Saturday, 25 November 2017

Running Carcosa

I ran Carcosa and I’m not sure I liked it.

Now by that I mean I had a great time in game, the players were excellent and it was fun, but the product didn’t really pan out for me the way I hoped. I will put a slight caveat on this as I accept that perhaps my expectations were too high.

So I have the Lamentations of the Flame Princess pdf version of Carcosa and as pdfs go, it’s very pretty. The art is evocative of the doomed world depicted in the text and it is a flavourful thing as a whole. It comes tremendously well reviewed by several sources and the depth of those reviews is inspiring. There’s controversy: The sorcerous rituals described in the book are graphic and unpleasant. However this is D&D reimagined on an alien planet; inhabited by physical incarnations of lovecraftian Mythos entities, space aliens and mutated dinosaurs. It’s grim in the extreme. The kind of world where the hero never made it to Mount Doom with the ring and was instead eviscerated by the MiGo in the lightless caverns beneath a Shrine to Nyarlathotep.

It got into my brain in a big way. I was drawing mutant dinosaurs and space aliens in battle suits all over my notebook at work. Plus I thought as a hyperlinked pdf of a hex crawl it would easy to run with next to no prep. I mean yes some of the hex descriptions are terse but across the Internet everyone was banging on about how great this was as it inspired GM creativity and other such marvels. 

Now at the time I was running my Grim North game and if I was going to take on another weekly session then it had to be prep light. The Grim North basically ran itself from a series of tables and a few minutes staring out of the window for inspiration so if Carcosa was going to work then it needed to do so on that or less.

Carcosa has tables. You can generate unique robots and Spawn of Shub Niggurath. It’s not quick though...

The hex map of Carcosa is functional but no more. I like a map to have notes or at least terrain indicators or something. This is a series of numbered hexes. Strongholds and settlements are not marked. Pressing on a hex takes you to a description of its points of interest (of which there are two per hex.) These do not link back to the map.

I found it quite difficult to keep track of and would end up sketching my own maps out prior to each session. Obviously maps I created for my own use were going to be more user friendly for me but this felt like an unnecessary ball ache. I already had a map, it just wasn’t helping run the game. Likewise I veered off the actual hex description thingies quite a lot. I began to insert more and more of my own material. Quick dungeons I’d drawn. NPCs I devised. An underground ruined city with warring factions of mutants, a rogue sorcerer and a hidden community of Deep Ones. Basically it was turning into work. I was doing more prep for this than any other game.

That wasn’t the plan. I also began to find the settings limitations stifling. Mutant dinosaurs are cool but with PCs dying every session from relatively minor threats, they weren’t going to be going toe to toe with a 16HD Orange Tyrannosaur covered in poisonous green spines. Also it seemed to me that the Cthulhu Mythos was ubiquitous at the time. It began to feel a bit hackneyed. At least to me. There was basically no need for money. Space alien technology was  the only thing of worth and it could not be traded, only salvaged from the bloody corpses of your foes. Or friends. Or any random passer by that had it.

There were some really cool moments over the course of the campaign before work began to interfere and it fizzled out. One player accidentally summoning some Byakhee while invoking the name of Hastur to gain an advantage in combat and dying as a result. Players firing their space alien beam rifles at pursuing velociraptors while riding on the back of a huge vegetation covered dinosaur. The mutant faction war in the ruined underground city was extremely fun to run (although again something I had come up with whole cloth.) I enjoyed playing all the NPCs as total bell ends of one stripe or another.

I guess my point overall with it is that Carcosa does not live in my imagination. I had to work hard to make it do so and this made it difficult for me to run games. It’s not the product’s fault really. Nor the setting. It just doesn’t do what I was planning and I had to play it to find that out.

I recommend you give it a go and see if your experiences are different.

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