Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yellow Wallpaper (Wermspittle)

Yellow Wallpaper
No. Enc.: (Special)
Alignment: n/a
Movement: n/a
Armor Class: n/a
Hit Dice: 1 to 10 (Regenerates 1d4/day)
Attacks: 1
Damage: (Special)
Save: MU (HD=Level)
Morale: 12

Wicked, demoralizing psychic parasites first documented during the waning days of the Midwives' Rebellion, Yellow Wallpaper was used to line the walls of the asylums where captured Midwives were held as prisoners of war. Those that survived their incarceration were never quite the same ever again. They were the lucky ones. The rest were driven to despair, dementia and even suicide as the vile xanthous sheets formed from gutter-silk, Rapunzeline and some peculiar derivative of the White Powder by the patented process of the now defunct Usher-Mifflin Paper Company. Usher-Mifflin went under shortly before the end of the Air-War, and their records were destroyed in a freak fire, including all official formulae for the manufacture of this paper. Some experts claim that a particular form of yellow forest slime, or possibly Crudiv spores were also used in making this hateful stuff, but as no known samples have survived from the war no one has been able to officially verify this claim. A few illicit attempts to re-create the original formula have so far yielded wildly varying results of dubious use or merit. And every now and then someone claims to have found a cache of the stuff, or some old attic or shuttered room is discovered where a few tattered sheets of this are alleged to be still hanging on the walls...just waiting to torment another victim.

Yellow Wallpaper is an insidious thing, incapable of movement or even self-defense, yet pernicious and invasive in its psychic assault upon any and all who are exposed to it for extended periods of time. It stifles emotional expression, deadens the pleasure centers of the human brain, stunts all sense of ambition and slowly drains away the victim's WIS, INT and even CHAR, one point at a time over the course of its oppressive mental malevolence. The effect of exposure to this stuff has been described as being loomed over by a tall, stern judge who heaps unending scorn and ridicule upon every least portion of your identity, suffocating your very sense of self, and crushing all your dreams into meaningless gibberish whether you're asleep or awake, non-stop. (Drains 1 point of whichever characteristic over a 12 hour period, minus as many hours as the thing has HD. For example, a 8 HD specimen could drain 1 point of WIS every 4 hours.)

Worse Than Bad Vibes
Use of Yellow Wallpaper is strictly prohibited within the walls of Wermspittle, ever since the Armistice between the Sewer Militia and the Midwives. Unfortunately, the wording of this prohibition is a bit vague and after the wholesale slaughter of law writers and their ilk during the Rebellion, there are few real standards for interpreting such things any more. All attempts to regularize and reform such things have met with the deeply entrenched disapproval of the Midwives and other factions who do not wish to see any sort of return to the bad old days and the judicial profiteering, Licensing battles, Legitimization pogroms, and other abuses of the past. Thus, there are those within Wermspittle, and other environs, who do still make use of Yellow Wallpaper, but never ever within the hearing or knowledge (or reach) of the Midwives.

There are rumors that certain Nobles, and a few upstarts as well, might be tempted to revive the heinous old practice of maintaining a secret room fitted with Yellow Wallpaper, ostensibly to 'tame shrewish foreign wives,' or to 'cool the passions of over-eager consorts,' but few give much credence to such things. It's not just in bad taste, it would be an act of hubris beyond stupid; especially if the Midwives were to ever find out about it. So far few of these idiots have been able to actually acquire enough of the stuff to proceed with their sick ambitions. But every so often one hears rumors of isolated chambers, remodeled cellars, and other such spaces where some form or another of Yellow Wallpaper might be in use.

The last verified instance of Yellow Wallpaper in Wermspittle resulted in the entire block burning to the ground, and then three levels down past that, despite the initial efforts of hundreds of volunteers attempting to put out the deep blue flames. The impromptu fire-fighters withdrew or dispersed fairly quickly once they were informed that no Midwife would heal anyone injured by the Blue Flames. The owner was allegedly using a set of rooms in the attic, each one lined with Yellow Wallpaper, to 'train in' or 'break down the willful natures' of a dozen or so kidnapped Refugees intended to join the ranks of those serving in one of their bordellos. They themselves were found with their guts woven into the pornographic tapestry hanging over their bed. To this day, it is considered bad luck to sleep before a tapestry with a guilty conscience. Particularly if you're stupid enough to get on the wrong side of the Midwives.

There are dark rumors of alternate-patterns of Yellow Wallpaper, some of which produce excruciatingly heightened sensitivity, or profoundly disturbing incipient neuroses, psychoses or worse in their victims. Thankfully such things are exceedingly rare. The trademarked symbol used in the original Usher-Mifflin production runs of the authentic Yellow Wallpaper bears a striking resemblance to the Bayrolles Seal in the keeping of the Prismatic Library on the corner of Neely Street and Robardin Avenue. The symbol has since been misappropriated by no fewer than six iterations of a so-called 'Symbol of Insanity.'

Those who've been exposed to the pernicious, perpetual psychic assault of Yellow Wallpaper may eventually recover the INT, WIS, and/or CHAR drained from them, but they are forever marked by a lingering restless melancholy. For every hour they rest, they suffer a -1 penalty to reaction rolls (CHAR checks), for the next 2d12 hours, losing one point of penalty per hour spent being active and moving around. Survivors of this horrid, hateful stuff instantly recognize the mark of the thing upon one another. They also suffer a -2 penalty to all Saves versus mind control, insanity or similar psychic attacks. These effects persist even if the victim receives a Restoration spell or something similar. It might be immobile, slow and weak...but it has a devastating, lingering effect.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is available via Project Gutenberg, here, or here, as well as a few dozen other sites. Lovecraft was a fan of her story and said of it; 'Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in The Yellow Wall Paper, rises to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined.' High praise from H. P. Lovecraft, which you can find buried within the cosmic fear drenched text of his most famous Essay.

The House of Usher (as in Fall of), is E. A. Poe's tale of a brother and sister with a terrible (possibly sorcerous) affliction, which is also available at Project Gutenberg, and a dozen other sites, or you can read some erudite criticism of the story, but it'll be Roger Corman's movie version from 1960 that stars Vincent Price that you want to watch, at least once. On a rainy day. When you can't get a hold of a copy of The Haunted Palace. We'll be coming back to Poe, Usher and related things soon enough.

In Gilman's tale, it is the enforced inactivity of the so-called 'rest-cure' inflicted upon the main character by her over-bearing walking cliche-hole of a husband that is the real 'monster of the piece,' the insanity brought upon her is more complex than just a response to some ugly interior decorating. But that said, the notion of a mind-warping form of psychically oppressive interior decorating used to subjugate and sap the will of those exposed to it for long periods of confinement just was too wicked  an idea not to develop, especially as it fits into Wermspittle oh so well. And yes, the Yellow Wallpaper above affects everyone exposed to it equally with no discrimination whatsoever, regardless of any of the usual distinctions or provisions. It's thoroughly nasty stuff, but not the sort of thing that jumps out and bites people. It's insidious and subtle, and exactly the sort of thing a bad, bad person would use to line elaborately (Escher-style?) winding passages or stairways within certain decrepit towers...


  1. As someone who teaches the Gilman story every year, this is right up my alley! It also puts me in mind of this Oscar Wilde quote: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go."

  2. Hi Jack! Glad you liked the YW. It's some seriously creepy stuff, and Gilman's story is an excellent example of the sort of horror that just gets worse through implication and what the reader is left to consider, for themselves, after the fact. It actually seems creepier and more disturbing now, re-reading it after a few years.

    Love that Wilde quote! Actually, that was one of the pieces that got cut from this version--I wanted to stick with a strictly mental/emotional/psychic approach, but there is another creature that combines the Yellow Wallpaper with some other Bad Influences to produce a free-roaming nasty-thing. That quote from Wilde would be perfect for this beast. Simply perfect. Thanks--I'll dedicate the other creature to you for having made the suggestion/connection to Oscar Wilde. Much appreciated!

  3. I don't think I've ever used to term "tour de force" in regard to a blog post, but I think it applies here. Sure Gilman provided the inspiration, but the way you've inegrated it into the setting--all the "business" that seems to mundanify it but actually serves to heighten the weirdness of Wermspittle--is just great!

  4. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was also used very effectively as a story-within-a-story with two layers in the FX series "American Horror Story" this past Fall.

  5. @Trey: Thanks! We're having a lot of fun with Wermspittle, and Gilman's creepy story struck a chord with us as a perfect fit for our approach to weird. We'll have a few more rennovated/reinterpreted classics fairly soon.

    @Tallgesse: Thanks for the heads-up. We don't have cable, but we'll look for the DVD at the local library, unless this program is also available online. There's a lot of potential (both dramatically and creepirifically) in this horrific concept that we only just barely hint at, so it'd be fun to see what a televised series might do with it.


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