What are your rules for classic swords and sorcery?

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
I'm currently writing a new Fafhrd-and-the-Gray-Mouser-style sword and sorcery game for Pelgrane Press, and in doing so I've written up my core tenets of "this is what I want sword and sorcery to be." I'm really curious, though. When you think back to Conan, Elric, etc... what defines swords and sorcery for you?
 

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raleel

First Post
I'll go with the list I always go with, which is the best I've seen and in The Design Mechanism's Monster Island Supplement
  • Living for the Day - pragmatic vs epic, doesn't wander very far for a particular adventure (though not necessarily between them), goals are rather base
  • No Black and White Morality - the heroes have flaws
  • Healing is Hard - combat is dangerous and healing happens between adventures
  • Corrupting power of Magic - dark, perverted. the province of evil sorcerers generally
  • Horror of the Unknown - where you go is odd and disconcerting. rich with details that are grotesque
  • Anthropomorphic and Xenophobic - protagonists are human, and the foes mostly are too. anything non-human is almost certainly an antagonist.

I've not read much that goes past this. The only one that comes to mind is that it tends to be highly episodic, which is there in the healing is hard to an extent.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The heroes are larger then life, but so are the risks. Friends and sidekicks die. (Sidekick rules for small parties?)

Magic is usually a force of evil or chaos, or comes with personal costs. It's not easy not to be used for trivial matters. Even items of magical nature don't come without a cost to the wielder.

The hero gets the girl. And then likely loses her. (Sorry, I know how sexist that comes across, but it was a recurring theme in lots of pulp S&S stories.)

The gods are either uncaring or actively hostile. Governments the same. You can only make good by your own personal strength.

Even the good guys lie, cheat and sneak.

Reputation is important. Awe, fear, trust - it's not just one dimension.

Oaths have power. Even an oath to yourself as long as you pursue it monomaniacal.

Bandits and pirates happen. But nameless mooks are usually a roadbump. (Minion / mook rules?)

Getting captured happens. Escaping happens. (Make it easier to knock someone out then kill them.)
 



Argyle King

Legend
Magic typically takes time, multiple people, or both.

So, for example, it may be that...

...dark rituals require several cultists working together.

...it might take hours or days to get a powerful spell right.

D&D-style fire and forget magic tends to be somewhat rare in sword and sorcery.
 

I'm currently writing a new Fafhrd-and-the-Gray-Mouser-style sword and sorcery game
My initial though on reading the thread title was "why use Gumshoe for S&S?" After reading this far, it's "Oh, duh, of course..." ;)

That sound like it could be just awesome.

, and in doing so I've written up my core tenets of "this is what I want sword and sorcery to be." I'm really curious, though. When you think back to Conan, Elric, etc... what defines swords and sorcery for you?
Well, there's a hero who uses a sword, and a villain that uses sorcery, and at the end, there's a hero who uses a sword. ;P
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Well, there's a hero who uses a sword, and a villain that uses sorcery, and at the end, there's a hero who uses a sword. ;P

Wiseass. :)

I'm amazed by how much investigation there is in classic fantasy. Not Sherlock Holmes-style investigation, but "why are ravens stealing jewels from women?" and "who stole this jeweled skull from us?" plots. It's an amazingly solid fit, especially when politics get integrated.

Here's one of my rules:

Adventures are episodic. Months or years may pass between when adventures are set, and a Hero’s fortunes may rise or fall from one adventure to the next. Adventures may occur out of chronological order.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
A related question, to Johnny3D3D above: is slow sorcery just plain incompatible with fun in a RPG when you tie player characters into it? I see a risk of "You guys go adventure. We'll be sprinking powders and chanting for the next few days." that I think everyone would want to avoid.
 

Dioltach

Legend
A related question, to Johnny3D3D above: is slow sorcery just plain incompatible with fun in a RPG when you tie player characters into it? I see a risk of "You guys go adventure. We'll be sprinking powders and chanting for the next few days." that I think everyone would want to avoid.

I think that issue is tied to the fact that in classic S&S magic is used mostly by the bad guys, or for non-combat healing. I seem to recall the Grey Mouser casting some spells, but only using charms and scrolls, am I right?
 

is slow sorcery just plain incompatible with fun in a RPG when you tie player characters into it? I see a risk of "You guys go adventure. We'll be sprinking powders and chanting for the next few days." that I think everyone would want to avoid.
For any clearly un-fun thing that an RPG might offer, there's somebody who thinks it'd be fun. ;)

Something that's slow is a question of logistics. Is there time to do the ritual? OK, we do the ritual, if there's no problems, after that we continue on.

Sure, if there's a ritual that needs to be done while something more exciting is going on, or a ritual that needs to be stopped by doing something exciting, the hero (and thus, generally, the PCs) should be doing the exciting bits. OTOH, if the ritual culminates in some excitement, like the quasi-resurrection in Conan the Barbarian, or if the everyone participates in the ritual and you just move to the next thing, that's fine.

I also think it's fine to have background magical powers that are established, but don't much impact play. It's fine for a PC to be able to, IDK, bless crops or something, just like it's fine for him to be a blacksmith or whatever.


I think that issue is tied to the fact that in classic S&S magic is used mostly by the bad guys, or for non-combat healing. I seem to recall the Grey Mouser casting some spells, but only using charms and scrolls, am I right?
The one scene that stuck with me were Grey Mouser used magic was when a sorcerer was tossing blue lightning bolts at him, he grounded them out with a wire attached to his sword. Hm... I could be getting that slightly wrong, but I think that was the gist of it.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
It is a sad fact that my first inclination for the Mouser's magical ability goes back to the 1e Deities & Demigods stat block. That's not weird, right?

Early on, he's great at sleight of hand and legerdemain. Re-reading my way through the stories, so I'll confirm if he gets more knowledgeable thanks to Sheelba and Ningauble.

And it's tricky; when it's mostly bad guys who use slower ritual magic, you ask why. I'm considering a few different options to reflect this.
 

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