Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Crowdsourcing the Next Hyborian Romp

This weekend's face-to-face game marked the third time I have run the Conan/ZeFRS one-shot. There must be some twisted, soul-shriven social scientist buried in me as one of the most enjoyable things for me is the game as a comparative exercise.

It's absolutely fascinating how all three groups of Hyborian neerdowells when confronted with the same range of choices would at some points 100 percent of the time take the same one (always the tunnel) and at others come up with a wild range of divergent action. I will probably run it one more time this month if I can squeeze in a game before the holidays blot out the sun.

Which leads me to my work on the second linked Hyborian adventure coming in January. It's always fun to see what the unwashed Internet hordes come out with in a brainstorm bull session, so here I am throwing open the gates. Please help me throw some paint on the canvas and we'll see what sticks. (If your idea gets worked in there, you'll get full credit.)

Here's my ballpark for the adventure:
1. I am not doing straight adaptions of Conan stories, but I am trying my damnest to keep them in the spirit of the actual REH stories and not the later pastiches. So all's fair in terms of taking small elements from the stories: a situation here, a character there and the like. The closer in feel to real Howard material—even if it's from another story cycle (hell I've already thrown Bran Mak Morn and Kull in there) the better. Any choice bits you'd love to see scattered in there for color and texture?

2. I need to get it out of the dungeon as the main adventure site (though it certainly can contain some underground exploration as a sideshow). Suggestions for solid Howardian places to perform brave acts in?

3. I really want to do a mass pitched battle. It could be an affair like the Battle of Shamla Pass in "Black Colossus" or something wholy different. I would likely use the mass battle rules that came in the third TSR Conan module so that the outcome is actually variable—and can be heavily effected by the actions of players. Suggestions on who's battling, why the players are involved, or what kind of cut-scene/action points I can throw in there?

4. I want to have a small city/town/social “scene” which can test more of the civilian skills and especially the character-chosen weaknesses (like Weakness to Men/Women, wine, gluttony, or gambling). Any suggestions there?

Anything else, my friends? Wild, crazy, and off-the-wall welcome. 


  1. How about something "Beyond the Black River." Include a frontier fort and that should cover 1-4, above.

  2. @James
    Oh very nice, one of my favorites.

    Ear muffs, Domain Game players: Close enough to the current situation in Nowhere that I may be able to recycle some elements.

  3. Ruined (or partially ruined cities) are very Howardian. Particularly if of green stone.

    One of my favorite Conan stories (for location and atmosphere) is "Xuthal of the Dusk." What's not to like about decadent citizens blissing themselves out on drug to hide from a Lovecraftian beastie? I combined this sort of idea with the bottled city of Kandor once for an off-beat AD&D adventure.

  4. He did have a thing for green stone didn't he. In the stories in Coming of Conan I believe three separate sites are mentioned as being both cyclopen and greenish in hue. (I changed the color by the time of the second running of the temple on top of Mogg's Mountain from white marble to a pale grey-green.) Ruins check!

    Xuthal was also one of my top three Conan stories. Good call for solid adventure material.

  5. You should maybe consider having the PCs all scrambling after the same valuable item(s), as in the Teeth of Gwahlur (or Jewels of Gwahlur depending upon your edition).

  6. One of the things I really loved about Xuthal of the Dusk was the juxtaposition between the deathly silence of the city and, once the alarms go off, the mooks that pour out of every door. The rooftop sequence was also quite nice.

    Also, perhaps I'm imagining this, but weren't the drug addicts in Xuthal actually astrally traveling to other planes? I know it reminded me of the "sleeping immortals" from Erick Wujick's Mystic China. I'd love to see something done with that, perhaps in a HPL-style Dreamlands or C.L. Moore's weird dimensions in her Jirel of Joiry tales.

    I also loved the scheming villains in "The Phoenix and the Sword" and the dream-like dungeon sequence and grand melee of "The Scarlet Citadel". Another good story that has a dreamy, surreal tinge is the Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom".

    One of the most difficult aspects to emulate in a one-shot, but also one of the most appealing, is how driven Conan is in stories such as "The Pool of the Black One" and "Iron Shadows of the Moon". In both of these stories, he manages to boldly seize control of large groups of pirates through cunning and charisma. This is especially true in "The Pool of the Black One", where he clambers aboard a pirate ship, planning from the first moment to murder the captain and take the ship as his own. If I were doing a Conan scenario about leadership, I would definitely plant opportunities for the players to do so.

    Thinking of "The Pool of the Black One", there is also a dark slapstick element that comes to the forefront in that tale which I really appreciated. Conan slapping his drunken men with the flat of his blade to hurry them on, an endless series of paddling the behind of the sullen princess, etc. I think invoking this sort of mood once the heroes have reached the climax of the scenario would be a good denouement.

  7. Re: Mogg's Mountain. I did argue for a route other than the tunnel, but was outvoted by my dimwitted sword-dragger and his pet vixen (or do I have that backwards, the vixen and her pet sword-dragger?)


    Mixing other genre: I like the idea of the PCs and warrior band coming upon two larger armies who are facing each other off.

    Perhaps two wizards, each competing for the right to sacrifice upon an idol... an idol taboo to the PC's warrior band of course. Kurosawa meets Lovecraft meets Howard maybe?

    Each wizard would be anxious to use the PCs+warrior band against the other, but also would want to conceal their real desires for the idol. Borrowing from above, perhaps some of the wizards' minions are biddable and could be swayed by the PCs. The wizards could also try to sway the PCs by tempting their weakness with gold or women.

    Yojimbo had many acts, and had opportunities for the protagonist to switch sides. Perhaps the land around the idol is dangerous at night, due to carnivorous plants? or covered in holes inhabited by nocturnal poisonous spiders? Each battle then would have a time limit and a forced withdrawal.

    Perhaps the idol itself has a guardian beast (one reason for the taboo, no doubt) and is difficult to reach (surrounded by a chasm? floating over a pit?)

    Likely too baroque (pronounced broke) of an idea.

  8. Reading a bit of Conan this morning, I thought I'd share a few more musings with you:

    "Rogues in the House", like many Conan stories, has an element that I find a refreshing change of pace from many other fantasists. The story begins, and largely centers around, conflicts between men. This conflict (Conan and Murilo vs. Nabonidus, in this example) is the core premise on which the story hangs. In the second act, the weird intrudes on the tale and complicates the story. Although this formula does not apply to all Conan stories, I think they give Howard's stories a realistic quality that emphasizes how unnatural the "weird" really is.

    Another quality of "Rogues in the House" that I appreciated was that in this story, like many of Howard's tales ("Queen of the Black Coast", "The God in the Bowl", "Iron Shadows of the Moon", "Xuthal of the Dusk"), our hero begins the story in some serious trouble. In "The God in the Bowl", he has been detained by the police, in "Queen of the Black Coast" he is breaking out of jail), and in "Rogues in the House" he is currently sitting in prison. Likewise, in "Iron Shadows of the Moon" and "Xuthal of the Dusk", Conan is on the run after a mercenary campaign goes south. Although springing this sort of thing in a regular campaign would be a bad choice, it could work beautifully for a one-shot.

    Finally, you had mentioned concern that "Conan is not D&D" in our session, specifically regarding traps. Well, if you want traps in future Conan sessions, you look no further than "Rogues in the House". Nabonidus has a "funhouse mansion" filled with traps, including one that would be appropriate for the '60s Batman TV show, if it wasn't so gory.