'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

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!


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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Conan the Barbarian: Issue #3 (2019) "Cimmerians Don't Pray"

Conan day everyone! Just over a week till the first Savage Sword, but don't let that slow us down, today marks the release of Conan the Barbarian #3! This issue finds Conan trapped and at the end of his rope!


Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Esar Ribic

My initial thoughts reading this issue is that it is brutal and bloody and has plenty of opportunity to show of the savagery of our barbarian hero. And it delivers, Conan is in prime form here as he fights to free himself from capture and the executioner's axe!

As the story leads you along this month you are given a way time and time again that Conan will escape only to be tossed back into jail. You are left wondering how he will escape in the end, even though you know he will. You know he survives his days as a thief to take the throne of Aquilonia.

I would place this issues between one and two for me. I felt it had more depth than issue one and maybe not quite as good as issue two, but I will grant you issue two is probably getting some Cimmerian points for being set right after "Beyond the Black River."

This story is absent of many of the tropes we are familiar with: No wine, no women. These being absent is of course fine and fits the narrative perfectly well AND fits into the world and stories we saw REH write. This tale is set early in Conan's life while he is a thief and so places us around the time of "Tower of the Elephant", and in that tale all we see is thieving and sorcery.

What it misses in terms of your basic Sword and Sorcery tropes it makes up for in savagery. For me this issue didn't pull any punches when it came to the darkness and raw grit of the Hyborian Age, and for me at least was still an excellent Sword and Sorcery tale!

So if you are on the fence about grabbing issue 3, I recommend you keep reading. Go grab a copy and enjoy some new Conan tales!

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


Another solid 4.5 out of 5 Skulls of My Enemies!

Marvel has shown it can publish a Conan comic, and do it staying true to the character we all love. Jason Aaron is writing a good story and Mahmud Asra is delivering some great and memorable panels for the book. The colors by Matthew Wilson are great as well adding further to the imagery. I am happy today it Conan day. I am sad I have to wait another few weeks for episode 4.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Genesys in the Primeval Thule Setting

When I GMed a game of Conan for a group of complete strangers late last year, I was unsure of what I was getting myself into. Having recently returned to RPGs and GMing combined with my own fears about not doing a good enough job had definitely given me pause. In the end it was a very positive experience for me and I met some new people. Many of those people I met further this past weekend as we sat down to play a game of Genesys.

I have kept in touch with one of those players and have continued to discuss various RPG ideas. One of the systems he has really grown to like is, of course, Genesys. I was familiar with it as the game with the weird dice. When he said he felt it shared similar game DNA with Conan I was a little dubious, but he explained it all. After reading some more I came to a conclusion? I agree. So he went forward and set up a game of Genesys set in Primeval Thule to introduce a bunch of us who had been at "RPG ALLIANCE CON" in Calgary to the system.

Before I go on any further I have a couple of shutouts to people and I encourage you to all check out their various endeavors.
  • Rpg Alliance - Without this I wouldn't have met these people and I wouldn't have tried something new. Hope we see it become a yearly thing. Blog, Facebook.
  • Galaxy Gaming Gear- Thanks for the use of your figures and terrain as well as a little insight into your company and your goals. Website, Facebook.
  • Titan's Vault Games- Thanks to the use of the space in the store. It is great to have a place to play that we all had fairly easy access to. Website, Facebook.

OK. So lets talk basic mechanics. Like Conan 2d20, everything is based on skill rolls, and like Conan 2d20 we essentially have 5 classifications of difficulty: Easy, Average, Hard, Daunting and Formidable. It also includes 0 difficulty and an impossible difficulty. Mechanically the two systems diverge here, but maintain the same idea in terms of gaining success to completed tasks, it just handles this and what would be Momentum/doom in Conan 2d20 differently.

Celina darts down a dark side alley and pauses, the sounds of pursuit echoing down the street. Her hand grasps a small leather bag containing the goal of the evening. It had all been going so well, in and out and away into the night! Suddenly the alarm was raised and she found her self running for her life trying to escape the city guard. In an instant she decides to climb the wall next to her in an attempt to evade her pursuers.


At it's simplest Celina might have a rating of 2 for climbing the wall, granting her two dice to roll on a skill check. In Genesys you would pick up two custom eight sided dice. If her task was average difficulty you would pick up another set of custom 2d8, however they are a different color. Basically you are rolling your 2d8 vs the tasks 2d8. (Quick note: there is a d12 you get to roll on trained skills as well, but I chose to go with a super simple example).

The skill dice in Genesys show the following icons: Success, Advantage and Triumph(which does not appear on the d8).
The difficulty dice show: Failure, Threat and Despair.

Back to our example skill test, rolling the dice you come up with a total of 3 successes and 1 advantage on your skill dice. The difficulty dice come up with 0 failure and 2 threats.

VS.
I used this roller to generate my results.

To resolve the roll we cancel skill vs difficulty. Threat removes advantage and failure removes success. Doing so we see that Celina's roll is 2 successes + 1 threat, and this is where the system is really interesting in my mind. We do see this possibility in 2d20, but way way less often in the form of succeeding while rolling a complication. In Genesys it is pretty common to gain advantage or threat independently of succeeding or failing.

Celina succeeds in climbing the wall but in doing so manages to confer and advantage to her pursuers. There is a list of things advantage and disadvantage can do, including giving extra dice to your allies in the form of a custom d6. But my point isn't to give you an entire breakdown of the system, just to illustrate the basic idea.

With effort Celina scales the wall onto the roof of the building next to her and pauses in the dark as a squad of five men at arms come into the alley and look around trying to find signs of their quarry.

The guards may normally roll 2d8 as well for their skill check, but because Celina rolled that threat the GM has decided to give them an advantage die, so they roll 2d8+1d6 vs their difficulty roll.

As the guards look about the alley, Celina shifts in her hiding spot causing a small pebble to knock loose from the wall, alerting the guards to the direction she is in

VS.


The guards gain 2 successes and 1 threat as well!

The GM decides the guards see Celina as she turns to flee and begin to climb up the wall. The guards build their dice pool again, this time with an addition difficulty d6 to make their climb up the wall that much more difficult. The GM will narrate how that advantage is gained: loose walls, guards getting in each other's way or any number of other things.

Even with that level of inexperience with the system at the table I think we all had fun and enjoyed the whole system from combat to social and other tests. It is definitely a system I will look to add to my library.

The single largest entry point to this system is learning what the icons mean and how they cancel each other out, but once you are past that, the mechanic is simple and the dice do guide the narrative much as we would see in a system like Conan 2d20. The group I played with this weekend included an experienced GM, one experienced player and three people who had never played the system before. One of us had even tried the Star Wars version and had not liked it.

Having an experience GM makes things way simpler and overall I enjoyed the session and the system. It was narrative and fit decently well into the Sword & Sorcery setting that is Primeval Thule. Even if you don't have an experienced GM and the system has piqued your interested I recommend checking it out! You can get a copy at your local FLGS or at DrivethruRPG!

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Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: Child of Nethuns.

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 VTT tokens!

The torch light revealed the large vaulted chamber as it slowly slid across the ancient stone. The chamber was buried deep in the mountains, part of an ancient fortress, or so the stories went. The trio of explorers, Dagen, Epas and Volmastes, entered through a small doorway set in the western wall, searching for gold and jewels. Light danced along the walls of this room amplified by the large natural pool of water that sat at its center. Slowly as the torchlight was cast across the room small objects near the pool became visible. Volmastes approached the pool and stooped to investigate and found small candles and bits of parchments. The water rippled as if by wind or a bubble being released far below. The torch, brought forward by the other two, did nothing to illuminate the depths of the inky pool.

Suddenly the trio was flung back from the pool as....SOMETHING...erupted from the depths. A mass of tentacles, large and small, studded with claws writhed in the air, pausing momentarily before striking at the awe stricken party. Living ropes of flesh and talons raked at the three adventurers, slicing and grabbing them, one slid around Volmastes and pulled him, struggling, towards the pool. Dagen drawing steel and striking with the skill of a Master of Iado, felt her blade sink in and through the large tentacle, freeing her friend. The remains of the tentacle fell heavily to the cold stone floor, dark ichor leaking everywhere. Epas turned towards Dagen in time to see what was left of the vanquished tentacle erupt into smaller versions of itself, it struck and slashed and wrapped around her with the fierce speed and strength of a jungle cat....

These creatures are never seen fully. Only their appendages that erupt from a body of water to attack and rend the flesh of adventurers. These creatures are often the result of dark magic and pacts between sorcerers and the forgotten gods of the deep, with especially strong links to the worship of Dagon.

They attacked from a fixed body of water, able to move freely within that water and look like a black/red group of triangular shaped tentacles with talons or teeth lining the underside. Smaller tentacles are sound with a similar claw at each end used to penetrate hard prey.

Although the beast is associated with Dagon, I chose to name it a child of Nethuns, a personal bastardization of the god, "Neptune". Players may get it with some thought if you even reveal the name, but it won't be an obvious reveal as to the origins and what the beast represents.

As always below you will find stats for 2d20 and D&D5e for both major and minor tentacles of this horrific beast.

Conan 2d20


D&D 5e

VTT TOKENS!



NOW WITH PAPERMINIS!


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