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For my last campaign I decided to run a Masters of Carcosa game. It ran for several months and overall I think was a success. I’m going to cover various aspects of it in a few posts.
I’ve been wanting to run a Carcosa game for years. I own the Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa hardcover book. While I do think it’s an awesome book, I couldn’t really figure out how to best make use of the material.
That was until I saw a series of posts by the blogger Ramanan Sivaranjan who detailed his Masers of Carcosa campaign. It was an idea so good I decided to steal it! Additionally, I also had Geoffre McKinney’s carcosa hexcrawl modules that very few people seem to be aware of, probably because they’re only available in print off of lulu.
So I decided to mash all of these things together, plus Masters of the Universe, the gonzo science fantasy TV show, into a single campaign.
I decided on this mashup mainly because I like the idea of Carcosa. A horrible far future world at the end of time with different races of different coloured people (red, green, black, white orange, etc.) living in stone age villages among the remnants of ancient super science and magical civilizations.
However, I find the actual Carcosa book leaves a lot to be desired. It does have a hexcrawl. But I find a lot of the hexes are fairly abstracted and overall not all that fun. The whole culture and peoples of the world really aren’t detailed that much or in interesting enough ways to lead to meaningful adventure.
In contrast, the carcosa hexcrawl modules are much, much better. Overall, I’d say while the Carcosa book has the spell rituals and science fantasy weapons and gives a clear vision of the world in some ways, the hexcrawl modules have more concrete gameable content. I’d highly recommend them in this regard, especially if you have the Carcosa hardcover book and want to make use of it.
Anyways, I also decided to mash it up with masters of the universe to, well, make the whole setting feel less bleak and be more fun. I wanted the players to feel somewhat empowered, to not just have them slogging through a world full of misery where everyone is cruel and/or suffering all the time. I didn’t draw any elements directly from Masters of the Universe, used a lot of the art from that show as inspiration and explanation for things and to convey the general tone and vibe of the world.
I created the following pitch:
Masters of Carcosa
Beyond the farthest galaxies viewed by the greatest telescopes. Beyond the limits of our universe lies another place — a place of magic, myth, sorcery and science. At the end of time after all the other stars have gone out blinks one star, one last red dwarf slowly dying, casting a red glow upon one last spinning planet.
The terrible world of Carcosa is peopled by the 13 races of men and the Great Old Ones they fight, fear, or worship. Primitive tribes fight amongst one another and amongst themselves. Strange technology, magnificent architecture, and horrific sorcery tell the tale of ancient civilizations now long extinct. The men and women of Carcosa try and eke out a quiet existence against this backdrop.
To the North of the Thaggasoth peaks lies the village of Refuge. Those who have escaped the Jale slavers to the East have found sanctuary here, forming a small refugee community. This unlikely situation—men and women of all the races living and working together—is made possible due to the town’s wise and powerful leaders. Refuge has been spared from the common xenophobia of Carcosa.
Those who feel adventurous hunt the vile spawn, The Star Children, avoid the Jale Slavers, and venture out in search of strange space alien technology, avoid mutant dinosaurs, and explore the wilds of this world.
You are all random adventures summoned, in a great ritual, from the past by Leela, the leader of Refuge, a small society of escaped slaves. They view you all as mythic heroes from the past (despite being random unskilled adventurers who might have been summoned by mistake) who can help protect and champion their small starving village in the wastes of Carcosa.
The universe is dying, the last planet, Carcosa, is filled with all the broken remnants of the past. The dangers are many, slavers, races of strange reptilian men, strange ancient technology, cthuloid cults, horrific monsters. You’d be exploring a hex map, encountering all these things, dealing with whatever strange forces may threaten the survival of the small village that is your newfound home and trying to improve it and perhaps lead it to glory.
I stole the idea of them being in a village of escaped slaves from Ramanan Sivaranjan. Additionally with the premise being that they’ve all been summoned from the past in a great ritual I opened things wide where they could pretty much be any race/class they wanted and come up with whatever gonzo character they desired. They’d be totally fish-out-of-water characters.
I tend to strongly prefer to have the players be fish-out-of-water characters, even if it’s something as simple as being from the next village over. This way they don’t know much about the setting and the players and their characters are effectively experiencing and learning about the world in the same manner.
The champions of the village angle also helped frame the campaign and gave the players strong agency over something in the world. While it may be full of horrible cthulhu like things and dread sorcery and cruel and evil people, they’re village was at least nice and they would have at least their small patch of the world that they could shape and grow how they wished.
I think that the more strange and hostile your world is, the more you need to give the players stronger agency over some part of it, otherwise the world is too strange and hostile for them to exercise much agency. If they can’t exercise much agency and are continually reacting to things much more powerful then them, they’ll have trouble setting goals of their own and will probably grow bored or disengaged with the campaign.
Anyways, enough for now. For my next post I will blog further about the hexcrawl map I compiled for the campaign.