[CONAN] GM's Closet


The Eastern Lands

But, what is east? East of Shem and Stygia? East, I know — and my knowledge comes from experience rather than the tittle-tattle of adventurers.

East of the Hyborian kingdoms and their southern neighbors lay the Hyrkanian empire of Turan. It sits athwart the azure waters of the Vilayet Sea, that vast inland ocean that serves as a natural buffer between the Hyborians to the west and the Hyrkanians who drifted out of the blue and mysterious East. The Hyrkanians of Turan and their steppe-dwelling kin are generally accounted a tall folk, slender and dark. They are a horse people, and they place a greater value on their steeds than they do on their fellow man.

Indeed, in the slave markets at Aghrapur — where the palace of King Yildiz gleams like a jewel beneath the harsh sun — children of the conquered western marches can be purchased for three small coins, while a warrior may save a lifetime’s worth of plunder and still not be able to afford a single mighty Bhalkhana stallion, so renowned and sought
after is the breed.

The expansionist policies of indolent King Yildiz, coupled with the commonplace brutality of his nobles, has given rise to a nomadic nation of vengeful and broken men: the kozaki — the wastrels of the steppe; they seek redress through brigandage, much like the Red Brotherhood of the Vilayet seeks remuneration via piracy on the inland sea. If an enterprising freebooter were to weld the two together...alas, such an act is a mere fever dream of the Western mind, for the ingrained apathy of the East is too formidable an obstacle for any man to overcome.

East of the Vilayet Sea is an ocean of another kind: a great sea of grass that extends from horizon to horizon in unbroken monotony: the Hyrkanian steppe. It is featureless, as uniform as the surface of the ocean, and it is home to clans of steppe dwellers who have taken proficiency with the horse and the bow, to unheard-of extremes. Most are indistinguishable from their Turanian kin, though there is a strain of steppe dweller who is squat and bowlegged, with the almond-shaped eyes of Khitai.

Beyond the Vilayet Sea

South of the Vilayet the desert gives way to a mountainous frontier that serves as a bastion between Turan and their southern neighbor, Vendhya — a frontier that is equal parts bulwark and battleground. Here, in the shadow of the mighty Himelians, a deadly game is waged in the shadows, as spies from Turan strive against those from Vendhya, the ultimate prize being the Zhaibar Pass — that narrow defile through the high heart of the Himelians that was the doorway to conquest. But, would the conquerors ride south from Turan to bring torch and sword to Peshkhauri and thence into the fertile vale of the Jhumda River that was in the heart of Vendhya? Or would the riders of the South surge up through the Pass to take the Gurashah Valley and Secunderam before lancing into the heart of Turan?

I have talked with a prince of Iranistan, which is in the foothills of the mountains, regarding the issue of the Zhaibar Pass. We sat on carpets of the richest silk, beneath a goldchased fan of ostrich feathers, and sipped sherbets cooled with ice from the crags of the Himelians; outside, the night sweltered. From this worthy fellow, I learned of the tribes of the region, who he counted among his cousins — the Afghulis and Waziris, the Zhaibari and the Irakzai, the Dagozai and the Galzai, and a dozen more besides. Wolves, he called them. Masterless men who loved fighting more than King Yildiz of Turan loved gold.

This prince served as my guide south, and in his company I journeyed up the Pass and into Afghulistan, northwest of Peshkhauri. It is a region of windswept ridges and sharp defiles, of precipitous heights and mud-walled villages rising above dry riverbeds. Ghor is foremost among the rough towns of Afghulistan, and there we received a warm welcome. The Afghulis were typical of the folk of the Himelians: tall, hairy men hacked down to whalebone and knotted gristle by the merciless elements, utterly fearless, bold-eyed women who were as ferocious as she-wolves. I could see even from my limited sojourn in their company that my Iranistani host spoke true: the tribes were the key to conquering the Himelians, but refused to be lorded over.

I say that the folk of Afghulistan are utterly fearless, but that is not precisely so. Only once did I witness them reduced to mere children, unmanned and nigh weeping with terror. The occasion was a chance remark I made about a distant snowswept crag that boasted what I took to be a lordling’s castle. It was a grim-looking peak, called Yimsha in their rude tongue. My Iranistani prince blanched, and the wolves of Ghor averted their faces and made signs to ward off the evil eye. Only later did I learn that Yimsha was the abode of sorcerers, faceless magi whose powers rivaled even that of the fell-handed Stygians.

South, into Peshkauri, we took the long and winding road that leads into the heart of sweltering Vendhya. It is a land of humid fertility: mangroves and rainforests not unlike the jungles of the Black Kingdoms, far to the west. The ruling Kshatriyas are not unlike their northern neighbors, the Hyrkanians. They, too, are tall and dark, slender as reeds but harder than steel; they treat their royalty like gods come to earth, cloaked in pomp and ritual nigh impenetrable to the outsider.

As with Stygia, castes prevail: from the Untouchables who are lower than slaves, to the merchants and tradesmen who build their cities and populate their bazaars, to the warriors who defend it with steel and honor. Here, Asura holds sway — the same Asura whose name is cursed as belonging to a devil in my far Nemedian homeland. But not in Vendhya. In Vendhya, what is vile in the West is treated with reverence, and so forth.

The capital of Vendhya is Ayodhya, a city of ivory minarets and bulbous domes that rise above swaying palms; it sits on a plain where the hot breath of the south meets cold drafts from the north, and the result is a moist and humid city where rains can fall for a fortnight and more.

Here my journey ended, but from learned wazams in souks that smelled of oranges and incense, I learned of the distant East, of fabled Khitai. There, purple-towered Paikang — abode of sorcerers — rose from jungles of tangled bamboo. An ancient, yellow-skinned race dwelled among the ruins of temples, where elephant-headed gods are revered. I know that I must make the journey to that distant land, but I fear my bones grow too brittle. The world is too wide and too varied for mortal man to see its breadth in but a single lifetime. Would that I had the gift of immortality...

The Hyborian Age may seem familiar to modern readers because it is based in part on real-world historical eras and cultures. As a writer, Robert E. Howard wanted to evoke the feeling of history yet did not want to be confined by it. As an avid reader, Howard was familiar with both popular and obscure theories of continental drift, recurring cultural patterns, lost worlds, and the notion that much of the historical record has been irretrievably lost. Thus he created his Hyborian Age, guided by history but not enslaved to it, using ancient era and medieval cultures as the models for the countries and Peoples of the Hyborian world, tying the world thematically to our own but allowing for new and original interpretations of these elements. His use of names was a type of shorthand, evoking the familiar, yet presenting them in new context, Suggesting a world buried under layer upon layer of cultural, environmental, and geologic change.

Here’s a quick overview of the Hyborian Age cultures and their real-world equivalents, grouped thematically:

AQUILONIA: Medieval France
ARGOS: Merchant-ruled Italy
ASGARD AND VANAHEIM (NORDHEIM): Viking-age Denmark or Norway

BARACHAN ISLES: The Caribbean Islands, particularly Tortuga
BORDER KINGDOM: Baltic countries such as Estonia or Latvia
BOSSONIAN MARCHES: Medieval Wales and/or Scotland
BRYTHUNIA: Medieval Germany, Poland, or Lithuania

CIMMERIA: Gaelic Ireland and Scotland
CORINTHIA: Medieval Greece

DARFAR, KESHAN, KUSH, PUNT, ZEMBABWEI, AND THE BLACK KINGDOMS: Ancient African kingdoms such as Darfur, Nubia, Kush, Somaliland, Zimbabwe, and others

HYPERBOREA: Medieval Rus (Russia), particularly Novgorod
HYRKANIA: A cross between Mongolia and Scythia

IRANISTAN: Caliphate Iran

KHAURAN: Medieval Syria
KHITAI: Feudal-era China
KHORAJA: Constantinople or the land known as Outremer
KOTH: The Byzantine Empire

NEMEDIA: The Germanic Holy Roman Empire

OPHIR: Medieval Sicily or Malta

PICTISH WILDERNESS: A combination of Scotland and Native American North America

SHEM: The west is the Iron Age Levant (Canaan) and Assyria, and the east is Arabian
STYGIA: Ancient Egypt

TURAN: Seljuk Turkey

VENDHYA: Mughal India

ZAMORA: Persia, especially Baghdad
ZINGARA: Reconquista-era Spain

NON-EXACT CORRELATIONS: However, these are not exact correlations. Despite their apparent similarities, these countries remain uniquely Hyborian, so players should not assume anything based on real-world knowledge, and the gamemaster is encouraged to customize and describe the Hyborian Age as desired.


What do the civilized folks know of the frozen lands to the north? Our ways are strange and fickle to you, I am certain. Listen well, for my counsel may be all that keeps you alive.

Æsir by birth, I have traveled farther than most of my sword-brothers have dreamt, gripped with wanderjahr, a restlessness of spirit that can only be sated by wandering. I have seen more of the North than any. Do not let this scar ‘cross my brow concern you. I am no addle-wit or simpleton, and what I will tell you is as true as it is forthright.

Ours is a world where glory is won by sword and axe, a place where mighty deeds might yield gold aplenty, but mostly the greatest treasure, honor. From the brooding gray hills of Cimmeria, to the ever-warring Æesir and Vanir of Nordheim, to the mysterious lands of Hyperborea, this place remains trackless, deadly, and can be tamed only by the stoutest of hearts... if it can be called tamed at all.

Old Gorm of Asgard

After a brush with the ethereal in the form of Atali, daughter of Ymir the Frost Giant, the Æesir warrior Gorm embarked on a journey throughout the lands of the North, encountering much of the world, whether natural or unnatural. A seasoned warrior, Gorm encountered Astreas when the Nemedian scribe journeyed to Velitrium, and told him much of the ways of his people and their neighbors. If encountered, Gorm will likely be in the lands of the North, perhaps accompanying an Æesir raiding party, visiting Cimmeria, or even enjoying a cup of ale beside a fire at some hall in the Bossonian Marches.

The Barbaric Triumph

Many are drawn to the north for reasons of their own, but in these lonely mountains and icy plains there are some simple truths that speak to the hearts of all, no matter their home, whether that origin be in the decadent South, the savage East, or the even one of the northern lands. Our harsh clime shapes thoughts along certain lines, gives inevitable rise to certain stark motives — commonly shared — so that no matter how different in semblance one person is from another, oft they are driven by the same purpose.

Outlanders will find much that is strange to them, yet much that is familiar. The best custom is to shed the veils of city life and the choking confines of civilization and live life as true folk do: with boldness and bravery. Northerners do not mince words or speak without purpose, and savagery always looms. The inhospitable cold forces us into rugged lives, and we do not waste time on idleness.

But life is a glorious gift, and there is much to do while alive, before we arrive in icy Valhalla.

The Eternal Struggle

The greatest battle is that between civilization and savagery, writ in nature as well as within the hearts of mortals and
gods alike. This is the struggle between order, the lines and rows that men put things in, and the wild disorder of nature.

Time and again history has shown that savagery is the true state of the world, with kingdoms rising and then ground into dust under the sandaled feet of conquering barbarians, or torn down by the forces of tide and the unquiet earth. The continent is strewn with the ruins of ancient civilizations whose kings and vassals thought they would last forever, but now all their castles and roads are broken stones and scattered trinkets, even their gods and deeds lost to the ages.

Such is the fate of civilization, to fall before the ceaseless onslaught of rude barbarism. Though we will build their steadings, then towns, and finally cities, as protection against the wild, our defenses will always falter against an unending encroachment of nature, of savagery...of tooth and fang, driven by wild hunger. But it is our nature that we will never cease attempting to tame the wilderness, to settle where we are unwelcome, to build roads through wild country, and to make walls to keep the unknown away.

Visitors to the North will quickly recognize that which all who are from these parts know: that death is near, and that the comfort that civilization affords can be as quickly and easily brushed aside as a light covering of snow. At night, the wilderness howls, and all must always be vigilant against the savagery of the land, whether manifest in the form of foul spirits, untamed creatures, or even the surly hearts of Pictish savages or those of the slave catchers of Hyperborea.

The Savage Code of Courtesy

Speech here is honest and forthright, and when it is otherwise, churlish folk can die. Civilized people of the south are content to proclaim their measure and station, as if those have been earned, but the measure of the barbarian is in bold action. The civilized way is to make idle boast of one’s deeds, while the barbarian’s accomplishments are heralded by others, sung about in mead halls or muttered in awe by enemies.

Similarly, a civilized man will insult one of his fellows without fear of reprisal, while the barbarian sits in respectful silence or acts against those he despises. An insult to a barbarian is a challenge: to let it go unanswered is to show that it is truth, so it is best to split the head of any who speak ill against you. Let it be remembered that you answered a challenge with ready retaliation, and that will keep others from wagging their tongues when spirits or ill temper sways their wisdom.

Know a Northerner by their lack of what others call “manners”. Instead, their savage customs are such that they can see through the artifice of the civilized world, and they pay little heed to senseless laws or politeness that the southrons hold so dearly.

Many northrons also have a strong disregard for the trappings of civilization. True it is that northrons take great pleasure in such fineries, but such fancies are ultimately cherished for what they are: mere happenstances of the moment, small comforts in the harshness of the world that was, the world that is, and the world that is to come.

The greatest treasure is not gold, but instead is renown earned, allies made. Folk of the north are drawn to power, a rule that holds true everywhere, and the strength of a chief is not in the wealth he holds but his ability to claim it, and to share it with his followers. Be bold and forthright in action, and speak carefully, as if each word were either a shield or a sword. In life, all you can do is accumulate glory for your actions, and such virtue will be rewarded in kind by the gods, should they pay heed.

Wolves Amidst Sheep

Those of the north are a breed apart from their southern kin, even those who carry within them the savage bloodline of Bori. They are a vital and resilient people, though quite different in aspect. When they are encountered among civilized folk, they are noteworthy, and should be dealt with carefully.

Many, then, are the reasons northrons leave their homelands to venture forth in the more civilized lands to the south. The Gundermen, have been trained as soldiers and sent across the Hyborian lands to fight Aquilonian wars, and are oft released from their service wherever their term ends, or they desert their fellow troops when the opportunity arises, or when they are the sole survivors.

Gaunt Hyperboreans range far and wide from their homeland, whether in search of others to take as slaves, or because they tire of their rugged mountains and hills and the bitter winds of winter.

Nordheimers head southward in search of southern gold and wealth with which to return to their homelands, or to find their own fame in more hospitable climes.

And though the glum Cimmerians are usually content to stay in their villages and their craggy hills, brooding and miserable, some few are gripped with wanderlust, a yearning that takes them from the doldrums of their bleak land into foreign countries, where they can experience the richness of life, whether it be battle, the hot embrace of warm flesh, or the taste of seasoned meat and the sting of strong wine.

Still though, most from the North will never leave these cold and snowy lands, and for them, life here is plenty.

Aquilonia is an excellent model for most Hyborian nations. Sure, some things will differ, but if you study Aquilonia, you'll have an excellent starting point in understanding the majority of the Hyborian nations in the game.

Here are a few random notes.


The clothing described in the game tends to be more like Dark Age Europe rather than the unique look that has grown up around Conan and the Hyborian Age used in comics, movies, and computer games. I prefer that interesting look rather than thinking of the Hyborian Age as just another place that looks like the Lord of the Rings movies or the Game of Thrones TV shows. Sure, I like those looks for those universes, but Conan, to me, has always been something different. So, I tend to ignore the Clothing sections in the various Mongoose sourcebooks because I don't want hose and doublets worn in my game.

Honor and Allegiance.

These are interesting concepts from that game, replacing D&D's alignment (I'd also add the concept of Corruption to the mix). Aquilonians are a proud people, and their honor is a concept that most hold dearly. Their word is law. Most Aquilonians are illiterate, and public oaths are considered more binding than a written contract.

An Aquilonian character that doesn't use a Code of Honor is rare, and he is most likely from one of the urban areas.

Character Allegiance is often to family, king, country, Mitra, household, neighborhood, feudal lord, or province.


Women, in Aquilonia, stay under their father's roof until they marry. Marriage is a political decision and is more important among the higher social classes. Most often, marriages are arranged.


Slavery is not unheard of in Aquilonia, but it is rarely seen. House slaves and personal attendants can be found, but are not common.

Craft Guilds.

The Guilds are quite powerful, on a local level. They become less powerful the higher up the political chain you go. Young boys are about 7 or 8 years old go through an apprenticeship, most often away from home. It is illegal to apprentice anyone age 12 who previously worked in the fields--this stops a stampede to the cities from the rural areas. Apprenticeships last several years and are not paid. The apprentice is not allowed to marry (thereby giving the Master another mouth to fee--or more, if there are children).

At some point, the apprentice becomes a Journeyman where he travels from town to town, working for different Masters, learning new techniques, and gathering letters of recommendation.

Only Journeymen and Masters can earn income from their Craft or Profession skill.

Journeymen cannot travel outside of the kingdom. Most stay to a few cities around their home.

Once a Journeyman becomes a Master, he is expected to settle-down and marry, becoming a contributing member of the town where he will ply his trade. Masters have to obtain permission from the Guild if they want to move to another town.

All this information typically applies to characters of the Commoner or Scholar class (Scholars who focus on the craft or profession).

In the uppermost north are three true lands: Cimmeria, Hyperborea, and Nordheim, itself two distinct regions: Asgard and Vanaheim, split asunder by a rivalry that has lasted generations beyond counting.


Cimmeria, separated from Nordheim in its north by a ridge of mountains, is home to the Cimmerians, the staunchest allies of the Æsir. A wiser people would have left this place long ago, settling in more hospitable lands, but for reasons all their own, Cimmerians hold fast this land with a tenacity like none other. They are one of the oldest races in the Hyborian world, claiming a pureblooded descent from ancient Atlantis. Like their ancestors, Cimmerians are dark haired, dark-skinned, and have pale eyes of blue or grey. They are tall and rangy, with powerful builds. Adept climbers, they are able to find purchase in any rock face or tree and scale it quickly and without fear. In temperament, Cimmerians are a dour and moody lot, practical, yet proud, prone to both brooding and boastfulness, often maddened by the futility of life.

A Cimmerian only exults in the heat of battle, and the rest of the time their moods are as black as their hair. Their language, Cimmerian, is their own, and is not spoken outside their lands. They are independent and clannish, and are stubborn foes, holding fast in their hills, their valleys, and their bogs, resisting even the ancient Acheronians who could gain no advantage against them, leaving the fierce hill men to their own rocky abode.

In their stony foothills they scratch out small steadings and humble villages; farming; herding goats, sheep, and cattle; mining; logging; hunting, and keeping to themselves. They do not build castles, and have few villages of any size. They govern by way of a headman for each village, an elder, and when a matter of great import arises, the clans gather and plan, a boisterous affair that usually ends in bloodshed.

Cimmerians are mostly self-sufficient, though those on to the west of their land make raids into Pictland, seeking the vast iron ore deposits hidden in the eastern mountains the Picts have largely abandoned. The surly Cimmerians are no friends to those to the south, either, making war on the Bossonian Marches and the Gunderland, and they are equally as apt to send raiding parties against the Hyperboreans to the east or to join my Æsir against our mutual foes, the Vanir of Vanaheim.

Outside their villages, in remote places, they raise mounds for their dead, and bury them beneath the earth, and are fearful and superstitious of the spirit world, distrusting all magic and even their own gods. And these gods is Crom, the Grim Grey God. He lives on a great mountain and is mostly indifferent to the efforts of men, only breathing into newborn souls the power to slay, and later, condemning souls of the departed to wander a grey misty afterworld of clouds and icy winds for eternity.

Aquilonia sought to colonize Cimmeria and built settlements among its border, trusting to the Gunderland to keep them safe. The greatest Aquilonian settlement was the fortress town of Venarium, where they sought to cow the Cimmerians into servitude. Instead of docile cows, though, the Aquilonians faced enraged Cimmerian bulls. United clans of howling hill men surged over the walls of Venarium one night and sacked it, leaving only ashes and broken stones.

Tales are told of that night throughout the north and the south, and no other land has risked such a trespass into Cimmerian territory.

There is sometimes confusion on how to use this skill. One method is to tie the skill with a location so the character has to have multiple skills for multiple places e.g. Knowledge (Messantia), Knowledge (Eiglophian Mountains), etc.

I'm not sure, but I think this was the original intent in the d20 3.0 rules.

Obviously, that's not an optimum choice for playing the skill for many players because it becomes a dark hole for skill points--a precious resource that could be better used with other skills.

Then, there's the other extreme for playing the skill. Knowledge (Local) becomes a generalized skill that covers local knowledge for anywhere the character happens to be. I believe that this makes the skill too powerful, especially when the character is in a part of the world where he's never tread before. All a player has to do is keep this one skill at a decent level, and his character will become extremely knowledgeable about the entire world! Smart players will realize that keeping up this one skill, when it is played this way, makes several other Knowledge skill obsolete.

I have a compromise way of playing the skill. The skill remains Knowledge (Local). We don't change what is in the parenthesis to a specific place. But, the skill refers to any area that the character knows well. It will apply to where the character grew up. It will apply to any pace where he's spent a lot of time.

In this way, Knowledge (Local) will be specific to the character. We have to refer to the character's background--his pre-game story. Let's say a Borderer character--an archer--grew up on the streets of Messantia then joined the Argosian Guardians. He was stationed Rabirain Mountains, which is the border between Argos and Zingara.

Therefore, for this character, the skill Knowledge (Local) would apply to rolls about the city of Messantia and the area of the Rabirain Mountains.

The GM should modify rolls sometimes, as well. For example, let's say a character grew up in the Falcon Barony, which is an interior barony of Argos, but the character left there at a very young age--let's say, age 13. He found his way to the coast and sneaked aboard a ship. The character became a seaman and then a pirate and member of the Red Brotherhood on the Western Ocean.

Where has the character spent most of his time? That would be on his ship--many days on the ship and a lot less time in port. Knowledge (Local) for this character could apply to the environs of the Falcon Barony of interior Argos, Tortage and the Barachan Isles (the port of the Red Brotherhood), plus any port along the Western coast of the continent where the seaman has spent a good deal of time.

This particular character doesn't have the recollection of the Falcon Barony the same as a character who has lived in that part of Argos his entire life. And, the character may know some of the port of Khemi, in Stygia, but probably not a lot beyond the port.

Thus, the GM should consider this when the character is making Knowledge (Local) throws and maybe give the character higher difficulties for making the throw to accommodate for the limited knowledge.

When trying to remember a particular detail about the Falcon Barony, for example, this character may need to make a DC 15 throw. It's been a long time since the character has been home, and the details are hazy. Still, the Knowledge (Local) skill does apply since the character did spend his first decade-plus of life there.

A character who has spent his entire life in the Falcon Barony may make the same Knowledge (Local) roll at DC 5+.

I am reading a Conan story where the mighty Cimmerian is climbing an outer city wall in Stygia using a grapple and rope. A guard on the top of the wall spots the grapnel and see's Conan climb over the side. The guard raises his bill and charges at Conan while the barbarian is laying on his chest, his body bent at the waist so that his legs are still against the wall.

When the Stygian gets to Conan, the barbarian acts quickly, with cat like reflexes, to grab the guard's ankle and leg, tripping him to the ground before the guard can strike.

How would this play out mechanically in the game?

You could say that the guard rolled initiative and won, but that would put Conan flatfooted. Conan would have no Dodge or Parry defense (which, given his position, he shouldn't have anyway--he can't dodge or parry while arched over the side of a wall, lying on his chest). Conan should be easy to hit.

That's doesn't fit the situation described.

The guard charged, but Conan acted first with a trip maneuver when the two came within range of each other. What Conan did was use a Ready Action. If the guard charged him with the bill, Conan would attempt a trip right before the strike.

This means that Conan won initiative.

Let's turn this around a bit. The player character is the guard, and an NPC (not Conan) is spotted coming over the side, climbing the wall. Initiative is thrown and the NPC wins (just like Conan did above). Will the player charge the NPC knowing that the NPC has initiative? Not unless the player is sure the NPC used his action.

If you, as GM, always hide your initiative rolls, then players will not have the meta-information. If the NPC wins initiative, and the GM decides to use a Ready action to trip an incoming charge, then to the player, who has no idea whether he won initiative or not, may indeed think he has initiative and will go ahead and charge.

Plus, hiding the initiative rolls (and you can do this just by hiding the GM's rolls for NPCs, keeping the roll secret from the players) leads to more narrative in the game. The combat becomes more about what the players experience through their characters rather than their knowledge of dice rolls. The experience is less like a game, following dice, and more or a roleplaying experience where the players live thorough the senses of their characters and the PCs adventure in the world.

In my opinion, it is a much more fun way of playing the game.

Keep as many dice rolls hidden as you can. Let the players experience their game through the senses of their characters--what their characters see, smell, taste, feel.

This puts the players there, in the game world, living in the skins of their characters.

Watching the opening of The Huntsman: Winter's War, I had this idea for an Hyborian Age spell. If you develop this bit of sorcery, I would suggest giving it a long casting time. Maybe a day. And, maybe using components like the hair of the individual targeted.

The spell is cast, and then it is up to the sorcerer to lure the target into playing a game. Chess is what was used in the movie. Once the spell is case, the loser of the game dies.

Of course, the target has no idea that he will lose his life if he looses the game of Pictish rocks & sticks that he plays with the mysterious man.

The catch is, if the sorcerer loses the game, then the sorcerer dies.

The spell is cast, and then some dice roll is made for whatever game is being played. The GM may want to call for Knowledge rolls, since a skill for playing the game would fall under that attribute. Throw opposed dice.

If so, there will most likely be plenty of room for the target of the spell to win the game (and have the sorcerer die), since a d20 is throw.