Having received the new LOTFP edition of Carcosa in December, I sat down last night to have a first proper read of it (I'd just flicked through it previously). And, wow! I was really impressed.
To give this mini-review a happy ending, as I'm indeed very very happy with Carcosa, I'm going to describe a few minor gripes I have with the book, before going into the things I love about it.
Firstly, I do question the unusual choice of Armour Class system -- ascending from 12 -- as this system isn't used in any traditional or modern version of the game, meaning that the vast majority people who use this book will have to come up with some kind of conversion table or formula. I presume the base 12 ascending system is used in James Raggi's LOTFP RPG, but I think AC either descending or ascending from 10 would have been a better choice in this respect, as those are far more familiar and more easily usable to most people. But that's a very minor quibble.
Secondly, I got the feeling that the book is written with a certain amount of knowledge of the source material (especially the writings of H.P. Lovecraft) pre-assumed. I've personally only read a smattering of Lovecraft, and found myself a little confused by the unexplained references to things like Old Ones, the Great Race, Primordial Ones, etc, and the relation all these beings have to Carcosa. A very small introductory passage, describing what these Mythos races have been up to on Carcosa (similar to the section describing the races of Men on Carcosa), would have been much appreciated. As it is, the book launches straight into a section on "Technological Artifacts of the Great Race", before any mention has been made as to who or what the Great Race are.
Lastly, despite the physical beauty of the book, I wonder how practical the A5 format is for use at the gaming table. It's not possible to lay it flat open at a page, for example, which is possible with traditional full-size RPG books.
So, those minor issues aside, here's why I love it!
Firstly, purely as a physical artefact, the book is beautiful. It's definitely the best looking gaming book I own. The artwork, layout and quality of construction are all top notch. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into these things, and it has really paid off.
Secondly, as an RPG sourcebook, it did what good examples of such books should do -- made me want to play! Reading through it, the mind is filled with so much amazing imagery, and presented with so many interesting situations, monsters, encounters and treasures, that one cannot help but immediately think about how awesome it would be to use this stuff in play.
Aside from the vividly described details of the setting, one thing which really struck me as well was how usable and flexible the content is. It is fairly light on mechanics, meaning that it'd be easy to use with any version of D&D (or clones), and a good number of other RPGs as well, no doubt. Completely unexpectedly, I was eager to use Carcosa not only with Labyrinth Lord (my D&D flavour of choice), but also with Mutant Future, and even Call of Cthulhu! In fact, I pretty much concluded that I'd use an unholy hybrid of the three to run games in Carcosa (more on this another time).
As to the controversial ritual sorcery, it is very horrid. To be honest I can't really imagine running a game where the PCs were the ones doing this kind of thing. But from the point of view of flavour it really adds a lot to the setting, and even if the PCs only come across others performing these rituals, or encounter them in old tomes or libraries, the presence of such magic would weigh heavily on the mood.
In conclusion, this is a first class RPG supplement, and may perhaps gain the honour of being the first pre-written setting that I will actually make any use of!