Originally posted by Brianna Heine on the other (now defunct) version of this site.
… a tall man, mightily shouldered and deep of chest, with a massive corded neck and heavily muscled limbs… his eyes a volcanic blue that smoldered as if with some inner fire…
… he moved with the ease of a great tiger…
… the vitality and endurance of the wild were his…
… he was naturally intelligent, jealous of his rights, and as dangerous as a hungry tiger…
When reading any story involving Conan of Cimmeria it would be easy to over exaggerate his game statistics. Something like the following might be a casual reader’s impression:
Conan, Cimmerian, Barbarian 20, Thief 20, HP 520, Str 18, Dex 18, Con 18, Int 18, Wis 18, Cha 18
I wouldn’t blame a reader for having that impression as REH spends an awful lot of time explaining how powerful and dangerous the Cimmerian is. The unfortunate aspect of determining the statistics of a protagonist in any story is that almost EVERY “star of the show” looks ridiculous in game terms. After all they usually survive any situation without too much difficulty. In fact you expect the “hero” to prevail against the odds. 3E is designed to allow the player to win if the CR rules are followed to the letter. I think a more suitable set of statistics might look something like this:
Conan, Cimmerian, Barbarian 5, Thief 3, HP 81, Str 18, Dex 15, Con 17, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 12
I want to make it abundantly clear that the purpose of this post is NOT to discuss the specific statistics of Conan. We’ll save that post for much later date. What I want to discuss is ability score generation in the Hyborian Age. That being the case we have a question to answer. What method of ability score generation is most appropriate for a Conan RPG?
I think we need to discuss scale in order to come to a conclusion. Let’s pretend REH was a DM and his friends all made characters. Obviously most of them would have been making a new character every session which means Howard was a very harsh Game Master. Mutants & Masterminds established that 7th level is the highest level that a “normal human” can achieve. The E6 rules are based on a similar concept. A character at 6th level is immensely more powerful than a non-heroic, i.e. 1st level, NPC.
When we take a look at the NPC classes I can’t help but chuckle a little. The concept of a 20th level commoner is very amusing to me. I can’t imagine a farmer working his entire life and generating enough xp to reach 20th level let alone 5th. Even if said farmer helps repel a band of kobolds and survives he’d more likely to pick up a level of Warrior than become a better farmer. A different problem arises with the other classes. Experts are specialists in some field but how much xp is reading a book worth to the scribe? How often is he really tasked with a difficult research task that really tests the limits of his knowledge? Adepts receive divine spells through strength of faith. I guess they are only partially devoted to their cause because if they had true faith “god” would have let them be clerics. Now on the topic of Warriors and Aristocrats I might be able to see them attain higher levels. If these noblemen are anything like the nobility of our own past then the art of war was practiced. But if said nobleman could attain the 20th level of Aristocrat what was stopping him from learning a PC class?
For the purposes of a Hyborian RPG the NPC classes are just fine for NPCs but I think it makes more sense that they have a level cap. I personally like 7th as the cut-off point. In this way the vast majority of NPCs in the Hyborian age are 1st to 5th level with only rare exceptions being higher. If you encounter an even higher level NPC he’s an exceptional member of humanity and worthy of a PC class. That’s not to say that I think players should start at 7th level but this, too, is a topic for later discussion.
In standard 3E the statistics of any standard race was determined by assigning 10s and 11s among the ability scores and applying racial modifiers. I think that concept remains just fine for the simple folk. But what does that mean for the player characters? Are they vastly superior to their common roots? Were they just lucky with their die rolls? Perhaps they are just slightly above the majority and their class abilities are what set them apart.
When we look at available options we see the following. Keep in mind that you have to end with at least one stat at 13 and a total positive modifier (over all Abilities) of +1. Technically this means that 13, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 is a playable character. This point will be important to remember.
Classic: 3d6 six times, assign as you see fit. Stats are 3-18 with 10 or 11 as average. What I don’t like about this system is the lowest roll of 3 has equal % chance as the highest roll of 18 and the averages don’t pan out.
Standard: 4d6 drop lowest die, six times, assign as you see fit. This is only slightly better than Classic.
Mongoose Conan RPG Standard: 1d10 +8 six times, assign as you see fit. Stats range 9-18 with an average of 9-18 as the chance of rolling any # on a single die is equal. I like this as a concept but I think Heroic does a better job.
Heroic: 2d6 +6 six times, assign as you see fit. Stats are 8-18 with an average of 13.
Dice Pool: 24d6 divided among abilities, roll each ability separately, add 3 highest together. This gives the player a little control with which stats he’d like to be high and which ones he doesn’t care about. That being said he might (highly unlikely) roll three 6s (18) on his dump stat and nine 1s (3) on the stat he wanted to be high.
Purchase: You have a limited pool of points to “buy up” abilities as you see fit. I think this is more complicated than it should be as higher stats need to be assigned more points than 1 for 1.
Default Array, Important NPC: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, assign as desired.
Default array, PC: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. assign as desired.
Remember that simplicity is my goal. For the poor and huddled masses I think a series of 10s and 11s in is perfect for the Hyborian age. For Important, named NPCs the NPC Default Array is just fine. In the case of the main villain I think the PC Default Array is appropriate. For PCs I’m leaning toward the Heroic method.
I’d love to hear some additional thoughts on this.