Carcosa by Geoffrey McKinney is a horror role playing game supplement published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess which is intended for use with either their own system of the same name, or with other Old School systems. Carcosa is a city mentioned in the Cthulhu Mythos based on H. P. Lovecraft's work, although Carcosa itself wasn't created by him. In the mythos, Carcosa is a city beside a lake on another planet; in this supplement, it refers to the entire planet, a portion of which is mapped.
The PDF was bought at a reduced, deal, price of $6.50; the normal full price of the supplement is $9.99. There are also print editions available, but some of these are older versions of the supplement. It isn't available in print on demand form. The PDF has 283 pages. One page is the colour front cover, four pages are front matter of different types, one page is the Table of Contents, one page is blank, two pages are the Introduction, four pages are the Universal Index and the final two pages of the book are hex maps, one of the mapped region of Carcosa and one, more detailed, map of one of the hexes, used in the adventure, Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer.
The Introduction provides a brief overview of Carcosa, using the supplement, or parts of it, and how races, magic and technology work in the setting.
Sorcerous Rituals is the most disturbing, and controversial, part of the supplement. These are the "spells" that can be cast by the Sorcerer class. Each ritual has an evocative name and a specific purpose. The majority of the rituals involve performing gruesome, unpleasant and, eventually, fatal things to humans in order to do complete them. The rituals are intended to invoke, banish, torment, imprison, conjure and bind various different Mythos entities.
Monster Descriptions describe, and give stats for, various different creatures. Many of these will be familiar to those familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos, as they have the same names. Others are slightly different. The three races whose technology can be discovered are also covered. The Space Aliens sound like Greys, the Great Race is the Great Race of Yith and the Primordial Ones are more usually called Elder Things.
The Carcosa Campaign Map details the 400 hexes on the main Carcosa map at the back of the book. Each hex is covered in the same way; there are two possible encounters in each hex, and this is what is detailed. Many of these encounters are very similar in nature. This section finished with the adventure Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer, which is more of a detailed description of an individual hex with some areas to explore.
The Addenda have random tables for monster encounters, creating Spawn of Shub-Niggurath, robots, Space Alien armament and mutations. There are also a section on humanity on Carcosa as well as reference tables for the Sorcerous Rituals divided into the various types.
Carcosa in Review
There is rather less content in the supplement than might be thought by the page count; it is extensively illustrated and all the writing is single column with wide margins. The illustrations are in black and white and match the tone of the book - which means many are gruesome and/or disturbing.
The PDF has an extensive Universal Index, hyperlinked text within the Table of Contents, the Universal Index and the book itself, and it is also well bookmarked, resulting in what is probably one of the easiest to navigate supplements around.
With the actual contents of the supplement, it will not be to everyone's taste. Admittedly, it isn't really supposed to be. The dice rules are odd to say the least; they will definitely, as stated, introduce an element of uncertainty. For example, hit dice, a standard in one form or another in many games, are different every time, as is weapon damage. Each combat it is usual to roll to see what dice are used; a monster with 10 hit dice could, one combat, have hit points ranging from 10 to 40, and another time from 10 to 120. Similarly, weapon damage might be d4 one time but d12 the next, or anything in-between.
Although the book may have been inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos works of Lovecraft and others, the feel of the book is not really Lovecraftian. Instead, it has more in common with the gorier type of modern horror film than the cosmic horror of the Mythos. Carcosa was also, as previously mentioned, not created by Lovecraft, but by Ambrose Bierce, although it has since used by many other authors, both those preceding and those following Lovecraft. Carcosa was also a city, not a planet; in this supplement, the city does appear on the map.
The descriptions of the various rituals that Sorcerers need to carry out in order to cast magic is on the disturbing side; maybe not as bad as it could be, but it will certainly not be to everyone's taste. The names of the rituals are quite evocative and colourful - not in a violent way, as the descriptions are.
Carcosa is possibly best suited for those who enjoy the gorier type of horror film - and, from reading the ritual descriptions, would be willing to play the antagonist in those films, as anyone using the violent rituals would certainly not be a hero. Another option would be using the knowledge gained to hunt down those Sorcerers using the nastier rituals.
There are really only two types of character, Fighter and Sorcerer, and only the Sorcerer is covered; details of the Fighter will need to be taken from another system. The only difference between the different races of humanity is their colours; there is no other difference, and the only thing that is actually connected to the colour is that many of the rituals require humans of a particular colour to be tortured and sacrificed. This, apparently, is why humanity is of different colours; they were bred to be most effective when used in certain rituals.
In the encounter details on the campaign map, a lot of places are ruled by a person with a pretentious name. This tendency is discussed in the latter section on humanity on Carcosa. For one or two encounters it's interesting, but after a couple of dozen it does get a bit tedious. The other main source of encounters is with Spawn of Shub-Niggurath; there are, again, a bit too many of these and they also become tedious. The encounters that aren't of these types can actually be rather more interesting.
Carcosa is gruesome, violent, certainly adult in nature, and may be of some use to anyone playing in a horror or Lovecraftian campaign, but it will definitely not be to everyone's taste, especially the descriptions of the rituals.