[CONAN] How many of you do this?

I was doing a little play testing of the new combat procedure that I tweaked.... I took the Inn of Three Crowns map from the Shadizar boxed set, pulled a couple of character tokens, and used two of the PCs from my campaign.

I randomly rolled starting positions, gave each one of them a loin clout and battleaxe, and then just let them go to town. Both are 1st level characters, so I knew the combat would be short.

Caelis won nish, and as luck would have it, he was exactly 30 feet (by the convoluted route I walked him through, avoiding tables and walls and such) from being toe-to-toe with his opponent, Thrallan.

Randomly placed, Thrallan got stuck in a long, narrow, 5' wide hallway. I made neither of them flat footed, and both had their weapons out, searching for the other. When Caelis came around the corner for him, it was no surprise to Thrallan.

Caelis is left handed, so I imagined him storming up to Thrallan with his battleaxe held over his right shoulder doing a slicing chop at Thrallan's upper torso as soon as he got in range.

These first level Barbarians are actually better at the parry than they are the dodge, so I imagined right handed Thrallan throwing up his own battleaxe to catch the other below the blade, knocking handles together, then, on his turn, knocking away Caelis' weapon and doing a similar strike in return.

Well, it didn't work out that way. Caelis rolled a 16 on his attack while Thrallan rolled a 15 on his parry. Caelis did 9 points of damage on Thrallan, knocking him from 11 hit points to 2.

Here's where my questions comes up....

I imagined that, when Thrallan thew up his block, that the haft of Caelis' axe caught Thrallan on the fingers and knuckles.

I had Thrallan throw a DEX check vs. a DC 9 (the total damage) to see if he retains the grip on his axe or drops it.

Then, I had Thrallan a CON check vs a DC 9 to see if the damage is serious (broken hand or fingers or crushed knuckles) or if it was something that would heal quickly and normally.

The result was: Caelis came around the corner, hustled up to his brother and swung. Thrallan threw up his block, got caught on the knuckles, and his battleaxe went spiraling at his feet.

The damage to Thrallan's hand isn't serious and permanent, but it is throbbing pretty bad and will remain close to useless until the hit points are restored.

That's a lot of color I threw in there as a GM. I do it in my game all the time, and I wonder how many of you do the same? Add things like the chance to drop the weapon...figuring out what happened with a blow...and the like?

I read a good article not that long ago (wish I could find it again) written by Ian Sturrock (one of the authors of the Conan core rule book) that said this exact type of thing was intended for the rules but was never implemented--mainly for space reasons, but also because it's not an easy concept for some to grasp or to explain. Sturrock suggested that the GM consider actions in the fight and then apply modifiers to further combat actions as needed. For example, if a right handed fighter parries, using his weapon, a left handed fighter's strike, it could be awkward to then re-maneuver the weapon quickly enough to gain some momentum into a counter strike at the enemy. So, had Thrallan successfully blocked Caelis' blow in the example above, a -2 to Thrallan's attack would have been appropriate given that Caelis is left handed and Thrallan is right handed.

Some may not want to deal with this type of detail in combat. I find it quite fun, breathing life into a combat system that can get stale if you let it. Also, it has the side benefit of making the player think of non-traditional attacks rather than always simply attacking with his main weapon.

Had Thrallan been successful with the block, maybe his player would balk at the -2 penalty on Thrallan's attack and instead decide to kick out with one of his feet. Sturrock would say the kick is the most natural response and allow a +2 mod on the attack.

The fight goes on, back and forth, like this, with the GM intrepreting and throwing in little modifiers and checks here an there based on what he declares is happening during the fight.

Who else plays like this?


I'd like to do something like this but, sadly, my GMing skills, after almost 20 years of not running any kind of roleplaying game, are really rusty. :?

I just started a Conan campaign a little over two months ago and, while it's been going reasonably well so far, the d20 system is complex enough as it is without me trying to work up such things as you suggest on the fly.

I'm no math wizard, either, and can barely keep up with the rules and modifiers as written without the added burden of keeping track of even more on the spur of the moment. :roll:

Plus, add to that the fact that my players aren't exactly the best at describing the actions of their characters in "real-world" story terms. We've simply played in too many d20 D&D campaigns that eventually became exercises in number crunching and manipulating combat rule minutiae to gain tactical advantage at the expense of logic. Not to mention, getting them to read some Conan yarns or any sword and sorcery tales for inspiration is like pulling teeth.

Nor are they necessarily open to me imposing situational or temporary penalties based on their characters' actions and circumstances. Bonuses they don't mind, of course, but, in general, their dice rolling is so bad that additional penalties are just an extra source of frustration.

Not a good combination....

All that said, I really do like the sound of what you propose, S4.

Depending on how long the campaign lasts, maybe I will try to introduce something along these lines. For now, though, it'll have to remain a potentiality only.
I don't know if I should have been laughing, but your post cracked me up. I've felt your pain.

I remember my very first game session. It was the summer of 1982. I was a sophomore in high school. I'd heard about this "D&D thing" for a while, but had no idea what it was all about. "Is it like monopoly?"

A good friend of mine had me over on a Saturaday. I rolled up a party--it was just me and him, so I played all the PCs. We spent half the morning making my main character and some of his friends--a thief, a mage, and a cleric.

My friend was putting me through the infamous Caves of Chaos (The Keep on the Borderlands module).

Early in the game, my party approached a locked door. The DM asked me what I wanted to do. I said that I'd have the thief approach the door, but not touch it, and my main character would cover him with his crossbow.

The DM made me show him exactly how the thief was standing. I showed him how the thief got close to the door, went down on one knee, and peeked through the keyhold, all the time pulling his picks and tools from a pouch at his belt.

My main character stood over the thief, behind him, with the cross both shoulder, pointing at the door, over the thief's head.

The thief picked the lock. He slowly turned the know then pushed the door open.

It was dark in the next room. We could see nothing. With the door open, my theif leaned from the waist, putting his head into the room to look around the sides, down the walls.

That's when the goblin, that was stading just inside the door, up against the wall, with his arm raised, let his club fall on the back of my thief's head, braining him.

The thief slumped immediately to the ground.

In a split second, my main toon fired his crossbow, nailing the goblin.

I'll never forget the DM's description. Here it is almost 30 years later, and I'm still talking about it.

My crossbow bolt slammed into the goblin on the upper part of his shoulder close to his neck. It drove deep and punched out his armpit. The goblin started to scream and fell to the ground. Mechanics-wise, the goblin still had one hit point left, but since my bolt had almost killed him, my DM made the encounter very cool and memorable.

The goblin was flopping around on the ground, his blood seeping from the top of his shoulder and from his armpit. My main character approached him, put a boot on him to steady the target, then fired another bolt into the goblin's head (it was a double shot, over-under crossbow). That bolt nailed the poor beast to the ground.

The thief wasn't dead, but the DM made him loopy for several hours. He still had a few hit points too, but the DM said that he wasn't "all there". We wrapped his head, and the cleric did what he could for him. But, it was some game hours later until the thief was fully functional again.

Man, what a good time that was. So memorable. So vivid.

God, it was fun.

I'm not sure it would have been as memorable had the goblin just taken the first crossbow bolt and kept on truckin' with his 1 hit point, or that I would have been as concerned about the thief if there was no effect to the blow the goblin laid on him.

They say the devil is in the details, and it was those details, embellished by the DM, that made that game so memorable for me and got me so hooked on this hobby.

I think, back in the old days, more people played that way. D&D wasn't a wargame-straightjacket of rules but rather a frame in which to tell your story and entice players with masterful visuals and consequences.

Back then, if you walked through a swamp, the DM might just describe the leeches you find on your legs and then tell you that you've picked up a slight cough. Today, though, some players refuse to be told by the DM that their characters have picked up a disease or a cold from walking in the swamp. They want a CON check, and if they fail, they want to see results on a chart somewhere.

I think D&D is missing something when it is reduced to dice throws and hit point count. We forget what those stats represent.

Now, was there a critical hit chart we rolled on? No. Was there some RAW rule that said goblins can be taken out of the picture if they've only got 1 hp left? No. Is it "in the game" that the thief was brained and loopy for a few hours after taking a blow like that to the back of the head?


It was just a DM with common sense and a player who trusted him.

What I'm advocating is not the only way to play, and it's not the only "good" way to play.

But, it is an alternative to someone looking to find the spark in their game again.


It's good that you got a chuckle out of my post.

If I couldn't laugh about it, I'd cry.... :cry: :wink:

Seriously, though, the level of description you're championing is exactly what I want to bring to my game.

I've tried to do this over the last few sessions and, so far, they haven't really voiced any objection to the rules I've seen fit to play fast and loose with, minor though they've been, in the interest of storytelling.

I really do want my players to remember their characters' exploits and adventures with as much vividness as you remember that first D&D session you participated in all those years ago (great story, by the way).

But the key word there is "participate". I need them to not just react to me telling them the story but to help me tell it by giving me more than they are currently.

On that note, how much urging and cajoling, if any, do you have to do to get your players to contribute descriptively or narratively to your game?

Do you do anything, or have you in the past, to encourage them to do this? I mean, aside from the standard "okay, now what do you do?" kinda thing.

I'm keen to know....
Kev said:
I've tried to do this over the last few sessions and, so far, they haven't really voiced any objection to the rules I've seen fit to play fast and loose with, minor though they've been, in the interest of storytelling.

I try to implement combat flavoring like this both for and agains the players. That should make it more easily swallowed in your group. Before you do something that negatively effects a PC, try having the call be something like what I describe above with the goblin. Rules-wise, he had 1 hp, so there's no reason for him to go down, screamin' on the floor. Make sure the players know that's what you did--putting it in their favor like that.

That way, when you do something that presents a challenge for the PC's, like have the brained thief be loopy for a few game hours, they'll trust you--because they've seen it work in their favor too.

Also, you may want to keep the severity level low. The lower the impact to the PC, the more they'll accept it. Maybe you can actually work up to describing what happens with Criticals and maybe even start using seat-of-the pants fumble descriptors after your players are used to the game being expressed this way.

Chances are, if they're like most people, they'll be afraid of change at first, but then when their enjoyment level of the game goes up, they'll have more trust in your calls and embrace the description.

What the heck...why not allow the players to participate, too? If they've got a good idea, use it. Chances are most of their ideas will be modifiers that go against the NPCs and monsters, helping the players, but, hey, use it for a while until you've done it enough that they can't bitch if some challenges start coming their way.

The way you described your group, I'd try to help them more often than hinder them at first, describing how cool their blows are and what they did to that poor, miserable, sonofabitch that went up against them. Slowly, you'll even things out.

And make sure that not every dice roll is plagued with some modifier. I always keep the description coming, but for mods, I look for extreme results. When I see the dice come up where a character is almost killed or a check barely made, that's when I might be inspirted to pull an arbitrary ruling out of my hat.

The idea is to spice up the game, keep it flowing, and make it extremely inviting. If you find the calls are getting in the way of that, then back off.

BTW, if you want a more structured approach to exactly the same thing we're talking about here, I actually found one last night. I had picked up this copy of the Iron Heroes rulebook some months ago. I found it for $3 bucks at a used book store. For that price, I couldn't pass it up. But, I brought it home and threw it in the pile. Last night, I'm just looking through my Conan stuff and decided to peek through Iron Heroes.

What did I find?

The game actually embraces exactly what I'm advocating in this thread. Iron Heroes calls it "stunts", and there are some rules for implementing stunts in your game.

I think the arbitrary, seat-of-the-pants method better suits my game, but I also know that many players won't accept stuff like this unless they see it in print.

If you really get a hard time from your players, you may want to find a copy of Iron Heroes and tell them that you're importing the "Stunt" rules.

On that note, how much urging and cajoling, if any, do you have to do to get your players to contribute descriptively or narratively to your game?

Do you do anything, or have you in the past, to encourage them to do this? I mean, aside from the standard "okay, now what do you do?" kinda thing.

I'm keen to know....

I'm just patient and ask questions until I get the player to give me the result I want. I try to be very descriptive about the sights, sounds, and smells of the game world. Instead of telling a player about the door he just tried that, "It's locked," I'll say something more along the lines of, "You can't feel the temperature of the knob because you're wearing leather gloves. When you grip it and twist, the knobs moves about a degree then abruptly stops. You put a little pressure on the door, and it doesn't move."

Nowhere did I say the door was locked. Instead, I let the player come to that conclusion himself. Saying, "It's locked," just makes a player focus on dice and modifiers and his Lock Picking skill. Maybe this door has a bar on the other side of it (probably not from my descritpion), but I told them what happened. It's up to them to come to their own conclusions.

A key thing to do is always focus on exactly what the character can see, hear, smell, and feel. Don't tell the player the door is locked. Describe a locked door and then ask the player what he wants to do.

Now, here's where being patient and asking questions comes in. The player might say, "I'll pick the lock."

Well, I want to know how. What's he doing? Show me?

Ask questions that make him describe to you exactly what the character is doing. When my theif picked the lock in the story I recounted above, I had to tell my DM that I approached the door and studied the lock, when down on one knee, pulled my picks, and looked through the keyhole.

I usually comfirm what I think I've heard from the player so that there's no misunderstanding. I don't what him saying that he had most of his body next to the wall when he picked the lock when I was thinking he was vertical right in front of the lock--or thinking that he's standing when the player thinks the character is kneeling.

DM: "You stand in front of the door, over the lock, your head bowed, watching your fingers manipulate the tools as they scratch around in the lock."

PLAYER: "No! I'm kneeling next to the wall, leaning over the threshold a bit, working on the lock!"

Another big piece of advice: Be a stickler for detail. If the player didn't say it, the character didn't do it.

DM: "There is an audible click of metal as you release one of the tumblers, but just as you hear it, from the other side of the door, you hear a voice: WHAT THE.... The door handle suddenly shakes abruptly but does not turn (as the knob is still locked), and you hear, from the other side: Hmm...."

PLAYER: "There's someone right on the other side of the door! Crap! How come I didn't see him when I looked through the keyhole?"

DM: "You never said anything about looking through the keyhole. I guess you're getting slopping in your old age, theif."

Lastly, one of the big things I do is keep my DM dice throws hidden 99% of the time. I roll behind the screen, and my players hardly ever know what I'm throwing--my totals--nothing.

I do this for a couple of reasons. I don't want them knowing the Vanir baddie is +5 to attack. I just want them to think he's a bad-ass that might kill them.

Second, I don't want my players thinking about dice, modifiers, and game mechanics. I want them to live through the experience based on my description. I don't want them to know that they've hit when they see their attack of 13 beat my defense of 9 (which is one of the reasons I use the Dynamic Defense rule where defense is thrown--a variable number, rather than a static AC number). When they roll and attack, I want them hanging onto my every word to learn what happened.

Like never saying that a door is simply "locked", I try never to say, "You hit. Roll damage." I always describe how their blade pierced through the shoulder of their enemy, his right arm going limp, blood splattering on the snow. When I say that, they know they've just pulled off a good hit, but it's not focused on hit points--it's focused on what they see, hear, smell, and feel (even taste, sometimes).

Kinda long...sorry. Hope that helps.
You know, Kev, I thought of one other way you might sell it to your players, besides what I wrote above.

If you think about it, the Combat Maneuvers that are already in the game are really just custom rules for specific situations. What you'll be doing with your GM arbitrary combat interpretation is just implementing some customized combat maneuvers and effects.

Emphasize that this will also help the players.

The PCs in my game are still first level. The game is so deadly, how can it be reasonably played at 1st level? If you do it the straight D&D way, all the characters do in a combat is trade blows back and forth. Eventualy, and probably quickly, this is going to end in PC death. I mean, one of my 1st level barbarians has 11 Hit points, but he does 1d10 + 4 with his battleaxe. Even by his own hand, he'll down a 1st level character in one-to-two successful attacks.

That's not a high life expectancy for a 1st level toon.

But, through in GM interpretation, and player ingenuity, and, viola, the game becomes surviveable at low level.

My player know that they can't fight--not yet. They're novices at the sword trade. They're 15 year old kids--not seasons veterans.

So, I find them being smart when it comes to combat. They're always looking for an advantage or a trick to use. They enjoy it, and it allows me to give them an edge over their enemies--making the game survivalable for low level characters.

One player had his toon pick up some sandy dirt, mixed with rock shale, keeping a couple of handfuls in a sack on is belt. If combat is immenent, he'll open the sack and grab a handful. We use the rules for throwing splash weapons as this character throws the stuff into the enemy's eyes the first chance he gets. The stuff can blind them or hinder them.

And, it gives the 1st level PC an edge in the fight--enough to keep the character alive to reach 2nd level.

This all started as a desperate player's attempt to save his character's life--GM interpretation. Now, it's turned into a role playing experience that has enhanced our game as the character experiements with pepper and dust and all sorts of stuff to find something that will help blind the enemy faster.

The player has even gotten interested in Alchemy because of this....it hasn't been a bad thing for my game at all.

Tell your players that Conan combat can be so much more than "you hit, I hit". It can consist of some exceptional, breath-taking fights.

They've just got to allow it to happen.


Great advice, S4! Thanks for giving it. :D

As I mentioned before, my GMing skills have atrophied significantly over the years.

It's gonna take some time but my players and I will get there eventually.

My group meets Sunday after next to begin our second Conan adventure. That still gives me plenty of time to consider your suggestions and begin working them in to some degree.

Thanks, again.

Kev said:
Great advice, S4! Thanks for giving it. :D

I hope it helps. Good luck with your game!

It's gonna take some time but my players and I will get there eventually.

Defintely take it slow and build over time. Once you and your crew are used to one thing, bring on the new thing to learn, and keep making that step ladder.

That's how I teach Combat Manevuers in the game. I start with one or two, and once they're used to it, they might see an NPC do something new--which sparks interest, so I teach them a new Combat Maneuver.

If you think about it, your GM description is really just ad-hoc combat maneuvers. You could sell it like that. Don't tell them anything will change--don't even have them looking for it. Then, in the game, when it seems appropriate, say something like, "That's a new combat maneuver! You do this and..."

That may be a way to go while you're building your ladder.

Thanks, again.

Absolutely! I'd love to hear how it goes!
@S4: nice recollection you have! How vivid can be the games, when they don't slow down due to the rules. That's one of the reasons I prefer rules-light games.

@Kev: if you are just starting again DMing, you might want to use a lighter system than d20 Conan, which is anything but light.
I have used with good success the old Mentzer D&D Red Box to run a series of Conan scenarios.
Essentially, I kept only fighter, thieves and magic-users (I reserved clerics to define NPC sorcerers who entered into some demonic pact.)
Just give the magic-users spells which are not too flashy (there aren't many in Classic D&D anyway!) and you are set to go.
Since the removal of clerics and most curative items might make the game too difficult, you might want to use a "shock recovery" rule: after each fight, if the PC does not do anything but rest for 10 minutes, he recovers 1 HD worth of hit points lost in that combat only. It works really really well.