PrinceofNothingReviews: Carcosa [Pt. III: Sorcer-eeee!]

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. 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 succesful 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 doable. 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 aquire(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 indefinetely but by conjuring it you risk death every fucking time and actually binding it requires you perform a simultaneous 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 detatchment 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 dont 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.

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13 thoughts on “PrinceofNothingReviews: Carcosa [Pt. III: Sorcer-eeee!]

  1. I think Geoff’s biggest cop-out was backtracking and claiming that a Carcosan eleven year-old was the equivalent of an Earthly twenty year-old. We all know what he meant, and he should have had the courage of his convictions to commit to his scumbaggery.

    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.

    Whoa, are we talking about Carcosa, or the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac?

    I’m thinking of releasing a cut-and-paste in which all of the rituals involve the sacrifice of creepy, bespectacled middle-aged real-estate office flunkies.

    In a campaign,an interesting theme would be the attempt to maintain one’s humanity, and the temptations that dealing with hostile alien powers presents. Can one play a sorcerer without spiraling down to depravity? White Wolfing the game up 15% would probably improve it, much as I hate myself for typing that.

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    1. [whitewolfing]

      Edward’s Sorcerer game uses Humanity as a central mechanic.

      Im unsure if it would work better in Carcosa. As written, you are most likely going to die before you are going to run out of [arbitrary measurement of sanity/spiritual wholesomeness] anyway. It is possible to just play a banishment sorcerer but there are so many interesting hooks scattered about the sandbox that really only make sense if you get into the abomination summoning. Mckinney sort of provides for corruption points in the form of chance of ageing every time you perform a ritual, but its kind of haphazard.

      On the topic of GREAT NEWS EVERYONE, my DH game is on hiatus so i found a group of players willing to try Carcosa and might actually deliver some Actual Play Reports as a result. Shit needs a lot of work to make it playable though. Updates forthcoming.

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    1. SA SJW’s SJWing. I did my share of reading SA when it had not started sucking super hard yet and i really loved WTF! DnD! and the Barbarian’s Dojo podcast. I even read Liminal States, a weird lovecraftian science fiction detective western by frequent columnist Zak Parsons, and thought it was really interesting.

      This review is what they call a hatchet job, where the autor goes out to intentionally mock and berate, rather then provide a critical opinion. The Dolm Pudding Tank was a nice combo to find though. I will say that it goes beyond even my thorough breakdown into an encyclopedic dissection of the work, which is useful. It is a pity the commentary on this detail rarely goes beyond a snarky sentence. The guy has clearly never heard of Wilderlands or any of the other old school shit that served to inspire Carcosa.

      For example, while he describes a take on rituals in Barbarians of Lemuria that is similar to my own take on ritual sorcery in Age of Dusk and that is also fun, HJ seems to miss the point that these rituals are meant to fuel exploration and provide a reason for exploring. It is interesting to see a review of Carcosa from the perspective of a new-school player though.

      I get that one could level the same criticism at my Arrows of Indra review but i would be remiss in not pointing out that i did in fact point out good things about it, just not very many. Because Arrows of Indra sucks super hard.

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      1. Damn, dude, you gotta reign in that SJW bogeyman fear. Don’t let that make you dismiss good points reflexively. Or, alternatively, please show us on the doll where the SJWs touched you!

        That review is actually pretty good, snarky but hardly a hatchet job. And it gets to the heart of the dumbass rituals, which all of carblowsa’a legion of apologists miss – how in the hell were Snake-men ever going to rape women to begin with? If these rituals are just aping the old Snake-man rituals, raping the human cattle is biologically improbable. He points out that stupidity, calling McKinney’s fantasies out for what they are.

        And his mockery of Raggi’s calling everyone cowards who doesn’t think fictional rape is swell is spot on.

        That being said, I am enjoying your review, as well.

        Carry on.

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      2. [SJW Bogeyman Fear+good points]

        Leaving aside the question whether or not SJWs touched my in my sleep or whether Halloween Jack is a raging SJW(he shows a lot of the distinctive behavioural cues), i respectfully disagree with your assesment, and will provide additional information so you can decide whether you think my opinion is valid or not.

        The review is certainly detailed, this is to the benefit of the reader and gives insight into the source material. The commentary is the type of snark where you go out of your way to find things to berate and mock without due diligence or any form of objectivity.

        “Like I said before, Carcosa has no magic-users, clerics, rogues, or battleminds. There are only two classes: Fighters and Sorcerers. Sorcerers can do anything fighters can do–they can wear any armor, use any weapon (which makes no difference as weapon damage is randomized) and have the same hit points (where there can be no difference because HP are randomized). ”

        Example 1. He snarks that the weapon and armour damage is randomised and therefore the hit dice/weapon shit is useless but missess completely that this dice convention is optional as all hell and therefore including data on the hit point progression of a sorcerer is perfectly acceptable. Second, he has never played od&d so he would not know this, after level 9 your hit point progression caps out and you no longer gain dice, just hit points per level. Therefore stating that sorcerers gain hit points as fighters is always neccesairy, even with randomised dice rolls. He didnt do his homework.

        He does a lot of describing, which is fine, but anyone can just describe shit, its the implications that are interesting to us and since we read a review to save time it is up to the reviewer to remove the glamour before our eyes and unveil the deeper meanings hidden within.

        “Hoo boy, this is the fun part! This section details all the artifacts you can find which were created by the Space Aliens. Who are the Space Aliens? Greys, although it never says so directly. Fortunately, their basically humanoid shape means that humans can use their kickass stuff. Considering that the monster section says that the Aliens have been intermittently establishing outposts on Carcosa for millennia, it seems odd that they would let their weaponry fall into the hands of Snake Men food.”

        Example 2. You yourself can figure out reasons why humans would have alien weapons but lets come up with 4 that are not particularly inspired. 1. You use your tech To trade or bribe locals. 2. you arm locals to use as disposable troops against the great old ones. 3. An expedition or small commando team of aliens got lost and died. 4. Alien ruins. At least half of these solutions are hex locations and in the setting. These are not the brilliant fruits of my creative god-mind, these can be gleaned from the fucking hex locations in the setting.

        Same with the serpent-men rape point. We dont fucking know what Serpent-men are anatomically like, therefore to speculate whether or not it is biologically improbable is pointless. My theory is very simple. The graphic nature of the rituals triggered a visceral emotional response towards Carcosa in his brain, and the logical part of his brain wants to rationalize this antipathy by finding flaws and errors that do not exist.

        “The author says that the cultures which Carcosa most resemble are precolonial sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and the tribe from Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. You know Carcosan cultures are primitive because they’re like the places on Earth that had never seen a white person!”

        Finding racism where a reasonable man would understand it is a simple anology meant to convey mood and general behavioural outlines. They are primitive because they exist as tribal societies that have not progressed beyond the bronze age. I.E he’s looking for additional things to be offended about because he needs to rationalize his visceral dislike of Carcosa and he is unable to form a nuanced perspective because of poor emotional control.

        “Sorcery is apparently an all-male profession; only the masculine pronoun is used, and acts of rape are only ever described in terms of a man raping a woman. ”

        Hex 2013 contains She-of-the-lake, a 7th level chaotic sorcerer that rules 2 other villages by force. No due diligence if bitching advances the agenda and paints someone as that most heinous of human beings, a mysoginist.

        I don’t expect you to agree with me and im sure this guy is okay to hang around with as long as you don’t voice any thoughts that do not conform to his politically sanitised worldview but this is why i get my vibe.

        [Sorcerous rituals mad props]

        You are kind. Thank you.

        [Corrupt right-wingers]

        There is an excuse for being really fucking left or rightwing but no excuse for being an authoritarian douchebag who preaches tolerance but shows nothing but hatred and contempt for anyone that does not conform. That being said, i dont know the guy very well, he might be really cool. This is just the vibe i get from the review.

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      3. As always, a clear and detailed response. I think you are reading more into it than is there, but all of your points are reasonable.

        Awaiting the next installment.

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  2. HJ might be someone I interact with on a regular basis on an unrelated website… I will ask him if he’s the same guy, though there are a lot of Bowie fans out there. If it’s the same guy, he lives in the sticks in the American Midwest, so being a SJW is a self-defense mechanism against corrupt, incompetent right-wingers.

    And it gets to the heart of the dumbass rituals, which all of carblowsa’a legion of apologists miss – how in the hell were Snake-men ever going to rape women to begin with? If these rituals are just aping the old Snake-man rituals, raping the human cattle is biologically improbable. He points out that stupidity, calling McKinney’s fantasies out for what they are.

    Yeah, snakes got no dongs.

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  3. Also, dude, I have to say you have pointed out something in geoffie’s carcosa that is interesting, the acquisition of the components. That is atmospheric the way you present it, the coolest aspect of his game, and something the setting-apologists failed to highlight previously.

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  4. I think it’s impossible to understate the inspiration of Ebon Bindings for the rituals — these are Ebon Bindings rituals edited to fit a Wilderlands level of brevity. The requirement for one Carcosa ritual to strangle a girl to death with her hair while raping her is lifted almost verbatim from EB.

    Agree that sorcerers have always been open to players and Geoff has talked on various fora about his own players being sorcerers and casting more than just banishment rituals. Apparently they just condensed the details into something brief and not particularly obscene. If your players object to being vile, Carcosa’s ritual requirements can be used as a road map for goody-goody players to camp out certain locations and thwart NPC sorcerers from obtaining ritual items, but this is certainly not what is invited by the text.

    Also agree with the backtracking about age. Carcosa describes certain sacrifice victims variously as girls, children, infants, adults, etc., there’s always a clear delineation and yes kids get raped and killed. The “Carcosan 11 year olds are mature” hand wave is absurd and invites additional criticism.

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    1. Hahaha i knew you could not quit me. I vaguely remember that Geoff hot pants video where he mentioned his players acting along the lines of: Okay what are the ritual components? Okay let’s round up some Dolm men or something along those lines.

      That 11 year olds are mature line may as well have been a ‘on Carcosa kids really like being raped and sacrificed to nameless gods because of dolm neurotransmitters in the brain.’

      Ebon bindings is on my list and like most of the things written by Doc Barker, its probably pretty fucking good if overly detailed.

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