Musing on Conan themes in RPGs

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
The thing is, I wouldn’t want to push players to feel they have to make their characters as uncivilized as possible for mechanical benefit. I would want “highly civilized” to be a valid character choice, with a different set of pros and cons.
Really its something of a hypocrisy mechanic where the civilised despite their veneer of politeness are usually greedy, cruel, scheming liars whereas barbarians are more direct and honest about their passions.
Is there another word, better than 'level', that you would prefer to use to describe the difference between a game in which you gain power/abilities piecemeal, versus one where you achieve that in chunks with numbers/labels attached to them?

EDIT: I understand that in theory the distinction could have no relevance to gameplay, because a highly granular progression could still be based on levels. But in practice that would mean a lot of levels. So in general the distinction between leveling and non-leveling games tends to be a difference in power curves.

Conan goes from being a minor theif to becoming a brigand, and mercenary rising through the ranks to become Captain of Armies and a Leader of Pirates, then on to becoming King - his progress is shown via gaining new career skills (thief, pirate. mercenary), greater understanding of the supernatural, and increasing Fame and Influence as a leader of men.
Its definitely progress, which in Fate would be modelled as changed and new Aspects, rather than bulk levelling.
 

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cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I think he was already a king in the very first story published. That's the thing about Conan stories, they're not told in chronological order.
He was, the Phoenix in the Sword. That first story wasn't even originally about Conan, it was a rewrite of a King Kull story. I sort of wonder if we'd even have Conan stories if not for the Kull story being turned down. Still, if reading in chronological order, it does show a progression of his story from raider, to thief (though not a dnd style thief), to bandit, mercenary, or pirate captain, to King.

I really should have read the rest of the thread before responding, you'd already mentioned the name of the first story in a later post.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Conan over his Career is a write-up for FATE Accelerated at Station53 blog starting Conan as a 15 year old raider at the Battle of Vanarium through to his Kingship (age 45). helpfully it references the books in the Chronology (Dale Rippke version) and how they translate into milestones and progress/gains for the character build.
 

pemerton

Legend
I don't think Conan, as written by REH, progresses through D&D-type levels or "build".

In The Tower of the Elephant he kills a lion with a single sword blow:

It was Conan's savage instinct which made him wheel suddenly; for the death that was upon them made no sound. A fleeting glimpse showed the Cimmerian the giant tawny shape, rearing upright against the stars, towering over him for the death- stroke. No civilized man could have moved half so quickly as the barbarian moved. His sword flashed frostily in the starlight with every ounce of desperate nerve and thew behind it, and man and beast went down together.

Cursing incoherently beneath his breath, Taurus bent above the mass, and saw his companion's limbs move as he strove to drag himself from under the great weight that lay limply upon him. A glance showed the startled Nemedian that the lion was dead, its slanting skull split in half. He laid hold of the carcass, and by his aid, Conan thrust it aside and clambered up, still gripping his dripping sword.

'Are you hurt, man?' gasped Taurus, still bewildered by the stunning swiftness of that touch-and-go episode.

'No, by Crom!' answered the barbarian. 'But that was as close a call as I've had in a life noways tame. Why did not the cursed beast roar as he charged?'​

Conan is as puissant and mightily thewed as REH wants him to be! Which is very much in both respects.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't think Conan, as written by REH, progresses through D&D-type levels or "build".

In The Tower of the Elephant he kills a lion with a single sword blow:

It was Conan's savage instinct which made him wheel suddenly; for the death that was upon them made no sound. A fleeting glimpse showed the Cimmerian the giant tawny shape, rearing upright against the stars, towering over him for the death- stroke. No civilized man could have moved half so quickly as the barbarian moved. His sword flashed frostily in the starlight with every ounce of desperate nerve and thew behind it, and man and beast went down together.​
Cursing incoherently beneath his breath, Taurus bent above the mass, and saw his companion's limbs move as he strove to drag himself from under the great weight that lay limply upon him. A glance showed the startled Nemedian that the lion was dead, its slanting skull split in half. He laid hold of the carcass, and by his aid, Conan thrust it aside and clambered up, still gripping his dripping sword.​
'Are you hurt, man?' gasped Taurus, still bewildered by the stunning swiftness of that touch-and-go episode.​
'No, by Crom!' answered the barbarian. 'But that was as close a call as I've had in a life noways tame. Why did not the cursed beast roar as he charged?'​

Conan is as puissant and mightily thewed as REH wants him to be! Which is very much in both respects.
I mean, do can a Level 1 Barbarian in 5E...?

A Lion has 26 HP (assumed average), so a high strength Barbarian who crits and rolls high while in a Rage can take it out in one hit (not regularly, but they can).
 

pemerton

Legend
I mean, do can a Level 1 Barbarian in 5E...?

A Lion has 26 HP (assumed average), so a high strength Barbarian who crits and rolls high while in a Rage can take it out in one hit (not regularly, but they can).
What ability is the first level barbarian using to interrupt the lion's pounce?

EDIT: Which is really not the point. Read the Tower of the Elephant, then compare The Phoenix on the Sword. What is the level progression? In what way does the former read like an account of a 1st level D&D adventure whereas the later is 9th (or whatever) level?
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
What ability is the first level barbarian using to interrupt the lion's pounce?

EDIT: Which is really not the point. Read the Tower of the Elephant, then compare The Phoenix on the Sword. What is the level progression? In what way does the former read like an account of a 1st level D&D adventure whereas the later is 9th (or whatever) level?
In game mechanics terms, I would interpret that passage as the Barbarian juat winning initiative and the stuff about disentangle limbs as narrative flavor (as one might see Matt Mercer do on Critical Role).

I hardly think I'm missing the poinr: as the point is that the D&D Level system is meant to simulate (to some extent of success) such an arc as can be seen in Howard or Liever stories.
 

pemerton

Legend
the D&D Level system is meant to simulate (to some extent of success) such an arc as can be seen in Howard or Liever stories.
I think it's meant to provide a goal of play - to make your PC mechanically more powerful, and hence able to take on the deeper dungeon levels - and the "arc" is a lampshade that is placed over it.

Shooting were-hyenas with arrows as they attack, cleaving the skull of the lion, surviving the giant spider, meeting Pelias in the dungeon and uprooting the hell-plant, etc: a Conan-themed game should be regularly delivering this sort of action. Conan in The Tower of the Elephant, in Queen of the Black Coast, in The Scarlet Citadel, doesn't vary in his ability to perform these sorts of feats and survive. These are stories of events in a life, but not of the growth of an individual into the heights of his physical and martial power.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
One of the things video games took from D&D was leveling in one sense or another (oh, and extra lives :D ) ... it wasn't accidental.
A reward-loop is a good way to keep a player engaged.

Tangentally, I think in some ways, EGG painted himself into a corner or off a cliff or something, with leveling. Particularly with the magic-user. Apparently, according to Kuntz or someone like that, I think, he liked to use higher-level magic-users as villains. So, the party would face an enemy wielding the next-higher level of spells, and then, they'd prevail, level, and, in a while, be using those spells.
In the classic game, the higher level the spell, the more it looks like something a big bad might use to challenge the heroes, rather than something the heroes would use to defeat a big bad....
 

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