Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gaming Library: Carcosa

The book I'll look at today, is a small booklet called Supplement V Carcosa. Those who know some of the history of weird fiction obviously know about that name. If you also know something of rpg history, I think you know what those other four supplements are. This is a hobby project by Geoffrey McKinney, as his personal way of playing OD&D. 

Some of you might have heard of Carcosa before, and might even be sick of every mention of it. Then just pass along and let the rest of us talk a bit more.

Having said that, let's take a closer look at this game. The first thing you notice is that this is indeed almost a game of its own. While the structure of the booklet, and the cover text, claims it's a supplement to a fantasy rpg first published in 1974, it actually replaces most of the rules of that game.

What is it then? The character options are few, and easy to grasp. Like its parent game it's class based, and there are only two classes. They are Fighting Men and Sorcerors. The latter is all you get rules for, and they are basically summoners who can interact with nameless horrors. There are few creatures in the game which you would recognize from a regular fantasy campaign. Most are slime, oozes and fungi, and extra terrestial horrors in the Lovecraftian vein. All the magic in the game is rituals to summon, bind and punish these creatures. Add to this the existence of psionics and you have a distinctly unorthodox fantasy game.

Most reviewers have spent much time talking about the magic rules. Personally I don't find them worthy of that many words. You age, you have to roll saves and you wont know until too late if you failed. The rules are businesslike and not anything special. The reason Carcosa is available in a censored edition is that the descriptions of the rituals of sorcery are fairly gross. That is gross as in descriptions of murder, sacrifice, mutilation and other unwholesome deeds. It's very matter of fact and not gratuitous. Sure it's gross, but if you complain about that you should take a long hard look around the real world, and think about if you shouldn't take action to alleviate misery and dehumanizing behaviour there before you get all worked up over a game. Censorship don't belong in a open society. I bought the original edition for a reason.

What I find most interesting with the game is the fact that you get a map, with keyed encounters and findings for all the hexes! Not only will you get a new summoning based magic system, psionics rules, a new funky die roll mechanic and technological items (more on those in a second), you will also have somewhere to go and something to interact with. Make no mistake, though. There's no listing of nations, rulers, population density and trade routes. You will get a map and a list of what's in those hexes. Go wild.

So what was that about new ways to roll dice, and funky tech? Let me tell you. The designer of Carcosa have decided to do something interesting with dice. All damage rolls are variable! All hit points are also variable! Sometimes you will fight a spawn of Shub-Niggurath with 15 hitpoints and sometimes it might be 3. I really like that. A bit more funky is the fact that you roll all kinds of dice to determine damage, but the d20 will tell you (look up a short table) which of them is used! This will mean that carefullness is rewarded, and that when you attack you want to stock the odds in your favour and be ready to run. The result is a game where the world sometimes hate you, and it is prudent to take advantage of the days when fortune smiles upon you. It has a certain bleak charm to it. Frankly, bleak is what it is most of all, Carcosa.

Apart from that, I find the existence of Space Aliens, and alien technology to be the most jarring, and potentially most cool oddity in a very odd game. That is odd as in the existence of protoplasmic entities summoned by grisly murder and at the same time robots, androids and other technological artifacts from a retro style comic book science fiction. I can't decide if I find it amazing or just baffling.

Worth noting is that there are no immediate reasons for adventue in this world. Most of the monsters have no or little treasure and those technological artifacts might be the best shot at treasure.

So, why sould you get this game? Well, I'm kind of unsure who the audience would be for this game. Many of the gamers who like classic D&D style fantasy shun tech like the plague. Add to that the very gloomy world were most monsters are terrors who will drive you insane, turn to goo or just eat you will mean a very special kind of fantasy. That being said, if you like post apocalyptic games, or fantasy tinged with horror you might get lot of inspiration from this little booklet. There's not much art, and it looks like something designed in 1974, but Geoffrey sells it for a lot less than you would imagine, considering the amount of stuff it contains.

Go take a look! It is, if nothing else, innovative and a different mix of things we these days don't expect in our fantasy. It's a potent brew.

Finally an important message:


  1. Thank you very much for the review! :)

  2. My pleasure!

    You are way quicker than me. I haven't yet managed to toss a message in your direction about the review. Good you found it anyway.

  3. Even if you are not using CARCOSA as your game system, it is still a great source book for all sorts of things.

    I did purchase the Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA, primarily because my wife and I are both CEOs of nonprofit organizations that work with children and I am very cautious of what I have on my home computer and library. But even in its milder form, it is very cool and edgy.

  4. I am mildly intrigued. I've just been reading CthulhuTech, so my thoughts are already going in these directions...

  5. I don't know how Carcosa compares to CthulhuTech, but it sure is different!

    Some of the tables for generating sf tech fifties style, and the tables for generating repulsive spawns of SN sure is fun to play around with.


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