Part III: Sorcery
We press on. Next up are the rules for Sorcery in Carcosa. In response to the controversy generated by the atrocious nature of the sorcerous rituals, author Mckinney caved to the pressure of his critics and has gone on record stating that the evil rituals (those requiring human sacrifice, i.e all of them but the banishment rituals) were meant for NPCs only. With all due respect to the pressure that was no doubt put on him, this is, in my humble estimation, bullshit. I will explain why below but first an introduction.
Rituals are divided into seperate categories. Banishing rituals are used to dispel entities, causing them to flee (often the only practical recourse in dealing with these horrid entities). Conjuring rituals summon the entities in question, but do not give any sort of control. Invocations are unique in that they contact creatures that cannot be summoned, which can be used to gain knowledge about other shit, typically, how to perform other rituals. Binding rituals are used to control the entities in question for a set period of time. Given the fact that all rituals (except conjurations) allow saving throws and you will know if your binding ritual worked only 50% of the time, one can see that dealing with the various entities of Carcosa is a risky proposition at best. Imprisoning rituals trap the entity in a certain location. Finally, Tormenting rituals generally cause damage in the form of reduced HD (thus lowering its saving throws) or great pain to the entity, making it easier to bind or binding it for a longer period of time, however, these can only be used on an entity that has been Imprisoned. Imprisoned entities must make a succesfull saving throw or they cannot be conjured. Saving throws are affected by the Sorcerers level (i.e a 6th lvl sorcerer causes entities to save at -1 or at +1 if it is trying to conjure them and they are imprisoned).
The ritual section as a whole is vague and could have used a paragraph explaining how certain rituals interact or why an invocation requires a saving throw for example. What exactly constitutes making ones demands from a creature is maddeningly vague, while some rituals are very clear (issue single command that takes no longer then 1 month to complete for example). Also the type of saving throw is not specified (I assume it is vs magic?). Its not gamebreaking, I mean you can sort of figure out what he is going for, but some clarity would have been nice.
I wouldn’t be doing a thorough job if I did not look up what your average chance of binding an entity would be as a 1st level sorcerer. In Loftp, monsters save as Fighters, and since most of the entities in question have at least 13 HD(the lowest is the Watery Death, with a paltry 7 HD), we can take the maximum saving throw vs spell of the fighter (since fighter saving throws do not improve after 13th level in Loftp), which is 8. On average you have a 40% chance of successfully affecting an entity with anything at 1st level. Harsh but not so harsh as to make sorcery entirely useless.
As an additional note, a rare few of the entities in question do not have HD so it is hard to determine their saving throws which is annoying. The saving throw for invocations is bullshit btw, since most of the invocations already require the Sorcerer himself to save or fucking die. Yes. Invoking hideous Outer Gods can fucking kill you or turn you into a drooling imbecile. This is Carcosa baby. Even some of the other rituals pose tremendous risk to a prospective Sorcerer, which usually results in a save or fucking die. Bring 6 character sheets is what I am saying.
On to the rituals themselves. We are presented with an astonishingly diverse selection of strange and abominable rites, which generally require one or more of the following:
-Extremely rare material component that can only be found in a certain hex on the campaign map (example: must be dressed in black cowl made from the fibers of a plant that has not grown for ages and can only be found in the tomb of long dead Snake Men sorcerers in hex #) or is similarly hard to acquire (mummy wrap, electrum razor).
-Material component worth multiple thousands of gold pieces, often consumed upon casting(example: set of torture implements made of black opal worth at least 10.000 gp)
-Ritual can only be performed on certain time or certain location (e.g moonless nights or in the Night Ocean below the world).
– Human sacrifice consisting of particular colour humanoid, often with gender and age specification (Virtually ALL RITUALS EXCEPT BANISHING*).
The reason I believe that the statement players are only meant to utilize banishment rituals is bullshit is that gathering these different components is one of the main reasons to adventure in Carcosa. Travelling all around the world in search for fucked up temples to learn rituals from, fucked up components to cast said rituals and fucked up locations to cast said rituals from, meanwhile scouring the land for suitable human sacrifices of the right fucking colour generates so much gameplay that restricting all these rituals to NPCs would be a heinous and horrendous waste of pages. Casting 1 invocation to learn only the conjuration spell(lets say you like living on the edge) and the associated ritual-components should be good for 4-6 adventures in itself.
Some of the rituals are rather impractical for pcs though. The sacrifice of one’s own newborn child from a women of one’s own colour (remember the races cannot interbreed) aged exactly 22 years old is not bound to see much use. So too will the ritual requiring 12 lower level sorcerer-assistants for the 21-26 hour drawn out(roll a dice or something jesus shit what?) erotic-drug fuelled gang-raping to death of the 14 year old Dolm Virgin girl not likely see much use (in the interest of balance, the sacrifice is also drugged so while the act is not consensual the rape is not likely to be overly violent**). Did I just type that? Jesus christ Mckinney. At least the sacrificial requirements are more or less evenly divided between the sexes, though notably missing is a ritual where you have to gang-rape an old man to death.
The worst cock-tease is the Lurker amidst the Obsidean Ruins. Where the fuck will I get myself 101 Dolm children in a setting where the largest concentration is the village state(100-500 people)? How the hell do I transport 2 stone blocks weighing at least a ton from hex 2002 to hex 2512? These are the questions that only Carcosa is brave enough to ask.
The abominations seem sort of well balanced, bizarrely enough. The ridiculously powerful It of the Fallen Pylons may be bound indefinitely but by conjuring it you risk death every fucking time and actually binding it requires you perform a ritual at 4 fucking locations simultaneously (if you have Space Alien radio transmitters or teleptathy this might be worth it). The Colourless Ooze may be bound but fucking up means you die, the Dessicating Slime of the Silent Halls has obscene material component costs, the Suckered Abomination requires a shitload of human sacrifices etc.
In keeping with the unreliable nature of sorcery, often the texts do not give all the information, so you can suddenly find yourself having to murder or sacrifice one of your companions or risk death at the hands of some hideous horror you have been courting. Sometimes for the sheer hell of it the component is one of your friends, period. Welcome back PvP! I have missed you.
I think some of this shit could be halfway amusing but goddammit do you need the right detached mindset. Seriously though, there is no reason they couldn’t have just hinted at the wackadoodle stuff you have to do to perform the rituals, and the graphic detail adds little and removes much. Also a lot of the rituals require you to have sex with children, just saying. I get that that is supposed to make me uncomfortable, in which case it has succeeded. But Carcosa uses the hammer where a scalpel was warranted.
A comparison has been made between the rituals described in the Book of Ebon Bindings (an old supplement for the glorious and awesome Empire of the Petal Throne rpg by M.A Barker) and the rituals in Carcosa and this comparison is, without further getting into it, apt (after a short skimming of the rituals in BoEB).
The subject matter of both rituals is equally shocking. Perhaps the lengthy and detailed descriptions within the Book of Ebon Bindings give one a greater sense of detachment or more appropriate context, I do not know, with regards to the disturbing nature of their subject matter they are essentially the same. Perhaps by focusing solely on the grotesque aspects of the sorcery in such a terse fashion Carcosa draws way more attention to it. I want to read the rest of Book of Ebon Bindings now.
As a side note, I suspect a rather harsh conversion error crept into the game as a result the change from OD&D to Loftp. Most of the banishing rituals take between 2-5 minutes. In OD&D a round is about a minute, and since some of those banishment rituals require you to be in very fucking close proximity with the entity in question, that makes a lot of sense. In Loftp a combat round is, sensibly, 6 seconds. I speak objectively when I say that if you are in a situation where holding back one of these entities for 20 rounds while your sorcerer casts his banishment spell is your best option you are fucked.
Leaving aside the revolting nature of the subject matter, the rituals add an interesting dynamic to the Sandbox. Summoning and binding these various abominations is really only helpful for long term goals, such as subverting villages, laying siege to a citadel or fucking killing one of the many other degenerate sorcerer pricks so you can take their shit (I mean this figuratively, this is Carcosa after all). I GMed a session of Carcosa and managed to get through it without having anyone rape anything but im kind of curious to see what people would do with a bound abomination once they actually get around to binding one.
Next up, monsters and hexes and all the rest.
* In the interest of thoroughness, some of the invocations and torments don’t require you to inflict loss of life. The Evocation of the Deep Gibbering Madness requires only that you mentally torture your sacrifices for 6 to 11 months, they need not die from it but the important thing is they go mad. The Accursed Sounding of the Void requires but 4 hours of torture upon an Ulfire male and a female, neither of them a virgin but both of them youths, they may be re-used. The Hanging Azure madness requires only that one impales oneself upon a certain tree, and the Imprisonment of the Putrefying Corpse requires Necrophilia, but not sacrifice.
**Hahahaha just kidding this is the worst.