A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
This picks up where last month’s column left off, sketching out the second half of a Wars sequence for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.
Build a change of pace episode by injecting some wartime spycraft into the proceedings. For example:
Military intelligence concludes that a mole in their own offices has been conveying top secret plans to the enemy. Unable to trust anyone within, intelligence chief General Henri-Georges Narcejac contacts the squad’s general, an old friend from the St.-Cyr military academy, for a discreet and trustworthy team to come in and root the informer out. As they investigate they pose as liaisons for a quintessentially French bureaucratic effort everyone accepts and expects nothing from. In civilian attire and back in bomb-damaged Paris, the squad must detect the wearer of the mask before the mask detects them.
The Devouring Sky
An aviation-themed scenario might go something like this:
Loyalist dragonflies have been disappearing while on strafing runs over enemy territory. The final boîtenoire dispatch from the last craft to vanish said only: “Bermuda — Aldebaran” and then the surnames of several squad members. Carcosa is calling, and the group’s superiors order them to undergo brief flight training before clambering into a battered dragonfly and duplicating the path of that presumably fatal sortie.
From Paths of Glory to The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, to Bitter Victory, many classic war tales revolve around conflict not with the enemy, but with an unreliable commanding officer.
Sent to a remote battlefront where reality is eroding and patrols are being slowly picked off by gravegrinders and war horses, the squad discovers that the outpost’s colonel is an incompetent martinet. When he suspects that subordinates sees through him, he sends them to their deaths. Has he read the play? Sworn allegiance to Cassilda? The squad must discover his damning secret and find a way to send it up the chain of command without getting courtmartialed themselves. Or they could handle matters directly, then find a cover story that works.
The Real Commanders
Time to bring in the Carcosan court.
Phantasms rove a fog-shrouded forest, luring soldiers to the maws of their ebon toad controllers. As the squad tries to stay alive in the haunted wood, they find evidence that the toads are themselves controlled. Cassilda and Camilla, or maybe the king and one daughter, are playing a chess-like game with real soldiers as playing pieces. If the squad dares draw close to them, they might learn why the court has created this war. Can they use their investigative prowess to find a way to break up the game—without being broken themselves?
A ship or submarine becomes the cramped space for a classic contained environment horror story. Any number of Carcosan creatures could take on the role of xenomorph / Thing From Another World, from a horla to a disguised Duchess of Death or Ankou.
Put a weird war spin on the classic POW escape motif.
For players unusually tolerant of captivity, you can heavily flag, out of character, that an escape scenario will absolutely gives them plenty of chances to do just that. Open with the squad already stuck in a labyrinthine, otherworldly prison camp where the guards are undead and the prison towers beam out black star energy. Preparedness is never more useful than determining what you managed to sneak into an alien stockade!
Or go for the safer choice, where they parachute in to liberate a captured scientist who holds the secret to reversing the delusions caused by the play.
In a city under siege, beleaguered civilians rely on a corps of medical volunteers who protect them when army doctors are stretched too thin by military casualties. But sometimes the patients just go missing. The squad’s investigation eventually points to the kindly retired doctor who is actually a Redmedic.
Secondary Villain Showdown
In a scenario that leaps the chronology forward by months and years at a time, the squad pursues the secondary villain across the battlefronts of the Continental War. Connect all the creatures, weird war tech and classic battle situations you haven’t found room for with this longform timeline. The squad first learns how to finish their enemy and then once and for all comes at him. Place this mano a monstruo in an extreme environment, like a desert, an ice field, or the mind-eating shores of Hali itself.
The Big Battle
End this sequence by plunging the squad into a cataclysmic set piece battle. Give them a goal other than fighting and dying in a mass force: transporting a prisoner, liberating a vital piece of technology, capturing a wounded member of the Carcosan court.
As they duck and weave their way through the enormous kill zones of a decisive battle, they catch glimpses of other realities. Perhaps they bump into a team of Aftermath parageometrists or hazmat-clad researchers from the contemporary world of This is Normal Now.
Build hazards around Damned Peculiar Things that haven’t had enough onstage time yet. Or bring old favorites back for one last reprise.
Should the players brilliantly overcome obstacles, give them a big win, in which the Loyalists score a major victory and push Carcosa back through the reality hole. If you’re running The Wars by itself, you’ll want to give lots of latitude supporting this outcome.
But if you’re doing the full four part arc, this sequence can just as easily end with a terrible conflagration that kills all or most of the PCs, because you’re about to switch to Aftermath.
Next: you detected it, investigator: a series outline for Aftermath.
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.