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How does the King in Yellow corrupt?


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I've trawled through a bunch of the CoC books researching the King in Yellow. It often says "Corruption and decay lie at the heart of all things touched by the King in Yellow." 

But I'm trying to get examples of what this "corruption and decay" looks like? How would you portray it when you're playing CoC? What would the signs be that a PC or NPC was under the influence of the King in Yellow? How would it manifest in their day to day lives? 

Thanks in advance. 

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I'm currently running Tatters of the King, and as @alter mentioned, John Tynes' Hastur Mythos is pretty much essential reading. I use his vision of Hastur as entropy, and show The King in Yellow's corruption through surreal dream visions, heightened melancholy and the characters seeing iconography from the play subtly appear in different places. I interpret that sense of corruption as internal, but it could be noticeably by how the characters behave; deeply introspective, spouting obscure references from time to time, constantly on edge, or weirdly passive. 

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The King in Yellow appears to impart some knowledge or insight which tears at the sanity of the victim.

Just reading the second chapter of the play is enough to mess someone up, but the physical presence of the king is far worse, in the palace in Carcosa people are trapped in a permanent now, suffering for all eternity, unaware that time has passed.

There are hints the secret knowledge may somehow take people’s security away, maybe show them the world is in some way unreal. There are also hints the king is somehow associated with unconstrained creativity or change - Carcosa flows and changes every time you stop looking at something, when you look back something is different.

Of course we can’t know the exact nature of the corruption, otherwise we would fall victim to it 😉

Edited by EricW
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One thing to remember is that contemporary ideas of Hastur, with the King in Yellow being an avatar of that being, has a complicated evolution

  • Chambers references Hastur as a place or a character in some of his stories mentioning the King in Yellow (Hastur being first mentioned by Ambrose Bierce)
  • Lovecraft reads Chambers and name-drops Hastur and the Yellow Sign in "The Whisperer in Darkness" and a few other places
  • August Derleth, trying to create his own Cthulhu Mythos god, latches onto Hastur and makes it a rival of Cthulhu. Derleth often blurs the line between his fiction and Lovecraft's, creating the impression that some of Derleth's ideas are Lovecraft's.
  • Call of Cthulhu writers weave these elements together so we have both the creepy play of Chambers and the squishy octopus/corpse thing (we get the "don't say Hastur 3 times or it appears" meme from AD&D by the way)
  • John Tynes rolls back most of the Derlethian elements in his article "Road to Hali" (as mentioned above) and later Delta Green products build off this. He describes the King in Yellow as being personification of Entropy.
  • True Detective (season 1) sparks an expanding interest in all things King in Yellow (as part of a general rise in informational and memetic horror in genre fiction and related hobbies), so we get KiY-like horrors such as The Hanged King in the shared-SCP Foundation.

So you can have three different versions of the same horror in Call of Cthulhu (and related games) - the very Derlethian horrors of "The Evil Stars" (in Cthulhu Now), the hybrid King in Yellow with Derlethian elements of The Tatters of the King campaign, or the "there's no such thing as Hastur" tone of the Delta Green campaign Impossible Landscapes. All start with much of the same inspiration but have very different interpretations

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On 6/8/2021 at 4:01 AM, CJ67 said:

I've trawled through a bunch of the CoC books researching the King in Yellow. It often says "Corruption and decay lie at the heart of all things touched by the King in Yellow." 

But I'm trying to get examples of what this "corruption and decay" looks like? How would you portray it when you're playing CoC? What would the signs be that a PC or NPC was under the influence of the King in Yellow? How would it manifest in their day to day lives? 

Thanks in advance. 

The best source of the feel for the King in Yellow is the work of Robert W. Chambers of the same name.  He in turn derived his ideas from the works of Ambrose Bierce's stories "An inhabitant of Carcosa" and "Haita the Sheperd".

One of the primary sources of corruption comes in the form of the Yellow Sign, which is an enigmatic thing, never properly described in the literature, but is sometimes handled as an actual symbol someone draws on things in CoC.  I never found this literalist approach to the Yellow Sign even remotely scary, and would advise against using it for this reason.  I far prefer to use disease as the Yellow Sign.  The notion being that the character who reads the play "The King in Yellow" discovers a yellow spot on their body, that spreads, causing them to physically and mentally decay.  This painful and hideous destruction can be halted by submitting to the will of Hastur, but can never be removed, and the decay will remain at the level it reaches, even after one submits.  So when someone asks "Have you seen the Yellow Sign" one must expose the afflicted part of their body, thus announcing that the infected individual is subject to Hastur, and either it has ceased to spread indicating their obedience to Hastur, or it continues to spread.  Those who refuse to submit may well be eventually turned into Byakhee (Hastur's Angels) by the disease.

I like to view Hastur as a god of shepherds, due to his depiction as such in "Haita the shepherd".  Hastur seems to be a deity who thrives on the trappings of civilization, drama. social ritual, and the wearing of masks and in this regard he is far more like an avatar of Nyarlathotep than many other deities.  One sect of Hasatur worshippers, call the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign wage war against the Mi-Go, using globes of poison gas.  The Men of Kn'yan (who quite possibly live in a hidden city under Caddo County Texas) also worship Hastur and may well be the power behind the Brotherhood.  Nobody knows officially why Hastur hates the Mi-Go, but I like to think it is because they are Byakhee who were infected with a nanofungus and managed to escape Hastur's control, which he deeply resents.  Hastur and his worshippers also seem to hate C'thulhu and his cults, and they periodically war with each other.  Hastur seems to be the most political of the mythos deities, often utilizing humanity's prejudices to fight his mythos enemies.  Hastur promotes nihilism, and likes to remind humanity and other sentients that their brittle social conventions are all that prevents their collapse into animalistic madness.

 

Edited by Darius West
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