Mythological Figures: Conan the Barbarian (5E)

WHAT IS BEST IN LIFE? Click here to find out! This week's Mythological Figure is one sure to generate a lot of discussion, as we delve into Conan the Barbabarian!



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If by some strange chance you are not already familiar with this wildly popular character my first recommendation is to check out any of the Conan the Barbarian films (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), but there’s also a Conan RPG from Modiphius and a relatively recent Conan video game. I’m not going to summarize his history -- as far as I’m able to tell there are at least 13 different public domain works featuring Conan.

If you read this column for the context this just isn’t your week but for the stat junkies, behold!

Design Notes: Conan here is one of the most hotly contested character builds for fantasy RPGs. It’s opinions, @$$#%^&$, and Conan builds out here: everybody has one. At one point or another I ran across a rationale I thought was pretty good and made a comment in my working document about it. If you are the person who posted this on Facebook or elsewhere on EN World or wherever it is I saw it, thank you:

“First thing - no more than 1 level of Barbarian class. Barbarians from Hyboria aren't D&D Barbarians. You just need it to reflect that he was formidabble even without any armour. So Barbarian 1 and no more. Second thing - Ranger 1. Conan was good tracker and knew how to take care of himself in the wilderness, his favoured enemies should be humans and human-abomination hybrids. Third - Rouge 3 with Thief Roguish Archetype. He spent a lot of time as ordinary thief. Rest should go to Fighter with Champion as Martial Archetype as Conan was more interested in crushing his enemies (and seeing them driven before him) as quickly and effectively as possible.”

For his Challenge Rating I erred on the side of caution and rounded up to 9 because he’s got a ton of features, can leap like a monster, and has incredible mobility (and if you are going to cry fowl about needing a higher Strength or Constitution, drop Mobility and increase one or the other by +2).



Conan the Barbarian
Medium humanoid (human), neutral barbarian 1/ranger 1/rogue (thief) 3/fighter 11 (champion)

Armor Class
14 (hide)
Hit Points 118 (1d12+12d10+3d8+32)
Speed 40 ft.

STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
18 (+4)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
12 (+1)​
13 (+1)​
10 (+0)​

Saving Throws
Str +9, Con +7
Skills Athletics +14, Intimidation +5, Sleight of Hand +7, Stealth +12, Survival +6; disguise kit +5, thieves’ tools +5
Senses passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Thieves’ Cant
Challenge 9 (5,000 XP)

Background: Guttersnipe - Urban Knowledge. Conan and his allies (while outside of combat) move at double their normal speed when traveling between two locations in the same city.

Action Surge (1/Short Rest). Once on his turn, Conan can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

Cunning Action (1/Turn). Conan can take a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, Hide or Use Object action, Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, or to use thieves’ tools to disarm a trap or open a lock.

Favored Enemy. Conan has advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to track humans and human-abomination hybrids, as well as on Intelligence checks to recall information about them.

Feat: Mobile. Conan can Dash through difficult terrain without requiring additional movement. Whenever he makes an attack against a creature, he doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from that creature until the end of his turn.

Feat: Power Attack. When Conan makes his first melee weapon attack in a turn, he can choose to take a -5 penalty to his melee weapon attack rolls in exchange for a +10 bonus to melee weapon damage. In addition, Conan can use a bonus action to make one melee weapon attack after he uses a melee weapon to reduce a creature to 0 hit points or scores a critical hit with it. Conan can only use this feature on his turn.

Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting. When Conan rolls a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack he makes with a melee weapon that he is wielding with two hands, he can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for Conan to gain this benefit.

Indomitable (1/Long Rest). Conan can reroll a saving throw that he fails but must use the new roll.

Natural Explorer: Mountains. When Conan makes an Intelligence or Wisdom check related to the forest, his proficiency bonus (+5) is doubled if he is using a skill that he’s proficient in. While traveling for an hour or more in his favored terrain, Conan gains the following benefits:

  • Difficult terrain doesn’t slow his group’s travel.
  • Conan’s group can’t become lost except by magical means.
  • Even when he is engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), Conan remains alert to danger.
  • If Conan is traveling alone, he can move stealthily at a normal pace.
  • When he forages, Conan finds twice as much food as he normally would.
  • While tracking other creatures, Conan also learns their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

Rage (2/Long Rest). On his turn, Conan can enter a rage as a bonus action. His rage lasts for 1 minute, ending early if he is knocked unconscious or if his turn ends and he hasn’t either attacked a hostile creature since his last turn or taken damage since then. Conan can also end his rage on his turn as a bonus action. While raging, he gains the following benefits.

  • Conan has advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • When Conan makes a melee weapon attack using Strength, he deals 2 extra damage.
  • Conan has resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

Remarkable Athlete. Conan adds +2 to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check he makes that doesn’t already use his proficiency bonus. In addition, when he makes a running long jump, the distance he can cover increases by 4 feet.

Second-Story Work. Climbing does not cost Conan extra movement. When he makes a running jump, the distance he covers increases by 2 feet (with Remarkable Athlete, 6 feet).

Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Conan can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+11 hit points.

Sneak Attack (1/Turn). Conan deals an extra 7 (2d6) damage when he hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Conan that isn’t incapacitated and Conan doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.


ACTIONS

Multiattack. Conan attacks three times.

Greatsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6+4) slashing damage.

Dagger (4). Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4+4) piercing damage.

Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, range 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8+2) piercing damage.
 
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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

Ymdar

Explorer
I wouldn't say Conan is "Mythological" per se but I understand this is the name of the column. Otherwise I like it.
 

epithet

Explorer
First off, Conan has transcended the fiction of Howard and become a legend expressed and interpreted by multiple creators across just about every type of media. He's totally mythological.

Second, while I understand the appeal of giving Conan the Barbarian at least one level of the barbarian class, I don't know that I would. Yes, he should be effective without armor, and yes his Con should be high, but I would suggest that his Wis score should be just as high when building Conan for D&D 5e. His wisdom (survival) ability checks are as prominent as his critical successes on death saving throws, and we all must remember fondly seeing Arnold getting slapped around by a disapproving master of Eastern swordsmanship. I would say that level should be in the monk class, not in barbarian.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Sorry, but no. I don't know why people insist on giving a fictional hero a half dozen classes. I blame 1e with Deities and Demigods for starting that lol. In a rigid system like 1e where in order to replicate certain abilities you kinda had to multiclass, you don't need that in 5e. There is no reason why Conan would have all of those classes. You can do Conan with just a fighter, outlander background, and skill choices. Things like remarkable athlete justifies his better than average ability to do thiefing stuff. Outlander background makes him a barbarian by culture (no need for the class) so that works. Etc, etc.

Also, people tend to way over inflate the levels. He doesn't need to be 16th level. A 5th level PC is heroic compared to the rest of the people in the world they live in. So look at what he did and who he beat to give a reference. Everything he accomplished could have been done by about 10th level tops. Most literary fictional characters are not sure high level. Reminds me of that old Dragon article: Gandalf was a 5th level magic user ;)
 

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
Sorry, but no. I don't know why people insist on giving a fictional hero a half dozen classes. I blame 1e with Deities and Demigods for starting that lol. In a rigid system like 1e where in order to replicate certain abilities you kinda had to multiclass, you don't need that in 5e. There is no reason why Conan would have all of those classes. You can do Conan with just a fighter, outlander background, and skill choices. Things like remarkable athlete justifies his better than average ability to do thiefing stuff. Outlander background makes him a barbarian by culture (no need for the class) so that works. Etc, etc.

Also, people tend to way over inflate the levels. He doesn't need to be 16th level. A 5th level PC is heroic compared to the rest of the people in the world they live in. So look at what he did and who he beat to give a reference. Everything he accomplished could have been done by about 10th level tops. Most literary fictional characters are not sure high level. Reminds me of that old Dragon article: Gandalf was a 5th level magic user ;)

Maybe so but Mythological Figures has its own continuity that I strive to keep intact -- the only 20th level build is Thor, King Arthur cruises in at 19 (this is a site based in the UK ;) ), and one of the comparable level builds is Joan of Arc at 15th. Would you say Conan is on par with her? :lol:
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Maybe so but Mythological Figures has its own continuity that I strive to keep intact -- the only 20th level build is Thor, King Arthur cruises in at 19 (this is a site based in the UK ;) ), and one of the comparable level builds is Joan of Arc at 15th. Would you say Conan is on par with her? :lol:

I'd say Joan of Arc shouldn't be anywhere near level 15 if asked ;) Maybe level 5. Fighter, acolyte background, inspiring leader feat, high Charisma, prof in persuasion. That's pretty much it.
 

epithet

Explorer
I'd say Joan of Arc shouldn't be anywhere near level 15 if asked ;) Maybe level 5. Fighter, acolyte background, inspiring leader feat, high Charisma, prof in persuasion. That's pretty much it.

I'd make Joan a barbarian, path of the ancestral guardian. Instead of ancestor spirits, call them angels. Instead of rage, call it "Holy Spirit." The whole thing with Joan was that she had no training in combat, it just came to her through divine inspiration.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Sorry, but no. I don't know why people insist on giving a fictional hero a half dozen classes. I blame 1e with Deities and Demigods for starting that lol. In a rigid system like 1e where in order to replicate certain abilities you kinda had to multiclass, you don't need that in 5e. There is no reason why Conan would have all of those classes. You can do Conan with just a fighter, outlander background, and skill choices. Things like remarkable athlete justifies his better than average ability to do thiefing stuff. Outlander background makes him a barbarian by culture (no need for the class) so that works. Etc, etc.

Conan's thiefly abilities are most due to his incredible climbing, high perception, and decent stealth. He's not a lockpicker or pickpocket. I agree he doesn't really need Rogue levels, or at least not many.

However, one issue that 5E maintains from 1E is how niche-protected and generally limited characters are. This makes sense for a game that's designed to be played by a group of four or five people, but Conan---and most literary figures of the pulp era---is a solo act, or occasionally teamed up in a duo. Even the more human-scale Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser were a duo and both are clearly much more competent than most characters would be at too many things.

D&D has never really done that well (by design), hence leading to inflated-seeming builds when people try to make characters that emulate fiction. Conan was definitely a skill monkey at least in some areas, and that's hard to build if you also want him to be able to kick serious hind end in melee, which he clearly does in the source material. However, D&D tends to make doing both tough.

Also, people tend to way over inflate the levels. He doesn't need to be 16th level. A 5th level PC is heroic compared to the rest of the people in the world they live in.

Obviously it depends on how you put most other people or threats.


So look at what he did and who he beat to give a reference. Everything he accomplished could have been done by about 10th level tops. Most literary fictional characters are not sure high level.

Not to sound like I'm arguing both sides of the issue :uhoh:, but it should be noted Conan is an unreliable narrator in the REH material. Furthermore, the stories are clearly exaggerated by retelling---as they are from the Nemedian Chronicles told long after Conan is alive---so to no small degree I think we should discount what's said about him.

I'm a big fan of the Modiphius game and they have several builds for him, some really inflated and others much more reasonable.


Reminds me of that old Dragon article: Gandalf was a 5th level magic user ;)

Or an 8th level cleric. Truly that is one of the stupidest articles written about the game ever, although obviously it was meant to be tongue in cheek.

Gandalf does all sorts of amazing things, but most of them are off-screen or only viewed from afar and overall the implied magic system of Middle Earth is overall much less flashy than D&D's. He drives off a group of Nazgul on Weathertop. Later on he single-handedly kills one of the legendary horrors of the First Age, a balrog, which destroyed the Dwarves of Durin's realm. Obviously that needs to be gauged with respects to the threats he faced, but neither a 5th level wizard nor an 8th level cleric feels sufficient for those tasks.
 
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BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
I'm in the camp that thinks Conan has no rogue levels, In no depiction of him ever have I seen him use Thieves tools.

Conan is a successful thief, but that's because he is stealthy and athletic. athletic to a degree beyond what any other human can pull off in his setting. All stemming from having to survive a childhood in the harshness of Cimmeria.

A class that can boost Athletics, Nature, Perception, Stealth or Survival like the Fighter Scout would be great representation of Conan's skillset, at least the ones he grew up with. scout also gets you Natural explore saving you that single level of Ranger.

As an adult, Conan doesn't learn any knew physical abilities. what he becomes more adept at is leading men in battle. As such I think prioritizing Cha of Int is the way to go. Conan isn't dumb, but he spends far more time leading armies, pirates, etc into battle than learning history.

As for whether Conan has an Barbarian levels, in past editions I would say no, in 5th Edition maybe.

Conan certainly presents more savage ferocity than any other human being in any of his adventures. even the Picts he out-savages. In Phoenix in the sword he battles a score of trained warriors on his own even when he hadn't finished completely donning his armor, and REH is very clear that it's because he has a savagery no civilized man could match. It's a very good in narrative description for Rage IMHO.

The problem is that while the base class Barbarian abilities (like damage reduction, bonus damage to melee attacks made with strength, increased accuracy with melee attacks made with strength, faster movement, advantage on initiative, and advantage on Dex saves) actually fit Conan quite well, no Barbarian subclass fits him very well at all.

Full Barbarian could fit if you go Tiger totem, and refluff the ritual spells into something non-magical. Conan's prowess is often compared to a great cat.

Edit: A Zealot's level 10 ability is actually pretty good fit for a Leader type Barbarian, and the level 6 ability is great too, but you need to lose the Warrior of the gods stuff. Crom doesn't lift a finger to help anybody.

I'd personally represent him as a Barbarian 2/ Fighter Scout X. Str > Con > Dex = Wis > Cha > Int for stats.
 
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BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Or an 8th level cleric. Truly that is one of the stupidest articles written about the game ever, although obviously it was meant to be tongue in cheek.

Gandalf does all sorts of amazing things, but most of them are off-screen or only viewed from afar and overall the implied magic system of Middle Earth is overall much less flashy than D&D's. He drives off a group of Nazgul on Weathertop. Later on he single-handedly kills one of the legendary horrors of the First Age, a balrog, which destroyed the Dwarves of Durin's realm. Obviously that needs to be gauged with respects to the threats he faced, but neither a 5th level wizard nor an 8th level cleric feels sufficient for those tasks.

If you stat Gandalf as an NPC instead of a PC (and I think you should) a full CR 10 Deva plus 5 levels of your favorite casting class works quite well.

Edit: The true error lies in trying to base his levels off of just what spells he is shown to cast (which I think is foolish.)
 

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