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.

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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s how to do that:

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

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

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

#ella_wharton

#noelle_ella_wharton

#ella_wharton_noelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foe Difficulties have been scaled down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your next Interpersonal Push costs 2 Pushes.

Discard after it applies, or at end of scenario.

But in the final version has become more overtly interactive:

-1 to Presence.

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

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

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

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

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

Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


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

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