'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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Friday, July 5, 2019

Riders of Steel and Silk and Gold: An adventure for Conan 2d20!

CONAN!? Why would I want to play "THAT!?"

Isn't "Conan" people running around wearing almost nothing, fighting and uh....doing other things? In this modern world, why would I want to play that? Aren't we just going to be rehashing an old tired stereotype that modern tales are avoiding now?

NO! That is NOT Conan, this is not the Hyborian Age. Or at least it's not Robert E Howard's Hyborian Age.

I fully understand why people might shy away from a Sword and Sorcery game and the aspects of it due to how it has been portrayed in popular culture as well as certain members of the fan base.

The name of Conan and Sword and Sorcery tend to be mixed strongly any number of images painted by the Legendary Frank Frazetta used as covers to a number of re-published stories. The good of this is to be associated with some excellent paintings by one of the modern masters of Fantasy. The bad of it is these images are often of men and women who are represented as the ideal male and female form, often with the man rescuing the woman, and neither of them wearing very much while this all occurs. As masterful as they are they can easily portray the male power fantasy idea which tends to turn a lot of people off.

This interpretation isn't really the truth of the Hyborian Age. Certainly, Howard described his heroic men as "masculine" and likewise his women, whether damsels in distress, or bad ass warriors, as "feminine", all through the lens of the 1930s.

Take the introduction of Valeria as an example.

She was tall, full-bosomed, and large-limbed, with compact shoulders. Her whole figure reflected an unusual strength, without detracting from the femininity of her appearance. She was all woman, in spite of her bearing and her garments. The latter were incongruous, in view of her present environs. Instead of a skirt she wore short, wide-legged silk breeches, which ceased a hand's breadth short of her knees, and were upheld by a wide silken sash worn as a girdle. Flaring-topped boots of soft leather came almost to her knees, and a low-necked, wide-collared, wide-sleeved silk shirt completed her costume. On one shapely hip she wore a straight double-edged sword, and on the other a long dirk. Her unruly golden hair, cut square at her shoulders, was confined by a band of crimson satin.

-Robert E Howard
Red Nails.

Howard clearly defines her as strong but as feminine as Conan is masculine, but she isn't scantily clad. She wears the standard fair of a pirate and carries with her a sword and dagger, and the will to use them.

That isn't to say Howard never wrote a scantily clad man or woman, he certainly did. He was after all writing for a magazine that wasn't viewed as "proper" in the 30s. I can guarantee though that I can find examples of stories that did way more of this than Howard ever did.

For my iteration of the Hyborian Age, I try and look through it as much as I can with my eyes firmly rooted in the modern age. What does that mean to the potential player?

  • Heroic Characters of many descriptions: Any Gender, Any Sexual Preference.
  • Character "relations" are always off screen if they occur at all. Romantic connections are generally not a huge thing due to the shortness of the adventure.
  • Races portrayed as culturally different, but not inferior.
  • Avoiding the hypersexualized imagery of Frazetta.
  • Avoiding the popular image of the D&D Barbarian.
  • High Action.
  • Sword and Sorcery. No fireballs, no goblins.
  • The goal to create a game and an environment that is fun and engaging for a diverse group of people that I have never met before.
  • The use of X cards to support the above.

If you are turning away from CONAN as an idea I encourage you to take a look at the original works, keeping in mind they are written in a different time. Howard's work on fantasy is groundbreaking, he is truly one of the influencers of modern fantasy and is credited as the father of Sword and Sorcery.

Riders of Steel and Silk and Gold

Hopefully, you are convinced enough to give the genre and setting a shot. Either because of the above ideas, or because of your interest in Conan or your desire to try 2d20. Either way you made it this far!

Convention: RPG ALLIANCE CON 2019
When: October 20, 2019
Where: Calgary
Player Experience Required: NONE
Number of players: 5
Pre-generated characters: YES
Years I've been playing Conan 2d20: 2.5
Convention games I have run in the past: 3 (RPG Alliance and Calgary Expo)

He was taken to the East, a GREAT prize! Where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets! Join me and a host of brave souls as we venture back to the Hyborian Age of Robert E Howard. On the Northern Borders of Khitai a bloody dance has taken place since time immemorial. Each year the warlords of Hyrkania push into the northern reaches of Khitai raiding and taking what they believe is theirs. Each year the Generals of Khitai work their political games to pit one warlord against the other to hold the power of the steppe at a manageable level. All that is changing with the rise of a single great warrior king on the steppe. His charisma and intelligence have bound many of the tribes under his banner and his horde stands ready to push deeper into Khitai than ever before.

Now, as the invasion grows near, the Khan's Shamans have told him about an ancient fortress said to hold a weapon of immeasurable power. Something said to be able to surely turn the tide against the Khitai.

Your group is some of the Khan's greatest and most trusted warriors, sent to recover the weapon. After weeks of hard travel into the mountains, you have made camp on a small stone plain flanked by rocks and boulders, the wind howls across the land bringing the first touches of winter. Dominating the scene is a square opening, that seems hewn into the living rock of the mountain itself.


  1. I completely comprehend why individuals may avoid a Sword and Sorcery game and the parts of it because of how it has been depicted in mainstream culture just as specific individuals from the fan base. RockStar Jackets

  2. I love your points for what makes a good modern Hyborian Age game. Best of luck in your Con game!

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