A Barbarian of Barbarians …

Darren Goodacre
Darren Goodacre

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.

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Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

6 thoughts on “A Barbarian of Barbarians …”

  1. The ability score generation depends from the game. Are players playing their own Conans, or people that Conan met?

    For Conans clearly better than average scores are fine, and for others 3d6 in straight line or point buy.

    I’m not simulationist, so I don’t care about Conan’s and non-combat NPC’s stats. In one game we met king Conan, and no one tried to kill him, so stats weren’t necessary.

  2. Normally I’d agree with you that ability score generation depends on the game but altering the d20 format, especially in the ways I’m envisioning, dramatically alters the way the game plays. Players will be outclassed by the “monsters” they fight because of limited equipment selection, almost no magic items, and the threat of death from a single blow. SOMETHING has to be in their favor. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Taurus of Nemedia thought he could loot the Tower of the Elephant because he had an over-inflated opinion of his better-than-average ability scores. 3d6 just doesn’t cut it.

    I would also point out that 3d6 in order and point buy are vastly different options.

    I don’t care about full combat stats for all commoners either but we need to know for the purpose of scale. If the average person is 10, 10, 10, 11, 11, 11 then the average adventurer has to be better than that. Or else Mary, the Haberdasher’s apprentice, might assume she has the skills necessary to conquer the Black Coast.

    Adventurers do what they do BECAUSE they aren’t common.

    1. If you are using feats, or other stuff that need X in attribute Y, I’d say go for point buy, but otherwise, I’d go for 3d6 in order.

      “Adventurers do what they do BECAUSE they aren’t common.”
      My adventurer’s, and sometimes Conan do what they do, because they are broke. Atm I’m playing 1st level DCC dwarf with 4hp in 5th level adventure, so if someone him, he’s down. :p

  3. I can support 3d6 attributes. Because a character MUST have at least one 13 and a total positive modifier of +1 a character will certainly be above average (something I think is required). I have trouble with rolling them in order however. In this kind of setting so much is being taken away from the players I’m afraid forcing your entire group to all make Wizards (because everyone’s best stat is in INT) or forcing the player who really wanted to play a barbarian have to do so with the physical attributes of a 5th grader is going a little far. While I’m at it I can make a random name, class, alignment, and gender table and take all options away from them.

    You have intrigued me with the idea 3d6 but I’d let the players arrange as desired.

    Personally I’d never let a 1st level Character adventure with a group of 5ths. She’ll either be hanging back and gaining xp for doing nothing (boring) or she’d wind up dead the first time she stepped on a trap (no fun).

    1. FLAILSNAILS is a strange world. Sorry, it was a 3rd level module (but some have made the point, that DCC characters can handle D&D modules which have been made for double their level).

      I’m protecting casters with my meager 4hp, and in previous adventure’s climax, when he was 0-level character he managed to rip off one of the BBE’s tentacles, and crit one of her bodyguards. Also in the first encounter of this adventure he fumbled, broke his nose, and dropped to 0hp. ^^’

      Most groups/players have their preferred character generation method, and according to DCC lot of playtesters houseruled it.

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