Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas in Carcosa

I was aware of the controversy surrounding Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa as every gaming blog and site seemed to have an opinion of it at the time, but as I've never been much of a D&D player I never read the book itself. I did get involved in a small way when Geoffrey put together a sample adventure for publication in Fight On! and I -- alongside the gloriously-named FuFu Frauenwahl -- provided some art for it.

Geoffrey later published the scenario as a self-contained booklet and the image above ended up on the cover, so I've always felt part of the extended Carcosa family, even if I never read the original book.

Now James Raggi -- publisher of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess role-playing game, Vornheim and Death Frost Doom -- has published a new version of Carcosa, and of course the controversy has shambled back into view, stinking of the grave and bawling "BRAAAINS! through the rotten hole where its mouth used to be. Geoffrey and James are being applauded in some parts of the internet while being characterised as corrupt monsters in others, and so the cycle continues.

Almost none of my work made it into the new book, but that happens with new editions, so I'm fine with it. It helps that Rich Longmore was chosen to provide the art, and I adore his scratchy, detailed style -- I'd love to have a print of his shoggoth illustration -- although I do prefer my version of the Bone Sorcerer. Sorry Rich.

All that said, one of my pieces did make it in, sort of. I drew a picture of an idol of Cthulhu, not one of my favourites, but James decided to keep it as an Easter egg of sorts as an icon on the scenario's map. It's only about five millimetres square and you'd never notice it if it wasn't pointed out, but even so it's apparently enough for James to send me a contributor copy of the book. It's a three-hundred page hardback book, a beautiful thing to behold, and I got it for more or less nothing.

I've not read it yet, but this offensive content everyone's going on about is going to have to be offensive indeed to convince me that Geoffrey McKinney and James Raggi are anything other than a couple of really nice guys.

In somewhat related news, Tatters of the King has continued, and I have continued wrestling with the poor editing and wonky structure of the campaign, although I've managed to shield the players from the worst of it, and they seem to be enjoying the more sandbox-like approach I've taken. They've missed some clues and discovered some that weren't in the original text, and everything is chugging along well, aside from the odd blip with dates and locations.

In the past couple of sessions -- there may be another one tonight -- the investigators headed up to Suffolk to look around a cult ritual site and ran into their first direct encounter with the supernatural as they battled some weird -- and deadly -- creatures. I must applaud them for not using player knowledge to ruin the mystery of what the Things That Should Not Have Been were, as I'm certain that at least a couple of them knew from previous adventures or reading of the core rules; by not attaching a name to the Things it made the encounter all the more effective, at least from my perspective.

The battle was great fun, a chaotic mess of serious wounds, fluffed rolls and Sanity loss. Bringing a battlemat to a Call of Cthulhu game strikes me as far more blasphemous as anything in Carcosa and so we did without, with no serious consequences. A couple of the investigators brought shotguns and started firing them into the mêlée, so I called for Luck rolls from the relevant comrades to see if they were hit; perhaps the statistic should be renamed, as most of the damage caused to the party was self-inflicted. A couple of characters were rendered unconscious by their wounds, and Ben's poor psychologist tried to flee on his knees across the snow while trying to hold his intestines in.

Did I mention that there were five investigators and only two of the Things? I love this game.

The players survived -- and managed to avoid any permanent damage, so I didn't get to use my serious wounds table from the big yellow BRP book -- and now have their eyes on one of the cultists who is holed up in a fortified antiques shop in London. Via a tip-off from an anonymous source they've discovered when their target is going to leave his hiding place and through the use of Sanity-draining magic they've seen what will happen when he does -- creating all sorts of narrative challenges for me -- so they're planning a trap. If we play tonight, we will see how successful they are.


  1. I like the new art, but also preferred your Bone Sorcerer. :)

  2. I have a feeling I'm going to have to run a Cthulhu mega-adventure in 2012. Trying to decide between Masks versus Tatters; I'm listening to the Bradford Players' actual play of the latter right now. Your group sounds like they're pin-balling along nicely. Shame to hear about the bad layout, though.

    Good day for Cthulhu blog posts all around--Beedo has an excellent post on the moral dilemmas presented by any well-run Cthulhu game.

  3. Thanks James!

    Thanks for the link, sirlarkins! I find Beedo is always full of good gaming thoughts, so I'm sure I'll enjoy what he has to say about my favourite game.

    The problems with Tatters are not major, but it could have done with another editing sweep. In these most recent sessions, for example, some important dates in the campaign backstory were contradictory, and there's a mismatched address. In one previous session, a handout mentioned a non-player character who should not -- indeed could not -- be mentioned!

    These are only minor glitches though, and are easily fixed at the table; a larger potential problem is that as written the campaign is quite the railroad. It's not linear as such, as there are plenty of options to take, but it does expect the investigators to go through things in a certain order.

    That said, it's easy to ignore the prompts and prods to do things in that order, and if you're familiar enough with the characters, clues and locations, you can run it as a sandbox. This is what I've done, and it's worked quite well.

    One bonus of the campaign is that in comparison to some of the others -- Masks for example -- it's not that big and won't take up so much time, which of course means it's more likely to be completed rather than abandoned. It's more or less two fairly large adventures linked by a one-shot; we've played four or five sessions so far, and I'd guess that we've got around the same number left until we finish the first of the two main scenarios. I expect the second half to be quicker.

  4. Is this Carcosa stuff "King in Yellow" related?

  5. Hello dmarks! The Carcosa book mentioned here is connected to The King in Yellow, and uses many of the familiar elements, but is more of a Lovecraftian weird science setting for D&D and similar games.

    Hastur, Byakhee, Lake Hali and the city of Carcosa itself all appear, but so too do Shub Niggurath and Cthulhu, and the King in Yellow himself does not, as it seems as if the events of the play -- the fall of Ythill and the conversion to Carcosa -- already happened aeons ago.


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