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[Sorcerer] Preparing for a pitch, King in Yellow

Started by Justin A Hamilton, January 18, 2006, 01:15:39 AM

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Justin A Hamilton

Hello again, let me apologize in advance if this post has a lot of jargon, please ask.

So my roleplaying group has a kind of round-robin GM format.  We all usually have so many ideas for what each of us want to run, that any sort of voting or "I wanna do this" sort of set up turns into chaos.  We are just about to finish up an Iron Heroes game, and my turn for proposing is coming up.  So what I was thinking of doing was something akin to the King in Yellow.

(For those that don't know, The King in Yellow is a series of somewhat-related short stories written by Robert W. Chambers detailing a play (also titled The King in Yellow) that described a sorrowful and horrific event, which eventually causes the reader to go completely mad.  This work eventually had some influence on Lovecraft, and thus on a great deal of future mythos writers.  For the purpose of this post, "Hastur" is a cosmic force, while "The King in Yellow" refers to the play.  I'll try to avoid actually calling Hastur the King in Yellow to avoid any confusion.)

All of us always like mythos and weird horror roleplaying, and more than half of us are pretty big into Robert W. Chambers' work, and the reinterpretation of the Hastur Mythos that John Wick and others did throughout the development of Delta Green.  We have tried to engage in play similar to this by playing Delta Green, particularly the scenario Night Floors, and Dennis Detwiller's Insylum RPG.  The problem with these things however, is the fact that gameplay turns into a sort of puppet-show ran by the GM.  Really weird stuff happen, but it is usually something really weird that the PCs cannot interact with, or if they do, they go completely mad.  When running Night Floors I almost felt like I was just throwing out ideas and then asking the players to gauge how frightening they were, but not allowing them to participate.

Then I started thinking - particularly in "Repairer of Reputations" Robert Chambers didn't write about investigators stumbling onto some coven of worshippers, he wrote about people who read The King in Yellow and began going completely mad.  I felt that this ultimately was the path to the perfect King in Yellow game - play the "cultists", not the investigators.  This immediately made me think of Sorcerer, as that's been a premise I've wanted to use the game for for a long time.

I've ran Sorcerer a couple times before, and all of the players have had fun while doing so, but I still consider myself relatively inexperienced in relation to the game, so I would like to know if any of the following ideas wouldn't work as well as I am thinking, or if they could be refined and retooled to serve a better purpose.

In the game I will be using Hastur from the John Tynes & Co interpretation - he's a form of other-worldliness entropy, he's a sort of infection that slowly spreads throughout a population until whole worlds fall into complete despair.  He won't really be something that people worship in the Derelth sense, most of the "cultists" won't even understand that he exists.  His chaotic influence is very partial to artists and radicals, people with immense creativity is more than likely to succumb to his will.

With that all in mind I am intending on proposing the game as being set in 1940s Chicago, with the "ideal" PC idea being an artist, author, politician or something of the sort who has heard that people who have read the play "The King in Yellow" have shown new depths to their creativity that they never held before, and thus decided to take a look at the play to see what it could do for them.  I chose the 1940s because it is a timeframe that we are all relatively familiar with, it adds some color to the setting that I particular enjoy, and it prevents a problem I was concerned with when I was originally thinking of this game being set in the modern time of "oh great, this raver club kid is going to spread the dark insights of the universe through his trashy happy hardcore music."  Not that that situation couldn't be cool in some situations, but it is just that one of the players involved tends to play pretty wacky stereotypes of different subcultures when we play modern horror games.  We all tend to love play petty pseudo-political games with a lot of social backstabbing, and I think that the 1940s Chicago art scene could create some interesting cliches for this purpose.

As for the one-sheet, here's what I have so far -

1. Influences are Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow (particularly "The Repairer of Reputations"), John Tynes' version of the Hastur Mythos, along with some of the horror writings of HP Lovecraft and Frank B Long.

2.  Humanity is ethics, and the hope for mankind.  By using the gifts granted by Hastur, you are spreading the disease that will eventually destroy humanity.

3.  Demons are an issue that I'm having a little problem with.  Initially I wanted them to be only dark insights granted by The King in Yellow.  Then I started thinking that it might be cool to allow for ghosts of worlds consumed by Hastur, as well as physical byahkees (monsters kind-of in servitude to Hastur) for the Dereleth fan at the table.  I was thinking that the "dark insights" thing would be parasite demons, and their Needs and Desires would manifest as strong urges in the Sorcerers themselves.

4.  Sorcerers are people who have read the King in Yellow and willfully opened themselves up to the madness that is Hastur in return for abilities.  Lore will probably be two things.  1 - it will be the ability to perceive chaos in works of art, and how to use that to commune with the force that is Hastur.  2 - it may be a sort of madness.  Not in the sense that someone who has a high Lore must roll on a permanent insanity roll, but rather that a person who has learned of Hastur has become infected by him.  Sorcerers with high Lore aren't necessarily bonkers, but they are definitely "out-there."

5.  Contacting, Binding, Summoning, and Punishing are all things that I think I may need to work on a bit.  I definitely want to play off of the idea that even observing the work of someone influenced by The King in Yellow can riddle someone with his madness, so I was thinking that Contacting could be finding a work of art inspired by the King in Yellow that will open up the Sorcerer to some malignant "soul searching", Summoning would include studying that work of art, and deciding what it has to offer to the Sorcerer, Binding is willfully accepting what was found in the study of the art, and Punishing is an active and conscious staving off of Hastur's will.  However, as I said above, I think that I also want to allow things like ghosts to be available as demons, which would probably have their own more-traditional Contacting, Summoning, and Binding rituals.

So this is the part where I am asking for feedback.  I am sorry if this was all very confusing.  I think that this game looks promising, it's a topic that we are all fans of, it really supports a "character type" (weird artist) that several players really enjoy roleplaying as, and it's a game we all have had fun playing and would like to become more comfortable with.  But I have a few remaining questions.

Does having the different types of demons threaten the overall idea of the game?
Is having a single prerequisite for becoming a Sorcerer (must have read The King in Yellow) a bad idea?
Are parasite demons representing Hastur's insights a little too esoteric?
I was thinking of having all work produced through Demonic Abilities to be "Marked", so that people who are influenced from the same source will always be able to seek out similar works and artists - is this appropriate?
Does this look like it could be (eventually) playable?

Thank you for reading all of this.  I promise that if this game gets off of the ground I will post a detailed actual play.

Nero's Boot

I like it!  We need more Lovecraftian gaming; one of the two mini-supplements I proposed to Mr. Edwards has a definite Lovecraftian feel and theme to it, albeit from a totally different angle. 

As for demons, I say restrict them to the mental breakdowns caused by the play.  Madness that can infect reality, a sort-of telepathic dementation-plague.  This would be somewhat similar to Mr. Sorenson's Schism mini-supplement, yet altogether different at the same time; in this case, it's not psionics that someone has---merely a cognitive disease that can spread from mind to mind like a pestilence.  Sure, you get some benefit out of it---but you're sick and you're going insane, and what you have is an illness, not a superpower.

--communicative madness, a frightening concept NB
CURRENTLY PLAYING: Torg 1.0; Changeling: The Dreaming Time of Judgment; and Sorcerer.
CURRENTLY READING: Underground core rulebook; My Life with Master; and Stormbringer 5e corebook.

TickTock Man


Have you heard back at all about whether the Lovecraftian setting is a go?  Can you share more details about the mini-supplement?

As you said, we need more Lavecraftian gameing!



Hey Justin. Not sure how well it would work, but what about this idea for an Object Demon: An actual copy of the play?
Always Plenty of Time!

Mister Six

I think reading King in Yellow as a requisite for sorcery will provide a great weird touchstone for your group and fits the premise of your game perfectly.

The 40s Chicago art scene setting is really compelling, particularly since the cosmic horror manifests as objects of art. Since you foresee some of your players playing artists, maybe the rituals could be expressed in their art -- like an abstract painter whose seemingly random splatters subliminally describe the Yellow Sign.

I think dark insights from parasite demons being the only demon available to the players limits their starting choices & I suspect would limit their impact as well. If the dark insights are a only a way to smuggle GM clues into the PCs' resources, then it isn't giving them a wide range of action, and could lead to a passive "investigator" style of play. Sorcerer is about complicated relationships with power, so the potential for power really needs to be there. But adding the other two types fills out the stable nicely. Since both relate to premise, you still have a coherent demon mythos & "ghosts from worlds Hastur has destroyed" is great color.

This is a great start.

Nero's Boot

Quote from: TickTock Man on February 05, 2006, 06:17:39 PM

Have you heard back at all about whether the Lovecraftian setting is a go?  Can you share more details about the mini-supplement?

As you said, we need more Lavecraftian gameing!


Well, the vague idea bubbling around in my tiny, fiendish head is that the Outermost Gods are really beings of light and purity: Light so blinding it burns out your eyes, and purity so precious it drives you to commit suicide or tear out your heart so as to offer your life as a sacrifice to such beauty.  It's all about Goodness and Righteousness and Purity....taken to an illogical, hyperevolved extreme, with the Outermost Gods (tiny, slivered aspects of which mad cultists often summon) acting as extremely, over-fanatic zealots of good and blessedness.

--it's kind of a "Be careful what you practice, for good has its own mind-shattering monsters" kind of routine NB
CURRENTLY PLAYING: Torg 1.0; Changeling: The Dreaming Time of Judgment; and Sorcerer.
CURRENTLY READING: Underground core rulebook; My Life with Master; and Stormbringer 5e corebook.

TickTock Man

That is a cool twist on the Mythos, if it is still the Mythos.  It would seem that the Outermost Gods are characterized as "evil" because interactions with them lead to what seem to be evil consequences.  There is a whole slew of things you could do with that idea and the theodicy of the problem of Evil.