[Let’s Study: Conan] Part 7: GM Chapters and Review

Posted: February 16, 2017 by pointyman2000 in Conan, Let's Study, Modiphius, Reviews, Roleplaying Games
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Today we’re tackling the last parts of the Conan book, with a quick glance at the remaining chapters!

The Hyborean World

This is the dense setting chapter that talks about the world that Conan inhabits. Remember when I said way back at the start of this series that the RPG book is probably the most extensive treatment of Robert E. Howard’s worldbuilding? Well, that shines through in this chapter.

Each of the regions in The Hyborean World is given exhaustive treatment, with a discussion of geography, cultures, the people, customs and conflicts of each. Needless to say each of these is also filled to the brim with plot hooks and adventure ideas that could launch a ton of campaigns. GMs can zoom in and have a solid series of adventures around a given region like Aquilonia, for example, or do the Conan thing and go whole hog on a travelling campaign where the characters find themselves in new and exotic locales in every adventure.

Gamemastering

This chapter is where the book breaks character to address the GM directly. In it, they relay the tasks and duties of a GM, and try to convey as many tips and tricks as possible to emulate the pulse-pounding thrills and chills of Conan’s pulp adventures.

In addition, there is also a long section talking about Momentum and Doom, and how to best use these resources to manage pacing and tension in a game.

Perhaps the most interesting section in this chapter is what happens between adventures. Whenever the characters aren’t off slaying creatures and escaping mummified sorceror-kings, they’re busy living their lives. This is tackled with mechanics for Upkeep and Carousing. This isn’t just simple task of wine and wenches, but an opportunity to engage in traditionally downtime activities like meeting with a patron, engaging in trade or gambling. These then become a source of adventure seeds and misadventures, giving the players a sense of the passage of time while engaging in (mostly) non-sword swingy pursuits.

Vultures of Shem

This is the introductory adventure found in the Conan RPG. It’s a brisk adventure that kicks off in a very pulp-y fashion, but to avoid spoilers I’ll refrain from talking about it in much detail. Needless to say, it starts with quite an opening, and depending on the decisions that the characters take they’ll run into all sorts of interesting (and despicable) characters, and have more than a few run-ins with the supernatural. It’s very appropriate given the source material and a great way to re-orient players away from the habits and expectations of other Fantasy games.

Heroes of the Age

This is the Kickstarter Backer character chapter, and they present a wide range of interesting characters that can be tossed into any Conan campaign. While whether or not they’re good is largely a matter of taste, many of them are pretty interesting, and I can spot a few that would make for interesting encounters in my campaigns. (If you’re the kickstarter backer who wrote up Hast, well done!)

Review

Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of set off to become the definitive Conan RPG. While many have tried before them, Modiphius has managed to pull off this claim, coming up with a game that contains what could be best described as the very essence of Conan’s adventures.

Art & Layout

The artwork in the book is phenomenal, and well used, each one conveying the manic vibrance and urgency of Conan’s pulp adventures. While there was still a few instances of a naked lady being sacrificed in an altar, most of the other artwork showed sensibly-dressed women in situations of empowerment and adventure.

The layout is crisp and clean, and made reading the book a lot more pleasant. Callout boxes with and tables were used with consistency and an eye towards clarity, and even with the textured printer-unfriendly version, the background didn’t interfere with the ability to clearly read the text.

As a PDF product, the entire thing was bookmarked and searchable and quite snappy on my laptop (though perhaps a little less so on my mobile phone.)

System

Modiphius’ 2d20 House System feels like a perfect fit for Conan’s adventures, and the genius of the Momentum and Doom mechanics lie in their ability to affect the mood of the game and amplify tension.

Combat is crunchy, but every rule exists to support the fiction. Conan isn’t a place where combat is heroic. It’s visceral, practical and fraught with danger. Even if the player characters are meant to be exceptional individuals, there’s never a sense of an encounter being a cakewalk since the GM is always waiting in the wings with Doom in hand.

Conclusion

Would I recommend Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of to others? By all means, yes. If you’ve never played a different kind of Fantasy RPG, then you owe yourself to try this game.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Conan in any iteration, from the movies, the cartoon, the videogames or the stories then you owe yourself to try this game.

I’ve always had a strong preference for games whose rules are structured to promote a given feel and mood while simulating the “physics” of the fiction. The Conan RPG does this in a stellar fashion, with a crunchy set of mechanics that emulate the world of savage adventure inhabited by Conan in a way that I imagine will be very, very difficult to outdo.

The Conan RPG is now available for purchase in PDF format from DriveThruRPG for $24.99

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Comments
  1. bwgustaf says:

    So I was considering a hyborian homage in my own game. How useful is this going to be if I don’t use the combat system presented in the rules?

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