It seems the recent old-school revival Supplement IV: Carcosa, by Geoffrey McKinney, has been riling folks up over its use of, well, here's one of the main excerpts being bandied about:
"Summon the Amphibious Ones: 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." - Carcosa, page 31
As you can imagine, there's been the standard firestorm on theRPGsite and Dragonsfoot. In response, one of my favorite bloggers (and old-school authors) Jim LotFP, has decried many of those wailing against the product as "cowards".
Look, here's the thing: this is something I'm just not comfortable with. This doesn't make me a coward, or a prude, or naive. It just means I'm uncomfortable with that presentation of that material, and its something I don't want at my gaming table. I don't want mechanics that include child rape or abuse. I understand if people are uncomfortable with some of the common preconceptions towards casual or thoughtless violence in RPGs. We all have "want", "tolerate", and "do not want" categories for our games, and you can likely guess where Carcosa is ending up for me, personally. In my tour overseas in the military, I saw enough horrible things that human beings do to each other that I tend to veer away from anything in gaming that over-the-top.
My love of old-school games isn't built on any loyalty to the Sword & Sorcery genre, any more than it is it built on fidelity to any of the works of fiction that built To me, old school is about making rulings, not slavishly following rules, and a toolkit approach to the game. I've no doubt Mr. McKinney appreciates this, and has clearly taken that toolbox approach to publish a gaming product he found to be interesting and worthwhile. We are not forced to interact with what he had created, any more than he would be forced to accept any product I published with concepts he was not comfortable with.
And this entire tact of "well, you accept X, so why don't you accept Y" or "you need to evoke emotion and reaction and challenge your players". Look, I appreciate that people all have different standards of what they find acceptable. But I like to think that I can work what's supposed to be (for my group) a fun, generation-spanning game and challenge people's conceptions of right and wrong without resorting to raping or slaughtering little kids. I've done it up till now without resorting to that, and I like to think its worked pretty well. Its not what I want in a game, so don't try to say I have to accept it or try it or face being named a coward.
Jim does do a nice job laying out some of what's in the rest of the book (which includes some really cool other concepts, which sadly will likely get lost in the maelstrom over the rest of it), and I suggest folks review it and make up their minds for themselves. (There's a "mature audiences only" warning on there, for the record). I understand this is a sensitive issue, and no doubt emotions are running high for a lot of folks--but that's nothing new, is it? Let the folks who are ok with it get it. The rest of us would do well to get on with discussing gaming topics that would ideally be more rewarding than screaming "pervert" repeatedly. I'd say we've hit the outrage quota. As for me, it sounds like I'll be taking a pass. But that doesn't make me a coward. It just means I don't want it.