Where in the world is Carcosa?
Flailsnailing around the multiverse with Skeree the Bonewoman this past week has taught me a whole lot about Carcosa. Which is a good thing, because neither Geoffrey McKinney nor Jeff Rients (whose chargen document she’s made out of) told me much about the culture, society or worldview of your average Carcosan. So Skeree’s been defining all that on the fly, to give her a basis for her actions, attitudes and potential skills and to help her avoid being just a walking axe, trailing around after the other PCs with no motivation of her own.
So I’ve learned she can track and survive in the wilderness and she’s heard about the cats of Ulthar and all sorts of other unexpected stuff.* And a funny thing’s been happening – as she tries stuff out and gets flashes of insight about, say, how medieval Europe is like/unlike her blasted post-cthulhupocaplyptic home, she makes the worlds she passes through a bit more Carcosan, as DMs pick up the cues. Who knew a 15th century Roman cat sorcerer would speak Debased Yuggothic? Well, now we do, and it’s because Skeree cursed his feline army and they understood her.
Skeree – and Roger Burgess’ Zharillia – have also been telling me about what the point of a Carcosa game is. Because I’m convinced that, like CoC and rather less like DnD, it has one, or at least a strong theme – based around the sorcerers and their predations. And I think I’ve found a historical analogue for it, which can fill in the blanks like Dickensian London fills in the blanks of GURPS Goblins.
Carcosa is the West African hinterland – Niger – during the Atlantic slave trade.
The sorcerers, enemies of all mankind, traders with agents utterly inhuman and malign, are slave dealers. They cause despair and suffering for all. And yet people still bring them sacrificial victims, betraying their neighbours for the promise of a little temporary security, despising all but their own little enclave because that makes it easier to sell everyone else out. The different colours of men of course reflect different tribal identities, and they make a nice, solid basis for distrust, so that cutting the Flash Gordonian knot – convincing them all to work together against their common enemy – becomes a fitting challenge for a good, long campaign.**
So. If we pursue that thought – and if we posit some Cthulhuvian uses for Carcosan victims other than as sacrifice fuel – then Carcosa should be plumbed back into the Mythos network and there ought to be (unpronounceable) colonies somewhere out there where our unfortunates wind up. And there ought to be runaway settlements – maroons, not unlike Carcosa itself, which offer some temporary sanctuary, below the radar of the Inhuman Master System, and maybe even underground railroads, if anyone will help a poor half-monsterfied bone brother out.
And suddenly I’m thinking I really should dust off all those books about the Haitian Revolution – which is, after all, the great granddaddy of most of our horror tropes – possibly the very Matter of Horror as we understand it; the spectre of our white colonialism falling down before a black Spartacus revolt, combined with the spectre of the rational project failing before the Chaotic Hydra. Zombies? Madness in the face of disorder? Cannibalism and were-creatures and voodoo and amok possession and the killing jungle and hearts of darkness? It all starts in Haiti.
So if I do run a Carcosan-themed game it’ll be mashed up with Barsoom – if only because ERB’s yellow and blue men are too good to pass up – and it’ll owe as much to De Laurentian Flash and Bollywood as to Lovecraft and McKinney. But most of all it’ll be a Haitian slavery and revolt game – maybe in glittery drag – and it’ll lead to harder questions about trust and despotism and violence than Flash or John Carter ever have to face.
* EG: Carcosa has no money – all transactions are barter, and there are no fixed exchange rates. Precious metals are unknown – there is jewelry, but it’s valued purely on appearance: nobody cares if it’s real gold or not. You test magic and batteries with your tongue. Trophies taken from your enemies are vital for establishing your credentials – and therefore leveling up…
** even without the complexity hinted at above, the optimistic We Are All One Flashian campaign can keep getting revived as new sorcerers – or even texts or artifacts – can bring the old disease of division right back again.