OD&D: The Hyborian Age
The Age of Conan:
OD&D in the Hyborian Age
OD&D is, despite what some have argued, a prime system for running adventures in the Hyborian Age. As with any fantasy world placed into a pre-set rules system, however, it requires a few tweaks to the basics. Let's start with the rules needed.
Using these rules requires ownership of the OD&D boxed set, plus Supplements I and II. Ownership of Chainmail is highly recommended, as the combat system for Hyborian Age OD&D is drawn from Chainmail.
Ownership of supplements III and IV is helpful, but not required so long as the DM has a strong working knowledge of the Hyborian Age. I will, however, be referencing these supplements as they have pre-existing write-ups for Hyborian Age gods, monsters, and heroes.
Ownership of the 6 issues of The Strategic Review can be helpful for the inclusion of new character classes, but isn't strictly necessary.
For setting information beyond the brief sketch I'll give here, I highly recommend both the original TSR Conan RPG (now long out of print, but out there if you look hard enough) and Mongoose's exceptional Return to the Road of Kings sourcebook for their Conan RPG.
Additional excellent maps, essays, articles, and game-related information on the Hyborian Age can be found here:
Now, on to the rules alterations.
Men and Magic
There are NO demihuman races at all. However, certain cultures have (optional) benefits similar to those granted by demihuman races. These will be examined in a later post. The races of the Hyborian Age (not to be confused with its cultures, though in some cases there is overlap) are as follows:
- Tribesman of the Black Kingdoms
Other cultures of note include:
- Aquilonia, Argos, Brythunia, Corinthia, Nemedia, Ophir, Koth, and Zingara, all of which boast strains of the Hyborian race
- Darfar, Keshan, Khoraja, Kush, and Shem, all of which boast strains of Stygian, often cross-bred with Vendhyan or Iranistani
- Drujistan and Iranistani, which represent strains of Shemite
- Kosala and Kusan, which boast strains of Vendhyan and Black Kingdom Tribesmen
Complete Race Descriptions
Part One (Aesir/Vanir through Hyborian)
Part Two (Hyrkanian through Zingaran)
- OD&D 3LBBs: Fighting-Man only
- Greyhawk: Thief (using Philotomy's alternate Thief class, save that climbing is rolled on 4d6, requiring 8-24 at lvl 1, 7-24 at level 5, and 6-24 at level 9).
- Blackmoor: Assassin and Monk (Monks only exist in Vendhya, Khitai, and Lemuria). Assassins' chance to assassinate is rolled on 2d6 instead of % dice, adding +1 per 10% chance to assassinate (dropping fractions), against a target number of 11.
- Eldritch Wizardry: The Druid, save that druids cast spells as clerical sorcerers (but from their own pre-existing list). Druids should be re-named shamans and only exist amongst the Picts.
- The Strategic Review: The Ranger (as modified here), Bards (as modified here), Illusionists (save that these exist only in Khitai, Vendhya, and Lemuria, and cast as arcane Sorcerers, save from their own spell lists).
- Original: The Sorcerer.
Multiclassing: Multiclassing is not an alien concept to OD&D--Elves could advance as both Magic-Users and Fighting-Men, while Dwarves could advance as both Fighting-Men and Thieves. Since picking up a vast variety of skills and abilities is part and parcel of the Hyborian Age, it should be allowed here. At character creation, a player may choose any two classes allowed to his race. At the start of each session of play, the player must choose in which class his character will operate for that session, gaining none of the benefits of his other class. Note that since classes advance at different rates, it is likely, for example, that a Zamoran Fighting-Man/Thief will be higher level as a Thief than as a Fighting-Man.
As characters progress through the game, sometimes necessity will cause them to pick up new skills sets. Thus, it is possible for a character to begin play single-classed and gain a second class later on in his career (Conan, in Supplement IV, is a 15th level Fighting-Man and 9th-level Thief). Still, unless there are exceptional circumstances (DM's discretion), no character may ever perform as more than one class in a given game session, and no character may ever have more than two character classes from which to choose.
There is one exception to this rule: No sorcerer may ever multiclass. Sorcery is an obsessive and all-consuming pursuit, and there are no dabblers in the dark arts.
It is also possible, by the sacrifice of 2,000 experience points, to gain the racial abilities of a race different than one's own, in addition to abilities already possessed. This sacrifice must be made at the point where a player would normally advance, and the player must have advanced in the culture in which he wishes to gain abilities. For example, Valeria, an Aquilonian Fighting-woman, wishes to learn the Zingaran florentine fighting style. She must adventure in Zingara until she advances a level, then sacrifice 2,000 XP (forcing her to remain her current level rather than advancing) and she gains the Zingaran racial abilities in addition to her own. This WILL inflict penalties that come with the race as well as benefits (including ability score modifications).
There is no common tongue in the Hyborian Age, nor are there alignment languages. All players begin with their native tongue and one other, plus additional languages as explained in Men & Magic, page 12.
Sorcerers and Magic
All magic users in the Hyborian age, both scholarly (arcane) and clerical, are sorcerers. Even sub-classes such as Druids and Illusionists (above) use the same system for spellcasting, though they may have their own spell lists. Generally, spells that cure wounds are not available in a Hyborian Age game, though higher level spells such as Heal may be. Any kind of true resurrection or raising of the dead is not possible without powerful magical artifacts such as the Heart of Ahriman, and even then the magic is as likely to create an intelligent undead as it is to restore true life to the dead.
Scrolls and Tomes: While sorcerers are still restricted by their spell list as to the spells they can cast at will, it is possible for a sorcerer to attempt to cast a higher level spell using a scroll or ritual instructions; this makes the seeking of ancient scrolls and books of power extremely palatable to a sorcerer. Casting the spell requires a standard casting check against the spell's level as listed on the Chainmail casting matrix (Chainmail, p.33). The resulting save against corruption (see the Sorcerer), however, suffers a penalty equal to one half the difference between the spell being cast and the maximum spell level the caster is able to normally cast (minimum of -1).
Alignment is strictly optional in a Hyborian Game, though the alternate "Good, Evil, Balance, Unaligned" method from The Wasted Lands can help to define a character's allegiance in important conflicts. The only exception to this is the Sorcerer (See "Character Classes," above), who must choose an alignment as it is integral to his slide into inhumanity. No character class has alignment requirements.
Monsters and Treasure
Many monsters, heroes, and gods of the Hyborian Age are listed in Supplement IV, pages 45-52, with even more creatures applicable to the age listed throughout (see the Finnish mythology section in particular).
There are many more monsters in OD&D--even standards--that are appropriate for encounters in the Hyborian Age. A complete list appears below, but in general if it's a creepy crawly, has a horrific, unnatural, or Lovecraftian bent, is undead, or is some sort of mutated take on a regular creature, it's likely appropriate to the Hyborian Age.
Of the creatures listed in Monsters & Treasure, the following critters are appropriate to the Hyborian Age:
- Men (obviously) will be the most often encountered foe.
- Goblins and Kobolds can be used to represent degenerate underground pygmy races.
- Gnolls and Ogres can be used to mimic beast-men and carnivorous apes
- Ghouls, Wights, Wraiths, Spectres, Mummies, Vampires and all manner of undead are applicable.
- Basiliks, while not strictly Hyborian in nature, do fit in the concept of a giant serpent whose bite causes petrification.
- Wyverns are similar to the "dragons" Conan and Valeria encounter in "Red Nails."
- Purple Worms
- Sea Monsters
- Djinn and Efreet though any spells worked should be as Sorcerers, albeit without corruption risks to these creatures.
- Jellies, Puddings, Slimes, Molds and Oozes
- Large Insects
Creatures from Supplement I:
- Will o' Wisp
- Liches (Cast as Sorcerers)
- Lizard Men (Called "Serpent Men," and possess the additional ability to polymorph into human form)
- Umber Hulks
- Hell Hounds
- Giant Ticks
- Carrion Crawlers
- Gelatinous Cubes
Creatures from Supplement II
- Giant Crabs, Octopi, Squid, Crocodile, Toad, Frog, Leech, Wasps, Beetle
- Fire Lizard
- Elasmosaurus, Mosasaurus, Plesiosaurus
- Giant Shark
- Giant Eel, Lamprey, Sea Horse, Portuguese Man-o-War, Dolphins
- Pungi Ray, Manta Ray
- Water Spiders, Weed Eels
- Sahuagin ("Deep Ones")
- Locathah (also "Deep Ones")
- Poisonous Coral
- Strangle Weed
Creatures from Supplement IV
- Demons, Type I through VI, including Succubi
- Mind Flayers (Spawn of the Outer Dark)
Magic items of any type are rare and unique, and almost always serve a specific purpose. Most magic items are for sorcerers, though certain swords, girdles, and rings exist that can be used by warrior types. For example, there are not "cloaks and boots of elvenkind," yet there might exist a single "Regalia of Bel," which being a cloak, set of boots, and gloves, grants the effects of a cloak and boots of elvenkind and gloves of dexterity to the possessor.
There are NO intelligent magic swords.
Many magic items in the Hyborian Age are of the artifact variety; use Supplement III as a guideline.
The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures
Combat, as specified in the introduction, uses Chainmail. So do saving throws. Rules for using Chainmail in combat and for saving throws can be found in PDF format Here.
I cannot stress enough that the Chainmail rules for combat are essential (in my opinion) to gaining the gritty feel of a Hyborian Age game. The "Troop Type" rules function as excellent "mook rules," when Conan needs to wade through a horde of thugs, while the Man-to-Man rules are excellent for a meeting of two named characters, and the Fantasy rules cover Conan's struggles with demons, man-apes, and giant serpents. Tips on how to convert OD&D monsters to Chainmail's Fantasy Combat system are found on page 5 of Monsters & Treasure.