One of the things I wanted to do with Carcosa is make sure that the PCs don't have to wait till they achieve high levels to get the good stuff. In standard D&D, how long would it take for a magic-user to go from 1st to 18th level? Probably at least 5 years if you play every week. Probably at least 20 years if you play once a month. Some of us won't even be alive in 20 years. How sad to think that you won't get to experience a cool part of a game because you'll die of old age first.
But in Carcosa, every single ritual, every single item, and every single psionic power is usable by even 1st-level characters. The players never have to think, "Man, that's a cool ritual. Too bad I won't be able to use it until 2013 at the very earliest." Instead they can think, "I could use that ritual RIGHT NOW if I only had the necessary material components. Let's plan an expedition to get those ASAP!"
It was pretty bizarre for TSR back in 1980 to publish a 144-page book full of gods with combat stats, and then say, "But don't ever fight them." In Carcosa, everything with a stat is a totally legitimate foe. And even 1st-level PCs could conceivably take-out an Old One with the right planning, the right tools, and a good bit of luck. Conversely, even the most minor of Old Ones could eradicate a group of 20th-level PCs.
Nothing is off-limits on Carcosa. You can do low-level slogs. You can do megadungeons. You can do continent-spanning quests. You can go toe-to-toe with the Old Ones. Whatever. It is a world of dark and weird science-fantasy for you to do with as you please.
Now that's a game I want to play in and something I'd like to recreate in own games: a sense that 1st level characters can do anything - if they're clever enough about it. I don't need Cthulhu and the old ones, there's just too much baggage there I don't want to deal with, the same way I don't typically use bugbears, mind flayers, etc.
So here's what I'm thinking to twist some of these elements into a more traditional D&D game:
1. Never name the type creature your players encounter. Just describe it and let them figure out a name for it. Better yet, describe the creature in an a-typical way, too.
2. All magic items are rare with artifact-level enchantments and usually come with drawbacks. Better yet, there's no [easy] way accurately identify what magic items actually do.
3. Magic-Users can cast ANY spell they have found directly from their spell book provided they are about to acquire the correct components/have enough time/are in the correct location/etc. Memorizing such spells still remains within the realm of high level characters. Better yet, require a saving throw vs. magic or something horrible goes wrong when using spells as rituals.
4. Throw the concept of level appropriate encounters out the window. Characters encounter what they encounter when they encounter it. Dungeon level =/= character level.
5. Humans are scattered and alone. There are no vast empires, sprawling kingdoms, etc. Better yet, elves, dwarves, and other demi-humans don't exist and additional character races must be discovered during play.
There five ideas. Now it your turn. Show me what you can come up with.