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4/08/2014 2:39 pm  #1


Running games Sword & Sorcery style

When I think about Sword & Sorcery, I am thinking of something that is very different from old school dungeon crawls or hexcrawls, and also unlike standard pest control and kingdom saving adventures.
Sword & Sorcery is full of deceptions and betrayal, which often leaves the heroes on the run with just their clothes on their back and their blade at their belt, always thinking fast on their feet and changing plans as the situation demand it.

But how do you prepare adventures like that as a GM? How do you create the feel and dynamics of Sword & Sorcery in your actual campaigns?

Please share any advice and thoughts you may have on this subject.


"Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?"

Spriggan's Den
 

4/08/2014 3:02 pm  #2


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

That's a very good question.
As a starter, I might propose :
- "magical objects as stolen cars". Each one is designed for a specific purpose and there is no need to stick to it once this purpose is achieved, no matter how powerful the object might be.
- "unspent wealth will be stolen or lost"
- ellipse between 2 scenarios and have the players come up with the reason why they fell out of their luck once again.
 

Last edited by Odysseus (4/08/2014 3:02 pm)

 

4/08/2014 3:09 pm  #3


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Odysseus wrote:

- ellipse between 2 scenarios and have the players come up with the reason why they fell out of their luck once again.
 

Drunk and Debauchery Table!!
 

 

4/08/2014 3:23 pm  #4


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Odysseus wrote:

That's a very good question.
As a starter, I might propose :
- "magical objects as stolen cars". Each one is designed for a specific purpose and there is no need to stick to it once this purpose is achieved, no matter how powerful the object might be.
- "unspent wealth will be stolen or lost"
- ellipse between 2 scenarios and have the players come up with the reason why they fell out of their luck once again.
 

Barbarians of lemuria had a similar system.  At the beginning of each adventure you would describe how you lost all the treasure you garnered and now have to go on adventure..again. 

With money comes very little incentive to adventure.  Many classes need large amounts of $ to buy spells or make potions but an equal number of classes need for very little.  If there were things to spend money on that enforced the genre and rewarded the player that would be cool as well.  I believe there are systems for xp out there that reward the use of gold on things like Drunken Debauchery.

I also think you need to set the expectation upfront that collecting gold is not the end all as you will see much of it slip through your fingers, easy come easy go.  But you will have great adventures and lots of memorable escapades.
 


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

4/09/2014 4:19 am  #5


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

If I can add another wrinkle to the question:  How do you run an S&S game in a sandbox style?

Everything I've seen about running S&S focuses on creating adventures for the PCs to go through and getting those adventures to deliver the correct flavor, but I prefer to create worlds and let the PCs roam freely through them according to their own interests and setting their own objectives.

 

4/09/2014 7:20 am  #6


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

nDervish wrote:

If I can add another wrinkle to the question:  How do you run an S&S game in a sandbox style?

In the stories that took place before Conan became king (all but two of them), he just wandered around getting into trouble.  Sounds like a sandbox to me!  I really don't see any problem myself.


Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
 

4/09/2014 7:41 am  #7


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Blackadder23 wrote:

nDervish wrote:

If I can add another wrinkle to the question:  How do you run an S&S game in a sandbox style?

In the stories that took place before Conan became king (all but two of them), he just wandered around getting into trouble.  Sounds like a sandbox to me!  I really don't see any problem myself.

Agreed. I advise checking out Blackadder23's campaign journal. His players are ostensibly going somewhere, a place they picked, but a bunch of adventures keep cropping up along the way. Seems to fit the bill!

 

4/09/2014 7:44 am  #8


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Blackadder23 wrote:

nDervish wrote:

If I can add another wrinkle to the question:  How do you run an S&S game in a sandbox style?

In the stories that took place before Conan became king (all but two of them), he just wandered around getting into trouble.  Sounds like a sandbox to me!  I really don't see any problem myself.

I agree the stories tended to be very episodic.
 


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

4/09/2014 7:57 am  #9


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

There's Hexcrawling and Sandcastle building. Hexcrawl doesn't seem to be well suited to S&S, since it's basically just adding a 0th Dungeon Level to a regular dungeoncrawl.

The other type of sandbox games allows the players to chose the direction of the campaign. Wandering around aimlessly until something interesting happen isn't really chosing a dirrection and in practice still just the same as the GM planning regular adventures. The players only determine in which tavern they will meet their employer for the first time.

My perception is, that the greatest strength of constructive sandbox games is in establishing strongholds and domains. Which I think doesn't sound particularly like S&S. Conan does eventually become a king, but he doesn't build his own domain, he just takes over an already existing one and allows the administration that is already in place to continue doing its job as before. And while I havn't read everything yet, most of his actions as king that I recall are basically handing over control to one of his confidants and going out doing the grunt work himself.

What you could do is a Warlord campaign. The PCs are at the head of a barbarian clan or mercenary company and the players decide what towns they want to conquer and which potential rivials in the region to crush. Or they hear that there is a monastery protected by a magic artifact and they decide that they want to get that artifact to guard their own stronghold. Just skip all the parts of administrating the realm and building infrastructure, and so forth. Go out and crush your enemies, and see them driven before you!

Handy Haversack wrote:

Agreed. I advise checking out Blackadder23's campaign journal. His players are ostensibly going somewhere, a place they picked, but a bunch of adventures keep cropping up along the way. Seems to fit the bill!

You can always ask your players if they have any preferences to join a pirate crew, go searching for ruins in the jungle, or visit the lands of the mountain tribes and see if there are jobs for mercenaries there. But I think that would be a bit of a stretch of the term Sandbox.

Last edited by Yora (4/09/2014 7:59 am)


"Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?"

Spriggan's Den
     Thread Starter
 

4/09/2014 9:09 am  #10


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

mabon5127 wrote:

I agree the stories tended to be very episodic.

In my mind, at least, "sandbox" and "episodic" aren't quite opposites, but they're definitely not synergistic.  "Episodic" implies the GM saying, "Six months have passed and then this adventure hook lands in your lap.", while, by "sandbox" I mean that the GM says "You guys can do anything in the world.  What do you choose to do?"

Yora wrote:

There's Hexcrawling and Sandcastle building.

Those seem to be the two major foci of sandboxing in my experience and how I use the term, yeah.

Yora wrote:

Or they hear that there is a monastery protected by a magic artifact and they decide that they want to get that artifact to guard their own stronghold.

That strikes me as "just the same as the GM planning regular adventures".  It implies to me that the GM creates the monastery specifically for the purpose of the PCs going there and taking the artifact.  While I definitely can create deliberatly-placed adventures and throw hooks at the players to draw them into the situation, I prefer to do PC-independent worldbuilding and then throw the PCs into this environment and see what happens.

Perhaps a better question, instead of asking about sandboxing, would have been:  How would you go about running an improvised S&S game?  (As opposed to an improvised game in a more "traditional" fantasy RPG style.  The question isn't about how to improvise in general, but rather how to impart an S&S style to your improvisation.)

 

4/09/2014 9:48 am  #11


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

I like to drink a lot of cough medicine first, and then I start the game.

The characters are wandering down a street and notice an old man selling knives and offering a sharpening service. His knives are normally priced and his service isn't expensive. He seems a normal man with a large black cat that sleeps on his display or walks around his legs. The characters may notice that after they use them their blades cause strange damage, cut through steel plate like cheese, explode into a thousand slivers that cause horendous damage. 

The next time they are in town they find him again and maybe notice that his grindstone is of an unnusual type of rough black stone. He may explain that he found the stone in an old quarry several miles from town. His cat is not to be seen. His knives or any knives he sharpens cause strange effects.

If the characters investigate the quarry they find it half-filled with a thick slimey water inhabited with large and painful leeches. Any characters bitten find that the have green pus filled soars that healing will not cure effecting their constitution, strength and HP. Beneath one of these pools is a passage which leads to a cave. Inside is a qauntity of the black stone used by the old man. 

Once the characters have left the quarry they will notice, from time to time, a rustling near them, or the sense of movement in the corner of their eye, but nothing they can catch. Magic may reveal a sense of blackness, and something sharp, the feeling of skin peeled from flesh and the raw nerves exposed. Once sensed any character who cast such magic will feel, from time to time, a sharp pain and find that the skin on their finger tips has been cut with small, painful (but not debilitating cuts).

If they return to town and talk with the old man they may sense that he seems drawn and shriveled somehow, with extra wrinkles on his flesh and small cuts on his hands and fingers. If they have him sharpen anymore blades he will collapse over his grindstone and need to be revived. He whispers in his semi-conscious state, "liquid dark, it drinks at me..." before slipping into a deep, deep sleep from which nothing seems to awaken him. His cat is nowhere to be seen...

Or something like that. I usually want to start with everything relatively normal and start building up the Weird Tales from there, but sometimes they just pass the old man and I have to wing it and come up with sometheing else to torment and tease them.

 

Last edited by JasonZavoda (4/09/2014 9:51 am)

 

4/09/2014 10:08 am  #12


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

nDervish wrote:

"Episodic" implies the GM saying, "Six months have passed and then this adventure hook lands in your lap.", while, by "sandbox" I mean that the GM says "You guys can do anything in the world.  What do you choose to do?"

Seems to me like if your "sandbox" conversation takes place at the end of a session and the "episodic" conversation takes place at the begining of the next game session you would have great synergy?

My experience with sandboxes (or even hexcrawls) is somewhat limited, but i've always seem them as game structure which to my mind is different from content. I'm doing limited a hexcrawl in my campaing now and it feels S&S to me and my players (with a tint of Treasue Island). S&S is a genre and i don't think genre emulation is very connected with game structure IMO.

nDervish wrote:

 Perhaps a better question, instead of asking about sandboxing, would have been:  How would you go about running an improvised S&S game?

That's a great question! I would attempt to challenge the ingenuity and strength of the characters/players with a seemingly overpowering supernatural threat, but i would try to add twists to that threat so that it is possible (albeit difficult) to defeat or escape. If they do there is great reward, either gold or sex. There would also be mooks to kill and characters would be limited in magical resources and time to regroup.

Either that or what Jason wrote above ;)

Last edited by Crisippo (4/09/2014 10:12 am)


Níu man ek heima, níu íviðjur,
mjötvið mæran fyr mold neðan.
(Völuspá)
(Nine worlds I knew,the nine in the tree with mighty roots beneath the mold)
Realmsofmelpomene
 

4/09/2014 10:53 am  #13


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

nDervish wrote:

mabon5127 wrote:

I agree the stories tended to be very episodic.

In my mind, at least, "sandbox" and "episodic" aren't quite opposites, but they're definitely not synergistic.  "Episodic" implies the GM saying, "Six months have passed and then this adventure hook lands in your lap.", while, by "sandbox" I mean that the GM says "You guys can do anything in the world.  What do you choose to do?"

I'm not much of a sandbox guy.  The social contract of gaming in the one room school in which I learned it was the GM prepped the adventure / dungeon and the players played it.  This does not say I am demeaning that style.  Heck I wish I had the talent of Jason Zavoda and Blackadder and could conjure as if by magic a great consistant story, off the cuff, allowing players to wander and slay as they wish.  I would love to play in either of those campaigns!! 

Having said that I don't think there is much difference in how you would play either style to make it seem S&S. 


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

4/09/2014 11:58 am  #14


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

mabon5127 wrote:

nDervish wrote:

mabon5127 wrote:

I agree the stories tended to be very episodic.

In my mind, at least, "sandbox" and "episodic" aren't quite opposites, but they're definitely not synergistic.  "Episodic" implies the GM saying, "Six months have passed and then this adventure hook lands in your lap.", while, by "sandbox" I mean that the GM says "You guys can do anything in the world.  What do you choose to do?"

I'm not much of a sandbox guy.  The social contract of gaming in the one room school in which I learned it was the GM prepped the adventure / dungeon and the players played it.  This does not say I am demeaning that style.  Heck I wish I had the talent of Jason Zavoda and Blackadder and could conjure as if by magic a great consistant story, off the cuff, allowing players to wander and slay as they wish.  I would love to play in either of those campaigns!! 

Having said that I don't think there is much difference in how you would play either style to make it seem S&S. 

I had to do off the cuff because all my players during my formitive DMing years were mean inconsistant bastards. If I drew a map they would go off it somehow. They would always do what I hadn't planned for and come up with plans that completely sucked the wind out of my adventures sails. 

But as a DM you do what you can, and prep work is gold, even if you can't use it the way you'd imagined when you wrote it up. I tried the baseball bat approach to get the players to stay on the map and just made it hard to get players after you'd whacked a few (though it was satisfying).

 

4/09/2014 12:06 pm  #15


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Maybe we are doing it wrong, but we don't really approach play from the perspective of actively attempting to emulate literature.

My players typically have a "Get rich/powerful quick or die trying" frame of mind (rather than an Epic Save-the-World Quest). No one's really worried about exploring their character's emotions, psyche or tragic backstory and no one cares about having any over-arching story arc in the campaign. Sometimes they get rich, sometimes they get killed.

As a referee, I usually have a few adventures that I'm prepared to run at any one time. I drop hooks for those. The PCs are free to gravitate to whichever one they want (in which case they know they get the highest quality presentation from me) or make their own trouble (in which case they know I am improvising and accept the trade-offs that come with it). At the end of a session, I say, "What's your plan for next time?" and then prepare around it. Again, if they end up ditching their agenda, that's fine, but they accept that I am improvising more, which brings its own positives and negatives.

So, I don't know if it's "swords and sorcery," but it's fun.


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

4/09/2014 12:32 pm  #16


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Chainsaw wrote:

As a referee, I usually have a few adventures that I'm prepared to run at any one time. I drop hooks for those. The PCs are free to gravitate to whichever one they want (in which case they know they get the highest quality presentation from me) or make their own trouble (in which case they know I am improvising and accept the trade-offs that come with it). At the end of a session, I say, "What's your plan for next time?" and then prepare around it. Again, if they end up ditching their agenda, that's fine, but they accept that I am improvising more, which brings its own positives and negatives.

So, I don't know if it's "swords and sorcery," but it's fun.

We're only three sessions in, but this is pretty much how I'm rolling in Hyperborea so far.
 

 

4/09/2014 1:56 pm  #17


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

Chainsaw wrote:

Maybe we are doing it wrong, but we don't really approach play from the perspective of actively attempting to emulate literature.

My players typically have a "Get rich/powerful quick or die trying" frame of mind (rather than an Epic Save-the-World Quest). No one's really worried about exploring their character's emotions, psyche or tragic backstory and no one cares about having any over-arching story arc in the campaign. Sometimes they get rich, sometimes they get killed.

As a referee, I usually have a few adventures that I'm prepared to run at any one time. I drop hooks for those. The PCs are free to gravitate to whichever one they want (in which case they know they get the highest quality presentation from me) or make their own trouble (in which case they know I am improvising and accept the trade-offs that come with it). At the end of a session, I say, "What's your plan for next time?" and then prepare around it. Again, if they end up ditching their agenda, that's fine, but they accept that I am improvising more, which brings its own positives and negatives.

So, I don't know if it's "swords and sorcery," but it's fun.

Is there something wrong with emmulating the literature? Am I having my fun wrong? I gotta say if this way is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

 

4/09/2014 2:13 pm  #18


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

I think the key is not trying to replicate the methods, but to recreate the results.
An RPG is not like a book and trying to make a game feel like the books may not always mean doing things as they are done in the books.

The stories are always a good place to start looking for methods that could work, but if they don't work, don't feel forced to use them anyway. Better keep looking for other alternatives.


"Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?"

Spriggan's Den
     Thread Starter
 

4/09/2014 2:29 pm  #19


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

I try to keep to the rule that with riches and wealth comes a grim downside.

 

4/09/2014 2:46 pm  #20


Re: Running games Sword & Sorcery style

JasonZavoda wrote:

Is there something wrong with emmulating the literature? Am I having my fun wrong? I gotta say if this way is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Have fun however you want, man! 

My post came after yours, but I was not responding to it. In fact, I had not even read it! Anyway, I think there's more than enough robustness in the RPG concept to handle different approaches. I think any group should always do what best suits their interests and needs.


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

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