I've just gotten through pregenerating a few PC's for a one-shot Conan game for next week.

Sweet merciful toast! 12th level guys are freaking scary! I've got a Pirate and a Thief whose Initiative Bonuses are in excess of +20.

Which gets me to my main point. If we are meant to play with characters who are level 10 and above, and still base the games in Conan's world, why are the average NPC schmucks cast at levels 1-2? I think it would be better if the average Pictish raider, for example, was 3rd, 4th or 5th level. That way a 12th level guy would have more of a challenge fighting off raiders.

As it looks at this point, only chiefs and champions will be any threat at all. But, when you look at, say, Beyond the Black River, Conan himself never tries to get in a scrap with more than a few Picts at a time.

Maybe I'll change my mind after I see how things work when the schmucks start ganging up on a PC, but my experience with other D20 games does not fill me with optimism that it'll be anything other than hideous massacre. I mean, the cumulative +1 bonus looks promising, and the lack of magic armor is a huge plus, but still PC defense can be pretty high (at least for Zamoran thieves).
Simple answer...

If it's a one-shot do they really NEED to be 12th level?

Why not go for something a bit less earthshaking like 8th or 3rd or 1st (!!!)

Characters who've been around long enough to be 12th level heroes would be expected to wade through legions of lesser mortals without a problem, it's the nature of the heroic genre.

Please don't read this as a sarcastic dig :D

It was a genuine question.

Adventure/scenario standards dictate that a good encounter is 12 or fewer opponents. 1st-2nd level characters are not a good challenge for upper level characters anyway as you have stated. That, in addition to the rapid power gain of characters in this system, indicates that campaigns will need to be shortened and potent each adventure.

The CR/EL system of D&D is still the best and ONLY method that can be used to estimate the challenge of an encounter. Common sense is applied _after_ the formula and works very well for gauging variations of challenge. It works generally the same for Conan as it does for D&D :)

To suspend disbelief, simply make the average pict 3-4th level in the game instead of 1-2 (peasant tripe). That's what I did in my D&D campaigns over the past couple years. PC's of course, started at 2nd level..knowing their place in the world as whelps at first!

Two words...Level up, make the mooks higher level.

Or could even borrow from Deciphers LotRs. Give the bad guys a certain number of "hits." Average everyday mook 1 good hit, your basic lieutenant 2 good hits, the Big Boss Man 3+ hits. It could add a little excitment (re. dread) to a game. Player: "Holy #$%^ I just hit the guy with a triple Z mush critical and he's still up!" :wink:

Also, it cuts down on the paper work. :)
Hmm. In the stories, the mooks seemed characterized by the threat of their blades...but also their easy death. Perhaps tack a level of Thief on to most of them? That generally kicks up the danger level a notch or two.
To answer a few points:

I decided to do 12th level for the one-shot because we are in the process of deciding what our next long term campaign will be and thought that if we did 12th level characters we could get a real test of all the aspects of the game system. I thought that they might like some of the higher level aspects and so perhaps nudge our decision in Conan's direction.

Oh, and most importantly, if this was going to be my only actual Conan game for a while, I wanted to see DECAPITATING STRIKE in action at least once, and you need some levels to try that.

As for some of the other points. I have indeed made 4th level the default NPC level in my D&D games, so most guards, commoners and soldiers people meet in my D&D games are going to be level 4 in NPC classes. I found it to make for a better game if PC's can't cut up armies.

I can see why D&D might want to have NPC's at first level however, since the focus is on fighting monsters in dungeons and not primarlily on humans in town. But, I thought perhaps Conan should have been set up differently since most enemies are indeed human (with one monster per story or so). It's easy enough for me to fix in my own game, but I was expecting more powerful average guys in the base game.

"Guest" is right about the feeling should be "deadly blades" but "go down quick".

After taking another look at the Monster stats, it looks like these low level guys are a bit more fearsome than a D&D first level guy in the attack department, since their Dex and Str are a bit higher than D&D "11". Maybe it will work out that way after all. A first level Pict has a +4 to hit (much better than a first level D&D warrior with an average +1). They're chance to hit a PC is a bit better as a result.

I guess I'll see how things go.
Don't forgot about Conan's multiple adversery rules either - if a target is attacked by multiple attackers they start to get +1 bonuses to hit for every attacker after the first - combine this with flanking and a horde of low-level NPCs grunts can start to be problematic...
This is an interesting post, The other night, I ran a game and basically just had my parties HD = the enemies and things seemed to work out. So I either had 3 on 3 1st level characters or say one 3rd VS the 1st and the bonus to attack did play a role. The only thing was when the 3rd level got a hit in it meant certain doom, but fate points came in handy and on the fly GM ing.

I think it will be pretty fun to have as swarm of foes come at the party where cleave and great cleave will be of use. In all the COnan books and stories I'e read he gets outnumbered all the time.

I was wondering how are you measuring the Challenge is it the way I did with Hit dies? I dont quite understand the above post on that.

Also don't forget that if your mooks are soldiers, and are ina situation to be using their chosen military style (something that mooks will be better positioned to do than PCs, 90& of the time) they will get further bonuses.
I use:

50% of NPCs in a group are 'average' (base level)
25% +1 level
12.5% +2 levels
6.25% +3 levels

etc. So a group of 10 Picts might have 5 BBn-2, 2 BBn-3, 2 BBn-4 and 1 BBn-5. Use default array stats (15 14 13 12 10 8) & that should certainly threaten a lone 12th level PC. If it doesn't, try using trips, grapples, sunders...
Also, if you fight the Picts in the woods, then the terrain changes the PC's tactics (you can't five foot step in rough terrain; see page 170 of Conan); the PC's take a -5 listen check and the Picts get a +5 hide check.... Running and charging become impossible. There are other elements going on as well (such as modifiers to DV and cover). Check the SRD for more details on terrain effects on combat.

Picts in the woods can be devastating, especially when they outnumber the PC's.
I think it's proper for 90% of your NPCs to be low level -- Hyboria is a bloody world and soldiers are lucky to survive their first combat. It would be very rare for people to survive to higher levels. PCs are the notable exceptions

Now, the question must naturally be asked -- how then, to I challenge my players. I had great success with sending 3 6th level characters up against an encampment of 40 1st level soldiers and their captains. Might have been a TPK if the Gunderman hadn't remembered that he had Great Cleave! The intent was to give them lots of foes to slaughter (in good Conan style) but still present a challenge.

I had one player in negatives and another at 3 (archers behind pikemen are very very scary) the third was a Noble in Full Plate on horseback -- he'd have been quickly dealt with if his DR wasn't 12!

Anyway, that's one way of doing it . . . demons and sorcery are another. I also see higher level adventures having more to do with political intrigue than mass combat (unless it's armies!). With the occassional king, prince or scholar to unseat. When you start unleashing hordes of 8th level picts how are those poor folk in the Westermarck going to survive the night?!

I should add that under Vince's vicious hand, I've learned great respect for low level Picts in the forest -- how often must I wind up missing my cloths, weapons, 1 fate point and tied to a stake in a Pictish village!?!?! It wouldn't be beyond my Civilized Code of Honor to poison their drinking water would it? Or burn down the forests in mass? Maybe in a few more levels . . .