I recently got a new forum header, which led to the question "What the hell is that thing on the table?" And there's a contest about it!
Go see the picture, and the contest details, here.
330 hexes of adventure, with over 100 unique monsters and more magic and mystery than you can shake a stick at! The Isle of the Unknown is a setting that can be inserted in any traditional fantasy role-playing campaign.That's bland and sucky, right?
330 hexes of adventure, with over 100 unique monsters and tons of magic and mystery and more. DAMN is it cool. See that cover art? How cool it is? The coolness of that cover is totally representative of the coolness inside this bad boy. The Isle of the Unknown is a setting that can be inserted in any traditional fantasy role-playing campaign.hmm. So I ask Matt for some advice. His suggestion?
Without Isle of the Unknown your campaign is as naked, evidently, as everyone on all of my covers.*sigh*
Why Carcosan Sorcery Is the Way It IsSo if reading descriptions of imaginary aliens doing horrible things to other made-up aliens on a planet 153 light years away from Earth for the purpose of influencing fictional slime/tentacle monsters is truly distressing to you, do not buy Carcosa.
Carcosa will not be to everyone’s taste. I certainly have no quarrel with anyone who does not buy it. This post is to explain why I included the level of detail regarding the human sacrifice necessary for most sorcerous rituals on Carcosa.
Carcosan Sorcery is literally INHUMAN.
Humans did not create sorcery. The Snake-Men did. The (now thankfully extinct) Snake-Men originated tens of millions of years before man. These ophidian beings were not only literally cold-blooded, but they were also without emotion or pity. Imagine the eyes of a snake endowed with calculating intelligence, but no conscience whatsoever. These intelligent and amoral beings deeply studied the arcane aspects of existence, and in so doing discovered that a certain measure of control could be exerted over the very powerful Cthulhoid beings infesting both the world of Carcosa and the universe. This control could best be achieved with bloodshed. Snake-Men sorcerers, over countless millennia, honed and perfected their sorcerous arts. This included breeding the sub-human man-apes into the thirteen races of men, so as to be the most efficacious of sacrifices.
The Snake-Men subjected these hapless humans to the most horrific and degrading of fates in pursuit of sorcerous power. So please note: Carcosan sorcery (with its human sacrifice, rape, and torture) was created by an inhuman race that regarded us as we regard laboratory rats. The Snake-Men had as much sympathy for a human baby being sacrificed as we do for our veal dinner.
There is a grim justice in the ultimate fate of the Snake-Men: “At the height of their powers, the Snake-Men destroyed themselves by releasing ultratelluric forces impossible to control” (p. 111 of the expanded Carcosa book). In short, the Snake-Men paid for their sins. They were destroyed by their own sorcery.
Most Carcosan Sorcerers are EVIL.
In swords & sorcery literature, most sorcerers are evil. That is also true on Carcosa. Most sorcerers are reprehensible, disgusting, shocking, cruel, perverse, etc. Only a very few are otherwise, and they generally limit themselves only to the rituals of banishing (which do not require human sacrifice).
“Sorcerers Never Prosper,” or “Sorcery Doesn’t Pay”
The dangers inherent in sorcery are such that precious few sorcerers live to a ripe old age. Most eventually get destroyed by the Cthulhoid entities they conjure and/or attempt to control. Like the Snake-Men, sorcerers pay for their sins. And what the Cthulhoid entities do to sorcerers is a lot more painful than what sorcerers do to their sacrifices.
“So how can I use this kind of sorcery with explicit violence in a game?”
The explicit details can serve these two functions:
They make sorcerers GREAT villains for the player characters to slay. As a player I find it so much more satisfying to slay “the sorcerer who raped and killed adolescents” than to slay “the sorcerer who did some very bad things (details undisclosed)”.
They make PC sorcerers think twice before performing a sorcerous ritual. Several times in my Carcosa campaign, a PC sorcerer would be researching how to (for example) bind a certain Cthulhoid entity, and upon finding out the inhuman things required, DECIDED TO CEASE HIS RESEARCH. (“That price is too high.”) Many players will balk at sacrificing human NPCs when faces are put upon those NPCs, and when horrific details are given for what has to be done to those NPCs. Many players will refuse for their characters to kidnap an 11-year-old White virgin, rape her, and slay her. However, if the requirements of the ritual were vaguely worded (“requires one human sacrifice to be tormented and slain”), fewer players would balk. If the descriptions of the sorcery in Carcosa were less explicit, player character sorcerers would be more likely to engage in human sacrifice. The explicit language actually reduces (though it does not eliminate) the frequency of PCs sacrificing humans.
“Just How Explicit Is the Book, Really?”
M. A. R. Barker’s The Book of Ebon Bindings (published in 1978) was my model. Prof. Barker’s book is full of unflinching, clinical detail of human sacrifice, torture, and rape. Neither his book nor mine has the attitude of “Kewl! Blood and sex! Yeah!” Let us compare two passages from each work:
From the section on how to summon Gereshma'a, He of the Mound of Skulls (pp. 28-29 of The Book of Ebon Bindings): "In each of these three spaces let sacrifices be bound: in the northern pentagon a male human, in the western a female, and in the eastern an infant of not more than seven years...Then shall the evocator praise the Demon Lord and make the sacrifices. The infant shall be held head downward, and its belly shall be slit with the Ku'nur [the jag-edged sacrificial knife of the temple of Sarku]. When the blood is drained, the body shall be flung outside the diagramme."
From the ritual of The Primal Name of the Worm (p. 65 of the expanded Carcosa): “This one-hour ritual requires the sorcerer to stand in cold, waist-deep water and to there drown a Jale male baby. He must rend the corpse with his own hands and spill the blood upon a stone taken from the phosphorescent cave in hex 0607.”
From the section on how to summon Ka'ing (p. 66 of The Book of Ebon Bindings): "[T]wo of the evocators shall go to a female sacrifice, and while one engages in sexual congress with her, the other will slay her with a garrote made from her own hair. Then the other female sacrifice shall be treated in the same wise, and thereafter two female evocators shall perform the same act with the two male sacrifices, save that the garrotes shall be of the hair of the evocatresses instead."
From the ritual of Summon the Amphibious Ones (p. 70 of the expanded Carcosa): “This eleven-hour ritual can be completed only on a fog-shrouded night. The sorcerer must obtain the root of potency found only in ruined apothecaries of the Snake-Men. The sacrifice is a virgin White girl eleven years old with long hair. The sorcerer, after partaking of the root, must engage in sexual congress with the sacrifice eleven times, afterwards strangling her with her own hair. As her life leaves her body, 10-100 of the Amphibious Ones will coalesce out of the mists.”
As one can see, the level of detail and its clinical character is very similar in The Book of Ebon Bindings and in Carcosa. If Carcosa “crosses a line,” then it merely crosses a line that was already crossed 30 years earlier by The Book of Ebon Bindings. I regard M. A. R. Barker as one of the Five Great Men of FRPGs (along with Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Bob Bledsaw, and David Hargrave). Prof. Barker’s credentials are impeccable. I am confident that I am on safe and appropriate ground when I use his publications as a guide.
In the end, it’s all merely a game, fantasy, and words on paper. None of it is real.