The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having been introduced to the King in Yellow in a Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game scenario at the wonderful Continuum Con earlier this year I thought I should look up some of the source material behind this part of the Mythos and so when I saw the original book was available for free on the Kindle I downloaded it instantly.
It’s not quite what I expected. The book is a series of short stories, some related with shared characters and themes, others entirely independent. After the first few, most aren’t connected to the King in Yellow specifically (see here for an outline of the included stories and a little more information on the King in Yellow.) The rest are a strange collection of romance, adventure war and observation.
So what did I make of it? Some I adored. Some I’m not sure I got. Some felt clumsy whilst others really well scripted. In the end I’m left wondering whether to give it 1 star or 5 because whatever the quality of the writing, somehow the book has a haunting quality to it which has stayed with me since reading it, a mood, an mystery, something hinted at which is hard to pin down. The best horror in literature or on the screen is always that where little is revealed and detailed but much eluded to. While the King in Yellow didn’t describe what I hoped it might, it has spoken of lots more, just beyond the periphery of my vision, whispering on the edge of my consciousness…
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I’ve backed the Kickstarter for the Tremulus, a Lovecraftian horror rpg. Based on the Apocolypse World rpg engine, and influenced by FATE and Fiasco, this looks just down my street. Can’t wait to receive it and be able to give it a whirl.
The tremulus Kickstarter can be found here.
In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the sneak previews on the Game of Whit’s blog here: A Game of Whit’s: tremulus, especially their online game, a bit like a choose your own adventure book, with readers voting on the next step. Beautifully written. Go read and vote.
Spent a little while working through the Call of Cthulhu and Spirit of the Century skill lists today to help produce a list of skills for my FATE Horror hack. Here’s where I’ve got to so far. Want to work on the names to make them a little more evocative of a 1920’s type setting
- Knowledge Skills (what you know): Arts, Engineering, Humanities, Languages (like Diaspora – higher rating, higher number known), Law, Medicine, Occult, Psychology, Research (how to use libraries etc.), Sciences, Theology
- Physical Skills (what you can do): Athletics, Constitution (determines Health stress track), Drive, First Aid, Fortitude (?) (determines Composure stress track), Locks, Perception, Pilot, Ride, Subterfuge (sneak, disguise etc.), Survival
- Interpersonal Skills (how you relate to others): Contacts, Intimidate, Leadership, Oratory, Persuade, Social Standing (use to reflect social class),
- Combat Skills: Unarmed, Firearms, Weapons
- Other: Resources (determines Wealth Stress Track like Diaspora)
Depending on how I work mental health into this (Sanity in CoC terms), there might be a Stress track with related skill for that too.
How does that sound? Anything obvious overlooked? Any better name suggestions (looking for a 1920s, British vibe).
Toying with the idea of hacking FATE for use for horror games (Gothic Horror? inevitably inspired by the flavour of Call of Cthulhu, but not necessarily using this setting) Thought I might post some of my thoughts here as I go.
First steps, decide what needs looking at in the system to adapt it for this genre. Which bits need to be tweaked?
- How many Aspects does each character have? Not a fan of 10 as in Spirit of the Century, and so will probably err towards 5-7. What should each Aspect refer to – background, relationship to other characters etc. How can this reinforce the genre?
- What Skills can they chose from? Are they developed as a pyramid, or a column, or something else? Will need to think here about using evocative names rather than bland generic ones to conjure up the desired feeling.
- Should Stunts be available? Thinking possibly not – don’t want the characters to be special because of what they can do, rather because of their personality. The setting seems to call for exploring normal humans facing extraordinary things.
- Do I use Stress Tracks? If so, which ones?
- With a clear nod towards Call of Cthulhu, do I need some way of measuring a characters sanity? If so how – with a Stress Track? Or through Aspects being given (like Consequences) to indicate their mental condition if they deteriorate? Perhaps this could be coupled to a Sanity Skill – when faced with a shock to the system, the players roll against this. If they fail, they gain either Stress to a Sanity Track, or pick up Consequences relevant to the amount they failed by.
- How about using Templates to reinforce some of the genre stereotypes in character generation?
More another time…