The Difference between Conan d20 and Barbarians of Lemuria

Yesterday someone had been asking me why I consider the descision to base the Conan d20 roleplaying game on the d20 system to be the biggest mistake the developers had made. I think the d20 system is not suited for any game based on fantasy literature, movies, or videogames and only gets in the way of everything that defines the Sword & Sorcery genre in particular. It’s all about fast action and outrageous stunts and is deeply set in a mindset that is all about emotion and not rational consideration. It’s not the smart and calculating guys who win, but the ones who are courageous and daring. It takes place in worlds that work by the Rule of Cool. And the d20 system is the total opposite of that. You can play in a world that looks just like a Sword & Sorcery world, but it does not play like a Sword & Sorcery world.

This is something that requires explanation if you are not familiar with rules light Sword & Sorcery games like Barbarians of Lemuria and especially when all you ever played is d20 games. I couldn’t see how the choice of system makes a difference either until I really started to learn some other games as well.

Conan d20

GM: While you are sitting at your table in the tavern, an officer of the guard and two guardsmen approach you. The officer steps next to your chair and orders you to come with him to the palace.

Player: Is the officer within 5 feet of me so I can strike him?

GM: Yes, he is right next to your chair, looking down at you.

Player: Is he wearing a helm?

GM: Yes.

Player: What kind of helm?

GM: It’s a type of steel cap.

Player: How close are the two guardsmen? Am I in the area they threaten to make Attacks of Opportunity?

GM: They are too far away to attack you from where they stand.

Player: Okay, I want to take my mug and bash the officer in the head with it to knock him out.

GM: Make a Sleight of Hand skill check to see if you can grab your mug without drawing suspicion.

Player: 12.

GM: The officer has a 15 on his Spot check and notices you reaching for the mug. Roll Initiative.

Player: I got a 15.

GM: The officer has a 9, the two guardsmen have a 17 and a 6. The first guard is too far away to see what is going on so you go first.

Player: I try to hit his head with my mug.

GM: Are you still sitting or do you stand up first?

Player: Can I still draw my sword in the same round when I stand up and make an attack?

GM: No, standing up and drawing a weapon are both Move Actions. But since your Base Attack Bonus is +1 or higher you could draw the weapon while you are standing up as a single Move Action.

Player: Okay, so I try to hit the officer with my mug while still sitting, then stand up and draw my sword at the same time.

GM: Since the officer has not had a turn in this fight yet he can not make an Attack of Opportunity because you use an improvised weapon. Do you have a special ability that allows you to make attacks with improvised weapons without a penalty for not being proficient with it?

Player: No.

GM: Okay, then make an attack roll with a -4 penalty for using an improvised weapon and a -2 penalty for sitting.

Other Player: Is there even enough light in this smoky tavern to make a normal attack roll or should the attack have a 20% miss chance from Concealment?

GM: They are standing right next to each other, I think that’s good enough to not have a miss chance.

Player: My attack roll is 12.

GM: Since the officer has no weapon in his hand he can not parry. But as he is still flat-footed he also loses his Dexterity bonus and Dodge bonus to his Dodge Defense, reducing it to 10. You hit him. The mug deals 1d3 points of nonlethal damage plus your Strength modifier.

Player: Since he is flat-footed I also get my extra 1d6 Sneak Attack damage, right?

GM: Yes.

Player: Okay, that’s 1d3+3+1d6… 9!

GM: Since you said you specifically want to bash him in the head, I only apply the Damage Reduction for the helm, but not the armor he is wearing. So that’s 8 points of nonlethal damage.

Player: Does that knock him out?

GM: No. As it is his turn now he draws his sword and makes an attack against you.

Player: Oh well, was a fun idea though.

Barbarians of Lemuria

GM: While you are sitting at your table in the tavern, an officer of the guard and two guardsmen approach you. The officer steps next to your chair and orders you to come with him to the palace.

Player: I bash him in the head with my mug!

GM: Roll attack.

Player: 11!

GM: Your mug shatters on his face and he drop down cold. The other two guardsmen raise their spears in panic.

Player: Come and get it!

B/XoL: First draft (mostly) done!

My first draft for the Barbarians and Explorers of Lemuria hack for Barbarians of Lemuria is (mostly) done. You can take a look at it here.

The one part that is still missing is the section on how to deal with doors, light, thirst and hunger, and so on but I’ll be doing that in the following days. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for this hack, please share them in the comments.

B/XoL: Converting D&D creatures to Barbarians of Lemuria

The Legendary edition of Barbarians of Lemuria doesn’t come with a lot of creatures and most of them are pretty unique and unusual. Though my own goal with B/XoL is not to recreate Basic D&D but to take inspirations from it, Dungeons & Dragons is a great source when it comes to monsters. I think between BECMI and AD&D, there are way over a thousand of them.

Having looked at the creatures from the BoL Legendary Edition and the D&D Basic Set, I’ve come up with a couple of guidelines how to convert creatures from one game to the other:

Attributes: In the older editions of D&D, monsters don’t have any specified ability scores. However, starting with 3rd ed. they do, and the SRD is a good reference for them. Since the Lifeblood of monsters is not affected by their Strength score, we can simply ignore Constitution, and Wisdom always had almost no relevance to anyone but cleric, so we just need the Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma scores and convert them to Strength, Agility, Mind, and Appeal.

BoL says that an attribute score of 0 is human average, 3 is the maximum for new characters, and 4 or higher would be truly legendary. This is very convenient for us, as in D&D 10 is the average for humans and 18 the absolute maximum that only very few characters have. So we can simply make the conversion of 8=-1, 10=0, 12=1, 14=2, 16=3, 18=4, and so on. (Most animals would have a Mind attribute of -4, insects of -5. A Mind score of -3 is the minimum to understand languages and talk, if the creature is able to.)

Lifeblood: Having used some reference creatures that are pretty similar in D&D and BoL, I think the most practical formula to calculate the Lifeblood of a creature is simply 1 HD=5 LB. This is not modified by the creatures Strength score, as it would be for NPCs.

Protection: For protection, the different classes of armor can be used as reference. No meaningful protection = 0; fur or light hide = 1 (d3-1), thick hide = 2 (d6-2), scales = 3 (d6-1), thick scales = 4 (d6), extraordinary armor = 5 (d6+5).

Defense: Here it’s starting to get a bit fuzzy. Based on the creatures in the Legendary Edition, there are two hrd rules that are always obeyed: Defense is never lower than Agility, and never lower than 0. Other than that, there seems no consistent rules. Some creatures have an additional increase of Defense of +1 or +2, but that increase seems mostly arbitrary, though I think it’s somewhat more common with very powerful creatures than with weaker ones.

Initiative: The new Mythic Editon of BoL removes the Brawl combat ability and replaces it with Initiative. As I don’t have this edition I am not certain how it affects creature stats, but I would assume that in most cases Initative is simply identical to Agility.

Attacks: Here I have not been able to find any kind of consistent rules. The bonuses to attack and the amount to damage really seems to be entirely at the discretion of the gamemaster. There is only a single creature in the Legendary Edition that has a bonus of +5, and most are between +1 and +3. However, powerful characters can easily reach a Defense score of 7 (3 agility, 3 Defense, 1 shield), which means any attack needs a +4 bonus to have any chance to hit them at all. (And even then the chance is just 3%). So if you’re playing a campaign where characters reach that high Defense scores, feel free to give the bigger monsters attack bonuses of +6 and higher.

Damage: Damage appears to be more closely tied to the overall size and strength of the creature. 2d6 is already pretty high and only a few giant sea monsters get more than that. Since the Lifeblood of characters doesn’t really increase in BoL, I think it’s generally best not to go beyond this. If you want to make the monster nastier, make it hit more often instead.

A final thought that is currently bouncing around in my head is that one could potentially increase the average amount of treasure a creature has based on it’s Lifeblood (which with these conversions would be based on Hit Dice), but I think that may start to get too much into developing a full XP system, which I don’t really want to. My main motivation to add treasure to the game is to encourage the players to face monsters and dangers without a lethal fight during adventures. The search for treasure should not be the main reason to go on the adventure in the first place. I think that should still be motivated by some kind of basic background story. When Conan goes thieving, it’s usually not to get some bags of coins, but because he is looking for item specifically. But when you’re already in the place, why not make a few little detours to grab some bags with gold too?

B/XoL: Hacking Barbarians of Lemuria for treasure hunting

Here’s an interesting idea I’ve been pondering all day. Using Barbarians of Lemuria to run an oldschool campaign in the spirit of the old Basic and Expert rules of Dungeons & Dragons. I really quite love the style of adventures that is presented by this version of D&D, but I am just really not a fan of the game at the most basic level. The entire combat system and magic system just isn’t to my liking. BoL on the other hand is pretty close to ideal to what I want out of a rules system.

However, it could be argued that even Basic D&D and BoL are build on fundamentally different assumptions that make them highly incompatible with each other. The main difference is that D&D is build entirely around the assumption that the players want to get Experience Points and treasure, which make them more powerful and better equipped. On the other hand, BoL does not have any XP or treasure, and equipment is extremely limited.

But I think I’ve found a neat and very effective solution to this problem. By default, characters in BoL advance by finding some treasure of indeterminate value during the adventure, and at the end the players describe how they drink and gamble it all away in true Sword & Sorcery fashion. Depending on how creative and “heroic” the players describe it, their characters get between 1 to 3 Advancement Points, which they can use to improve their characters abilities. Instead of doing this, it’s trivially simple to not give the players AP based on the story they tell, but at the rate of 1 AP for every 10 treasures they spend. A treasure could be anything; a sack of coins, a golden idol, a big gem, some fine silverware, or whatever you want to think of. In practice it doesn’t matter. When the heroes search a vault or a fallen enemy, the GM can either describe what they find or simply say that they stuff 2 treasures into their pockets. They still don’t get Advancement Points for beating an enemy like in D&D, but I think it’s really the XP for treasures that makes the old editions of D&D so fascinating.

Another important element of the Basic and Expert rules is that players need to ration their supplies and have to judge how much food and treasure they can carry at the same time and how much it will slow them down between destinations in the wild. (Don’t want to find out in the middle of the dessert that you should have better taken one more skin of water instead of another bag of gold.) That will take some more thought, but I might get back to this somewhere the next days.