Three Weeks gives THE KING IN YELLOW two iä!s – a module for Trail of Cthulhu

Designers notes: This is unashamedly self-plagiarised from my own creatures within my EXUVIAE setting and a bait & switch I used in a playtest of one of the GOBLIN QUEST ruleshacks, peppered about a distorted Five Room Dungeon. Who said creativity needed novelty?

This is a one-shot module for a fairly pulpy investigative horror game. It’s designed for TRAIL OF CTHULHU, though wouldn’t take much to reskin to another system. There’s not a lot of balance as it is.

^ { ; , ; } ^

The Hook
An old school friend of one of the players is directing a play at the local fringe theatre. She reaches out and offers the players some comp tickets if they’ll come to the show.

Encourage the players to build up more details about what they remember of this contact. They were never great friends, but they were once pretty close. Why haven’t you heard from her in such a while?

The Horrible Truth
The play is the accursed KING IN YELLOW. The players’ contact is under the thrall of the lead actress & the performance itself ritualistically aligns part of our world with the plane of Carcosa. If the players survive, they will realise this at the climax of the adventure.

^ { ; , ; } ^

Beginning Anew
The theatre is above a pub in the borough of Camden. The pub itself – The Old Deer, has for its sign an enormous hart standing before a blazing full moon. Inside, there is a great pair of antlers above the bar, which has fewer patrons than the antlers have prongs. Soon after the second player has entered the bar, there’s a great smashing sound as a pint glass is smashed behind the bar.

The box office is not yet open. However, because of the imminent play, time is behaving irrationally within the venue. Throughout this scene, time will reset to the smashed glass – each time it does calls for a 2-point Stability test. Characters refresh Health and Athletics / Fleeing each time that time slips: their other pools do not refresh.

Each time that time slips, the antlers take on a slightly different shape. Art or Outdoorsman will notice this.

Whilst biding their time, players might succeed at a Sense Trouble (difficulty: 3) test to spot one pane of the window to the street instead shows a different city – Carcosa (spotting this calls for a 2-point Stability test). If they notice this, an Irish gentleman sat in front of the window – Colm Willem – will misinterpret their funny looks. Colm is a fighty man.

Box Office Frustrations
The box office is manned by Susan Firm, who is typically unenthused by most things. Despite the players’ contact’s assertions (& even name-dropping), Susan knows nothing about comp(limentary) tickets for them. She will make a fuss and delay the players, particularly annoyed that they’d waste her time in this manner. During their discussions, Susan will happily wave through other punters, not even checking their tickets.

She is particularly susceptible to Flattery, or a convenient spend.

Surviving the Play
The production values of the play aren’t enormous, but the costume and makeup is good. The lead actress, Ellen Cowan, is recognised by some of the players – she’s probably once been at the same party as the character with the highest Oral History or Credit Rating. She is playing the twins, Cassilda and Camilla, using a vertically-split costume and a handheld mirror.

Watching the entirety of the play counts the same as having read it, for the purposes of the rules (see Page XX).

During the play, each player rolls the dice once to determine something that happens in the audience. Each event can only occur once – if you would roll the same, instead take the next lowest number available.

  1. Hastur appears in the King in Yellow form & watches from the back of the theatre. This calls for a 5-point Stability test – with the automatic loss of 2 points of Stability and 2 of Sanity.
  2. One of the members of the audience walks towards the cyclorama at the back of the stage, idly tearing her clothes off as they go; once her clothes are torn off, she starts tearing at her forearms, before walking straight into the cyc as if it were an inky well. Observing this calls for a 4-point Stability test.
  3. One of the audience members starts fighting those nearby. She will not stop until she is restrained.
  4. One of the audience members suffers a cardiac arrest. First Aid can prevent her dying.
  5. One of the audience members begins to sway and whimper. Psychoanalysis or Reassurance can steady her.
  6. One of the audience members seemingly falls asleep and begins mouthing along to the play. Observing this calls for a 2-point Stability test, though this is subtle – only players who succeeded at the Sense Trouble test will notice it.

The play is excessively compelling. It would take a Stability test (difficulty: 7) to leave at any point. If players do this, take them straight to Leaving the Venue below.

Meet the Cast and Crew
If the players survive the play – all the world’s a stage – they can meet their contact and Cowan after the show. Up close, Cowan looks strange and bloated: the kind of puffiness seen in a waterlogged sponge. Her eyes are lively and unfocused.

It soon becomes apparent that their contact is greatly under the thrall of Cowan. If the players don’t show suitable supplication, she will attack them.

Cowan’s apparent human form is actually a waxen husk, filled with a smack of jellyfish. As her body is damaged, these jellyfish swarm into the air. At its core is a sentient faceless beetle, the size of a large cat.

Ellen Cowan – flesh husk; Athletics 7, Scuffling 13, Health 2; slam attack (-1 damage). When damaged, the husk releases a cloud of jellyfish. Avoiding them requires an Athletics test (difficulty: twice the number of strikes she’s suffered); failure means being stung (-2 damage).

Once the husk is destroyed, Cowan’s core attacks.

Cowan – faceless beetle core; Athletics 10, Scuffling 8, Health 8; razorlimbs (+0 damage); armour: -1 (chitinous hide).

If the player’s survive, their contact is desolate at the loss of Cowan. There is a very real chance that the jellyfish will settle on her weeping form.

Leaving the Venue
The pub beneath the theatre is empty. None of the patrons or staff are present, and the antlers above the bar are drooping like a parched flower. Allow players a Sense Trouble test (difficulty: 4) to notice the strangeness beyond the pub’s windows before they leave…

Outside the pub is no longer the teeming streets of London, but rather the desolate conurbation of Carcosa – a revelation that shears 3 Stability points & 1 Sanity point from all who survive.

– FIN –

Three Weeks gives THE KING IN YELLOW two iä!s – a module for Trail of Cthulhu

MIND WHAT YOU READ at the Etcetera Theatre

This year has been a really good one for my performing aspects – successful runs at the Camden Fringe and the London Horror Festival each, increasing numbers of close up gigs and seemingly an increasing chunk of luck. I went to a really interesting talk last Monday about marketing fringe theatre and happened to chance into the manager of the Etcetera Theatre who had a particular problem:

“I’ve had a couple of late slots open up — are you based in London?”*

The answer to that leads to an exciting announcement — I will be bringing back my show MIND WHAT YOU READ from this year’s Camden Fringe to the Etcetera Theatre.

Whilst I am really excited for the show — it’s probably the favourite of my three stage shows — reimagining it for a different venue isn’t without challenge. The Etcetera has more stage space than the Phoenix Artist Club, which is especially a bonus for the routines where I have multiple participants on stage with me. It also has raked seating instead of cabaret style set-up: both a boon and a drawback. While it makes the visibility on stage much better, I did find that inviting participants to the stage during FOLKLORE UNTO HIMSELF from the far side of the auditorium took a little bit of shuffling people around!

I’ll just need to bear that in mind.

The show was the lucky recipient of four stars and a lovely write-up from Views from the Gods and will be performed at the late (9.30pm) slots on Friday 14th and Wednesday 19th November.


Oh, and bring your favourite book.

* I’m loosely paraphrasing here so as to avoid slanderous litigation.

** That’s what she said.

MIND WHAT YOU READ at the Etcetera Theatre

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.

On Monday 13th October, I have another show at the Phoenix Artist Club. It’s called MIND GAMES*.

Would you play cards with a mindreader?

This is why you should.

Monday plans start the week right

Most people hate Mondays – but having a plan to do something that evening really takes the sting out of it. Your Monday will be more productive because of that: that’ll set up your most successful week this autumn.

You’ll learn some new games

If you’re anything like me, you burn through games fast. Things stop being fun when they’re no longer a challenge. I’ll teach you two brand new games you can play with your friends**!

I’m really excited for the finale

I haven’t been this excited about a card trick for about six years. And the last one made a guy run off.

MIND GAMES starts at eight on Monday 13th. It’s first come, first served on the door so you should buy online to guarantee your space. Tickets are £5.

* A title that everyone seems to be using at the moment.

** They will remain friends during at least one of those games.

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.

Belt Up’s ‘The Boy James’

Last night, I took my girlfriend to see the play that made Stephen Fry cry.

I’ve been a big fan of Belt Up Theatre for a long time now, ever since hearing of their Women of Troy from the Edinburgh Fringe 2008, and subsequently seeing them and their “Squat” at the Fringe in 2009. There, I was lucky enough to experience their Dreamscapes twice. They were unforgettable experiences, which still come back to me when I write or toy with concepts of legerdemain. I urge you to see them wherever possible.

Belt Up’s theatre is incredible: their focus on audience impact (largely through audience interaction) is unlike anything else I have seen in the realm of theatre – albeit a common and successful (if necessary!) trope of platform magic. I would go so far as to say that I consider Belt Up’s work true theatrical magic.

The play is dark, and strange, and either manifestative or symbolic, or both. Or neither. Perhaps the part I most enjoy when thinking about one of their plays is the question of what role the audience play. I’m not entirely sure if we were meant to be imagining of the blissful young boy James (at least, at its outset), or legitimately present.

However, the journey home had my girlfriend and I mostly talking about the (warped?) character of the girl. Agressive and sexualised, we were not sure if she was real or imagined. Our conclusion (mostly drawn from our respective study of Victorian literature and culture) was that the play represents the imaginings of the boy James – that he still appears to himself as young as he feels, whilst might instead have physically aged, thus bringing with it the hormones and effects of an older boy. We thought the agression came from this, and the disturbing sequence where the girl is demanding of the boy James’ “attention”, we decreed to be manifest masturbation guilt.

My other suggestion was that she was a succubbus, but that arises from nowhere in particular. (Other than the Otherworld.)

Either way, the play was decidedly moving. We might not have had to dry our eyes at the end, but we definitely had to steel our hearts.

The play? Recommended.

The company? Required.

Belt Up’s ‘The Boy James’