Saturday, November 22, 2008

So I finally got myself a copy.

Smarter dudes than I have already covered Geoffrey McKinney's Supplement V: Carcosa at length, which affords me the luxury of only hitting a few random bullet points.
  • Wow! This thing packs in oodles of imagination! I'd rank Carcosa right up there with Adventure Games Journal #1 and Encounter Critical in terms of setting fire to my brain and putting me on edge to want to play. I'm definitely putting Carcosa on my Medieval Rim sector map, in an otherwise ignored corner of space where horrible things can happen because the planet is so remote from the main lines of galactic civilization.
  • The random raygun charts are even better than that old Pegasus article from Ken St. Andre.
  • I can totally sympathize with the folks put off by the dreadful ritual descriptions. Personally, I find slasher flicks to be unsettling to the point that I pretty much don't watch them. But I'm not in a big hurry to condemn the people who make or enjoy them.
  • That being said, you know what I like most about the rituals? As a player I could go around slaying sorcerers like there's no tomorrow and feel as morally justified as Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw. Seriously, your average Carcosa sorcerer is just about the worst goddamn son of a bitch you're likely to encounter in a game of D&D. I can work with that.
  • The city of Carcosa is left as an undefined dot on the map, forcing the referee to figure out what to do with it. That's awesome.
  • I totally see what the wonky dice rules are attempting to do and I don't disagree with the design goal, but I just think there's got to be a more elegant way of making life more unpredictable than constantly altering the size of the hit dice and damage dice.
  • The sandbox section is fantastic. As I was reading the random Spawn of Shub-Niggurath charts in the monster section I was thinking "Man, someone just needs to roll up ten or twenty of these critters and share 'em on the net." Then I get to the hexmap key and hidden all over the map are a bunch of already pre-generated Spawn. Cool!
  • The only thing I would have liked to see added to the sandbox section is a d20 or d100 chart full of random ideas for taking a village or castle and giving it a unique spin. I just might write such a chart myself. I don't have any other plans for tomorrow's blog post.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb here and disagree with the esteemed James Maliszewski on one point. He concludes that Carcosa doesn't really line up with the original Supplements I through IV. James will no doubt set me straight if I'm incorrectly reading him, but here's the specific section of his lengthy four part review with which I quibble:
    In form, Carcosa has much more in common with 2e era boxed campaign settings than with OD&D supplements. Not only does it actually present a setting, something no OD&D supplement does, but it also replaces large chunks of the OD&D rules rather than merely providing additional options from which to choose.
    I just don't see it that way. Like the other OD&D Supps I see a whole bunch of stuff I can waive or adopt as I see fit, using the whole to make a specifically Carcosan game or swiping bits to add chrome to another set-up. And frankly I don't see how a book with random robot charts and mummy brains ends up anywhere in the same neighborhood as 2e. Maybe James has read different 2e boxed sets than I have. I'll admit to steering clear of a whole crapload of second edition. But more to the point, I just don't see that great of a difference between the Egg of Coot, Tharizdun, and the evils of Carcosa. And the crashed alien spaceships fit in right along with the City of the Gods and the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Hell, I could probably get a whole 'nother post out of comparing Carcosa to Arduin.
  • Carcosa is much more what I had in mind when I bought that copy of Chaosium's Dreamlands all those years ago.

8 comments:

  1. I read Grognardia and love it, but it's nice to read a post about this product that doesn't take the whole thing seriously. thanks!

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  2. Anonymous2:15 AM

    As far as constantly changing the dice types.... I'm still waiting for my budget to embrace this particular book, so I might be wrong, but my impression has been that PCs, NPCs, and Monsters will fluctuate at roughly the same rate of randomness. So, although an individual encounter may be more unpredictable, over the course of time, statistically, i think the effect will be roughly the same as everybody using the same dice, which OD&D does anyway (at least, without the supplements). So I for one am not really convinced that it's worth the bother.

    One other thing that was brought up elsewhere: i know that Geoffrey designed the rituals specifically to deter PC sorcerers from using anything but banishing rituals, and that they are otherwise little different from fighters. Do you see any real reason to have two classes here, or would it make just as much sense to make it a one-class setting (kind of like Mutant Future), and let the PCs study sorcery or not as they will?

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  3. One other thing that was brought up elsewhere: i know that Geoffrey designed the rituals specifically to deter PC sorcerers from using anything but banishing rituals, and that they are otherwise little different from fighters. Do you see any real reason to have two classes here, or would it make just as much sense to make it a one-class setting (kind of like Mutant Future), and let the PCs study sorcery or not as they will?

    Mechanically, the Sorcerer is as unnecessary as people have been saying. But I kinda suspect that's missing the point. Knowing what we do about the sorcerous rituals in Carcosa, compare the following lists for gut reactions:

    List the First
    "My new PC is a Sorcerer"
    "That town is led by a Sorcerer"
    "Dude in the last village told me the old tower is inhabited by a Sorcerer."

    List the Second
    "I'm thinking it would be a good idea for my new PC to learn some Banishments."
    "The leader of that town knows some sorcery."
    "Dude in the last village told me the old tower is inhabited by a guy who knows some sorcery."

    I find a subtle but powerful distinction at work. If you're playing Carcosa and want to learn some useful banishments then you have to take a small step on the road to Hell right at chargen.

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  4. Anonymous8:49 AM

    Jeff, I'm glad you like CARCOSA. Thanks for the review! :)

    Odrook, the primary reason for the optional dice rules is, simply, fun. My group and I think the increased randomness adds to the fun. We like rolling the dice. Otherwise, we'd drop the dice conventions like a hot potato.

    The secondary reason for the dice conventions is to make the PCs a bit more cautious. There are fewer certainties in the campaign because of the dice rules. "Oh, look! A small band of Deep Ones. They have only 1+1 HD, and our hp totals are 37, 33, and 29. We can just walk all over them." Nothing like that is ever said. For all the players know, if they attack the Deep Ones, the Deep Ones will have 12-siders for HD and the players will have 4-siders.

    Thirdly, the dice conventions can help give the PCs a fighting chance against overwhelming odds. Cthulhu has a whopping 57 HD(!) But if they're lucky, Cthulhu might have only 4-siders for hp. Maybe Cthulhu might have only 100 or so hp. With the right weaponry, Cthulhu might be toast.

    Regarding sorcerers: Jeff is 100% right. Allow me to quote from my blog:

    "I have recently re-read all 21 of R. E. Howard’s Conan stories, and virtually all of the sorcerers in Howard’s stories are professional sorcerers. They aren’t merely people with day jobs who also happen to know a spell or two. Instead, they have devoted their lives to their sorcery. That’s exactly the sort of thing I envision for Carcosa’s sorcerers. To learn the mental discipline and acquire the strength of will necessary to perform sorcery requires one to devote his life to sorcery. Further, one must devote significant time and energy to learning the sorcerous tongues of the Snake-Men. There is just no way that the complex, alien, and intricate sorcery of Carcosa could be mastered by any but a person who has devoted his life to sorcery. In other words, a character class devoted to sorcery is necessary."

    Of course, I heartily encourange all referees to use and change stuff in CARCOSA to their heart's content. All therein is intended not as rules but as inspiration for the referee. :)

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  5. My point was that Carcosa presents a far more coherent worldview/setting than do any of the OD&D supplements. It may be possible to swipe little bits and pieces of "Supplement V" and use them outside its setting the way that you can drop ninjas and samurai into your Greyhawk game, but that doesn't appear to be the intention behind it. The gazetteer is the stumbling block for me. Had it not been included -- cool though it is -- I might not have been as harsh on this score.

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  6. CrusssDaddy8:44 PM

    Had it not been included -- cool though it is -- I might not have been as harsh on this score.

    So you penalized the product for containing something cool? Hahaha, ok buddy!

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  7. Anonymous10:11 PM

    I think it's a fair point that Carcosa is more setting than supplement. It's not some additions and corrections, and in that way differs from the other Supplements (or at least I-III). There is a good question to be asked.. if it has a different nature why does it have such a similar form?

    But IMHO Carcosa obviously has a ton of old-school spirit which isn't best discussed by going through surface details deciding if the similarities are mere emulation and the differences are telling signs.

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  8. For the villages and castles, you could use the city charts in 'Mazes and Minotaurs'.

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