Monday, 22 December 2014

Practical size limits for miniatures wargames

I didn't really get very much miniatures gaming in this year, but then it has been a busier year than 2013 was. Next year, I plan to focus on just a handful of projects as time will be limited. One of the games I did manage to play was The Sword and The Flame, which still has to be one of the best tabletop colonial miniatures games around if you want to measure it by pure FUN. But it is the recent arrival of some excellent new figures for the Second Afghan War (1878-80) from Artizan Designs that got me thinking about colonials, and in particular the period covered by TSaTF.

Yes, new miniatures in the colonial period always have one reaching for the Paypal button, but I decided that, before I did something stupid, I'd take a closer look at my Zulu War collection and make a decision on when I was prepared to call time on it. I have been collecting and painting Zulus for about 10 years and my impi can put close to 100 painted warriors on the table, which is not much by some people's standards, but then again, how many do you need?

A shot from one of our Zulu War games...

Taking TSaTF, for example, this is a game that despite its origins in the 1970s, still seems to work very well for colonial battles. I recently gave Battles for Empire a test run, and while I loved the deployment rules in BFE, the game itself is not as FUN as TSaTF. I tend to prefer games with simpler mechanics that you can easily teach to newcomers and are not difficult to remember when you revisit them. Something that gets bogged down in complexity, or takes six hours to play, may not be for me. Also, I'm less interested at this stage in recreating historical battles and more in producing an entertaining scenario. This can be achieved with smaller numbers of figures.

We typically play either very small skirmish battles between two people, or bigger multi-player exercises, with four or six protagonists. These seem to work very well. Which brings me back to how many figures are sufficient?

As a rule of thumb, and it is a rough one, I would say that the maximum number of models under a player's command should be around 60. For some games, it will be a lot less. Savage Worlds, for example, which we have used for Gothic horror games in the past and which seems to work equally well as an RPG, usually requires a lot less (I tend to limit games to a maximum of about five or six units per side, plus about four Wild Cards or Extras).

A Savage Worlds game in progress...

For TSaTF, which in its original format, has 20-figure units, 60 figures translates into a Zulu ibutho or an Afghan hill tribe, i.e. the second level of command in the game (a single native unit will be assigned one leader, while most colonial units will have some kind of second in command). This works quite well, as two native players could combine with 120 warriors between them, and with a single commander nominated as the induna in overall leadership.

An additional factor has to be one of time. Savage Worlds, with its card driven initiative system, does slow down the more units or figures you add. Hence, it is sometimes easier to activate a Wild Card and a unit together on one card until such a time as the Wild Card moves out of command range of the unit. BUT, the downside of that is the player risks having his whole command move further down the initiative ladder with a single card draw.

TSaTF is also card-driven, and again, too many units will cause the game to slow down. Assume, for example, three players running a Zulu impi composed of nine units. British units aside, that is still nine card draws for the movement phase, and nine for the shooting phase (presuming each unit has some rifles or muskets in it - they may not). Things will obviously speed up once units get eliminated, but the first few turns will be a lot slower. Assuming you want to get a game down in 3-4 hours maximum, which is a good measure, things have to move with alacrity.

So, let us set the maximum size of our impi at 180 models. This still gives it some scope for growth from its current size of about 100 over the course of the year, but 180 sounds like a good hard limit for the collection. Let us next assume that, for a good game, even giving the Zulus some inherent advantages like no terrain penalties and hidden deployment, they ought really to outnumber the British by 3:1 to stand a chance of winning. Other opponents, like the Sudanese Ansar, probably require slightly less, largely because they have other assets the Zulus lack, like more firearms and cavalry. The British force should therefore number between 40 and 60 figures if they are all regulars, possibly more if you are including Natal Native Contingent and Boers in their ranks. Bring the number back down again if you include British and / or colonial cavalry and artillery.

TSaTF typically sets a theoretical battalion of regulars as the maximum size of the imperial force, including two infantry companies, a cavalry squadron, and two or three guns. However, I view that as a best case force, and looking at the campaigns of the period, the British frequently relied on untested local troops, including the NNC in South Africa and Egyptian troops in the Sudan. This allows the player to field more imperial troops to face the natives without a considerable upgrade in firepower. The unit factors in the core rules can be a good guideline.

So, will I be exploring the possibility of building some armies for the NorthWest Frontier in 2015? I have not decided as yet. I'm keen to play some WW2 and possibly some fantasy if time and resources will allow. After all, we have yet to finish Bloodbath At Orc's Drift, where the final showdown has not been concluded, and Middle-earth beckons too. Finally, I'd like to play some Napoleonics, but am undecided as to whether to go with a big battle from the period, or focus on a large skirmish game like Sharp Practice. More on all that anon.

The Battle of Linden Way using Lord of the Rings SBG

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Colony

Kevin and Larry's excellent dynamite adventure
The Colony is a post-apocalyptic horror thriller, directed by Jeff Renfroe, which came out last year and is now on Netflix. It features two stalwarts of the survival horror genre, namely Bill Paxton (Aliens) and Lawrence Fishburne (Event Horizon). Fishburne seems to get signed for these sorts of projects on a regular basis, and to always play the same type of character, the inspirational but ultimately doomed leader.

The Colony posits a future in which efforts to tackle global warming back-fired and created a nuclear winter. Small groups of survivors now live underground, sheltering against the excesses of extreme arctic weather conditions. The whole world now looks like the South Pole or Hoth. To top this off, a fatal strain of flu has also decimated the global population, and now survivors are focused on eliminating any members of their communities that happen to manifest symptons (a real morale booster if you are watching this while down with flu!)

The story deals with a small community living under what looks like some form of power station. The main character in the film is a youth called Sam, played by Kevin Zegers, who is witness to the struggle for power within the community between its leader, former soldier Fishburne, and his homicidal right hand man, Paxton.

We've got the isolation, the small numbers of humans, the explosive personal issues, so now where is the external threat, I hear you ask? Well, guess what? A distress call is received from another group of survivors nearby and Fishburne and Zegers, accompanied by a third survivor, Atticus Mitchell, decide to struggle through the blizzards to find out what has happened.

We love running around in the tunnels...

Nothing good, as it turns out. I'm going to have to drop a spoiler here, and let you know that the other colony of survivors has been taken over by a roaming band of cannibals. The reason I am is because, for me, the stand out performance of the entire film comes from Dru Viergever as the truly terrifying leader of the cannibal group. He has the size and the screen presence to project a really evil SOB, and why nobody has signed him for a villain's role in Star Wars, I don't know. He makes Darth Vader seem cute and cuddly by contrast.

Is The Colony a good film though? It is certainly not as depressing as The Road, which has to be one of the truly mordant films of all time. The Colony has the cold and isolation down pat, plus there is lots of running around underground complexes (which players of my Hot War scenario will find reminiscent) and there are cannibals (somehow more evil than zombies).

The Colony is a little bit predictable however. There is a scene with a bridge about halfway through which I saw coming a mile away. The film ends up being very formulaic, and really, there is nothing NEW here, but at the same time, when I watched it, I wasn't really looking to be challenged. It is almost like classic Japanese theatre, where the audience expects the plot to devlop within certain lines, and will be outraged if it does not.

One thing I did find odd though was the Russian signage in one of the complexes. The film was made in Canada, there are no Russian characters in the film, and it never claims to be in Russia (the characters shelter in the wreck of an American rescue helicopter at one stage, and there are no Russian characters in the movie at all). So why is there obvious Russian signage all over the place? I can only assume someone else was using the same set previously and put it there, but it is also fairly obviously in shot, so why leave it? I am struggling to understand.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Red Dawn

I have been struck down, ruthlessly so, by a seasonal bout of flu. Luckily it has not been anything as severe as the pleurisy I got to dance with last winter. Hence, I've been bed-ridden, but this time around I've had access to the wonderful Netflix and the opportunity to catch up on some viewing. Over the next week or so, I will be attempting to deliver some impressions on the films I have been watching while the immune system was battling back yet again from the infected depths.

First up we have Red Dawn, the 2012 remake of the original 1984 film by John Milius. The original film, looking back on it, was a brat pack movie with Kalashnikovs, with a cast that included the likes of Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson. Most of these guys were still relative unknowns as actors - heck, Charlie Sheen looks like he hasn't started shaving yet! It was a film made at a time when the possibility of war with the Soviet Union was highly likely, although even then an actual airborne invasion of the continental US was far-fetched, to say the least.

For a schoolboy in the UK who was a member of the Combined Cadet Force from 1985 to 1988 (I dropped it as soon as it became voluntary at my school), Red Dawn certainly made an impact, partly because we were teenagers already being trained for a war, and partly because I was living that much closer to the USSR than most Americans. Indeed, I was spending my holidays in Austria, and my house in Vienna (the spy capital of the Cold War) was about 90 minutes from the Czechoslovakian border, as the T-72 tank travels.

Back when baseball jackets and flat tops were cool...

It's fair to say things were always a little...tense in 1985. On the gaming front I recall an RPG was published called The Price of Freedom, in which players took on the roles of US resistance fighters fighting a Soviet occupation, and caused something of a stir in the pages of White Dwarf, with many commentators attacking it for being tasteless, yet GDW was able to put out Twilight 2000 with seemingly less grouching, possibly because of the way it was presented (i.e. with no clear victor in the Twilight War). These days, video games with a similar theme to Price of Freedom (e.g. 2003's Freedom Fighters by IO Interactive) get waved through with hardly a raised eyebrow. This is probably a topic for another post...

To be honest, I'm not sure why MGM bothered remaking Red Dawn, as it was very much a creature of its time. In the 2012 version, it is the North Koreans invading the Pacific North West, with some Russian support once things begin to go pear-shaped. One aspect I liked about the original was the sympathetic Cuban officer (played by Ron O'Neal) who disagrees with his country's involvement in the war, but that interesting dramatic element is missing from the ranks of the North Koreans this time around - they are all two-dimensional stormtroopers this time. The whole idea that, even with Russian support, North Korea could realistically manage the invasion and occupation of a big slice of the US is laughable from the beginning and it is hard to get away from.

It is interesting, however, that the Wolverines, the teenaged team of resistance fighters at the centre of the film, adopts a different strategy from the originals. In the 1984 version, Swayze and crew take to the hills and wage a hit and run campaign against the Russians that is typical of the rural guerilla warfare preached by Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Even in 1984, America was still living in the shadow of Vietnam, and US military planners, if asked to point to a guerilla campaign, would turn to that experience. Hence, the 1984 Wolverines fight like they are using the Viet Cong's playbook.

Fast forward to 2012, and the experience has been heavily tinged by the war in Iraq. Chris Hemsworth's character is a serving Marine, on leave from the war in the Middle East. He immediately starts drilling his Wolverines to use tactics that the US military faced in Iraq. Remote-detonated IEDs become a much bigger feature of the film, and the Wolverines try to avoid a stand up firefight with the North Koreans wherever possible, only risking an assault on a military target when the stakes get raised.

Overall, if you have the time, and have not seen the original, I'd go with that and don't bother with the new one. When I first saw it advertised two years ago, I thought "Why?" Having watched it, I'm stilling thinking "Why?"

Monday, 8 December 2014

Tremulus - first impressions

Just back from a very busy trip to Ireland and have spent the weekend recovering with a copy of Tremulus, by Sean Preston and Reality Blurs. Tremulus is one of these 'next generation' RPGs inspired by the likes of Apocalypse World. In some respects, it does remind me a little of Cold City by Malcolm Craig. It is the Lovecraftian horror setting for the Apocalypse World-style RPG, and very interesting it is too.

Like AW, Tremulus uses 'play books' that portray classic Lovecraft character archetypes like the Author, the Detective or the Devout. Each one has special 'moves' - i.e. skills or actions that are unique to that type of character (as well as access to general moves shared by all PCs). Hence, the Alienist has Therapy as a move, plus additional moves like Quid Pro Quo or Student of Human Nature. There is a great deal of flavour here.

Each player gets to play one type of character, you cannot have two of the same type, no pairs of Alienists in a party. The play book provides you with a series of choices for your PC, including name, looks, equipment, and moves. This makes it very quick and easy for players to drop straight into a game. I like this.

Here's a sample move from the Alienist character, but the game is full of this kind of detail:

COTTAGE: you have a small cottage in town where you can treat patients. It is a safe place. You have a loyal assistant (Oswald or Sheryl?) as well. You earn d6 Wealth per month it is in operation.
Not only is this an asset, it brings with it story possibility. Who is the assistant, for example? Why might it stop operating? What do other inhabitants of the town think of this?

The core mechanic is 2d6 plus any kind of bonus that might apply, for example from your attributes. You really want to score 10+, but even 7+ is a good result. Six or less means you usually give the Keeper a hard move, something he can come back at you with at some point, and bring the hurt. The Keeper gets to store this for later, or could make it happen to you immediately as a result of your failed roll. This certainly raises the tension level. But bear in mind that the Keeper never rolls dice - he always asks the players to roll dice. His 'hard' moves just tweak the situation a little more against the players, giving them less scope for response.

Apart from the core characteristics of Reason, Passion, Might, Luck and Affinity, you also need to keep track of Wealth, Luck, Physical Wellness and Mental Health. All these work in a similar fashion (i.e. adding a + / - factor to that 2d6 roll), but in the case of Wellness and Mental Health, damage to such can bring with it further consequences, like insanity.

There are various levels of damage - light damage that you can recover from on your own, moderate damage that will require treatment, and serious damage that, if not treated, will just get worse, sending you spiralling off into permanent insanity for example. This looks like a very good mechanic, but I'd need to see it in play first to be entirely convinced.

The game does bring a couple of interesting new ideas to the table which I do feel enthusiastic about. Most of this is embedded in the Keeper's section and stems from plotting. It would be entirely possible to write up a quick scenario yourself and run with the ball using this system. However, there is also a default setting called Ebon Eaves, a fictional US town in the 1930s that can be the setting for your game. What is in the town, what the threat is, and much of the detail on NPCs, is determined by asking some questions of your players at the outset. This is then used to build a fast framework of a plot which your players can further populate as they explore.

I also like the concept of the hazard track, which I'm seeing more of in RPG games design these days, and while not quite a sandbox element, does help to provide that feel. It lets the Keeper track the course of the plot over a series of events that may / may not happen, depending on investigator intervention. Thus, plot point B will follow A, assuming the investigators do not do anything to de-rail it. It provides a sense of things going on behind the scenes, of a looming evil gathering pace, rather than simply a static construct awaiting the party's tender mercies.

There are stats here for classic Mythos monsters, and an opportunity for some of them to be found in Ebon Eaves, but Preston really only uses them as examples of how to build monsters using the rules, and recommends that Keepers usher in their own creations instead.

H.P. Lovecraft invented all sorts of strange nightmare horrors that inhabited his works, that have bled over into popular culture to such a degree that many of his most famous creatures are familiar to many people likely to play this game. If anything, the people most drawn to this sort of game may be the ones for whom scares come hardest - familiarity indeed breeds contempt. (Tremulus, p.155)
Tremulus is very much a game, like Cold City, where it is expected that much of the meat of the game will be added in play, some of it by the players. It is simple enough that a Keeper familiar with the rules can focus on play and not on the crunch, so to speak. This means that preparation levels are kept to a minimum. I am reminded a little of the Armitage Files from Pelgrane Press, but Armitage Files would require an enormous amount of work to create from scratch, while Tremulus would not. Plus, every Tremulus game is unique: three different Keepers could all run games out of Ebon Eaves with the same players, and each session would be radically different.

Tremulus does, however, have a very US-centric feel to it. The atmosphere is of small town America in the 1930s, and while it would not take a lot to shift that to European adventures, the sense of isolation it conjures up occasionally makes more sense for North America with its vast spaces than it does for, say, England in circa 1930. I'm please to see, however, that more supplements have appeared to provide action in the Arctic / Antarctic wilderness, or journeying to exotic locales. I do quite like the idea of PCs as crew / passengers on a tramp steamer in the South Pacific, for example, perhaps plying its route from New Zealand to Hawai'i...?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Denizens of Dunchester

Jeremiah Wislet, 45, Antiquarian

Jeremiah has a long interest in Dunchester and its environs. He is a medieval scholar, graduating from Oxford. He has also worked for more than a decade in the British Museum. While he is a mine of information on the ancient history of the region, he is most focused on his own pet theory regarding the legendary village of Iddlestone. Mentioned in the Doomesday Book, Iddlestone is thought to have been claimed by the sea following a particularly ferocious storm in the 13th century. Wislet is convinced that the village can still be found somewhere under the marshes.

The exact location of Iddlestone is a mystery, but Jeremiah is devoting his twilight years in his quest to discover it. He has his own boat and a pair of waders, and can be seen out and about on a fine day with a shovel, digging for medial artefacts. Perhaps of most interest to Jeremiah is the fable associated with the vicar of Iddlestone, who legend holds worked with pirates who operated in the Channel in the late 1100s. He was the custodian of much of their loot, but it was lost when the sea apparently swamped Iddlestone, perhaps as divine punishment for the crimes of its pastor.

Jeremiah has a reputation of being moody and irritable, impatient with lesser intellects and indeed all those who do not share his fascination with local archaeology. He is particularly short tempered with individuals of a dreamy, artistic bent, and is not talking to Rufus Tannisart (below).

Matthew Durnford, 50, Physician

Durnford is a cousin of Colonel Anthony Durnford, who was killed by Zulus at Isandhlwana in 1879. He also served in the army, as a military doctor, and had some experience in Africa, cut short by a bout of malaria on the Gold Coast. He has retired to a practice as a country doctor in Dunchester, but does not seem best pleased with his situation. He is a short-tempered and arrogant man, he sleeps badly and is suspected of sampling his own medicine cabinet and the occasional bottle of Scotch to help him beat his insomnia.

Durnford has been busy lately investigating the strangely high incidence of sleep walking in Dunchester. Several inhabitants have suffered minor accidents as a result of this and it has piqued the doctor's curiosity. He has even written a short piece on it for the British Medical Journal, although it has not been published. Not to be deterred, Durnford has been telling his small circle of friends (including Jeremiah Wislet, above) about his plans to conduct a more detailed survey of the problem in an effort to establish its cause.

Durnford is a bachelor, and lives with his sister Cara. She supports him as practice nurse and book keeper, as well as doing much of his shopping and cooking while he ponders how to revivify his flagging medical career.

Isabella Hellinges, 36, Landlady

Isabella is the current owner of the Grimfell Inn, ironically named after the 17th century judge who burned her ancestor. The Hellinges family moved away from Dunchester before the Civil War, but returned in the 1750s, when Daniel Hellinges, who made his money in the transatlantic slave trade, retired to Dunchester and bought the inn. It is runoured he and his son were later key figures in the smuggling activities of the Brotherhood of the Deep.

Isabella is an important figure in the community - some unkind souls would even call her a busybody. However she allows locals to spend time smoking and drinking and generally gossiping in the inn's snug, so long as they don't disturb any guests, few and far between as they might be. Isabella was born a Hellinge - her father owned and ran the Grimfell before her, and while she was once engaged to a local fisherman, his boat went down in a freak storm in the summer of 1884.

The Hellinges family has not been able to shake its association with witchcraft, however, despite Isabella's best efforts. Her fondness for the feline species, and the small pack of more than a dozen cats that haunt the Grimfell, has gone some way to perpetuate it. Gossip also surrounds her relationship with Isaiah Mentieth (see below).

Abraham Wittings, 50, Fisherman

Abraham lives in Dunchester and owns a fishing ketch called the Sea Song. He and his two sons spend most of their days out fishing, but also occasionally take tourists out to sea or ship cargo between Dunchester and Hastings. He is close-mouthed and says little of his experiences out on the storm-tossed waves, although some remark on the strange rituals he and his sons perform on their boat before setting out. The Old ways die hard amongst the fisher folk.

Abraham is considered something of a patriarch among the fishing community in and around Dunchester. He tends to avoid those he does not know or trust. He and his sons can sometimes be found drinking at the King's Head inn on the Dunchester to Hastings road. They live in a small village out on the marshes, but keep their boat down by the seaside. They also have a couple of rowboats and can sometimes be seen pottering around the many stagnant waterways that wend across the marshes. Nobody speaks of Wittings' wife, Martha, who once worked shoulder to shoulder with him on his boat. She was lost at sea on particularly stormy night, and the old man will not discuss the tragic event with anybody.

Rufus Tannisart, Painter, age 84

Tannisart is the last survivor of the infamous Dunchester Circle of painters who frequented the area in the early 1800s. Now in his dotage, Tannisart is rarely seen around town and even refuses to see visitors, preferring instead to glare balefully from the upper windows of his grey stone mansion at one end of Cable Street. Rumour has it that the old man continues to paint, and that his attic is stocked with new and original work that some European collectors would pay a fortune for, but access to him is strictly controlled by his nurse and housekeeper, Mrs Ursula Lambert.

Still, some say there are mysterious visitors to the old house, usually in the depths of night. Dark figures have been seen crossing the old churchyard behind Tannisart's home, stealing in and out by a back entrance. The old man is wealthy, however, and has patronised more than one struggling Dunchester business of charity with his considerable largesse, and those with influence in the town are loath to create problems for him. They say he spends most of his time asleep these days, dreaming perhaps of other times and places...

Isaiah Menteith - Carter, ex-Soldier, age 34

Isaiah owns a horse and cart and is frequently encountered in the streets of Dunchester, providing conveyancing for local businesses. He is also one of the few individuals prepared to transport people and their belongings overland between Dunchester and the nearest train stations at Rye and Hastings. Travellers will need to make prior arrangements to be met by Menteith, usually via Isabella Hellinges at the Grimfell Inn. Menteith is often to be found at the snug in the Grimfell when the weather is inclement, and for the right price can provide transport to most locations in the area that can be reached by road.

Menteith is a Sussex native and fought as a young man in the Sudan campaign of 1884-85 where he was decorated for gallantry. He still bears the scars of a desperate fight with the Mahdi's troops in the desert, including a sword cut to his forehead that is even more prominent now that he is losing his hair. Unlike many in Dunchester, he maintains a cheeful demeanour, humming thoughtfully to himself as he potters around town or along the lanes to outlying villages. He smokes a particularly strong brand of Egyptian tobacco that more often than not betrays his trail around the area.

Friday, 5 December 2014

More Barbarians of Hyboria

Following on from my last post on the topic, here are some more Hyborian races / birthplaces for characters, using the Barbarians of Lemuria background traits. BoL characters get one Boon for free, can take a second along with a Flaw, and finally can get a third of they spend two Hero Points. I've tried to cover all the boons and flaws included in the BoL rulebook at least once, so that a player


Covers the inhabitants of the city states that lie between the Hyborian kingdoms and Styygia. It includes everything from Asgalun on the Western Ocean to sand-girt Zamboula on the very borders of Turan. Although the city dwelling Shemites are distinguished from their nomadic cousins as Meadow Shemites, I've lumped them all into the same background, giving sufficient scope for both nomadic and urban characters.

Boons: Detect Deception, Learned, Plains Tracker, Sling, Thieves Tools. Flaws: City Dweller, Feels the Cold, Greed, Landlubber, Untrustworthy.


This category covers the many civilized kingdoms established by the Hyborian race, including the likes of Nemedia and Aquilonia, and lesser realms like Koth and Argos. They are united by a common language and cultural background and share similar political systems. I've tried to sum them all up in a single character background, but it may they will need to be differentiated further.

Boons:  Artistic, Attractive, Carouser, Etiquette, Great Wealth, Learned. Flaws: Arrogant, City Dweller, Combat Paralysis, Greed, Poor Eyesight.

Borderer (Bossonian, Gunderman, Border Kingdom)

This is a sub-class of the Hyborian stock, and covers those peoples settled primarily on the frontiers of Aquilonia, including the Bossonian Marches and Gunderland. These are tough pioneers, hardy people who are carving a new life for themselves out of the harsh wilderness, constantly in fear of attacks from Picts or Cimmerians. 

Boons: Beast Friend, Hard to Kill, Keen Hearing, Forest Tracker, Bossonian Longbow, Thick Skin. Flaws: Country Bumpkin, Drunkard, Landlubber, Missing eye/ear, Taciturn.


An ancient and decadent race of blue-skinned giants that practice sorcery and dwell in ancient citadels in the snowy fastnesses of their land. They are not a playable race in d20 Conan, but I like the way they are presented in the Dark Horse comic series (which portrays them as occasionally traveling to other lands and even serving in mercenary companies).

Boons: Fearsome Looks, Hyperborean Strength, Giant Weapons, Hard to Kill, Magic of the Sorceror Kings, Nose for Magic. Flaws: All Thumbs, Feels the Heat, Lumbering, Poor eyesight, Unsettling


One of the oldest civilizations in Hyboria, and heirs to the foul and sorcerous legacy of lost Acheron, Stygians are famed for their knowledge of magic and evil rites. The country is ruled by its inbred aristocratic elite and founded upon a slave caste.

Boons: Artistic, Escape Artist, Magic of the Sorceror Kings, Night Sight, Nose for Magic, Poison Immunity. Flaws: Arrogant, City Dweller, Cravings, Delicate, Curse of Set, Untrustworthy.


Ancient Vendhya is a mysterious land lying to the south of the Himelian mountains, and separated by them from much of the warfare and politics that plague the kingdoms of Hyboria. Vendhyans are recognised for both the wealth of their lands and the ancient wisdom of their crumbling temple cities.

Boons: Artistic, Beast Friend, Blind Combat, Escape Artist, Fighting Knife, Great Wealth, Power of the Void. Flaws: Arrogant, Cravings, Delicate, Feels the Cold, Poor Recovery.


Zamora sits between Turan and the Hyborian kingdoms. It is a highly populous realm with some of the biggest cities in the Thurian continent, including Shadizar the Wicked and Yezud, holy city of the Spider God. Many of Conan's greatest adventures take place in Zamora.

Boons: Blind Combat, Carouser, Etiquette, Escape Artist, Thieves Tools, Zamorian Agility. Flaws: City Dweller, Drunkard, Greed, Missing Eye/Ear, Untrustworthy.


Interestingly, Zingara is not classed as a Hyborian kingdom by the authors of Conan d20. Perched on the coast of the Western Ocean, its people are known as great traders, navigators and sea farers, but it is often at the mercies of more powerful Hyborian realms like Argos and Aquilonia.

Boons: Born Sailor, Keen Eyesight, Learned, Pirate Killer, Night Sight. Flaws: Arrogant, Delicate, Drunkard, Missing Limb, Poor Recovery.

And that's all folks! I've expanded on the d20 Conan races by adding Hyperborean, but I just felt they ought to included having read the Dark Horse comics, which I recommend. I may modify these going forwards, but first they will need a play test. More Barbarians of Hyborian when I have time...

Monday, 1 December 2014

Barbarians of Hyboria

I have historically GM'd adventures in Hyboria using the d20 Conan rules from Mongoose Publishing, and have also run a sword and sorcery adventure with Barbarians of Lemuria. Hence, it was only a matter of time before it occurred to run Hyborian adventures using Barbarians of Lemuria mechanics. BoL uses its own unique setting (Lemuria, surprise!) as an adventure background, however, so it befalls upon me to suggest some Hyborian cultural backgrounds for player characters using the BoL mechanics.

Here are a few to begin with. Where possible I've tried to limit races to five Boons / Flaws each, but some extras have just had to sneak in. I'm pondering whether to include Marked by Crom as an additional boon for Cimmerian PCs. Characters in BoL get a free Boon from their birthplace, and may take a second if they also take a Flaw. A third Boon can be acquired by spending two Hero Points. Some Boons are unique to certain races - so far, only the Himelians have Detect Deception, and the Kushites have a monopoly on Jungle Tracker.


Savage hillmen who dwell in the highlands north of Aquilonia and Nemedia. Fierce, clannish people with little scope for uniting under central leadership. Cimmerian characters take Barbarian as their first career.

Boons: Cimmerian Strength, Disease Immunity, Hard to Kill, Quick Recovery, Rock Tracker,  Cimmerian War Cry ("Crom!"). Flaws: Country Bumpkin, Distrust of Sorcery, Feels the Heat, Illiterate, Taciturn

Himelian Tribesman

Fierce tribes that dwell in the mountain range that divides Vendhya from the wide plains of Hyrkania. Independent and fond of war, they often raid into Vendhya and Iranistan when the opportunity presents. Himelian tribesmen must take Barbarian as their first career. Missing Eye / Ear reflects both the fact that Himelians get exposure to tribal warfare at an early age, and a popular form of punishment among the hill tribes.

Boons:  Detect Deception, Fighting Knife, Quick Recovery, Rock Tracker, Sneaky. Flaws: Country Bumpkin, Landlubber, Missing Eye / Ear, Untrustworthy


A nomadic people, they wander across the broad tundra to the north and east of Turan, and west of Khitai. They rear livestock and hunt strange beats on the grasslands. They are excellent horsemen. Starting Hyrkanian characters must take Barbarian or Slave as their first career.

Boons: Beast Friend, Hyrkanian Agility, Keen Eyesight, Keen Scent, Plains Tracker, Hyrkanian Curved Bow. Flaws:  Arrogant, Country Bumpkin, Illiterate, Ugly and Brutish, Untrustworthy.


Originally a nomadic tribe like the Hyrkanians, the Turanians have established a formidable empire on the shores of the Sea of Vilayet. Although still accomplished riders, they now have a considerable navy as well.

Boons: Etiquette, Great Wealth, Swamp Tracker, Thieves Tools, Turanian Tulwar. Flaws: City Dweller, Cravings, Feels the Cold, Greed, Poor recovery.


An ancient oriental empire that has pushed out the frontiers of learning and sorcery, little is known of it in the Hyborian lands, although sometimes Khitan sorcerers and monks will travel to the western lands. Khitan Alchemists are justly renowned. Special Item reflects the possible possession of a piece of Khitan technology, like gunpowder or some of their fabled Yellow Lotus Dust!

Boons: Learned, Magic Resistance, Poison Immunity, Power of the Void, Special Item. Flaws: Combat Paralysis, Cravings, Delicate, Taciturn, Unsettling


A catch all term for most of the black skinned tribes that dwell in the hotter climes south of Stygia and over the deserts from Shem. This includes Darfar, Keshan, and the cities of Punt and Zembabwei. Kushite adventurers must begin with either the Barbarian or Hunter careers.

Boons: Beast Friend, Fighting Spear, Jungle Tracker, Keen Hearing, Keen Scent. Flaws: Country Bumpkin, Distrust of Sorcery, Feels the Cold, Illiterate, Taciturn.


Covers the kingdoms and tribal fiefdoms of Asgard and Vanaheim, impoverished lands that spawn warriors and pirates for the most part. Adventurers from these climes tend to be hot tempered and motivated by loot. It is very unlikely to meet sorcerers or alchemists from Nordheim. Only Aesir characters can take Landlubber as a flaw. Missing Limb reflects the frequent internecine warfare and piracy that is so much a part of Nordheimer society.

Boons: Keen Scent, Marked by the Gods, Snow Tracker, Quick Recovery, Asgardian Blade, Vanir War Cry. Flaws: Drunkard, Feels the Heat, Greed, Landlubber, Lumbering, Missing Limb.


Forest-dwelling savages who populate the wilderness areas to the west of Aquilonia and north of Zingara. They rarely venture into civilized lands other than to raid border settlements. Conan d20 has them as a racial option, so I've included them here. Their first career must be Hunter or Savage.

Boons: Beast Friend, Forest Tracker, Keen Scent, Night Sight, Pictish War Cry. Flaws: Country Bumpkin, Delicate, Fear of Fire, Illiterate, Taciturn, Ugly and Brutish.

That's pretty much it for now. If there's interest, I'll add some more when I have time. Note: there is no Sky Pilot career in Barbarians of Hyboria.