Murder by Checklist in the Yellow King RPG

Following on from this article – the advice to use Investigative Abilities as a checklist for an adventure applies doubly to Yellow King games. Unlike, say, Night’s Black Agents or Esoterrorists, where the player characters are highly competent and well-rounded investigators, Yellow King characters tend to be unusually narrow in their range of backgrounds, especially in the first two sequences. In Paris, they’re all artists. In the Wars, all soldiers. In Aftremath/This Is Normal Now, the range of investigative abilities expands, but is still comparatively limited compared to some other GUMSHOE games. Notably, there’s nothing like Vampirology or Cthulhu Mythos or Anamorphology, no ability that gives a clear handle on the central weirdness. The Yellow King is beyond human comprehension; all the investigators can do is filter that unknowable mystery through their established mental frameworks.

In other words – The Yellow King invites Gamemasters to get creative and weird with clues. For example, there’s no Medicine or Forensics ability in Paris, so if the investigators encounter a dead body, they can’t perform an autopsy. They could perhaps use Officialdom to obtain a copy of the coroner’s report later – but maybe an artist’s understanding of anatomy through Sculpture could give some clues about the cause of death. However, when it comes to going through the dead man’s diary and list of social contracts, Paris investigators have a wealth of investigative tools – Belles-Lettres, Culture, Poetry, Research, Society – any of which could lead in a different directions.

Relying on artistic investigative abilities, in particular, lends a lovely dreamy surreal feel to the game – you end up with investigators breaking into places purely because, say, that house reminds them of a particular Symbolist poem. And Intuition is explicitly a “GM, take the wheel” ability. Oblique hunches and unlikely leads are perfectly suited to Yellow King games.

The ability lists also offer inspiration to the Gamemaster. In my Wars campaign, it was easy enough to work Lowlife or Military Logistics into my plot about Carcosan-influenced Black Marketeers. The challenge – and the interesting results – come when creating clues keyed to Farming or Salt of the Earth. A whole subplot about the slow infiltration of Carcosan wildlife into Earth’s ecosystem – with shades of Vandermeer’s Area X – sprang entirely from one player asking what she could find with Farming…

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, s erved 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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