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.

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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.

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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

Poet Tree

I have a terrible tendency for misspelling the words poetry (see above) or pome, which may or may not be inherited affectations from an English teacher. That being said, I am naturally drawn to creating humorous* misspellings surprisingly often.

What I am not so naturally drawn to creating is the aforementioned tree itself. I do not know why, particularly, considering that I have naturally created prose in sheathfulls. Maybe when most were going through that teenage phase of angsty pomes, I found myself writing gamebooks or variably complex systems for role playing games. Considering the numerical focus of my writings’ development at this time, it is perhaps unsurprising that I (may) have taken to poetry in the manner I seem to be at the moment.

I am currently reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which has stared at me for from a variety of bookshelves, if never my own. I am now borrowing milady’s copy, and am sixty or so pages in – on the fifth exercise.

What I am enjoying most about it is the whittling craft of it, at least under Stephen’s tutelage. It is the shaping of meter** and the warping of words, and less the act of creation. It’s not the preconsidered product but the process.

I can only remember writing one poem off my own back. It’s called Pearl Hoard and came to me whilst I rode beside the North Sea. I don’t know if my future pomes will be similarly horror or else another genre. I like the idea of staying to a genre though – and sci-fi quite appeals.

Hmmm… A cyberpunk poem..?

* In my opinion, if not others’.

** As an archaist, I am in agreement with Fry’s preference.

Poet Tree

What if?

A recent interview with Gary McMahon at the horror review site brought up something that I think is especially important in all creative enterprises:

To be honest, the hummingbirds came about as a personal dare. I always challenge myself to do difficult things in my novels – I wrote a 93,000-word zombie story without mentioning the Z Word; the ghosts Thomas Usher sees are never allowed to speak to him; and with The Concrete Grove I set myself the task of making a hummingbird, surely one of the most beautiful sights on the planet, scary.

I have to admit that I’ve yet to read McMahon, so I can’t judge his success.

However, the whole concept of restriction, of arbitrary rules, is of key importance to good storytelling.

Restriction breeds creativity.* Restriction forces originality,  it forces change. Rather than binding thought, restriction enlivens the final story – whatever the genre. It engages the writers’ craft.

It would be like encouraging new growth by cutting back dead wood, but I’ve restricted my use of plant metaphors in this post.

You can’t use them in the comments, either.

* As MaRo proclaims.


What if?

En Passant

I cannot remember when I first played chess. Early memories include losing to Dad very often, playing an exciting animated computer version where capturing pieces fought the captured, and peculiar rules variants I created based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail – especially the rules for Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. Ever since I learned its rules, its been a game I’ve held an interest in but never held much skill.

My strategy game of choice (on an elliptical cycle, partially based on cash revenue) tends to be Magic: The Gathering. I enjoy its flexibility, the freedom and creativity in creating a deck from collectable trading cards, and the silly, silly things I can sometimes do. Whilst I have often tried to sell my father the tactical and strategic strengths of MTG, he struggles to see it. It’s probably because my major draw is the creativity inherent in the game.Magic is a game of breaking rules, chess one of applying them.

That being said, I do enjoy subverting these rules. I like playing unorthodox openings. I like winning.

I don’t win very often.

I’ve gotten better recently, through a course of Chessmaster lessons and reading a book on better chess*, and now can just edge out my father (who rarely practises these days).

I still can’t beat my phone. A long while back, I downloaded a chess game for my HTC. The interface is beautifully simple and simply beautiful. The AI is hard, and in itself I see this as a major selling point.**

I can beat my dad because I want to. I invest more because the opponent is important.

I should really learn to invest more when I want to.

* Excitingly titled Teach Yourself: Better Chess.

** If you’ve an Android and even a passing interest in chess, I’d highly recommend this app. It’s free and Open Source at its best.

En Passant