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
—"Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2
Carcosa is a timeless alien city that is (at least partially) located on the shores of the Lake of Hali, which in turn is found on a planet orbiting one of the Hyades (or possibly Aldebaran). The city is said to be the seat of the King in Yellow who may or may not be an aspect of the Great Old One Hastur, commonly said to dwell in the Lake of Hali.
Carcosa also seems to have a trans-dimensional aspect, being prone to alien geometries1 … and something of a parasitic aspect as well, tending to infect and colonise other cities when the two are brought into some kind of spiritual proximity by the machinations of the King. Some accounts suggest that Carcosa proper is at least partially composed of all the other cities that it has swallowed over the years. A normal mechanism for spreading the infection is the dissemination of the play The King in Yellow or related dramatic works and/or the creation of other artworks inspired by The King … which will often include his trademark Yellow Sign.
The first mention of Carcosa is found in Ambrose Bierce's 1891 short story An Inhabitant of Carcosa (which ironically barely describes the city). More of it's nature - and its feeding habits - was revealed by Robert W. Chambers collection of short stories The King in Yellow and these inspired H. P. Lovecraft and other authors to develop the canon further.
Game and Story Use
- The world is full of ready made RPG modules involving the machinations of the King in Yellow and his city.
- Carcosa infestation makes an interesting subplot for an urban campaign - especially when the players aren't expecting it.
- Or you could taunt genre-savvy players with a performance of "The King in Yellow" and assume that they will go all out to disrupt it … only for it to turn out to be an amateur drama performed by a few geeky students with no eldritch properties at all.
- Of course, Aldebaran is pretty close to Earth … space travellers might find themselves there quite quickly in a sci-fi campaign, but putting down near (let alone in!) the Lake of Hali to investigate the "Ancient Ruins" may turn out to be a very poor decision.
- A lot of the description could be recycled for a campaign set on a Jupiter colony: cloud waves and more than one moon. All you really need is some way of making "black stars rise" and the "twin suns".