Friday, July 4, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Four

This volume collections material from the Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #37 to #48. The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Four is strangely an even $15.00 from Amazon right now and is 536 pages. That's an amazing amount of black and white sword and sorcery per page there. 

Like many collections of Conan, at least in the magazine, there is little overall continuity. For example, one tale ends with Conan in chains, captured b y the undead legions of Hyperborea. Dropped completely for the next story as that one takes place at a different point in Conan's life. For people used to reading today's hyper dense continuity comics, it may be a little jarring but I didn't have any issues with it.

One of the strange things, for someone whose read a lot of Conan as I have, and much of it by different authors, is that some of the same stories are repeated with changes. For instance, I picked up some of the collections of the Robert E. Howard library that included the Black Stranger. Here, that tale is told as The Treasure of Tranicos. Strangely enough, it works well in the comic despite the many changes, because it fits more into the continuity of the story in the comics. I'm sure purist would gnash their teeth at that. 

As always, the Savage Sword of Conan continues to provide with tons of ideas, if only visual inspiration, for running more 'primitive' games. Rare is the appearance of any type of armor, and full plate and knights? Even rarer if at all. 

Art: This book boasts some great artists again. One of the main streams is John Buscema who work on the comic and the magazine gave it a tremendous feel and power. The man was ahead of his time and back in the day, if a comic had him, George Perez, or John Byrne on it, that was a good indication that it would be a comic I would read. Having said that, Ernie Chan did some full page spreads for the interior and man, if there is an artist who's been undervalued in my time, it would be him, among many others.

Hordes vs Heroes: Conan is often times surrounded by a crew of pirates or units of soldiers. These lead to massive fights, often against greater odds, as he battles other pirates or other soldiers from foreign countries. However, there are many times, often within these same tales, where Conan is, due to his specific background and skill set, the only one able to perform a certain task. This puts him at the center of the action. 

The Hordes are often sometimes monsters that are easily killed such as freshly awakened vampire ghouls that don't move quickly or an army storming a ruined keep that are held at bay through the few openings by the defenders. Think of the movie Willow and Mad Martigan's fight at the keep. Providing numerous weaker enemies while giving the players an advantage that limits the number of attackers can make the heroes giants among men, but keep in mind that it takes time to roll the dice and even the 'heroics' of mass slaughter can get boring quickly.

Skill Challenges: There is a scene where Conan is attacked by a stone toad with gem eyes. It's impervious to physical harm. Conan leads it along a cliff and dodges out of the way when it attacks and down into the sea it goes, sinking to the bottom because of it's stone hide. In some great scenes, the hero wins not by slashing and hacking, but by sound tactics. For example, the end fight of How To Train Your Dragon? Where our young hero and his dragon are, in terms of sheer power clearly outmatched but still manage to achieve victory? 

Rivalries: One of the things that breaths detail into the setting, is that not everyone gets along. For example, when Conan and Sigurd, a blonde bearded Vanir meet, Conan and he know of each other's other past ventures. In this case, one a barachan, a type of pirate, the other a buccaneer. Those two 'professions' are rivals and the Cimmerians and Vanir are also rivals. But in this instance, because the two individuals fought closely, it allows them to look past those things and forge a strong friendship.

Slavery: Conan winds up a slave several times but I think only once in this volume. The problem with this type of captivity though, is that it often requires players to give up their equipment. In games like Dungeons and Dragons 3rd and 4th edition, where the math is branched at the characters actually having those items, it can make this type of scenario more difficult. If using slavery, insure either that the enemies are of a lower level than the players would be by standards, or that the players have opportunities to pick up other material to compensate for it. Providing players with options to escape the slavery quickly can also move the game along for groups that dither about things.

Named Items: Much like I've mentioned with naming gemstones to give them a unique feature, names are powerful things in providing detail and background to items. With one certain Stygian Priest of Set here, we're introduced to the Cobra Crown, the Black Ring, and the Book of Skelos. These items have tremendous value, but often only to those that actually understand what it is they are looking at. For example, a pirate is knee deep in gem and coin and the priest pushes past him, "did you not notice the book beneath the sacks-- its cover bound in the hide of some great reptile such as walked the earth eons ago!?"

With over five hundred pages of reading material and art to please the eye, if you can't find any inspiration from the Savage Sword of Conan you're doing it wrong.