'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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Showing posts with label Sword&Sorcery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sword&Sorcery. Show all posts

Monday, February 3, 2020

High Fantasy? Sword & Sorcery? What is what?

This was going to be a review of Forbidden Lands. I had picked up the quickstart rules and was impressed. The quickstart was full of excellent old school RPG art and they didn't skimp on the rules. The system itself was familiar to me due to the ALIEN RPG, and it is a system I liked. In the end, this is not a review. After a conversation about Forbidden Lands, I decided I wanted to write a little bit about what Sword & Sorcery is to me.

I think the easiest way to see how I see Sword & Sorcery is to hold it up against High Fantasy, what things do I think makes one vs the other? There are, of course, other articles on the Internet about this topic, Wikipedia itself has sections describing what these genres represent. However, I wanted to illustrate my own ideas on these as well as build a small rubric to place against a setting to see where it falls.

Sword & Sorcery

Let's start with the elements I think are necessary for Sword & Sorcery.
  • Swords
  • Sorcery*
  • Smaller scale
  • Heroic deeds
  • Stories of a smaller scope.
  • Generally human-centric.
I placed a star next to Sorcery as I feel it needs a caveat. Sorcery is necessary, but generally, it is not overly flashy and it is not commonplace. Having a wizard that can cast fireball in every town in a story isn't something I think we should generally see in Sword & Sorcery.

High Fantasy

In contrast, we have high Fantasy which for me means:
  • Swords
  • Magic
  • Heros
  • Stories of a larger scope.
  • Races (Elves. Dwarves etc).
For me, in a high fantasy setting, we have much more magic and it is often flashier, we have heroes trying to save something bigger than themselves.

Now with this being laid out we certainly have stories that have elements of both of these, but I think some of the elements are more important than the others. I would probably place them in the following order.
  1. Story Scope
  2. Heroes vs Non-Heroes
  3. Heroic Deeds
  4. Access to Magic
  5. Races
And despite ranking them in importance I suspect we can still find stories that blur the line between the two. Small scale stories taking place in human-centric worlds with heroes and flashy magic.

Now that we have outlined some of the ideas I expect to see in each archetypal story of a genre lets place them against Conan and Lord of The Rings and see how they fair.

Conan

Taking this and placing it against Robert E Howard's Conan
  • Story Scope: Small. Conan trying to get to the end of the adventure alive, hopefully with some money and some company.
  • Heros vs Non-Heroes: Conan is the protagonist and generally has a strong moral compass and is doing the right thing because of it, but he doesn't have a higher calling that he is aware of.
  • Heroic Deeds: Conan is rife with them. Everything from climbing cliffs with bare hands, being pulled from a cross, fending off attacks by superior numbers and single-handedly killing two frost giants.
  • Magic: Exists. Rare. Dangerous.
  • Races: Humans.
Unsurprisingly a Conan story checks ALL of my personal S&S boxes. Howard is credited as the Father of Sword and Sorcery for a reason.

Lord of the Rings

Now let's take a look at Lord of the Rings.
  • Story Scope: HUGE.
  • Heros vs Non-Heros: Certainly some of the characters aren't willing heroes, but they have all responded to a higher calling and their end goal isn't about making them rich, and it is not about what is in it for them.
  • Heroic Deeds:I won't tell you there are no heroic deeds in LOTR, but at the same time I don't think we are seeing them in spades from the main characters.
  • Magic: Exists. Fairly-Rare. Dangerous.
  • Races: Standard fantasy races.
Although the magic isn't as flashy as I think of high fantasy, it is clear that The Lord of the Rings falls into this category in my mind. It is often looked to as the prototypical High Fantasy story.

Conclusion

Although both of these genres are different and you may like one more than the other, this doesn't mean one is better than the other, or that fans of one are superior. They are different sides of the same coin.

Going forward I hope to use this as a method to look at various RPGs and their settings to see where they land on the spectrum between SWORD AND SORCERY and HIGH FANTASY!

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Barbaric Future: A Timeline.

As I started fleshing out the world, I thought a rough timeline would come in handy.

The Timeline

  • 2020 - The Modern Era
    The modern era continues much as it has and technology continues to improve. Humanity reaches for the stars. Stress between people based on differences continues to ebb and flow. Nothing is ever solved. Climate change continues and weather patterns become more intense. Global temperatures continue to rise, and we get to a place where they will continue to rise despite our inputs into the environment. Sea level begins its gradual climb.

  • 2200 - Global War
    The stresses of the modern world finally come to a head, for the next 100 years the world is locked in an all-out war fought between the communist factions and the capitalist factions; dictatorships vs democracies. The war is fought largely through conventional means, but some nuclear weapons are used against targets of extreme importance. Total armageddon is avoided, but large areas of the world are laid bare and unlivable.

    Global temperature rise comes to a standstill due to the layer of dust thrown into the atmosphere by the small scale nuclear war.

  • 2300 - A Thousand Years of Conflict
    When the war ends, the conflict doesn't. Nothing between the nations is resolved, they are all simply broken and scattered into component nations. For 1000 years mankind remains trapped in small nations and kingdoms, the shattered remnants of their former glory. For 1000 years war keeps these nations small and technological advancement down.

    After 1000 years, the dust from the wars has largely subsided and the temperature begins to rise again. The sea levels have steadily climbed over this time period as well. As more and more dust came out of the atmosphere the temperature rise steadily grew faster until the sea level had risen some 100 meters.

  • 3300 - Resource Peace
    The small nations begin to band together, their governments forming together to rebuild semblances of their former selves. Resources are largely exhausted and humanity is forced into an uneasy peace.

  • 4300 - Rise of the Corporations
    With resources largely depleted the governments do what they can to hold their nations together. The corporations grow steadily in power. They still hold the means to production

  • 4400 - Corporate States
    With the corporate states holding the means to production within each new nation, the interm governments are quickly replaced by the corporate bodies that control everything within the borders. Nations become CorpStates.

  • 4500 - Rebirth of Tech
    CorpStates trade with each other to exist. What one has, the other needs. The human population is a ghost of its former self and the resources that fueled humanity are gone. Still despite this, and built on the back on the old world, tech has increased. Its level within the CorpStates has outgrown the old world. Breakthroughs in computers and energy systems have pulled humanity back to a place of greatness.

  • 5000 - Barbaric Future
    2500 years of conflict and climate disaster have rendered the memory of the old world a fairy tale to most of humanity, only a few who have kept or who have found old records know of its existence. Humanity lives mostly within the cities of the CorpStates but a few live in the broken shell of the old world. The people living in the cities live behind walls with their lives controlled and monitored by the Corporations. Although personal weapons and armor are allowed for personal defense, the equivalent of modern firearms and greater is tightly controlled. The occasional person may wield a crossbow, but even those archaic ranged weapons are frowned upon.

    Cities that fell during the climate upheavals left places of shelter and life for those strong enough to take it. Much of these places have fallen into complete disrepair and are overgrown with life, only those who know to look can really see. To survive in these places humanity formed into tribes not dissimilar to the dark ages. Major differences being their access to high tech weapons and equipment as they trade with the CorpStates or live off of their spent garbage.

    In the wastes beyond civilization lie mutants and radiation zones. Beasts mutated from what was there before and the twisted remains of humanity. Despite these dangers, the wastes hold much of the technology of the old world. These places were once the libraries and strongholds of the old world. Targets of the nuclear strikes hoping to break the backs of some long-forgotten enemy.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Witch of the Screaming Woods

At the end of April 2019, I will be at the Calgary Expo GMing two games of Conan 2d20! I will run 4 players through an adventure, once on Friday and once on Sunday. If you are around and want to check out Conan 2d20 for real stop by and sign up!


The games will feature paper miniatures from Okum Arts, Kevs Lounge and Printable Heroes as well as tiles from Black Scroll Games.

Everything I will be using will be all self printed and assembled. Even if you can't play stop by the table and see what you can come up with for an ultra portable, but awesome kit!
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: The Essence of Beyond

Welcome back to another installment of Friday's Forgotten Fiends! Custom monsters for your RPG table feature stat blocks for Conan 2d20 and Dungeons and Dragons 5e as well as paper 28mm miniatures and VTT tokens!

The candles flickered in the circle around the old wizard. His blade was raised above him in symbolism of ritual sacrifice. The bronze bowl before him held the still warm heart of some unfortunate soul, either human or a large animal, only he knew. with his circle of power intact, his sacrifice prepared he began the chant in some long forgotten tongue taught to him by his ancient master so many years ago.

He had enemies, and he intended to summon a dark thing to do his bidding and have is revenge. He would no longer be the laughing stock in his village. He would show them all the power he possessed! After chanting for what seemed like an eternity he felt the very veil grow thin as the air around him grew cold, and in a final motion his blade struck down into the heart completing the ritual and unleashing the dark forces all around him.

He could almost hear the great tear open between our two world, as the gash opened, and he called forth his creature. Within moments a dark smoke like foot stepped through the tear, fel energy swirling and coalescing around it.

The last thing he saw was a claw of smoke and a mouth filled with row after row of gleaming white teeth. The chamber was filled with the protests and then screams of the wizard as the dark thing took it's price for his desires. When it had had it's fill of his flesh the thing stood and left the chamber, off to do what it was summoned to do. Behind it the great portal slowly stitched itself back together, and in a moment all that remained was the wizard's body as it was slowly consumed by the remnants of the dark energy that game through with the beast. In moments what can only be described as the Essence of Beyond remained, hungry and angry.

These blobs of malignant energy are the remnants of dark sorcery gone wrong, a merger of the one who summoned forth the magic, and the magic itself. They are a manifestation of the outer dark made physical in our world. Typically found on old places of power such as a ruined temple or ancient sunken city, these things feed on our world, and especially on the life forms in our world. These being simple manifestations of power have coalesced into semi-sentient and hostile creatures. Although having no magic themselves, and being relatively easily vanquished, their very nature can make them difficult to pin down and strike, and in that process many warriors have fallen to these.

Conan 2d20

D&D 5e

VTT Tokens

Paper Minis!

And finally paper minis!


If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp rpg gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

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Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan: Issue #1 (2019)

Back with another Conan day and another spoiler free review! February 13th and the debut issue of the new Savage Sword of Conan! We have seen a few images here and there from this book and I can tell you I am excited to read it!


Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Ron Garney
Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Alex Ross

You can of course check out Gerry Duggan, Ron Garney and Alex Ross on Twitter. You can find Alex, Ron and Gerry on Instagram as well! Go and give them some social media love!

Well, where to start? Lots of talk about Crom and lack of caring. That is a good thing. The story starts with things going from bad to worse for Conan which, at the end of the day is a great start for this series and feels proper.

The art by Garney is different from the Barbarian art. I'd call it looser, less precise, more raw...maybe even more SAVAGE. I think it will be a good match for this story. The coloring is excellent, with the line work supporting it more like a painting in a lot of panels vs colored in comic panels. I am definitely a fan of the style.

The story is good, if so far not that deep. It has potential to get there and foreshadows the future for our Cimmerian hero. One of the things I liked about things was the rise and fall....and fall...and fall of Conan's fortune.

The cover is great. Conan looks like Conan. He is locked in combat with undead pirates! Axe overhead to crush his foes while he grips one by the neck. The cover is evocative of action and full of little details.

This comic feels like sword and sorcery, monsters in line with REHs creations, nothing completely over the top, no magic missiles, no fireballs. It feels like we are getting a good low fantasy setting with this series.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


Well, I am just gonna go ahead and rate this a solid 5 out of 5 Skulls of my Enemies!

Overall I clearly liked the start of this new offering from Marvel, I feel we have the beginnings of a new adventure, and that new adventure is supported very well by not only the style of art that Garney is producing but also by the colouring being added by Isanove. We have a strong first issue and I am very much looking forward to seeing where things go.

I don't think this is a perfect issue despite my 5/5 rating, there are a few story issues that gave me pause, but most of them are all REH Conan knowledge based that the average fan might not even recognize. Heck, I would have to been double check them to be sure, but they are not so blatant to really pull me out of the story.

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Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Conan 2d20: Magic in the Hyborian Age

I will start this by saying that I haven't played D&D in many years, but as it is probably the most played game out there I will be bringing it up as a comparison to how magic works in most RPGs vs how magic works in Conan 2d20.

In D&D you get a long list of spells you can choose from and from that list you can choose what you want to cast for a given day. For an example we have a first level wizard with an INT of 17 (+3). The wizard has 6 spells in her spell book. At level one, she will be able to create a spell list for the day that contains 4 spells from her book. She may then cast any of those 4 spells twice, since a level 1 wizard only has two level one spell slots.

The spells you get to cast have any number of effects: Lightning bolts, fireballs, magic missiles, shields, summoning monsters, etc. They are the stuff of high fantasy, flashy displays of mystical energy.

The magic in Conan is much more subdued and although there is certainly spells that can be used offensively, we aren't going to be throwing magical fireballs at each other. Where D&D gives you a large number of spells to choose from, Conan gives you a smaller number of spells, probably a single spell when you start. I tend to think of these as spell blocks though because although they have a single name, they each have ways to build on the effects. In D&D terms you might not have magic missile and lightning bolt as two spells, they might simply be called, "Magic Bolt". D&D would need a way to channel more energy into the spell, maybe expending 2 spell slots to increase the effect of the bolt from a mere zap to a full fledged lightning bolt.

In the movies we see magic akin to what we might find in the Hyborian Age in the first Conan The Barbarian movie as well as the magic wielded by Merlin in the similarly aged "Excalibur". The magic in these films is very real, and yet often quite subtle. You again aren't seeming glowing hands and the like.

One of the other major differences is the loss of resolve, ie mental hit points, from spell casting in Conan. You could cause yourself to go insane if you cast too many spells without any rest. It lends a much darker and more sinister air to the forces you try and wield in the Hyborian Age.

With all that I am simply trying to set out the ground work for magic in 2d20 for those who are new to it. It is different. That doesn't make it bad. Today we are going to cover the basic ideas behind how casting works mechanically and how it can work for the narrative. There are a few other concerns around a character with knowledge in Sorcery, but that is for another time.

Call Your Dragon to Weave a Mist.....

The simplest form of spell casting in 2d20 looks like this and is known as Casting for Effect.
  1. Resolve - Check and make sure you have enough resolve to cast the spell.
  2. Minor action - Focus action (skipping this causes complications on a 19 or 20).
  3. Standard action - Skill test against sorcery.
  4. Complications - Any failed rolls result in a complication. Rolling a complication causes 2 complications.
  5. Momentum - On a successful test send and additional momentum you have on stronger effects.
  6. Resolve - Reduce your resolve
The second form of casting is known as Testing for Consequences or sometimes called Casting for Consequence. This is not at alternate rule, but it is up to the GM to allow it on a case by case basis. Basically the idea is that the spell always goes off and you are just testing to check for it's negative effects, think of it as Casting to Determine Complications.
  1. Resolve - Check and make sure you have enough resolve to cast the spell.
  2. Difficulty - Determine the difficulty of the spell. Most start with a base of D1, and each momentum spend you add, adds a level of difficulty.
  3. Minor action - Focus action (skipping this causes complications on a 19 or 20).
  4. Standard action - Skill text against your spells difficulty.
  5. Complications - Each difference between the number of successes you roll vs the difficulty of the spell causes a complication. ie if you roll 3 successes on a D5 spell, you gain 2 complications.
  6. Complications - It is POSSIBLE that a failed skill test here still causes a complication as well. There is nothing specifically that says it doesn't.
  7. Complications - Rolling a 20 causes a complication.
  8. Momentum - Spend momentum as normal.
  9. Resolve - Reduce your resolve.

Can You Summon Demons, Wizard?

Let us take a little bit of a deeper look at the ideas presented in the book. Specifically we will start with the following passage:

From the depths of dusty tomes and the tutelage of patrons human and otherwise, the sorcerer collects incantations and recipes for spells, magical creations whose effects are immensely powerful, their histories older than the cities of men. These spells are broad strokes, guidelines by which unnatural forces can impose their will upon the natural world. The combination of spell effects and sorcerous talents comingle to form more complex results and more powerful intrusions of the Outer Dark into the world of humankind. The nature of magic in the Hyborian Age is not strictly codified, and requires the gamemaster to adjudicate on a narrative as well as mechanical basis.
-Conan 2d20, Core Book Page 173

It is fairly easy to look at the spells and mechanically cast based on what is listed. That is always an easy thing, but in my books it is a less fun way to play. These games are all about the narrative. Have a player simply cast and then pick from a list leaves a lot on the floor. Instead think of these spell blocks as a toolkit. I strongly encourage you and your players to at least have an idea of the desired effect of the spell, even if it isn't fully realized on the actual skill test. I have a couple of examples below of sorcery in use. Our examples will center around Adara, a Cimmerian shaman.

Adara looks out across the blood soaked sward, the smoking ruins of the fort and dead from both sides litter the ground around her. Her people did not start this war, the constant incursion of the southern kingdoms north to take more land, and finally in an attempt to subjugate her people started this. Finally her tribe had enough, and so her and her people drew steel and assaulted their positions.

GM: You see a large warrior cutting down your people left and right, clearly a Knight and a fearsome opponent, what do you do.
Player: Adara casts Form of a Beast. Uhhh, I roll 4 successes so that lets me succeed and spend 3 momentum. I choose Nature's Brawn, Animal Resilience and Roughen this beasts hide and I transform into a bear.
GM: Ok, Adara takes the form of her totem animal, the bear.
VS.
GM: You see a large warrior cutting down your people left and right, clearly a Knight and a fearsome opponent, what do you do.
Player: Adara summons the energies of the forest creatures, feeling the power of her totem animal flow into her she attempts to take on not just the form of the beast, but also it's strength and savagery! I roll 2 successes, and assume the form of my totem animal. Unfortunately this only gives me one point of momentum so I use that to assume the strength of the bear! GM: Ok, Adara takes the form of her totem animal, the bear.

Mechanically similar, but in my books the second one is more fun and more interesting, even though she was less successful with that test. Certainly the rules say you cast and then can use that momentum however you want, and I am not saying you should pick exactly what you want to have happen from the menu and try and cast it, but instead have an idea of the kinds of things you COULD have happen or WANT to have happen and weave that into the description of what your character is doing.

Even if you go the first route and don't have a clear idea what you are trying to accomplish with the spell, once you have chosen those effects I would strongly encourage you to work those effects into the description of what your character is doing. The spells are a GOLD MINE for narrative ideas and cool effects.

I can't encourage your enough to use these spell blocks as a toolkit to build excellent narrative effects around the magic we find in the Hyborian Age!

Finally some of the core book can be confusing, and should you need it we do have a Sorcery FAQ put together from the days of the Google+ group.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: The Boar of Nergal

Welcome back to another installment of Friday's Forgotten Fiends! Custom monsters for your RPG table feature stat blocks for Conan 2d20 and Dungeons and Dragons 5e as well as paper 28mm miniatures and VTT tokens!

The shepherd lounged under a large tree. The air was warm and clear and the sun shone down bright across the meadow lands. A small flock of sheep munched happily on the green grass emitting only the occasional bleating. Arvad was happy with things, predators had been few and far between and his flock grew fat providing wool and food for his family and money for his pockets.

In an instant everything had changed, the throng of sheep broken and running in all directions as a Boar or Nergal stalked into their midst killing what would surely be more than its fat belly could eat. It seemed to be killing for sport as much as anything, a keen intelligence in its eyes as it turned and spotted Arvad. With a low growl it stalked towards the small man, sitting shocked beneath the tree.

In a smooth action Arvad took up his spear and slid to his feet slowly as the monster continued its slow methodical approach. Leveling the spear, the shepherd planted the spear at his feet as he waited for the infernal creature to come for him. The beast continued its slow approach and as it did its true size began to show itself, easily as tall as a man at the shoulders, gleaming red eyes and yellowed teeth and tusks glistened in the sun, now stained with the blood of his sheep. With a slight pause the massive head is lowered and in a flash nearly one thousand pounds of predator charged towards him. Arvad could do nothing but grip the spear tighter, aim its point, close his eyes and pray to Mitra.......

The giant pig like creatures are some long forgotten remnant of a time best left forgotten, when giant beasts ruled over the lands. They generally favor the northern plains of Shem where the pastoral lands meet the low foothills of the Mountains of Khoraja. Although these creatures are generally solitary they live in small loose knit herd-like communities, coming across one means more are almost certainly nearby. Named for the dark god of death, Nergal, these creatures, although resembling boars are actually fierce predators. It is not uncommon to see them hunt the largest game.

This beast is based on the real life animal known as the "HELL PIG", but I didn't want to simply call it that, I wanted something more... Hyborian. So I went out onto the Internet and looked up gods, I found a nice list on Xoth.net. I did perhaps make a small error in ONLY using that site as it uses all sources for the Hyborian Age, not just REH. There is nothing wrong with that, but I would prefer to use REH as a first source and pastiches as a second source.

Do not worry though, as I found a story fragment on the Internet this morning, The Hand of Nergal, which makes me cheer a little in that the name I have chosen is both fairly fitting and REH.

Don't forget to scroll all the way to the end to see a new feature I am looking to add to these to supplement the stat blocks and VTT tokens!

Alright as Matt from Rogues in the House loves to say....

"ENOUGH TALK!"

Conan 2d20

D&D 5e

VTT Tokens

Paper Minis!

And finally paper minis!


If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!