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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!






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.

[TABLE="class: grid, width: 475"]
[TR]
[TD]
STR
[/TD]
[TD]
DEX
[/TD]
[TD]
CON
[/TD]
[TD]
INT
[/TD]
[TD]
WIS
[/TD]
[TD]
CHA
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]
18 (+4)​
[/TD]
[TD]
14 (+2)​
[/TD]
[TD]
14 (+2)​
[/TD]
[TD]
12 (+1)​
[/TD]
[TD]
13 (+1)​
[/TD]
[TD]
10 (+0)​
[/TD]
[/TR]
[/TABLE]

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

Comments

Saelorn

Explorer
You're trying to use 5E language to describe a character who clearly doesn't operate by 5E rules, and who lives in a world that doesn't operate by 5E rules. It's like you're taking Conan, from how he existed in the stories, and porting him to 5E without regard for what Conan would have looked like if he had been a 5E native. That's why he looks so weird, and he has such weird stats and abilities. They are things that only make sense under his native ruleset.

Unfortunately, when you put him in that light, it really ruins his reputation. This Conan lacks the fundamental trait that Conan had in the stories, which is competence. Looking at this write-up from the perspective of how we know the 5E world operates, he seems like kind of a chump, compared to what a character with his experience should be capable of. I'm not saying that you should change the format of these articles or anything, but it would be far more useful to have a stat block for a Conan who captured the essence of the character within the 5E ruleset, rather than in contrast to it.
 

cbwjm

Explorer
I'm just going to add my voice to Conan having no rogue levels. In the books I've read, he doesn't really do much in the way of finesse in opening things. If a chest has a lock on it, he cleaves it with his sword, if the door is looked he "picks the lock" by kicking the door down.

I'd probably run with straight barbarian, I think berserker fits best for him. I could also see having a few fighter levels.

The ranger level is interesting and I could see that fitting him for the various survivability skills the ranger brings.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
You're trying to use 5E language to describe a character who clearly doesn't operate by 5E rules, <...> This Conan lacks the fundamental trait that Conan had in the stories, which is competence. <...> but it would be far more useful to have a stat block for a Conan who captured the essence of the character within the 5E ruleset, rather than in contrast to it.
Unfortunately I think that's a big part of the problem.

Conan, like many literary or legendary characters, id just too broadly competent in a lot of ways to work as a 5E character, unless, I suppose he's markedly higher level than everyone around him or the DM shifts the system to accommodate. Conan's basically a one man band but D&D's explicitly set up to avoid characters like that and provide an experience for a party of four or five peers fairly specialized in their niches. It's really quite difficult to make a character like Conan in any version of D&D. 5E is probably the easiest but even so. I've played other games that work better for two to three players, and indeed have played and run lots of D&D with a smaller group, but you really have to work and go outside the usual confines and assumptions built into D&D.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
I'm just going to add my voice to Conan having no rogue levels. In the books I've read, he doesn't really do much in the way of finesse in opening things. If a chest has a lock on it, he cleaves it with his sword, if the door is looked he "picks the lock" by kicking the door down.
Rogue would have the benefit of being a straightforward way to give him really high Athletics and Perception via Expertise but I agree he pretty clearly traded off Thieves' Tools for something else. (IMO Thieves' Tools probably should be a regular skill anyway.) Conan's thieving is mostly due to him being an awesome second story man.
 

Arnwolf666

Explorer
barbarian (berserker) 6 ranger (hunter) 1 rogue (thief) 3 fighter (champion) 11

background outlander

str 20 dex 20 con 20 int 16 wis 18 cha 20

go ahead hate me. but i am a total fanboy. i cant help myself lol. read all of howard’s works and loved Roy Thomas’s writing in the comics. but howard is the best. just glad other people love the character also
 

ad_hoc

Explorer
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 ;)
Yeah, this.

11-16 is when the party is fighting threats to entire planes.
17+ is threats to the multiverse.

Granted I haven't read the books, but is that really what is going on?

Tier 2 is where most of our great heroes stories are.

If we want to find stories of characters of 11-16 we're looking at Hercules and the like, demi-gods.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
Oy!

I didn't realize that chain shirts and breastplates were commonplace in the Hyborian Age. I've updated his statblock so he's got decent armor (along with a commensurate CR oomph to 10).

Conan's Competency - The only thing he doesn't have some bonus for are Charisma checks and saving throws. For everything else he's got a bonus (getting doubled in his favorite terrain) and when he doesn't directly have a proficiency bonus on a physical check he's got an extra +2. He's also faster than almost all other rogues (because mobile) and can out sprint a horse. Also he can outjump everyone but a monk. And takes half damage from weapons. This guy is crazy competent. :)

Three Scales - If you've not read this column before that's cool--check out all the other entries! When you don't find somebody you want to see, comment and I'll add them to the list. Thrud the Barbarian is copyrighted and not in the public domain so he doesn't qualify but as long as we're legally allowed to do it I'll add them to the queue.
Each of the characters in Mythological Figures has three things going on behind it:
1) Built RAW (or as close to rules as written as possible).
2) Expresses the character as well as the system can manage.
3) Is useful to GMs and fun to field against a party of adventurers.​
We could just point to the Gladiator NPC and add X, Y, and Z, but that's ultimately not going to feel like the party is facing off against a Mythological Figure, right? Even if it's just that you've got a page with plenty of text on it behind the GM screen, there's a noticeable impact when the character gets a full sheet. There's a certain lack of depth with the (awesome, quick) scratched-off-serial-numbers design tack, and when built like a PC that character will feel like they have more weight (probably with some traits or features that may not be 100% necessary but--see #1).
 
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dave2008

Explorer
You're trying to use 5E language to describe a character who clearly doesn't operate by 5E rules, and who lives in a world that doesn't operate by 5E rules. It's like you're taking Conan, from how he existed in the stories, and porting him to 5E without regard for what Conan would have looked like if he had been a 5E native. That's why he looks so weird, and he has such weird stats and abilities. They are things that only make sense under his native ruleset.

Unfortunately, when you put him in that light, it really ruins his reputation. This Conan lacks the fundamental trait that Conan had in the stories, which is competence. Looking at this write-up from the perspective of how we know the 5E world operates, he seems like kind of a chump, compared to what a character with his experience should be capable of. I'm not saying that you should change the format of these articles or anything, but it would be far more useful to have a stat block for a Conan who captured the essence of the character within the 5E ruleset, rather than in contrast to it.
I actually think this build does a pretty good job of translating Conan to 5e. Everyone will a different opinion about a few things, but this is a good start. I see nothing here that ruins him. The only issue in my eyes would be if you have other high level characters running around, and that is a setting thing.
 

Phasestar

Villager
It's a pretty good take on Conan, but I think he pretty clearly has "rolled" stats above the norm, so where his stats end up here is a bit low in my opinion, while the classes seem about right to me. For these mythological characters, including someone like Conan who starts in Hyboria, is an adventure, a thief and a soldier and ends up as a King, it's ok to boost the stats well beyond the standard PHB build.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I also think Conan is a good choice for a high level character. He killed two frost giants by himself and adventured into his 60s after all! His breadth and depth of adventures covers more than the typical 1-20 lvl campaign I would wager.
Howard's frost giants are NOT D&D frost giants, so you can't use that as a metric to decided what level he would be. Those frost giants were barely bigger than he was, and were only called "frost" giants because they happened to live in the snow. Totally different than D&D's frost giants.

And while he went on many adventures, over the course of his entire campaign written by Howard, he killed less monsters than most D&D PCs do in a single adventure ;)
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
Howard's frost giants are NOT D&D frost giants, so you can't use that as a metric to decided what level he would be. Those frost giants were barely bigger than he was, and were only called "frost" giants because they happened to live in the snow. Totally different than D&D's frost giants.
Agreed, they're probably more like ogres.


And while he went on many adventures, over the course of his entire campaign written by Howard, he killed less monsters than most D&D PCs do in a single adventure ;)
Um... not sure about that. For instance in "Queen of the Black Coast" he rolls through a horde of pirates by himself when he first meets Belit. Furthermore, Conan is largely a solo act, occasionally a duo, in a world that largely lacks control magic. For example, early in his career in "Tower of the Elephant" he and Taurus fight the lions that Yara has as guardians. There are quite a number... I forget how many. In 5E, lions are CR1 but they would be very difficult for a small group due to their speed, relatively high offense, and pack tactics. According to Kobold Fight Club this would be a "Deadly" encounter for a band of two 5th level adventurers but "Medium" for a band of two 8th level adventurers. "Medium" feels more right given the description... of course, this math is quite loose and would depend greatly on the builds. The fight with the spider is much worse, although partly that's because Taurus gets killed and Conan is alone.

IMO one of the best ways to avoid too much "Conan inflation" is to consider him to be an unreliable narrator to start with and then realize that his tales are actually related in the Nemedian Chronicles and thus are likely to have gotten much bigger in the retelling.
 

dave2008

Explorer
Howard's frost giants are NOT D&D frost giants, so you can't use that as a metric to decided what level he would be. Those frost giants were barely bigger than he was, and were only called "frost" giants because they happened to live in the snow. Totally different than D&D's frost giants.
I don't know: "Conan saw the remaining giant looming high above him like a colossus carved of ice, etched against the cold glowing sky. " That doesn't seem to be barely bigger than he was. Maybe not 5e frost giant size, but still pretty darn big. That is really the only description of the size of them - which leaves a lot to the imagination - so I don't know why you would assume hey are barely larger than he is.

Also: "He did not wonder at the strangeness of it all, not even when two gigantic figures rose upto bar his way. The scales of their mail were white with hoar-frost; their helmets and theiraxes were covered with ice. Snow sprinkled their locks; in their beards were spikes oficicles; their eyes were cold as the lights that streamed above them." That sounds pretty close to a D&D frost giant to me.

It is also important to remember that "The Frost Giant's Daughter" is cronologicaly the oldest story (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conan_chronologies#Dale_Rippke_chronology), and I think Conan is possibly a teenager at this time. Of course he just finished a battle that took the lives of 80 others (he is the sole survivor) and chase the frost giant's daughter through the snow, before he fights her two brothers.

And while he went on many adventures, over the course of his entire campaign written by Howard, he killed less monsters than most D&D PCs do in a single adventure ;)
I am not so sure about that. While he may not have killed so many "monsters" he has killed a few (mostly by himself) and hundreds of warriors / soldiers on top of that. I bet he does pretty well for solo D&D adventurer.
 
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Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Well, they weren't so huge that he didn't try to have relations with a frost giant woman. Feasibly. And for the record, Andre the Giant has been described the same way...
 

dave2008

Explorer
Well, they weren't so huge that he didn't try to have relations with a frost giant woman. Feasibly. And for the record, Andre the Giant has been described the same way...
Graphic depictions often indicate the daughter (who is the daughter of Ymir btw) is human sized and her brothers a much larger size (2x at least) . It is good to note that the Norse giants were not all huge.

The story doesn't say anything abnormal about her size, but it does about her brothers. So I think it is safe to assume she was, or appeared to be, human sized.

It is also significant I think that Conan attacked the first giant by cutting through its thigh. This is not the best choice to attack someone your size (or close to your size), but it does make a lot of sense to attack someone 2x your size in the thigh. I think one could see these giants in the 11-15' range fairly easily.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
Conan's Competency - The only thing he doesn't have some bonus for are Charisma checks and saving throws. For everything else he's got a bonus (getting doubled in his favorite terrain) and when he doesn't directly have a proficiency bonus on a physical check he's got an extra +2. He's also faster than almost all other rogues (because mobile) and can out sprint a horse. Also he can outjump everyone but a monk. And takes half damage from weapons. This guy is crazy competent. :)
He may be broadly competent by the standards of 5E, but he's not very competent by the standards of the novels. In the novels, Conan wins most contests because he's just that much better, but the bonuses he demonstrates here are insufficient compared to the size of the d20; he has a reasonable chance of losing, even in areas where he's nominally superior. It's simply not possibly to build the type of character he's supposed to be.

But I think the worst part is that, being broadly generalized for some amount of competence in many different areas, he's not as good within his areas of expertise as any other fighter of equal experience. A bog standard level 16 barbarian or fighter would turn this Conan into mincemeat.

I guess that's a limitation of the system, though. I don't mean to rain on your parade or anything, but this is just the first time I've really noticed that the character build doesn't live up to the hype.
 

dave2008

Explorer
Agreed, they're probably more like ogres.
Maybe, but that is not how he described them:

"He did not wonder at the strangeness of it all, not even when two gigantic figures rose up to bar his way. The scales of their mail were white with hoar-frost; their helmets and theiraxes were covered with ice. Snow sprinkled their locks; in their beards were spikes of icicles; their eyes were cold as the lights that streamed above them."

and:

"Conan saw the remaining giant looming high above him like a colossus carved of ice, etched against the cold glowing sky. "

That sounds closer to D&D frost giants than ogres to me.
 

dave2008

Explorer
He may be broadly competent by the standards of 5E, but he's not very competent by the standards of the novels. In the novels, Conan wins most contests because he's just that much better, but the bonuses he demonstrates here are insufficient compared to the size of the d20; he has a reasonable chance of losing, even in areas where he's nominally superior. It's simply not possibly to build the type of character he's supposed to be.

But I think the worst part is that, being broadly generalized for some amount of competence in many different areas, he's not as good within his areas of expertise as any other fighter of equal experience. A bog standard level 16 barbarian or fighter would turn this Conan into mincemeat.

I guess that's a limitation of the system, though. I don't mean to rain on your parade or anything, but this is just the first time I've really noticed that the character build doesn't live up to the hype.
I think what your missing is that in his world, Conan is the only lvl 16 fighting man, period. The rest are maxing out at 10th level at most. On top of that - he just rolls really well (maybe he needs the lucky feat) ;)

EDIT: he probably rolled above average on his HP too!
 

Saelorn

Explorer
I think what your missing is that in his world, Conan is the only lvl 16 fighting man, period. The rest are maxing out at 10th level at most. On top of that - he just rolls really well (maybe he needs the lucky feat) ;)
The problem is that your level is not very significant under Bounded Accuracy, so all of those levels don't let 5E Conan beat low-level characters in arm wrestling or when prowling or anything. Even at climbing, which is apparently his big thing, he still has a significant chance at failing the sort of hard (DC 20) climbing checks that a level 1 character might succeed at. The difference would be much more apparent in something like 3E or 4E, where your level is a larger factor.

In 5E, being Lucky would actually go a long way toward letting him reliably win contests, although it would go against the narrative of him winning through innate superiority.
 

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