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Any ideas on a Conan-esque Sword and Sorcery setting?

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One of the overriding themes of REH was that civilization is a corrupting and weakening influence that inevitably results in the destruction of that civilization at the hands of stronger, more straightforward men.  Of course, this often came as a surprise to the "civilized" people.

 

Magic tended to be practiced by bad guys, and moreover was often derived from evil supernatural entities.  Summoned demons are a common trope; whether the summoner or summonee is in control is an open question.

 

Armor in S&S is far less important than skill at arms--Conan seems to spend a great deal of his career half naked; he'll wear a mail shirt and hard hat if he's going to war.

 

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55 minutes ago, Old Man said:

Armor in S&S is far less important than skill at arms--Conan seems to spend a great deal of his career half naked; he'll wear a mail shirt and hard hat if he's going to war.

 

Or plate when it is available.

 

From Black Colossus:

---

At her command they brought harness to replace Conan's chain-mail – gorget, sollerets, cuirass, pauldrons, jambes, cuisses and sallet. When Yasmela again drew the curtains, a Conan in burnished steel stood before his audience. Clad in the plate-armor, vizor lifted and dark face shadowed by the black plumes that nodded above his helmet, there was a grim impressiveness about him that even Thespides grudgingly noted. A jest died suddenly on Amalric's lips.

 

"By Mitra," said he slowly, "I never expected to see you cased in coat-armor, but you do not put it to shame. By my fingerbones, Conan, I have seen kings who wore their harness less regally than you!"

---

 

On the other hand, in The Scarlet Citadel, we have this:

---

The clangor of steel rose deafeningly; the black-mailed figure of the western king loomed among his swarming foes, dealing blows like a butcher wielding a great cleaver.

---

 

I couldn't find a clear description of him in armour in Hour of the Dragon. There's a mention of mail and a surcoat, and that's about it.

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There are definitely some exceptions to note with regard to magic. Since we are looking at the works of REH and pulp in general, let us not forget that Solomon Kane had a friend that was a shaman and used a magic staff gifted to him by said shaman. Not all magic was demonic, otherworldly, or corrupting.

 

It just makes a great scape goat and villain for the hero to overcome.

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5 hours ago, theinfn8 said:

There are definitely some exceptions to note with regard to magic. Since we are looking at the works of REH and pulp in general, let us not forget that Solomon Kane had a friend that was a shaman and used a magic staff gifted to him by said shaman. Not all magic was demonic, otherworldly, or corrupting.

 

It just makes a great scape goat and villain for the hero to overcome.

Well considering that the staff is “older than the world” and made of a tree no longer living and a head carved in the shape of Bast out of an older shape which iirc was sinister, well 2 outta 3 ain’t bad 😁

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1 hour ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

Yeah Conan wore as much armor as he possibly could at any given time, its just a lot of the time he didnt' have access to armor.

 

Didn't have access, had to ditch it to live, was too busy chasing someone to be bothered, and even the occasional not safe to be wearing any. Rust issues aside, while chainmail isn't the heaviest thing in the world, I certainly wouldn't want to go swimming with it on (should I get knocked of my boat while pirating). Especially if I was wearing Conan sized chain.

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2 hours ago, theinfn8 said:

 

Didn't have access, had to ditch it to live, was too busy chasing someone to be bothered, and even the occasional not safe to be wearing any. Rust issues aside, while chainmail isn't the heaviest thing in the world, I certainly wouldn't want to go swimming with it on (should I get knocked of my boat while pirating). Especially if I was wearing Conan sized chain.

 

I use the old 4th edition Fantasy Hero encumbrance rules and if you get knocked into the drink wearing plate armor you'll have a negative swim speed aka sink like a stone.

 

There's a reason pirates didn't adopt metal armor beyond poverty.  It just wasn't safe to have heavy armor on when an unplanned swim was a possibility.

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2 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

That, and salt air would make it useless in short order without a couple of hours of daily maintenance. 

 

That's what lackeys are for.

 

Armour had largely been abandoned for military use in Europe by The "Golden Age of Piracy" (late 17th/early 18th Century). (Helmets and cuirasses were still used by heavy cavalry, and I think a few armies still had it for their pikemen, and maybe some officers.) So not wearing armour was "normal" by that time.

 

Earlier on, though, say during the Elizabethan period and before, officers would routinely be geared up. And they had lackeys to handle the cleaning.

 

At various points in time, a lot of pirates didn't know how to swim, armoured or not.

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22 minutes ago, assault said:

 

At various points in time, a lot of pirates didn't know how to swim, armoured or not.

 

Not surprisingly, most sailors have an aversion to swimming.  Especially in the ocean. 

 

Except for Aircrew and the ones that grew up on the beach surfing, most of the sailors I knew in the Navy had very basic swimming skills or just "I float and dogpaddle". 

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This does bring us back to the possibility of a sword and sorcery piracy campaign. You want to get around to all of these awesome places with ruins and danger and adventure, put the PCs on a pirate ship. Have boat, will travel.

 

Piracy has definitely been around forever. Not sure where to look for ancient Mediterranean pirates, but I think there are some Arabic source pirate materials. I'll have to putz around the interwebs now...

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29 minutes ago, theinfn8 said:

This does bring us back to the possibility of a sword and sorcery piracy campaign. You want to get around to all of these awesome places with ruins and danger and adventure, put the PCs on a pirate ship. Have boat, will travel.

 

Piracy has definitely been around forever. Not sure where to look for ancient Mediterranean pirates, but I think there are some Arabic source pirate materials. I'll have to putz around the interwebs now...

 

It is actually not hard to find the info.  Ancient through Pre-Dreadnought era naval is a hobby of mine.  Shoot me a pm to remind me and I'll collect some info.  And I mean pm me.  I have O L D syndrome and forget things :nonp:

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4 hours ago, theinfn8 said:

This does bring us back to the possibility of a sword and sorcery piracy campaign. You want to get around to all of these awesome places with ruins and danger and adventure, put the PCs on a pirate ship. Have boat, will travel.

 

Piracy has definitely been around forever. Not sure where to look for ancient Mediterranean pirates, but I think there are some Arabic source pirate materials. I'll have to putz around the interwebs now...

Well Pirates of the Caribbean cake first to my mind then Sinbad the sailor came next.

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Research sources aside, here's what I see as the What's Cool about a pseudo-Caribbean Age of Sail S&S campaign:

 

There is no law. At all. Even if there's a pretense of colonial authorities, these are effectively just rival gangs out to rip as muych wealth from the region as possible. So if you get in a fight and leave a bar or back alley strewn with bodies and soaked with blood, nobody cares -- unless one of the people you kill is a company or colonial official, in which case you've made an enemy that can hire people to go after you, but it's because you crossed a gang not because you broke the law. It's a good setting for murder hobo adventurers.

 

Pirates are just smaller gangs. Some are privateers working for bigger gangs, but such affiliations tend to be fluid. Today you're a privateer raiding the ships and towns of a rival colonial group, tomorrow you go freelance as a pirate, the day after you cut a deal and work for somebody else.

 

This anarchic scramble rests on the fact there's lots of money to be made. Historically, you've got Spanish treasure ships carrying silver, gold and gems wrung from Mexico, passing through. But the sugar plantations were just as valuable. All you needed was enough disposable labor, which the African slave trade supplied in limitless quantities. Kill someone to take a pouch of gems? Big deal, around you the planters are killing countless slaves a year for the sweet white jewel of sugar. Any notions of morality or honor are personal, and make you stand out from the utter moral anarchy around you. Seems very REH to me.

 

Many cultures are involved. Native population, several colonizers, Africa through the slave trade, and dribs and drabs of anyone else who lives by the sea because it's the Age of Sail and for the first time in history, everyone is in contact. (IIRC Trinidad and Tobago has a hefty percentage of South Asian ancestry.) So your fantasy analog can have people from anywhere as well.

 

Magic and the supernatural can be similarly diverse. Pseudo-Aztec blood sacrifice, pseudo-African Voodoo, pseudo-European scholarly Hermeticism, and if you want to bring in a pseudo-Hindu sadhu or pseudo-Chinese Taoist, go for it.

 

But thematically, magic with significant power should be dark and bloody, gained by human sacrifice and other horrible crimes. If you're willing to brutalize thousands and work them to death for profit, what's ripping out a few hearts to summon a demon or turn yourself into a loogaroo, nagual or other sort of shapeshifting vampire-witch?

 

You can even have a pseudo-Atlantis as a source of artifacts. Maybe the islands are the remains of a lost continent destroyed by the crimes of its sorcerer-kings. And the fragments of power left behind are one more treasure for which men spend each others' lives. And maybe there are portals to this past, by which PCs can visit it -- and by which the Sorcerer-Kings seek to escape their doom and erupt into the modern world to resume their reign of horror.

 

Or take a cue from the voyages of Maeldun, St Brendan, Odysseus and Sinbad. In addition to the settled islands there are faerie islands that appear and disappear, or appear only to people who know the proper path to sail, who perform the proper rite or possess the proper talisman. Maybe the secret base of the Pirate King is on such an island. Another prize, and another source of peril.

 

Well, that's enough for now, I think. But yeah, I think a pirate S&S campaign would be an excellent choice.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Another great setting is Charles R Saunders' "Imaro" books. If Hyboria is "Europe", then Nyumbani (Swahili for "home") is "Africa" and, frankly, a damn better rendition than Howard's "Black Kingdoms", given that Saunders actually researched the history and mythology far more thoroughly than Howard did, even actually traveling to Africa to broaden his learning. Imaro (Swahili for "Strength". and there are many such bilingual Easter eggs in the books) was created as a reaction to to racially dubious depictions of black people in Burroughs, Lovecraft and Howard by a man who confesses he is a huge fan of the latter two.

 

Get your hands on the books if you can, they're fun reads.

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To be fair, Saunders was born a decade after Howard died. They're products of different eras. Howard's "Black Kingdoms" drew from the cultural zeitgeist of his times, rather than any serious attempt at research. He seemed to intend them to be no more than a colorful (pun very much intended) setting for fictional adventures.

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Its also worth considering that the people of Howard's world are not the people of modern day, not any of them, so there's no comparisons to be made with modern people.  This is a setting where humanity evolved to a great place, then collapsed with the fall of Atlantis and devolved some of them into the great gray apes, and this may have happened more than once in the millennia of the past.  In the time of Conan they are only beginning to claw their way back to present human levels.  Its a completely different world with many similarities to our own, in terms of location but not history or humanity.

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18 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

Its also worth considering that the people of Howard's world are not the people of modern day, not any of them, so there's no comparisons to be made with modern people.  This is a setting where humanity evolved to a great place, then collapsed with the fall of Atlantis and devolved some of them into the great gray apes, and this may have happened more than once in the millennia of the past.  In the time of Conan they are only beginning to claw their way back to present human levels.  Its a completely different world with many similarities to our own, in terms of location but not history or humanity.

 

If you end up making that kind of argument, you've already lost.

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