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10/05/2017 8:26 am  #1


Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I thought some fine folks here may find this interesting.

I've been rereading the original REH Conan stories (as I do pretty much continuously anyway) with an eye towards anything and everything involving sorcery. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but it's a very time-consuming endeavor. At this point, I'm just gathering a load of raw data. Once I'm finished I plan to put that data together into a document. Already I'm finding a lot of interesting things. Most importantly I'm finding that a lot of preconceptions about sorcery in Conan's world are wrong. This means that a lot of game systems that try to simulate Hyborian Age style sorcery are not very accurate. 
Interestingly, when combined with my Conan RPG Challenge that I have been running these last couple months, AS&SH style magic (D&D Vancian magic), which a lot of S&S buffs dismiss outright, is actually the closest to Hyborian Age sorcery in an RPG so far.

Anyway, here are the raw data articles so far:
Sorcery! a look at magic in REH’s Conan, part 1 Post 88: https://plus.google.com/103023393131901177911/posts/7ZEc3CpxNcF
More Sorcery! Looking at magic in REH’s Conan, part 2 Post 90: https://plus.google.com/103023393131901177911/posts/czM2HruriMQ
Is There No End to This Sorcery? Magic in Conan part 3 Post 95: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103023393131901177911/posts/8QVM17wsXXA
What Manner of Sorcery is This? Magic in Conan part 4 Post 96: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103023393131901177911/posts/CmAF1sWPyB7
Witchery! Magic in Conan part 5 Post 108: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103023393131901177911/posts/X1JKSnvcswR 

Last edited by Grimmshade (10/05/2017 8:31 am)


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

10/05/2017 3:17 pm  #2


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I've been preaching this for years. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/smile.png

Somebody once posted a "Hyborian Age Corruption Table" for wizards that caused them to develop rotting skin, glowing eyes, tentacles, etc. Which is fine, except that the sorcerers in Howard's stories exhibit none of these things; they just look like ordinary (or in the case of females, exceptionally beautiful) members of their ethnic groups. So in what way does such a table reflect the "Hyborian Age"?

It's pretty clear to me that these ideas don't originate in a reading of Howard's stories. They are inspired by earlier Conan games, who were in turn inspired by earlier Conan games. And if you go back far enough, someone yanked these ideas about sorcery in Conan's world directly out of their lower torsos.


"The fear of death, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival." - J. Eric Holmes
 

10/05/2017 4:54 pm  #3


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Exactly! The ideas were either grabbed from pastiche, other non-Conan Sword & Sorcery, or a misreading of the Conan stories. They may have also been an attempt to make magic rarer in a Conan campaign, but honestly that's all up to the GM anyway. Also, magic is nowhere near as rare in the Hyborian Age as most people seem to think.

Xaltotun had glowing eyes, but he was also sort of a lich, or at least a wizard from an ancient race revived from the dead. Akivasha had glowing eyes, was a vampire. The Black Seers of Yimsha have tentacles for arms, but they also were never men.
The master says:
" I am of human origin, but I rule demons. You have seen the Lords of the Black Circle – it would blast your soul to hear from what far realm I summoned them and from what doom I guard them with ensorcelled crystal and golden serpents"

I saw an argument in which someone said that to properly make Hyborian Age magic in a game system you would need a different magic system for each wizard. While I understand what they were getting at (Howard didn't need to write his wizards into game mechanics), I think this is a good argument for an RPG with a Class system. Class combined with the fact that most AD&D/AS&SH spells are open to interpretation and tweaking provides pretty fertile ground for variance in sorcerers.

Last edited by Grimmshade (10/05/2017 4:58 pm)


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/06/2017 10:41 am  #4


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Great summaries Grimmshade.  I always thought most corruption mechanisms in RPG's would have sorcerers debilitated in a couple years if that. I prefer the system used in AS&SH, I like to give the characters latitude in use of spells to provide some creativity and variety.

Given Hyperborea is a mashup of various weird fantasy worlds there may be some room for loss of sanity or corruption of the physical body through contact with greater entities and use of their power.  


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

10/06/2017 2:06 pm  #5


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Mabon - Most S&S game mechanics for sorcery are so destructive that it doesn't make sense why anyone would ever choose that path.
I also agree that some amount of Call of Cthulhu type sanity loss would be fine, even in Hyborian Age magic. But rather than being a specific cost of sorcery, it should come from actually interacting with those beings.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/06/2017 10:17 pm  #6


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Grimmshade wrote:

Mabon - Most S&S game mechanics for sorcery are so destructive that it doesn't make sense why anyone would ever choose that path.
I also agree that some amount of Call of Cthulhu type sanity loss would be fine, even in Hyborian Age magic. But rather than being a specific cost of sorcery, it should come from actually interacting with those beings.

I would agree.  This is why I believe a system is not needed rather make this part of the role-playing experience.

 


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

10/07/2017 6:15 am  #7


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

mabon5127 wrote:

Grimmshade wrote:

Mabon - Most S&S game mechanics for sorcery are so destructive that it doesn't make sense why anyone would ever choose that path.
I also agree that some amount of Call of Cthulhu type sanity loss would be fine, even in Hyborian Age magic. But rather than being a specific cost of sorcery, it should come from actually interacting with those beings.

I would agree.  This is why I believe a system is not needed rather make this part of the role-playing experience.

 

Well, WRT CoC-esque costs: it's in the CoC system (and mythos lore) to lose sanity simply by reading blasphemous tomes. Whether CoC is considered "S&S" is a different argument, but I think the reasoning behind the CoC system is quite sound. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/happy.png


Very much enjoying your read-through, though. So far it seems the aspects of S&S "sorcery" in REH consist of:
*Sorcerers have a "dreadful presence", able to inspire fear in all who see them or hear their name
*Knowledge and use of the properties of alchemical contrivances and substances
*Knowledge and coercion of otherworldly beings
*Knowledge and use of sorcery itself (though the number of "spells" cited so far is small)

The last three are adequately captured in AS&SH now, but it's the first that I think would add nice flavor: perhaps non-sorcerers would need to make a Saving Throw while in the mere presence of a sorcerer? What the effects of failing such a ST are would be interesting to develop...http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/devious.png


"An intellect in full control of itself unfortunately must sacrifice that receptivity which distinguishes the primitive mentality. This is an evolutionary step I have, on the whole, been happy to make."
Jack Vance, The Asutra
 

10/07/2017 7:23 am  #8


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Concerning Corruption:

I use the Mongoose D20 Conan RPG; and truthfully I did enjoy  most of the spells they developed, but I do agree Grimshade that sometimes it can be slightly different from Howard's work.

Howard treated alchemy and poisons as tools of sorcerers also (but you know that)....

But real reason for post is corruption: the D20 Conan had a ridiculous corruption time scale, the chart and effects were good enough, for how are we to know the extent of the sorcerers that failed and became corrupted and possessed by daemons!

But the chart was near 1 corruption point for each time one encounters a daemon and interacts with it in a sociable way! After 10 points, their growing horns and stooping and their flesh becomes hard as scales, etc., after 11 points (abouts), they are possessed by daemon and the GM takes control of character!

Possible if chart was in 100s and I believe 1,000s, and a sorcerer gains 1 corruption each time he converses with a daemon is fine (if he fails a Sorcery roll, perhaps), but at least before the corruption ruins the sorcerer; there is still 999 points to go!?

 

10/07/2017 8:13 am  #9


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

As I did my morning walk with my dog I thought more on this, and since I usually favor re-using existing mechanics (rather than introducing new mechanics), perhaps a modifier on the Reaction Table, to emulate "dreadful presence"? Mods could be Casting Ability-dependent, and negative with non-sorcerers, positive for sorcerers.


"An intellect in full control of itself unfortunately must sacrifice that receptivity which distinguishes the primitive mentality. This is an evolutionary step I have, on the whole, been happy to make."
Jack Vance, The Asutra
 

10/07/2017 11:15 am  #10


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Maybe a Reaction modifier equal to level divided by a certain amount.

People definitely fear sorcerers in the Hyborian Age, but in AS&SH terms I wonder if you couldn't boil that down to use of the Fear spell and reputation. 

You almost need a reputation system. I think that the original TSR Conan modules had such a system, I'll have to check.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/07/2017 11:59 am  #11


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Caveman wrote:

Concerning Corruption:

I use the Mongoose D20 Conan RPG; and truthfully I did enjoy  most of the spells they developed, but I do agree Grimshade that sometimes it can be slightly different from Howard's work.

Howard treated alchemy and poisons as tools of sorcerers also (but you know that)....

But real reason for post is corruption: the D20 Conan had a ridiculous corruption time scale, the chart and effects were good enough, for how are we to know the extent of the sorcerers that failed and became corrupted and possessed by daemons!

But the chart was near 1 corruption point for each time one encounters a daemon and interacts with it in a sociable way! After 10 points, their growing horns and stooping and their flesh becomes hard as scales, etc., after 11 points (abouts), they are possessed by daemon and the GM takes control of character!

Possible if chart was in 100s and I believe 1,000s, and a sorcerer gains 1 corruption each time he converses with a daemon is fine (if he fails a Sorcery roll, perhaps), but at least before the corruption ruins the sorcerer; there is still 999 points to go!?

Not to belabor the point, but (time scale aside) none of the sorcerers in Howard's works have flesh as hard as scales or horns. Nor are there any "failed" sorcerers running around with flesh as hard as scales or horns. So I really have to ask again: in what way is this suitable for a Conan rpg?

I don't have anything against people using their imagination, and I would theoretically not object to such a system in a "generic" sword and sorcery rpg (well, I probably would, since I think it unfairly penalizes people who play sorcerers, but let's say I wouldn't for the sake of argument). However, when you're purportedly recreating a literary work for a game, I think you have some responsibility not to create major systems that are at odds with what's portrayed in that literary work. These supposed Conan rpg's that include outlandish physical corruption systems for sorcerers are, in my view, tantamount to a "Three Musketeers" rpg that includes rules for automatic weapons fire. Imaginative, yes. True to the source material, no.


"The fear of death, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival." - J. Eric Holmes
 

10/07/2017 2:58 pm  #12


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I agree Blackadder.
I'm currently reading Barbarians of Lemuria for my Conan RPG Challenge I have been running, and I'm surprised to find that it also arbitrarily limits sorcery in weird and corrupting ways. It has some cool spells, but then ruins the system with exceptionally long recovery times and corruption for high level spells. 
Again, this is a system that people regularly praise as "perfect for Conan."
(I actually disagree on the perfect for Conan part a lot, but that's because I feel there is a general misconception of the S&S genre in general and Conan stories specifically.)

Last edited by Grimmshade (10/07/2017 3:00 pm)


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/07/2017 5:00 pm  #13


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Grimmshade wrote:

Maybe a Reaction modifier equal to level divided by a certain amount.

People definitely fear sorcerers in the Hyborian Age, but in AS&SH terms I wonder if you couldn't boil that down to use of the Fear spell and reputation. 

You almost need a reputation system. I think that the original TSR Conan modules had such a system, I'll have to check.

Well, I wouldn't want to track another stat (reputation), but just use the CA (which doesn't always track with level) to modify Reaction rolls: say +/-1 up to CA 6, +/-2 at CA 7+. A lightweight, easily house-ruled representation of their "reputation as a fearsome sorcerer".


"An intellect in full control of itself unfortunately must sacrifice that receptivity which distinguishes the primitive mentality. This is an evolutionary step I have, on the whole, been happy to make."
Jack Vance, The Asutra
 

10/07/2017 6:36 pm  #14


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I used to think I wanted some sort of corruption, insanity or wild-magic rules for sorcerers, until it dawned on me that rather than making the game's magic edgy, dark and evil, they just discourage people from playing magic-using characters altogether. Plus, AS&SH draws from many different pulp authors, not just REH. The fact that the REH text doesn't really support that interpretation of magic all that explicitly ended up being icing on the cake though.

Nevertheless, if a group enjoys that sort of magic system in their game, they should absolutely include it. People ought to tailor the game to suit their needs. Homebrewing has a long history in our hobby! 


Blackadder23: Insanely long villain soliloquy, then "Your action?"
BORGO'S PLAYER: I shoot him in the face
 

10/08/2017 6:13 am  #15


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I not really interested in human sorcerers becoming daemons myself or possessed by them, but the theory is that... "do some sell their souls for power!" In which case corruption is a constant threat, I not saying the end result is horns, my theory was trying to get the concept that the threat exists. (Note: Pelius, though a little eccentric, does not sell his soul for power, so hence not every sorcerer is completely affected, it is only social interaction with daemons, not commanding them that causes corruption in D20).

Example: a Sorcerer lives and dies, 100 years or a 1,000 if he can, but at end he has 678 corruption points with some effects, a twitch; can cast spells at greater potency, but is gradually losing his soul, whatever the cause and affects are, have a system for it. He never gets to the stage with the complete corruption for he would have to live another 1,000 years more (but, the threat exists).

Two sorcerers, Tsotha-lanti and the Master of Yimsha had strange side effects, was this a spell or daemonic corruption? Tsotha-lanti was decapitated and Pelias in the form of a giant eagle swoops down and flies away with his head and his body gets up off the ground and follows his head, hmm, personally if things like that can happen, one must make assumptions that Howard had yet to do other stories that would include a sorcerer being corrupted so much that they contorted inside. When the Devi Yasmina awaken and sees (is it the true self/form or just a spell to frighten her) the Master of Yimsha, he is like a lich, if I getting it right, could this not be a form of corruption that wastes the body or is he in fact just a lich and hence why he lives so long. To me the possibilities are to attempt to presume what else is out there in Thuria, or one could never fill a RPG book will the little amount in Howard's Conan stories.

Last edited by Caveman (10/08/2017 6:15 am)

 

10/08/2017 6:28 am  #16


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Chainsaw wrote:

I used to think I wanted some sort of corruption, insanity or wild-magic rules for sorcerers, until it dawned on me that rather than making the game's magic edgy, dark and evil, they just discourage people from playing magic-using characters altogether. Plus, AS&SH draws from many different pulp authors, not just REH. The fact that the REH text doesn't really support that interpretation of magic all that explicitly ended up being icing on the cake though.

Nevertheless, if a group enjoys that sort of magic system in their game, they should absolutely include it. People ought to tailor the game to suit their needs. Homebrewing has a long history in our hobby!

This is a good point, and one I always consider when house-ruling: whatever change I make has to be balanced between risk and reward, sometimes so the players have a chance to opt out (e.g., my "cast beyond the normal daily limit" houserule) and sometimes to maintain balance (e.g., not introducing something which tilts decisions in one direction or another). While corruption, spell backfires, etc. might be entertaining and emulative of some play style, they typically alter the gameplay in non-heroic ways. Which is fine if that's what you're after.

In the example of "dreadful presence" it would be balanced in terms of "sometimes negative, sometimes positive": the Reaction roll modifier would be negative with non-sorcerers (fear and wariness) and positive with sorcerers (respect and wariness).


"An intellect in full control of itself unfortunately must sacrifice that receptivity which distinguishes the primitive mentality. This is an evolutionary step I have, on the whole, been happy to make."
Jack Vance, The Asutra
 

10/08/2017 8:21 am  #17


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

I think of Tsotha-lanti and the Master of Yimsha as having achieved something they consider beneficial through sorcery. Neither appeared negatively corrupted, so much as having found a way to prolong their lives.
(Also, Tsotha-lanti was half demon)

I'm not saying that a wizard could not be corrupted by something evil in Conan's world, but I don't think it should be a regular side effect of magic use.

Last edited by Grimmshade (10/08/2017 8:25 am)


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/08/2017 11:22 am  #18


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Chainsaw wrote:

I used to think I wanted some sort of corruption, insanity or wild-magic rules for sorcerers...

For example, one idea I considered was allowing sorcerers who'd exhausted their memorized spells to roll a test of constitution in order to regain a spell - success enabled the sorcerer to regain a single spell of his choice, whereas failure still regained the spell but also lost a point of constitution permanently. You could soften it by saying failing the test resulted in a save vs death, with that failure resulting in the permanent attribute point loss. I had also considered a further extension where the cumulative number of permanently lost constitution points mapped to a list of flavorful side-effects (chronic coughing, hunch back, limp, gnarled fingers, sunken features, etc). You could also do something like this with wisdom and have the cumulative wisdom points lost map to AS&SH's madness table.

Again, I ended up not doing it. I thought if I made the system totally optional that I'd be preserving the appeal of the class for people who didn't like the corruption/insanity stuff, but ultimately, what it really does is create situations where the other PCs expect the sorcerer to risk weakening himself permanently every time the group gets in a jam. Out of spells and in trouble? The rest of the group looks over like, "Come on, man." It winds up being less optional and so makes the class less appealing, in my opinion.


Blackadder23: Insanely long villain soliloquy, then "Your action?"
BORGO'S PLAYER: I shoot him in the face
 

10/08/2017 3:12 pm  #19


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Chainsaw - Cool idea! And an equally good reason not to use it.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
     Thread Starter
 

10/08/2017 8:58 pm  #20


Re: Sorcery in the original Conan stories

Grimmshade wrote:

Chainsaw - Cool idea! And an equally good reason not to use it.

This seems to be a common malady for me.
 


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

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