When I was a Fighting-man… Part II

by Benito Gallego

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

So the theme of my last post was “What was Howard’s intention with the characters in his Conan Stories?” Since Howard predates RPGs (and was an influence on them) the only conclusion one can draw is that Howard didn’t have RPG statistics in mind. In storytelling the hero is always strong enough to succeed. She always has the right skill, or a bit of luck, to survive the villainous plot. In other words it doesn’t matter what skills Conan knew because the story was tailored so he always won. My intention with this post was originally to discuss just the Barbarian class to see it is appropriate for the Hyborian Age. Upon reflection that is a bit too specific, so let’s get through as many classes as we can.

I want to remind everyone which of the Pathfinder player character classes I think are most suitable for Hyboria. In my opinion they are as follows: Barbarian (possibly), Cavalier (possibly), Cleric (possibly), Fighter, Monk (possibly), Ninja (possibly), Oracle (possibly), Ranger (possibly), Rogue, Samurai (possibly), Sorcerer, Witch (possibly), and Wizard.

I have a lot of “possible” classes but there’s a reason for that; they seem like they might be appropriate. Howard went to great lengths to make the people and the cultures of the Hyborian age blatantly obvious. It prevented him from having to invent traditions and descriptions of art and architecture, weapons and armors, etc. and focus on the story he wanted to tell.

We have far more classes that I’m willing to accept. Most are variations on a theme (particularly the spellcasting classes). How do we narrow down the list? Let’s look first at the “Eastern” inspired classes; Monk, Ninja, and Samurai. An argument can be made that there are examples of these classes in the stories of Conan. Ninja’s are Rogues and Samurai are Fighters. I don’t see a need to allow the classes. If theme was good enough for Howard it’s good enough for me. Let’s do an experiment:

STR 15, DEX 13, CON 14, INT 8, WIS 12, CHA 10

Is this array of attributes of a Fighter class or a Samurai class? Or a Ranger for that matter. We’ll come back to that. Let’s try another one:

STR 10, DEX 15, CON 13, INT 14, WIS 8, CHA 12

Is this array of attributes of a Rogue class or a Ninja class? It could be Wizard too. Or a Fighter even.

by Benito Gallego

My point is you can’t tell a character’s profession just by looking at the statistics and if we base a profession around an inexhaustible list of options then we’re 1) Not playing a Hyborian Age game (as it didn’t matter to Howard) and 2) would be better off just playing Pathfinder. Remember, theme is most important here. We can even use this same argument when discussing the other possible classes as you’ll see.

On the topic of the Monk another problem altogether arises. A Monk’s AC Bonus and Damage is based on the idea that his cohorts get magic armor and weapons. This allows the Monk to stay more or less balanced with the other classes. Since this is going to be a low-magic campaign the Monk will quickly outclass his companions. A monk could easily be a Fighter that chooses the Improved Unarmed Strike Feat. I have a concept on weapon damage I want to explore later so the low damage will not be an issue I assure you.

When we examine the “Fighter” classes a similar thing occurs. Each of the classes becomes a variation on the armed combatant. The term Barbarian is used very often by Howard but as I previously mentioned (ad nauseam) Howard wasn’t playing D&D. Conan doesn’t often do anything that matches the class abilities he would have access to in an RPG. There are a few, rare, instances of Conan calling upon his great strength in a time of stress but I have a problem with calling that Barbarian Rage. If we go with the assumption that Conan has the Barbarian Class, and is a character in an RPG then why the heck is he NOT using his rage ability more often? He gets into more that 1 fight in many stories but he’s only called upon his barbarian strength occasionally. Is the player arrogantly thinking he can win any challenge no matter the odds with no friendly party members? I think it makes far more sense that Conan rolled an 18 for Strength, added +2 to it for being a Human, increased the stat every 4 levels and gets really, really, lucky on die rolls (he still has to roll an 18 on a d20 to burst open a door). That explains why he used his long knife to chop down the door in “The People of the Black Circle.”

The only differences that the Cavalier and Ranger classes bring to the game are more class features and I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s very UN-Hyborian. They also don’t have equivalents in the mythology. Even when characters appear in Howard’s stories that show some of the features available to the classes I just can’t justify that the “player” chooses to not use his features to survive.
A recurring profession is Pirate but I really don’t think it needs its own class. I think some pirates might be Fighters and some are Rogues. Heck, Conan just jumped on Bêlit’s boat in “Queen of the Black Coast” and became 2nd in command. I seriously doubt he studied real hard at Pirate School hoping he could one day join the best ship on the seas and raid ships like a real, grown-up pirate!

by Benito Gallego

Finally we arrive at the spellcasters. The first thing I notice is that most spellcasters written by Howard seem rather different from each other. We could theoretically follow the lead of the Hyborian Age d20 Campaign Site and allow all of the spellcasting classes. It could help establish atmosphere but I think this is the wrong approach. Spellcasters in the Hyborian Age are almost always villains and it allows too many similar options for player characters. Let’s start by kicking out the divine spellcasters. I am still not convinced the Hyborian gods exist let alone grant spells to the faithful. So that leaves us with Sorcerer, Witch and Wizard.

So my final list of player character classes is Fighter, Rogue, Sorcerer, Witch, and Wizard. It’s pretty short, I know, but I think it’s most appropriate for setting up the proper atmosphere. The last thing I would do is for any non-spellcasting class that has a Supernatural or Spell-like ability just loses access to it. I don’t think I’d even add a feature to replace it.


Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

1 thought on “When I was a Fighting-man… Part II”

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