Conan RPG (d20 Mongoose)

Conan, the Roleplaying Game‘ is a 2003 game based on the d20 Open Game License (WotC). Considering how much I’ve liked Conan stuff since high school (movies, books and occasional comics) I’m really surprised that I didn’t know this came out at the time, because I would have bought it.

In 2017, Modiphius released a 2d20 RPG called “(Robert E. Howard’s) Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of”. Last year during lock-down, I stumbled on some free Modiphius PDF’s – an adventure and a set of Quickstar Rules (also with an adventure). I read little more than the intro, then got sidetracked looking into earlier editions of Conan games – TSR (1985) and Mongoose. Of course, then I didn’t really read anything and forgot about them. (Like lots of other RPG stuff I collect!) With a new Covid lock-down here over the last few weeks, I started looking at the Conan material I had…

The TSR one looked interesting because it is skill based, not an AD&D version. (They did release some AD&D Conan modules.) Hmmm… compare your skill with the opposing skill/opponents skill on the “Resolution Table”, roll d% and if your result is in the red zone you are successful, other colours apply penalties, some things make column shifts… sorry I’ve lost interest.

Mongoose: I have an Atlantean edition (essentially a second print of 1st edition) rulebook PDF and I was hooked right from the initial part of the book. (I haven’t got to the Modiphius stuff at all.)

This is great… I started reading the intro, got into races, classes, etc and I’ve now spend almost all my free time in the last two weeks reading the rulebook, and playing around with characters and adventure ideas.

This came out about the same time as 3.5 but it makes a lot more of the system than I would have expected for the time. It’s both a setting and a game. There’s heaps of background straight from R.E. Howard’s books and notes (likely also influenced by the later writers who did Conan too) covering cultures, countries, religion, & history. They released lots of additional books that covered specific countries/cultures in more detail too, but what’s in the main rulebook is more than enough to set things up for a campaign. There are culture specific feats, a magic system based on Power Points (not “Vancian” like TSR/WotC), and a combat system that shifts away from the norm.

Cultures: Everyone is human, and there is no “Common” language. There are 14 ethnicities (with 12 variants) and they all have specific racial bonuses and penalties. This could be a Stat adjustment (Cimmerians get +2 Str, -2 Int), a racial bonus to certain skills, a bonus in certain terrain, attack or damage bonus with a particular weapon, etc. All have favoured classes (you gain bonus feats based on how many class levels), and many also have background skills that grant ranks.

Classes: There are eight main classes for PC’s – Barbarian, Borderer, Noble, Nomad, Pirate, Soldier, Scholar, Thief. There is no Cleric or Monk. Multi-classing is encouraged. Both Borderer and Nomad could be considered variant Rangers. The Noble is somewhere between Paladin and Bard – wealthy, combat skills, no magic but lots of influence styled abilities. Scholars can either gain bonus skill points/feats, or learn Sorcery. The different class abilities are quite varied from standard d20.

Combat: No touch/flat-footed AC. Most PC’s will have a Base AC of 10, and then you have Dodge and Parry Defence. All classes get slightly difference Defence bonuses as they level. Dodge Defence is AC 10 + Dexterity bonus, while Parry Defence uses your Strength bonus. Shields add to parry vs melee attacks, and dodge vs missiles. The players chooses which type of defence he is using against incoming attacks before the dice are rolled to determine a hit. Armour does not apply to Defence, it only grants Damage Reduction to lessen damage taken from blows. Most weapons have an armour penetration value (to which you usually add Str bonus) to see if you reduce the DR of your targets armour. There’s also a finesse fighting option where the player uses Dex not Str on the attack roll and tries to bypass DR entirely. There are extra Combat Manoeuvres (like Bulls Charge, Cats Parry, Devastating Sweep, Pantherish Twist, etc) that require a particular ability score, Base Attack value, or feat to be able to use them.

Magic: Conan is a very low-magic setting. Almost no potions, scrolls, wands, etc (so no cure light wounds for healing). There is magic around, but most comes with a cost, or is in the hands of people who won’t be sharing it with you. Power corrupts, literally. Contact with demons, evil deities and powerful sorcerers can grant corruption points that make you emotionally detached, and likely insane to varying degrees. There are Priests (of the uncaring Gods) but mostly they don’t use sorcery. I feel that Scholars using magic are a little under-powered, as they gain very few spells as they progress, even if they can choose what they cast and how often. They gain more skill points (8 + Int bonus) than a Sorcerer or Wizard, so they will have a heap of good skills.

The lack of easy healing makes the biggest difference to this type of D&D game. The affect of ‘rest’ and the Healing skill have been amplified, but finding ways to avoid combat is often preferable to actual fighting, unless PC’s have all invested in slow, heavy armour. Fate Points can help with this too (avoiding death, get maximum damage on a blow, defence bonus, etc), but most characters start with 3 and you only gain 1-2 each adventure.

 

I’ve spent just over a week making up 7 characters based on the Schwarzenegger movies and converting a AD&D Red Sonja module to use as a one-session adventure. The adventure is done; I just need to get a proper character sheet finalised for each PC. I’d be willing to run a short Conan campaign, but it’s hard enough getting the time now to run my Pathfinder campaign. We’ve already taken a break from a Gamma World campaign, and a mate’s Pathfinder game that I’m player in. It would be great to be able to get together twice a week and both run and play in a game, but I can’t see that happening unless I retire and/or find a new gaming group.

I’m going to put both the character sheets and adventure into my Gaming Resources page in case anyone is interested. The adventure would be easy to convert to standard d20 or Pathfinder.