This game was played solely as a Play-by-Mail (PBM) game, where participants took turns by postal mail and, later, received their turn results. The rules for the game were published only in a periodical.
Cearnage was a play-by-post combat game supporting multiple opponents in a single coliseum-style play area. Role-playing aspects of the game were limited to freeform player and referee comments. Players could enter the game at any time and continued in the game until their character was killed or remained as the sole survivor (the maximum player count was abt. sixteen). A "turn" took place over about a one-month period - players submitted by post written turns using a semi-standard format (freeform actions and explanatory notes were allowed); the results were published in the next monthly issue of Lokasenna.
Player characters started from a standard array of attributes and then were customized by spending points from a pool to gain benefits - increased attributes, weapon or shield skills, combat skills, or armor. Once a character was created it was placed into the combat arena and beneficial changes thereafter were quite limited - harmful changes resulted from combat or misfortune.
Written player orders consisted of a movement action and a combat action - a variety of each were available. The game referee received all written orders and then determined outcomes. Some outcomes were determined by game rules; other outcomes were adjudicated by the referee. Results were presented in a narrative style, often with fanciful commentary. Most player characters were comedic in presentation.
Cearnage rules were written by Brian Dolton and published in Lokasenna (Issue 9 - Nov 1983). Play turns appeared from that time forward.