Suggestions for the Conan "feel"



I'm going to start a longer term Conan campaign on Sunday. I think the players will be part of a mercenary force working for one Shemite city which is allied with another. The two cities attempt a raid or have a border clash with the Turanians. In true Conan fashion, the whole alliance is merely a ruse to trap the army of the employer's city, allowing the second city and Turan to destroy it, take the city and divide its territory. So much the background.

First adventure: players must cut through some Turanians and escape into the desert, have their water stolen by a treacherous ally, probably stumble across haunted ruins etc.,

What I'd like are a few suggestions to help make the first adventure "feel" more like Conan, and less like a D&D adventure. It will be with first level characters.
My theory is to keep the combat close and difficult. Mid adventure skirmishes should probably be moderate in danger, but the final battle needs to be hair-raising. Be careful about rolling dice out in the open on know?? For example, 4 of my PC's were attacked by 9 picts. 2 dropped unconscious within seconds...the othertwo took out the remaing 6 without dieing (and only using 1 Fate point).. I didn't pull punches...per say...but I *let* it get that close. It provided a fairly intense feeling during and euphoria after. Sure, something weird can happen and it can get fatal, but remember that bad guys always decide to do something silly instead of giving the coup de grace...
DrSkull said:
What I'd like are a few suggestions to help make the first adventure "feel" more like Conan, and less like a D&D adventure. It will be with first level characters.

Don't be afraid to display violence. Not the kind of nice little battles so typical of D&D. Here battles mean gruesome death. Bodies lying in pieces. Blood everywhere. Vultures feeding on the corpses while opportunistic bandits loot them. Use the combat stunts provided to make heads fly!

Don't be afraid to make the "good" guys act dirty. This isn't the FR where a knight is a chivalrous Lawful Good guy in a plate saving widows and orphands. Here a knight is a superior fighting machine. And he isn't shy about it!

Here mercenaries switch side more quickly than a regiment of Yugoloths. No "mister-nice-guy" mercenary working for 2 sp per day and staying clean and sober when not needed. Here mercenaries are brutes who work for money and anything they can grab during/after a battle. When they're not fighting, they're getting in troubles in the hot part of the city.

In short, they act as "real" human beings of their time period. Not people from the 21st century in a Ren Fair.
Emphasize the grittiness of the cities, the painted strumpets in their whorehouses, the wine sinks where mercenaries spend their pay guzzling sour Ghazan wine and fondling scantily-clad tavern wenches, the filth in the streets and rampant crime. Make it obvious that the city is teeming with life, but not in a clean way, more like a swamp or jungle teems with life.
Don't worry -- with no kobolds to hack at, combat will be plenty deadly! That in itself will help get away from the D&D feel. Don't be afraid to make them fearful for their lives -- killing a party member and describing it brutally will certainly help. Making them flee instead of fight (by presenting them with clearly insurmountable opposition -- perhaps with horses conveniently nearby) will help also.

Also remember that if you introduce any magic in the game, make it mysterious, dark and horrifying.

Low level characters (<5 lvl) in a haunted ruin = TPK if you actually present them with a demon or ghost. Will save vs fear or swoon will off them faster than anything. Now, the sense of a haunt -- through your descriptions -- could add a lot. Nothing will frustrate a D&D player faster than presenting them with a foe that they can't fight! (A shadow, deeper than the night that surrounds you seems to remain just out of your torchlight's range. Strange whispers in an unknown tongue are carried on foul breezes that make your torches flicker blue.) Calling for frequent meaningless checks can make them feel like something is always about to happen too.

Descriptions that avoid the D&D cliches are important as well. Read some REH set in the area to get a sense of the history and people.
Rather than throw a couple of tough bad guys use a lot of crap low levels, so they can experience the conan feel of literally hacking down small armies (does 3rd Ed have the 'Sweep' for fighters from AD&D and 0 levels?).

Also make the theme. Women should be either decoration, compliant, defiant or mysterious, and if not background, interested in the pcs. I know its sexist, but this is Barbarian Fiction (for every Red Sonia or Valayria then theres a dozen slave girls bedded)

Save the tough guys for the real bad guys and his close henchment, and give them all a trait (eye patch, bald, beardy, scarfaced, big hammer, two blades, silent, chatty, dexterous, strongman, taunting). So that they stand out.
Thanks, this is all good stuff to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I mean, my players are all blood-thirsty cut-throats anyway, and it's not really a stretch going from our own style D&D to Conan. I just want to avoid the "probe the floor for pits", "That's an owlbear, we can take it easy" syndrome.

I probably should write some of your suggestions up and adjust them as flavor text, so I don't skimp on atmosphere.