Both Paris and The Wars feature General Kits: prepackaged sets of General Ability scores, so a player can just grab a General Kit, pair it with an Investigative Kit, and quickly come up with a character’s ability ratings. The other two settings, Aftermath and This Is Normal Now don’t include General Kits, on the assumption that by the time the average Yellow King campaign reaches the third or fourth sequence, the players are familiar enough with the rules to dispense with them.

However, if you’re running a one-shot in either setting, or you need an extra character in a hurry, or (and I speak from deep personal experience) your players are astoundingly lazy, here are some quick General Kits for Aftermath and This Is Normal Now.

In both cases, they’re designed for Horror, not Occult Adventure.

Aftermath

If you’re playing in Occult Adventure style, then add 2 points to Composure, Fighting and Insurgency in each kit.

Agitator

You inspired people to rise up against the Castaigne regime with speeches, essays, and acts of public defiance.

Athletics 1

Composure 6

Driving 1

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 6

Mechanics 6

Morale 6

Network 6

Politics 6

Preparedness 0

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Bruiser

You took the fighting to the streets, battling the Castaignes and their monsters and lackeys up close.

Athletics 4

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 6

First Aid 2

Health 6

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 0

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 4

Sneaking 2

 

Cell Leader

You were an organiser and co-ordinator during the insurgency, planning attacks to destabilise the regime.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 2

Health 2

Insurgency 6

Mechanics 2

Morale 4

Network 6

Politics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Fixer

You knew how to get things done, how to find necessities on the black market, how to scrounge and survive long enough to bring the regime down.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 6

Health 4

Insurgency 3

Mechanics 6

Morale 0

Network 2

Politics 3

Preparedness 6

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Ghost

They never caught you. They never even suspected you, until it was too late. You struck from the shadows, terrorising the monsters like they terrorised ordinary people.

Athletics 4

Composure 8

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 6

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 2

Morale 0

Network 0

Politics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 6

Sneaking 6

 

Mask-Wearer

You concealed your true intentions beneath a mask of flesh, and hid your support for the insurgency from your superiors in the regime. You held a position of influence or importance in the Castaigne apparatus – until you finally revealed yourself to be an insurgent.

Athletics 2

Composure 8

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 0

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 4

Sneaking 4

 

Saboteur

You struck against the regime with carefully targeted acts of sabotage and destruction.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 8

Mechanics 6

Morale 2

Network 2

Politics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 2

 

Smuggler

You ran the ratlines and the underground supply chain, smuggling weapons or vital information or even people past the regime’s security checkpoints.

Athletics 6

Composure 6

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 4

Morale 0

Network 4

Politics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 4

 

Wheelman

You were a getaway driver, escaping Castaigne pursuers on the highways of America.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 8

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 2

Mechanics 4

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 4

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 2

 

This Is Normal Now

If you’re playing in Occult Adventure style, then add 2 points to Fighting and Health in each kit.

 

Gym Enthusiast

You have capital-O Opinions about Crossfit.

Athletics 6

Composure 8

Driving 2

Fighting  4

First Aid 2

Health 6

Mechanics 4

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 0

 

Haunter of the Coffee Shop

Or the bar. You like to chat and make connections.

Athletics 4

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  2

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble  5

Sneaking 4

 

Handy with a Drill

You’ve got a toolbox full of bits and pieces, and a workspace full of unfinished projects.

Athletics 4

Composure 9

Driving 2

Fighting  3

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 6

Preparedness 6

Sense Trouble  0

Sneaking 0

 

Gets Into Trouble

Maybe you don’t mean to get into scraps. Maybe you go looking for fights. Either way, you’ve seen more than your share of trouble.

Athletics 6

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  6

First Aid 0

Health 5

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  1

Sneaking 5

 

Petrol Head

You’ve got a car, and are very enthusiastic about this. You probably make some extra cash on the side using a rideshare app.

Athletics 2

Composure 8

Driving 8

Fighting  2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Mechanics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 2

 

Way Too Online

Distressing Notification: Your screentime exceeded 24 hours/day for most of the last week.

Athletics 2

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  2

First Aid 4

Health 4

Mechanics 3

Preparedness 5

Sense Trouble  4

Sneaking 3

 

Good In A Crisis

When someone has a breakdown or a breakup, you’re the one they call.

Athletics 2

Composure 9

Driving 2

Fighting  3

First Aid 7

Health 4

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 5

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 0

 

Runner-Up All Rounder

You’re pretty ok at most things, but don’t stand out in any field. Quiet competence, it’s the way to go.

Athletics 4

Composure 7

Driving 3

Fighting  4

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 3

Preparedness 3

Sense Trouble  3

Sneaking 3

 

 

If you have a question regarding The Yellow King RPG please contact support@pelgranepress.com.

Q: Why is it harder to do an (other) challenge against a tough opponent than a weak opponent?

A: The difficulties highlighted follow narrative conventions by rewarding players for dealing head-on with weaker opponents and finding unconventional ways to overcome stronger ones. These expectations vary by sequence, some of which encourage victory by fighting more than others. The logic is of genre and sub-genre convention rather than simulation.

Q: What happens when the investigators choose to flee from something that wants to kill them and then fail?

A: They either get away but are harmed in the process, receiving an Injury card, or are stuck in a situation they must find some non-Fighting way out of (the creature drags them back to its lair for later snacking, they get away from the monster but are stuck in a subterranean cavern, they are rescued by the revanchists, who then take them prisoner…)

Q: Why don’t Aftermath and This is Normal Now have General Kits?

A: The kits don’t lend themselves as well to those settings, especially TINN. It was also though that players know the score by the third and fourth sequences and will want to build from scratch by that point. You can find some quick General Kits for Aftermath and This is Normal Now here

Q: I’m having trouble reading the handwritten notes in Absinthe in Carcosa, do you have a typed copy of these?

A: Please contact support@pelgranepress.com for a copy.

Q: Why do the Shock and Injury decks not include all of the cards?

A: The decks provide a highlight set of frequently occurring cards. This limit allows us to meet the size limitations of a print-on-demand card set.

Summer weather has made a surprise appearance up here in the land of the silverbirch. And that means it’s time once again for the feature that really draws you to a site for a publisher of tabletop roleplaying games—cocktail recipes.

Let’s return to the favorite color of our favorite grim-visaged, reality-bending monarch with…

The Yellow Thing

2 shots dark rum

½ shot hazelnut liqueur

Juice of 2 Key limes

½ shot simple syrup

5 dashes angostura bitters

½ can club soda

Stir and serve on the rocks.

As always, erode the bounds between normality and decadence responsibly.

“I told you to keep to the paths. You wandered into the Yellow Zone.”

— No. 6 to Nadia, “The Chimes of Big Ben,” The Prisoner

Robert W. Chambers may have invented reality horror, combining Poe’s fragility of self with Bierce’s arbitrary universe and his own artistic flair, but it arguably reached its peak, ironically in a theatrical form, seventy years after Chambers opened The King in Yellow. More specifically, it peaked in seventeen plays – teleplays – that changed up Poe by leaving the narrator-protagonist as the only fixed point in a slipstream world. I speak, of course, of the greatest television series ever filmed, Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.

Tell me, have you seen the Yellow Pennyfarthing?

If you haven’t watched The Prisoner, go do it right now. The constant threat to McGoohan’s Prisoner (designated No. 6 by his jailer, No. 2) is precisely the personality disintegration that follows exposure to the Play, weaponized and scientized by the Warders of the surreal Village. The Warders plant doubles, sleepers, and moles within the Village, so No. 6 never knows whom to trust. No. 2 arbitrarily manipulates and alters the Prisoner’s environment to catch him off guard or in a dilemma, forcing him to act without reliable outside information, hoping to grind down his resolve to resist. In short, No. 2 is a GM.

“The result is bad. (That the prisoner has escaped without betraying a single word of information useful to us.)”

— Robert W. Chambers, In Secret

In our brainstorming during the GUMSHOE Scenario Workshop, Robin, Gar, and I came up with the notion of a castaway on the shores of the Lake of Hali. This idea further inspired me with the notion of a Carcosan Village, and the unknown No. 6 immured therein. So how might you introduce a suitable No. 6 into your own Yellow King RPG campaign? The basic challenge is this: the more the Prisoner might know, the less he trusts the PCs to hear – and the less they should believe what he does tell them.

Perhaps the simplest version of the story involves a prisoner of The Wars, escaped from a mysterious prison camp on the northwest coast of Morocco (or was it Wales, or Lithuania?) who reaches the PCs, ostensibly his allies and fellow-countrymen. He tells them about this reality-shifting prison, and his miraculous escape – at which time, the players most likely start interrogating him as avidly as his former Warders did. How did you escape? Why did they focus their attention on you? Did you desert? Were you on a mission? What was it? A roaring, inflatable Pallid Sphere hunting their new comrade down could be proof of what he says – or proof that he’s its master, covertly using it to break their discipline. As a new enemy offensive weapon? As a test of loyalty by their superiors?

In Aftermath, the PCs uncover evidence of a Castaigne psychological prison-village in Harmony, Colorado, where Carcosan magic and arcane technology fuse to control every aspect of the inmates’ perceptions and beliefs. The PCs’ preferred faction wangles the authority to investigate it, assigning the PCs to oversee the cleanup as temporary liberation coordinators. But sadly, the prison records have been sabotaged or forged or both by the time they get there. Before they know it, the PCs have become the new Warders, and have to sort out which of the prisoners are genuine resisters, and which were the original Castaigne Warders – and who was the Carcosan representative who ran the prison-village from behind the scenes? One suspect seems very likely – if only the PCs could break him …

“Break down his sense of reality, No. 12. Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he’ll crack.”

— No. 2 to No. 6, “The Schizoid Man,” The Prisoner

Rather than set the PCs as the structural Warders, what about making them the Prisoners? On paper, it couldn’t be simpler: they go to sleep, and wake up in the Village just like No. 6 did, gassed and kidnapped and transported to a brightly-colored gulag. You could theoretically run a setup like this in any of the sequences, from a Carcosan outpost in 1895 that uses eerily futuristic 1960s technology to a weirdly retro facility in the modern day that seems to have been built by mad scientists in 1966. (In any version, you might think about having a beautiful female No. 13, as a tip of the hat to Chambers’ heroine.) The PCs might not even know the secret they must keep – that they are player characters, especially real thanks to their accidental linkage between realities. Hopefully they can distract their jailers during the community theater performance …

It probably works best of all in Aftermath or This is Normal Now. In the latter setting, they awaken in the former setting, perhaps even in their old PCs’ bodies again but with eerie knowledge of their “normal now” lives. Someone (A Castaigne holdout? An unscrupulous Guardian cell? An old villain from The Wars, somehow still alive?) has re-built or re-purposed the old Castaigne prison-village in Harmony to trawl for reality shifting life-lines and caught the PCs. They have to figure out who’s running this place, and how to get themselves sent (or send themselves) back to their proper timeline. But do their old PCs want them to succeed? Any unfinished business from the previous sequence should definitely come back to haunt them.

In Aftermath, the PCs wake up in a Castaigne-run Resort, an Beaux-Arts no-place reminiscent both of the TV series and of the Belle Epoque. Dr. 2 (“names are just labels”) informs them that the Castaigne empire never ended; they are here in the Resort to recover, so they can return to the valuable security work they were doing before their breakdown, hunting down malcontents and rebels like their PC selves. Come up with Castaigne regime figure identities eerily reminiscent of the PCs’ Aftermath selves, which the Resort attempts to fit the PCs into. Dr. 2 might be the sort of holdout or revanchist mentioned earlier, attempting to forcibly shift the whole world back onto a new Castaigne-victorious track just as Hildred and Wilde did in 1895/1920.

In either of these versions, of course, the GM could be working with one or more of the players. Especially if their PC has proven to be unreliable in previous adventures or sequences, their identity in Harmony or the Resort is fake – they are actually doubles impersonating their actual self, working with the Warders and Carcosa. Depending on the group’s appetite for suspicion and paranoia, this might comprise a series of scenarios each revealing a new double and culminating in the one true PC’s decision/breaking point, or it might just be one big adventure playing with very plastic identity that leaves just enough loose ends to justify the occasional weird callback later on in the game. Be seeing 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 players 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 Zone Jaune is a region in north-eastern Europe that was deemed “inhospitable to human life” in the wake of the Continental War. The widespread deployment of Carcosan ‘yellow science’, not to mention conventional artillery and chemical weapons, rendered the region – some 2,000 square kilometres of forest and former farmland – utterly hostile and unable. “Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to agriculture: 100%. Damage to reality: unmeasurable. Impossible to endure,” reads one report, written shortly after the end of the war.

The French government established the cordon around the Zone Jaune within a month of the ceasefire. In the years that followed, several nations bordering the zone unofficially began using the area as a dumping ground for left-over munitions and Carcosan technologies. Whole battalions of stalkers were driven into the woods and abandoned, their legs broken on steel hedgehogs (some accounts use the term ‘herded’, implying that there may be some truth to the tales of some stalkers developing a degree of self-awareness and independent action). Dragonflies and other aerial vehicles were packed with Carcosan technology and crashed deep in the zone. Darker stories tell of convoys of trucks and special trains loaded with ‘livestock’ that were driven into the Zone Jaune and left there.

Today, the Zone’s surrounded by many miles of barbed-wire fences and ditches. Entry into the Zone is forbidden; nature has been allowed to reclaim the land within, although it’s debatable which nature holds sway in that yellow wood – the French government insists that any unusual plant species are the result of toxic chemicals and not invasion from Carcosa. Farmers bordering the Zone often dig up munitions and other remains, including ‘biological matter’; these are collected by a special division of the French military, CEOM, for safe disposal. CEOM also monitors the ‘deep zone’ – there are observation towers within the forest, accessible by long roads that cut through the haunted woods.

Encounters in the Zone Jaune

  • Sacrifice Villages: Abandoned rural villages, now ruined. Some were abandoned before the war; others were evacuated when the Zone Jaune was established. Full exorcisms were carried out where feasible, but many hauntings have been logged by CEOM patrols.
  • Unexploded Munitions: The landscape of the Zone is littered with millions of tons of artillery shells, mines, dumped tanks of chemical weapons, toxic occult waste and other hazards – all hidden beneath the undergrowth. One false step can prove instantly lethal.
  • Damaged Places: Reality has suffered considerable damage here. The Zone Jaune is riddled with natural portals to other worlds – primarily Carcosa, but it’s possible to slip from one version of Earth to another if you know the right path through the woods.
  • Hunters: Nature has reclaimed the zone – it’s full of wild animals, including bears, deer, wolves and gravegrinders. Hunters and poachers slip past CEOM patrols to bag a trophy  – and Carcosan entities hunt the hunters and steal faces so they can escape the Zone undetected.
  • CEOM Patrols: On the borders, CEOM turns trespassers away with little more than a slap on the wrist. A foolish tourist or would-be hunter gets arrested, dragged off to a holding facility, and then given a fine and a lecture by a very angry officer before being released. Deeper in the woods, away from cameras and prying eyes, CEOM shoots intruders on sight.  
  • Scavengers: There’s a brisk trade in what’s euphemistically called ‘scrap metal’ from the Zone. Intact Carcosan relics and the remnants of Science Jaune grimoires are especially sought after. Scavenger teams enter the Zone disguised as hunters – or bribe CEOM guards for priority access.
  • Mustard Fog: The most infamous of the Zone’s hazards, mustard fog is a toxic stew of poison gas leeched from rotting artillery shells, mixed with lingering magic. Survivors speak of hearing hauntingly beautiful music and seeing strange lights in the fog, as if there was some enchanted ball going on just on the other side of the fog bank – just before they vomited up their liquified lungs and died. Other accounts claim to have seen huge animals like flying whales moving through the yellow mist.
  • Active Machines: Abandoned stalkers, dragonflies and other machines of war sometimes spark into life within the zone, dragging their broken metal bodies through the underbrush until whatever surge of occult energy that activated them passes once more.
  • Zone Natives:  Warspawn and other Carcosan entities can survive within the Zone, even as the influence of Carcosa fades outside.

Using the Zone Jaune

  • In The Wars: While the official Zone was only established after the war, the region that became the Zone was blasted by occult weapons when the fighting was still ongoing – and had already acquired a reputation as a lethal assignment. Units sent to the Zone never return.
    In Aftermath: Castaigne survivors in search of Carcosan energies flee overseas to France, bringing matters of international diplomacy and extradimensional extradition to the table in post-regime politics.
    Alternate Aftermaths: Instead of playing revolutionaries in a post-Castaigne New York, you’re playing the leaders of a small town on the edge of the Zone. Some of you are veterans, some are the next generation, growing up in a world where the horrors of Carcosa and the Continental War are fading memories. The town strives towards normality and a new beginning, but the scars of the war still linger – and the council must balance mundane municipal duties with supporting the needs of the local CEOM garrison.
  • The Wood Between The Worlds: The war blew holes in reality in the Zone; characters trying to slip from one reality to another – like, say, This Is Normal Now investigators trying to loop back to Paris – might travel to France and enter the woods. Just keep walking until the fog turns yellow…

 


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

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

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

Episode 8: Visit from Home

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

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

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

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

Episode 9: Police and Thieves

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

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

Episode 10: Psychogeography

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

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

Episode 11: Ripples from Brittany

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

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

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

Episode 12: Royal Return

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

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

Episode 13: Family Obligation

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

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

Episode 14: Weird Science

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

Episode 15: Secondary Villain Returns

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

Episode 16: Political Entanglement

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

Episode 17: A Glimpse of Hali

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

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


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

Recently on the Pelgrane Press Twitch channel, game designers and writers Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan walked through the process of designing a scenario for The Yellow King RPG.
If you missed it on Twitch, catch it over on our YouTube channel now!

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.

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