Hither came Conan… Part 2

Thoth Amon by Dave Simmons

Originally posted by Brianna Heine on the other (now defunct) version of this site.

First off let me apologize for posting this so late. I was sick last week and just didn’t have the capacity to focus on reading and writing.

Many readers of my previous post, understanding that I planned on tackling the topic of systems in this one, suggested a fair number of resources that might assist me in choosing an appropriate system. That being said I really didn’t have all that much time to read everything I wanted to get to. Instead I read reviews and forums on these games and did my best to get a working knowledge of them. It turns out that a lot of developers have already been influenced by the Hyborian Age.

Barbarians of Lemuria, based on Lin Carter’s Thongor Series; which in itself is a tribute to Howard and Burroughs, would seem like an almost perfect choice. It meets 3 to 4 of the 5 criteria I’m looking for. Complex characters, little-to- no armor, Mortality, and magic… sort of. Magic in Howard’s stories isn’t memorized or rote. It’s very free-form. In Phoenix on the Sword Thoth-Amon just scoops up a handful of blood, rubs it on his magic ring (more on that in a later post), and whispers foul words of power until a baboon-like shadowbeast appears to do his bidding. I doubt he just had that “memorized” in case he needed a spectral assassin that day. This is very much in line with the rules system. The only real issue is that there is no drawback to using magic. Magic users in the Hyborian age are… twisted. There’s just something wrong with them. This game doesn’t feel that way.

Pendragon, a game setting based in the tales of Arthurian romance, seems to be an unlikely choice. I first checked out some forums and the consensus seemed to be that this game was perfectly suited to accomplish the task it was designed for; adventures in the high-medieval age of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Personally, when I picture King Arthur I see Shining Knights, Chivalry, and Champagne. When I picture Conan it seems a bit… grittier. Conan didn’t quest, he marauded. Now I haven’t actually had the opportunity to read the rules yet but the Personal traits and passions seem like they might fit into a Hyborian setting. I’ll save judgment on this one until later.

Carcosa is perhaps the trippiest campaign setting I’ve ever seen. It’s like Hyboria and Metropolis (1927 film) were merged together and the Cthulhu mythos was let loose to terrorize the inhabitants. I think they filmed the movie Zardoz there. On the topic of rules and settings this is definitely gritty. It has that “you’re probably going to die today” feel which meets one of my prerequisites. Magic is also seems evil which is a plus. Since the setting already introduces the concept of varied Human races we have a third condition met. However if you use Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules you lose complex characters and little-to-no armor. Let’s keep looking.

Savage Worlds intrigued me as soon as John brought it to my attention. One of the first things I noticed was the full-page spread of The Savage World of Solomon Kane. Since we’re talking Conan and both characters were written by Howard our search might be over. Character Creation is certainly versatile enough that you’re not pigeonholed into just being a “fighter” or “thief.” Armor serves a purpose but I get the impression that it isn’t required to survive. Racial Variation is covered but some work needs to be done to first create each race from limited source material (Howard’s short stories weren’t very detailed) and second leave each race feeling unique and appropriate to the setting. The Setting Rules let you set the lethality of the game. The only drawback is that the magic system just doesn’t seem right.

Wow! I still haven’t talked d20 yet. I think I’ll save that for next time. Thanks for reading.

Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

11 thoughts on “Hither came Conan… Part 2”

  1. If you delve deeper into Savage Worlds, check out the variations in magic presented in Solomon Kane and Realms of Cthulhu; they might get you a little closer to what you are looking for. If not, since SW is a skill-based system you could always write up a little hybrid system using Mage: TA as your inspiration like you suggested in the previous post.

  2. Oh yeah, there would definitely need to be some modding for Pendragon to work. It’s been done with other genres, though: there are Pendragon hacks out there for Imperial China, feudal Japan, and Runequest’s Glorantha.

    Savage Worlds is a great choice, too. The base combat system runs a bit cinematic, but the core rules contain “gritty” combat options, and the magic system is eminently moddable. And yes, with a high enough Fighting skills (and an Edge or two), you can easily do a capable unarmored fighter.

  3. “In Phoenix on the Sword Thoth-Amon just scoops up a handful of blood, rubs it on his magic ring (more on that in a later post), and whispers foul words of power until a baboon-like shadowbeast appears to do his bidding.”

    Doesn’t that count as a magic item in rpg terms instead of a spell? :p

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1E
    1) Ratcatcher > Thief > Brigand Leader > Noble (might need to make Hyborian Age careers)
    2) Check.
    3) Check.
    4) Check after fate points are spent/player forgets to use them.
    5) Check. What’s more awesome than meeting evil witch that fumbles his spell and everyone(witch included) near him gets suck to vortex that appeared next to him. Also there are different kinds of magics (Alchemy, Demonology, Necromancy, Druidism, + normal arcane).

    2E is more balanced and less gonzo as far as I know.

    1. So if you’ve read Phoenix on the Sword you know that Thoth-Amon is the most feared Sorcerer in Stygia. However in this story he is enslaved by an Aquilonian noblemen. How does such a mortal enslave the greatest Sorcerer the world has known? Well Thoth-Amon lost his Magic Ring and, for the start of this story, is completely incapable of using any magic… until he finds his ring and summons a creature to do his bidding. Now as I very briefly mentioned in the post I was going to discuss spellcasting in a future post but I guess we can touch a couple quick topics.

      1) In your suggestion Hyborian Sorcerers actually have no powers at all and get their magic ONLY from magic items. This does not feel like Hyborian age magic. Besides how would a sorcerer actually make it to high enough level if he had to be overladen with magic items that he needs to adventure for which forces him to risk his life with little to no offensive of defensive abilities?
      2) Perhaps sorcerers in the Hyborian Age need a focus to cast their spells like a 3e Cleric needs a Holy Symbol. This sounds a little more plausible to me in terms of the Hyborian age. The scenario in question even suggests that Spellcasters might not have to ever memorize spells. As soon as Thoth-Amon finds his ring he summons a Demon.

      I’ll also add Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to my list of systems. Thanks for the suggestion.

      1. Good points. I’m not expert in REH stories, but imo Toth-Amon is a cleric in dnd spells even, if he’s called a sorcerer, because he need the magical ring to use his magic. But that’s only me and other spellcasters don’t necessarily need Holy Symbols/Implements.

        1) At least Toth was could kill fat nobles without magic, and in d20 Conan magic was pretty weak, so casters couldn’t rely on magic in everything.

        P.S. I still think that besides giving Toth his magic, the shadow beast summoning is tied to the ring and not the caster :p

        About WFRP if I remember correctly 2E had only one or two different kinds of magic in the core book and 1E’s (I’m only familiar with Hogshead) core book is more extensive in (almost?) everything.

        -Thanks for the reply and I’m looking foward to your next article.

      2. So you see Thoth-Amon as a Cleric? Very interesting. He does invoke the name of Set often. To be honest I never saw a traditional RPG Cleric as being part of the Hyborian Age. The way I see it the “gods” either don’t really exist (Crom, Babd, Morrigan, Macha, and Nemain) or are otherwordly evil entities that would sooner devour a worshiper than actually grant him any powers. I see sorcery as delving into knowledge we shouldn’t know.

        Very interesting thought on Thoth. I’ll add that to my future post about magic. Thanks.

      3. In Phoenix on the Sword Epemitreus the Sage, (Mitra’s chosen/champion in rpg terms) invoked divinity to enchant Conan’s ordinary sword, so even if divine magic is rare I think it happens in Hyborian Age. At least that’s how I see it :p

  4. In Part 3 of this series I explain that there are many systems that meet prerequisites I set forth in the first post. Unfortunately that exposed a couple hurdles I’d need to clear; I can’t afford to buy every system with hope that it works out and assuredly I’d have to modify something to get the feel I’m looking for. If only I could just mash together all the rules I like from every game I’d be happy.

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