did the play come from in the first place? I still had two Deuced Peculiar Things to play with – the vanished brother, and the mysterious party.

I came up with a sketched-out occult society who experimented with telepathy, spiritualism and other weirdness, the Society Jaune, who accidentally made contact with the King and saw the Yellow Sign. Theo fell into the clutches of survivors of this cult, and wrote the play after exposure to the Sign. A twist of temporal weirdness through Carcosa let me shove Theo out of linear time and back to the burning of the cult chateau during the Siege of Paris.

The View From The Cheap Seats

Obviously, slotting Deuced Peculiar Thing A into Carcosan Motif Y is only part of the adventure-design. Just because I knew that, say, a crazed sculptor was creating statues and bringing them to life in the catacombs didn’t mean I had a full adventure ready to go. All this technique gave me was a set of Alien Truths to build adventures around. However, keeping everything strongly connected to the players’ Deuced Peculiar Things and the most significant bits of the Yellow King Mythos let me give the players a whistlestop tour of Dread Carcosa while giving satisfying answers to all their Deuced Peculiar prompts.

The Wars start next week. Check back in a few months to see how that turns out…

Previous Entries