Saturday, October 18, 2008

Carcosa: The Controversy

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.


James Maliszewski said...

I think the argument that swords-and-sorcery literature includes lots of examples of this kind of stuff is overstated and the argument that it's because of "fidelity to the source material" that it's included. I simply don't buy that and, at least as far as the S&S authors with which I am familiar go, it's utterly untrue. More to the point, I don't think anything is gained by casting aspersions on the character of those who find Carcosa crosses some lines they feel ought not to have been crossed. But there's a subculture within the old school that belives D&D needs to be "dangerous" again and that it's too sanitized and safe. Again, I simply don't buy this and I worry a bit that, should this attitude become more prevalent, it's likely to cause yet another rift in our already-small community.

Anonymous said...

I'm not likely to buy it. I don't object to that stuff being "out there" and I'm glad the author was responsible enough to put a very clear and graphic warning on his page right above the ordering info.

The rpg world really doesn't need the same thing for the same target audience being published over and over again. Maybe responses to the Carcosa supplement could include other people producing supplements and adventures that divert from the mainstream and support the type of gaming they would like to expose others to.
- J.D. Jarvis

Berin Kinsman said...

Different strokes for different folks. Would i ever use this at my gaming table? No. I'd be disturbed to sit at a table with a player that wanted to use it, but if a gamemaster had an NPC villain using this kind of stuff... well, it would depend on how graphically it was handled. I'm very much of the Hitchcock school where the really nasty stuff happens off-screen.

I really don't think it's anybody's business other than the gamemaster and his players when it comes to what's allowed at the table or not. I wouldn't want anyone getting up in my face for using this in a game, any more than I'd want anyone getting in my face for finding it disturbing and distasteful. My game, my choice. Whether you use it in your game is your business.

I do think there are extremes on both ends, and always well be. There will always be people worried about another Pat Pulling-style witch hunt, and this sort of material will make them twitch and look over their shoulder when crossing the parking lot of thier FLGS. There are also the people who absolutely live for shock value and freaking people out, and they'll flaunt this produict just to get a reaction. i think both ends are a minority within the gaming community, so I'm not inclined to give either more attention than they deserve.

Rich said...

Carcosa clearly sounds like its not my bag (we have a very mixed-age group we game with), but like Zachary and the other responses said, its their game. They don't pry into ours, we don't pry into theirs (or shouldn't). Likewise, just because I know my group wouldn't enjoy those sorts of elements doesn't make me close-minded. It just means I know what I like and dislike.

It would be nice to see much of that anger channeled into something more useful. Zachary and the responses here have been well-reasoned and civilized, but you can sense the anger on both sides, if not downright rage. Shame. It would be nice to see some of these cooler heads prevail and promote a little more working together for the old school community. I'd love to see a more common cause than the arguments over fidelity and system and so forth.

@ Berin: Well said.

The Chatty DM said...

I have absolutely no taste for this type of fluff in a RPG. Even Monte Cook's Book of VIle Darkness steered from being as explicit that.

While I agree that what goes on behind a Gamer group's door is none of my business, it sometime seems to me that people are making an effort to land the hobby in trouble by publishing things like that.

Regardless, I don't have to buy it, so I won't do more than shake my head, sigh, and move on.