Recently James Malizewski posted a very thoughtful review of Supplement V: CARCOSA-a book of rules options for the original fantasy role-playing game published in 1974.
James and I alternating agree and disagree on matters old school, but for my own part I'd like to make a few notes on Carcosa of my own.
1. I agree that Carcosa, as it is a self-proclaimed Supplement V is an odd fit. It does some mixing and matching that in some places works, and others doesn't. It is extremely decorative in the descriptions of Sorcerers and their powers and the actions taken to use said powers...all of which can be most certainly categorized as most heinously evil...the alignment system isn't used.
2. Then there is whether Supplement V should be a Supplement due to content of the book: rules vs setting fluff. I don't think that makes a difference really. There's no magical line that says "beyond here it's not a supplement" nor is there a magical formula for creating a supplement: x amount can be for fluff, Y can be for rules...but don't go beyond that.
3. Take in to account the changes to the rules of OD&D vs Carcosa. There are actual replacements instead of additions. Hrm. I'm okay with that. It seems in tune with the flavor of OD&D to mix and match to suit personal tastes. OD&D was made to be easily adjusted to fit...and Carcosa does that. I think it could have been presented better, like "optional rules" but really...the whole thing IS "optional" already.
4. Space Aliens? Honestly...I don't think it's a dealbreaker. It's a deep underlying secret of the world that most folks don't know. It's an interesting plot hook. There's nothing that says D&D must equal Hyperborea, or Aeryth or Toril, or Krynn, or anything else. It's a basic rules system, and while E.G.G may have been a fan of some of the pulp fantasy novels, he himself made this to be a game that we make our own...not just necessarily be pulp fantasy (and honestly, alien seeding of a fantasy world is just as pulpy as anything else.) I think some folks have a very narrow view of what they consider pulp fantasy or appropriate to pulp fantasy gaming.
5. My main issue with Carcosa isn't the introduction of optional rules (though many folks see this as the beginning of the dreaded rules creep that has driven D&D from it's roots) but with a few of the mish-mashes of creatures, and the overwhelming gratuity of detail in the ritual sorcery.
Honestly, if the sorcerer class was created and the bare basics of the rituals were all there was, sans the shopping list of details (come on, we're supposed to be making stuff up anyhow, we really don't need the gory details of who, what, where, when and how.). Yes, I like the idea of ritual sorcery and that it is heinously evil...even that is tied to lovecraftian elder gods. I'm cool with that. The shopping list is overkill.
A parallel to this IMO would being making rules for combat, and adding a shopping list of things to do before armoring up: Locate your armor. Put on your plate legs first, but after the gambeson (roll on this chart for failure options). Locate your body armor. Put it on (roll on the chart). Now your arms (roll) and gorget. Find your gloves, put them on, now helm. NOW put on the gloves/ gauntlets. Go ahead and grab sword and shield and roll for initiative.
It's just too much. Too much detail to be hunting down the right sacrifices, too much in the way of rules for stuff that is ultimately slowing down the game...for something that really makes no different. Really...it's something that can be easily glazed over and doesn't need rules ( but it's tied in to the whole sorcerer class which is kind of a big part of the point of the setting.)
Part of the argument is that NPCs and PCs are simply game pieces. They mean nothing. It's all simply a glorified game of Chutes and Ladders.
I'm not one to be all in to delving too deeply in to characters as far as their psyche or anything, but in an RPG, a game where you play a role, and where the goal is an immersive experience, and we're supposed to act out and think in terms of character...some things are considered tasteful, some are okay for color or scene dressing...some things are gory spatter-fests for the sake of sating some weird desire for gory details.
I am totally cool with pressing those boundaries with the right people and to try and seek answers to deep questions or delve in to serious issues. That's fine.
Bloody human sacrifices, in painstaking detail? Okay, that's a bit much.
Alignment isn't even in the picture, so somehow there's no moral judgment involved here at all...like somehow it's all okay.
Drifting off to Pulp Fantasy:
Some folks have this mindset that pulp fantasy gaming is about being somewhere on the alignment scale from neutral to evil. I don't agree. I think that while many of the pulp fantasy novels had characters that did some morally questionable things, for the most part, they eeked it over the line to be heroes of one sort of another. Aragorn-like? No...but not evil either. The point of the game, with it's alignment system is that PCs (and NPCs) can be whatever you want along that scale(otherwise what is the point of the scale).
Solomon Kane is a wholly good guy (bad mo-fo who edges close to that line, but damn if he's not a good guy). Conan, dude, often driven by rage, but he does a lot of good and rarely is "evil". Maybe self-interested...but he does fight for the good guys against the heinously evil guys.
Good doesn't mean retarded. It can mean bad-ass too. but so many folks look at D&D and Pulp Fantasy as a largely neutral to evil enterprise. Carcosa takes that to a whole new level with a PC class that is IMO wholly evil, yet has no alignment to differentiate it from anyone else...which I think make it "all okay" to be not only evil...but one damn malignant sicko.
In a boardgame where they are simply just pieces on a board, I'd still think it was gratuitously graphic. For an RPG, a game of immersion...it's far FAR overboard.
Overall, I think Carcosa is all tight as Supplement V. A bit presumptive, but really, meh. Who cares. There's no enough IMO to separate it from anything else of the sort, it may as well be Supplement V.
The material as far as setting, rules, monsters, aliens, it works. It's a stretch but look at a lot of pulp fantasy.
One thing I can't condone rules-wise is the divorce of alignment from the heinously evil Sorcerer class. Doing so ...I've covered it already. Nuff said.
The graphic nature of the details regarding ritual sorcery: way, WAY over the top. (although the Expurgated Edition is likely totally A-OK).
If I were to do it differently, my way: I wouldn't change a lot. I'd take the Expurgated Version, throttle back the space aliens and robots a bit, keep alignment in, and make the rules an optional addition on not a replacement. That's about it. (Okay, some of the monsters are a bit weird, I dig the lovecraftian theme that was going there but it drifted a bit off course. My opinion of course. YMMV).
Still, the Expurgated Version is okay as-is and isn't IMO a dealbreaker (closest thing to the dealbreaker would be the alignment issue). I'd give it *** out of ***** (like it).
The original full gory details version: DEALBREAKER! * out of ***** (didn't like it).
I appreciate James' review. Thoughtful as ever. (Well...saying that the UA just sucked bugged me, but it's his opinion, his blog). I also appreciate Geoffrey McKinney's rebuttal which also was respectful.
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