Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa is a role-playing campaign setting intended for “old school” game system like the Lamentations of the Flame Princes Weird Fantasy RPG, or Labyrinth Lord, but with just a little bit of tinkering, it could easily be drafted into use for any fantasy role-playing system. Rather than Tolkienesque high fantasy, Carcosa draws its inspiration from the pulp fantasy tradition, when there were no clear boundaries between science fiction, fantasy or horror. Authors like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft are clear influences here, if anything can indeed be said to be clear in Carcosa. This isn’t a a criticism, though. The chaotic brilliance of the setting is what makes it so compelling. Let me summarize, sort of:
Once upon a time, there was an planet zillions of light years away from our own. A gigantic meteorite imbued with all matter of biological goop struck it and life began. Wait. Back up. Great Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep had a vacation home here, and wanted to spruce up the place with Deep Ones, Elder Things and 15 kinds of stinking goo. Then the meteorite struck, but somewhere in there a bunch of Gray space aliens came buy and dumped off a bunch of spooky technological artifacts, including obelisks and robots and crazy robots and crazy homicidal robots. So anyway, mankind evolved into a myriad of different races – Green Men, Purple Men, etc. etc. etc. – and went about adventuring, which on Carcosa, includes fighting dinosaurs and tentacle monsters with swords and maybe blasters or even sorcerous rituals…or…
While the “WTF” factor is high for Carcosa, it definitely skews toward the awesome side of the gonzometer. Imagine, if you will, that someone threw 40 years of Weird Tales magazine, several moldy Dungeons & Dragons handbooks, and a tincture of the junk-infused nightmares of William Burroughs into some kind of haunted blender and set it on puree for a solid minute. Then imagine that same person feeding the mixture to a homonculus made of pure batsh*t crazy and then giving said homonculus a laptop. Carcosa might be the result – and I mean that as a compliment.
The book itself is work of art, and stands as a compelling argument that Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi has become the foremost auteur of the Weird in role-playing today. Carcosa is bound in faux black leather embossed with a spired city in blue and green silhouette. Inside is almost 300 pages of faux parchment madness, beautifully illustrated with decadent and disturbing ink drawings. Carcosa, with its authoritative heft and eldritch contents, feels like some kind of alien grimoire. It’s one of those books that you’ll love even if you never actually get around to using it in your home campaign. Just don’t blame me if the bookshelf you keep it in begins sprouting dark, gibbering fungus of some sort.