The PCs are in Abyssinia during the Second Italo-Abyssinian war to investigate a recently uncovered tomb believed to belong to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon . It is January 1936 and the Italians are in the process of bombing the area with mustard gas, causing untold death and unleashing an unfathomable evil.
The Horrible Truth
Long ago, in the lands of Sheba a manifestation of Hastur plagued the land. It took the form of a living cloud of poison that killed hundreds and became known as the Yellow Death. The Queen of Sheba travelled to the kingdom of the wise King Solomon, seeking a way to save her people.
The Yellow Death had pursued the queen and was in the process of killing her when King Solomon came to the guest quarters. Throwing a jug of water at the cloud he noted that the foul yellowish cloud retreated from the liquid.
Working through the night King Solomon built a trap for the avatar. The Queen of Sheba bravely acted as bait and lured the cloud into a chamber where it was trapped within a large stone container which was filled with water.
Combining the manpower and wealth of both their kingdoms the rulers built a tomb in the desert, far from any settlements where the Yellow Death could be buried. Knowing that one day others would find the tomb and not know its purpose King Solomon did everything he could to alert intruders and prepare them for what would happen if the Yellow Death should be released.
That day has come. The Yellow Death will be free once more and the PCs will be its first victims.
The PCs explore The Tomb and discover A Warning From The Past. Shortly afterwards Hell Is Unleashed and they must deal with the Yellow Death. Salvation can be found in the Robes of the King and the wreckage of the plane that brought Death From Above. They then have a choice to Flight From The Yellow Sign or Become the King of Yellow.
Getting The Player Characters Involved
The reason that the PCs are in Abyssinia during a war is the recent discovery of a tomb bearing the mark of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon by a wandering merchant. The information has only recently reached the PCs in their home country and they know that they can’t wait for the war to be over to explore this historic find for fear it could be damaged or lost forever as the merchant was only able to give directions by landmarks which could be changed.
This adventure centres around an archaeological dig so it best suits scholarly characters such as as antiquarians, archaeologists, professors and scientists. It can also include authors and journalists who are writing about the dig, a pilot who might have flown the group into the area and medical staff such as doctors and nurses who could be on hand to provide first aid.
The dangerous nature of the dig, as it takes place in a war zone, could mean that the group left in secret and a private investigator was hired to find them, his searching taking him to the dig site. Since it is a war zone one of the PCs might be a member of the military of either side, determined to remove these foreigners from the battlefield.
You may wish to create additional prelude scenes as the PCs attempt to reach the tomb despite the protests of their friends, colleagues and the authorities, avoiding the conflict along the way. This can build up the anticipation of what they’ll find at the tomb and catch them by surprise when the main plot begins.
Be careful not to make it too difficult as the players may begin to wonder if reaching the tomb is worth the trouble. They might also believe that you are trying to dissuade them from reaching the tomb at this point and decide to wait.
The default assumption is that they’ll begin at the tomb, having gone through these hardship already. Make sure the players know how much their characters have struggled to reach this point and that going back isn’t going to be any easier.
If you have a small group of players you can bolster the cast with NPCs taking the roles of additional archaeologists or locals who are doing the hard work. This not only allows you to fill gaps in the investigative abilities but gives you cannon fodder for later sections.
The adventure itself begins with an investigation of the tomb itself and what its nature actually is. The information they gather will become vital to saving their lives once the Yellow Death is unleashed.
When the story begins the PCs have reached the entrance of the tomb. It is a small stone structure inscribed with the symbols of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. There is a third symbol but it is to worn away to recognise. In fact this was a symbol denoting something of toxic evil. At the time most would have instantly recognised what it meant but over the centuries it has been lost to time.
Anyone with Anthropology, Archaeology or History will know that both figures date back to the 10th century BC with some evidence pointing to them ruling parts of what is now Abyssinia. The Hebrew Bible says that the Queen visited King Solomon with gifts of gold, valuable stones and spices to test his wisdom with questions. There is no indication that an alliance was forged to justify the existence of a joint tomb.
For a 1 point spend or using Oral History with a local guide reveals that the Abyssinians believe that the Queen of Sheba asked the King not to take her by force while she stayed in his palace. Solomon agreed as long as she didn’t take anything without asking.
The feast he provided the Queen was very spicy, so much so that she awoke in the night with a terrible thirst. She reached for a jug of water only for King Solomon to appear and announce that she had broken her word and so he was no longer bound to his. The two became a couple producing a lineage which the current rulers of Abyssinia claim to be a part of.
A 2 point spend of the above abilities means that the PC has been privy to some very rare historical documents which suggest that the Queen of Sheba came to King Solomon to deal with a specific problem her kingdom faced, not just to test his knowledge.
Archaeology and Architecture allow a PC to realise that this structure was deliberately hidden, designed to blend in with the surrounding rock, positioned low so that it might easy be covered by sand and built far from any settlements. Someone went to a lot of work to make sure that this tomb wasn’t found for hundreds of years.
To reach the tomb the PCs must descend down a 50ft deep vertical pit. The walls are smooth, requiring the use of rope or a ladder. Simply having a rating in archaeology is enough for the group to have rope, a 1 point spend insures they also have a ladder. Characters can also use preparedness to ensure they have the items they require to descend.
The purpose of this entrance was to dissuade any foolish would-be tomb robbers. King Solomon wanted them to immediately realise that if there were valuables inside that removing them would be difficult, if not impossible.
The pit also means that no natural light enters the tomb. PCs will need to bring their own light sources or set up an elaborate arrangements of mirrors at the top and bottom of the pit. This should enhance the feeling of dread as they enter the darkness with no easy exit.
Chamber of Thorns
The first chamber they enter is filled with stone crooked columns covered in a thorn like protrusions. This makes navigating through the room very difficult and could be seen as a deterrent to grave diggers. Architecture indicates that it is easier to move backwards than it is forwards. A further spend indicates rather than a blockade it is designed to evoke dread of going forward and desire to retreat.
You can request an athletics or stealth check to see if a PC can move through the room without bumping into one of the columns or its thorny protrusion. While it can’t do any damage it could cause them to drop things. It will also show that they are likely to hurt themselves if they moved through the room quickly, especially without a light source.
The Room of Death
This appears to be a burial chamber, with a door to the north and a passage way leading east ( to the chamber of protection) and west (to the chamber of knowledge).
There are nearly a hundred dried husks of human bodies spread out on the floor. They are arranged in several rows of arcs, radiating away from the doorway at the northern end. The positioning of the bodies indicates that they died in agony.
The presence of so many corpses, ancient as they are, should require a stability check. A failure indicates that 2 stability points have been lost.
Anthropology or forensics indicates that the bodies are arranged to create a grisly tableau. They all died elsewhere, likely from poisoning, and arranged here. A 1 point spend reveals that this was designed as a warning against whatever is in the northern chamber. A 2 point spend reveals evidence of blistering, both externally and internally with the mouths of the corpses being greatly deformed. This suggests an airborne toxin.
Stone murals line the walls, showing thousands of people and animals dying across great stretches of land. An ominous cloud hangs over the corpses.
Art and the occult indicate that these murals are designed to frighten the viewer, rather than to glorify the deaths. The mural clearly displays geographical feature of Ethiopia, suggesting that this is an account of something that actually happened. If could indicate that the area suffered a terrible plague or pestilence. A 1 point spend allows the character to notice that the murals all subtlety depict the cloud of death flowing from the northern chamber.
A Cthulhu Mythos reveals that while the mural could be interpreted as the presence of a Colour Out of Space there lacks to be any representation of anything coming from the sky, such as a meteor or falling sky. The deaths are also depicted as a sudden event, rather than slow wasting. This all indicates some new form of sentient poison cloud. This inflicts the loss of 2 stability points.
The door to the north is quite complex in design. Architecture, craft or locksmith all reveal that this door was specifically designed to be airtight. It has a complex arrangement of moving parts, requiring the right combination to open. Opening it requires the Locksmith ability but they will damage the mechanism preventing it from closing unless they spend 1 point. Alternatively they can find the correct combination.
Once they are able to go through the northern door proceed to the A Warning From The Past scene.
This chamber was designed by Solomon to further warn intruders by presenting them some of the bodies of those killed by the Yellow Death. What greater visual message could there be that whatever is behind the northern door was lethal?
The Chamber of Protection
In this room are several man sized statues, the same number as PCs, each of the statues is wearing a robe made out of tattered purple cloth. There are a few more statues and Evidence Collection reveals fragments around the other statues, suggesting that they also were adorned with the robes but that they decayed over time.
Examining the robes using Craft, Chemistry and Biology suggests they are extremely advanced for their time. Each robe has two layers, charcoal pressed between them. Straps could be used to tighten the arms of the robe.
A 1 point spend reveals that these were designed to isolate the wearer from a toxic environment. The charcoal would act as a rudimentary filtration system. The question remains what would lead to the development of such a robe?
In addition to the robes are shelves with large clay jars filled with liquid that smells strongly of chlorine. Anthropology, Archaeology and Chemistry can reveal that these aren’t embalming fluids but some form of cleanser.
This chamber stored the clothes and equipment that King Solomon developed to allow workers to move the Yellow Death container. In the event that it escape the robes would provide short term protection from its blistering touch. The fluids could also be used to wash away the toxins.
They were left in case those in the future would have need of them.
The Chamber of Knowledge
This room appears to be a form of library, with ancient tablets. Anthropology, Archaeology and Languages reveals that they are written in a wide range of languages from the 10 Century BC that would have been known to King Solomon. A 1 point spend indicates that great pains were taken to make sure the message was understood.
The appropriate Language ability can reveal that the primary message is that there is no treasure to be found here. That this is a place of death and corruption. It warns not to stay there, not to dig or try to grow food. All must stay away.
A 1 point spend reveals curious additions throughout the translations, suggesting that something was removed from the messages but not from all of the versions. There are vague references to the evil ‘desiring the life of a man’ and ‘trust not those who emerge from the north’.
King Solomon didn’t discuss the nature of the Yellow Death here because he felt that he would not be able to adequately describe its nature and feared that he might make it sound intriguing. He knew that curiosity would likely lead someone to try and open the northern chamber.
He had also noted that the Yellow Death tried to occupy the bodies of some of its victims, abandoning them once the host had died. Solomon believed that if the Yellow Death found a body which could survive its touch it would inhabit it.
This was removed from the original message and most of the translations because he didn’t want people to seek out this communion in the belief it would give them great power.
Library use allows a character to search through the information and find the combination that will open the northern chamber.
Using the occult ability reveals that one of the tablets describes that bathing in blood is a protection against great evil. A 1 point spend allows the reader to learn the correct ritual, although this results in a stability check, with 1 point lost if they fail.
This information was accidentally learnt by King Solomon in process of trying to imprison the Yellow Death. A solider was crushed by falling rocks and drenched a companion in blood just as the Yellow Death enveloped him. Solomon noted that it took nearly twice as long for the solider to die.
The reason was that the Yellow Death has to first strip away the life that still exists in fresh blood, providing a brief barrier. This can be a form of protection for especially desperate PCs. You may wish a NPC to learn about this method, making them a threat later when they are trying to save their life.
A Warning From The Past
Upon entering the northern chamber the PCs see that this isn’t the resting place of the legendary King Solomon or the Queen of Sheba. The circular chamber has three walk ways (situated on the south, east and north) stopping just short of a central circular column upon which rests a 7 ft high golden container with barely a foot of space around it. Around the walk ways and the column is a pit more than 70ft deep.
The curved walls are covered with visual depictions of dead bodies, to further give viewers an idea of how many died. These rows and rows of victims curve around the room until they reach a depiction of the Yellow Death, beneath which is a representation of the gold container they see in front of them.
Support beams arch up to the curved ceiling, sculpted to depict the grim visage of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, their gaze fixed on the golden container.
Archaeology and Architecture reveal that this chamber was designed to make it very difficult to reach or interact with the container. There is evidence that another walk way was found on the western side of the room. Marks on the wall by each of the walk ways indicate that some form of hoist was used to lower the container on to its resting place.
A 1 point spend indicates that the precarious position of the container means that it could be sent even deeper underground if knocked off. In actuality this is more difficult that it seems because the container is very heavy.
A 2 point spend reveals that the chamber itself has several weak points to it. If enough force was applied the whole place could collapse on itself.
This is a design feature by King Solomon who frequently thought that the container should just be buried and forgotten. He always worried that no matter deep he buried it those in the future would find it and it was better to let them know what they were dealing with than accidentally release the evil within.
Art, Anthropology and Archaeology all confirm that the mural and the statues indicate that the cause of the death they found in the southern chamber was due to whatever is in the container. It was trapped here and everything has been designed to keep people away.
Examining the container using Archaeology or Craft reveals that it was designed to be airtight. It is heavy and the shifting of weight when it is disturbed suggests that it is filled with fluid. If they rest their hands on it they feel a subtle vibration, like a pulse.
Hell Is Unleashed
This scene occurs either when the PCs have reached the northern chamber or when they have decided that they should leave whatever is in there alone. It is exactly at that point that the Italians begin bombing a nearby troop of the Abyssinian army with mustard gas.
Anyone near the entrance will hear the approaching drone of the Fiat BR.20 Cicognas, a twin engine bomber. They, along with anyone who is on the surface, can make a Sense Trouble check to realise that they are in danger of being caught in the bombing. Seeking shelter is the best thing to do.
The resulting bombing will destroy any form of transport the PCs have brought with them. It also causes geological damage, causing cracks to appear in the surface throughout the tomb and one of the support columns to collapse in the northern chamber. PCs in the northern chamber should make dodge checks to avoid being hurt.
The golden container is struck, breaching its surface. Fluid spills out and a foul yellow cloud spills forth. King Solomon’s worst fears have finally been realised.
The Yellow Death is a manifestation of Hastur long before its avatars were shaped by the form of the King in Yellow. It was a form of air element, furthering the Great Old Ones agenda of entropy and decay.
A formless toxic cloud it could absorb other foul odours, mostly gained from the bloated corpses of its initial victims. Through this method it can grow increasingly large in scale, no longer affected by earthly winds.
Its inhuman intelligence is fixated on killing, ever increasing its size. It is this narrow focus that led it to being trapped in the first place. Indeed it will become fixated on anyone that it can’t easily kill. It does this both out of pride and because of its second agenda.
The core of the Yellow Death, that part that first came into existence, desires to be protected within a host body of the native life. If it can find someone who can withstand the toxic transformation it will coil itself up in their body, expanding its cloud of death at will.
In doing so it will unintentionally manifest a form of the King in Yellow. This will strengthen its bond with Hastur and further weaken reality around it, eventually manifesting Carcosa around it.
Those enveloped within the Yellow Death (if it succeeds at scuffling) are exposed to the toxin. Exposed skin and their respiratory system blisters within 1d10 minutes. This is extremely painful resulting in a -3 modifier to all checks. A PC can make an athletics to hold their breath, preventing their lungs from being affected. This reduces the modifier to -1. This makes the affected PC much more prone to infection as their blisters burst and expose raw flesh. Medicine checks are required to treat their injuries, all while the PC is in terrible agony.
Prolonged exposure to the Yellow Death is lethal. Each turn after the first the PC must make a Health check with a -1 modifier. This modifier increases by 1 each turn until the character fails and goes into shock.
The Yellow Death is able to briefly solidify part of itself, forming a yellow tendril which it can use to strike targets. It uses this mostly to attack barriers as it prefers to poison its victims but it can be used as a bludgeoning weapon.
Abilities: Athletics: 8, Scuffling: 12, Weapon: 8
Hit Threshold: N/A
Stealth Modifier: +3
Weapon: +5 poisonous tendril
Armor: incorporeal by nature any physical attacks pass through it. It is vulnerable to anything that affects the atmosphere such as intense heat or cold. This will either cause its gaseous form to solidify or freeze.
Stability Loss: +2
Those considering fleeing from the tomb and the Yellow Death will have a nasty surprise. There is a cloud of Mustard Gas outside that will prevent them from getting far. The effects are the same as being exposed to the Poison Presence but the effects don’t manifest for 1d6x10 minutes.
Due to the time it takes for the effects of the Mustard Gas to manifest PCs may think they are fine when exposed. Anyone with Chemistry or Medicine will know the true effects of the gas and that contact with it is not a good idea.
Worse still the Yellow Death has the ability to take control of the poison gas, adding to its own body. In theory it could go on to sweep across Abyssinia, devastating both sides of the conflict.
Robes Of The King
Those who went into the Chamber of Protection may now think to put on the robes to protect themselves from the Yellow Death. If there are any NPCs this will create an issue as there are fewer robes than people. This could lead to a conflict.
Once they have the robes they still have to put them on and the Yellow Death won’t give them that time. A fleeing check can allow a PC to put some distance between them and the cloud, with stealth could be used to sneak away. Those who stand their ground and try to put the robes on as quickly as they can will need to pass an athletics check.
Any character wearing the robes and that has used the straps can avoid blistering of the skin. They now only need to make an athletics check to avoid breathing in the Yellow Death.
If a robe is left on one of the statues the Yellow Death might encircle it for a short time, until they work out it isn’t a person. This can be used to the PCs advantage later if they try to use disguise to blend in with the statues.
Any NPCs without protection can be killed by the Yellow Death at this point to show its power. Anyone witnessing this must make a Stability check or suffer 1 stability point loss. This is also an opportunity to show the Yellow Death trying to take a host.
The robe makes it more difficult to move through the Chamber of Thorns. A stealth check is required to prevent it snagging on the stone thorns. A failure indicates that the robe is torn and no longer provides protection.
This can be used to increase tension as the number of functioning robes decreases.
Death From Above
This scene occurs after the Yellow Death has been released and the PCs are either on the surface, in the pit or in the Chamber of Thorns. It is at this point that the Yellow Death emerges outside and takes control of the swirling poison cloud.
It lashes out at a bomber, causing it to crash nearby. The crew are killed instantly but enough of the wreckage survives for PCs to see from the entrance of the tomb. Most notably there are gas masks and a flare gun.
Reaching it is no easy task, since the mustard gas is still proving a hazard. An athletics must be made to reach the plane with another check being required if they also wish to see if they can hold their breath. Failure on either means they stumble blindly in the swirling gas, their eyes stinging and their skin beginning to itch. Wearing the robes from the Chamber of Protection can at least protect their skin.
Those who make it to the plane are not safe from the gas and must quickly gather resources. The gas masks were badly damaged in the crash and the exact number that work depend on the GM. For a purist consider only having one provide any protection while in a Pulp game this a working gas mask for all but one of the group.
The single flare gun is in working order but can only be fired once. It can be used to stun the Yellow Death if fired directly into it, which can give a PC time to flee. It can also be used to collapse the northern chamber.
Someone with piloting or outdoorsman can discover the planes flight plan. This can be useful when the PCs decide it is time to leave the area.
If you wish to add more action to the scenario one of the Italian pilots might have survived the crash, although badly injured. Using a pistol he’ll try and kill the PCs as they ransack the wreckage. This combat sequence can be brought to an end by the Yellow Death itself, claiming another victim.
Flight From The Yellow Sign
Once the PCs have the protection of the robes and a working gas mask they may consider fleeing, since they are now virtually immune to the Yellow Death. This is why it is important that not everyone have the protective equipment as it means that someone will have to be sacrificed.
In a more relaxed group, especially if this scenario is run as a one-off, you should encourage the players to have their characters fight for their life. In a bleak game this could result in all of the equipment being damaged while in a game where you want at least one person to survive it just increases the stakes as there are fewer and fewer working robes and masks available.
Those who try to escape the area should use Outdoorsman or use the map recovered from the plane. They reach a small Abyssinian settlement in 1d10 hours, with a 1 point spend reducing that time by 3 and a 2 point spend reducing it by half.
The settlement is littered with the dead bodies of Abyssinians. A stability check should be required with those who fail losing 4 stability points. Survivors all show exposure to mustard gas and will be terrified of the strangely garbed PCs.
Use of Reassurance can calm the people who talk in horror of the strange yellow rain that killed their friends and family. The PCs will realise this is not the result of other worldly beings but of man.
Let the horror of that realisation end the adventure. The Yellow Death is likely to cause more deaths but for the moment man is killing far more than this ancient evil. The PCs might come back to deal with it later (maybe after finding an occult ritual to banish it) but for now they should just be concerned with getting home.
Become The King In Yellow
Those PCs who wish to put an end to the Yellow Death can try to repeat the plan of King Solomon and seal it within the northern chamber using the flare gun or other means to cause it to collapse. By now they should have noticed its attempts to gain a host and realise that one of the PCs can act as bait.
Wearing the robes and a gas mask is enough for someone to survive the transformation, or at least keep the Yellow Death in one place long enough for the others to put their plan in motion. If they learnt of the ritual from the Chamber of Knowledge they may decide to have the character bath in blood to increase their odds. This will require the sacrifice of a PC, a NPC or maybe one of the recently dead Italian pilots. Each choice should bring a stability check for those involved with appropriate stability and sanity lost.
This should be a tense, emotional scene as one character decides, or is pressured into, giving up their life. The Yellow Death will fixate on a character with both the robes and the mask. The PC can then take it to the chamber or maybe the wreckage of the plane (where the remaining fuel could be set alight to burn the Yellow Death).
While the chosen character does have a brief immunity by choosing to sacrifice themselves they’ve eliminated the protection of the rules that might give them a chance. The Yellow Death forms tendrils restraining them and removing the mask long enough for it to flow into their lungs.
Those watching will see a physical transformation taking place as the Yellow Death becomes the King In Yellow. Their form is reshaped, the gas mask becomes their face and their robes change from tattered purple to tattered yellow. Anyone with Cthulhu Mythos will recognise the figure and realise that it is transforming itself into a more powerful avatar.
The remaining PCs should take this opportunity to spring their trap. Either the Yellow Death and its host will be destroyed or trapped deep underground. The others need only wait for the mustard gas to disperse before they try to escape (in which case use the remainder of Flight From The Yellow Sign).
If they hesitate or try to reason with the new King In Yellow will find that it is not grateful that they allowed it into existence. No longer concerned with their deaths it will disperse, taking the cloud of mustard gas with it.
Those who look back at the tomb will see the once faded warning symbol flood with a sickly yellow colour. Once they return to civilisation they maybe disturbed to see that this Yellow Sign turn up in the most unusual places.
If the King In Yellow escaped then they’ll hear of a major city being enveloped within a poisonous cloud. No one is able to get in or out but one day they’ll receive a phone call from their former friend, speaking an alien voice and asking them to come to his new kingdom.