D&D 5E Existentialist Sword and Sorcery


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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
1) Conan is still a Barbarian who neither understands nor cares for the laws of cities. Much less something as meagre as "Contempt of Court". Threatening to lock him up "'until he rots" or commits an evil act (betraying his friend) is a threat. Add in rage as a class feature and a drastic misunderstanding of how legal threats work and you're in for a bad time.
Just a quick quibble on a good post- Rage didn't become a Barbarian class feature until after the class expanded into not just a Conan clone. Conan is not a berserker.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Just a quick quibble on a good post- Rage didn't become a Barbarian class feature until after the class expanded into not just a Conan clone. Conan is not a berserker.
Fair point. It was mostly meant to be tongue-in-cheek, as was the "Pirate Background Trait" thing. >.>
 

pemerton

Legend
This thread, including my post 126, has been treating existentialism as atheistic. But that isn't necessarily the case.

Kierkegaard is generally interpreted as an existentialist. One of his basic concerns is that most people inherit their faith/religion from their community - and so will normally be Christians if Danish (as he was), Muslim if Afghani, etc. Hence their conviction is in a certain sense not genuine but a product of convention. He saw the existential "leap" as required not because of the valuelessness of the universe as such, but because of the gap between conventional religious conviction and genuine faith.

And there are other forms of Christian existentialism - eg one of my favourite authors is Graham Greene, and I see his work (especially in novels like The End of the Affair) as Catholic existentialism. Part of his concern is how we come to engage with God - which (consistent with existentialism more generally) he treats as a problem of being and of relationships between beings (especially being for others) rather than just as a problem of knowledge.

The protagonist is trying to work out why his lover has left him. It turns out that, when she thought he was dying, she prayed that he would live, and promised God that she would give up anything, even him, if he were to survive. Which he did. The protagonist begins the story as an atheist but over its course encounters representations of God as he engages with various aspects of his (former) lover's life. And at the end he realises that he hates God for taking her from him. And hating God, is in a theistic relationship with Him and hence no longer an atheist.

In the context of FRPGing - not necessarily S&S - I think it should be possible to put these matters of faith or conviction front-and-centre. Burning Wheel has some aspects of the way it handles the Faith emotional attribute that do this. Thinking about it, it could also be something to explore in Dark Sun (given the premise of the abandonment by the gods rather than that they never existed). The challenge in D&D would be to handle this as more than just GM fiat, because GM fiat doesn't have the right element of coming to recognise oneself (ie the PC as played by the player) as a being in relation to the divinity.
 

This thread, including my post 126, has been treating existentialism as atheistic. But that isn't necessarily the case.

Kierkegaard is generally interpreted as an existentialist. One of his basic concerns is that most people inherit their faith/religion from their community - and so will normally be Christians if Danish (as he was), Muslim if Afghani, etc. Hence their conviction is in a certain sense not genuine but a product of convention. He saw the existential "leap" as required not because of the valuelessness of the universe as such, but because of the gap between conventional religious conviction and genuine faith.

And there are other forms of Christian existentialism - eg one of my favourite authors is Graham Greene, and I see his work (especially in novels like The End of the Affair) as Catholic existentialism. Part of his concern is how we come to engage with God - which (consistent with existentialism more generally) he treats as a problem of being and of relationships between beings (especially being for others) rather than just as a problem of knowledge.

The protagonist is trying to work out why his lover has left him. It turns out that, when she thought he was dying, she prayed that he would live, and promised God that she would give up anything, even him, if he were to survive. Which he did. The protagonist begins the story as an atheist but over its course encounters representations of God as he engages with various aspects of his (former) lover's life. And at the end he realises that he hates God for taking her from him. And hating God, is in a theistic relationship with Him and hence no longer an atheist.

In the context of FRPGing - not necessarily S&S - I think it should be possible to put these matters of faith or conviction front-and-centre. Burning Wheel has some aspects of the way it handles the Faith emotional attribute that do this. Thinking about it, it could also be something to explore in Dark Sun (given the premise of the abandonment by the gods rather than that they never existed). The challenge in D&D would be to handle this as more than just GM fiat, because GM fiat doesn't have the right element of coming to recognise oneself (ie the PC as played by the player) as a being in relation to the divinity.
wait someone else can see that hate and love are types of caring or having an opinion of something?
 


grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
Alright, now do Humean Scepticism in classical French/ Italian fairy tales!
Existentialism as a story hook for either individual characters or for the party as a whole is fantastic. Of course, you need player buy-in, but it is a great way to show players that character choices and actions do change their character.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Alright, now do Humean Scepticism in classical French/ Italian fairy tales!
Existentialism as a story hook for either individual characters or for the party as a whole is fantastic. Of course, you need player buy-in, but it is a great way to show players that character choices and actions do change their character.
Lemme just crack my knuckles and...

Nah. Don't know enough about David Hume and his philosophy. Except that he could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

I'm just a huge nerd with a passing understanding of Existentialism and a current hyperfixation on the Swords and Sorcery which informed it!
 

One of the elements in Sword and Sorcery, especially via Conan, is the idea of cyclic and frequently catastrophic history.

In the Conan stories this is filled with all kinds of assumptions from 19th century race "science" but it doesn't really need to be. However, any progress in Conan's world is purely ephemeral. Even Conan himself is basically powerless to affect history in any lasting way. The historical actors in the Hyborian age essays are entirely racial groups, not individuals. While that it obviously objectionable, it could easily be replaced with historical forces (although not progress - at least not of a lasting kind), the decline and fall of nations and civilisations in ultimately bigger than individuals. Conan may become king of Aquilonia, but Aquilonia will ultimately be not even a memory.

This is part of the existentialist theme. There's no great man theory of history here. Ultimately nothing a hero does will be remembered in the long run. They can't look to history for meaning any more then they can look to the metaphysical.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
One of the elements in Sword and Sorcery, especially via Conan, is the idea of cyclic and frequently catastrophic history.

In the Conan stories this is filled with all kinds of assumptions from 19th century race "science" but it doesn't really need to be. However, any progress in Conan's world is purely ephemeral. Even Conan himself is basically powerless to affect history in any lasting way. The historical actors in the Hyborian age essays are entirely racial groups, not individuals. While that it obviously objectionable, it could easily be replaced with historical forces (although not progress - at least not of a lasting kind), the decline and fall of nations and civilisations in ultimately bigger than individuals. Conan may become king of Aquilonia, but Aquilonia will ultimately be not even a memory.

This is part of the existentialist theme. There's no great man theory of history here. Ultimately nothing a hero does will be remembered in the long run. They can't look to history for meaning any more then they can look to the metaphysical.
VERY Accurate.

And it's all based in Howard's childhood in Boom n' Bust Texas. Town springs up when someone strikes oil, everyone starts making and spending big piles of cash, in comes drugs and prostitution and booze, and as soon as the well runs dry the town collapses in on itself. Empty houses, empty buildings, rotting in the wasteland of what was.

But.

While Conan's actions would be lost to history, like the entire actions of Aquilonia over it's existence, or Cimmeria, or Stygia, as each one rises and then falls to literal degeneration. (It was canonical that the different Races of Men would evolve from apes and yeti and such, build huge sprawling kingdoms, succumb to decadence, get largely wiped out, and again become ape-like things until they evolved, again!) Conan's actions -were- meaningful in the long run.

Because while they would be forgotten, he still defeated Gods, like Zath. Gods whose influence spans beyond the years of men or their cultures. Had Zath not been killed it might still plague us to this day... Like Lovecraft's gods still do, many of which existed in Conan's era.

Because even the existentialism of Conan winds up bowing to Sprague's desire to lionize a Hero.

You can read about the de-evolution and re-evolution in Howard's Essay: The Hyborian Age here:
 

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