'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

Corrupt Cliffs

Corrupt Cliffs
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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Firearms in the Hyborian Age? (and some 2d20 stats)

In Marvel's first issue of SAVAGE SWORD, some keen eyed fans spotted what looked quite a LOT like a pistol on one of the pirates that had captured Conan. Unsurprisingly this set off a bit of a firestorm, culminating in some people calling the book trash without ever having read it.

Truly Robert E Howard has no firearms in his Conan tales, but The Black Stranger definitely has pirates, and I don't mean Queen of the Black Coast pirates, I mean Pirates of the Caribbean Pirates. Conan himself gets outfitted in pirate gear, and the interesting part is the gear he finds and uses, this quintessential pirate gear is old...

A man as big as himself was striding toward him over the sands, making no attempt at stealth; and the pirate's eyes widened as he stared at the close-fitting silk breeches, high flaring-topped boots, wide-skirted coat and head-gear of a hundred years ago. There was a broad cutlass in the stranger's hand and unmistakable purpose in his approach.
Black Stranger
-Robert E Howard.

Even in a more conventional story Howard describes the Barachan Pirates much like we might see in a more traditional pirate setting.

As he came into the waist the crew thronged about him: Zingarans, all of them, half naked, their gaudy silk garments splashed with tar, jewels glinting in ear-rings and dagger hilts.
Pool of the Black One
-Robert E Howard.

With characters in his stories that are clearly quite late in the medieval sphere of things, some might even say PAST medieval and into renaissance age. Looking again to The Black Stranger we see armor that 100% post-dates the introduction of fire-arms into Europe.

The taller stranger removed his morion and made a sweeping bow. His companions halted, drawing their wide cloaks about them, and behind them the sailors leaned on their oars and stared at the flag floating over the palisade.
Black Stranger
-Robert E Howard.

The Morion is a distinctive Spanish helmet, so Zingaran in the Hyborian Age, and certainly it we shouldn't use our world as an exact mirror to the Hyborian Age, but the fact remains that Howard took what he liked to make his stories cool, to make his stories sell. If there was ever a place and time where the rule of cool holds true it is the Hyborian Age and the world of Conan.

Moving away from pirates and armor technology for a moment I want to move towards alchemy in the Hyborian Age.

The horde had halted. From the extreme wing rushed a chariot, the naked charioteer lashing the steeds like a madman; the other occupant was a tall figure whose robe floated spectrally on the wind. He held in his arms a great vessel of gold and from it poured a thin stream that sparkled in the sunlight. Across the whole front of the desert horde the chariot swept, and behind its thundering wheels was left, like the wake behind a ship, a long thin powdery line that glittered in the sands like the phosphorescent track of a serpent.

"That's Natohk!" swore Amalric. "What hellish seed is he sowing?"

The charging knights had not checked their headlong pace. Another fifty paces and they would crash into the uneven Kushite ranks, which stood motionless, spears lifted. Now the foremost knights had reached the thin line that glittered across the sands. They did not heed that crawling menace. But as the steel-shod hoofs of the horses struck it, it was as when steel strikes flint—but with more terrible result. A terrific explosion rocked the desert, which seemed to split apart along the strewn line with an awful burst of white flame.
Black Colussus
-Robert E Howard.

And again in Hour of the Dragon we have this,

His hand dipped into his robe and came out with something shining – a glistening sphere. This he threw suddenly at Conan. The Cimmerian contemptuously struck it aside with his sword—at the instant of contact there was a sharp explosion, a flare of white, blinding flame, and Conan pitched senseless to the ground.
Hour of the Dragon
-Robert E Howard.

Clearly the Hyborian Age has the ability to produce explosive powders and the like. In both of these examples it is used by the hands of ancient Sorcerers, so I am not suggesting you can roll into your Aquilonian corner store and buy it, but I am suggesting such things existed to men who knew about it.

So now we have a pretty strong case for technology in the Hyborian Age higher than what was in use when firearms were introduced into Europe. We can simply take this as proof that Howard would gladly pull what was cool and within setting for his stories, if we go that way we need to go no further and realize simple firearms and pirates are pretty common place, and it's probably not that big a stretch to imagine Howard employing it.

Alternatively we can try and explain it via what we see in the Hyborian Age. They had the metal working technology to build 17th century armor, surely they could make a basic gun barrel. We also have proof of explosive and burning powders in the stories. Without any direct evidence of firearms, it's really not a great leap to believe something like a simple matchlock pistol might have existed.

In either scenario we really need to ask ourselves, "Are simple firearms really a complete impossibility in the Hyborian Age?"

Some of you will categorically deny this as a possibility, and that is fine. For those of you I can convinced that these things might exist in fairly small quantities as an interesting weapon, I give to you....


A ranged weapon for the Conan 2d20 RPG by Modiphius

Name Range Damage Size Qualities Availability Cost Encumbrance
Matchlock Pistol
Piercing 2
Fearsome 2, Intense, Slow

Slow: This weapon requires the player to remain stationary and use a minor action to load before firing.

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