'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Conan 2d20 RPG Overview: Doom & Momentum.

In parts 1 and 2 we discussed skill checks and the general idea behind how task difficulties are defined. Today's concept is the next part of that skill check system. Right now we know we are rolling 2d20 and trying to get below a target to gain successes. We also know that the difficulty can go as high as 5, which is impossible to achieve on a 2d20 roll. So what gives? How do we get more successes?

In a lot of games you succeed or fail. For example in a basic d20 system you are rolling a single d20 and adding a bonus and trying to beat a task's difficulty check. Roll too low and you fail, roll equal to or over that number and you succeed, nice and simple. In this example Conal has +3 in his strength roll and is facing a metal gate he needs to lift. The GM decides it's not overly heavy and so says the DC for this task is 13. Conal rolls an 18, and with his bonus scores a 21! Awesome. Conal lifts the gate! Any roll from 10+ achieves the desired result.

This is where the Conan 2d20 system differs. In the above example Conal, needs to lift the gate, and the GM says it's a difficulty 1(D1) task. Conal gets lucky and rolls 4 successes, awesome! Conal easily lifts the gate, BUT Conal also gains momentum, a measure of how well Conal and his party have been succeeding and how well things are going their way! If Conal had rolled a single success, he still lifts the gate, but he would gain no momentum.

Players can use this momentum to their advantage; learning more on knowledge tests, doing more damage, re-rolling dice, taking a second action or, as you might have guessed, rolling additional dice. It can also be stored temporarily and other members can capitalize on the success of each other. The Conan 2d20 Core Book has an outline of suggested momentum spends, but being imaginative and coming up with additional spends is encouraged!

As things rise, they fall. As heroes are heroic, villains are villainous! On the GM side of the equation we see the same measure of things going well for the bad guys. As players roll 2d20+ to determine if their heroes are successful, so does the GM roll 2d20+ to see if the monsters and NPCs are successful. Like the players, rolling more successes than they need results in momentum which they can use or store. They don't store this unused momentum in a momentum pool, instead it becomes "DOOM", essentially momentum working against the players.

One of the interesting things about Conan 2d20 is the idea that a player can almost always have their heroes succeed at all but the most difficult tasks. Players have the option of allowing their heroes to be larger than life whenever they wish, even if things aren't going their way at this exact moment. Most momentum spends can be purchased by paying the GM Doom. The players wishing for their hero to be heroic can do so, at the cost of things potentially going poorer for them down the line. Think of it as a simple karma system.

I will make a quick note here that some people consider this system to be completely meta, that it is outside of the experience of the characters. To that I would say that this system directly measure the overall feeling of dread or confidence experienced by the characters in the world. All things we wish to measure in an RPG are given a metric. This is no different. This system is a measure of things going well or poorly. Capitalizing on successes or being hindered by failures. It is a measure of characters potentially trying harder in more difficult situations. It is a measure of something that is perhaps intangible, but it is still a measure of something the characters experience.

So now we have, not only, a way for our heroes to complete tasks, but a way to measure how much success they have achieved beyond the simple pass/fail concept. We also have a way for the heroics of the story to build towards a, truly action packed, pulp worthy climax.

On the next installment of this overview we are going to take a look at what happens during conflict as we take a look at The Struggle!

If you are interested in checking out the Conan system why not head over to DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy of either the Conan 2d20 core book or the Conan 2d20 quickstart pdf?


  1. "Conan" Villains can bank Momentum as Doom? Interesting. In Star Trek Adventures, they can't -- they can use it, but they can't generate it from dice rolls. I wonder why it's different? Maybe it's a genre emulation thing, which makes sense.

    1. Interesting. I haven't looked at any of the Star Trek rules. But the fact they change and update the rules for the setting sorta nullifies peoples impressions they are trying to shoehorn a setting into a system.

  2. Great stuff. Thanks for taking all the time to work all this out.

    1. You are welcome. Doing what I can to help get a fun system out there. :)

      Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Again I agree with what you say! I do not feel like its very meta at all. It's a cool mechanic that allows players to act and be heroic. No different then descriptive dice in Star wars or Gensys.

    1. Yup. Or Brownie Points in Ghostbusters, Character- and Force Points in WEG Star Wars, fate points in Fate Core, or...you know...anything like that.