In a wonderful coincidence I found this post on Blood of Prokopius which led me to the Gygax ’75 challenge by Ray Otus. He puts some structure around a guide to campaign design provided by Gary Gygax in 1975. I will be working through the steps and posting most of the results each fortnight.
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:
To eat later.
To use as gladiators.
To feed to pet monster.
To sacrifice to their god.
To sacrifice to whatever strong monster lords it over them. e.g. King Kong.
To lead them to the player’s home.
To trade for prisoners.
Give as tribute to a higher power.
To teach them something (magic, tactics, swordplay, etc).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unknown history The world has a long history. Most of it is unknown to the people alive today. Whole races and peoples have prospered and disappeared before the present day. There are ruins and mysteries from past times to be found.
Evolution/devolution Intelligent races have come and gone through the past. There have been races who were better than modern day humans. Likewise, races have regressed from once great heights.
City states There are vast, unexplored or unsettled areas. Communication and knowledge of other parts of the world is patchy or unknown. Where people settle they band together with others of their culture and hold it as best they can. There are few central powers.
Varied locations Conan travels from place to place, exploring the known world and unseen lands.
Easy come, easy go Any benefits obtained are temporary. Wealth and belongings are held briefly, then lost. This goes for jewels, armour, weapons, friends and more.
Conan is exceptional He is stronger than any man. Quicker, faster and more durable. He stands out immediately as someone to be reckoned with. He triumphs where others would fail.
Unique monsters Monsters are very often seen once. Due to his travels he may have seen them more often but for the average person and encounter with a creature should be a rare and strange occurrence.
Humans are main race The known lands consist of humans and humans only. Any non-human races are few and far between.
Live by the sword This is before the time of police. Laws are simple and are only as good as the power enforcing them. The powerful exert force over those less powerful.
Magic is rare and strange It is rarely seen and not understood when it is. Magic users are feared.