An Introduction to Conan


I'm in the process of putting together some introductory material for my players to give them a feel for my upcoming (actually still quite a way away) Conan game.

Any feedback on this first part would be most appreciated.

Morality and Ethos

“For no one; no-one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. This, you can trust.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Conan, what is good in life?”

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.”

“This is good.”

. . . . . . . . . .

"What do you believe, Conan?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averted by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live, let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

. . . . . . . . . .

There are several themes running through the Conan stories, and Sword and Sorcery in general. In essence, they are about fast paced action and adventure, blood and gore, dark magic, lissom women, wine, riches and a stubborn – perhaps foolish – desire to prevail in the face of inexorable doom.

In Conan specifically, Civilisation is painted as unnatural and doomed to failure. Civilised lands will all ultimately fall into decadence and decay, before being overrun by savages and barbarians from one quarter or another. Civility, no matter how sincere, is never more than a thin veil hiding the beast within and, once revealed, a return to barbaric reality is assured. In this light, those cultures that remain civilised, and driven to improving the state of the world, and who have not yet fallen into this trap of decadence, are to be commended for their efforts, however futile they may ultimately be.

Thus, heroism in Conan is not about being good and upright. It is about striving to eke out something better, whether for oneself or others, for pay or for pleasure, in the face of adversity and despite that fact that whatever one gathers to oneself or creates, all is fleeting.

Similarly, honour in Conan is not the same thing that we see it as. Honour is earned from courage in combat and through displays of power that are not overtly selfish or spiteful. Keeping one’s word adds to mystique as much as it does honour, for honesty in a situation where guile will provide more rapid benefits will almost always be met with surprise. Despite this expectation for dishonesty and selfishness, though, wise men – be they barbarians or civilised – will realise that honesty does have its own rewards, as long as one can avoid being manipulated. The weakling who is honest will be used and despised; a powerful warrior who can be relied upon to do what he says, but who will wreak bloody vengeance if wronged, will have many doors open to him.

Survival of the fittest – or perhaps, more simply, survival – is the overriding concern for all in Hyboria. Still, death is inevitable, and there are few who honestly believe that there is anything to look forward to beyond their demise. This, of course, makes honesty and honour a far more fickle thing to achieve. In a world as dangerous as Hyboria, true selflessness will eventually (probably sooner, rather than later) require one’s life. Knowing when such risk is worthwhile, and when it is not, is something that each man must discover for himself. Perhaps what is most important is that when death does arrive, each person does what he can to ensure that he meets in a manner that he can be content with.

As has been alluded to already, everything in life, including that life itself, is fleeting. The only way then to avoid bitter disappointment and loss is to adopt an attitude where one does not become attached to either people or material things. Wealth, weapons, wine, women … for those who hunt them with sufficient ardour, they will come. But they will also go again. This is a key aspect of the Conan RPG that diverges from more traditional play. PCs will not acquire, build and keep an arsenal of money and items. One day, they may have the finest weapons, armour, horses and equipment in all the Hyborian kingdoms, commanding respect and awe. The next they may find themselves on the run with nothing but a hefty branch of oak and a tattered shirt, perhaps for no reason other than a mere quirk of fate. Someone with serious thoughts to the future needs to think beyond wealth – indeed, to expect to lose any they have. Instead, they need to think to their name and reputation, and to the people that perhaps will look upon them favourably for their past deeds.

Attachment to people is a more fickle and ambiguous thing than a love of wealth. As stated, keeping from growing too fond of friends and lovers is wise. Yet, affection is something that doesn’t tend to pay much heed to wisdom or logic. When true friendship or love grows then, two options become available. One – the smart one – is to end the relationship, through whatever means are necessary.

The other – the dangerous one – is to treat such a friendship or love as a thing of unsurpassed value. One way or another, things will almost certainly end in tragedy, whether by betrayal or death or simple bad luck. Yet, in all but the first case, those who have been there rarely seem to regret their decisions, and such relationships are the stuff of a purer heroism and a truer, if fleeting, happiness. In the former case, betrayal of a true friendship is perhaps the darkest of possible deeds. In this instance, single-minded, sanguinary vengeance is the likely result. Let the one who ponders committing such treachery beware.


Here's the next installment:

Monsters and the Supernatural

Human foes he did not fear, nor any death by steel or fire. But this was a black land of sorcery and nameless horror. Set the Old Serpent, men said, banished long ago from the Hyborian races, yet lurked in the shadows of the cryptic temples, and awful and mysterious were the deeds done in the nighted shrines.

. . . . . . . . . .

Monsters and supernatural entities tend to be rare and unique in Hyboria. Giant versions of animals, degenerate human tribes, and other things not so far removed from reality are relatively common, but there is nothing like typical fantasy races, or monster ecologies. True monsters tend to be unique, as found in things like Greek mythology (where there was but one Medusa, Minotaur or Pegasus).

True monsters and supernatural entities should be treated with fear and respect. Even Conan was not foolish enough to stand up to such a creature when unprepared. The PCs first instincts on encountering something truly monstrous should be to head for safety. Fighting such things should generally occur only the following circumstances:

1. When there is no other option.
2. When there has been an opportunity to prepare and plan for the encounter.
3. When it has been shown that the creature in question can potentially be defeated.

Even the bravest of men know that there is no shame in fleeing from the unnatural. Few other than dead men know first hand what happens when you do not.

Howard’s Hyboria is strongly influenced by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and has much the same tone in many respects. Although the ultimate futility of human ambition, as found in Lovecraft, isn’t as pronounced in Hyboria, players would do well to adopt a similar level of concern when facing the supernatural in Conan as they would in Call of Cthulhu.

Sorcery, dark cults and even some of the more benign seeming religions are also best treated as one would their equivalents within the rest of the Cthulhu mythos. Magic corrupts and is dangerous. Curses and hexes, both subtle and blatant, are to be feared. Magic items, even those that seem benign or useful, are generally no more than cunning lures designed to torment or destroy those that crave, steal or wield them.

All that said, the low magic nature of Hyboria should not give the impression that magic is incredibly rare. Magic, be it in the hands of sorcerers or the ignorant, or simply lying, waiting to be found, is far from uncommon. It is however, not a frivolous thing, employed in day to day life to perform mundane tasks or replace technology. It is instead an ancient, unknowable force; fickle, vitiating, powerful, eldritch and mysterious.

Adventures, Goals and Campaign Style

Fate has twisted your life in many different directions until now. Should today be any different? So long as there are places you haven't seen, treasures to plunder or steal, and women to visit, a season campaigning in the sun seems now the thing to do.

. . . . . . . . . .

This campaign will differ from a standard fantasy campaign in many respects. Several of these have already been covered, but it is worth emphasizing some points, and raising a few new ones.

First, let me stress again the ethos of “Easy come, easy go.” Acquiring treasure should be a frequent aim for the group, be it through wages, theft or honest exploration. If successfully acquired though, this treasure will not last. The rules themselves require that PCs squander their hard earn wealth on wine, women and a range of illicit pleasures. And since no adventurer can be sure that he will live to see tomorrow, what better use could there be for money anyway? Spending cash on more useful things is allowed, but players should always remember that a shiny new sword won’t keep them warm at night. It will, however, probably be sundered by an angry Corinthian mercenary the following day.

As hard as it may be to move away from an acquiring and hording mentality, players need to learn to take pride in and enjoy other things. The fact that they managed to even get the money in the first place and escape with their lives. Their growing power and abilities. Notoriety and influence. These are the things that matter in Conan.

The other big change from the norm will be the flow of the campaign. This game will not run as an ongoing series of closely linked adventures, each following directly from the former. There will be opportunities for over-arcing plots and ongoing stories, but adventures may be separated by days, weeks or months; potentially even years. Swords and Sorcery focuses on the action here and now. How a place or situation was arrived at is frequently less important than what happens once you’re there.

One effect of this ties in yet again with the fleeting nature of material things. Between now and last session, the group may have acquired much, or lost everything. (You may by now be beginning to understand something about trinkets, toys and trading goods … have I mentioned that they won’t last?)

These gaps in the campaign chronology serve several purposes. As just mentioned, one is to maintain the focus on the action. Politicking, training, caring for steeds, polishing armour … these things have their place, but will rarely be the focus. Action achieves goals. Better to try and fail then to talk about it until it doesn’t matter any more. To this end, the players should realise that a plan of action arrived at hastily but carried out with gusto will be viewed favourably, even if flawed. On the other hand, too much careful planning will see those plans become redundant, as circumstances change and, quite possibly, the action arrives to interrupt – probably in a rather painful fashion. Thoughtlessness and reckless abandon will not be rewarded, but a straightforward plan arrived at with a minimum of fuss will be.

Another function of large gaps in the story will be to enable the group to disperse from time to time. As has been strongly implied already, truly close-knit bonds are rare in the Conan setting. When a group of adventurers with the motivation and the ability to make something for and of themselves in the world come together, it is all but inevitable that there will be clashes of opinion and desire. To tie such a group together continually over many years would be impossible. Thus, the sessions can focus on those events where the PCs do indeed have reasons to work as a team. Then, after a while, individuals can go their separate ways once more.

Because of this, I will be willing to allow players to operate more than one character, if they so desire. In this case, however, I will expect a high level of effort to be placed into developing each PC that a player controls. One session walk-in cameos from two-dimensional characters will not be allowed just for the sake of trying out a new class or an obscure feat combination that happens to take a player’s fancy. It is also worth noting that sorcerers will be particularly rare as PCs. Hanging out with a new demonologist buddy every three sessions is not going to happen.

Players are encouraged to develop a range of strong motivations and goals for their character. Not necessarily things that directly influence their every decision, but overriding concerns and things they are aiming for long term. This is probably more important than quirks and personality traits, as those things tend to work themselves out in play anyway, without any great need to set them on paper. These motivations will not only influence the session plots and PC interactions, but I am hoping that players will take the time to consider what exactly it is that they are doing during their down time, apart from the party. This can include working towards their greater goals, or perhaps having experiences that change them. Gaps between adventures should form an opportunity for dynamic growth and change in the characters, where that is desired by the player. Over the course of each new meeting of the PCs, I would love to hear the characters telling each other the tales of their adventures in the interim.

All this being the case, there is less need to avoid conflicting ambitions and attitudes within the group than one would find in a conventional game. A character with a single-minded hatred of all that is Hyborian will probably not be acceptable in a group made up of Aquilonians, but a manageable range of antipathy and conflict is acceptable. Players should moderate any conflict their character is likely to cause by remembering that they will probably wish to have their character return for later adventurers. Keeping in mind the need to maintain an enjoyable game for all can’t hurt either. And don’t forget what was mention earlier about the betrayal of close friends and something regarding very bloody revenge.

Getting back to fleeting wealth (you didn’t really think I was done with that, did you?), it needs mentioning that tomorrow will probably present another opportunity to get rich quick. What that means is that sometimes, getting out of trouble with your life and most of your limbs intact will be reward enough. As often as not, that vast treasure just around the corner will turn out to be missing, or not what was expected, or guarded by Something That Should Not Be and You Don’t Want to Fight. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Learn to enjoy what you have. And anyway, wasn’t it fun trying? Betcha you spilled a good forty gallons of blood and impressed some chicks. Probably got to gut some vile sorcerer to boot. This is what life is about – can’t you hear those lamenting women?

So, specifically, what does one actually do in Conan? Here’s a summary:

• Rescue hot, semi-naked women
• Hear rumours of lost treasure and go seek it
• Discover ancient, forgotten cities full of crazy, inbred people who have accidentally summoned Something Nasty
• Hire on with armies when there’s nothing better on offer
• Start wars
• Finish wars
• Lose wars
• Flee blasphemous Elder beings
• Slay blasphemous Elder beings
• Steal stuff
• Show sorcerers why steel is more useful than magic
• Get arrested and thrown in jail
• Start bar brawls
• Finish bar brawls
• Lose bar brawls
• Get run out of town
• Drink a LOT of wine
• Free oppressed villagers from their cruel lords (usually only for cash up front)
• Take to the high seas and enjoy a spot of piracy
• Pillage coastal towns
• Suffer the ignominy of mutiny
• Wander through the jungle until something exciting happens
• Flee from your angry former employers
• Find out what a range of potent drugs do in various combinations
• Graciously accept the gratitude of hot, semi-naked women who have been rescued
• Usurp the throne whenever possible
• Leave a ruinous trail of your own and your enemies’ broken weapons and damaged armour across the land
• Seek revenge
• Make rare but evocative prayers to dispassionate gods
• Kill the occasional god
• Anger powerful snake cults
• Barely escape with your life
• Retrieve things for sorcerers and collectors with large disposable incomes
• Hire on with people who don’t actually want you to survive the mission


Wow Long post :!:
Looks like it should be a great game. I like the idea of giving the players the handout on Hyborian life. two of my guys haven't read REH so that might have been useful.
My group was playing a standard Greyhwak game and I found the constant money hording and the every annoying trip to the large town to sell all your enemies armour and weapons really annoying. When one of them dropped out I took the opportunity to switch over to Conan.
How you are describing it is exactly how I am trying to run it. Episodic. Sure loot the merchants house while your there, it doesnt matter cause i'll just give you what equipment I want to too suit the next adventure.
I'm also trying to encourage them to run the odd game so I can run a character myself. :D
Great to see another Melbonite embracing the Conan way and I look forward to hearing updates :D

p.s if your ever short a player..... :)



Re: Length -- yeah, I probably should have at least broken that second one up into a couple of posts. I didn't realise quite how long it was.

Since you've been kind enough to read and respond (and, given the rather intimidating length, I don't expect too many responses), I was wondering if I could have an opinion on something.

It occurs to me that my summary of things to do in Conan might be a little too light-hearted, and give the wrong impression. If the overall context provided in the earlier sections is evocative enough, that shouldn't be a problem; but if it isn't, I might need to alter something (either stress the darker aspects of the game moreso early on, or make the summary a little less whimsical).



Sure it reads a little whimsically but it probably depends on the way you convey it. Is that a list of things that you, as the DM, are telling your players that they can expect ..Or is it what the characters, just starting their adventuring careers full of excitement and the spirit of adventure are looking forward to being involved in?
I think there is definately a difference. On the first hand you might want to warn the players about the darker side of the game. Nastyness of the monster and magic, higher thatn normal D7D mortality rate, no coming back from the dead. that sort of thing. Maybe add "Barely escape with your life" in bold to the list a few more times :lol: maybe "and sometimes don't".
If its a list of what the characters are looking forward to in their adventuring career then it reads ok. Of course most characters wouldn't be setting off thinking they are going to be killing the occasional god but it fits in with a list that a bunch of over enthusiastic drunken youngest might boast to themselves over a tankard or two!
It's when they get out in the real world that they will discover that life in Hyboria is certainly no joke :twisted: