Friday, October 17, 2008

The Cowardice of the Modern Grognard... or... Supplement V - Carcosa Reviewed

"The good record review describes what the record means, not what the record is." - METAL Diamonds and Rust (1999)

"Summon the Amphibious Ones: This eleven-hour ritual can be completed only on a fog-shrouded night. The sorcerer must obtain the root of potency found only in ruined apothecaries of the Snake-Men. The sacrifice is a virgin White girl eleven years old with long hair. The sorcerer, after partaking of the root, must engage in sexual congress with the sacrifice eleven times, afterwards strangling her with her own hair. As her life leaves her body, 10-100 of the Amphibious Ones will coalesce out of the mists." - Carcosa, page 31

Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, audaciously labeled as Supplement V (and thus belonging directly to the 1974 version of D&D), has created a firestorm of controversy and moral grandstanding that has unfortunately overshadowed the content itself. This being the case, a thorough look at both the product, and the outrage, is warranted.

Carcosa exposes the failure of at least part of the "old school" community and why it is no different than the mainstream of gaming. Instead of being seen as a toolkit to use for ideas, as is the OD&D way, the book is being largely decried as morally bankrupt by people who, for the most part, have not seen it, and of those that have, are concentrating on minute details, or one bit out of many presented. Is the traditional (or "old school," or "grognard," or whatever) movement based on willful ignorance? Is it based on the inability to think through the unspoken meaning in source material? Is it based on the whitewashing of what existing game mechanics mean in game-world terms? Is it based on the rejection of verisimilitude in favor of mindless escapism and "adventure"? This sounds more like 4e than 0e to me.

Can it be that the traditional revival is not built on quality games, but rather the wish of its aging players to retain their childhoods? In addition to preserving the games they played, are they also wanting to preserve their juvenile sense of innocence and refuse to let their gaming tastes broaden with them? This whole thing really isn't about nostalgia after all... is it?

And the outrage... I expected it from the RPGsite, but I was rather disappointed to see if from Dragonsfoot. The amount of "this is sick!" "oh my god, awful!" "No right-thinking person would ever even conceive of something like this!" sentiments expressed is just... perplexing. As if real people were being victimized, or real people were being influenced to do anything untoward besides sit around and imagine very wild sci-fi/fantasy.

Worse than the morality police that take offense at fictional atrocities (which don't really happen) against people (that don't really exist) are those who seek to "protect" our hobby by trying to kill anything that might be noticed by outsiders. "The accusations will start again! It will be the Bad Times again!"


Those who seek to imprison our minds and define "good thoughts" and "bad thoughts" should be ignored in our daily lives, defied in our imaginations, and fiercely fought, in real life by real means, whenever they seek to limit us.

This fear of attention and censure and the horror at the idea that maybe, just maybe, we really are different because we pretend to be elves on the weekend, it needs to die. At once. Completely. Let your imagination go and damned be those that say no. We should welcome fights against imagination killers simply because it is the right thing to do. Those that stand up and dare to be targeted should be praised, not vilified.

But we, as a community, obviously haven't learned a thing from the controversies of the 1980s. Gamers of the 70s and 80s survived the persecution and ignorance and harassment only to grow up and become exactly what they once fought. Like the definition of becoming mature is being willing to embrace your parents' mistakes or something.

The problem with the 1980s attacks on D&D wasn't that they were wrong about the content - although the fact that they often were made it easy to totally dismiss them - it was the fact that the content of the game and the fictional environment of the game has absolutely no influence concerning the real-life mentality, ethics, or health of the person playing the game. People influence the game being played, not the other way around.

To be very clear: Nothing in Carcosa even suggests that anything within its pages is anything but pure fiction. The setting is an alien world, with aliens, and Cthulhu, and ray guns and tanks and people with transparent skin. It's all fiction.

And nothing in fiction can ever be as immoral or harmful as the real life censorship of ideas.

So then. Sword and sorcery, as a genre... what does it mean? Dungeons and Dragons and its mechanics and process of play... what do they mean? Are Carcosa's methods and details in line with either, both, or neither?

"A note about Sword & Sorcery gaming: The Swords & Sorcery genre of writing presented characters who were morally ambiguous, not fighting for the greater good, but scrabbling for power and money with only a few scruples. True, they usually had more scruples than the villains, but not by all that much... Swords & Wizardry is designed for the Swords & Sorcery genre, where the characters begin as a seedy band of tomb robbers and mercenaries. Along the way, these characters might become more respectable and morally conscientious as they gain wealth and lands . . . but they might not." - Swords & Wizardry introduction, by Matt Finch.

"The slaughter will continue until play improves." - Stuart "OSRIC" Marshall.

Then there are the jokes about not naming characters until third level since they often don't survive that long anyway. The comments about how D&D characters really aren't "heroes" as a default.

Really, what does that say about D&D?

What moral, civilized characters and plots do we get from Anderson (fornicating paladins, incestuous lovers, baby-napping, genocide, war brides, opposition to the White Christ), Howard ("Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is the wim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph."), Vance (Cugel and the virgins, for just one example, the fate of Liane the Wayfarer for another, and many more charming tales), Lieber (Fafhrd is introduced by cheating on and abandoning his pregnant woman), Lovecraft (uncaring universe where mankind is but a speck and to have true knowledge of reality means to be a raving, violent lunatic)? These are core D&D sources.

And... for crying out loud. Carcosa. Robert W. Chambers. Hello? What were you expecting? Adventures in Fluffy Bunny Land?

In the D&D game itself, if we're going to ignore the precedent set by Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker's Book of Ebon Bindings (which Carcosa's author claims as his guidepost for what was or wasn't acceptable in his own work... how many are calling for the head of Barker, or at least demanding that gamers shun him?), let's see what wonderful things we can find there. Violence, death, and murder are a given. Stealing and thievery are right there in the rules as an activity of a core class. Mental domination and slavery are detailed as well (what exactly do you think is involved with a Charm Person spell?). Summoning extra-planar creatures is A-OK. Where do half-orcs come from? The assassin is right there as a playable class, and with that comes thorough discussions on the use of poison. Necromancy (every spell caster gets the ability to animate the dead!) is there. Evil exists as an objective, living force in D&D.

To those offended by Carcosa, how do you justify your involvement in a hobby that includes all of this, and draws from such depraved sources in the first place? Orc children are in the monster manual, but just because you abort them (sorry... "house ruling them out") so your players can more guiltlessly slaughter their entire race doesn't mean you're doing anything to eliminate moral issues from the game.

All Carcosa did was, in "modern cinematic" terms (gore hounds can go back to the 60s and 70s for prime splatter, so none of this blaming Hostel and Saw...), was show you what had previously been referred to but not revealed. What do you think was happening all the time in Melniboné? In Stygia? Hell, in the Temple of Elemental Evil? In Erelhei-Cinlu? Just because you try not to think about it doesn't mean somebody is mentally ill if they have.

Dungeons and Dragons, and everything done within the game, no matter how Lawful or Good the characters are, is ugly and brutish and repugnant when looked at through real-world morality. Deal with it or go do something else.

I like this. Carcosa presses contemporary buttons (without even intending to) involving violence, racism, rape, and children, and raises issues of "media responsibility." This is not a retro product. This is very modern and 100% confirmation that OD&D can be vital vibrant, and relevant here and now.

I think the real problem is not the descriptions of the rituals or any content whatsoever. The problem is an issue of character action in relation to player complicitness. And meaningful, intense play comes from engaging players. They must be taken out of their comfort zones and removed from autopilot D&D expectations. "Challenge the player" doesn't just mean logic puzzles and tactical difficulties. Morally uncomfortable situations excite the emotions, and for the quandary to be meaningful, the "wrong" (in real-word, or romantic, or heroic terms) choice must be a viable option. It must convey benefits equal to, or greater than, doing the obvious "right" thing. Heroism's first requirement is sacrifice, after all.

"Challenge the player" can confuse a player's involvement in who their character is both narratively and persona-wise. There should be no confusion - what players do in RPGs should never be confused with who they are or what they do in real life. Fiction. FICTION. FICTION.

And those modern hot-button issues... first is the fetishization of children. I'm not talking about the people who make sex objects out of children, but those who worry about it incessantly. Those who seek to protect children from every danger, real or imagined. Children are people, no more, no less. Short, ignorant people. They are not special. They are not different. My thoughts on this matter are completely described here and here (from 7:25). In game terms, the helpless and victimized are villagers just as well as children. No difference.

And sexual violence? Reactions are completely out of whack. That recent South Park episode, showing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping Indiana Jones in scenes taken from Hollywood rape scenes (The Accused, Deliverance, etc), caused a stir. Yes, sexual violence is serious. I've been in relationships with people who have been raped. But it is not a sacrosanct subject beyond comment, examination, and fictionalization. Especially from a game and genre that often features mass slaughter. And that video I posted last week... rape happens in-game... and... it's a laugh! (you did watch the video, right?)

(the perception of sexual violence - against women and children, anyway - as being worse than other violence, and often being seen as worse than death - says something interesting about our society, doesn't it?)

And it's just the magic-users (or "sorcerers") that have to deal with such unpleasantness. Players have come to feel entitled to play a magic-using class in D&D that is completely divorced from the conditions or consequence that have traditionally afflicted such characters in literature (Faust!) or history (witch hunts!) or in source fiction (Lovecraft, Howard, etc etc etc). Magic, by definition, is transgressive. That players have traditionally gotten to present themselves in D&D as Gandalfy or Merliny is irrelevant. Many things can be done with D&D, and aping the way it's always been done completely defeats the purpose of doing anything new. We do want new, right? Not just more of what's already there?

It's a minefield, but the truth is, the controversy comes from snippets of text taken out of their home environment. The people raging haven't read it. They've read a review.

So what is Carcosa?

It is a 96 page booklet for use with Dungeons and Dragons (the 1974 edition), formatted and published to appear as one of the original books. However, it dismantles and reconfigures the D&D rules for its own purposes. The "OD&D is a toolkit" philosophy has been used to great effect here. Only the core rules are necessary, as Supplements I - IV are not used here.

There are but two classes in Carcosa. Fighting Men (standard from D&D), and Sorcerers. Sorcerers are a new class which cast no spells (so the entire traditional D&D magic system does not exist in Carcosa), but rather perform rituals, which all involve summoning, controlling, or dispelling Great Powers, which are taken from the Cthulhu mold.

Immediately, on the page the sorcerers are introduced, the downsides to their magic is described. The rituals are quite unreliable, and performing the rituals ages the caster a random number of years. Doing these things harms the sorcerer.

Then described are the races of Carcosa, which are pretty much all men, but color coded 13 different ways, including with colors that don't exist in real life.

A two-page new psionics system is then described.

Then it really gets wild. New ways to throw and read dice are introduced. Hit points are rolled at the beginning of every combat, and it is randomly determined what die type is used every time! That's right, if you have six hit dice, you never know if you'll be using 4-sided, 12-sided, or whatever sided dice to determine your hit points. And the monsters use this same method as well. It looks to be close to impossible to determine who might win a combat... there are so many variables that won't be determined until that combat starts.

Damage in combat is similarly random. For every die of damage done, you roll every die type, with the 20-sided determining which of the other dice is to be actually used. The fundamentals of the game are being completely redone in Carcosa.

"The above system of rolling hit dice and damage dice gives an overall average of 4.5 hit points per die. The system allows for greater uncertainty in the game. Cthulhu has 57 hit dice. Perhaps the players will be lucky and Cthulhu will get mere 4-sided hit dice when they attack. Or perhaps the lowly peasants will get lucky and have 12-sided hit dice when the greedy player characters attempt to rob them of their few copper pieces. In short, many hit dice do not necessarily mean many hit points, and few hit dice do not necessarily mean few hit points. Characters can be hopeful even against monsters with high numbers of hit dice, and at the same time cautious about attacking even those with only 1 hit die. Only after combat ensues will anyone (either players or referee) know what sort of hit die everyone involved gets to roll for that combat.

The same idea holds for doing damage. From round to round one’s weapon will be doing different ranges of damage. On some rounds, he will be reading the 4-sided die. On other rounds, he will be reading the 8-sided die. Etc. The pitchfork held by that lowly peasant could do as little as 1 point of damage in a given round, or as much as 12 points of damage."

Then on page 14 begins the descriptions of the rituals. There are 96 of them, all formatted identically to the example at the head of this review, and it takes up about 19 pages. Here is another example:

Obstruction of the Suckered Abomination: In an exposed outcropping of rock in hex 1103 is a layer of white crystal. A handful of it must be powdered fine for use in this one-minute ritual which can succeed only when the sun is visible in the sky. The sorcerer must get close enough to the Suckered Abomination to throw the powdered crystal upon it, which will drive it back to its unknown lair.

As you can see, not all of the rituals involve human sacrifice, but most of them do. It is important to note that every single ritual, no exceptions, involves dealing with these Lovecraftian powers. You aren't slitting throats to cast Magic Missile and you're not being an evil bad guy for the purpose of Cure Light Wounds. It's all Deal-With-The-Devil stuff. Sorcerers are Bad News. Just like in the source fiction.

You can also note here that the components for the spells are very Carcosa-specific (we'll get to the hexes and the map in a moment). This system can't simply be lifted out of Carcosa into your own campaign without some work.

Page 34 brings us the monster list. This, too, is Carcosa specific... the standard D&D monsters do not appear (save for oozes and purple worms). Heading up this list are Cthulhu, Hastur, Azathoth, and Nyarlathotep, just to let you know what you're getting. The pantheon of Lovecraft and friends is here. The most numerous creatures in the world of Carcosa are the Spawn of Sub-Niggurat, with every stat randomly determined. I would have much preferred to see bell-curve tables here than straight rolls (2d10 instead of d20, for example) so some results would be rarer than others, but it creates quick stats and can be used for any OD&D game.

(my Creature Generator is better for this purpose though, so nyah!)

Then the magic items of Carcosa are described. Guess what? Throw out your existing magic item tables, because none of them exist. And in fact... no magic items exist at all. All of the "magic items" are technology left behind by space aliens! Seriously... the section is labeled "SPACE ALIEN TECHNOLOGY," and cannons and tanks and Microwave Radiation weapons are possibilities. There's also various types of lotus powder. And a list of 94 elements which each has a different effect (half damage, two times damage, etc) on one of the 13 different races available for play. There are Black Pudding projectile weapons!

Miscellaneous items fill out the "magic" items table, including battle armor, projector shields, and... the Random Robot Generator! Some weird "artifacts" fill out the section.

Next up is a page of possible mutations, and then... it goes to the hex map. "400 encounters on an outdoor hex map with an area of 34,880 square miles" is what's advertised, and that's what is here. I haven't seen the map myself (I have an electronic copy that was sent to me for review purposes; my physical copy is on its way across the ocean to me) but the encounters are quick and succinct. A few examples:
0113 On moonless nights a sourceless sound like the rattling of bones can be heard.

0210 Village of 180 Blue Men ruled by “the Omnipotent Blue Emperor”, a neutral 12th-level Lord

0507 A cliff runs for several hundred feet along the seashore. Twenty feet below the level of the water a large door has been built into the side of the cliff. Within is a chamber holding a submarine built by the Space Aliens, which can hold up to twelve men. It is relatively simple to operate

0915 Amongst the forest is a stand of several dozen trees that are warm and supple to the touch. They moan from small mouths and ooze deep purple ichor. A sorcerer who kisses these small mouths and drinks of the ichor will be thrown into an ecstasy lasting for 8-12 hours. He will come to himself with the knowledge of The Oozing Column ritual.

Yeah, that's how sorcerers learn their rituals... but yeah, 400 of those, detailed in the book, and we're done.

That's one wild ride. Cthulhu! Space aliens! Ancient Serpent Men! Sandbox Hex Map Encounters! Drugs! Robots! Color-Coded Human Races! Mutants! Dinosaurs! Species 23750! Psychic powers! Mummy brains!

And yeah... evil sorcery rituals. Kind of seems... mundane now, knowing what it's piled together with, doesn't it?

Carcosa is an amazing book in every way. It stays true to its source material, embodies the creative and daring spirit that makes this hobby possible at all, eschews artificial limits of commercialism and public opinion and expands what it can mean to play Dungeons and Dragons. No OGL or other license used.

"Imagine the hell out of it." A little slice of hell has been imagined. Happy now? But this imagination is both the entire value of the book and the obstacle for use. It parallels ideas found in Empire of the Petal Throne and the Arduin Grimoires, is a cross-genre mash of fantastically vibrant and completely crazy ideas, and it completely blows the doors off of the contemporary understanding of what D&D is. If this book does not excite your imagination, nothing will.

But... it's all quite campaign-specific. Each of the previous supplements was more modular, with each of the components able to be used or not as the referee wished. Didn't like (the original) psionics? Or hit locations? Or a class? Use it or don't. But Carcosa makes that difficult... the entire new magic system is tied into the monsters and the setting, and the monsters and items and such are of such a specific flavor that importing them into your game could be difficult. The psionic system here should be easily portable, in addition to the rather revolutionary handling of the dice, and various other matters... but there is a large amount of material that you simply will not be using (or using only with a lot of work) if you are not using the Carcosa setting. That, more than any "objectionable" content, may be what holds this back from reaching a lot of people.

So that's Carcosa.

Don't like it? Think it's in bad taste? Not useful?

Then do it better yourself. McKinney showed us his vision of D&D. Now show us your Supplement VI.

(and with that... LotFP: RPG blog will officially accept product for reviews. If you have a product of interest, and just reading this blog will tell you the scope of what "of interest" would mean, I'm interested. Everything submitted will be reviewed. As long as it's a print product. Email me for contact information.)


  1. Amen. Just... amen.

    There's nothing unique in gaming here, and I'm not only speaking of MAR Barker's Book of Ebon Bindings. There are things in this vein in the d20 Conan materials from Mongoose, for instance. As mentioned by you and others, the source literature is dripping with this stuff.

    The amount of controversy has, quite frankly, stunned me. I hope to never find those so squeamish, easily shocked or narrow-minded at my gaming table.

  2. I agree with everything said in the blog post, although I wasn't surprised at all to see the DF reaction, just saddened. Many grognards are frighteningly conservative and stubbornly closed-minded, as has been obvious for a long time. They want what they remember D&D as being, and despite going on and on about how open OD&D is to personalizing and change, they don't really accept things that are too different. I do not mean to say all grognards are that way, of course, but there are a decent-sized number of them.

  3. Thank you for your review, James. I'm glad you liked it. I hope the mailman gets your print copy to you soon!

  4. Well spoken, sir.

    What is sad about the disgusting and cowardly witch hunt on DF is that they're just intent on killing the messenger. Geoffrey is one of the few D&D authors these days who apparently has *something to say*.

    Let's look at what he has set up: a world in which humans are lab rats, *color coded* no less, for an alien race (now extinct). Which is to say, the men (snake-) have gone and now the rats are in charge. Do they still persist in treating each other like rats?

    And who can be a Cthulhu-worshipper in Geoffrey's Carcosa? Someone who must ultimately "put up or shut up" as they say. Carcosa doesn't let you get away with "Ultimate Evil Lite". If you want the power, you have to hurt people... innocent people. You have to do the worst hurt to the most innocent. And then you can have your power. Do you do it?

    Really Geoffrey has already done an incredible service to the old school movement: he kicked over the rock of collegiality and exposed all the nasty hypocrisy and anti-intellectualism squirming underneath. Old schoolers scoff at "McFantasy" but at the end of the day, that's all they want. Paladins who got their morality out of an SS training manual and expressions of evil that don't make us particularly uncomfortable.

  5. Got my copy yesterday and pored over it. Your Random Esoteric Generator lept to mind, for sure, and I'll definitely be picking up a copy of the Goodman release when it comes out.

    When I was about 15 a game called Underground came out. It had a bunch of "mature" (and satirically hilarious) themes in it, and I got really uptight that there might be some sort of public outcry over it. Then I realized I was being a twat, got over it, and bought the damn thing. I've never bothered to worry about what other people might think of RPGs since then (although I am still bothered they don't get more respect as a legit form of entertainment, but that's a different matter).

    You're absolutely right: the people getting up in arms about Carcosa need to go back and read the source literature. And the people who think it will begin "The Troubles" again need to wake up and realize no one gives a shit anymore. We've moved on to newer and shinier moral panics.

  6. Old schoolers scoff at "McFantasy" but at the end of the day, that's all they want. Paladins who got their morality out of an SS training manual and expressions of evil that don't make us particularly uncomfortable.

    Yes, thank you! A lot of these same grumblers have no problem whatsoever with the rather crypto-fascist implications of vanilla D&D fantasy--might makes right, there are creatures that are objectively evil and they must be eradicated, etc.

  7. Great review and I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. Sad to see seemingly intelligent people stoop to rabid personal attacks when expressing their outrage - people who haven't actually seen the product. Don't you just love a lynching based on heresay?

  8. I just want to make it clear that the "coward" tag used here is reserved for those that think "objectionable" material should not be explored for fear that it would look bad to outsiders.

    If someone simply doesn't care for this kind of material, I'm not insulting them at all.

  9. I'll start rough, but with the intention of honest statement of where I'm coming from.

    Oh bullshit that raises issues!

    Raising issues involves not just repeating the facts of the case, but reflecting on them and asking for others opinions.

    Pure repetition of something is not raising an issue, it's just xeroxing it. If you find some nazi flyer in your neighbourhood, making 100 photocopies of it isn't discussing it or exploring it or raising it as an issue. It's just perpetuating it.

    The same goes for describing some act of rape on childen for power - simply describing it and putting it to press is simply spreading the detailed description of the act. There is no discussion, there is just perpetuation of the idea.

    Just stop inventing it that he's somehow asking you 'Hey, what do you think about this horrible world I wrote up'. Look at it and find the text where he actually asks you about it and solicits discussion.

    Is he really raising issues in some sublime way, or are you just inventing the idea that he is?

    What's actually in the text?

  10. It came out, devoid of any moral posturing (it would have been LAME and ruined the atmosphere of the work if there would have been an author's note saying "PS. I think this stuff is gross and icky in real life."). Just dry, impersonal description. Just the perfect tone for the work I think. Horror ceases to horrify if it winks at you while it's trying to scare you.

    Although it is hilarious that Carcosa gives some examples and warnings to characters concerning the new dice conventions given in the book, while such things are completely absent from the new magic system. That's sublime.

    So... discussion about facets of Carcosa are happening right now, as we speak, in various corners of the internet, all because of the very existence of the thing.

    How is that not raising issues?

  11. Because, honestly, no one's going to say, "shit, I guess I should go donate to a charity to stop baby-fucking in Africa," or "you know what? It's totally not creepy at all that there's a bunch of guys sitting around pretending to be elves who rape kids, specifically targetting them based on age and race!" once it's all said and done. No one's going to go out and change the world because some sick fuck decided to put down rules gerbilling and anal fisting. FATAL didn't get gamers to rise up, en masse, and take back the night from rapists and racists. It didn't make everyone really think about the issues you want to pretend are raised here, and it didn't start some renaissance of ideas or set a new intelligentsia elite up as the kings of gaming.

    Carcosa isn't going to either.

    It's just like torture porn isn't going to make anyone rethink their position on 'advanced interrogation techniques.' The real sad part about this isn't people who want to burn the message and curbstomp the messenger, it's the people who act like elitist douchebags trying to claim some kind intelligence high ground.

  12. What I find tiresome about the comparisons of Carcosa to FATAL is that the latter actually took a position of advocacy in regards to rape, murder, and child abuse, ludicrously attempting to argue that "that's how things worked" back in the Middle Ages.

    Carcosa does no such thing, which I feel the majority of its detractors would realize if they actually, you know, took a look at the book.

  13. Yesterday I looked at all 96 rituals detailed in my Supplement V: CARCOSA. Of the 96 rituals, 4 of them involve rape.


    Out of ninety-six.

    As the numbers show, sexual violence plays a very small part in Carcosan sorcery.

  14. Carcosa has really polarised people hasn't it? Reading the two threads on Dragonsfoot, it becomes obvious that only one side of the debate is resorting to abuse, character slander and pathetic name calling. Blimey, one bloke even threatened physical violence.

    I find the ignorance of some of the outraged crowd astounding. Geoffrey wrote some descriptions of spell casting that included some horrific practices. Not highly descriptive, just brief and to the point. No different than that in the Deities & Demigods Tlaloc write-up (go on, read it and compare) - yet he deserves abuse from people like Andrew (above), while the authors of D&DG are D&D heroes and legends.

    Geoffrey's spell descriptions are no different in D&D structure than say the 1e PHB clerical spell Protection From Evil, where it says: "To complete this spell, the cleric must trace a 3' diameter circle on the floor (or ground) with holy water...with blood for protection from good..." How many people roleplay that? In intricate detail? Every time the spell is cast? Very few I would think. Most would say "My cleric casts Protection From Evil" and leave it at that. Why are the Carcosa spells any different? Are the words somehow magically charged to take over the minds of the people playing with the Carcosa supplement, forcing them to suddenly become roleplaying deviates and child rapists? If Geoffrey has that sort of power, maybe he truly is an arch-evil being, as some folk seem to think. Come on, grow a brain. This stuff isn't rocket science. Some people should try thinking with their brains instead of spouting raw emotion. The puerile crap that is being levelled at Geoffrey and any who stick up for him is mind-boggling.

  15. How interesting is it that the BDSM community has exactly the same taboo? They, too, fear that members of their community might openly talk about rape and other forced violence, as the media might somehow "misconstrue" the "real meaning" behind free and happy people pursuing their personal interests in leather and restraints.

    Pathetic, really.

  16. So here I am, toddling along thinking I need to get off my arse and order the work in question when i get back from vacation and see a tempest has been a'brewin'.

    I'm stunned.

    Absolutely stunned.

    Had no one at DF ever seen any of his other posts at that very place? And not just the ones detailing Carcosa, but any of them?

    I did, and I read them, and I thought, "This guy seems really creative and I doubt I'd really like playing in his games... but, there's some neat stuff there."

    I mean, I doubt very much that I'd ever run a straight Carcosa game, my tastes are less doomful as they say, but this is an amazing product and more of us should be doing this sort of thing.

    Now I really, really have to get a copy...

  17. "It came out, devoid of any moral posturing (it would have been LAME and ruined the atmosphere of the work if there would have been an author's note saying "PS. I think this stuff is gross and icky in real life."). Just dry, impersonal description. Just the perfect tone for the work I think. Horror ceases to horrify if it winks at you while it's trying to scare you."
    If it's horror, then it's not about raising issues and it's time to drop the issue raising BS.

    "So... discussion about facets of Carcosa are happening right now, as we speak, in various corners of the internet, all because of the very existence of the thing.

    How is that not raising issues?"
    He didn't intend to raise any issue, so he didn't raise any issues. Only with religious figures do you attribute stuff to them even if they didn't intend it. This guy is just a mortal man to you, right?

    Unless your saying it was his secret plan to ignite this debate...but then doesn't that mean the horror just winks at you, as you refered to above? Winking and saying "I'm not here to scare, just to make a big debate, tehe!"? Doesn't that ruin it for you, if he intended to raise issues?

  18. >>He didn't intend to raise any issue, so he didn't raise any issues.

    This doesn't make any sense. You don't need "a very special episode of..." in order to "raise issues."

    Just by existing and being what it is, it's created discussion.

    It doesn't matter what the intentions were.


  19. "And nothing in fiction can ever be as immoral or harmful as the real life censorship of ideas."

    Your viewpoint on this controversy is strong and sincere. So let me ask - would you opposition to this ritual change if the girl needed to be black and the caster needed to be white?
    How about if the ritual required the caster to be white and sacrifice 10 black females, while chanting over each one 'You are inferior to the white race'?

    My point is there are ideas in fiction that are indeed pass the line in normal society, even if they may be constitutionally protected free speech (in America at least).

    You draw the line at one place. Others may draw it another. But we all draw the line somewhere.

    I happen to think the line was crossed by not describing the ritual, but having a player do it - making it part of the rules.
    Might not, for example, a female player or GM be expected to have a more extreme reaction to rape situations than a male player or GM?

    Making it part of the rules doesn't condone it - that was not the author's intent for sure. However, just like some people would be upset at racism in rituals like listed above, some reasonable people could think having a player roleplay a rape murder is something they don't like in their games.

    It's their choice, right? Can't some of them have arrived at a reason for their opposition without being "cowards"?

  20. >>Your viewpoint on this controversy is strong and sincere. So let me ask - would you opposition to this ritual change if the girl needed to be black and the caster needed to be white?
    How about if the ritual required the caster to be white and sacrifice 10 black females, while chanting over each one 'You are inferior to the white race'?

    Then we start skating along an interesting line. As a music reviewer, I've received plenty of albums made by proudly racist bands, and plenty of albums that directly attack religion.

    I reject and ridicule racist bands, usually do so to bands that attack Judaism (because the message is 99 times out of 100 not a criticism of the belief, but a criticism of the race), but I readily accept bands that attack religion... (and then judge lyrics according to quality... ham-fisted "HAIL SATAN DIE CHRIST" is just stupid, you know?)

    I do this because religion is a choice that people make, and criticizing choices is valid. Race is not a choice and I believe every person of every race has the potential to be great, and the potential to be pure scum. So I reject racism.

    (I used to bring these "pagan white power" moron bands' CDs to work where me and my mostly-black workmates would have great fun destroying them.)

    Now this is kind of off the point, but it does show that I have my limits of what I find acceptable and there are things that set me off on "moral" crusades as well...

    The difference between what Carcosa contains, and what your example there puts forth, is real-world applicability.

    My criteria here: Do I believe that McKinney advocates or practices or considers outside of imaginary fiction, what he wrote? Do I believe that McKinney's inclusion of rape and ritual murder is intended to glorify or encourage real-world rape or violence (or racism)?

    I do not. I don't even see how such a view would be possible considering how wrapped up the game material is with made-up colors, squid-head gods and rainbow-colored people.

    Your example takes real-world attitudes that are very common. Not two weeks ago, at the central train station in Helsinki, I came across masked men in military outfits wielding clubs trying to scare the ethnic minorities away... if there had been any actual violence happening (they were yelling after people but I didn't even see who they could have been yelling at), then I would have stepped in and would very likely have broken limbs or worse because these guys were BIG and I've never been in an actual fight.

    Just last night I had someone telling me they'd help me out with my housing situation (which is continuously precarious) because I'm a "good foreigner" and not "black." (yeah, other words were thrown around too). That seriously creeped me the fuck out.

    Just last weekend my mother sent around a "haha funny" email titled "The day after Obama wins.... MUST WATCH" and it had the Chappelle Show black reparations skit attached as a video.

    I know what racism looks like. I grew up with it, I've been surrounded by it all my life. Real, ugly, damnable racism. It is absolutely everywhere, in great amounts in the US, and especially here in Finland where the vast overwhelming ridiculous majority is pure lily white and racial mixing is a quite recent thing.

    The distinction between your "what if" and what's actually in Carcosa is so obvious that there really isn't thought needed to be put into the distinction.

    There can be grey areas, and that would require close examination to determine the truth of the matter, but I don't see how this is one of them. Carcosa's rape and violence have no more basis in reality (I was curious about the occult at one time, never joined any cults or did anything with it, but I did look into it, and I am in peripheral contact with people that are directly involved in occult practices because of my association with the underground metal scene) than its racism does.

    Completely fictional, no real life applicability, no harm representing the harm of real people. At all. In any way.

    But... if it was a completely racist book with blatant calls to real-life rape and killing, I would indeed condemn it... but I would still believe in its right to be written, published, and sold to whoever would want such a thing.

    >>It's their choice, right? Can't some of them have arrived at a reason for their opposition without being "cowards"?

    Again, note my clarification above... not wanting the supplement and not liking the explicit elements doesn't make one a coward.

    "That's icky and I don't like it," that's a valid opinion.

    "This is sick and never should have been made and something should be done about it," that's reprehensible.

    "This is going to make the hobby look bad," that's cowardice.

  21. All right, fair enough.

    I personally don't want to play or GM something that has players continually performing degrading and evil acts as a required part of the setting, at least without some hope of redemption (no matter how brilliant it may be). If others do, then that is their right and I am not arguing against it.

    Also - did you know that he is considering releasing an Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA, taking out the graphic stuff (about 2 pages)?

  22. >>Also - did you know that he is considering releasing an Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA, taking out the graphic stuff (about 2 pages)?

    Yeah, it's unfortunate. I hope he charges more for the butchered version. :P If he's going to offer sanitized content for wider consumption, it should be overpriced like all the other crap made as a commercial concern. :D

    Or maybe he can replace it with more subversive, yet more subtle (non-explicit) content. That's what I'd do, although I'd probably miss the "subtle" mark quite badly.

  23. James, just to clarify: The uproar and controversy has nothing whatsoever to do with me doing an Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA. Instead, it was the several very cool people who nicely asked me to do it. I've had people say that they wanted to share CARCOSA with their children, but the violence in it made them not able to. It was for such nice and reasonable people that I am going to offer them a safer version of CARCOSA. The hysterics would not buy anything from me, I'm sure.

    Though the cover price will be the same for both versions, the Expurgated Edition will require one fewer sheet of paper, so in a way it is more expensive. ;)

    And rest assured that the original, full-rider CARCOSA will always be available. :D

  24. Don't make the Expurgated version any shorter. Just "white out" the "offensive" bits, but leave the blank space where those bits used to be.


    "Susseration of the Purple Caverns: This seven-hour ritual can be completed only in crystalline caves which have naturally-occurring amethysts amongst the crystals. The sorcerer must ________________________________________ with a ____________of rainbow quartz. As the ______________, their remain as a ____________________ that seduces and deludes the Violet Mist into willing bondage with the sorcerer. The susurration accompanies the sorcerer for 2-4 days, at which time the Violet Mist is no longer bound and will probably ______ the sorcerer."

    (just blank space instead of the underlines, of course, but the Blogger software truncates the spaces so the entire point of the post is lost if I just put spaces)

    Now given the controversy, the reader will then mentally fill in the blanks with even more horrendous possibilities than was ever originally printed in those spaces. So you give people a product that's 10 times more a mindfuck while giving them the un-explicit version they asked for.

  25. I'm genuinely curious; are the PCs expected to play sorcerors? Or are they intended to play the burly, no-nonsense warriors that oppose them?

    Just that, in the source fiction, the heroes usually were the strong, sullen type, who 'ended the evil, debased, corrupt, blasphemous wizard with three feet of good, honest steel...'.

    (Before swinging the voluptuous Dejah Thoris across the back of their thark...)

  26. Carcosa is completely neutral on that point. It presents the sorcerer class and the magic rules without judgment. There is nothing that implies that PCs are expected to be sorcerers, and there is nothing that implies that they should not.

    It's up to you and your individual tastes and goals for your game.

  27. In sword&sorcery, "the source material" as you call it the heroes are fighting-men as bobfeather suggests. Magic-users are the bad guys. So if Carcosa doesn't imply the same thing, it's missing the genre.

  28. Stormbringer game did all this in 80s - players needed a virgin for a spell to summon a demon type - tried to find one in pan-tang - very expensive youth purchased - oh we made a mistake dont need a virgin so they drugged and had sex with her than sacrificed her - happened all the time - oldschool