Sunday, February 9, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Two

Dark Horse comics have long brought new life to Conan. I'm old enough to remember the many times the Conan stories have fallen out of print and when there were no new Conan books nor comics. In their revival of Conan, Dark Horse did something that hasn't been done in decades. They've taken the older Marvel Comics material, and made it available again.

These reprints have taken two forms. The old color comics were collected into graphic novel sized trades while the old magazines, the darker, more violent, more adult material? Reprinted into the Savage Sword of Conan. Volume Two has a host of excellent artists and fantastic covers. For a preview, the Dark Horse site has one available here.

It's always a pleasure for me to read these old trades. Their done up like the Marvel Essential titles in that they're huge thick volumes on 'newsprint' style paper but that's not the joy. Rather it's seeing some of my old favorite artists, most notably John Buscema. This volume collects 11-24.

There are always nifty bits in the series that are perfect for nicking for your RPG. I'll be discussing specific spoilers below so if you'd rather not have your knowledge of ancient tomes of Conan ruined, read no further!

Because it's such a meaty volume, I'll be going easy on how many tales I'll pick this time around. I'll limit it to the first two. The volume starts off with Abode of the Damned, based off the story The Country of the Knife by Robert E Howard.

1. The Abode of the Damned requires specific methods of entry outside of the obvious sneaking or storming. The first is to be vouched for someone who is known in the Abode. The second is to kill an armed person of the city. The third is as a slave. Conan manages the second quite easily. Not only that, the Abode is a special type of place, one for rogues and outlaws whose sword skills or other talents may be in high demand. Locations like this are perfect for those out of the way spots on your maps that don't have any information on them.

2. Hidden Identity: When Conan meets those going to the Abode, he claims to be someone else. this allows him to easily enter into the city and perform his business until his true identity is learned. Having hidden identities isn't something that should just be limited to villains. If the players can reasonably do it, such as being in an area where their names are known but not their likeness? Or those descriptions of them are wrong? But even as Conan goes about hidden, so does one of his foemen who if his true identity were known, would result in him losing power and prestige due to the racial enmity between the various factions of the land.

Having different ethnicities in a campaign can add a lot of complexity and if the game is merely about plundering dungeons, such details may be unimportant. But if the players can gain leverage by pointing out the differences in tribes and politicians and even religious beliefs, they can force one side or the other to come to them for assistance.

3. Timer: The Abode has an ancient planet consuming alien disguised as a gem stone. Three strangers come to the city to destroy it. The unsatisfying thing about this from a RPG prospective is that the characters don't really learn about this fact until nearly the end. In a role playing game, you can put a timer up and see if the players take any special action. I've read reports where the GM did this and every time the timer hit zero, a PC's head exploded. Provided lots of motivation to them.

4. Destroy your Idols: The writers had no problems destroying the cities and landscapes of the setting. By having a rough idea of what the city is and what its purpose is, the GM isn't necessarily going to ruin a lot of work by destroying it. By the end of the story, the Abode of the Damned is crushed below its foundations by powers from outside space and time to stop the alien menace inside it.

Next up is the Haunter of Castle Crimson.  This story is adapted from The Slave Princess by Robert E. Howard. The comics never had a problem borrowing from the Robert E. Howard library and liberally applies those ideas and concepts to the character of Conan.

1.Start the action! The book opens with a city in its death throes. A group of raiders have taken the city and are busy slaying the last of those alive in it. Into this maelstrom of death and carnage comes Conan who thanks to his own sword skills and abilities, is able to take from the takers including jewels and a specific slave. If you start the adventure off with the players in a situation that they have to act, it brings them to the table much faster as they have to figure out how they're going to interact with the mayhem around them.

2. Old Friends: Conan is made welcome at Castle Crimson because he knows the lord of it from olden days. Assuming the players don't murder and mutilate all that they come in contact with, provide them quick updates from time to time on where their old contacts and associates are. For example, if you've run an Adventure Path and the players initially took work from some merchants or low ranking nobles at one time, have those characters show up later either further up the ranks of their profession or fallen on hard times and looking for assistance to win back their former glory. They make good methods of adding adventure side quests or providing the players places to hide.

3. The Big Swindle: Conan saved the slave from the falling city because she looks exactly like a missing princess who is promised to someone who is offering a lot of money for her return. Conan's plan is to get the money and pawn the slave off as the princess. This falls into the pattern of the writers of using one person's identity, false or not, to hide the true personage. If the players meet people that appear to be of no importance, having one of them turn out to be of great importance later that have seen the players at their 'true nature' could come back to haunt them. Then again, there's nothing preventing the players from doing something similar themselves, especially if they have hirelings and or henchmen.

4.Complications: Ah, that brilliant plan of Conan's is cut short when his old ally and friend falls in love with the slave and is willing to kill Conan to keep her. Conan though valuing his friends more than money merely defeats his friend and doesn't kill him. In role playing games, such a fate might not happen and the GM should be ready to have any complications he throws into the game go multiple ways.

5.Secret Passages: The Castle Crimson is old and it has secret tunnels through its bones. Having secret manners and methods to enter such a place may allow the players more freedom than others might have. Such locations also make good ambush points since if the players weren't supposed to know of them, who can they go to for help without revealing themselves?

6. The Antechamber of Hell! While assassins sneak off with the slave pivotal to Conan's trade, Conan hunts the assassin down and finds him in a sunken cell where bones have been laying for over twenty years. This bone filled chamber does a few things here. The first is that amists the bones are weapons. This could allow players to find new items if for some reason they have lost their own, or if they have fallen behind the 'tread mill' in games like 3rd edition and 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons where items of X power are assumed at Y level.

The second is that the bones come to life when blood is spilt upon them. In a fight with others, say bandits or other attackers, for every round that edged weapons are used and successfully draw blood, more skeletons could be activated, attacking the person whose blood awoke them. This could cause the players to shift tactics quickly or to maneuver themselves out of the chamber and allow the undead to overwhelm their enemy.

7. The Big Swindle Undone: Turns out the slave girl Conan thought was a princess is actually a princess. The case of mistaken identity works to Conan's advantage though as the complication from earlier is turned to his advantage. When having cases of mistaken identity, don't be afraid to reveal that it is no mistake. Or is she? For example, the slave girl is actually a slave girl but takes to the role so well that even the girl's father is fooled.

An inexpensive collection with some fantastic art from the greats of the 70's of comics, Amazon has this available in Kindle format for $9.99 here or in paperback version for $14.05 here and it is Prime eligible.