Opening Night- October 17th, 1928; London, England
"There is a queue outside the theatre. They are huddled up
against the bitter cold. A photographer has set up his equipment
to capture the scene and the crowd is looking his way. A
large gentleman in an overcoat and a homburg hat, arms folded,
grips a copy of the London Express and shows an angry
expression. His wife next to him keeps her head down. Sitting
on camp stools in front of them are two well-dressed women in
elaborate hats, drinking tea. Behind the camera an empty
omnibus plows along the snowy street."
— Talbot Estus, The Curse of Beydelus
It's an unseasonably cold night for October, the wind howling in from Scotland to afflict the lowlands with a horrid chill. Thankfully the omnipresent London rain has let up for the evening, the clouds content to mask you from the stars above. You stand in a queue inside of the Scala in the West London theatre district (the Scala is between Goodge and Tottenham on Charlotte street, only a brisk ten to fifteen minute walk from Leicester Square and Covent Garden), having checked your coats. The hour is late, almost nine o'clock and you will soon be seated. The inside of the Scala is rather gloomy, lit by gaslights spaced evenly around the red walls. As you entered, each of you was given a playbill. It reads:
"Carcosa" or, "The Queen And The Stranger"
adapted from the French and staged by TALBOT ESTUS
The part of CASSILDA, QUEEN of YHTILL will be played by MRS. HANNAH KEITH
The part of THALE, OLDER SON of CASSILDA will be played by MR. WALTER PAIGE
The parts of UOHT, YOUNGER SON of CASSILDA and NAOTALBA, CASSILDA'S HIGH PRIEST will be played by MR. GEORGE KEITH
The part of CAMILLA, DAUGHTER OF CASSILDA will be played by MISS JEAN HEWART
The part of THE STRANGER will be played by MR. MICHEAL GILLEN
The part of THE KING IN YELLOW will be played by MR. TALBOT ESTUS
There are about 100 people in attendance from all walks of life, all dressed in their best.
Please describe yourselves and feel free to interact with the other characters before the play begins.
The sharply dressed man removes his bowler hat as he enters, his neat hair groomed back with Brylcreem (the latest fashion)reflects the light in its smooth gloss. He checks his long coat in at the front of house, and insists on hanging it himself.
Wandering through the theatre as if he owns it, he moves among the crowd as if seeking familiar faces, nodding in a friendly manner to all he encounters; teacup in the right hand, cane in the left, he is quite the picture of a typical lord of the manor.
A tall, well-built man with short-cropped, graying hair and well-kempt beard, Martin Poole is formally dressed in an openly American style. Examining the playbill carefully while waiting for the doors to open, he smiles with pleasure at seeing Talbot Estus' name, mildly surprised to see that he was performing in, as well as producing, the play.
Carefully tucking the playbill into the crook of his left arm, he turns his eyes to the crowd, examining them with the kind of care that he'd been left with after the War.
His eyes stop on the familiar figure of Spencer Reeves. Lifting a hand, he smiles warmly as he speaks.
"Ah, Spencer! Pleasure to see you, sir. Come to take in the show, I see?"
"Aha, Martin you old devil! Indeed I have come along to see what I hope is a rather intriguing show...that Mr Estsus, very diverse, producing and performing? Superb effort. Hows the writing coming along? will we have some light Christmas reading? It's getting terribly cold and I need a good book by the fire".
Spencer looks over Martins dress rather intensely for a moment...
"Perhaps we need to take in a tour of Saville Row, I almost mistook you for an American"
Spencer gives a slight chuckle and raises an eyebrow, clearly hoping to get a friendly rise out of his comrade.
Martin chuckles at Spencer's customary good humor.
"Writing is a solitary task, not unlike pressing blood from a stone. As the seasons turn cold, does not one seek the warmth of companionship to defend against the growing dark?" He shakes his head. "The story comes at its own pace and I will not worry at it overmuch."
He raised an eyebrow as he examined Spencer's own lavish garments. "I assure you, my dress is of the latest fashion. Just you wait, after this evening has drawn to a close all of London society will be seeking to follow after me."
He straightened his double-breasted vest and smoothed his tie.
Lucian strides in a self-important fashion into the theater, shaking his head at the impertinence presented to him in the playbill. "Estus, you old showboat - trying to be quite the Renaissance Man, aren't you?" he says to no one in particular. His suit is less refined than some of the other patrons - a deliberate choice on Lucian's part, as he would rather maintain the image of a slightly thread-bare artist. He rifles through his pockets, looking for his ticket in order to discover where he would be sitting. "Thank goodness we're not to wait outside like cattle," he mutters to himself.
Looking over the crowd of theater goers, you can't help but see a discrete pocket of space around one man. It seems like the other patrons nearest him are deliberately trying not to stare at him, while others further away rather openly steal glances. You haven't a clue what the matter could be until he turns more toward you: his face and hands are both horribly burned, with the callused texture of scar tissue.
Successful Know or Art (Acting/Painting) roll:
You've heard of a man fitting his description: Victor Sixsmith. Scarred as he is, he's quite a local celebrity in the theater circle known for his incredible skill at producing realistic backdrops and clever staging techniques as much as for his deformity.
I'll let Jamie give a more in-depth description of Victor.
A direct counter-point to Victor standing anonymously in the rear, almost all eyes turn (overtly or otherwise) toward Lucian as he enters the theater. Young ladies without male escorts look the young man over, even the ladies accompanied by a gentleman or husband steal a glance. Their escorts, naturally, take on a more envious countenance. Despite his well-worn suit it seems that he can't help but cut a dashing figure.
Sensing eyes shift from him, Victor looks up to see what the commotion is.
Spotting Lucian, Victor turns to a nearby swooning woman and gives her a wink and a wry smile.
"I know, we could be brothers, right?"
The young woman and her companion, both blonde with their hair fashionably short and clad in smart evening dresses, turn back to Victor. The girl closest laughs awkwardly while her companion looks shyly at the scarred carpenter. Both are blushing a bit.
"Oh, well, I think there could be a... family resemblance. Hah.", she replies before asking the question you've fielded almost every day since the incident.
Lucian gives a knowing nod to the recognizable figure of Victor across the room. Sixsmith is here! I wonder if he was in charge of the set - if Talbot knew what he was about, he certainly should have hired him. He casts a lazy eye over the crowd, apparently unconcerned about the effect his dashing appearance has had on the fairer sex in the audience. He calmly strolls over to Victor, his mind made up to make his acquaintance. Hand outstretched, he steps between the couple who had been talking to the man a moment prior.
"Victor Sixsmith, isn't it? I'm Lucian McAllistair, a fellow artist - less so than you, of course - and a great admirer of your ingenuity and artistry."
You spot a distinguished looking older man with whiskers and a fine suit. He's speaking to a small crowd of other well dressed men, each smiling deferentially. The woman on his arm (from her age, you would say his wife rather than a daughter or mistress) has a fine gown and a few tasteful pieces of expensive looking jewelry. Now you remember: that must be Right Honorable Lord Gordon Hewart, Lord Justice of the King's Bench Division. Truly a diverse crowd tonight.
An usher announces: "Ten minutes to curtain! Ten minutes! Please take your seats soon!" There is a casual stir in the gathering as people begin to comply.
Martin had been examining the scarred man in the back when Spencer points out the newcomer.
"Hmm? Oh yes, quite. But over there, I believe, is Victor Sixsmith. Quite talented." He pays little attention to the entrance of Lucian, unable to lift his eyes from the scarred visage of the expert craftsman.
As the crowd turns to go in, he nods to Spencer. "Well, I should find my seat. Shall we get together after, have a nip of brandy perchance?"
I will commence with the play; we'll say Ravenath's character arrived late and sat down toward the rear, which is only polite.
The four of you head into the theater and find your seats just as the usher begins to announce the curtain in five minutes- the brandy will have to wait for now, though you're heartened that Estus had mentioned to Martin there would be a reception afterwards. Much of the theater seems to be empty; despite the large group outside, there seems to be only a modest turn-out according to the Scala's size. After a few more moments of hushed conversation the gaslights dim, leaving only the footlights. The curtain rises and the play begins.
The Queen and the Stranger: Act One Scene 1 A palace, a balcony in the ancient Roman style. On a couch, once opulent and now faded and threadbare, reclines the Queen Cassilda. Behind her twin suns appear on the sky of a beautifully painted backdrop. Enter her two sons and her daughter. The four discuss matters of the succession although no one is named and no one calls another by name, so you are a bit disoriented at first. The sons argue and they complain to their mother but Cassilda does not give the attention they would wish, and in the end she wearily sends them away. The talk seems to be one they have had many times before- the actors bring across a feeling of ennui, of going through the motions. The backdrop catches your eye; any of you with an understanding of painting can see that every consideration was taken to understand how a land with two suns would be lit and the actors are lit accordingly. Thus, the whole thing feels rather alien, despite the rather banal subject matter. Cassilda is dressed in red; she seems to melt into the couch through the draping quality of her costume.
Successful Art check:
The female performers are more accomplished than the male.
Scene 2 The palace, Cassilda's receiving room. The queen stands at a long table. She reads aloud from a scroll a report which names her city as Yhtill and her kingdom as Hastur and talks of a war that goes on against the kingdom of Alar. The conflict has no end in sight. A child with jeweled fingers enters. It's unclear if he is another of the queen's sons although he talks to her with familiarity and even bullies her. They speak of Carcosa, a wandering dreamlike city which is a place of several unusual aspects: it appears overnight; it is either on or beyond the waters below the palace, Hali; the towers of the city slip behind the moons at night and on seeing the city one knows its name. A fifth singularity no one speaks of. Cassilda sings a sad song about Carcosa's fate. A portion of the song:
"Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
When her song ends, the priest Naotalba enters. He eyes the child with distrust but it seems the queen has no power to dismiss the youth. Naotalba describes uncertainty out in the city. A stranger has arrived, an unheard of event.
During this act, you notice something about the composition on the stage: though the backdrop and the set is different, the same arrangement of colors has been maintained. The red divan, for example, was replaced with a red shelf. When the priest enters, he wears a similar colored costume as one of the sons and stands where he stood in the previous act. Though the action is in a different location, it feels as though nothing has changed.
Successful Astronomy check:
The Hyades are an open cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus- the bull's face, just below red Aldebaran- the bull's eye, and the ninth brightest star in the sky. If it weren't cloudy out tonight, you would have been able to see it since Taurus is visible during the autumn/winter.
It is here that the play- already ambiguous and dreamlike- takes a turn for the bizarre. Please read your spoiler and then read the finale for Scene 3.
The queen greets the white masked stranger who appears indifferent to her status. She seems to know who he is and to have expected him, but is surprised he has come so soon. When she puts this to him he replies that, no, she is really surprised that he wasn't here before. They talk for a period more but you realize that it's all clever word play designed to obfuscate a hidden truth and you lose interest in the dialogue as you consider what is not being said. A couple a few seats away start whispering urgently. They gather their things then get up to leave. You are very annoyed at this and can choose to make a comment if you wish. But actually you can sense a repressed tension in yourself, too, at odds with what you would call this play's understated portrayal of ill-defined events. The stage regains your attention, as the stranger makes to embrace the queen...
Victor and Martin:
The white-masked stranger enters; Cassilda is oblivious to his presence. She begins a soliloquy in which she speaks of each of her children who wander in distractedly as they are discussed (they are named here for the first time): her eldest son, Thale, restless, contented and cruel; Uoht, her second son, flawed, ambitious, sensitive; Camilla, her daughter, quiet but influential. She bemoans how the family was only ever held together by the Yellow Sign. The theater is absolutely still. You sense a tension in yourself, something tells you a truly awful event is about to occur. As all the other actors save Cassilda leave, the silent stranger, almost forgotten in the shadows, steps past her to the very front of the stage. He faces the audience...
The queen, Cassilda, is alone on the stage. She is quiet for almost a minute- very odd for a play- and then she reacts as though someone has joined her although no one has. She speaks of the approach of madness, and she talks ever more excitedly about the power of the king, the King in Yellow, and there are pauses in her conversation as though she is listening to another side. The a second figure enters wearing long silk robes and a bone-white mask. She ignores him. Someone at the back of the theater shouts out and people in front of you turn to look as the disturbance continues. On stage the queen now looks at the newcomer. She visibly struggles to remain calm...
Scene 3 finale:
The Stranger throws up his arms to reveal the Yellow Sign painted across the breast and sleeve of his silk robe. Cassilda collapses. There are gasps and cries from the other audience members around you. Please make a sanity roll.
Successful Spot Hidden check:
The actress playing Cassilda wasn't looking at the Sign when it was revealed.
The house lights go down and the house lights go up. You blink for a moment and realize that it's intermission.
Looking over the rest of the audience, you can see a mixture of reactions: some members of the audience appear to have been overcome by mild hysterics and there is a muffled sobbing from more. One or two gentlemen are conversing rather loudly about the play in deprecating terms as though seeking support.
"Utter rubbish!", declares one, "Estus must be a right nutter to expect us to pay for this drek!"
"It's an insult to the Scala, it is! To theater itself!"
But many others appear to be spellbound, staying rooted in their seats despite the opportunity to stretch their legs. Some people are going home, but not many. One woman, it seems, is being removed against her wishes. She sounds dazed, dreamily saying,"But.. I must know... I have seen it..."
While the play is odd and fascinating just for its strangeness and staging, you don't see why it would inspire such reactions from everyone around you.
"Utter rubbish!", declares one, "Estus must be a right nutter to expect us to pay for this drek!"
"It's an insult to the Scala, it is! To theater itself!"
"Steady on chaps, I agree its unusual, but there's little need to make a spectacle of yourselves".
For just a brief moment, whether its the set of his eyes or just his presence expanding, you note a slip in his veneer - the jovial demeanour taking a decidedly hard edge. The men momentarily silenced, Spencer resumes his welcoming smile, oblivious to Victors unusual condition.
"What rude little men, now Victor was it, you were saying? Those sets were quite something, do you know the designer?"
"Oh yes how rude of me, Spencer, Spencer Reeves, Chairman of the Bethnal Green Benevolent Society, pleased to make your acquaintance..."
Lucian gives a disapproving sound to the couple leaving, but is distracted by the play's dramatic finale. Upon intermission, the lights come on to reveal Lucian's countenance to be ashen and unhealthy - he's taken poorly to the play.
He enters the lobby shakily, immediately heading towards Victor and his companions. "My God. When the man from the Gazette said that London theater was becoming more and more terrible, I assumed he meant the acting, not the subject matter," Lucian says. His tone sounds like a man making a joke on his own gallows platform.
Martin blinks several times as the lights go up and the curtain falls. It takes him a moment to realize that Spencer has been speaking to him.
"What? Oh, yes. Curious. Yes, let's withdraw."
Taking in the crowd's response, he is drawn a little from his reverie. "I suppose it's a tribute to the playwrite when the audience is so strongly affected. But really, it's just an odd sort of story, isn't it? I'm not sure what to think."
He accompanies Spencer as the other man approaches Victor Sixsmith and listens to the exchange between them.
"I suspect that London society has become rather placid. They aren't prepared for a play that takes some risks. And women, well...they're often taken to such flights of foolishness. I doubt it's worthy of concern."
He extends a hand to Victor.
"Ah, Mr. Sixsmith. Wonderful work; your craft is splendid. I am Martin Poole, an admirer of the arts and your skills, sir."
Lucian gives a long, angry stare at the exiting couple's back, then returns to the play, fascinated by the ambiguity and subtle interplay between the implied and the explicit. When the lights come on, he stands up, languorously stretching as though waking from a pleasant nap.
He heads toward Victor's familiar face out in the foyer, gesticulating enthusiastically. "Fascinating! Intriuging! A true modern myth! That man from the Gazette that claimed that London theater was becoming more and more terrible is clearly a vanguard of the musty same-old same-old! To progress, gentlemen, and to art!"
"Yes looking forward to part two myself, I wonder what spectacles the playwright has set for us. Some interesting metaphors in that body of work, but too subtle for me to pick up. Not to worry, cracking good show, and the lady being escorted out, surely a collaborator acing out to add to the play"
Spencer looks Lucian up and down casually, as if measuring his worth.
"Don't believe we have met, Im Mr Spencer Reeves, Chairman of the Bethnal Green Benevolent society, this is my fellow Mr Martin Poole, writer and man of leisure... I believe you may already know Mr...Sixsmith?"
Martin extends his hand to Lucian. "How do you do, sir. Your enthusiasm in quite infectious. I'm intrigued to see the rest of the show myself, though I must say I don't quite know what to think of it as yet."
"Lucian, gentlemen, Lucian McAllistair - charmed to meet you both." Lucian shakes Martin's hand vigorously. "I actually met Victor only today, just before the curtain rose - but from one artist to another, what work, man! Like gazing out onto a foreign world, it was!" He shakes his head in wonder. "I'm beyond intriuged to see the rest of the play - though I don't think I like it. I feel as though this is a show that goes beyond 'like' or 'dislike' - it's almost a need, a hunger. Quite the show, quite."
"Thank you both, Lucian and Martin, for the compliments."
Victor shakes Martin's hand.
"While I am pleased with the way the set has turned out, I must say that the tension and drama involved in the show itself has really gotten me excited. And Spencer, if there was a plant, I certainly wasn't made aware of it. I suspect that Martin is correct, some folk these days just aren't prepared to deal with such... excitement. Lucian, you seem particularly drawn in. I look forward to seeing your reaction to the second half."
Lucian turns towards Martin. "I'm looking to push the boundaries of photography right now from a science to an art - I believe that the camera can reveal much more than what a picture shows. I dabble some in painting as well, but to no great success; my hand can't quite capture my mind's eye as well as I'd like."
Upon hearing his name, he turns back to Victor. He laughs at Victor's words. "My dear man, are you holding out on us? Some insider's knowledge of what is to come? I suppose that watching the audience with such a play like this must be at least as much entertainment as the acting, but I couldn't understand how you could turn away from a work such as this."
"Oh, no no." Victor says with a chuckle "No insider information, just happy to see that you are so enthusiastic about the show"
"I'm especially eager to see what role the jeweled fingered child has in this. He doesn't seem to appear in the credits."
There are only a few other people staying in the lobby; smokers mostly. The air is perfumed with cigarette and cigar smoke, along with more fragrant pipe tobacco. Everyone is broken up into smaller groups, likely discussing the play. A small number are collecting their coats and hurrying for cabs and cars.
Act Two a little later tonight to give everyone time to converse.
Lucian pulls out his own cigarette case and draws one, accepting Martin's lighter. "Never seen anything like it. Bizarre, the way it drew the eye in... I'd almost suspect one of those islands north of Australia, I suspect they're to be the next big craze amongst artists seeking ethnic inspiration."
After you've had enough time to finish your smokes, the ushers begin announcing the curtain. You weave back to your seats, noticing the new gaps in the seating from those that couldn't stomach the play. The house lights dim once more, the footlights brighten and the curtain rises...
The Queen and The Stranger: Act Two Act Two, Scene 1
A room in the palace that has been taken by the Stranger. The surroundings are severe, brightly colored in heavy swaths. One by one the principals come to talk to him. Thale wheedles and threatens in order to try and gain the Stranger's help in pressing his own suit for the throne. Uoht tries to bargain with him to gain support for his own claim. Camilla wants nothing. She says she wants to listen, to learn something from him, but then she does not listen. She speaks of Yhtill's troubles. Cassilda starts to treat him as an enemy but then suggests an alliance, even a marriage of convenience between them whatever he represents. Finally the child comes in and stands mutely. The lights and curtain go down.
The Stranger has said not a word throughout the scene.
Act Two, Scene 2
A masked ball is taking place on the palace balcony. The guests are finely dressed, intricately masked and they move to music played by the small house orchestra (there are some extras out on stage now to make up numbers). It takes a moment to see the Stranger, he wears the bone white mask and moves stiffly and without gaiety.
After a while the revelers begin to take off their masks. Their eyes look bright and their actions are extravagant, unrestrained. Only the Stranger retains his mask.
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
The Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed, we have all laid aside disguise but you.
The Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask?
The Stranger grasps Cassilda by the arm and she collapses. Another figure appears in tattered robes: it is the King in Yellow. He is huge and he holds a sword and a torch the emits smoke but no light. He talks with the Queen and the priest, Naotalba. From asides amongst the revelers it is clear that now all have seen the Sign, all must wear the mask- Yhtill has become Carcosa and they are no longer entirely human.
Cassilda: Not upon us, oh King! Not upon us!
The King in Yellow: (whispers) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
The King disappears. Out of the crowd of fear-stricken guests runs the child. He goes to the Stranger who himself has fallen to the ground, and taking him by the hand follows in the wake of the King.
As the play ends you grow confused. The final lines of dialogue peter out somehow distorted and lost.
You have lost 1 point of sanity from seeing the Yellow Sign. Something stirs in your mind, like an impending vision, but nothing materializes. Your very brain is afire, but you remain in control.
You have lost 5 points of sanity in a single roll and are temporarily insane. During the riot, you may react in several ways- you can go berserk and start attacking the other guests; you can sit catatonic, entrapped by the play's seductive power or in another way of your choosing. However you feel Lucian would react.
The curtain falls and suddenly all is in uproar, as though a spell has been lifted. Two screaming men rush forward toward the curtain, where they are met by stagehands; three others begin attacking other audience members. A great chaos sweeps the theater.
Cane attack vs. Spencer: 1d100 ⇒ 6
Almost before he can react, Spencer is broadsided by a man's cane as he attacks the other audience members indiscriminately, brandishing his walking stick left and right. The stick stings as it makes contact with your shoulder blade. Another man a few rows back has broken a bottle over his neighbor's head- the surrounding gentleman have risen to the occasion, blocking the maniac from the women nearby and attempting to wrestle the jagged bottleneck from his hand. An old dowager scratches and claws at her grand daughter's face as the young woman screams.
Seeing the other men have already gone after the cane wielding maniac, Spencer picks himself up, smarting from the blow, and runs to intervene the assault on the woman, interposing himself between the young lass and her attacker.
As the curtain falls, Lucian slowly rises. He gazes out upon the pandemonium that the play has left in it's wake. He climbs upon his seat, tottering unsteadily for a moment, before he regains his footing - thus stabliized, he takes a flying leap at the nearest person.
Grapple attempt to knock down whomever Lucian decides to attack.1d100 ⇒ 67 - Failure.