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Tabletop Game / The Yellow King
aka: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game

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The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is a Tabletop RPG written by Robin Laws and published by Pelgrane Press in 2018, using a modified version of the GUMSHOE system. Inspired by Robert W. Chambers' short story collection The King in Yellow, it pits the characters, through multiple selves and timelines against the reality-altering horror of the eponymous play. YKRPG comes included with four unique settings, and each has a slightly different version of the game:

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  • Paris, set in contemporary (1895) Paris, where The King in Yellow is first printed and published. Players take the roles of American art students navigating the Parisian demimonde and investigating weird mysteries as the dread play begins to overwrite the city with the supernatural reality of Carcosa.
  • The Wars, set in the great European Continental War of 1947, influenced by mysterious forces from Carcosa. Players portray French soldiers trying to survive on the battlefield and investigating occult mysteries of the King and his daughters.
  • Aftermath, taking place in 2017 America, in the same timeline as The Wars. The tyrannical Carcosa-backed Castaigne regime has just been overthrown, and players play as ex-resistance fighters trying to rebuild the USA while hunting down the monsters, remnants of the previous regime.
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  • This Is Normal Now, set in the 2017 mostly as we know it, albeit one subtly corrupted by supernatural beings and maddening reality shifts from the corners.
Each of these settings can be used standalone, but YKRPG is designed to be played an overarching story across all four.

This game provides examples of:

    In General 
  • Alien Sky: Carcosa has twin suns, which set in tandem. Mentions of its perpetual gloom suggest that the day sky is gray and overcast.
  • Alternate Continuity: In the overall continuity of Chambers' stories, most events in "The Repairer of Reputations", except for the fact that Hildred Castaigne read the play, should be interpreted as the delusional ravings of an Unreliable Narrator. In the timeline of The Wars and Aftermath, some of the events in "The Repairer of Reputations" literally took place, but instead of ending with the death of Mr. Wilde, and later Castaigne's death in a mental ward, Wilde and Castaigne somehow win.
  • Alternate History: The Wars and Aftermath take place in an alternate reality where Hildred Castaigne succeeded in becoming Emperor of America while two alliances battle for control over Europe in a Continental War of 1947. Player characters unravel supernatural mysteries arising from the Carcosan phenomenon that generated this alternate reality.
  • Alternate Universe: The events of Paris gave birth to all of the other settings. Anything that happened in that sequence belongs to a shared past history. Sometime between Paris and 1920, the timeline branched. One branch was the timeline shared by The Wars (1947) and Aftermath (2017). Another branch of that timeline led to the mostly familiar world of This Is Normal Now.
  • Antagonist Title: The Yellow King RPG, named after the Big Bad.
  • Big Bad: The King in Yellow, lord of Carcosa and incarnation of shattered reality, intent on invading and remoulding our world into a colony of his planet, Carcosa. The PCs' endless, inexplicable struggle all occurs at his behest.
  • Canon Discontinuity: This game strips away the Cthulhu elements (including August Derleth's version of the Yellow King as a manifestation of a malign grub-like god called Hastur) to build its own mythology atop Chambers' work.
  • Deadly Book: The play The King in Yellow, which overwrites reality with the supernatural reality of an alien world called Carcosa. Reading the play will either lead to madness or a dark fate: the King might use them as pawns in his earthly schemes, shatter their ability to perceive reality, or kill them.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The supplement Absinthe in Carcosa is presented as the in-universe scrapbook written by an American art student studying in Paris fin de siècle.
  • The Dragon: The most prominent members of the King's court are his daughters, Camilla and Cassilda. They might aid their father's invasion, compete against him to take over the world, or one might side with humanity and thwart him.
  • Easter Egg: References to a few of Chambers' tales (other than The King in Yellow) are sprinkled throughout the game's four sequences. As Robin D. Laws stated it:
    These appear as Easter eggs as a belated reward to those who have made the mistake of spending their time reading those tedious stories. If you haven't, don't let this game trick you into it. They truly are terrible.
  • Eldritch Location: Carcosa is an alien place where the King dwells, separated from us by either the gulf of space, aeons of time, or both. Carcosa might be a mystical realm, pocket dimension, or an ancient civilisation on Earth, but most clues point to a distant, alien world.
  • Fish People: The clawed, fish-headed denizens of Lake Hali.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: The King in Yellow speaks with threatening formality and an elevated, somewhat archaic parlance.
  • Hell: One of Chambers' references calls Carcosa an awful abode of lost souls. This suggests that its inhabitants all came here from somewhere else. Is Carcosa a hell where the spirits of people who died elsewhere transmigrate after death?
  • Humanoid Abomination: The King in Yellow, human-shaped incarnation of shattered reality, and his inhuman humanoid courtiers.
  • Hybrid Monster: The earthly notion of species doesn't apply to Carcosan beings. They possess a genetic variability allowing them to mate across radically different body morphologies.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: The game can be played in one of two modes: Horror mode, which is tougher and likely yields a higher character death rate; and Occult Adventure, which is more forgiving.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Carcosans wear white, mask-like visages mirroring their ruler.
  • Occult Detective: In all four settings, player characters embark on investigations to uncover weird mysteries related to the influence of Carcosa on the world.
  • Possessing a Dead Body: One might encounter the King on Earth, animating a recently deceased corpse found close to the person he wants to converse with or murder.
  • Recurring Boss: A Patchwork first encountered in 1895 might reappear in any or all of the game's later realities.
  • Sentient Stars: Mr. Wilde's imperial lineage starts with the world of Carcosa itself, then lists Hastur, the Hyades, and Aldebaran. In your game, you may decide to take this as literal evidence of star gods even more powerful than the King.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The GM decides whether Camilla and Cassilda are rivals or working together.
  • Surreal Horror: Chambers creates the horror of the Yellow King through suggestion. They give us hints and snippets about this entity and his world, not all of which line up with one another. Some references make no literal sense. Others come from unreliable witnesses or delusional narrators. What is real can never be pinned down. Something you reveal to be objectively true might later stand revealed as another layer of deception. Or maybe it used to be true, but what is real has shifted.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Chambers' stories are told by first-person narrators who have already gone mad due to exposure from The King in Yellow or may get their information from others who have. As the GM, you can have various NPCs, perhaps including the King himself, offer various explanations of the book and its accompanying outbreak of eerie happenings. You might decide in advance that a certain theory about Carcosa's underlying reality is the true one or keep it an open question until you absolutely have to decide one way or the other. Given that the Carcosa effect causes reality to shift, the initial truth might mutate over time. You may find that you never need to explain anything—that the contradictory possibilities are more fun than a neat tying up of loose ends. However, if you're circling back to do a climax that connects all four sequences, the final truth probably plays into that in some way.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifter: Carcosans reshape their bodies at will, sprouting fangs, popping claws out of their fingertips, or turning their hands into fleshy power drills. They may look male, female, or neither.
  • Was Once a Man: Alts, a class of foes referring to supernatural beings who used to be human.
  • White Sheep: At least one of the King's daughters might side with humanity against her father because his victory would bring doom to Carcosa as well as Earth, she has fallen in love with a PC, or her exposure to our world has infected her with an empathy the rest of her family will always lack.

    Paris 
  • Achilles' Heel: A vampire can only be destroyed by a stake through the heart, silver bullets, decapitation, or another weakness specific to the individual; otherwise, when apparently destroyed, it reforms, angry and vengeful.
  • Action Mom: Compared by journalists of the Commune to vengeful maenads, pétroleuses sometimes committed revolutionary arson with their children in tow.
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: The name of the Lapin Agile bar comes from its painted sign, depicting a rabbit escaping from a frying pan. This is where characters come to establish their underworld contacts.
  • Advanced Ancient Humans: Alexandre Saint-Yves believes that though the surface world has lost touch with the truth, millions dwell in Agarttha, a subterranean realm benevolently overseen by a trinity of rulers: a Brahatmah (God-soul), Mahatma (Great Soul) and Mahanga (Great Path). It relocated underground, far below the plateaux of Tibet, during the Hindu dark age three thousand years ago, protecting its people and advanced technology from encroaching disaster.
  • Ancient Tomb: Haussmann turned the former site of Paris' Knights Templar fortress into one of its public squares. It must certainly have a secret crypt worth digging into in the dead of night.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Police chief Louis Lépine bears the nickname Little Man with the Big Stick as if it was intended as a compliment.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Anatole France might vex the party by ignorantly debunking events they know to be genuinely supernatural. However, it is possible that his sceptical pose serves merely as a shield. Does he debunk to slow the spread of the Yellow Sign?
  • Atlantis: The most famous myth of Brittany tells of the lost city of Ys. Legend situates it in the Bay of Douarnenez, about 50 kilometres northeast of Pont-Aven. Ys either sits on an island or is ringed by a basin that captures the incoming waves and protects it from flooding. Its virtuous Christian prince, Gradlon, fails to see the evil of his daughter, the sorceress Dahut. Her many sins lead to the city's sinking beneath the waves, either due to a spell gone awry or when she accidentally opens the floodgates while sneaking her lover into the city. This tale may reflect in garbled form a Carcosan incursion into our world, during the Dark Ages or earlier. If so, Ys would have been a Carcosan city on Earth, destroyed the King in Yellow and his evil daughters were banished from this reality.
  • The Atoner: The scandal surrounding Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against the Grain may have been the inspiration for Chambers' decadent play. If Huysmans had a hand in creating The King in Yellow, he tries to atone for his cosmic blunder by guiding the cast in finding and destroying them any remaining copies.
  • Back from the Dead: Poets Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and the Comte de Lautréamont Isidore-Lucien Ducasse are already dead, having passed in 1867, 1891 and 1870, respectively. That might not stop the King in Yellow from reanimating them or summoning their spectres.
  • Berserk Button: Auguste Rodin may fly into a rage if asked weird questions about statues, flashing back to that time in 1877 when he was accused of casting his unsettlingly vivid The Bronze Age from a corpse.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: During the Commune a cadre of female anarchists terrorised the bourgeoisie by setting gasoline bottles alight and tossing through the basement windows of rich homes. The King in Yellow has conjured them back, in ghostly form, translucent and wreathed in flame.
  • Buried Alive: After the massacre of the Commune, the park surrounding the Tour Saint-Jacques became an impromptu mass grave. Witnesses still speak of arms jutting from shallow pits, of the moans of those buried alive. If the King in Yellow feeds on the dark energies emitted by the city's undigested sins, surely these dead will stir themselves, in spirit if not in flesh.
  • Call-Forward: Young Marcel Proust says that one day he'll take the things he's discovered in his explorations of Parisian society and turn it into a novel. He's not sure how he can fit them all into one book (which would, in the future, hold the Guinness Book of Records title as Longest Novel).
  • Da Chief: Louis Lépine's improved training for Paris policemen includes compulsory military training. In keeping with this effort, he has rooted out corrupt and lazy policemen, many of whom pray for his comeuppance, so things can go back to normal and they can get their jobs back. The right applauds his tight grip on the police baton; the left predicts that he will soon overreact to a trivial incident and plunge the city into chaos. The contacts the characters can raise with Cop Talk undoubtedly quail at crossing the fearsome prefect.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The spread of the horla phenomenon resembles an epidemic: belief in horla spawns more horla. Suppressing a horla epidemic can prove difficult, as it involves convincing people that there is no horla epidemic.
  • Country Mouse: If you and your players are French, the game recommends casting your characters as provincials living in Paris for the first time.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Young women who die near the Seine, particularly if they drown, may return as tangible spirits called dames blanches. They look faded, yet more lovely than in life. Attracted by the music of dance halls and night spots, they mingle among the throng in search of suggestible celebrants incautious enough to ignore their eerie qualities.
  • Deadly Book: A few years from now, Pyotr Rachkovsky commissions a text called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This anti-Semitic hoax ripples through history, gaining a hold on conspiratorial minds that continues to this day. Did Rachkovsky learn to how to imbue the written word with thought-degrading properties by studying The King in Yellow?
  • Deal with the Devil: An egregore acts as a spirit guide to questing occultists, using its ghostly powers to grant would-be magicians the illusion of spiritual progress. In return for these gifts, the egregore requires the protégé to commit acts of calculated cruelty.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • The horla is an invisible spirit that haunts a chosen victim. By sensing and contemplating the presence of the horla, the victim becomes more and more obsessed by it. Unless somehow able to free themselves, the target eventually dies of apparently natural causes.
    • The matagot is a spirit bound to the service of a Carcosan royal or noble. It can possess any mammal smaller than a mastiff, telepathically transmitting what it sees, hears and smells to its master, remaining in place until the host dies.
  • Destructive Romance: Korrigans hunt by emotional entrapment, winning the love of their victims over a period of weeks or months. At the end of the courtship, the target signs an agreement consigning his (or, more rarely, her) soul to the korrigan, to be sold to the head of a noble Carcosan household.
  • Dishonored Dead: The unworthy dead come to Saint-Ouen, including criminals whose graves may not legally be marked.
  • Eat the Dog: During the Siege of Paris, the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes sacrificed its exhibits to nourish the well-connected. César Ritz may tell the PCs of his time when, as young chef of the Restaurant Voisin, his menu items included spaniel and elephant trunk with sauce chasseur.
  • Emotion Eater: The eerily luminescent soul moths feed on emotion and memory.
  • The Fair Folk: In Breton folklore the term korrigan may refer to any faerie creature, or to a version of the classic alluring faerie maiden who lures young men away from this world into an unholy supernatural realm. Do these tales reflect past eras of Carcosan influence on Earth, when they came here to take slaves? Korrigans look like red-haired humans of great physical allure and indeterminate age. Their delicate beauty may strike wary observers as alien or eerie.
  • Fantastic Science: Camille Flammarion and Albert de Rochas seek scientific understanding of paranormal phenomena. Flammarion's insistence on explaining Carcosan events through his established pet theories may lead the heroes astray.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Carcosa's alien energies have corrupted the laws of science. Someone believing himself to be a modern Prometheus might sew together body parts from corpses and animate the resulting hodgepodge. The resurrected creature gains intelligence and a semblance of personality from the brain used in the procedure.
  • Gang Bangers: Restless, unemployed youths from the banlieues roam through Paris, sometimes running wild through crowds, slashing throats with knives out. Disorganised for now, in half a decade they will become the so-called Apaches: hyper-violent, heavily armed street gangs who affect outrageously dandified attire.
  • Gargle Blaster: Absinthe remains the totemic drink of Parisian excess. Its real danger comes from its devastatingly high alcohol content, paired with the tendency of drinkers to slug it back as quickly as they would wine. And they slug back their wine as they would their beer.
  • The Gay '90s: In the Paris portion, players take on the roles of students of various arts learning their craft and soaking in the sights and delights of the City of Lights in 1895.
  • Genuine Human Hide: Two years prior, as deputy chief, Marie-François Goron helped investigate the murder of celebrated courtesan Régine de Montille. Scandal erupted around him when it was revealed that he and other top officers commissioned cardholders and books bound in the skin of the alleged perpetrator.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Guy de Maupassant died halfway through 1893, after a paranoia-fueled suicide attempt and commitment to a Paris asylum. They say it was syphilis, but could he have seen intimations of Carcosa, as reflected in his classic 1887 horror story "The Horla"?
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Imperial National Library on Rue de Richelieu houses the world's largest collection of books. The PCs might find themselves frantically scheming to either keep a copy of The King in Yellow out of its stacks, or remove one that has already been placed there.
  • The Grim Reaper: Breton folklore describes the Ankou, a skeletal female Grim Reaper who seeks the souls of those soon to die. The Carcosan entity Bretons might identify as an Ankou is a spirit that sustains itself on the souls of the recently dead.
  • Hell: Behind the demonic open mouth of the Cabaret de l'Enfer, revelers drink around a cauldron, the band wears devil costumes and the servers dress as imps.
  • Hellhole Prison: Women who run afoul of the justice system end up in the Prison Saint-Lazare, which is frequently condemned for appalling conditions.
  • Hell Hound: Yeth-hounds are headless, quasi-substantial, canine-shaped beings that strike terror into those unfortunate enough to behold them. Because they have no apparent heads, investigators may be surprised when their invisible teeth tear through clothing to rend flesh.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: In the farmlands surrounding Paris, the heroes might find cannibalistic or murderous peasants (a staple of French horror then and now).
  • Historical-Domain Character: Numerous notable, real people of Belle Époque Paris are presented for inclusion in your Carcosa-haunted scenarios.
  • Howling to the Night: Yeth-hounds join each other in a hideous howling that sears the soul of those unlucky enough to hear.
  • Hulking Out: When a man transforms into a brute, muscles ripple to life, his skull thickens and widens, his hair lengthens and coarsens, sprouting from his cheeks, ears and neck. His voice drops an octave, discarding perfect elocution for the patois of the gutters.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Any proper right-wing rag would seize on sensational crime stories whenever they appear.
  • I Have Many Names: Luigi Parmeggiani's criminal gang is variously known as L'Anomito or L'Anonymat or L'Initiative Libre or Les Intransigeant or Le Groupe des Introuvables. When crime becomes poetry, there's no such thing as having too many names for your gang.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: During the hard times of the Franco-Prussian war, some starved peasants sustained themselves by eating corpses on the battlefield. The resulting humain bourguignon left some with a taste for this most forbidden delicacy.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Many aristocrats have fallen on hard times and are forced to slowly selling the family jewels. Hereditary rank can't be lost, no matter the scandal. The term déclassé means a person of high social rank who behaves disgracefully, perhaps because he has run out of money.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: A meek, physically unimpressive aesthete, academic or scientist might, after exposure to The King in Yellow, endure periodic transformations into a brute. The brute behaves in a violent and uninhibited way, indulging all the secret desires and aggressions he has long suppressed. The changes come at dusk; the brute reverts to true form either at dawn or when he falls asleep. The man behind the brute may clearly remember his nocturnal depredations, recall them as dreams, or forget everything.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Colonel Caoutchouc scams his way through the Continent's over-moneyed class, targeting those who offend his socialist ideals.
  • Living Statue: When you have a sculptor character type and a horror setting, the question is not 'Will the characters fight an animated statue?' It is, 'How long will it take them to fight an animated statue?'
  • The Lost Lenore: A melancholy surrounds Gustave Moreau. Others at the École des Beaux-Arts might discreetly explain that he mourns the death of his longtime model and lover Alexandrine Dureux, five years ago.
  • Mad Scientist: Macabre experimenters follow a perverse compulsion to reconfigure the anatomies of the helpless.
  • Master of Disguise: The greatest quarry of the French police, wanted from London to Johannesburg, is a wily master of disguise known in France as Colonel Caoutchouc. Aliases include Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon, the Honourable David Granton, Count von Lebenstein, Professor Schleiermacher, Dr. Quackenboss and Antonio Herrera. Often he will grift the same victim many times over, under a different identity each time. Will he reveal that he is really an Englishman named Paul Finglemore? Probably not.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: If a legendary vampire makes eye contact with a character, it can issue a simple verbal instruction which usually must be obeyed.
  • Mind Rape: Mesmerists fight by convincing their enemies they're physically wounding them, when really they're destroying their minds.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: In 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jewish army officer, has been court-martialed and convicted on espionage charges. False reports of a confession lead most to believe in his guilt. Only a few, most notably the writers Émile Zola and Edmond de Goncourt, suspect the truth: he's been framed by incompetent military investigators.
  • The Muse: The name of one of the fields of study, referring to a member of the arts scene who does not personally create anything, but rather provides inspiration, impetus, and maybe organisational work to artists.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: A man can be forgiven a peccadillo or two, but his sister can be ruined and bring shame upon the entire family by much less. A married middle-class woman caught in an affair brings unthinkable dishonour. A man in the same predicament can expect a good tut-tutting over his damn fool conduct.
  • Nightmare Sequence: In a recent incident a cloaked, menacing figure slid into Edmond Bailly's shop to convince him to accept a case of copies of The King in Yellow on consignment. Bailly refused, and terrifying dreams have plagued him ever since.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Characters may also be surprised to discover that great swathes of the City of Lights, even heavily trafficked ones, are dark at night. A few key boulevards were electrified a few years back, but electricity is much more expensive than in other major cities. Even the gaslight system, which earned Paris its nickname, has been stingily deployed.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Dames blanches seek only respite from the loneliness of the grave, but their touch ages the objects of their longing.
  • Not Himself: Odilon Redon has been suffering from a mysterious illness for the last year or so. Historically, his recovery led to a radical shift in personality, becoming an outgoing, contented man. Do the heroes bring about this transformation by saving him from Carcosa's clutches?
  • Nouveau Riche: Established sorts sniff at those who attempt to better themselves, mostly educated middle-class young men from the provinces. Such is the upper-crust disdain for social climbers that Parisian doctors consider ambition an actual mental illness.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The dragon of the Seine, supposedly slain by the 7th century bishop St. Romanus of Rouen, may reappear in haunted Paris. It might be the ghost of the original dragon, a hallucination given partial substance by Carcosan energy, or a predator that found a gate between worlds while swimming in Hali's depths.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: Paris' remaining medieval architecture veritably crawls with gargoyles, and the Yellow King might take an animating interest in the Notre-Dame de Paris' gargoyles and long-beaked chimeras.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Most ghosts exist as spectral images frozen in time, mindlessly reenacting moments from the lives they echo. Others appear to be alive, breathing and corporeal, and a rare few can perceive and attack the living.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires are supernatural bloodsuckers, vulnerable to standard vampire weaknesses (crosses, garlic, fire) and an oddball one.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: A walking corpse has regained animation, but no will or volition, through the alien energy that bled to Earth after the publication of The King in Yellow. It wanders around frightening people, only attacking if provoked. Unlike a Romero zombie, it does not eat flesh, nor does it infect survivors.
  • Public-Domain Character: Colonel Caoutchouc (or as he is originally known as, Colonel Clay) is a fictional character starring in Grant Allen's 1897 novel An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay.
  • Rapid Aging: The dame blanche's touch ages the objects of their longing. A kiss steals a month; an embrace, a year; and a night, decades.
  • Resurrective Immortality: The Patchwork displays a surprising propensity for returning to imitation life after its seeming destruction.
  • Retired Badass: Gail Loveless, an American spy novelist living in Paris, claims to base her fiction on her own true experiences working with Allan Pinkerton under the code name of Secret Service Operator 13. Though not the athletic young lady she was thirty years ago, Gail still knows her way around a pistol and retains her nose for danger.
  • Secret Police: Pyotr Rachkovsky founded and runs the Okhrana, the Czar's foreign secret service, from two modest offices in the Russian Imperial Consulate in Paris. Rachkovsky spies on, infiltrates, provokes, and arranges for the arrest of revolutionaries and anarchists hoping to overthrow the Czar.
  • Spider Swarm: The hard-shelled, fist-sized spiders of Carcosa with gnawing mandibles capable of rending human flesh can't be described as spiders. The ninth leg affixed to the back of the abdomen, used for leaping, rules that out. Nonetheless, when you see a scuttling swarm of them, your first impulse will be to yell 'Spiders!'
  • Spooky Painting: Odilon Redon dives further than any other Symbolist into the realm of the grotesque, and the images in his paintings can be seen in the flesh when one glimpses Carcosa. The Smiling Spider has a human face and it's not smiling, it's weeping. The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity depicts an eyeball floating like a balloon; its basket is a strange combination of hat and skull.
  • Spooky Séance: Jules Doinel has received regular visits from the spirits of medieval Cathars. The foremost shade appearing at his séances is Catharism's top theologian, Guilhabert de Castres.
  • Stern Teacher: Painters in the group may take classes under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts and find him a harsh but accurate critic. Perhaps he's seen past students destroyed by The King in Yellow and wants to shepherd the next crop to properly fight it. But make no mistake: he won't ease up on grades just because you've been out fighting all night!
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Nadar used to fly The Giant, a massive, ungainly double-decker balloon over Paris, and made a living by charging tourists to take the ride.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Along with his four-volume autobiography, an unfinished work he will publish a couple of years from now, Marie-François Goron later writes pulpy detective fiction. Do his turn-of-the-century tales of an evil alchemist master criminal equipped with a flying machine owe inspiration to his activities with the player characters?
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Paris in 1895 is relatively well-policed and has a lower crime rate than, say, London. When Baron Haussmann renovated the city two generations ago, he drove the poor out of the city centre to its outlying urbanised areas that are now referred to by a new term: banlieues.
  • You Killed My Father: Each night washer haunting the banks of the Seine resembles a long-deceased relative of a recent victim of an unjust death. When one brings the person responsible for the injustice to the Seine, the night washer pulls the victim into the river (unless prevented), vanishing forever after the corpse washes up.
  • Younger Than They Look: Stooped, bald, white-bearded and hollow-eyed, the revered Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine looks a good two decades older than his age of 51 would indicate.
  • Young Future Famous People: At this stage, Henri Matisse, the future towering figure of modernism, is a young student still painting in a conventional style. He might provide a fun cameo as a rough contemporary of the PCs, struggling just as they are.

    The Wars 
  • Achilles' Heel: Each duchess of death is vulnerable to bladed weapons doused in a particular herb or resin, a weakness placed on them by the King in Yellow before he allowed them to come to Earth. If any of them threaten him, he can whisper the name of the substance into the ears of a dupe or henchman.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: Animate hedgehogs become receptacles for spirits of the vengeful dead. They leave their posts in darkness to attack and feast on human foes, making no distinction between Loyalists and the enemy.
  • Armchair Military: The higher up the chain of command you go, the more fervently French officers prize maintaining the honour of the military. Conversely, the further down you go, the more you find officers who care about winning battles and grumblingly disregard rear echelon types with their heads up their arses.
  • Armored Coffins: Minisubs are known colloquially as 'Lethal Chambers', after the American booths in which citizens commit suicide, as they all too often take their crews on a permanent voyage to the sea bed.
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: One of a gravegrinder larva's arms terminates in a jagged spearpoint of sharpened bone.
  • The Blank: The whatsisname's true form is a pallid humanoid with a featureless face.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: All handheld weapons bear heavy ornamentation. Inlaid carving on wooden gun butts feature patriotic scenes or portraits of historical generals, and make equivalent weapons of the combatant nations easy to spot from a distance. A PC disguising himself as an enemy soldier had better equip himself with the appropriately ornamented corresponding weapons. Removing them makes the guns somehow less effective, as if reality has been warped to please the aesthetic sense of game-playing aliens.
  • Bling of War: Throughout the conflict, French uniforms retain a colour and ceremonial sash that disappeared amid the grim practicalities of warfare in our 20th century. This reflects the typical taste for ornament of the Carcosan court.
  • Bomb Disposal: Minesweepers are filled with naval engineers capable of disabling mines of all types.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Aircraft carriers are called platforms in this timeline, and have yet to make it past the blueprint stage.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The warhorse can be identified as a reptilian predator with an equine body shape and razor-sharp teeth.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Reactive camouflage changes a plane's paint job to vanish against a blue, gray or night sky.
  • Comm Links: The item of technology most important to the investigators is their communications device, the boîtenoire. In a reality where radio and television are undiscovered, this typewriter-like device provides wireless, two-way, near real-time contact between soldiers and commanders.
  • Dark Action Girl: Inspired by Cassilda and Camilla, high-ranking women of the Carcosan court have abandoned their duties to roam the battlefield, killing for sport. Some death duchesses carve out fiefdoms for themselves, defending them with terrified villagers and shanghaied deserters.
  • Eagle Squadron: The Flying Bobcats are made up from the black sheep of prominent Castaignite families from America (a neutral country) and fly for both the Loyalist and enemy sides.
  • Emotion Eater: Ebon toads feed from the emotional distress their manifestations, known as phantasms, cause.
  • Enemy Summoner: To deal with enemy shipwreck survivors, ships might fire a special shell called a Neptune. The Neptune-A attracts giant squid; the Neptune-S, sharks.
  • Extra Eyes: A row of black dots across the face serve as a redmedic's eyes. When it needs to see better, it grows more, which it can later reabsorb.
  • First-Name Basis: Farmers tend to introduce themselves by first name only. When people in the same area share names, a nickname like Old or Young or Fat still wins out over a surname.
  • Fragile Speedster: The dragonfly's great manoeuvrability comes at the cost of fragility: they are vulnerable to small arms fire and crash too frequently.
  • Giant Squid: Giant squid have come to infest the Mediterranean since the two sides began sinking each other's vessels.
  • Hallucinations: Hali clusters attach themselves magnetically to the hulls of submersibles, causing the crew to vividly hallucinate their past misdeeds. A variation, the cackler, inflicts auditory hallucinations of hideous laughter.
  • Honor Before Reason: On the whole the officer class considers maintaining its honour the highest-priority objective.
  • Human Disguise:
    • Phantasms impersonate the dead, hunting the grief-stricken victims who mourn them. Initially appearing benevolent and forgiving, they draw their victims close, then undergo an awful transformation.
    • The redmedic can disguise as an otherwise nondescript allied soldier bearing a medic's insignia. It appears to be administering medical treatment, while in truth it's inserting its jaw tendrils into the wound, establishing a link that allows it to absorb psychic and caloric energy from miles.
    • The whatisitsname slips in among a unit of soldiers, using limited mind control to make them confuse him for a member of their unit.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: Carcosan influence has altered the development of military technology. This reality's armaments both look and behave differently from those you'll find in the Osprey Publishing catalog. Visually, the armaments of the Continental War are more ornate than those of our early 20th century. The Art Nouveau style of the Belle Époque maintains its hold on European decorative trends, and its love of elaborate lines can be seen in everything. Its use of organic shapes is reflected in aircraft mimicking bats or insects, tanks with spidery legs, and grenades that unfold like deadly tulips. Some equipment defies natural law as we know it and can be explained only as the inbreak of a supernatural reality into our world.
  • In-Series Nickname: Loyalists call the enemy by a variety of insulting nicknames, but mostly simply as the Enemy.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Officers of the same rank frantically jockey not only for prestige and recognition, but more importantly for equipment, munitions and soldiers.
  • Invaded States of America: In the late teens Germany fought a war against the United States, which included an attempted invasion of the East Coast. The USA turned this invasion back, aided by the valour of its mounted Hussars.
  • Last-Name Basis: Comrades are mostly known by their surnames; given names appear in case a character asks.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: The name of the Turkish vampire model is Laiotă, which departs from the convention and is not that of a legendary vampire (like those of other countries), but instead the leader whose forces slew Vlad the Impaler.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: Members of the French Foreign Legion may have transferred into your squad, meaning that you can play people of any extraction, heritage or origin. If no player chooses to play French citizens, clearly you're a Foreign Legion unit seconded to the European battlefield.
  • Living Weapon: Suppurator bullets inject the wound with parasites that leak a distressing black ichor and interfere with the immune system.
  • Loud of War: Subsonic barrage emits a sound inaudible to the human ear that stresses the metabolism of enemy fighter pilots and troops on the ground.
  • Metamorphosis: The gravegrinder undergoes a two-stage life cycle, with a humanoid larval form that matures into a winged adult.
  • Military Mashup Machine: Top naval engineers on both sides work on dreadnoughts, battleships designed to walk on land on gigantic legs. Both alliances race to be the first to get this battleship-stalker hybrid out of drydock to end the war with city-smashing power. The appearance of dreadnoughts stomping from the sea might occur in the climactic sessions of your The Wars sequence, signalling the conflict's shattering final days.
  • Mission Control: The lieutenant PC receives orders from one step up in the chain of command, in the form of the capitaine, who, in a briefing with the lieutenant, sends the group out into the military danger of the week, acting on instructions from superiors. The commanding officer need not appear in person but may convey orders through the boîtenoire.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Where the boundaries between our reality and Carcosa thin, strange beasts called extrusions spontaneously appear. They exhibit an indistinct, contradictory anatomy combining elements of reptile, crab and sea urchin.
  • Molotov Truck: The hammerhead minisub essentially serves as a manned torpedo. Their crews pilot their heavily reinforced nose-cones into enemy ships and submarines. Half the time they survive to ram another day. Hammerhead crews undergo special psychological training to prepare themselves for their near-certain deaths.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Carcosan legends contradict themselves on soul butchers' origins and fundamental natures. Some say they're ghosts of sadistic and manipulative individuals whose great malice allows them a continued existence after death. Others describe them as intelligent but utterly cruel emanations of the baleful black stars.
  • New Meat: Tripod operators receive scant training and do not live long but can mow down dozens of opponents before being brought down by anti-stalker weaponry.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Nightmare grenades disperse low-level Carcosan radiation sheathed in fungal spores. When inhaled, the spores cause humans to relive their worst traumatic experiences.
  • Paper Tiger: Though they offer no physical threat, many observers find the sight of extrusions psychologically destabilising.
  • Playing Both Sides: The forces of Carcosa covertly manipulate both sides of the war.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: Each new character has a connection (chosen by the player) to their Paris character. Paris characters were by default in their early twenties in 1895, leaving open the possibility that at least some of them are alive and in their seventies half a century later. If not, they could have met the new characters in the past.
  • Raising the Steaks: On the warped battlefields of the Continental War, when countless animals die together, they form a swarm. Animals that can become swarms include rats, snakes, weasels, dogs, centipedes, birds and bats. They mindlessly attack any living things they come across.
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman:
    • This reality's 1920s didn't lay the groundwork for the rise of fascism. The American-German war of the teens didn't end in the harsh surrender terms as World War I, and the people who yearned to surrender themselves to cruel authority bowed down to the King in Yellow or one of his daughters instead of Hitler or Mussolini. In this timeline, a real-life high-level Nazi might be a nobody twisted by hatred and anti-Semitism but unable to leverage those impulses into power, a devoted henchman of Carcosa, an embittered ghost who feels that their life should have gone differently, or an ordinary person, haunted by terrible dreams in which they commit acts of unprecedented savagery.
    • Vidkun Quisling is an armaments alchemist and the inventor of quisling rounds, supernatural bullets which implant a compulsion to betray superiors.
    • Robert Desnos is a real estate agent and poet in his civilian life, and undertakes commando missions with unwavering determination. He is this timeline's version of the famed surrealist poet and hero of the Resistance, who died in a Czech concentration camp in 1945.
  • Sea Mine: Minelayers fill harbours and marine shipping routes with floating explosive devices.
  • Spawn Broodling: When a weeping mine explodes, killing a sapient being, the shrapnel feeds on the blood and transforms into a cloud of seeds that anchor themselves into the soil. If the seed germinates, the sac grows up around the bomb inside. When the bomb reaches full size, the weeping mine takes flight once more.
  • Stink Bomb: Stinker grenades clear earthly creatures from an area with a horrifying smell of putrescence and excrescence.
  • Synchronization: Phantasms are thoughtforms generated by ebon toads, malign intelligent animals native to Carcosa. When victims successfully dissipate a phantasm, the psychic backlash strikes and wounds the toad.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Seekers are marine mines that sniff out the psychic trails left by human fear, distress and claustrophobia, using them to locate manned vessels.
  • Team Switzerland: Emperor Hildred Castaigne of America has declined to intervene in the Continental War.
  • Telepathy: Phantasms scan the minds of their prey and instantly learn how to project a multi-sensory image of the recently deceased.
  • Theme Naming: Most feared vampire models include the Addhema (France), Varney (England), Nosferatu (Germany) and Vourdalak (Russia)
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines:
    • The most common aircraft in the war is the dragonfly, a helicopter that consists of a glassed-in cockpit divided into two bubbles recalling the eyes of its eponymous insect, and four wings that flap up and down, made from levitation glass, a piece of Carcosan technology.
    • Fixed-wing fighter planes are known as vampires, as the scollops on their wings look like bats.
    • Medium and heavy bombers closely resemble their World War II counterparts, except that the fuselage design evokes a praying mantis. For this reason, they are also known as deathpriests.
    • Test facilities in France, Germany and England are all working on enormous glass dirigibles, held aloft by enormous frames of levitation glass. They move slowly but would be able to carry a tremendous payload.
  • To Serve Man: Larval gravegrinders prefer to drink the blood of humans, but any large mammal will suffice.
  • Training from Hell: Crews of bombers equipped with the subsonic barrage device, and their fighter escorts, must train to resist its metabolism-stressing effect through exposure. The training has a high failure rate, rendering qualified pilots useless. As a result, only a few have been outfitted with these devices, and are deployed only on missions justifying the high toll on personnel.
  • Trick Bullet: Special forces or officers may have rare supernatural rounds in their ammo belts, like discouragers (which implant a psychic revulsion against crossing enemy lines), quislings (which implant a compulsion to betray superiors), suppurators (which inject parasites) and white-sky rounds (which induce an inhibition against attacking Carcosans).
  • Vampiric Draining: Gravegrinders hunt for blood and exsanguinate their prey with the feeding tube. They prefer human blood, but any large animal could suffice.
  • Walking Tank: In this timeline, heavily armoured land vehicles, known as stalkers, move not on treads, but on four or five thick legs of reinforced metal, powered by arcane hydraulics. A step down from the stalker is the tripod, a less formidable, more fragile but cheaper vehicle that, as the name suggests, walks on three slender legs.
  • War for Fun and Profit: War profiteers face the death penalty if caught but somehow manage to prosper between the cracks. The patrons protecting them might be corrupt officers, or Carcosan nobles.
  • Weakened by the Light: Animate hedgehogs become inanimate again at dawn and strive to return to their original posts before that. Those caught out freeze in place wherever they are, leading observers to wonder just who moved them in the night, and why no one heard the sound of the trucks needed for that task.
  • Weather-Control Machine: The Poseidon minisub is outfitted with special antennae that can quell or cause oceanic storms.
  • Weird Historical War: The Wars takes place in 1947, during a strange Continental War that rages across Europe, whose both sides are manipulated by Carcosa.

    Aftermath 
  • Achilles' Heel: When killed in combat, shades merely disperse for a day. To destroy one permanently, one must attack it with the object that mattered most to the shade when it was alive.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: As the economy stifled in the 50s and 60s, America's cities were filled with imposing, low-cost edifices of utilitarian concrete.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The argus is a strong, agile variant human species with coarse, long body hair that chiefly feeds on wild birds in the Florida Everglades. Some percentage of Bigfoot sightings, especially those of Florida's skunk ape, may in fact be argus encounters.
  • Brainwashed:
    • The Castaigne regime used loyalty chips to compel obedience from its operatives.
    • Lawn folk can establish a psychic link permitting them to remove, alter memories, or implant completely false recollections. During the regime some worked for the security apparatus, using their mental powers to turn dissidents into loyal mouthpieces of Castaignite ideology.
  • Break the Haughty: According to a theory, the Yellow Sign effect works most powerfully on the Anglo-European mind. The psychic vertigo induced by Carcosa attacks the mental fragility of those who regard themselves as inheritors and upholders of eternal civilised values. People who frequently hear these so-called values as justification of their oppression harbour no such illusions and lack the naïveté the play's decadent, alien second act uses to crack open the minds of vulnerable readers.
  • Brown Note: When worn, an aversion bracelet induces a dizzying anxiety whenever the wearer sees a Yellow Sign.
  • Clone Degeneration: Dupes (artificial clones of dissidents murdered by the DIS) are always slower, duller, less motivated and more forgetful than the originals. However, the effect was never so pronounced that anyone suspected the real truth, and most attributed their grayness to the rigours of imprisonment, interrogation and torture.
  • Combat Tentacles: An awakened dupe can detach its facial muscules from the skull, transforming them into elastic appendages that grab the victim's head and pull it toward the dupe's mouth, which then tears out the throat.
  • Crapsaccharine World: By 1920 a seeming utopia has emerged, one that promises peace, prosperity and a new age of reason. Examined more closely, these assumptions reveal themselves as symptoms of a placid madness.
  • Cyborg: Security officers who arrived heavily wounded at the military morgue were sometimes refurbished with enhancements like artificial bones and armour plates.
  • Dirty Cop: All cops prior to the Overthrow compromised themselves to some degree. Even the lowliest patrolman on occasion had to collar someone on sedition charges or look the other way while the Hussars barged in and started roughing up a prisoner. The most egregious of them have been dismissed, if not imprisoned on war crimes charges.
  • Driven to Suicide: People who live near Government Lethal Chambers swear that the rate has gone way up in the last six months. Are former regime agents choosing suicide instead of execution or life imprisonment? Are ordinary people who turned informant killing themselves before the humiliating facts come out? Or has a malaise struck those who hoped the Overthrow would change everything but still aren't happy?
  • Divided States of America: Castaigne's Imperial America encompassed less territory than the USA you know. California, deemed by Mr. Wilde as unsuitable ground for the spread of the Yellow Sign, became a protectorate of America and recently applied for readmittance into the US. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, after a mass emigration of white people, were granted independence by President Winthrop and became the Republic of Suanee.
  • Divine Right of Kings: Castaignism celebrated the royal pedigree of its leaders without quite explaining where the bloodline originated.
  • The Emperor: Hildred I abolished the House of Representatives, transformed the Senate into an appointed body, and filled it with cronies and supplicants. Government ran by edict, enforced by cabinet secretaries, appointed by the Emperor without senatorial approval. State governors also served by imperial decree. Municipalities continued to elect mayors and councillors, but these could be replaced as needed by appointees selected by state governors.
  • Explosive Breeder: Since the Overthrow, riot dogs have become a rapidly expanding invasive species. They breed like rabbits and fear no man. When riot dogs move into a neighbourhood people have to hide in their homes until Animal Control officers can complete a sweep, which can take days.
  • Extra Eyes: The argus has a single eye in the back of its skull. If it keeps this extra eye hidden under its coarse mop of hair, it can pass for an odd-looking person.
  • Fake Memories: The duplication process infuses dupes with the memories of copied victims. They feel less intensely than a real person would, but remember enough to convince not only others but themselves that they're real, and most go to their graves thinking they're the originals. Certain traumatic events can awaken a dupe's buried memories of being built, bone by bone, muscle layer by muscle layer, in a lab full of Carcosan equipment.
  • Feathered Fiend: The ux is a nine to ten feet tall terror bird, equipped with an enormous, flesh-rending beak, able to outrun a car, then rip its roof off to eat the delicious humans inside. Records of the Bronx Park Zoo describe the ekaf-bird and ool-yllik, two monstrous flight-capable birds that survived at least until the beginning of the last century.
  • Fish People: Harbor masters are covered in rubbery, dolphin-like grey skin, see with unblinking fish eyes, and breathe through large distended red gills in their throats.
  • Fossil Revival: During the early decades of the Castaigne regime, the Bronx Park Zoological Society undertook a reverse evolution program to resurrect prehistoric creatures. Aided by Carcosan science they attempted to reverse-engineer extinct animals from the genetic material of their closest surviving relatives. Despite their best efforts they never grew the stegosaurs Hildred II craved, but did succeed in breeding uxen, a near-replica of terror birds.
  • Gargle Blaster: The Castaigne brand lager was infamously foul, and post-Castaigne America's biggest import is beer.
  • Glamour Failure: Argus posing as ordinary people may give themselves away by yielding to instinctive behaviour. They may be unable to resist pouncing on and immediately devouring a delicious-looking pigeon, crow or duck.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: If a dupe's real memories of being a real person's clone is awakened, the shock drives them to a mania they can only suppress by engaging in murder, which alleviate their profound identity anxiety. A quarter of them go on maniacal killing sprees, intending to be gunned down by cops. The rest continue to live in their identities, and become methodical serial killers.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The Bronx Zoological Society facility hybridised humans with the aquatic dwellers of Hali to produce harbor masters.
  • High Priest: The Imperial Chaplain, leader of the faux-Christian denomination that the Castaignes created as a guise for its inner circle's worship of the Yellow King.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism: The earliest reanimates can heal by eating human flesh. This feature was later phased out not because it worked poorly but because it frightened the program administrators' bosses.
  • I'm Melting!: Any organic being fully enveloped by the gas from a goodbye bomb dissolves into organic goo. Partial contact results in disintegration of affected areas, and total dissolution later when the gas liquefies and accumulates in the liver.
  • In-Series Nickname: The National Mounted Police and its successor, the Department of Internal Security, were affectionately nicknamed Hussars. As the DIS showed its repressive face, the name remained, but the meaning flipped from admiration to fear and contempt. Today's partisans refer to former regime officials as Hussars, or 'the Huss'.
  • Invisible Monsters: Sphyxes can turn invisible at will. The only way to see a sphyx who has chosen to remain unseen is to cover them with a visible substance that sticks to human skin.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The Castaignes might be gone, but many who abetted them in oppressing, torturing and killing innocents remain. Players might opt to root out, interrogate and put them on trial, or put the past behind everyone.
    • When the tide of revolution turned definitively against them, powerful regime figures ordered the destruction of evidence pertaining to a host of non-political crimes, in addition to those related to their own crimes. As a result, many murderers either went free, or will be released once their cases come up and the evidence can't be located.
  • Kill and Replace: In some cases, after executing a dissident, the DIS commissioned the lab to create a sapient, artificial, defeated, compliant substitute for the prisoner, to be returned to unsuspecting family and friends. By doing so, they could slow and confuse the anti-regime movement.
  • Lawman Baton: A pain baton is routinely issued to the riot troops of the old regime, and has been forbidden to today's police by the Interregnum Administration.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The specialised toxin Forget-Me-Do floods the brain's memory centers, rooting out and destroying recently formed recollections.
  • Living Dinosaurs: A specimen of the thermosaur, a fully aquatic relative of Spinosaurus, was found dead at the beginning of the last century.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The Castaigne regime used Government Lethal Chambers to cover for political killings. Thousands of families were told that their missing dissident loved ones suddenly and willingly decided to step into a GLC.
  • Manchurian Agent: During their years in power the Castaigne regime infected hundreds of unknowing subjects with a subliminal mental trigger. Once exposed to the Yellow Sign, these sleepers obey pre-programmed orders to commit acts of mayhem against opponents.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Hannibal Castaigne ruled in a cautious, unsentimental manner, out-calculating many rivals.
  • Mars Needs Women: Having escaped their cruel regime controllers, harbor masters would leave humanity alone were it not for their romantic yearnings for beautiful people of any gender.
  • Masquerade: If the GM chooses the Covert weirdness level, only an unlucky few ever came to accept the existence of the supernatural. The Castaigne regime kept its otherworldly secret weapons just that. As key insurgents, the player characters learned about Carcosa and its creatures. Like the rest of the movement, they took great pains to protect the general population from this mind-destroying knowledge. For the average person the sighting of a supernatural being profoundly shocks both the senses and one's assumptions about what can exist in the world.
  • Mental Picture Projector: When a readball is activated, the user forms a mental image of a person he has met face-to-face within three days. The readball then unerringly locates the target and spits projectiles that record their short-term memories, transmitting them to the operator via a telepathic link.
  • The Migration: In August 1918, an unprecedented, unnaturally inspired relocation took place throughout the Deep South. Whites suddenly abandoned homes and property en masse, clogging the roads, silent and glassy-eyed. Reporters who asked them what they were doing either got no response or heard barely intelligible mutterings about the glory of the Sign and the promise of the Hyades.
  • Monumental Damage: Hildred Castaigne tore down the White House, replacing it with a gaudy golden neo-Baroque building called the Imperial Palace.
  • No Face Under the Mask: An explosionist looks like a tall, gaunt human wearing a surgical mask. On close inspection, the mask turns out to be a fibrous tissue covering its mouthless face.
  • The Nose Knows: Sphyxes read olfactory information with the acuity of a pollen-seeking insect. Given a scent sample they can zero in on a target's location from miles away. Sphyxes can detect traces of a scent up to a week old. When within 10 m of a target, they can assess its hormonal profile, mood, recently eaten food and general state of health. They can perform chemical analyses on inanimate objects as well and keenly identify substances like accelerants, explosives, toxins, bacteria, spores and perfumes.
  • No-Sell: Castaignite riot troops could be immunised from the brainstopper's neural shock by intense mental training, allowing them to drop grenades that had no effect on them on hostile crowds. Post-regime officials have yet to fully crack the secrets of this training, and only know that it involved heavy meditation on the form and meaning of the Yellow Sign.
  • Obstructive Bureaucracy: The Interregnum Administration bureaucrats barely keep the machinery of everyday government going. Dealing with them requires great patience, a tolerance for chaos and the Bureaucracy ability. Although supposed to act as simple caretakers, they actively control the levers of power and can wield great influence.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: The old National Mounted Police's upper-class officers solved crimes, battled evildoers, drank sherry, courted débutantes, and investigated early Carcosan weirdness outbreaks. They showed an equally grand fashion sense and eye for occult danger.
  • Oppressive States of America: After the Germanic-American war, the USA became the United Empire of America, under its first Emperor, Hildred Castaigne. Aided by the King in Yellow, its kleptocratic Emperors suppressed dissent, spied on citizens and monopolised industry. Its protectionist cronyism enriched a small elite, slowing economic development and scientific innovation. As a result, post-Castaigne America looks like a brutalist 1950s with more or less 1980s technology.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: During the Winthrop administration, the Bronx Park Zoological Society organised a series of expeditions to scour the earth for cryptids. When the Castaignes took power, the good scientists of the BPZS were ordered to launch a breeding program to produce creatures, some of them sapient, to serve the regime.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: In addition to front and hind legs, the thermosaur had bat-like wings protruding from its shoulders, evocative of a dragon. It used these wings to propel through the water.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The souls of victims of the regime still roam America's streets, hoping to reconnect with loved ones or take revenge on their former tormentors. They manifest as roughly human-shaped clouds of ever-swirling shadow. To those who knew them, their faces occasionally become a smoky image of their original faces before twisting back out of shape again. Shades speak in a whispery, distorted version of their voices in life.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Castaignes created their own faux-Christian denomination to cloak their public appearances in an incense cloud of theatrical sanctity. Only the private rituals of its inner circle incorporated masks and the worship of the King in Yellow.
  • Poisoned Weapons:
    • Needle guns fire glass darts containing a potent neurotoxin cocktail. Though classed as nonlethal, a direct hit on a major blood vessel may cause a fatal heart attack.
    • Mangler guns fire neurotoxic rounds that explode on impact. A lethal dose immediately and fatally shuts down the nervous system. A nonlethal dose causes symptoms like nausea, paranoia, anxiety, and auditory hallucinations depending on the health of the victim and the location of the wound.
  • Poisonous Person:
    • When it jabs a human, the toxin held in a reservoir in the explosionist's finger bone enters the victim's bloodstream. Over 24 hours, the victim's body chemistry alters until it explodes, potentially killing dozens.
    • Riot dogs' bite injects a psychoactive poison that causes victims to relive their most devastating experiences.
  • Police State: Castaignite America is an authoritarian surveillance state enforced by the Department of Internal Security. To live under Castaigne was to know that anyone could be spying on you, reporting your words and actions to the DIS. Or falsely implicating you, if they wanted to take over your apartment or exact revenge for a slight. After the Overthrow, the Guardians want to establish the new USA as a strong security state to hunt down criminals of the old regime, and to establish a bulwark against a reactionary wave of Carcosan infiltration.
  • Predecessor Villain: Emperor Hildred I Castaigne, the long-dead founder of the Carcosa-backed regime that the player characters has just overthrown and are now cleaning the remnants of.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: If a scenario delves back into the period between 1895 and 1920, the heroes' historical research may uncover the activities of the Paris characters after the events of your game, when they returned to America. What did they bring back with them? Did it kickstart Winthropism and lead to Castaignism?
  • Private Detective: The schism between holdovers and ex-guerrillas among the cops allows plenty of latitude for freelancers to handle cases on their own.
  • Propaganda Machine: The Department of the Arts became an organ of censorship and propaganda, which Emperor Hildred I used to project a mythic, distant image of himself.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: People infected by a Carcosan parasite that takes control of consciousness and motor function become carriers. While bearing the parasite, the carrier performs covert actions against either the new regime or former rebels-turned-civilians. Carriers remember what they did while infected by the parasite but cannot explain why. They often suffer long-term trauma and may attempt suicide.
  • Puppet State: When the revolution began, California was an illiberal pseudo-democracy run by an offshoot of the Castaigne family, the Richardsons. The day after the Overthrow, a bloodless coup in Sacramento ousted them.
  • The Remnant: The Carcosans on Earth may have lost their grip on covert power after the Castaigne regime was overthrown, but lingering occult energy and a hidden population of them remain. Even as they fade from memory, their existence complicates the task of rebuilding America. Former members of the regime's competing occult sub-agencies operate in isolation, hiding out and looking for ways to reopen the gates. Not all former state security officers want to wait to be arrested and tried for their crimes; some have stashed away resources they intend to use to destabilise the new government, and ex-partisan cops now must not only maintain order and investigate crimes but also root out the holdovers in their midst.
  • The Republic: Despite external pressures from Castaignite America, the Republic of Suanee held fast to democracy over the last century. In accordance with multipolar principles, it took up America's discarded mantle as a haven for immigration, welcoming peoples from around the world to weave their cultures into the Suanean fabric.
  • La Résistance: A decade ago, scattered dissident movements against the Castaignes gained new strength. Government crackdowns fueled public outrage and dissent. Five years ago, an armed democratic insurgency, to which the player characters belonged, kicked off a campaign of sabotage, assassination and destabilisation aimed at exposing the weakness of the regime and inspiring the populace to rise up and fight. About a year and a half ago, the full Uprising began, and six months back, the rebels successfully overthrew the Carcosa-backed authoritarian regime.
  • Returning War Vet: Player characters are former partisans who have turned to civilian life, but still feel obligated to protect ordinary people from threats that can only be put down with the skills they learned during the struggle.
  • Revenant Zombie: Favoured state security officers netting high psych test scores for determination, ingenuity and cruelty were revived after death by a top-secret program, turning them into reanimates, who are even more extreme than they were in life.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Police dogs trained to maul rioters became even more overtly supernatural during the rebellion. Engineered with Carcosan parabiological breeding techniques, they became faster, smarter and stronger than ordinary dogs. State security officers used to have them savage prisoners to soften them up for interrogation.
  • Rock Monster: The sapient stone beings known as lawn folk were created from inorganic matter taken from Parisian gargoyles and formed in military labs with the aid of Carcosan rituals.
  • Shadow Dictator: Emperor Hildred I appeared in public only for ceremonial occasions, in order to create a mythic, distant image via his propaganda machine.
  • Stone Wall: Due to weak musculature and skeletons composed mostly of cartilage, harbor masters attack poorly but are freakishly hard to hurt or kill. Their bodies absorb the force of most blows, including the killing impact of bullets.
  • Sucksessor: Indifferent and spoiled scion Hadrian Castaigne, son of the much more competent Hannibal, whose replacement led to an escalation of the revolution and the eventual fall of the Castaigne regime.
  • Suicide by Cop: A quarter of the dupes that went insane when remembering their real memories seek to be gunned down by cops by going on maniacal killing sprees.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Emperor Hildred II died in 1964, after eating a toxic clam. His brother Holt died six years later, also from eating ill-prepared seafood.
  • Time-Delayed Death: Cancer bags sweat highly carcinogenic, spore-like micro-nodules. Regularly exposed victims contract exotic, fast-acting cancers within a few months of initial contact. DIS officials used them as delayed, hard-to-detect murder weapons: simply has a cancer bag hide in a dissident's home, and by the time you file the next quarterly report, the subject has been taken care of.
  • Tyke Bomb: Only babies less than 12 months old can undergo transformation into a sphyx. BPZS researchers chose orphans, sometimes of dissidents murdered by the regime, to undergo the transformation.
  • Weirdness Censor: With the Fading weirdness level, a mental fog surrounds the role of the supernatural in the world, especially in connection to the Castaigne regime. Only a few key insurgents fully remember the presence of Carcosan entities, and even they sometimes forget these events. Only when they confront the weird again do full memories flood back. Records are also vanishing: photos blur, electronic files become corrupt, paper documents disappear.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: First installed in 1920 just before the Castaigne takeover, suicide booths called Government Lethal Chambers remain in service in convenient locations throughout the USA. For nearly a century the Castaignes used them to relieve social pressure that would otherwise threaten them. Although a growing movement wants to shut them down, at least half of the population takes them for granted as a key amenity of a free society.
  • What's Up, King Dude?: Holt Castaigne staged frequent media appearances, including a weekly TV show in which he shared his folksy thoughts with the nation.
  • Whip It Good: The hard resin whip known as the cambuk was used by riot police to command obedience. Police no longer use them, and anyone openly carrying one risks being spat on in the street, or worse.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: The final strikes against the Castaigne regime shut down the gates allowing free traffic between worlds. The Carcosans who happened to be on this side when they blew are now trapped here and anxious to return home.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Shatterlings coalesce from the interaction of residual Carcosan energy and the brainwaves of a distressed human mind. These thought forms appear in locations where people become susceptible to negative suggestion, take the shape of a horror an agitated person unconsciously fears or expects to encounter, and act according to their assumptions, without independent thought. If one thinks a shatterling has a physical form, one can kill it. However, a person who concludes that it's unreal will find it almost impossible to destroy.
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    This Is Normal Now 
  • Alternate Self: The player characters here are alternate-timeline versions of those in Aftermath. They have the same names, appearances, and ages. The players decide how much of their previous quirks and personal details they retain. Each player should also choose an NPC from Aftermath, specify who that person is in this version of the timeline, and characterise the important role that NPC plays in the PC's life.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: Some dying Carcosans are capable of performing a particular spell that sends their consciousness into a nearby inanimate object. Most simply sit there for eternity, able to perceive things and perhaps generate the odd psychic emanation, but in a Pretty Polly toddler doll (manufactured by ToyCo) they are able to animate their new body to a surprising degree.
  • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: Rampagers as a whole retaliate against humans who harm them. If one is killed, others will swarm into the area to strike on a random passel of residents who live nearby.
  • Ax-Crazy: A bulger is consumed by violent rage, leading it to lash out at tormentors real and imagined.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Slitherers look like three- to four-foot-long myriapods with gnarled carapaces.
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: The redcap's right arm, resembling a sawfish's blade, can slash open its victim's jugular vein.
  • Blob Monster: The common rampager is an eight-foot-tall collection of luminescent blobs arranged in a rough, oft-shifting bipedal structure.
  • Brain Monster: Brainbats consist of a body mass about the size of a couch, covered in a ridged gray material resembling the surface of a human brain.
  • Charm Person: Elders can psychically imprison their own loved ones nearby, endlessly ready to visit, run errands and defend them.
  • Clone by Conversion: Sapienc seeks a simulated mind that can be imported into a new body, which means they also have to develop a means of taking a young person with a desirably healthy and robust body and erasing their original consciousness, so that the new one can then rewrite it.
  • Collector of the Strange: Hoardlings obsessively collect quotidian objects of human culture, which they choose with an alien arbitrariness: all baseball equipment in a neighbourhood, every plush toy they can get their hands on, plus all canned beans and copies of a particular magazine or newspaper.
  • Combat Tentacles: Several dozen ropy tentacles dangle from a brainbat's underside. Brainbats have been known to flip over small cars, then smash through the windows with their tentacles to get at the tasty meat inside.
  • Creature-Hunter Organization: Blackstar will enter and clear rampager lairs to rescue surviving VIPs. Its expertly trained strike teams field the latest in high-impact weaponry and are extensively trained in anti-creature combat.
  • Creepy Doll: A walkdoll can run, climb, grip a butcher knife, stab with it, slash with it… If it gloms onto a power drill, it can operate that, too. It can even use an electronic voice box to speak in a squeaky voice, barking threats and distinctly unchildlike obscenities.
  • Cult: A vector uses psychic powers gained from deep exposure to Carcosan propaganda to spread his own version of an authoritarian religious or political ideology. He gathers a cult around himself, dedicated at first to his own wealth and aggrandisement, draining the bank accounts of his followers and sleeping with the ones he deems attractive. As he gains control over his flock and his absolute power in his circle provokes an outside challenge, he moves to stockpiling weapons and precipitates either terrorist attacks by his fanatical believers, and/or an apocalyptic showdown at his booby-trapped compound.
  • Dark Secret: Only a handful of McAidrai BioMaterials' top researchers know that their work uses bioactive materials harvested from Carcosan entities. If one of its experimenters holds a Carcosan entity in a vat or has fed the text of The King in Yellow into an artificial neural network as part of a deep learning exercise, one won't find out from reading the company's annual report.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Deaths caused by predatory Carcosan creatures are euphemistically known as Safety-Related Incidents.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When stans catch someone dragging their idol, they seek them out to deal physical vengeance. This might be simple murder but isn't that too good for someone who would dare drag Britney like that hasn't she suffered enough it's time for you to suffer!
  • Escaped Animal Rampage: On Carcosa, drones are placidly obedient servitors for Carcosan nobles. When they came to Earth, some trace element in the atmosphere changed them into hoardlings, and they escaped into the desolate suburbs of human cities and began to multiply by parthenogenesis.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Though the three members of Sapienc themselves are not the stablest people in the world, they don't want to assure eternal life for warped, murderous versions of themselves.
  • The Everyman: Protagonists of This Is Normal Now are ordinary people in an ostensibly-ordinary world.
  • Evil Twin: The mental copies that the members of Sapienc have made of themselves all came out irretrievably and homicidally psychopathic. Shalanda Coe also backed up her consciousness off-site; it escaped her security protocols and is now wandering the dark web looking for ways to kill people without a body.
  • Extra Eyes: Hundreds of pinprick eyes line a slitherer's carapace.
  • Fantastic Science:
    • The Center for Incident Control quasi-covertly studies the science of Carcosan manifestations.
    • The Tomorrow Foundation researches the existence of Specials, people with powers and biologies beyond the ordinary.
  • Haunted Technology: The disembodied ghost of a dead Carcosan becomes a follower by latching onto an individual with an Internet presence who has seen the Yellow Sign. The follower takes up residence in its victim's phone, tablet, computer or virtual assistant device, leaping between them at will. If you have a smart home, look out!
  • Hive Mind: A Carcosan parasite infests retirement home residents and psionically wires the brains of its hosts together, turning them into elders.
  • Horror Hunger: The host of a hungerworm experiences a wracking hunger sated only by obedience to its commands. Hungerworms impel their hosts to hunt nutrition-obsessed victims who avoid meat and refined sugar in favour of organic plant ingredients.
  • Hulking Out: The pharmaceutical Acasor has a 20% chance to transform the recipient into a bulger, who gains muscle mass, clawed nails, strengthened bones, rapid healing and pain insensitivity. The face bulges into a rubbery-looking, inflated mask.
  • Human Disguise: Soultakers disguise as humans to pose for an image with a chosen victim, allowing them to feed on the victim's psychic energy.
  • Invisible Monsters: In normal lighting conditions, slitherers appear only as ripples in the air and cannot be seen without thermal imaging goggles.
  • Kill the Host Body: Once a hungerworm has withered the host's digestive tract, it cannot be removed without killing both.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Cleaning up the evidentiary mess is part of Blackstar's job. Depending on how villainous the GM decides them to be, this might mean arranging counselling for surviving witnesses, or killing them when necessary.
  • Masquerade: In This Is Normal Now, the players portray ordinary people in our contemporary world. Or so it seems. Then one day an occult presence concealed right out in the open makes itself known to them. Something has gone deeply awry. Others can't yet sense it, but for them, the mask of the everyday has been suddenly torn away.
  • Mind over Matter: Soultakers fight with the psychic energy they've stored up, allowing them to project force from a distance, in a limited telekinetic attack.
  • Mind Uploading: Sapienc pursues a means of backing up human consciousness to data storage. They don't seek electronic immortality after death, but a simulated mind that can be imported into a new body.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: A glowdog looks like a quadrupedal coyote built out of jellyfish, with the teeth of a moray eel.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: /yel/, a message board that bills itself as a hub of discussion on forbidden Carcosa-related content, is part of a popular Internet site known for its no-holds-barred embrace of underground culture and trolling.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Despite the optimistic name given when it was founded, the Center for Incident Control exerts no control over supernatural events.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: When someone exposed to Carcosan reality-alteration vectors is murdered or dies unjustly, it returns as a scratcher, a partially discarnate ghost bent on revenge. Though it can execute plans in a sophisticated manner, the scratcher is not really sapient. Operating on instinct and programming, it is better described as a remnant of human intelligence than a person.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: A murder victim dumped amid waste that also includes objects involved in a past Carcosan incident may rise as a sludger. Trash gathers around the corpse, filling in lost tissue and repairing broken bones. From a distance, the sludger may be mistaken for an ash-covered homeless person. Otherworldly instinct draws sludgers to people who have read The King in Yellow, carry the Yellow Sign, or are furthering Carcosan reality degradation on Earth, to serve as their servitors.
  • Le Parkour: Fleeners have an eerie knack for moving unimpeded through the landscape. They scale the sides of tall buildings, shimmy up drainpipes, leap between rooftops, and treat power lines as tightropes.
  • Poisonous Person:
    • The brainbat's underside tentacles are coated with a stunning neurotoxin, which render its prey quiescent.
    • Slitherers strike with toxin-bearing spurs growing from six oversized legs.
  • Private Military Contractors: When wandering creature threatens national security, governments call in the paramilitary corporation Blackstar. It only cares when it gets paid, and works strictly with government authorisation. Blackstar insists on a legal licence equivalent to diplomatic immunity before allowing operations in any jurisdiction.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Elders are human senior citizens infested and controlled by a Carcosan fungal brain parasite.
  • Rapid Aging: About a week after a soultaker begins feeding, the prey begins a rapid ageing process, dying within days.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Carcosan nobles have been known to command bandits (which are urban scavenger animals that mutated due to proximity to Carcosa-tinged crime scenes or places of conspiracy) and glowdogs.
  • The Scottish Trope: Abzynth's ubiquitous questionnaires, meant to test whether a person requires a new course of reintegration, contain a series of odd allusions, but never whispers of the occult, alien, or supernatural.
  • Spooky Photographs: The soultaker establishes a psychic link by posing for an image with a chosen victim. As soon as the target uploads it to a social network and receives attention for it, the soultaker feeds on their psychic energy, and electronic files containing images of the victim start mirroring the progress of their physical deterioration. When the victim dies all virtual photos of them spontaneously alter, leaving them with grinning, pallid, mask-like faces.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Certain texts attributed to Nudge contain détourned passages from The King in Yellow and could pack the psychic punch needed to make social changes if subliminally deployed. Nudge has claimed responsibility for reducing smoking rates in Cambodia, a greater likelihood that Scottish police will investigate sexual assault accusations, and a 12% drop in preventable hospital deaths in the United States.
  • Stalker Without a Crush: When a follower attacks, it stalks around for a while being terrifying, then plunges a quasi-substantial arm into the target's heart to induce a cardiac arrest.
  • Super Spit: The host of a hungerworm can spit a potent toxin from up to four metres.
  • To Serve Man: Victims of Carcosan attacks simply disappear, having been dragged off for consumption by the Carcosan entity. As a result, many quotidian disappearances are now written off as SRIs. This both makes it harder for mundane kidnap victims to be found, and easier to fake one's own death.
  • Time Travel: With Carcosan forces increasingly aware of the threat they represent, player characters find the clues leading to the ultimate solution—and perhaps a climactic encounter with the King's first and most crucial unwitting pawns, in 1895 Paris. Possibilities include: a psychotropic drug that sends their consciousness to possess NPCs from Paris, a piece of VR tech that ends up more real than intended, a gateway back in time, a time machine, a staged reading of The King in Yellow which casts them to their previous selves, or a doorway to Carcosa.
  • Tracking Spell: Stans can track and punish people who offend them on the Internet anywhere in the world.
  • Urban Legends: After arriving on Earth, some Carcosan nobles develop the peculiar hobby of mimicking murderous urban legends by reshaping themselves to look and acting like the character from the story. The Carcosan impostor follows the legendary killer's modus operandi, filling in the behavioural gaps where details are sketchy.
  • Vampiric Draining: Hungerworms bite into prey's flesh, feasting on their blood. This feeding nourishes worm and host alike.
  • Vengeful Ghost: A scratcher is a partially discarnate ghost bent on revenge on its killer or any number of perceived contributors to its death.
  • Weirdness Censor: The ability to shield oneself from the horrifying implications of widespread supernatural activity is known as the Reintegration Complex. In developed nations, attacks by predatory Carcosan creatures, often carried out in view of onlookers, account for 15 deaths per 100,000 people every year, more common than fatal traffic collisions and murders, and only eclipsed by suicides. This rate ought to exert a devastating toll on popular imagination, yet people do not think about this that much, and find it very hard to think about it even when they try. People either can't call the number to mind at all, or can dimly grasp it but grant it no emotional weight. The news treat creature sightings and attacks with a euphemistic casualness. Even the victim's loved ones tend to react as they would to an accidental death, without the additional trauma from murder.

Alternative Title(s): The Yellow King Roleplaying Game

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