Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Carcosa Rules!

Carcosa is what its author, Geoffrey McKinney describes as Supplement V of the original Dungeons and Dragons rules of 1974. It contains a lot of new material and some innovative game mechanics to enhance any enterprising GM’s ongoing swords and sorcery game. Well, as my Mutant Future has a lot of swords and sorcery feel to it, I was very intrigued when I read about Carcosa. In a way, I can confidently describe the style of gaming I have adopted for my Mutant Future as one of “Swords and Mutants”. Instead of the dreaded eldritch sorcerer muffled in black robes waving a coruscating ebony staff of power, my players are more likely than not to encounter a dreaded maddened sorcerer muffled in black robes aiming a Mark XX Blaster Rifle at them. Although I did not know it for sure then, I felt that Carcosa would contain a lot of material to support this flavor of gaming.

I eventually got a copy of Carcosa from Geoffrey sometime back and I was definitely not disappointed!

A lot of the background material contained in Carcosa now serves to enhance the weird and dangerous wastelands of Cygnet Delta of my Mutant Future. A mere perusal of its contents really shows the wonders Supplement V promises for our upcoming games. Weird technological tables –check! Weird and dangerous creatures from the Mythos – check! Variant humans – check! A homebrew style campaign hex-map to fuel inspiration for Cygnet Delta- check! Unique encounters- check! Spells and rituals –check!

The latter item actually sparked a conversation between me and my players a little while back about weaving in some magic which had managed to ‘leak’ into our Mutant Future universe and is slowly but surely beginning to make itself felt. I’m presently open to this idea and feel that eventually, we’ll be seeing this being built into our game.

One particularly significant thing which I really got to use from Carcosa is the innovative game mechanic which allows player characters to roll for variable hit points-or hit dice, in our game-from a table at the start of each combat. I was very intrigued by this rule so I took it, mutated it, and plunked it straight into our first game. While my players seemed rather shocked to see it being used at first, I was very glad to see that they took to it naturally and embraced it wholeheartedly. From our experience, having variable hit points for every character which are only determined at the start of every combat session tends lend a level of tension and randomness which makes the game even more uncertain and thus exciting.

Next, I adopted the same rule for all my monsters and critters in the wasteland. Now, the players had to contend with trying to second guess the probable results of variable hit points of not only their own characters but the monsters they faced as well! This idea came to me after reading a post by Zulgyan, in the Original D&D Discussion Boards. Zulgyan also has a blog called Zeta Orionis, which served as one of my inspirations to get serious about my Mutant Future game.

Finally, I carried over another Carcosa rule into our Mutant Future combat – that of variable damage caused by player characters and monsters. I adopted this too as another of my houserules and gave the players the option to decide to use variable damage rules when their characters scored hits on their enemies in combat. This, of course, was up to the player to decide and any player could always decide to go per the damage tables in the Mutant Future rulebook instead. This led to every combat session opening with the following challenge given by me to the players: “So are you feeling lucky today?”

I feel that it is these innovative rules which tend to enhance one’s gaming experience – allowing an enterprising and open-minded group of players to take an existing rules set and customizing it in such a way as to make it truly something unique, something they can call their own. I guess I can see that these days, when we start our game and my regular players explain to a newbie player what it means when we’re using ‘Carcosa Rules’.

As an aside, it seemed that as I was first reading Carcosa, typhoon Parma was unleashing the full force of its fury and was rampaging its way across the country. For a while there, I fretted whether this signaled the start of a real Mutant Future for me and the family. I’m just glad it passed by leaving our rented house intact and possibly postponing the apocalypse sometime in the distant future.

C’est la vie.


  1. I may have to take a look at Carcosa.

  2. Give it a try Bill, I'm sure you'll pick up quite a bit to spice up your games!