Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of.
I am a serious fan of Robert E. Howard. I’ve read all of Howard’s Bran Mak Morn, Kull the conqueror, Solomon Kane, and Conan stories. So imagine my joy when In 2004 Mongoose publishing released CONAN: The Roleplaying Game. I cracked open the massive 300+ page tome and began to read. Imagine my surprise when I realized that besides the familiar names of characters and locations this book was nothing like the world and atmosphere Robert E. Howard presented in his classic short stories. I wondered if the writers ever actually read an original Conan story or if they just watched that dreadful Arnold film and decided to write a game. In the Game Masters section it actually suggests that from time to time you should strip the party of their gear, throw them in prison, and provide little to no explanation on how they got there. Their explanation for this was that it happened to Conan a lot…
No it didn’t.
So eight years ago I grabbed as many books published by as many different companies and set out to create the PERFECT Conan RPG. Unfortunately I never finished. My hope, starting today, is to explore the concepts that I think would make a great CONAN RPG here on this blog.
The elements I think are absolutely necessary in a Conan RPG are as follows;
1) Complex characters. As Howard described “… sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer…” Conan was many things in his life. Among other things he was a pirate, king, soldier, adventurer, general etc. The system should allow a player to create a character that has many skills, advantages, or features.
2) Little to no armor. Conan often just wore regular clothes that were common for the part of Hyboria he was visiting. Often times with just a shield for protection. A player’s character should be as safe in or out of armor. I can remember some stories that he did wear armor though so armor should have some important purpose in the game.
3) Racial variation. The races of Hyboria, though technically all human, should have different advantages. Otherwise your only reason for choosing to be Cimmerian is because of Conan and your only reason to choose a Pict is… because… well I can’t think of a reason. So if every race is different you choose that race for a reason; just like to choose to be an Elf or Dwarf. It’s not because of the ears or beard it’s because of their abilities.
4) Mortality. In the world of Conan people die quickly and violently. Battles shouldn’t drag on for minutes they should be brutal and end quickly. Players should feel like their characters are exceptional but mortal. This is quite a step away from traditional RPGs where players tend to get attached to their characters. In a Conan game you shouldn’t.
5) Magic should be limited and dangerous to use. Spellcasters in the Hyborian age and scary things, certainly, but those that use it are physically affected in some way. And in very few examples is magic blatant. People fear spellcasters not because they hurl fireballs but because they can do unnatural things and make pacts with malevolent entities from other realms. Magic items also shouldn’t grow on trees. They should be rare and precious.
I think these are just right to get started. I’m sure I could add more but let’s focus here first. In my next post I’ll start to explore the systems I’m familiar with and their pros and cons relating to my first five necessities.