Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Melan said it so I don't have to:
Would Carcosa have worked with sorcery some degrees less horrid? I think the answer to this question is positive. It could still have been strange and possessed of hidden menace, it could still have come with a hideous price, and been ultimately wrong and fruitless. And that is the real tragedy of Carcosa. The questions it could have asked are not being considered because they are asked so harshly that the only response is the conditional reflex of rejection and moral outrage (or moral outrage over moral outrage!). There is no discussion about the majesty of the rest of Carcosa, the sheer alien beauty of a world bathed in the colours of jale, dolm and ulfire (hues unknown on our planet); no campaign ideas are raised about the very first successful transplantation of H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic mysteries into fantasy roleplaying and seeing the Mythos from a yet unknown, genuinely original angle. There are precious few to appreciate the cleverness of mixing swords, sorcery and weird technology, the loving homages to the Wilderlands, Gamma World, Gygaxian fantasy, Tékumel, which nevertheless do not feel like cheap imitation, but rather new and original. The best, most authentic and imaginative old school supplement I have known has been written, where every phrase radiates a mastery of language (who could resist a spell named “The Exoteric Consuming”, words like “ultratelluric” or an NPC named “The Autocrator”?) and a sense of adventure, and what are we discussing? The morality of writing about child rape? Is this what we will take away from Carcosa? That is my suspicion: that it will not go down as Carcosa, the fanmade supplement that rightfully deserved to be called Supplement V. (or outdid the others, even...), but Carcosa, the Child Rape Game. And who will want to buy, read and play that? People being transgressive for the sake of being transgressive? And even if that is an appreciative target audience, is it really the best one to have?

In the end, I think Carcosa is a lesser work for these reasons. It did not need to be sanitised, like so much of the boring escapist fantasy that surrounds us. It need not have had that embarrassingly cutified degeneration of the domesticated Cthulhu Mythos we can buy in the forms of plush figures and cute green slippers. But in some cases, less is more. With a little restraint, Carcosa would have been the greatest evocation of a sort of primal, original, authentic fantasy that makes you say ‘Hell yes!’; the sort you just can’t buy in stores anymore. Some of it – most of it – is still that. But precious few will see those parts.

Some lines are not meant to be crossed, and there are sometimes good reasons for that.
I really have nothing to add.


  1. /agreed. That about hits the nail on the head.

  2. Hey, sorry to be a nitpick, but this whole post is a link and it makes it hard to read.

  3. Okay read it nonetheless. That is a great analysis and you almost wish that he was mythmere's final editor giving him that advice before he released carcossa.

    On the other hand, it saddens me where the lines have been drawn on what is considered a moral offense so much so that the general outrage around it (on either side as Melan said) ends up effectively censoring the work.

    It seems we are still not capable of conquering fear.

  4. Okay read it nonetheless. That is a great analysis and you almost wish that he was mythmere's final editor giving him that advice before he released carcossa.

    Just to clarify: Carcosa was produced by Geoff "geoffrey" McKinney, not Matt "Mythmere" Finch.


  5. On the other hand, it saddens me where the lines have been drawn on what is considered a moral offense so much so that the general outrage around it (on either side as Melan said) ends up effectively censoring the work.

    I think that anything which incorporates dispassionate, clinical descriptions of child rape and murder is inevitably going to draw protest. But, as Melan's review points out, Geoffrey has to bear some of the responsibility for what he has written; I entirely support his right to publish whatever ideas he likes, but I also support people's right to not get his product because they find a portion of it to be highly disturbing, enough so that the product is spoiled for them.

    I do not see the spurning of Carcosa as being censorship of Geoffrey, I see it as being a conscious decision on the part of those who've turned their back on the supplement not to pick it up. Essentially, this isn't a matter of the hobby yelling at Geoffrey and telling him to shut up (though I don't doubt that some people have suggested he should; I don't support that) so much as it is a case of Geoffrey accidentally limiting the audience for his work by failing to take into account the comfort levels of the OD&D-playing crowd.

    For my part, I really don't want explicit child rape to be part of my escapist heroic fantasy gaming. Really I don't. And the way that the material in question is incorporated into Carcosa, I don't see how I can avoid contaminating my game with it if I choose to use the Sorcerer class from the supplement; sure, as GM I could gloss over what the Sorcerer has done, but I would know what he would have done (by the book, at least); even if I change the rituals for my "house rules", I'll still remember what the original rituals were like. Even if I junk the Sorcerer entirely, the Carcosa material would still remind me of the class.

    This sounds dramatic, I know. But the images Geoffrey chose to use in the rituals (the one which keeps coming back to me and making me feel vaguely sick is the one where the sacrificial victim is raped multiple times and strangled with her own hair) are incredibly striking; I can't think of many splatterpunk horror games which incorporate nastier imagery, never mind heroic fantasy games.

    Like Melan says, the basic idea behind Carcosan sorcery - it's an evil occult science cooked up by Serpent Men, who bred human beings to act as ideal sacrifices to their dark gods - is awesome. It's just that the presentation is a bit too explicit. It's especially bizarre when the supplement is supposedly Lovecraft-influenced, and yet Geoffrey apparently hasn't learned Lovecraft's lesson of refraining from revealing too much. At its tamest, the rituals are an unwelcome and somewhat unnecessary detour into splatterpunk territory in what's otherwise a cosmic horror/weird fantasy supplement; at its worst, it's just horrible, horrible stuff which I'd be incredibly reluctant to sling around at the gaming table.

  6. WHOA, yes, please don't get me confused with Geoffrey! Swords & Wizardry has nothing to do with Carcosa.

    I've already aired my opinions about Carcosa, elsewhere, and I won't reprise them.

    Please just remember that I'm not the author of Carcosa. That will make both me and Geoffrey happy.

  7. I am deeply appreciative of Melan's review.

    A number of people who have bought and enjoyed CARCOSA have kindly emailed me an idea that goes something like this: "Geoffrey, this is great stuff, but the level of graphic violence in your book will ruin it for some people. Why not consider releasing a version that has all the graphic stuff taken out?"

    Last night I edited a Word document of CARCOSA, taking out all of the graphic stuff, leaving the rituals as uncontroversial as the spells in the AD&D Players Handbook. Fortunately, it left the book only 2 pages shorter.

    So I'm considering releasing an Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA sometime in November. I realize that some people will still not buy it, and that's their right. I'd just like to provide something for those who would like to buy the book but are unwilling to because of the graphic violence therein.

    What if you already bought an Original Edition and would rather have an Expurgated Edition? In that case (assuming your Original Edition is in new condition), I will set up a deal so that all you will have to do is mail the Original Edition back to me, and I'll in return mail an Expurgated Edition to you.

  8. Based on Melan's review, I would certainly buy an expurgated copy of Carcosa.

  9. Yak! My apologies! There is so much cool old school stuff coming out that it is all getting muddled in my brain. Sorry about that. Geoffrey = Carcossa and Mythmere = Swords & Wizardry. Repeat to myself 30 times.

    Also, I think "censorship" was not the right word in my post. I should have said something like "the controversy that overshadows the actual product itself" something like that.

  10. Geoffrey,

    I'm glad to hear this, because I think an expurgated version will allow many more people to read and enjoy Carcosa without having any qualms about its content, 95+% of which is amazing, as Melan rightly says.

  11. I'm very undecided what my reaction to Carcosa is. What does upset me is that some have called for "kicking Geoffrey off the internet" for having published it (and I seem to remember calls for shunning anyone who would even consider buying the supplement - I guess they should shun me for owning the Book of Ebon Bindings...).

    In a way, I'm glad that things like this occasionally get published. The reaction to them reminds me of why our right of free speech is so fragile. If we start letting small minorities push to ban objectionable content, the world would become a pretty dismal place.


  12. The dude from Lamentations of the Flame Princess had the last word on this little "controversy", so far as I'm concerned.

    I like what I've heard of magic in Carcosa. It really shows what Lawful characters there are up against and what Chaotics are willing to do for power. No punches pulled. Carcosan sorcerers are not all about "cool evil." They're just as much Jeffery Dahmer as Darth Vader.

    Good on Carcosa's author for presenting a new take on the "old school" and for assuming, correctly or not, a mature adult audience for his product.

  13. "So I'm considering releasing an Expurgated Edition of CARCOSA sometime in November."

    Dude, NO. You and your work are better than that. Caving to the jackass, half (if that)-informed ad hominem directed at you over this is way beneath you.

  14. Will,

    Thank you for you words of support. :) Rest assured that the Original Edition of CARCOSA will always be available. I'm certainly not caving in to any rage expressed against me.

    What I'm saying is that there are a number of old-schoolers who have been nice and reasonable to me through the whole controversy, who have still basically said, "That sort of graphic violence is not my cup of tea. How about a version with the graphic violence left out?"

    It's for those well-meaning people that I'm working on an Expurgated Edition. After all, CARCOSA is first and foremost a gaming supplement to add to people's fun. I'd hate to see someone not be able to enjoy 98% of the book because of 2% of it. So the 2% will be left out for them, so they can have fun in CARCOSA.

    In sum, there will be TWO versions available of CARCOSA:

    1. The unchanged, unaltered Original Edition CARCOSA.

    2. The shortened (by two pages), edited-down, Expurgated CARCOSA.

    Everyone will be able to choose which one to buy.

    So don't worry. I'm not caving or selling out to abuse. That would be the case only if I were to stop selling the original CARCOSA. I'll always be selling the original.

  15. I'm with Matt. Based on what I've heard of everything else in Carcosa, I'd definitely pick up an Expurgated Version. It'd work better considering the gaming group demographics I usually have.

  16. I haven't read the book but I still get the impression that Geoffrey erred--badly--by writing the spells in too much of a game-mechanical fashion, instead of presenting them purely as in-game artifacts. (I also haven't read The Book of Ebon Bindings but my impression is that it takes the approach I suggest.)

    I'm also troubled by the fictionalized play account that's generated a lot of heat over on Dragonsfoot. As a piece of straightforward "weird fantasy", where a group of very evil people get what's coming to them, it's borderline. Presented as a play account, it gives the impression that the details were covered in play, which is very disturbing. We've been told later that they weren't, but by then the damage was already done. Assuming good faith, it would have been far better not to fictionalize and instead to describe what actually happened at the table, including a history of how the campaign was played and what led up to the scene. That might have helped explain the mind-set of the participants, and what it was exactly that moved them to play out a scenario like that.

    I don't know Geoffrey, never heard of him until someone mentioned the upcoming release of Carcosa a while ago. Going on so little information, it's very difficult to tell what's going on. I can easily see how the whole thing is a stylistic blunder--but it also looks a heck of a lot like reveling in repulsiveness for its own sake--the sort of thing that Tim Kask complained about seeing in a lot of third party materials back in the 70's.

    And on that note, of course I don't support censorship but neither do I support "embracing" every expression which happens to claim part of "the hobby". These days I suppose people have been conditioned to see censorship in anything other than "it's not for me, but whatever rocks your boat". Without passing final judgment on Carcosa, I strongly disagree with this oversimplification of approach to responding to art and taste. I'm not embarrassed to there are things that, if someone produces, promotes, or claims to enjoy them, I'll decide they're sick.

  17. ...even though I don't believe they ought to be censored.

    Also, no expurgated version for me...though I'd consider a revised version if I didn't like the original for stylistic reasons that Geoffrey later amended. If that makes any sense.

  18. For what it's worth, I think an expurgated version would be a poorer product and hence a poorer value.

    There's a big difference between "Carcosan sorcerers conduct horrific, inhuman rituals as part of their pursuit of power" and "Carcosan sorcerers conduct horrific, inhuman rituals as part of their pursuit of power, such as..."

    It's the difference between something really gripping and distinctive and bog-standard "safe" PG (or maybe PG-13 rated) gaming cliche. And I have plenty of books that embrace the latter already. There's nothing wrong with that, but I posit that few of us really have a burning need for more of it.

  19. I'm one of the people who really bashed the content and creator of it. I still stand by my opinion.

    People should censor themselves. Its a sign of having some common sense.

    You don't swear when kids are in the room. You don't make off color jokes about various groups with those people present. You generally don't swear or tell dirty jokes when women are around. In fact there are some words you probably should never say to women PERIOD. (One of them is Ma'am. The other rhymes with a type of baseball play.)

    Some things YOU DO NOT SAY. A sign of maturity and intellect is knowing when not to say things. Its why kids will blurt out differences in people they see without any thought or restraint.

    This is coming from someone who listens to GWAR and watches tons of gory horror flicks. I love HoL and its got some pretty vile stuff in it, though it tends to look at it sideways as opposed to full on describing things. And it has a group of opponents known as the SODOMY BIKERS.

    The fact that Carcosa did say these things is highly disturbing. It sends off DUDE NO FREAKING WAY alarms. Even if nothing else, can't folks see it shouldn't be done? Its not acceptable. PERIOD.

    Maybe I was wrong and the writer doesn't get some sort of sick enjoyment at either the concepts he wrote or the obvious to anyone with half a brain backlash that was inevitably gonna happen. Maybe it was just "what is the most horrid thing I can think of?" come to life.

    It shouldn't have been said at all.

    And I still stand by my opinion that the book will not be welcome in my home regardless of edit or not because I know what the original had said.

  20. I'm glad to hear of a revised edition that makes things a little easier for those whose fun would be spoiled by the more horrific details. I'm not totally sure, though, that I'd want the rituals to be "as uncontroversial as the spells in the AD&D Players Handbook." I think that would lose a lot of flavor and make the sorcerers rather toothless. At the same time, the excerpts I've read in reviews and discussions do strike me as surpassing many of my players' comfort zones, and possibly pushing the tone of the setting beyond the level that I'd aim for myself.

    As a fan of old Hellblazer comics (among other things), I'm certainly interested in a dangerous, transgressive sort of sorcery. There's a lot to be done with it. One campaign I ran some years ago was built around the question, "Just how low will you go to save the world?"

    I think I'd be fine with knowing what category of awful things are being done for various ritual - allowing PCs to be selective in their moral choices, assuming there's any ability to succeed as a sorcerer while retaining a measure of scruples - but I don't need to know the details. Knowing that a certain rite requires human sacrifice, even torturous sacrifice, is one thing. The level of detail we've been given (the number of times the victim must be raped?!?) seems a little much. It might be fine for a splatterpunk game, it would fit well in any horror novel published today, but it does seem to break from the tone of D&D material I'm used to. It pushes just a little bit beyond what I'm comfortable in the context of my gaming.

    So will I be disappointed by a toothless sorcery if I choose the expurgated version? Or will my players still know that sorcerers are vile dastards without needing a "brain-douche" after every session? Will I be better off getting the original version and just crossing out any reference to rape (because for certain of my players, that's a deal-breaker), without losing the rest of the flavor? Where exactly are the lines going to be drawn?

  21. I think if I were reading details of imaginary human sacrifice rituals invented by vanished evil serpent-man breeders of entire separate races of humanity, those humans bred solely for the purpose of this sacrifice in order to bind/summon/pester some ancient inhuman insanity-inducing freakier-than-you-can-imagine-no-really-freakier-than-that OMGEVIL -- if there were nothing that made me go "man that's some pretty sick stuff right there", I'd want my money back. Yeah, when it came time to actually play I'd probably tone them down a bit because imagining in detail harm coming to children is not something I ever want to do. And there's probably a bunch of other alterations I'd make to suit my tastes where Carcosa might be too dark for me. I've heard they let you do that.

    For me this review boils down to: Carcosa is awesome except for something that doesn't matter to me.

    I'm glad a version for moral weaklings (cough) is being made to broaden the appeal, and I'm also glad a "director's cut" will also still be available, since that's the one I want.

  22. Will said: "...[Don't cave;]...I think an expurgated version would be a poorer product and hence a poorer value."

    The value in a product isn't an absolute, objective unit; it's subjective, and based on the preferences of the consumer.

    Here's how I see it. Geoffrey has taken note of the fact that a significant portion of the potential audience for Carcosa is disturbed by the detail in the rituals. In fact, they're disturbed enough that they won't buy or use the product. Geoffrey thinks there's a lot of value in Carcosa beyond the details (or lack of details) in the rituals, and he wants to provide that value to as many people as possible.

    Consequently, Geoffrey is making the decision to offer two versions tailored to the preferences the market has expressed. Responding to market preferences is just good economics. The fact that he's offering an expurgated edition also suggests that Geoffrey doesn't consider the details of the rituals to be the proper cynosure of Carcosa; if he considered them the product's cornerstone and main focus, he'd certainly stick to providing only the unexpurgated version, standing on a refusal to compromise his artistic vision, or something along those lines.

    I'm with Matt on this; I think offering an expurgated edition is a good thing to do.

  23. Good for Geoffrey for being long-sighted enough to offer an expurgated Carcosa. If removing some of the gorn helps his (apparently excellent) work to reach a wider market, then it can't be entirely a bad move.

    Shall be buying in November.

  24. Odrook, when I say "as uncontroversial as the spells in the AD&D Players Handbook", I mean that the rituals will have NO graphic content regarding what happens to the sacrifices. Page 5 of the book still says "All rituals (except for rituals of banishment) require human sacrifice." And it's left at that. The numbers, ages, race, gender, etc. of the sacrifices are left to the DM's imagination. Similarly, what torments or methods of killing the sacrifices are subjected to is also left to the DM's imagination. Let me given an example of an expurgated version of one of the rituals:

    SUSURRATION OF THE PURPLE CAVERN: This seven-hour ritual can be performed only in crystalline caves which have naturally-occurring amethysts amongst the crystals. The sorcerer must have a jagged knife of rainbow quartz. The ritual produces a haunting susurration that seduces and deludes the Violet Mist into willing bondage to the sorcerer. The susurration accompanies the sorcerer for 2-4 days, at which time the Violet Mist is no longer bound and will probably attack the sorcerer.

    There. That's it. The DM can read between the lines and deduce why a "jagged knife" is necessary for the ritual. The DM can also speculate how the awful susurration is produced.

  25. In short, the Expurgated Edition will have all the human sacrifice, and none of the gory details.

  26. "Its not acceptable. PERIOD."

    Isn't it great when you get to be the one deciding this for others? Much better than being one of the less fortunate Salman Rushdies or Lenny Bruces of the world who have it decided for them...

  27. " does seem to break from the tone of D&D material I'm used to. It pushes just a little bit beyond what I'm comfortable in the context of my gaming."

    I guess the very mindset where these are somehow *negatives* for an RPG product in an overcrowded and cliche-riddled genre is as alien to me as Carcosa's Lovecraftian beasties. :)

  28. I'm going to stand up as a social, possibly moral, coward.

    We live in a moment of summary and sweeping societal judgments, very different from the 70s when D&D was first printed. Back then, more people were willing to stick their necks out and take chances, and take heat and/or censorship for what they did. In the years since then, we've seen a clear narrowing of the marketplace for ideas, a resurgence of moral censorship, and a contradictory movement out on the fringe of popular culture - a kind of arms race for shock - which means you have to go further to gain notoriety for violating taboos, while at the same time you have to work in an ever smaller and safer space to be accepted by major distribution chains. Most of all, though, (1) child rape, alongside terrorism, has become the number 1 demon crime in our society, and (2) anonymity has died: you might've got away with buying a questionable product quietly and checking it out for its (non-rape) valuable content 30 years ago, but today, I earnestly believe, there's a chance that ordering a product that includes child rape will get you onto some kind of watchlist you really don't want to be on.
    I apologise to Geoffrey for saying this: maybe I'm just contributing to the general atmosphere of paranoia by doing so, but I applaud his decision to make an expurgated version of Carcosa. I'm just not sure doing so would make the product safe for me to buy.
    Flames in 3, 2, 1...

  29. Thanks for the info, Geoffrey. That does give me a good idea of what to expect. Now I'm still stuck with the quandary of deciding which version will be the right one for me.

    Oh well, life is tough all over.

    Thanks again.

  30. Fast forward to 2021 - you 2008-ers won’t believe what people in the future find objectionable! The whole moral outrage movement has gotten completely out of hand, and I am sad to report that free speech is dead.