Conan the Mercenary Review

Yet again, we are going to delve into the fantastic world of the Conan RPG by Modiphius. Previously, I have covered a look at the 2d20 Conan rules, a review of Conan the Thief, and more. Today, I’m going to dive right into Conan the Mercenary, another supplement by Modiphius.

The book is divided into 8 chapters and we’ll be following along in the same order:

  • Mercenary Characters
  • Gazetteer
  • Events
  • Encounters
  • Hither Came Conan
  • Battles
  •  Mercenaries of the Age

Conan the Thief

Mercenary Characters

As with my Conan the Thief review, this is probably going to be the longest section of the review. Why? Because the most material is covered in this section. Other sections have story text and ideas, tables, and new foes to overcome. But here in the first chapter, we cover a lot of new options for your mercenary characters in the Hyborian Age.

Quickly, as an aside, I have to be honest and say I am a bit surprised the Mercenary is its own Archetype with now several new Archetypes spawned from it. Over the past several decades, I have played numerous roleplaying games, the majority being of the fantasy genre. Adventurers, rogues, knights–in a way, they have all been sort of mercenaries at one point or another–hired to clear out a dungeon, rescue a princess, or some other similar trope. When we look at the defining differences of Archetypes–what suppleplants class or profession or something similar from other games–being primarily skills, to have one dedicated to being a mercenary next to thieves and warriors and archers seems a little odd to me. It’s nothing more than something that makes me do a double take and carry on, but it’s one of those things that I just felt the need to point out. Having said that, let’s move along.

Homelands & Bloodlines

This chapter begins with a brief section on Homelands and Ancient Bloodline options for mercenary characters. There is even a suggestion that because mercenaries are often so well traveled that they roll twice on the Homelands table from the core book–one for birthplace and one for home country. Still, only choose one of those to derive the benefits from. Considering everyone is playing adventurers in the Hyborian Age, I see no reason to restrict this to mercenaries. New options for how a character’s Ancient Bloodlines could have an impact on their reactions are also given here both for the Bori and the Acheron.

Old & New Castes

Here, the developers provide some thought as to why some castes might find themselves leading the life of a mercenary. This includes a brief explanation as to why someone from the priest or petty nobility caste might have taken on the life of a sellsword. They also provide some new Castes with new Caste Talents such as the Child of Camp Followers Caste with the Scrounger Talent which works like the Living off the Land Talent but only in (previously) civilized areas. There are new Stories to go along with the new Castes as well.

New Natures & Archetypes

I think it’s great new Natures have been added. Anyone remember the old World of Darkness games with their Nature & Demeanor? I thought of that and the relatively small list in the Conan core book and was pretty sure we would see some new ones in the supplemental books. Well, here some are.

Of course, new Archetypes seem to be in all of the supplement books so far other than modules and the GM Toolkit. This book is no different with six new archetypes. Unlike the Thief book, however, this book has added a random table to determine which type of mercenary. So, you roll on this after you have already rolled Mercenary Archetype in the main Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of book. The new mercenary Archetypes include:

  • Asshuri
  • Captain
  • Champion
  • Messenger
  • Unseasoned Youth
  • Veteran

Frankly, these are all pretty cool. The asshuri are tied into the lore of the world and fabled archers, so that’s a plus. The captain’s core skill is warfare–have you looked at how cool that skill can be? The champion a downright warrior. The seasoned youth: young and quick. I could go on, but if you asked me to pick one or two I’d really enjoy giving a try, I’d have to say….yes.

No new education options for your character here, but there are definitely new war stories. Again, I see no reason to limit these options to mercenary characters only.

Also, the Mercenary book did something I was hoping I would see in the Thief book. Here, they have added some new random tables for belongings and garments and a personal weapon. Granted, these are not necessary. However, they can get people thinking about the story that they want to tell–the story that made your character something more than a murder hobo. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they can still be a murder hobo, but being one with a story is so much more interesting.

Like in the thief book, they provide some example names here as well. Unlike the thief book, they do not mention the nations they will be focusing on until this point. The Homelands section before said, essentially, mercs are from all over. Now they say they will be focusing on Ophir, Koth, Shem, and Khoraja. Of course, Shem was already alluded to with the asshuri being a new Archetype.

New Talents & Gear

Where Conan the Thief had new talents, so too does Conan the Mercenary. However, Conan the Mercenary also adds in an entirely new Talent tree unassociated with any one specific skill. The first level requires that you have spent time and fought with a mercenary company or an army. These Veteran Talents are in addition to new skill-based Talents such as Hostage Taker and If it Bleeds…. talents.

Where the Thief book gave us the garrote and katar, the Mercenary book gives us Engines of Destruction. The Ballista, trebuchet, Cauldron of Boiling Oil, and more are all described here along with game statistics. The developers also give us the description and stats for the repeating crossbow, mancatcher, and sword-breaker. I’m not sure everyone will be happy with the stats given for some of what I have seen to be more popular gaming choices over the years, but they make sense.

Perhaps more interesting than any new weapons, however is Akbitanan Steel. Other than Exalted, few games have jumped right into “special materials” so early in their inception. Special materials are always something I enjoy, so I approve of this and I think the way they do it here is both creative and shows consideration for how players and GM’s might use it. Other than it being rare, however, is there a reason only abilities for weapons are given? I would think if I came across an “unbreakable” metal, I would love it as armor or a shield, rarity be damned.

Believe it or not, that’s only the first 21 pages of a book that counts out at 120. This team does a decent job saying what they need to say and then moving on to the story. They may miss a few things here and there, but I think they have done a pretty good job balancing the two.

Gazetteer

This part of the book talks about the world of Conan and the Hyborian Age. As mentioned previously, this part will focus on the nations of Khoraja, Koth, Ophir, and Shem. You’ll find a city map of Khorshemish and the Gleaming City. You’ll find area maps of the regions. Each of these contains history and hooks that you can use in your own stories and adventures. There are small asides that could lay the seeds for entire adventures, plots, or sub-plots for your games. This lays the groundwork for the next couple of sections.

Events

The chapter on Events covers stories and hooks again, but doesn’t necessarily tie them to any specific place. It does try and slant them toward what is more likely to run into as a mercenary. This includes being hired to fight a war between two kingdoms or even civil war. Perhaps your mercenary company will be hired to protect civilized lands from barbarian raids. How would your mercenary and their compatriots handle the return of a forgotten god? That’s what this section is about, but it’s not as long or full of ideas as the book for thieves is. Look at ideas from both books. How can you weave them together?

Mercenary Encounters

Nightmare Mount from Conan RPGThis part of the 2d20 Conan supplement focuses on the game statistics for challengers for adventurers and mercenaries to face off against. Think of it as extending the bestiary in other roleplaying games. There are some new special abilities and Doom spends for the GM I think are cool. I personally love to reskin these types of NPCs and critters so that players do not always know what they are facing. On the other hand, as experienced adventurers and warriors, I do expect them to recognize and know how best to deal with some challenges. So, I mix it up and I don’t mind players who memorize these sections, because what they think they are facing is not always what they really are squaring off against.

I love the Nightmare Mount here. Have you ever seen such a badass camel before? And to see the magical blue energy rather than flames is pretty cool. Also, I noticed the devs picked up on what they had missed in the core book by actually giving things like the War Elephant a stat for Mount, showing how many riders the creature could handle. read through descriptions for some of the named NPCs like Count Thespides and you’ll find some more ideas, whether you use that specific NPC or reskin it for someone/something of your own creation. Mindless mobs are one things, but antagonists with a story are always necessary.

Hither Came Conan

Again, we’re treated to some background on the Conan stories and when that character served as a mercenary for Howard’s own writing. The creators also provide his character sheet, if you want to have your adventurers run into him during this point in his long career.

The Mercenary Way

This chapter is a cross between color content, educational, and descriptive. You want to play a mercenary? You should know how they live, how they do things–at least during the time of Conan. Included are descriptions and backgrounds of mercenary companies existing in the world. You will also find the mercenary code. During a battle, will your mercenary be taking part in ransacking? They have a table for events that can occur during such events. The loot tables here aren’t the magic loot tables from Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, but they are interesting for this style of game and give you guidance on making your own, if you are so inclined.

The Carousing rules for the Conan RPG are quite interesting. I can’t wait until I actually get a chance to run them with my group. Here, however, the devs have made additional Carousing tables suite for the mercenary way of life. You can keep them for the mercs or use them for your other players. Here we also get more ideas for mercenary slanted adventures including rescues and ancient battlefields. They even go into what a mercenary campaign might be built upon.

Battles

Just as Conan the Thief had rules for Heists as it was fitting for that book, Conan the Mercenary has rules for Battles. This covers how you can cover mass battles using the 2d20 system, particularly in the world of Conan. There is a modification for certain Talents during mass battles, so don’t miss those. You will probably want to keep them handy if and when you do run a mass battle. Things change from the typical one-on-one combat (or close to it) we normally deal with once we move over to all out war.

New actions must be considered and weighed. Do we attack or fortify? What’s the strategy? What is the opponent’s strategy? Do they counterattack?

Not to overshadow the individual heroes (and that term should be used loosely in a Conan game), there are Heroic Actions that can be undertaken.The differentiation between Heroic Actions and Quick Heroic Actions could be made more clear as well. A Heroic Action is a cut scene and a Quick Heroic Action is two rolls. Based on that, it seems like the Heroic Action can be a cut scene where it is a round or several rounds of action. The devs give examples of Quick Heroic Actions here, but kind of skim over what could be a Heroic Actions. I say, play it and run it how you and your group are comfortable.

If you’re still trying to wrap your head around and learn the rules of the 2d20 System, you may not want to run a mass battle right away. But, if that’s what you’re looking to do, because that’s what your players want and/or it fits the story you are telling, then go ahead. This section has the rules you will need. I could see talking more about siege’s and what happens after the mass battle, but maybe that will be something the Modiphius team revisits at another time.

Mercenaries of the Age

Here, Modiphius has characters created by Kickstarter backers. I saw this in the previous supplement and I think it’s cool. These are characters I could use as pre-generated characters for new players. Or, I could use these as NPCs to challenge or help my players.

Quick Recap

The supplemental Conan the Mercenary adds a host of new options for characters. There are also plenty of story hooks and ideas for Game Masters to make use of in their own games. I didn’t pick on editing issues, because they didn’t stop me from understanding anything. However, there are areas where I think maybe they could use a bit more exposition. All in all, though, I enjoy the book and am already making use of parts of it. These supplements put out by Modiphius for their 2d20 Conan RPG have proven to be excellent so far.

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