course of four posts, I largely stand behind by initial assessment, namely that Carcosa is a frustratingly eccentric work whose primary virtue is also its primary flaw: a rejection of the (often unstated) moral structure underpinning Gygaxian D&D. It's this rejection, I think, that's at the heart of much of the controversy surrounding Carcosa, which attempts to present a stark, even bleak, interpretation of Lovecraft as the basis for a gonzo science fantasy setting filled with serpent men, gray aliens, Great Old Ones, and Jack Kirby-style science-as-magic. Go ahead and read those original reviews, if you're unsure of the basic premise of Carcosa and what it includes.
The new edition, published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and available as both a gorgeous hardcover or PDF, differs primarily in presentation from its 2008 edition, though there are changes, about which I'll speak shortly. Purely as a physical artifact, Carcosa (2011) stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. Indeed, it stands head and shoulders above most other recent gaming products I've purchased. Its cover, which you can see here, depicts a silhouette of the mysterious city of Carcosa after which the book is named. The image is embossed on leatherette that feels right when you hold it, like some ancient tome of forbidden lore. Also right is the fact that the book has no title or identifying marks on it besides the above image and a sigil on the spine. In addition to making Carcosa look like a grimoire (but not in the gaudy way many RPG books have attempted this in the past), I also found myself reminded of early editions of weird fantasy books by authors like Abraham Merritt, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen, which I suppose was probably part of the point.
The interior of the book is similarly attractive. The pages are thick and off-white in color, again suggesting a libram of black magic. The layout is clear but varied -- sometimes a single column, sometimes two, sometimes more elaborate -- and makes good use of color (green and purple). I'm not especially fond of some of the title fonts, which are occasionally hard to read at small point sizes, but I don't think that seriously undermines Carcosa's esthetics, which I think are nearly perfect. To that end, there are illustrations by Rich Longmore throughout, depicting many aspects of the savage world of Carcosa. I was initially somewhat skeptical of the inclusion of any artwork in the book, feeling it'd undermine individual imagination, but, having now seen Longmore's work, I'll readily admit to being wrong about that. I think the artwork does a superb job of fueling my imagination, in large part because it helps ground Carcosa rather than leaving it to float in some ethereal realm. Longmore is the perfect artist for this purpose, too, since his dark, realistic style provides some much needed weight to elements of Carcosa that might be goofy in other hands, like the dinosaurs and robots.
Carcosa (2011) is an expansion of its predecessor and, for my money, the expansions do a lot to make the setting both more playable and more palatable. Chief among the expansions are the hex descriptions of the Carcosa campaign map. Whereas Carcosa (2008) had terse, often single-line, descriptions like "1 Cthugah's Flame Creature," Carcosa (2011) adds a second encounter or point of interest, which helps, I think, in providing some depth to the setting. Likewise, some of these descriptions include small, off-hand references -- "9 Irrationalist Space Aliens" -- that encourage further development and expansion, something I appreciate in sandbox setting hex descriptions. Also included among the expansions is a starter adventure, Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer, originally published in Fight On! Starter adventures are always useful, since they let the reader know what the creator thinks you're supposed to do with his creation, thereby providing a model to emulate. In a setting as weird as Carcosa's, I think this is essential.
Geoffrey McKinney has penned a new essay, "Humanity on Carcosa," which offers some insight into what it's like to live on Carcosa amidst all its Lovecraftian horrors and extraterrestrial entities. It's pretty bleak stuff, in my opinion, and reinforces the notion that I could never run an extended campaign in the setting. At the same time, I am grateful for its inclusion, since I believed in 2008, as I do now, that a setting like this one demands some "designer notes" to properly get a handle on it. "Humanity on Carcosa" is brief and doesn't explain everything, but it goes a long way toward making explicit some of the thinking behind the setting. A series of random monster tables is another addition in the 2011 version that contributes greatly to playability.
Taken together, Carcosa (2011) is a very impressive package and a good example of where I think an amateur effort was noticeably improved by more "professional" presentation and production values. Purely as an object, I think Carcosa (2011) may be the most attractive old school RPG product I've seen and a vindication of James Raggi's often-eccentric esthetic. As a RPG, I think Carcosa (2012) still remains somewhat frustrating, at least to me, largely because it is written from a viewpoint so alien to my own. That's almost certainly a feature rather than a bug for most people, including its author, but I can't deny that I continue to find Carcosa too bleak and nihilistic a setting for my tastes. It's not just a "hard" setting; it's a hopeless one and, girly man that I am, I'm not much interested in hopelessness in my pastimes. On the other hand, one could reasonably make the argument that its bleakness is in fact a perfect emulation of Lovecraft's worldview, where mankind is cosmically insignificant and knowledge is a double-edged sword. If that's what one wants, Carcosa delivers it in spades.
(I'm going to leave the comments open for this review BUT, as ever, I will ruthlessly delete any comments I consider needlessly intemperate or insulting. Feel free to disagree either with my assessment or with the value of Carcosa all you wish, so long as you do so in a civil, constructive fashion. I didn't allow comments on my original review of Carcosa precisely because of the nonsense it engendered. It's my hope that, in the years since, people have learned to phrase their thoughts and feelings in less inflammatory ways. Don't prove me wrong.)
Presentation: 10 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for a Lovecraft-inspired swords-and-sorcery setting and don't mind a heavy dose of bleakness and amorality.
Don't Buy This If: You prefer your fantasy settings tinged with at least a little bit of hope.