Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carcosans and Setting Thoughts on Carcosa


Some for some reason I’ve been rolling up Carcosans lately.  Here are their character sheets:
Johnny 2 Bad – Made it to second level playing in a very strange game inside the god Vorn.  There was a horrible vampire – many party members almost died.  Someone cast sleep on Johnny and he awoke in a murderous fury possessed by evil spirits because Vorn’s body is under Death Frost Mountain. As a player three solid hours of sipping whiskey made me think taking my ax to the unconscious party member was the best bet (like he has a high AC, can’t hit me back, and is already unconscious so I won’t kill him – this was flawed booze logic, but I didn’t kill him).  So now Johnny is a 2nd level (almost 3rd) flailsnail Dolm Man.

Mr. Smyth “The Man” -  Mr. Smyth is part of the traveling troupe of actors “The Rainbow Connection” and he’s a white man.  I decided he’s greedy and kinda fat.  He has a high Dex because he’s also a bit psychic – it’s not that he moves quick, he just has nimble little piggy hands and knows what’s coming at him next sometimes.  Mr. Smyth tried to steal some radioactive space rocks from a specimen cabinet and now he’s covered in stinking weeping sores.  He’s got a suit of wooden armor that covers him mostly (rare on Carcosa) but I think we can all agree this is for the best. Now if only the party can find some potpourri.

Normagina – A thoroughly normal Carcosan lady - a yellow woman to be exact.  I decided she’s level headed and sane.  She’s also an actor with the “Rainbow Connection”, who put on only one play, but switch the color of the actors to prey on the prejudices of the audience. It’s gotta be some sort of Carcosan creation myth or something. Normagina’s starting equipment included a furkini, so I can’t really be blamed for that.  Plus Carcosa is sort of inherently Frazetta so I figure everyone in Carcosa has the same ridiculous beef/cheese cake body type.  Except poor Mr. Smyth who was clearly meant to be a villain.


So I’m not running Carcosa, but the fellow over at Save vs. Total Party Kill is, and he did a fine job.  My own thoughts on the setting are as follows and have nothing to do with the way the game I’m playing in is being run and more to do with what seems sorta hollow about the setting.

That’s right Carcosa is hollow.  Sure it’s got the ultimate science fantasy, post apocalypse pedigree, but there’s something sort dull and surface to it.  What it needs is more fluff and flavor.  He’s what I’d propose.

A) Messing with items and such – the point of Carcosa isn’t getting rich, it’s survival. I’d make food and water the basic XP and wealth drivers.  Sure you can sell gold rings for a sandwich, but it’s having the sandwich that gives you XP.  I know that doesn’t seem like much, but something like each day of food you recover is worth 10 (or 50) XP – meaning you need to recover at least 70 (or 350 XP) per session to keep the character alive. Yeah I’d create a 50 XP debt per game as upkeep – you don’t get this XP to level, you spend it to not have to roll up a new random dude.  Items recovered can of course be traded for food – but their’s no GP, just barter.  Each PC should of course start with food for like 2 weeks (2 sessions) and can create a reserve (which they must carry) or spend these starting supplies on a roll on some kind of special “techno/magical doodads” table  

The way I see this effecting the game is that it will make the characters into desperate adventure hounds.  It may encourage combat, but only with things that look edible – like dinosaurs. A big mess of creatures on Carcosa are likely inedible or poisonous.  There needs to be an ‘eating bad meat’ table as well for players who try eating ‘blue hell polyp” meat to see if it’s edible.

2) Character differentiation is non-existent.  Sure you can play a sorcerer... Carcosa has all these ‘races’ of Crayola people, but does nothing with them.  I already decided that ‘yellow’ people on Carcosa are Simpson’s colored and have 3 fingers on each hand – or at least the ones I play do. There needs to be some differentiations though.  Little things.  Saving throw bonuses, +X to a skill (Carcosa needs X in 6 skills that perhaps can be point bought for attack bonuses – like 2 points of stealth cost your level increase attack bonus) , nightvision (for Dolm colored people – don’t ask why), stat bonuses penalties, and other minor effects. Like maybe green folk are photosynthetic and need ½ the survival XP, Ulfire have a small chance to reflect spells, and bonemen are sneaky (natural 3 in 6 stealth). This way you can build a competent PC or combat beast rather then having every PC be the same.

3) It’s a damn hexcrawl.  That’s fine, but since it’s a weird world a random generator for interesting strange land would be a help.  In general Carcosa feels like it needs more flavor.  I think of it as an unbelievably ancient land, more Dying Earth/Virconium/Books of the New Sun than Gamma World, and the monuments of dead pasts should abound, along with interesting natural areas. Rocky wastes under a purple sky it may all be, but to the Carcosan there’s gotta be forty seven words for rocky waste.  This helps as well in the whole “game of survival” aspect of Carcosa – finding a dell of fruiting succulents or a plain with insect mounds might be a good XP source Of course I’d also make regular use of an exhaustion die/encounter die with separate pips for food and water.


  1. There definetly needs to be more differentiation in the crayola people of carcosa. One could extrapolate on the elements table and have colors of victims and foes matter. Even as simple yellow men get a +2 to save and still only suffer half effect when stung by a yellow bug or zapped by a yellow ray would serve to make them different.

  2. Joesky actually started differentiating the different races of Carcosa here:

  3. I too got Carcossa and loved a couple things (alien tech, psionics, the book's design), but after reading it, I shrugged not knowing exactly what to do with it. Your ideas for adding more flavor for the different races goes a long way, yellow people will definitely be Simpsons style at my house. Food is also a great angle as Carcossa is so inhospitable it would definitely drive play interestingly. It certainly just felt flat to me as to what would motivate PCs to do anything in the world except try to escape it. Based on it sources maybe that was the point?

    In the end, I liked a throw away idea Zak S had a couple weeks back of reskinning Dark Sun as a Carcossa hex crawl. Tri-keen will now be rummaging through the shattered history of the planet, as well as pig-men from 'House on the Borderlands' or maybe I'll just add more alien monuments and Old Earth wreckage to the hexes inlieu of a couple of the ritual sacrifice ones.

    Those character sheets look super cool btw.

    1. Agreed that Darksun and Carcosa share some roots, but I think one thing I like about Carcosa is it's lack of demi-humans and Darksun is one of those settings with way too many demi-humans. For me I'd think separating Carcosa as a distinctly science-fantasy apocalypse would be helpful, but plundering Darksun is a worthwhile goal. I undestand that the GM of the game I'm playing in (Ram of Save v. TPK) is planning on using He-Man based fluff to gonzo up and flesh out Carcosa.

      I should also mention that the "Carcosa Dice" mechanic is pretty fun, and makes the combat terribly swingy and dangerous.

    2. Dark Sun is very interesting but agree with you Gus L that there are way two may demi-humans. The idea of XP earned by finding food and water and a barter-based economy are great. Having a difference in the races of Man is also a good idea but I would like to see some difference between the Fighter and Sorcerer class beside the Ritual Magic stuff. Josh Burnett had an intersting idea recently:

      Hell I would make Ritual Magic usable by anyone ala Call of Cthulhu.

      Too many thoughts in my head and fingers can't keep up. The madness I say, the MADNESS!

    3. I'll probably borrow from Dark Sun as well. Merchant Traders, Slave Tribes, etc, all seem like they'd fill well in Carcosa. You could also turn all the Sorcerer Kings into Serpent Men and Women. I'll probably end up borring heavily from Dark Sun if I keep this campaign going.

  4. I like Carcosa. I ran it as a Starships and Spacemen campaign. It was brutally fatal to PCs.

  5. One thing that would be cool to transfer from dark sun is everyone has psionic power, or the way I would handle it anyone with wis, int, or cha over 13 has them. Carcosa is a punishing setting and strong psionics can help explain the survival of smaller groups.

  6. I say strike the sorcerer class all together. A sorcerer in carcosa is a fighter who :
    Can compel services or favors of spirits, undead, monsters, or other powerful entity's through spells, technology or other means.

  7. I wrote up a "...a random generator for interesting strange land" - Well, kinda sorta anyway.

  8. There was this Jack's series of weirding up Carcosa:

  9. No need to introduce an XP debt to get the effect you are looking for, I think. Just give XP for recovery of food and require that food be spent to recover HP during rests. PCs that don't get food will expire naturally through HP attrition without any additional mechanics required. (Tracking debts is a hassle anyways.)

    I don't mind the lack of mechanical character differentiation (after all, OD&D limited to only human fighters seems plenty fun to me), but a detailed system for randomly generating hex contents would be quite useful.

    When I ran that Carcosa one-shot, the major prep I felt necessary was creating a dungeon and a table of somewhat detailed hex content encounters.

    1. I have found the upkeep system I've been using for Apollyon to be fun and useful. That is PCs spend GP in downtown for minimal bonuses for the next session. I think this would work with Carcosa but more like a carousing check - that is you can eat 'X' amount of XP and gain a +2 to HP for the next sesion or just eat whatever trash is laying around for no bonus. This way it's player choice.

      On variation - we're talking minor variances and then the use of a skill system. I presume any Carcosa game will be exploration heavy so a skill like survival - allowing you to id animals and plants, track in the wilderness and roll to push past the effects of an exhaustion check (maybe not sure there) will create enough character specialization as the PCs develop.

      Also you should hand off the notes of that Carcosa one shot so someone can edit and layout it and broadcast it to the word - it was a lot of fun