By Eric Prister, creator of the Nature of My Game Podcast
I had been thinking about starting an actual play podcast for years before I actually released my first episode, and so I had plenty of time to think (and re-think, and re-think) about what game I should use to start. And when I decided to use different games and different casts for each season of the Nature of My Game, I knew that the first season had to be something special, something that would hook people and convince them to keep listening.
I chose The Yellow King RPG because I was intrigued by the setting, because it was relatively rules-light, and because it was a little less well-known than some other games (and so the podcast hopefully wouldn’t get lost among all the others ones that already existed). And it turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
Before reading a single rule, I found the premise of Yellow King RPG so intriguing – four settings spanning more than 100 years; subtle, supernatural horror that seeps into the world slowly but malevolently; average people tasked with pushing back against an evil that they do not, and cannot, understand. Even if they know nothing about the King in Yellow or the works of Robert Chambers, the world itself is enough to hook a group of prospective players.
As a GM, I’m always looking for ways to push the story and the game in a particular direction. I’m not trying to railroad – I’m trying to make sure my players are having fun. And when it’s for a podcast, I’m also trying to make sure we’re telling a compelling story, something others will want to listen to. The Yellow King RPG is full of tools that help GMs subtlety adjust the story and push the characters in ways that ramp up their enjoyment and keep the story interesting.
The GUMSHOE system (which I’ve now used in three of the five seasons of the podcast) already lends itself to story-focused TTRPG play. Its basic premise – that hiding clues in an investigative game behind rolls that could fail only serves to bog down play – is the perfect GM tool to speed up or slow down the story as needed. If the players are stuck and things are moving too slowly, I can feed a clue to the person with the perfect investigative ability at just the right moment. If they’re rushing too quickly toward the ultimate conclusion, I can make them work a bit harder, forcing them to explain how they’re using their investigative abilities to discover the path forward.
Another place the Yellow King RPG thrives as a storytelling game is the combat system. Its adjustment of the GUMSHOE system, called QuickShock GUMSHOE, keeps threats and combats narrative and rapid, which fits the setting perfectly. In the first setting – Paris in 1895 – the characters play art students. Round-by-round combat, tactical maneuvers, and hit points wouldn’t at all accurately depict their experience when coming face-to-face with otherworldly horrors (like it does for, say, secret agents fighting vampires in Night’s Black Agents). One character hitting the monster with an oversized purse while another fumbles for their gun before managing to fire a single shot just feels more authentic, and tells a more compelling story.
But no single rule helps drive the stories, connect the characters and draw them into the mystery, and spark new ideas for fear and strangeness more than one that takes up less than a single page during character creation – the Deuced Peculiar Business. So simple and yet so ingenious, each character’s Deuced Peculiar Business is “a recent event so eerie, so inexplicable, that the character has yet to mention it to anyone else.” For the Nature of My Game, our characters’ Deuced Peculiar Businesses have been cause for added horror, added intrigue, and a level of added emotion that made the characters feel real.
One character’s sister recently went missing, and no one in his family will acknowledge that she ever existed. It has caused a crisis of conscience so great that he turned to religion for the first time in his life (even if just for the wisdom of a single priest). Another painted a commissioned portrait, only to find the subject wearing a mask in the finished painting days later, one that she never painted. Now, the sight of anyone in a mask is enough to send chills down her spine (both the character and the player). And the final character’s DPB – which would be too spoiler-y to share here – has made him question everything he thought he knew about himself and the world around him, and has made listeners wonder what role his character plays not only in his season, but in all future seasons of the podcast as well.
I could not recommend the Yellow King RPG more highly, whether it’s for a podcast or a night (or many years’ worth of nights) of fun, fear, and intrigue with friends. Take this as an invitation . . . Carcosa awaits.
Eric Prister is the creator, host, and game master of the Nature of My Game podcast, a story-focused actual play podcast of investigation, strangeness, and fear. Season 1 features the Yellow King RPG and tells the story of three American art students in Paris as they investigate the return of a fellow classmate who had gone missing. It uses “The Doors to Heaven,” a Yellow King RPG adventure written by Sarah Saltiel. Season 3 features another GUMSHOE game, Night’s Black Agents, and kicks off a long-term Dracula Dossier campaign. The story of the American art students in Paris continues in Season 5, with new episodes releasing every Wednesday at midnight EST. Listen to the Nature of My Game podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, and follow on Instagram and Twitter @NoMGPodcast.