Today we delve deeper into the mechanic that make Conan tick. Conan uses Modiphius’ proprietary 2d20 system, which it shares with the upcoming Infinity and John Carter of Mars RPGs.
Let’s get started, shall we?
We’ll be using two types of dice for Conan: the twenty-sided die (d20) and a six-sided die (d6). D20’s are rolled most often to determine whether or not a skill test succeeds. Sometimes, a d20 is also rolled to determine hit locations, but we’ll get to that when we talk about combat. The d6 on the other hand is used to roll Combat Dice, which is usually for the purposes of determining damage and special effects.
This bit can be a little tricky, so I’ll cheat and show you the chart they use in the book to make it clearer:
When you are asked to roll Combat Dice (or as abbreviated in the game, a Phoenix Symbol) read the values according to the table. Results of 1 and 2 count as their respective number in terms of damage, while results of 3 and 4 are disregarded. 5 and 6 on the other hand count as 1 damage plus an Effect.
These Effects trigger other things related to the damage dealing weapon or spell or circumstance. Some weapons deal further damage, or cause the target to fall over, or be stunned. It’s a neat little system that opens up a huge amount of neat tactical choices and ways to make weapons interesting, but we’ll get to that when we tackle combat.
Now we go back to the d20’s. In Conan, when characters attempt to perform a task under duress, they roll a skill test. By default, they roll 2d20 and try to roll equal to or below a Target Number (TN) on each die to score a success. This TN is the sum of their Attribute and the Expertise rating of the Skill being tested.
Our Zamoran Thief Sadiya is attempting an Acrobatics Skill Test. Her TN would be the sum of her Agility Attribute (10) + her Expertise in Acrobatics (4), or 14. Assuming a Difficulty of 1 (D1) meaning, that we only need 1 success to pass the skill test, we roll 2d20 and try to get as low as possible. We get an 18 and a 5, scoring the one success we need to pass the test!
As mentioned in the example above, some tests are harder than others. While most tests are at an average Difficulty of 1, others may require 2 or even 3 or more successes!
But how are you supposed to score more than 2 successes on just 2d20? Turns out, there’s a lot of ways, but more on that later, because there’s one more thing about Skill Tests.
Remember how each of the skill ratings in the game are expressed in two values: Expertise and Focus? Expertise is used to determine the TN of a skill test. The Focus, on the other hand expresses which values allow for scoring 2 successes on a single die.
Going back to our example, if Sadiya’s roll had been an 18 and a 4, then the 4 would have been in her Acrobatics Skill’s Focus rating of 4 and she would have scored 2 successes instead.
Another thing to remember is that rolling a 20 is usually bad news. Rolling a 20 means that the test results in a Complication. This doesn’t mean that the test fails (that depends on the Difficulty and number of Successes generated,) only that the test has made life a little more interesting for the players. Maybe something breaks, or guards are alerted of the presence of the characters. What’s more, rolling multiple 20’s means multiple Complications, which could lead to some very interesting situations indeed!
Improving Your Odds
Now, given that there are some higher Difficulty rating in the game, 2d20 isn’t going to cut it, and relying merely on you Focus scores to carry the day is foolhardy. Thankfully the Conan RPG has multiple ways of adding more dice to your pool.
There’s a hard cap of being able to gain a maximum of 3 additional d20’s to your roll, making 5d20 the most that any one person should be able to bring to bear to a given task. You can gain these bonus dice by:
- Create Opportunity – By spending Momentum (a concept we’ll get to next,) a player can add dice at a 1 Momentum to 1d20 conversion rate. This of course assumes that the group has Momentum to spend.
- Adding to Doom – This particularly ominous sounding option is identical to spending Momentum, except that you don’t need a resource available. Instead, you add 1d20 to the GM’s Doom pool for each 1d20 you’d like to add to your roll.
- Spending Fortune – Characters begin the game with Fortune Points, which are a powerful resource. For each Fortune Point spent this way, the player gets a “Pre-rolled” d20 that is assumed to have come up with a result of 1, meaning an automatic 2 Successes! However, it is important to note that Fortune points must be spent before the rest of the dice are rolled.
- Expending Resources – Some items have a finite amount of resource available for use. Each use of a resource grants bonus d20s, but it’s important to remember that in many adventures, replenishing resources is often difficult if not impossible when in the midst of danger.
- Assistance and Teamwork – If player characters decide to work together on a single task, the character designated as leader is the only one who can spend to gain extra dice. However, all assistants roll their own skill tests, and add their successes to the total if the leader rolls and succeeds.
A lot of games these days already have something along the lines of Action Points. Conan has two types. Fortune Points are the first, which we’ve already covered. The second, is Momentum.
Momentum is generated by scoring successes beyond the Difficulty of a task. So if our sample character Sadiya were to roll two successes on a D1 task, then the extra success would then become Momentum.
Momentum is spent to achieve different effects, improved successes, gain useful bonuses or make future actions easier for themselves of their teammates. Momentum is neat in the sense that it is always spent when it is most advantageous to you. Unlike Fortune Points that require you to declare the spend before a roll, you can spend Momentum to boost damage after your damage roll.
You’re not obligated to spend all the Momentum you gain in a task. Instead you can actually bank unspent Momentum into a group pool, which can be added to or drawn from by any character in the group. This pool caps at six points of Momentum.
At the end of each scene, or each full round in an action scene, the shared Momentum pool decreases, with 1 point of Momentum disappearing, representing the cooling of tempers, the waning of enthusiasm, loss of energy or adrenaline beginning to ebb.
Momentum can be used for any number of interesting boosts that keep the session flowing at a brisk, pulpy pace. Things that players can use Momentum on include:
- Create Opportunity (Immediate, Repeatable) – Add an additional d20 to a future skill test, with each point of Momentum spent granting a single bonus d20.
- Create Obstacle (Immediate, Repeatable) – A character can choose to make things more difficult for a rival, adversary or opponent. This increases the Difficulty of a single skill test by one or more steps, by spending two Momentum for each increase in the test’s difficulty.
- Obtain Information (Repeatable) – Each point of Momentum spent can be used to ask the gamemaster a single question about the current situation, item, object, structure, creature or character present in the scene at hand. The GM must then answer truthfully, but is not obligated to give complete information.
- Improve Quality of Success (Often Repeatable) – Momentum allows a character to succeed stylishly and to immediately capitalize upon or follow up on a success.
- Increase Scope of Success (Often Repeatable) – With Momentum, a character can affect additional targets, increase the area affected by a successful task, or otherwise enlarge the extent of an accomplishment.
- Reduce Time Required – The GM reduces the amount of in-game time that a task requires to complete.
Needless to say Momentum is a powerful resource, and one that I expect will go up and down a lot during a game session.
It feels like a lot, but having had some practice with the system during my attempt to run the Quickstart Adventure, I can say that the 2d20 system is actually a lot faster in play than it is in theory. Next up in our series, we’ll take on the nuances of Action Scenes, and see if we can’t throw our sample character, Sadiya into some trouble.