Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rolling In Bat Country

Humping the OSR dream...
We were somewhere around Thaggasoth Peaks on the edge of Lake Hali when the drugs began to take hold...

Of all the material Jim Raggi has produced through his Lamentations of The Flame Princess publishing house, Geoffery McKinney's Carcosa is the one of the two books that light my RPG fire (the other being Zak S.'s Vornheim).  Yet, until recently, I found it resistant to that creative lump of fat in my head.  I do not blame that on anyone but myself, as reading and using Carcosa takes a great deal of letting go of a lot of preconceived fantasy notions that have been rattling around inside me for quite a long time, something that I know I am not alone with.

I knew from the get it would be "different" from the traditional fantasy campaigns: no demihumans, technology, severely gimped magic (and what there is is of the eldritch variety), etc.  Yet I found myself drawn to it's eerie beauty.  When I finally read it, I didn't realize it would still challenge what preconcieved notions I had left.  Things like the air of nihilistic misanthropy, the world as an an extremely dangerous place, and the view of man (men?) as the bottom of the rung of existence.  It's like Lovecraft (complete with a lot of his Elder Critters) without the "inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."*

In addition, the book is tight - almost too tight - with crunch.  Now, I like a nice mix of crunch and fluff in my gamebooks, but if it came down to it, I'd be on the side of crunch (after all, any DM worth his screen can come up with some kind of BS reason for anything in an RPG).  I'm also not saying that it is devoid of backstory and such.  It was just a little on the light side.

BUT, it had a wealth of DM goodness if you got on it's wavelength (and I was part way there already).  It's the RPG equivalent of potato chips - you can't just eat one even though you know it's gonna turn you into a tub.

So that was my opinion for quite a while until three things woke me up to the possibilities of this book.  The first was interviewing Geoffrey for the Save or Die Podcast.  Hearing how this book came to be and his influences opened the door a bit for me.

The second was the Carcosa Wacky Races.  Brilliant, I thought - a bunch of characters trying to go coast-to-coast in the equivalent of R'lyeh or Kadath.  I started to understand you didn't have to be so heavy with the negative (or at least develop some kind of Paranioa-style black humor about it).  I also worried about the tech in fantasy (something which I am dead set against in regular fantasy - except black powder), until I saw my grandson watching reruns of He-Man on cable.  It made me think back to things like that, The Hercoloids, Mad Max, etc.  And Gamma World, Good God, GAMMA WORLD!  I can see it now: crazy bone hermits with alien-powered contraptions!  Petty despots ruling a wasteland where mummy brains are sold by the pound and the native language is tap-danced!  Cultists worshipping a stray dog with wings who passes blue lotus powder gas!  A big fat bigfoot series of adventures where PC's driving across the land in a sweet combustible or a gypsy wagon pulled by a couple of three-legged beasts of burden with jale feathers in order to fight or be sucked up by the goofiness of it all!  Yes, this could work.

The third thing was that the format of perfunctory hexcrawl descriptions and terse crunch (which are actually very evocative) looked familiar.  One trip to my Judges Guild library set me straight on that.  That's where I've seen it before!  That was the way they'd publish it back in the Gary/Dave years!  A paragraph (or even just a line or two) of description and you're off to the races!  I get it now!

With these revelations I now can sit down and figure out MY Carcosa.  My take will be a LOT less deadly and more Conan/gonzo than what's in the book.  Weird tech, mind-breaking spells and weird beasts roaming the land.  I like the different colors of men (I don't even miss the demihumans) and may even reintroduce a limited number of D&D monsters into the place (gonzo goblinoids - oooo, I can have a lot of fun with them).

*Don't get me wrong - I'm not really against the cosmic horror thing - hell, I'd love me some more Call of Cthulhu - I just like a lighter touch with them than most.  It'e more interesting to me to have a party survive a meeting with the Great Old Ones and have half of them in the asylum and the rest shattered alcoholics than a regular TPK.  Besides, I hate places where you can't take a step in any direction without taking your life in your hands.

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