Way back when, I ran my first one-shot of Modiphius’ 2d20 Conan RPG. A couple of weeks ago, I ran it again, at the Furnace RPG convention. This was my own adventure and, being at a con, I felt a bit more pressure. If I’m honest, it was the game that I was least confident about – but it went really well. I’ve still not quite internalised how the system works – the way I have Fate or 13th Age. But I’m getting there, and it’s a learning process that I’m sure can help any 2d20 convention GMs.
I didn’t believe Conan’s encounter balancing advice – 1.5 to 2 toughened foes per PC, or swap a Toughened for 2 Minions, or 2 Toughened for a Nemesis. For one thing, within each power level, there seemed to be a big variation. The two Nemeses I was using for the game looked to vary wildly in power, from the glass cannon of the Witch to the heavily armoured death machine of the Lindorm.
With this in mind, I planned my opposition modestly. Although the PCs didn’t quite walk all over them – it was still exciting and pulpy in combat, and they were reliant on teamwork to win (more on that later) – but none of them took any meaningful damage. Note for con game prep – if none of the PCs take any damage, your opposition is not powerful enough.
I’ve learned that, despite the varying power levels of the threats, PCs can probably deal with them – mainly because…
It’s All About Teamwork and Momentum
I said before that 2d20 is much more a game of resource management than it appears, and once the players start to get some system proficiency it is a game that encourages teamwork. After a couple of combat rounds, my players realised that they could generate and bank Momentum for the group to make the important actions effective – and the variety of Momentum spends possible mean you can overcome lots of different threats.
I was worried that the Lindorm’s massive 6 points of Armour would be a problem – I shouldn’t have been; 6 armour is Momentum points to pierce, which is fairly easy to create if a few players work together intelligently.
I’ve learned that you have much more of a safety net than it appears when balancing encounters – because it’s more about Momentum than the PC stats.
Design Easy Character Sheets
Yes, Conan character generation is fiddly – a randomish lifepath system that creates backstory and ties PCs to the setting. It’s an exciting prospect when generating a PC to play yourself – but less so when statting up six pregens for a con game. And there is a we-based version that will do all the heavy lifting for you.
The character sheet the website produces is beautiful – the game’s full colour character sheet, in fact – and it’s also not the easiest thing to use. I made my own, which while less pretty are more functional. Talents were underneath their skills, in a different colour, in the hope that players will notice their exceptions as they roll – it worked well.
I’ve learned that my approach to con character sheets – function over bling – is still valid.
Hacking Steely Glare
The one piece of rules-drift I did do was to broaden out the scope of the social conflict rules. In Conan RAW, there are a range of Displays that characters can do – social conflict options that can be used in combat to damage Resolve. Most have specific conditions – you must demonstrate sorcery the round before, or you must heft the severed head of an enemy towards your opponent – but one is always available, Steely Glare.
I ruled that a Steely Glare attack can be used for any sort of social/mental attack – be it intimidation, trickery, blather or distraction. It’s not very powerful – it’s base damage is poor, and the effects it produces aren’t brilliant – but for a Bard PC, it is very useful to be able to attack with Persuasion instead of Melee. It led to a really pulpy combat feel, with the Sage and Bard cowing opponents into fleeing in fear while the Barbarian hacked their fellows to pieces.
I’ve learned to be generous in non-violent social attacks, even in the heat of battle. Urban Jungle was a big inspiration for this – it has genuinely interesting options in combat for non-violent characters.
So, after some doubts about running Conan, and a bit of a confidence crisis with the system, I – and I hope my players – had a blast. I’m definitely putting it out as a con game again, with the learning points above in mind, and got hold of Conan The Pirate last weekend for a Seas Of Blood-style piratical one-shot.
Do you have any 2d20 tips and hints? I’ll post up the adventure I ran, Caverns of the Snow Apes, later this week when I’ve edited it, along with my pregens.