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Thread: Sword & Sorcery: Neither Cinematic nor Narrative

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    Default Sword & Sorcery: Neither Cinematic nor Narrative

    I rarely engage in but often read up on the suitability of different systems for Hyborian adventures. There is always a crowd who wants Plot Mail as part of the character. That's their prerogative, but I think that's utterly at odds with the tone and results of sword & sorcery. In my AD&D games I always opt for the grim rules (Weapon v. AC, random targeting in melee) because they make AD&Ds abstract combat conform more to dark fantasy than the superheroics of some similar systems. Reading on this forum I saw Pete Nash had a post on why RQ2 was appropriate for the Conan genre, and I think it applies in general to choosing more hardcore systems (say Hackmaster rather thand20). To put it bluntly, the concept of 'cinematic' in its current and vague meaning is rather recent, even in cinema one doesn't see it much until the 1980s (Star Trek TOS and Hong Kong action/kung fu might be an exception). Contrary to the narrative trend and interpretation of Conan, I'd say that the plot is almost irrelevant in S&S when compared to mood and characterization.

    Here's the relevant section of his post:

    S&S, Conan in particular, was part of my mindset when Loz and I worked on MRQ2. I had hoped that Mongoose would relaunch their Conan license using the new rules, and save for Paradox it would have happened. In RQ6 the trend will continue and in fact will more strongly support the S&S genre.

    Why do some people think that d100 systems are too deadly for the genre? Well, there's a number of reasons, but the following are what spring to mind:

    1) They come from a history of playing combat heavy games, where scenarios are based around sequential conflicts, each of which unerringly ends with death.
    2) They are used to surviving combat by the aid of potent and easily garnered magic.
    3) They haven't read the original R.E.Howard stories, or their memories of them have been submerged by pastiches and poor movies.
    4) They forget that Conan is a literary character and is fated to survive the slings and arrows of all the dangers he faces.

    d100 games are perfect for the genre because:

    1) You can actually parry attacks.
    2) You can swiftly defeat foes with one or two blows, without needing to use specifically designed mooks.
    3) You can be a combat god by simply having a far higher skill than opponents.
    4) Yet you can be defeated by superior numbers of very inferior foes.
    5) You can replicate the fact that combat is scary and few of the book's protagonists ever use it as the first option to resolve conflict.
    6) You are encouraged (and have skills available) to talk or trick your way out of conflict.
    7) You can be a athletic, stealthy, educated warrior without breaking the limits of a character class or castrating a 'build'.
    8) You can wear armour and have it work in the way it works in the stories (Conan loves his mail and plate)
    9) With MRQ2/RQ6 at least, you can easily replicate all the shield bashing, disarming, leaping and so on which happen in the dynamic prose without penalising you own chance to hit.
    10) Also with MRQ2/RQ6 you can defeat an opponent easily without needing to injure them, such as the innumerable times Conan is bashed over the head and rendered unconscious.
    11) Hero Points, DI or its equivalent can help character survival.

    Now most problems GMs have when replicating Conanesque games using d100 games comes down to scaling of enemies, arenas of conflict and pacing. Read through most of the tales and you'll see several trends:

    1) Most foes are far inferior to the main characters in terms of skill. The core protagonists have a reputation for deadliness which Conan himself often uses to intimidate his foes, preventing a fight from even starting, or quickly breaking the morale of enemies once combat is joined. Such matters are up to the GM to impose and (save for being outclassed) are system agnostic.

    2) Not all the conflict, challenge or drama hinges on swinging a sword. Conan often uses his charm to turn potential foes over to his side. He uses diplomacy to finagle himself into positions of rank. He uses seduction to ensure promotion or survival. And those aspects proliferate the stories. He also uses his intellect to think his way around problems such as using tricks to fool priests, stealth to bypass unnecessary combat, knowledge of languages to seek out treasures, his athletic skills to flee from opponents - and lets face it, he runs an awful lot.

    3) Pacing is perhaps the most important aspect. Conan stories hardly ever revolve about a sequence of fights every half hour. He's not cleaning out dungeons or committing total genocide (well, save for unwittingly killing the odd unique monster). Days can pass between combats, there is lots of travel, carousing, flight, rabble rousing and so on between each conflict. So GMs shouldn't need to rely on healing magic to keep on propping up the PCs between encounters. If he finds the party getting too injured he should cut back on the number of fights, reduce the threat of the opponents and make sure the majority of combats (save perhaps for the climax of the scenario) are fought with the intent of capturing rather than killing the characters. After all, most of Conan's foes want to interrogate, torture or sacrifice him later on.

    For me d100 systems are the perfect and logical fit for the gritty, dangerous Hyborian world. I don't want to play superhuman or uber heroic Conanesque games. I want one where I don't care if my barbarian dies, provided he dies well...

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    Yep, Conan has screamed RQ at me ever since I started playing RQ.
    Simon Phipp - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982.
    Many Systems, One Family

    RQ Merrie England (Medieval RPG): http://www.alephtargames.com/index.p...land&Itemid=57 and http://merrieengland.soltakss.com/

    RQ/BRP: www.soltakss.com/index.html
    RQ Alternate Earth: Group: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/alternateearthrq/ Website: http://alternateearthrq.soltakss.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by soltakss View Post
    Yep, Conan has screamed RQ at me ever since I started playing RQ.
    RuneQuest with more Call of Cthulu monsters and magic. After all, Conan doesn't use Rune magic.

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    He does call on Crom, though. Why not give his Shield and Truesword? They would be explained away by resistance to damage and doing more damage than normal people.

    After all, if you can have demons and sorcerers then why not a little bit of Divine Magic.
    Simon Phipp - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982.
    Many Systems, One Family

    RQ Merrie England (Medieval RPG): http://www.alephtargames.com/index.p...land&Itemid=57 and http://merrieengland.soltakss.com/

    RQ/BRP: www.soltakss.com/index.html
    RQ Alternate Earth: Group: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/alternateearthrq/ Website: http://alternateearthrq.soltakss.com/

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    Gods/demons/aliens are the same thing, but he only uses Crom as a curseword. The deity is an hard, cold and indifferent as Cimmeria's mountains. Crom would never help anyone, those who need or the aid of the gods deserve it not!

    However, Conan has used magic on two occasions: an Animal Charm rune (in Beyond the Black River) and invoking the aid of Mitra on another occasion (with results). It's not that he can't use magic, he's got a high Intelligence and an even higher willpower, but it isn't part of his default build as it tends to be in Runequest. Conan's great skill, attributes and fighting talent are all natural; free of civilization's arbitrary styles and categories. Invoking or even studying spells, except when faced with death, is something that goes was gainst Howard's philosophy and Conan's personality. He doesn't hate gods, but he mistrusts them deeply. Sorcery he sees as decadence.

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    A Conan setting needs to have a cost for magic, a weakening, a corruption, a slow decay into madness or evil.
    It also needs to allow a character to focus wholly on physical improvement and for those that focus on civilised pursuits to soften a little and be weaker.
    But all of that can be done with RQ6 as written, so no problems there. Just need a cost for the magic.. and sanity from CoC is as good as any other system for that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenJadisOfCharn View Post
    I rarely engage in but often read up on the suitability of different systems for Hyborian adventures. There is always a crowd who wants Plot Mail as part of the character. That's their prerogative, but I think that's utterly at odds with the tone and results of sword & sorcery. In my AD&D games I always opt for the grim rules (Weapon v. AC, random targeting in melee) because they make AD&Ds abstract combat conform more to dark fantasy than the superheroics of some similar systems. Reading on this forum I saw Pete Nash had a post on why RQ2 was appropriate for the Conan genre, and I think it applies in general to choosing more hardcore systems (say Hackmaster rather thand20). To put it bluntly, the concept of 'cinematic' in its current and vague meaning is rather recent, even in cinema one doesn't see it much until the 1980s (Star Trek TOS and Hong Kong action/kung fu might be an exception). Contrary to the narrative trend and interpretation of Conan, I'd say that the plot is almost irrelevant in S&S when compared to mood and characterization.

    Here's the relevant section of his post:
    You can say that again. But I have never liked the magic-everywhere implied setting of D&D.
    http://mattssuperheroes.blogspot.com/

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