Advent of Carcosa

Advent of Carcosa – Designer’s Notes

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for reading along this far – I hope you’ve been enjoying the world I’ve been creating. Now come the big questions – does it sound like something you’d be interested in playing? Is it scary? What parts seem fun and which less so? Please feel free to comment on any aspect of the game design, especially if something really works for you or is a deal breaker.

As I mentioned before, I’ll continue to post occasional updates on aspects of the design that I think may be of interest as I move ahead with it. It’ll be a long road, though – it might be several months before I’m done 🙂 In the interim, I’ll post game reviews and other topics of interest – look for the first of these next week.

For now, here’s a few words about why I did things the way I did them, as well as some thoughts as to how the game should be played.

I suppose the first question to answer is: Why Carcosa? After all, the usual path to unspeakable horror lies down the road to R’yleh where Cthulhu dwells. It’s partly for this reason that I chose the King in Yellow as my focus in that so little material has been dedicated to this particular landscape. Also, while the monsters that inhabit the Cthulhu mythos tend to be almost immediately catastrophic once discovered, The King in Yellow tends to be more subtle and baroque, seeking not death for those who find him but a sort of loyalty and kinship which is realized by the seeker’s slow but inevitable corruption. This will lead to a game with much more foreboding, filled with omens and clues that will give shape to the investigator’s personal apocalypse.  There will of course be those who want to use Cthulhu in their campaigns, so he, his Star Spawn and their lost city of R’yleh are also present in the weird chorus that seeks to drown humanity in its otherworldly noise.

One aspect of the game that met with some controversy with reviewers is humanity’s failed attempt at interplanetary colonization. This was a conscious decision on my part, as I find the idea of pristine, silent planets dotted with abandoned settlements more compelling than worlds that have been tamed by humanity and covered with maglev rails and strip malls so much that they can scarcely be differentiated from Earth anymore. It’s also spookier. Indeed, I’ve tried to make all the locations I’ve included in AOC’s write-up have an aspect of horror around them: the partially finished ring that surrounds the Earth, full of abandoned and forgotten locations forever lost in the installation’s immensity, the hazardous spirals of the Helio Array, the lonely aerostat poised above the endless toxic Venusian clouds.

The inclusion of humor in a horror game may also strike some as odd. While rare, this idea isn’t new for the genre of otherworldly horror, as readers of Charles Stross’s  ‘Laundry Files’ can attest. It was these books (as well as the RPG inspired by them) that led to the desire to incorporate something like their ethos into the game. The bureaucratic maze that is the Corporate Unity and MJ-12 is a marriage of the Byzantine office politics of the ‘Laundry Files’ and the absurdity of the RPG ‘Paranoia’ (but without the slapstick element of the latter, as this would make things less frightening). Dark humor can add to the atmosphere of a horror RPG if done correctly and still illicit a graveyard laugh as well.

At first glance, it would seem that adding layers of bureaucratic complexity to an RPG would be antithetical to fun, but it can lead to a great deal of added enjoyment for the players and the GM. For example, if the players are running an MJ-12 team, each one of them will be from a different governmental department as well, which will give them objectives in addition to the ones that they are officially assigned – any AGs that they belong to may also do the same (an especially sadistic GM may make the objectives contradict each other). This maze of divided loyalties will inspire a flurry of rapidly scribbled notes to the GM from players anxious to hide their activities from their comrades, which in turn inspires suspicion as everyone wonders what their fellow players are getting up to. . .all this during a dangerous mission where team cooperation is essential.  It’ll be fun, trust me.

With all of these conflicting agendas running amok, it’s probably a good thing that the players cannot be permanently killed (at least not without filling out several forms first).  I originally liked this idea because it allowed for all of the drama of player character death with few of the consequences. It could also give the player new role playing opportunities as they may be assigned a radically different new morph after being reintegrated, or, lacking access to a medical facility, existing as a mobile cortical stack or even uploaded into another character’s memory and sharing their headspace with them.

If the idea of playing bureaucratic commandos doesn’t sound appealing, the game will have character options for an urban mercenary campaign a la Shadowrun, interplanetary and interdimensional explorers, deep sea habitation on Earth or Europa and many others. If you have your own idea for a setting, the simple game mechanics could easily be modified to suit it.

Finally, there’s my choice of the Savage Worlds rules set as the medium through which the game will be played. Savage Worlds has been my go-to gaming system for several years now, and I’ve done some informal adaptations of other gaming universes, including Star Trek and Shadowrun.

Why Savage Worlds? In short, it has a good balance between the narrative and tactical aspects of gaming while not taking itself too seriously. Player actions are quickly resolved by rolling a couple of dice, and if the player isn’t satisfied with the result, they have a limited ability to alter the outcome to their satisfaction by spending ‘Bennies’ that will allow a re-roll. Players start out each gaming session with only two of these, but more can be earned over the course of the game through good roleplaying.

Combat is also quickly resolved thanks to an intuitive combat system that can resolve most conflicts in matter of minutes, allowing everyone to jump back into the narrative again quickly. While the tactical system might lack some of the nuances of Shadowrun’s, I’ve found that most players don’t really care about the finer points of tactics, preferring a more cinematic style that delivers action without taking all evening.

Everything about the game from character creation to leveling up emphasizes getting and keeping the players involved and having fun with no needless complexity that only serves to slow down play and give fodder to rules lawyers, min maxers and other assorted Munchkins.

Because of its simplicity, it’s easy to mod and makes designing your own gaming world simpler by providing a framework on which you can hang your ideas. I hope you find my attempt at doing so enjoyable and fun.

‘Advent of Carcosa’ is a combination of several ideas gleaned from sci-fi novels, other RPGs and my own imagination. I hope you find the result to be both entertaining and scary – sweet dreams!


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