[Let’s Study: Conan] Part 4 Combat

Posted: February 10, 2017 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Conan, Modiphius, Reviews, Roleplaying Games
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I don’t think it’s possible for us to run a Conan RPG without having at least a little combat in it. Okay, a lot of combat. But you get what I mean, right?

Anyway, now that we’re familiar with the rules, and we have a sample character let’s jump in with both feet on the combat rules for Conan.

It’s another long one so check out the whole article after the break:


Conan features a surprisingly streamlined initiative system. Players go first. Bad guys next. GMs may choose to Seize the Initiative however, by spending 1 Doom to be able to go before the players, but doing so tends to get expensive, and is reserved for special moments.

Distances, Movement and Zones

Conan prefers to use an abstract system of Zones to denote placement, much in the way of plenty of “Theater of the Mind” style games. However, implementing maps in the game is easy enough to do as well.

Distances are divided into the following range bands:

  • Reach – This is not quite a range as much as a state. A character within reach can interact with a particular object or character.
  • Close – Close Range counts as zero Zones away, and is the range where characters are often within Reach.
  • Medium – Medium Range is the zone adjacent to the one that the character is in. A character can use a Minor action to move to a point within Medium Range.
  • Long – Long Range is defines as an area two zones away from the one that the Character is in. A Standard Action is required to move to a point within long range. Also attacks made to targets at Long Range impose a +1 step Difficulty.
  • Extreme – Extreme range is any area beyond Long Range, and a character cannot move to a location in Extreme range in a single turn.

Movement and Terrain

The book then goes on to detail the various forms of Terrain Hazards and Features that could impose Difficulty penalties or reduce the distance travelled by the character. These range from murky swamps to rough terrain.

Alternative movement like Climbing, Jumping, Swimming and Flight are also given treatment here along with the rules on how to resolve tests of this sort, often in conjunction with the occasional damage-dealing Hazard that could trouble our heroes.

Of particular interest are Terrain features that provide Cover and Morale. Cover provides additional soak for physical damage, while Morale provides soak from Mental Damage. Examples of Morale Terrain would be a banner or flag where soldier could rally to, or perhaps a profane stone sculpture that cultists have sworn to protect with their lives!

Actions and Attacks

Each character in Conan can perform the following in a turn: one Standard Action, one Minor Action and a Free Action. Characters may opt to forfeit their Standard Action to perform an additional Minor Action, or give up their Minor Action for an additional Free Action. In addition, a character may only make a single Movement Action per turn.

The book gives a fairly comprehensive list of various actions that fall under each of these three categories, with the addition of a few more actions listed as a Reaction, a special type of action that takes place only when triggered by a particular condition.

Standard Actions are the meat and potatoes of the combat system seeing as how attacking counts as one, and Conan has several ways by which a character can make more than one Standard Action in a turn:

  • Spend Fortune – By spending a Fortune Point, a character may perform an additional Standard Action
  • Swift Action Momentum Spend – By spending 2 Momentum from a prior skill test (even one from a Reaction,) the character immediately gains a Standard Action. Skill tests with this Standard Action is at a +1 Difficulty.
  • Dual Wielding – when using the Swift Action Momentum Spend, if one of the character’s Standard Actions that round are different kinds of attack (Melee then Ranged) or uses two different tools (two different weapons) then the cost of the Momentum spend is reduced to 1
  • Talent or Ability – Some Talents and Abilities allow a character to perform additional Standard Actions without having to pay Fortune or Momentum.


Reactions are a special class of actions that can be taken in response to a triggering circumstance. The Reactions listed in the book are: Defend, Protect and Retaliate. Performing a reaction costs Doom, with the first reaction in each round costing 1 Doom, the next costing 2, and so on.

How to Hurt People

Resolving an attack is fairly simple in the Conan RPG the steps are as listed below:

  1. Attacker chooses what kind of attack they’ll make (Melee, Ranged, Threaten) and nominated a single target within range.
  2. If the Defender is aware of the attack, they may opt to perform the Defend Reaction.
  3. The Attacker then makes a skill test with the skill determined by the attack. This is a Difficulty 1 test unless the Defender chooses to Defend, in which case it becomes a contested roll, and the Defender gets to make a skill test with the corresponding skill to avoid the attack. If the Attacker rolls higher, then the attack goes through. If the Defender wins, then the attack misses.
  4. If the Attack hits then the Attacker Resolves damage.

It’s an easy enough process and one that players will pick up on after a few rounds. This is essential because given the tactical options in the combat rules I’ve seen so far, experienced players who have a head for these things can string things into spectacular feats of bloody murder with a little luck, and plenty of Momentum.

Attack Types

As mentioned above, there are three types of attacks:

  • Melee attacks are resolved with a Melee skill, and directed at a single enemy within Reach. It inflicts physical damage, and the Defender uses the Parry skill to try to Defend against it.
  • Ranged attacks are resolved with the Ranged Attack skill, and is directed at a single enemy within line of sight. It inflicts physical damage and the Defender uses the Acrobatics skill to try to Defend against it. Furthermore, attacks against targets who are not within the Optimal Range of the weapon being used will have a +1 difficulty increase for each range band away.
  • Threaten attacks made by performing a Display and the Persuade skill, and is directed at an enemy (or enemies) within line of sight. It inflicts mental damage and is resisted by the Discipline skill. It is also subject to the Ranged Attack’s penalties for sub-optimal ranges.

Action Scene Momentum Spends

Momentum shines in combat, as there’s an entire menu of options for using Momentum in combat. These range from making called shots (great for avoiding heavily-armored hit locations,) to buying extra Standard Actions, or causing an attack to carry through to a secondary target within Reach!

Dealing Damage

Damage is calculated easily with the Bonus Damage from your character’s Attributes added to the Damage Rating of the weapon being used to harm your target. Once you’ve determined the total, roll a number of Combat Dice to find out just how much damage you deal, and if you have any Effects that trigger Weapon qualities from this attack.

Stress and Harm

Damage is tracked a little differently in Conan than in most other games. Rather than having a single HP track, Conan has two: Stress and Harm. Normally, damage dealt towards a target inflict Stress damage. However, if a character takes 5 Stress in one instance, or has no more Stress left, the damage becomes Harm.

Stress and Harm are types, but the actual terms change depending on the nature of the damage received. Physical damage tracks Stress as Vigor, and Harm as Wounds. While mental damage tracks Stress as Resolve and Harm as Trauma.

Stress type damage recovers completely after a short rest after an Action Scene resolves. Wounds however, do not. Instead, Wounds need to be treated by the character, or someone else with corresponding skill tests.

This is important as every Harm that a character takes inflicts a +1 Difficulty increase in related attributes. For example, Wounds apply Difficulty increases to Agility, Brawn and Coordination. Furthermore taking 4 Wounds means that the character is helpless and cannot move, and 5 Wounds will kill a character.

Hit Locations

Another fun (if fiddly) part of Conan’s combat system is the Hit Locations. On each successful physical attack, the attacker rolls 1d20 and consults a table to determine where the attack hits. This is of particular interest because armor in Conan covers only specific locations, and if you’d like to get the most coverage, you’ll need to start layering armor pieces to get the most protection.

One interesting rule in the armor is that once per scene, a character cancel a Wound by sacrificing the armor soak of the location struck, or their shield, if it is being used.

Reach and Guard

Two other concepts that come into play in Conan are Reach and Guard. All melee weapons in Conan have a Reach value, which is usually indicative of their length and effective fighting distance.

Guard on the other hand, is a state that reflects combat footing. All characters in combat are assumed to be on active Guard unless something happens to them such as an ambush or some other nasty surprise that takes their Guard away.

How these two states work is that if an attacking character is going up against a defender whose weapon has greater Reach, then the attack roll has it’s difficulty increased by the difference of their weapon’s Reach values.

For example:
If Sadiya, armed with a dagger (Reach 1) was to attack a temple guardsman who had Guard and armed with a spear (reach 3) then the difficulty of her attack would jump up 2 steps from D1 to D3 as he tries to hold her at bay with his weapon’s superior reach.

However, if the Temple Guardsman were to somehow lose his Guard state, then the opposite applies, as the attacker now gets a bonus d20 for every step of Reach less than the defender. This means that Sadiya would be attacking with 4d20 without needing to spend Momentum!

I like that this implies that switching weapons intelligently in the middle of a fight depending on circumstance is rewarded.

Mounted Combat

Rules and details on how mounts and mounted combat are also given coverage here, allowing for possibilities of mounted horsebowmen and charging down opponents with lances.

Needless to say Conan’s combat chapter is about as extensive as character creation. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone but the wealth of tactical options while retaining plenty of opportunities to pull off cinematic stunts and memorable moments make it one of the better combat systems I’ve seen.

I find myself particularly impressed with the Reach and Guard mechanics, and I found them particularly novel at highlighting the different advantages of having different weapons. This way going up against a warrior carrying a hatchet will need a different approach from one with a spear.

Next up we’ll try to put together a sample combat scenario and see how it all comes together! Will Sadiya survive her first ever run-in with danger?

If you’d like to follow along with this series, The Conan RPG is now available for purchase in PDF format from DriveThruRPG for $24.99


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