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Gamemastering advice on preparing adventures for Sword & Sorcery campaigns

Azuresun

Adventurer
So here's what I did for the start of my Primeval Thule game. The PC's started off chained up in the bowels of a slave ship, when it came under attack from a sea monster. The overseer bursts in, declares that they're all going to be thrown overboard, then a tentacle smashes through the hull and drags him out to get eaten. Fortunately, he drops the key. After a fight, the ship capsizes, and they wake up on a deserted island haunted by walking dead that contains an Atlantean temple guarded by a maddened demon, a fortress of the Crimson Slavers of Marg at one end, and a wizard of the Black Circle of Thran who wants something in that temple, and who is looking for disposable paw.....brave heroes to go in there and get it for her.

Overall, because the players appreciate clear objectives and impetuses, I've been aiming for giving them self-contained adventures as part of something larger, which hopefully give them some freedom in how they go about each objective.
 

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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I'm a bit late to the party here (having been on vacation :cool:), but my advice would be to check out the following thread and download the Player's Guide discussed here:


Then in terms of running actual adventures, there's a bunch of premade adventures here (including several freebies):


Even more freebies here:

 

ART!

Hero
I can see arguments for asking this in any number of S&S-themed threads, but I think it's more of a "how to run" question.

How do you pitch a S&S tone without it sounding depressing and nihilistic? When I ran some of what i saw as the core concepts past a few players in our group, the response was either static or "sounds depressing". Firstly, I'm a little surprised that playing S&S isn't automatically appealing to them, but I they're all very, very used to D&D's kitchen sink approach to fantasy.

The concepts or themes I pitched were basically:
1. Freedom and danger > oppression and safety. Civilization trades danger - the natural state of all living things - for safety, but also trades freedom for oppression and corruption. The only way to truly live is to seize your freedom and face the danger. PCs aren't beholden to any great cause, faction, or hierarchy.
2. Goals and quests are personal, not epic. That rumored treasure in those strange ruins could set you up for life - or at least a fun life until the money runs out. The crew members who left you for dead on a desert island will pay! Saving the world from evil is nowhere on the list of goals.
3. Magic is dangerous and corrupting.
4. Whatever gods there might be are not demonstratively active in the world.
5. No race or class restrictions, but innate spellcasting will be replaced with a feat, and a lot of utility spells and a few others will be unavailable.

Reading that, I guess I can see how that would read as drudgery if you're used to default D&Disms and aren't familiar with S&S as a genre. Did I over-sell or under-sell things here? I feel like I didn't make it sound fun. How would you handle this?

EDIT: Come to think of it, no one bit when I pitched the 5E Adventures in Middle-Earth, either, so maybe my group just wants default D&D and nothing but.
 
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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
How do you pitch a S&S tone without it sounding depressing and nihilistic?

I feel like I didn't make it sound fun. How would you handle this?

Here's how I would approach it:

Ask them to read a couple of the classic stories, such as Tower of the Elephant, Queen of the Black Coast, or Red Nails. The stories are not that long and can be found for free online. Hopefully the players will be fired up for a S&S campaign based on the strength of Howard's writing alone.

If they can't be bothered to read the stories, perhaps they can skim through a comic book adaptation of the above stories (the Marvel adaptations by Roy Thomas are great, but use the Dark Horse versions if they prefer color).

If that doesn't help, then ask them to view the following 2-minute video on YouTube:


If they are STILL not interested after watching that, then you need a new group! :LOL:
 


Aldarc

Legend
Here's how I would approach it:

Ask them to read a couple of the classic stories, such as Tower of the Elephant, Queen of the Black Coast, or Red Nails. The stories are not that long and can be found for free online. Hopefully the players will be fired up for a S&S campaign based on the strength of Howard's writing alone.

If they can't be bothered to read the stories, perhaps they can skim through a comic book adaptation of the above stories (the Marvel adaptations by Roy Thomas are great, but use the Dark Horse versions if they prefer color).

If that doesn't help, then ask them to view the following 2-minute video on YouTube:


If they are STILL not interested after watching that, then you need a new group! :LOL:
That's where you have already lost my group. If your elavator pitch requires that the players read anything more than a few pages, then that is a total no-go.
 


Aldarc

Legend
So... show them the video?
Not sure if this would do anything for them, to be honest. What impresses you and your players will not necessarily impress mine. I, for one, only see boring Hollywood cinematic duds with over the top special effects and quick cut edits in that trailer. I'm not sure if it really gets me in the mood for S&S adventure.
 


J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Here's how I would approach it:

Ask them to read a couple of the classic stories, such as Tower of the Elephant, Queen of the Black Coast, or Red Nails. The stories are not that long and can be found for free online. Hopefully the players will be fired up for a S&S campaign based on the strength of Howard's writing alone.

If they can't be bothered to read the stories, perhaps they can skim through a comic book adaptation of the above stories (the Marvel adaptations by Roy Thomas are great, but use the Dark Horse versions if they prefer color).

If that doesn't help, then ask them to view the following 2-minute video on YouTube:
[...snip...]
If they are STILL not interested after watching that, then you need a new group! :LOL:
Totally agree! I've come to feel that can go a lot farther, too, if it's done as a group, eg, as a session zero thing to make sure everyone is on the same page about the genre. That's not possible for every group, but I think that makes it a lot easier to get buy in and to make sure everyone's on the same page about the sort of game to expect.

I've done this a few times on the day before long-weekend game-a-thons: watch a S&S movie like Beastmaster or Conan, and do storytelling or "interpretive readings" of a story, all over bbq and beers or something. Then roll up characters and run the intro scene/s while it's fresh in the mind. Good stuff!

I imagine that works for most any genre for which there's a lot of media to work with: Arthurian myth, kung-fu, cosmic horror, or whatever. Movies or video shorts, short stories or comics, videogame or boardgame, maybe even an ultralite RPG, etc.

Just pick out some appropriate media and enjoy it as a group, if at all possible. That way everyone can sort of experience it "the same way," feed off each others' enthusiasm, talk about the genre and/or the specific game, and just have an all around good time.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I'm not sure if it really gets me in the mood for S&S adventure.
I thought we were talking about your players? I kinda assumed that the person running the game would already be "in the mood"...

Not sure I can give any more useful advice... except, as others have mentioned, get together as a group and discuss what kind of game/genre you want to play... and if in doubt, just play a couple of sessions and see if you (as a group) think it's fun.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

What do you think are good ways for gamemasters to write adventures and run them in a way to create a feel of Sword & Sorcery stories?
For me, S&S "feels" like sand-caked blood a the corners of my mouth and the sting of an epic hangover. ;)

Writing an S&S adventure should entail very little, if any, "humanoid monsters" (kobolds, goblins, ogres, etc). Those humanoid monsters get replaced with strange half-men (half-man, half-beast), savage cavemen, cannibal tribes worshipping strange gods, etc.

The other 'monsters' are SIGNIFICANTLY more rare... manticore, giants, dragons, otyugh, basilisk, etc. Those creatures are only encountered in their "lair".

The majority of 'monsters' encountered in the wilderness and ruined cities of ancient civilizations will be of the "giant animal" variety; giant apes, giant snakes, giant frogs, giant scorpions, giant spiders, giant turtles, etc.

Ok. So now we have a feel for what "monsters" are there. What about non-monsters? Well, that would be humans. Other humans...cultures, genetics, religions, etc. There should be very little "mixing" of the human tribes/countries due primarily to the dangers of travel, but also due to distrust of "outsiders" (basically, most people in an S&S world would have various severities of xenophobia). Each country would have certain genetic dispositions (adjustments to stats, ht/wt, hair/eye colour, skin colour, etc). On top of that, each should also have a distinct look and feel to their fashion. Fashion is important in S&S....it starkly contrasts the "Haves" from the "Have Nots". Leading to...

Haves and Have Nots. This is prevalent. So when writing an adventure, the PC's are almost always of the "Have Nots". This means they are seen as tools. Objects. Any adventure involving someone "hiring" them to do something must keep this in mind. The PC's are not "equals" to their employer; they are expendable expenses. If they start to cost more than they are worth, they are fired (or killed, traded, sold, sacrificed, or who knows what). In the S&S world, there is no such thing as "Fair Dealing Laws". You take what you can get, hope for the best, expect the worst.

Themes of the Adventure. Wild lands, ancient ruins and antediluvian caves, caverns and dungeons from other epoch's. Roads are rough and dilapidated at best, decrepit to non-existent at worst. Roads are beset by bandits, savages, and the hunting grounds for huge, fell beasts that strike from the shadows or the air. Roads are deadly. Roads are also much safer than traveling in the wilderness.

Rewards. A S&S adventure should reward the PC's primarily with their lives. After that, scars as opposed to permanent losses of limbs or senses. After that, riches. An adventure should be considered a success if half the party manages to get back to civilization only mostly dead. It's a resounding success if they also have enough treasure to pay for healing and partying/celebrating. The more PC's that live, the more treasure, the more successful...but the standard D&D'ism's of "Going into the dungeon, killing monsters, taking their stuff" shouldn't really be expected. Like, at all.

Death. Yup. Death. S&S is uncaring...no, it is outright hostile. It wants to see you dead. There should almost never be a "fair fight" in an S&S adventure; the PC's should be trying to avoid fights if at all possible, and when they must fight, they should be fighting tooth and nail....because at any second WHAM! Yer ded! Now, 5e is not set up for this sort of brutality. Personally, I'd probably get some rules fixed/created to help with this. For example, at 0 HP you immediately make ONE Death Save; pass or fail. The reason I say one roll is because it's easier than negative HP's to help portray the "left for dead" trope of S&S.

And that's about it. Savage humans, xenophobic civilizations, giant creatures, deadly...everything.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
How do you pitch a S&S tone without it sounding depressing and nihilistic? When I ran some of what i saw as the core concepts past a few players in our group, the response was either static or "sounds depressing". ....

Reading that, I guess I can see how that would read as drudgery if you're used to default D&Disms and aren't familiar with S&S as a genre. Did I over-sell or under-sell things here? I feel like I didn't make it sound fun. How would you handle this?

Stop pitching or trying to sell anything, most people do not know what they want and so cannot respond to what you are talking about, especially with high level concepts.

Run a one-shot with pregens using an adventure designed to provide the experience you have in mind. You need a tiny bit of context, you need well defined and appealing pregens each with an agenda, at least relevant for this adventure. Use whatever references you think the players will understand from films, games, animation, novels to put the adventure into context.
That is it. See how it goes.
 

pemerton

Legend
So... show them the video?
Not sure if this would do anything for them, to be honest. What impresses you and your players will not necessarily impress mine. I, for one, only see boring Hollywood cinematic duds with over the top special effects and quick cut edits in that trailer. I'm not sure if it really gets me in the mood for S&S adventure.
I didn't think the video was especially S&S. It featured a lot of army scenes, but may FRPGs struggle to handle PCs as leaders of warbands (eg in classic D&D the approach to this is head to the sandtable and break out the wargame rules). And it showed a lot of fighting with fantastically huge creatures - hydras and the like - which I would tend to associate with Greek myth and D&D play.

I think the way to run S&S is just to do it. Get the players to build PCs; frame a starting scene; and see what happens.

Nothing in this thread has made me depart from my recommendation of Burning Wheel as a good system for this.

EDIT: Ninja'd a bit by @Bilharzia.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I didn't think the video was especially S&S. It featured a lot of army scenes

There is a battle in Hour of the Dragon.
There is a battle in The Scarlet Citadel.
There is a battle in A Witch Shall be Born.
There is a battle in The People of the Black Circle.
There is a battle in Black Colossus.
There is (an offstage) battle in The Slithering Shadow.
There is (an offstage) battle in Red Nails.

And it showed a lot of fighting with fantastically huge creatures - hydras and the like - which I would tend to associate with Greek myth and D&D play.

There are no fantastically huge creatures in the Howard stories, but there are plenty of colossal creatures in the Conan comics by Marvel, so in the "extended Conan universe" if you will.

I think the way to run S&S is just to do it. Get the players to build PCs; frame a starting scene; and see what happens.

Agreed!
 


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