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Space rituals: Thoughts on Carcosa

January 15, 2012

Three things:

1. Rich Longmore’s art in the new Carcosa is great.

I suspect the decision to go with black and white line art had something to do with economics and even more to do with the difficulties the artist (and printer) would have encountered in reproducing ulfire and other imaginary colours out of space. Anyway, it suits me just fine. For whatever reason, I’ve always preferred line art to full-colour painted illustration. Moreover, it is a truth universally acknowledged that in the long history of human endeavour in the visual arts, the benchmark for true greatness is the early era of 2000 AD (say, the first four hundred progs or thereabouts). Longmore pieces like this one

and this one

would not have looked out of place alongside the work of Mike McMahon, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Massimo Belardinelli, and the rest of Tharg’s art droids back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. My verdict: zarjaz!

2. What am I going to do with Carcosa?

I’m currently running “Stonehell on the Borderlands”, which is – och, work it out. I’m also working on two other projects. One is BRP-related, and I’ll say more about that another time. The other is a creepy hexcrawly sandbox setting for B/X D&D that might be pitched as “Beowulf goes to Deadwood and meets Tsathoggua” and was at least partly inspired by Realms of Crawling Chaos from Goblinoid Games. Now, you can see how there might be some degree of Cthulhoid affinity between the latter project and the planet Carcosa. On the other hand, the tone I’m aiming for is more Alan Garner or Border balladry than the gonzo sorcery and super-science of Geoffrey McKinney’s creation.

In the introduction to Carcosa, McKinney suggests some ways of using his book (or indeed any published setting material), ranging from using it as-is for a campaign (I can’t see that happening, because I have more than enough ideas for campaigns of my own) to treating it as an inspirational template (which it is) and/or cherry-picking individual elements (monsters, etc.) for use in an original campaign. Or…

The player characters in your regular campaign have been transported by a curse to a terrible location: Carcosa.

Now then. The day before Carcosa arrived from Finland, the postman brought me another parcel of gaming goodness in the shape of J.M. Stater’s NOD 11, the main feature of which is a huge hexcrawl … of Hell. By which I mean Hell in the literary tradition of Dante and Milton, but it got me thinking. I believe it was Blair of Planet Algol who said that Carcosa is Hell. (I would check but Blogger seems to be three sheets to the wind today.) In the campaign I’m devising, there will be times when the player characters are confronted with evil so chaotic and alien as to be beyond their comprehension. They may do battle with it and, if so, they may survive or they may perish. At some point they may be taken (by a curse, or perhaps via the Spatial Transference Void fashioned by the Great Race, or some other method, preferably triggered by the players’ own actions) to a hellish place dominated by that chaotic alien evil: a place called Carcosa. (One thing I’d have to decide is whether to use Carcosa’s proposed dice conventions to simulate the increased influence of Chaos over natural laws.)

So, yes. Carcosa as a potential change of pace and scenery during an ongoing campaign. Also a stark warning of what might happen to the PCs’ own fragile world should they fail to root out and destroy the evil lurking therein. And I get to have dinosaurs in my game. I like it. I like it a lot.

3. Sonic propellant:

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