Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conan: The Hall of the Dead and Other Stories by Kurt Busiek

One of the interesting things about cleaning up is that you often find things not as you left them. For example, this is volume 4. I can't find my volume 3 anywhere. I shall have to continue the search and hope that it eventually springs up.

In the meanwhile though, Kurt Busiek continues to work his talents on the barbarian and is joined this time around by Mike Mignola, Timothy Truman and the ongoing efforts of Cary Nord, who did the cover in this case.

I'll be discussing some specific spoilers below so if you want to avoid any of those, read no further.

Relationships can be a source of almost infinite adventuring seed generators in and of themselves. The book starts off with Conan wooing a magistrate's wife as he plunders her treasures. This in turn angers his current lover who then goes and has her own affair and in the process, does some more selling out of her own. The back and forth between the two in this instance directly sets Conan against the law and against other rogues.

The 'problem' if you will in such instances though, is that the Game Master has to have a world to hang these characters on. Conan's relationship with Jiara is not necessarily that of true love so while they are both out with others, then those others have to be created and then the people who deal with those others, such as the magister or the nobles, have to be fleshed out. It can be effort, especially for those that are only going to have a few appearances but keeping a set of generic game stats around for such characters can cut down the preparation time considerably.

In terms of good deeds, its often the motto, "No good deed goes unpunished." While that may come around true eventually, allowing the players good deeds to have, at the very least, some good karma, is not necessarily a bad thing either. Kiresh, a young woman who is practicing magic and at such a low level of the social strata that she is thieving her dinner when caught and Conan saves her, then works, behind the scenes mind you, to check on Conan. This allows the GM to return NPCs to the field when they work in the background and provide a reason for them to do so.

For foes, one of the creatures Conan fights here is a gigantic demon toad. When Conan hides from it, his presence is given away by another toad that bellows his presence to his master. Having themed monsters can make for memorable encounters. For example, a gigantic spider, such as the one from the Lord of the Rings, who has smaller spiders talk out her prey.

While Conan encounters his share of soldiers, he also encounters those that include would be bandits. The twist of a 'hero' like Conan though, is that even when killing bandits, he's not necessarily doing so out of a pure motive. Turns out that he winds ups stealing for those who were already being robbed. Mind you he doesn't kill or rape the people he's stealing from and even this robbery comes back to haunt him but having characters that are neutral in a campaign means the GM has to be prepared for more 'work' in terms of what the players will do. They aren't necessarily going to always follow a 'good' script and always be predictable in that fashion.

In terms of bringing old troupes to fantasy gaming, the old horror movies The Hills Have Eyes has been a source of inspiration in Pathfinder with their Ogres, but also in Conan as he encounters a clan of inbreed brigands whose intentions are as monstrous as their mutations. Despite that though, they still have contacts with the outside world including people who bring them fresh victims in exchange for getting the use of their muscles against specific enemies of their own.

In terms of overcoming foes, sometimes you can provide methods to the players that don't necessarily just involve battering the enemy until they die. When Conan battles the demon toad, it's not his sword that kills it, but rather, he drops a massive statue on it. He he's fighting against the hill folk, while his sword does indeed do a lot of killing, knocking out the support for a carved cave and then cutting a rope bridge does an excellent job of bringing that death total up even more.  Provide your players options to do things a little... easier and see if they talk them. These cinematic events can work against the players too mind you if they're not all up to the challenge of navigating the new terrain.

For example, if there is a monk, a barbarian, and an armored knight crossing that bridge and it gets cut, do all three make it across? Does the knight have to tie himself to the bridge to avoid falling to his death? The lightly armored characters, especially in this example, already benefit from a faster movement rate, both because of the lack of armor and the innate abilities. Try to provide situations that doesn't always favor one type of character over another in these instances.

Volume four of Conan from Dark Horse continues to bring the fantasy to a medium that could certainly use more variety and if your looking for some well illustrated tales with some interesting background bits on Robert E. Howard, this graphic novel has you covered.