Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Not-Terribly-Controversial Thoughts on Carcosa

So, I've had about 24 hours to peruse Carcosa amidst writing essays for finals and thinking up puppet-master tables. Here's some thoughts:

There's an encounter with barbarians in the module at the end of the book, which isn't terribly significant in the grand scheme of Carcosa, but here's two things I gleaned from it: the first is a concise way to get a feel for Carcosa. 30 purple barbarians riding bright red allosaurs and led by a red man wielding a pulse rifle, out hunting for those that worship or in any way interact with the Old Ones. If you need a one-sentence image to communicate Carcosa that doesn't dwell on the sex, torture and human sacrifice, that'll do it. I'll leave whether you want to do that up to you; since I'll never run Carcosa as-is, but will be cherry-picking from it, I don't see that I'll ever really need to give someone a mental image of Carcosa, but there it is. I suppose if you wanted to strip the vile aspects of Carcosan sorcery and then run Carcosa as-is, that would work.

The other thing I noticed is the mechanical descriptions of the barbarians: they have an attack bonus of a Fighter two levels higher than they are and they never have to check morale. A criticism I think is valid is that Barbarian classes usually involve mechanics like raging/berserking that take control of barbarian characters out of their players' hands. The mechanics in Carcosa got me thinking about taking the opposite tack: how about when every other character needs to make a save or have mechanics take over control of the character Barbarians don't need to worry? The obvious situation would be save vs. fear situations and when some big bad causes awe in its enemies that make them roll all their dice with negative modifiers. It's probably pushing it a bit far to make a Barbarian immune to things like Charm or Sleep, though.

One thing I don't get: Carcosan sorcery is really horrible, but what do the sorcerers do with the Old Ones once they've conjured and subjugated them to their will? I mean, what are the Old Ones good for? I suppose a sorcerer could turn them on a settlement, or maybe an alien base, to destroy it, and sorcerers can get information from them, but nothing in Carcosa that I've read so far indicates that the Old Ones know anything in particular besides details of sorcerous rituals. I suppose that a referee can have them know anything that a sorcerer would be interested in knowing, and sorcerers can find lots of uses for Old Ones if the ref/player wants them to (the "why have us do any more of our imagining for you?" argument); it's just that I'm having trouble believing that sorcerers would mess with the Old Ones without very compelling reasons to, seeing as how they're so dangerous and all, and how kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing other people's kids tends to lead to them wanting to hang your "carcass from a tree," to quote the desires of the barbarians mentioned above. Maybe I haven't read enough Lovecraft (though I haven't ever heard of any Lovecraft stories that involve subjugating Old Ones to a character's will- if you know of one, please let me know), but I can't think of many compelling reasons to do that in Carcosa, at least not off the top of my head; warfare is about the only thing that comes to mind, but Carcosan sorcerers are adventurers, not ranking members of villages, so that isn't totally satisfying. Ah, well, if the PCs stop and kill a sorcerer before he can complete his ritual or be interrogated, he almost doesn't even need a reason, now does he?


  1. Carcosa is probably the product I have most been looking forward to, but I'm trying to wait until the physical book arrives. It's not like I don't have enough to read already. :-)

    I have a big wasteland to the east of the known world in my current campaign that is not very well defined yet. Maybe I'll drop Carcosa into that as a module, and allow the players to interact with it as outsiders (i.e., all the normal races and classes of the campaign).

    Carcosan sorcery, from what I know about it from reading numerous message board threads, reminds me more of Moorcockian sorcery, like the Elric stories, than it does of Lovecraft. The forms (tentacles and all that) obviously owe more to Mr. Lovecraft.

  2. In my Carcosa campaign, the single most common reason for the PCs to try to gain control of a Cthulhoid entity is to use it to help them destroy someone and/or something. Violent little buggers. ;)

    I think that Brendan is right in that Carcosan sorcery is more similar to something that Elric might do, but the entities involved are more like something out of the Cthulhu Mythos.

  3. Yeah. Carcosan sorcery reflects traditional sources very well. Literary and non-literary.

  4. I *am* pretty unfamiliar with a lot of Appendix N and other sources for D&D inspiration, which is probably obvious seeing how I missed that Carcosan sorcery reflects Moorcock. This makes a bit more sense now; it'll probably make more sense if I read some Moorcock. Thanks for the input, especially to Geoffrey.

  5. I have the same problem with the utility of Carcosan sorcery, myself - destroying things simply isn't that useful, and remember the scale: these are just monsters with horrible local effects, match for an army in many cases, but it's not like your enemy couldn't be mobile or wide-spread enough to deal with the inherent limitations of monstrosity. You won't be like, eradicating yellow men from the universe or raising your grand-daddy to life or making somebody fall in love with you with some big monster. You won't even become rich (not that Carcosa has much in the way of wealth to begin with).

    One way to deal with this is to consider it part of the theme: the only sorts of people crazy enough to do sorcery are the occasional tragic heroes fighting fire with fire, and the completely bat-shit insane dudes. The latter are all going to be entirely inured to human suffering, so they'll only care about their unrealistic visions of personal potence or whatever, the price of sorcery is going to be just a logistical inconvenience. One might argue that the Snake-men were this kind of people as a species or civilization: when the neighboring polity routinely fields Cthugah-spawn in lieu of a military force, getting your own set of Cthulhoid horror for border disputes starts looking mighty useful. It's not like we don't obsess over nuclear weapons, which are even less useful and equally destructive if ever actually fielded/used.

    I'm thinking that my own game will leave this stark interpretation behind a bit, though; on the whole, assuming that you pay the prices involved and don't make any mistakes and so on, the horrors involved will be puissant and capable of interacting with the cosmos in other ways beyond the merely destructive, should the sorcerer dare to ask. I'll be assuming that the sorcerer may gain knowledge and utilitarian technology/sorcery/service from the creatures he commands, all according to his daring and the nature of the creatures he treats with. B'yakhee may transport you from place to place, of course (this one is all but textual as is, I would think), intelligent creatures may share the secrets of their civilization with those willing to treat with them according to the laws of the Snake-men, and the mightiest god-like beings are able to distort the world, turn back time in some ways, even bring the dead to some sort of life should it please them. Some will be just dumb brutes, of course, and good luck perceiving which is which with beings so detached from human experience.

    I don't really need the above sort of thing for player characters to do, it just seems more true to life and interesting to make the equation of sorcery distantly understandable outside some sort of amok running. Like, I don't really understand what that Bone Sorcerer in his fungal garden is trying to achieve if sorcery is truly limited to destruction. He should be out bargaining his knowledge to military purposes. Or maybe he's just so far gone that nothing in life intrigues him except sorcerous truths, but then one may ask why anybody would desire to become an apprentice to such people. It makes more sense to me that he has, if not true accounts, then at least vague belief that worship of the Old Ones will bring him wealth, pleasure and eternal life, or something along those lines.

    In the very least I would assume that even if the truth is that these creatures are just dumb brutes suited for destruction, chaotic individuals would at least believe with some reason in their ability to fulfill human hopes. Even if it's all cruel lies and misunderstanding, at least it's easier to understand why these beings are worshipped.

  6. Excellent observations, isabout.

    You've basically described the NPC sorcerers in my Carcosa campaign. The PC sorcerers are quite different. In my experience, PCs tend to be more destructive than imaginative.

  7. They could perhaps use the Old Ones to leave Carcosa. Innsmouth would look pretty attractive in comparison. Even Leng has its sights to see.