Conan random encounters

I was wondering how to make game sessions feel like a Conan adventure. I have covered some of the basic themes before but how does a session work with random encounters? Do you have to structure the adventure to the nth degree or do random encounters have a place? I don’t remember Conan wandering into 1d6 Orcs.

So I checked out the Conan stories and came up with this:

The Phoenix on the SwordAntagonistsPeople target Conan as King.
The Scarlet CitadelAntagonistsDestinationTargeted as king, trapped and escapes.
The Tower of the ElephantDestinationRob a wizards tower!
Black ColossusRandom encounter – personAntagonistsOffered lead of army by princess. Then has to defeat attackers.
The Slithering ShadowRandom encounter – placeDestinationTravelling lost through desert, find city of past civilisation.
The Pool of the Black OneRandom encounter – peopleDestinationEscapes onto ship. Ship goes looking for lost city. Not sure if place they find is the destination.
Rogues in the HouseScenarioDestinationJailed. Offered freedom in return for assassination.
Iron Shadows in the MoonRandom encounter – personRandom encounter – placeEscaping slaughter of army, meets princess. Heads north in boat and finds island. Temple on island. Pirate ship arrives.
Queen of the Black CoastRandom encounter – peopleDestinationEscapes onto ship. Taken over by pirates. Joins them. After pirating, goes to find ruin.
The Devil in IronAntagonistsDestinationConan is raiding border. Lure him to island to rescue princess. Ruins on island have become real as ancient sorcerer revived.
The People of the Black CircleAntagonistsDestinationConan is raiding border. Sneaks into leader’s room and kidnaps princess. Meets people.
A Witch Shall Be BornAntagonistsDestinationConan as captain of guard is turned on and crucified by witch. Seeks vengeance.
Jewels of GwahlurDestinationAntagonistsGoes to jungle searching for lost city to steal jewels.
Beyond the Black RiverAntagonistsDestinationKilling Picts, meets settler; go to village of Gwawela to kill sorcerer, try to stop major attack.
Shadows in ZamboulaDestinationRandom encounter – personRents trapped room in cheap inn, attacked by cannibals, meets mistress of prince, go to get antidote to prince’s potion together.
The Hour of the DragonAntagonistsDestinationConan is king, gets struck down by sorcerer, gets captured, escapes, meets witch, rescues countess, goes to find magic jewel, gets shanghaied, goes to Khemi, gets jewel, takes back kingdom.
Red NailsRandom encounter – placeConan follows Valeria into unknown forests, attacked by giant reptile, go to nearby unknown city,
Gods of the NorthRandom encounter – monsterSole survivor of battle, meets god’s daughter who tries to lure him to his death.
The God in the BowlScenarioRandom encounter – monsterConan caught in act of robbing temple, artifact has been sent with deadly monster in it.
The Black StrangerRandom encounter – placeRandom encounter – peopleAfter being captured, traded and escaping he goes to strange cave; finds noble on shore, gets involved.
The Vale of Lost WomenRandom encounter – personRandom encounter – placeMeets princess while on diplomatic negotiation between African tribes, says will rescue her, follows her into magical vale where she is being sacrificed to flying monster, wounds it and rescues her.

So what is that? I have tried to look at each story and describe what kind of adventure it is, along with a basic summary of the plot.

The adventure types by number are:

  • Destination – 13
  • Antagonists – 9
  • Random encounter – place 5
  • Random encounter – person – 4
  • Random encounter – people 3
  • Random encounter – monster 2
  • Scenario 2


Destination: Conan specifically tries to go somewhere. Sometimes the story starts off with Conan trying to go somewhere, but quite often something happens at the start that gives Conan a destination.

Antagonists: Someone or some group is specifically pitted against Conan.

Random encounter – place: Conan stumbles onto some strange place far from known lands.

Random encounter – person: Conan meets someone interesting and shenannigans ensue. Three times it’s a human princess, once a giantess princess (monster?) and once the mistress of a prince. He is constantly bumping into royalty.

Random encounter – people: A group of people enter into Conan’s life. Twice this is pirates and once it is people starting a new life in a new land (who then get attacked by pirates).

Random encounter – monster: He encounters a weird creature. It’s interesting that this doesn’t seem to happen to him very often. Mostly he interacts with other humans. This makes the monsters stranger when they appear.

Scenario: The final one: someone makes Conan an offer. This one is most like a published scenario. It could go into the Antogonist group potentially.

So how could we run our game to be more like this?


There are a couple of things we can do here. The first is having specific adventure locations created with hints dropped to them throughout the game. It could be the classic rumour tables or they could take other forms like strange treasure that a historian can evaluate or even maps or diaries.

The other is to know where your antagonists live. Have their home mapped out and ready to run.


For antagonists you can have factions in your campaign, and crucially, know how they interact with other factions in an antagonistic way. e.g. Picts raid, man-eaters kidnap and eat people.

Next, if your players get power, work out if any factions want to try and take it away from them.

Random encounter – person

Have encounter tables that have specific people on them. Not just any old person, but powerful people who need help, or will otherwise make things happen.

Random encounter – place

Have some places on your encounter tables. The rules Cyclopedia has an entry for castles where you randomly roll up a castle and its occupants if encountered. What interesting places are in your lands?

It could also be keyed places on your hex map. It seems that there would be more empty space on a Conan hex map than a normal D&D one.

Your players also have to be venturing into the unknown.

Random encounter – people

These are the classic groups of people appearing on monster tables – pirates, bandits, etc. They could be part of a faction as well.

Random encounter – monster

When these happen, make them strange. James Raggi talks about having monsters be unique. It doesn’t have to be like that necessarily, Conan is familiar with white apes when others don’t know about them, but they can be from far away.


If your PCs find themselves in a situation, don’t be afraid to think of something cool to happen to them. Maybe related to the factions who are around. Also, it’s great if your PCs are captured by their opponents sometimes. Give people reasons for not wanting to kill them right away.

So we have:

  1. Rumour tables of strange places and treasure.
  2. Factions who actively interact with other factions.
  3. Faction bases.
  4. Factions who want something the PCs have.
  5. Powerful, or influential, people on the encounter tables who are out and about and have agendas.
  6. Strange locations on your hex map.
  7. Location encounters where you can roll up a location.
  8. Monsters are rare and mostly unique.

Christmas cracker monster

Here is a monster for you, courtesy my niece’s Christmas cracker:

Q: What do you get when you cross an octopus with a cow?

A: A farm animal that can milk itself.

I thought briefly about including some stats but the mind boggles. A black and white dappled octopus the size of a cow that squirts a cloud of milk at you as it escapes? A cow with tentacles for legs that climbs up the side of the barn and turns the same colour as the wood? Either way, roll initiative!

Gygax ’75 – week 2

Boy-o-boy, did I find this hard.

The challenge for this week is to draw a map.

That’s it. Too easy right? For extra credit you can make an encounter table.

So I bought Worldographer. It is not a smoothly running program. It is poorly documented and the user experience is a bit clunky. Rather than just creating the local area map I thought I needed to know where it was placed in the world, allowing me to build out later on and give clues about surrounding cultures. So instead of just creating a simple map I created the world first.

Basic D&D uses three scales; 72 miles per hex, 24 miles and 8 miles. How big is the Earth? The first place I looked gave me the distance from north to south pole as 8595 miles. I created this map, then tried to add the equator and the northern tropic. I just couldn’t get it to look right though, there wasn’t enough space above the northern tropic.

I then looked up the circumference which is 24900 miles, giving 346 hexes from left to right across the map. 173 from top to bottom. For the icosahedral projection this means using 68 as the number of triangles. Finally I created a world…that I didn’t like. I then generated world after world after world until I had one I liked.

Next came the equator, the two tropics and the two polar circles. These lie at:

  • North polar circle – hex row 21.5
  • North tropic – hex row 59.5
  • Equator – hex row 80.5
  • South tropic – hex row 101.5
  • South polar circle – hex row 139.5

Then to work out where to place my kingdom I looked up some cities:

  • London (51 degrees north) – row 39
  • Rome (41 degrees north) – row 49
  • Jerusalem (31 degrees north) – row 59

This gave me an idea of the kind of climate an area would have.

Now to create my actual map it needed to be about 1 mile per hex, much smaller than the 8 miles per hex I used as the smallest Worldographer map. So I fired up Worldographer again and created a basic hex map of a reasonable size (31 columns, 39 rows). I then translated the terrain from the chosen area of my map into that one. Voila!

Maybe not inspiring, but it’s done.

There is a great post on Ode to Black Dougal about stocking wilderness hexes. He suggests using the dungeon stocking table. So I busted out an Open Document Calc spreadsheet and randomly stocked the hexes (=RANDBETWEEN(1;6)). I then did a find and replace. I then moved a bunch of trap results to match the river, which I think is a big barrier to movement, and now I can stock it if I like.

Then I created the encounter tables.

In the rules cyclopedia the tables are nested. i.e. Role on terrain to get encounter type, then go to the encounter type table (maybe for that terrain again) and role again to get the encounter. I tried to do that initially but it was taking way too long. I ended up just cherry picking encounters I liked and making one long list. I have ‘NPC’ at one end. I think I will have all NPCs on one spreadsheet, each to one line, then I can randomly choose between them. I like the chance that they will bump into someone they know. The last item is ‘Next nearest terrain’ to simulate creatures travelling outside their usual area.

To choose randomly from a list in Open Office Calc you can use =INDEX(Encounters.H3:H34;RANDBETWEEN(1;ROWS(H3:H34))). To refresh the cell press CTRL+SHIFT+F9.

And that is it. It took me ages and I over-complicated it for myself. Let’s see if I can stay more focused next week.

Gygax ’75 – week 1

Task #1 – get/create a notebook

Digital folder created. I will be using Open Office Calc, Writer, Gimp and other software.

Task #2 – develop your pitch

  1. Conan inspired, swords and sorcery roleplaying.
  2. Sorcerors practicing dark and otherwordly magics.
  3. Far off realms of mysticism and strangeness.
  4. Remnants of races and empires, gone and now forgotten.
  5. Raids and battles between kingdoms fighting for power.

Task #3 – gather your sources of inspiration

He suggests keeping this to yourself.

Task #4 – assemble a mood board

A few more traits of Conan stories

Mass battles

Battles are a staple of Conan stories. Sometimes they are in the background and sometime they form a focal point of the story. He also spends a lot of time as a mercenary.

To do this I will have to:

  • have mass combat rules easily available,
  • know what military forces places can field,
  • have mercenary companies detailed,
  • work out adventures players can have as mercenaries and
  • have warring states, border wars and ambitious people bent on conquest.

Entire evil countries

Countries in Conan stories can be described at a stroke. Some countries are mysterious and strange. Stygia is known as a dangerous, evil land with strange customs, where you do not want to go.

There will have to be a country that everyone knows about and has an awful reputation. All sorts of strange things will go on there. The nation will be heard about through its agents or through items which have made their way to more civilised lands.

Getting knocked out

Bam! You are knocked out. You come to and…

I will have rules so that players can be knocked out (1hp maybe?) Enemies will use clubs. Lots of enemies will have reasons for keeping a character alive such as:

  1. To eat later.
  2. For ransom.
  3. As slaves.
  4. To use as gladiators.
  5. To feed to pet monster.
  6. To sacrifice to their god.
  7. To sacrifice to whatever strong monster lords it over them. e.g. King Kong.
  8. For information.
  9. To lead them to the player’s home.
  10. To trade for prisoners.
  11. Give as tribute to a higher power.
  12. To teach them something (magic, tactics, swordplay, etc).

Big architecture

Conan’s adventures quote often take place in forgotten cities or large temple, cave or dungeon complexes. I will provide large ruined complexes and find a way to direct the players to the interesting bits.

How I am going to create a swords & sorcery world in play

Ok. I want to create a Conan style world, how exactly am I going to do that? Let’s see.

The Cthulhu mythos is part of the world

There will be a Cthulhu style pantheon that will get referenced occasionally. Some bad guys will worship them and cursed treasures will hint at it.
I will also use D&D’s alignment system as follows:

Lawful. Every human being and every intelligent race is lawful. If you are a thinking, feeling human being you are lawful. Even if you are an absolute crackpot. You are organised and put your order onto other things.

Neutral. Nature is neutral. All wild animals are neutral. Your life is about survival. Druids are neutral and will be living almost like animals. They will be NPCs. The domesticated pets of humans are lawful though – cats and dogs.

Chaotic. This is from outside of society and nature. Chaos exists in other dimensions and strange places. Chaotic things are not supposed to be on this world. Humans can only be chaotic if they have been taken over by Chaos. No PCs!

The cultures are from a time earlier than the middle ages

When getting inspiration for cultures to put into my game, I won’t use standard medieval Europe generally. I will try harder to get more unknown and older cultures. I will also do a technology timeline and pull it back to an earlier period. There are lists of cultures online that you can draw on.

Unknown history

I will create an overview of my world and create a broad history of its peoples and empires. Civilisations will have risen and fallen numerous times before the current age. I think I will use Ages to describe them. Remnants of these cultures will be found. The players can find out about these cultures through play. I will create tables to generate ruins and artifacts from them. Some magic items will only be from a particular culture. This is similar to what R.E. Howard did with The Hyborian Age.


The past civilisations will have been both above and below the current age, technologically. Some ruins the players find will have unknown magic, beyond what is currently possible. Likewise, some existing cultures will be the degenerated offspring of a once great culture, and will be living in its ruins without understanding what they possess.

City states / Points of Light

I will make each country consist of only a few, loosley aligned cities. Each city will be spaced out to have wilderness between them, except in the most populous countries.

Varied locations

I think I might have a rule, where if the party has been to a city in a civilised land, then they can start the next session in that city, as long as they tell me they intend to do that in the session before.

Easy come, easy go

Their equipment is fair game. Item saving throws will be in full effect. It will get destroyed by rust and battle. Shields shall be splintered. I think each 1 rolled on an attack role will cause the weapon to break. I like the idea of people having backup weapons and scrounging weapons on the battlefield. On a 20 their armour will be taken down a point until it protects no more. So they trust me with this I will make sure there are always more armour and weapons to be had. Hopefully this way, finding a cache of normal weapons and armour will never stop being exciting for a fighter.

Conan is exceptional

The characters from these stories are better than the average man. So the players will be rolling 4d6, drop the lowest. They will still roll down the line though. I like the variety this creates in PCs; strong magic users, charismatic fighters, etc.

Unique monsters

There are so many monsters out there that there is no real reason to keep reusing them. To meet a monster the players will have to be on an adventure and in an out-of-the-way place. Normal people won’t meet them.

Humans are main race

If a human will do, I will use a human. Humans will also have national characteristics to give flavour to the countries. e.g. Bossonian archers will have +1 with the longbow, etc.

Live by the sword

If someone holds power, it is because they have the power to do so, or have been given it by someone who does. Regular people will follow others who exhibit strength enough to protect them. You can take power if you are strong enough. The factions in charge will be more like gangs. Groups of people gathered together for strength. There is only the law of whoever is in charge and it will be enforced directly by people in their employ.

Magic is rare and strange

A magic user can only memorise one of each spell at a time. Spells will not generally be flashy. They will look like they could have been done by sleight-of-hand. Magic users will be rare.

The magic users who live in society will practice helpful magic that will be relatively weak in its effects. If the PCs get a hold of spell books from these magic users they will have many of the same spells in them and no attacking spells.

To get the more exotic spells, magic users will have to go on adventures. Spells will be treasure and will mark the magic user out as someone from outside society. If magic users use these spells in civilised places they will be shunned or attacked outright. These spells will have strange ways of memorising them. I will try to make ways to tempt the magic user to behave in a chaotic way. e.g. By sacrificing people to make spells stronger, or letting them risk a negative outcome. How far can I entice them to go? A PC magic user should be nothing like a civilised magic user.

Wisdom from The Sorcerer’s Skull

Over at The Sorcerer’s Skull, Trey posted about the elements of Bronze Age fantasy comics. It reminded me of some other characteristics of Conan stories.

City states is otherwise known as Points of Light. There are points of civilization with barely known wilderness in between.

The cultures are from a time earlier than the middle ages. They more resemble ancient cultures like Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, etc.

The Cthulhu mythos is part of the world. H. P. Lovecraft wrote to R.E.H. and other writers and encouraged them to use the mythos in their fantasy writings. By having a shared mythos it gave an air of realism to their stories. It also adds the air of human insignificance and of things beyond our understanding.