So, I finally got around to reading the infamous, notorious, legendary, hideously eeeeevil and scary grimoire of doom, death and blaspheme known as “Carcosa”. And I’m left sort of scratching my head.
Now, I’ll go ahead and say now that the version I’ve read is the original “Supplement V: Carcosa” white book for OD&D, and not the LotFP re-release, which I’m sure is brilliantly bound and glossy and full of gross and degrading illustrations of horrible things happening.
I’m someone who reads settings and modules as ‘literature’, i.e. absorbing the story and narrative as much as, if not more than, for actual game content (though as a professional technical writer, the mechanical presentation is of some interest to me as well, which could be why I hate the old Gary books). Somewhere, I once read that a well written module or setting reads like a good story. Anyway…
Carcosa, despite its premise, is actually pretty bland. Boring, really. The class limits of Fighting Men & Sorcerers only, as well as Sorcerers being capable as fighters, just with the ability to use rituals, is kind of interesting mechanically, and the I do like the experimental hit dice system, but those are about the only parts that fascinate me.
The Sorcerous rituals are all very specific in their purposes, limiting their usage to a specific location on the hex-map and often to some completely impractical end (such as being able to say “After wallowing in slime for 8 days, the sorcerer’s head spins like a top and he can hear gurgling from the far corner of the universe.”). The ritual list is actually fairly repetitive and uninteresting, especially when you forget that they’re all preceded by a human sacrifice, usually involving “Go to hex _____, wallow in some miserable task for x days, colorfully named horror is banished/tortured/imprisoned/bound”. I’d note that because of the binding rituals (which don’t require human sacrifice or your character to be particularly evil to use), there’s almost no reason NOT to play a sorcerer in a world where some slimy god is hiding around every corner.
There are several races of men, all defined by color, but little else. This affects certain types of elemental weaponry for purposes of damage reduction or increase. Other than these minor mechanical differences, there are no distinctions between the races (except for the see-through bone men).
The alien artifacts section would’ve been a lot to gush about if I hadn’t already kind of burned out on reading Supplement V by the time I’d gotten there. Really, though, a lot of them feel like half-fleshed out SCPs.
The monster list is a roll-call of various Cthulhu beings rewritten for Carcosa and not organized in any sensible way (but hey, it’s homage to the white books, so it’s hard to complain about poor organization… but I will).
The Hex-map is another exercise of my attention span, largely populated with generic encounters (which is really harsh to say about Cthulhu monsters!), generic towns of _____ colored men lead by *name from the random Exalted deathlord name generator*, and the occasional “This is the place where x ritual must be learned/cast”. Even playing this, you’d be better off ignoring the hex-map key and coming up with something on your own, as there’s so very little in the key to actually build on.
I like the concept, and I wish I had better things to say about this, but as a stand-alone work, there isn’t a lot good to take from Supplement V that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, and with the legwork a DM would need to make a Carcosa game work, you may as well start from scratch anyway.