Conan the Thief Review

It is no secret by now that I have really been enjoying the 2d20 Conan RPG by Modiphius. The game hits the sweet spot for me on a number of levels. Recently, I picked up a copy of the supplement, Conan the Thief. In short, I think it’s good. I also like some specifics of what I am seeing in Modiphius’s additional content and I’ll explain that in this post.

Staying with What Works

In the Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of we were drawn into the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan with asides, sidebars, and colorful storytelling elements throughout the book. These things were interspersed throughout the book and not contained in a single section dedicated to world and/or setting. The same holds true for this supplemental book. You will find sidebars and asides throughout explaining concepts from the Hyborian Age, although—just like the main book—there are sections solely dedicated to the fictional setting.

If you enjoy the daring tales of Conan, this is great. Even if you are not so familiar with Conan’s exploits, these make for a good read and help explain how things are in this world. Use it to try and learn and more about Conan or to help color your own setting using the 2d20 system. In any event, it’s there and you should be aware you’re getting both additional rules and additional setting information.

The book is broken down in to 9 sections:

  • Thief Characters
  • Gazetteer
  • Events
  • Myth and Magic
  • Encounters
  • Hither Came Conan
  • The Way of Thieves
  • Heists
  • Heroes of the Age

We’ll take a look at the work in the same order.

Conan the Thief RPG

The Thief Characters for Conan

There is a brief mention of Homelands that are suitable for thieves, because they have rich traditions and deep histories of the thieving lifestyles. I guess you could call it that. Nothing new is added with this step, but they go on to add a new Outlaw Caste. That caste comes with its own stories. There is no restriction to keep this strictly to “thief” characters and can easily be used for characters of any archetype.

Thief Ancient Bloodlines

What I also find interesting here is there is a small section on Ancient Bloodlines. Based on where the character is from, there is a suggestion for which Ancient Bloodline courses through their veins and how that actually impacts the character. The rules aren’t changed at all, but there are some roleplaying notes that can be used here.

I think this is great, because, to me, I think the Ancient Bloodline wasn’t fully covered in the main book; it seems like there should be more there. Sure, maybe they wanted to leave it for players and GMs to kind of play and figure out on their own beyond the mechanical side of things. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, however, if—due to the size of the book—some great information was left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. We’ll end up seeing more details and possibly even more mechanics involving Ancient Bloodlines in Conan in future supplements. Who knows? They might even have a supplement dedicated entirely to this. (To be fair, I don’t have all of the supplemental materials yet, so it is possible this has already been more fully explored in something I do not yet own).

New Archetypes for Conan Characters

Next, we get into one of the key reasons I purchased this book: new Archetypes. These are different types of characters that kind of fall under the purview of rogue or thief. Getting this concludes my initial thoughts from the main book. Creating homebrew Archetypes for Conan would be a lot easier than trying to create a new class for Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons. The simplicity of the design is not an insult to the developers at all. I think it’s great. Roleplayers love to create their own stuff and they gave that to us here. Remember also that the Archetypes defines where you’re beginning in the story. There really are no mechanical benefits once character creation is done and character advancement begins.

2d20 Conan RPG AssassinEach new Archetype includes a brief description and notes on playing the particular type of character along with some cool artwork. There is also the Career Skill and Talent, Mandatory and Elective Skills, and equipment. This is no different that what we have in the core book and because that’s really all there is to Conan Archetypes, you’d be hard-pressed to possibly unbalance anything with these new additions to your game. New Archetypes include:

  • Assassin
  • Bloody Right Hand
  • Fence
  • Highwayman
  • Master Thief
  • Relic Hunter
  • Spy

Frankly, I think I could really enjoy an assassin or relic hunter. In fact, we rolled up a scholar from the main book and that is basically their concept.

Next there are Thief Educations. These are different from what they have in the main book, because they represent tutelage from specific types of masters. Your character may have been taken in and trained by a Fence or a Thug. Where did you learn your shadowy secrets? You can choose or roll from here or you can use the ones in the main book instead. I think it’s a neat little thing to help set these types of characters apart.

The crew has also added new War Stories. While these all have a thief slant to them, I could easily see characters from any other Archetype having these as well. Things like Stole a Mysterious Object for a Stranger or Survived a Horrible Gang War are not exclusive to thieving characters.

New Talents have been added in here that would be particular useful for thief type characters. It’s a Trap! makes it easier for characters to detect traps while a new Alchemy Talent Poisoner has also been added. There are more, but this brings up two points for me.

  1. I love the fact they are adding new stuff. The Core Book presents a lot of options, but they are not limitless in number. That core book was pretty huge. It makes sense to spread things out a bit.
  2. I worry about countless options, like players have for Feats in Pathfinder. There are literally hundreds of options—maybe it’s into four digits now. There are a lot of books and these books aren’t necessarily the cheapest thing in the world, so keeping up can be difficult. People have developed the +1 rule for books in those other games, but–to me–it sucks to limit players. The one thing that makes this a little different and easier is that the Talents are separated by skill, so it’s maybe easier to see where you want to focus your character’s capabilities. On the other hand, if you’re focused on Athletics, you might miss a cool Talent from Melee. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of. You don’t need these additional options. You can work with your group to decide what is or isn’t allowed or share information, so everyone knows what a Talent from a supplement contains.

Next, there are some additional sample names for your thief character based on the four Homelands mentioned earlier: Brythunia, Corinthia, Nemedia, and Zamora.

Thieves’ Kits

The Thief’s Kit is available for purchase in the 2d20 Conan Core Book. However, there really isn’t much said about it. From page 140 of the main book this is said about kits, in general: “These kits allow a character to perform tests using a particular skill without a penalty, or represent tools that grant additional benefits when attempting certain types of tasks relating to a single skill.”

Under the Thievery Skill equipment such as lockpicks and toolkit. So, the theory is, if you have a Thief Kit, your character has the tools they need. The Thieves’ Kits here go beyond that. With the Thief Kit, you can store three Essentials, which can be expended to grant an extra d20 on a Thievery roll. They also introduce Tricks of the Trade here which includes things like caltrops and smoke sticks. One of those Essential slots can be expended to pull a rabbit out of the hat or a trick of the trade from a hidden pocket. Again, Modiphius has the gamer in mind here. Knowing we often like to create our own things, they note that the player is encouraged to work with the Game Master to come up with specific tricks of the trade that suit their character and perhaps create a series of thematic effects. They even give directions on creating new tricks of the trade.

New Weapons

Three new weapons are introduced here. The dueling sword, katar, and garrote are all described and given stats. I can certainly appreciate this as I already crafted some of my own new weapons for the Conan RPG. Not to get ahead of myself, but I thought it was interesting I saw new weapons here in the Thief’s book, but not in the Mercenary supplement. It’s possible I missed something, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

The Gazetteer

This section goes into describing Zamora, Corinthia, Brythunia, and Nemedia. The text from the main book was good, but generalized entire regions. Here, they beginning breaking things down more, looking at specific cities and a bit more into the history. There’s a map of Zamora itself, which can certainly help in planning out adventures, especially because they describe key areas of note on that map. The same is true for the cities of Shadizar, Yezud, Magyar, Stregos, and Krotoa. The cities of Nemedia and Brythunia are not drawn out as a map, but points of interest and key NPCs are still covered. This section is ripe with all sorts of hooks for your adventures and players no matter what Archetype they are.

Thief Events

These are story elements that can shade and even direct your characters’ adventures in the Hyborian Age. Frankly, you can use them in any RPG—modern or fantasy, particularly if one of your players is a thief or spy of some sort. These Events can easily work in with the Carousing rules, but can also be entire plot lines or subplots. Thieving bastards trying to murder one another, being set up as a fall guy (or gal), gang wars, a thieves’ guild leader winds up dead, and more. If you’re having one of those times when you can’t think of what to run or put your players against, turn here. The ideas suggested here all make for interesting stories that you can use in a variety of ways.

Myth & Magic

Here the creators discuss whether is is honor among thieves or not and why or why not. Then, it jumps into gods often worshipped by thieving characters. Bel, the God of Thieves. The Spider-God. The Cult of the Hidden. Again, you get more ideas for your stories and adventures here. A player taking on the role of the thief might be interested in some of these as they could help color their backstory and motivations. Is the thief your group found to help them break into the keep actually a member of an ancient cult with ulterior motives? Maybe your group has been trying to solve a mystery and it turns out they need to defeat a priest of Bel to bring deaths to an end.

Encounters

The last few sections gave us plenty of ideas for stories, adventures, plots, and intrigue. The Encounters chapter covers the more physical challenges our characters will need to overcome. The core book for Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of has a number of enemies to pit against players. This section brings forth new ones including the toughened assassin, a toughened inquisitor, minion street thug or watchman, and more.

There are also named NPCs which can serve as foils and rakes to your group for more than a single combat. They may be the ones behind the cogs of a giant machine working toward evil ends or they themselves may be cogs, driven by someone—or something—more powerful. I think Yara is one of my favorites, because it brings forth that otherness and strangeness Howard often did and we often see in fantasy games. This might end up being one of my group’s first introduction to the worlds beyond their own in the Conan game I am running at home.

Hither Came Conan….

Here, the writers retell the tales of Conan that the Conan the Thief moniker comes from. It summarizes some of Howard’s stories and explains some of the background. There is also a character sheet for the Conan the Thief character. I like this style of sheet and wish the publishers provided us a similar option for our own sheets. I mentioned elsewhere that while the published character sheet is pretty, it is busy and complicated and can be difficult to read.

The Way of Thieves

This section talks about running thieving campaigns with the Conan RPG. I think they sum it up where well with this part.

“Running a campaign influenced by the time that Conan spent as a thief is very different from an adventure modeled on any other stage of the legendary barbarian’s career. For one thing, while violence, or at least the threat of it, is definitely an important tool in a thief’s kit-bag, it isn’t the main one. If the players express an interest in creating thief characters, remind them of this — there are moments when fighting their way out of a situation is necessary, but this shouldn’t be their first instinct as thieves.”

There are important key elements discussed by the creators here. Thieves are going to be more at home and useful in the city than the wilderness, for example. How they dress and the surrounding environment becomes more important. They’re going to need to be interacting with people who can call guards, summon friends and family, and more. As mentioned earlier, drawing a blade to make their way forward isn’t going to be the best way much of the time.

As mentioned, the environment can play a big roll here and they have even included a table for rolling for potential weather and weather-related complications to thieving tasks in this section. An example is pictured below.

Conan the Thief Weather Effects

Want to know how thieves guilds work? Well, they go over that here as well. How do you find one? How do you join one? How do you make sure not to find a dagger in your back? That’s covered as well as some key (or example, depending on how you’re running your game) thieves guilds in Conan.

Heists

Now, this is a brilliant move, in my humble opinion. Modiphius went ahead and added a new set of rules to the Thieves book specifically. They do this with other books as well. This is different than some new gear or Talents. They have actually added an entire section on Heists. And, why not? This book is about thief characters, right?

I don’t know about you, but in my experience, games often switch up the types of adventures they are on. You might be on a battlefield fighting all-out war for a few sessions. Next, you might be involved in a dungeoncrawl for a few sessions. Then, you’re dealing with political intrigue in the king’s court for a few sessions. And, who doesn’t love a good heist?

Notice, I did qualify that: good heist. A bad heist can be boring. They can take up too much time planning and bickering between players. They can fall apart with a single bad roll trying to sneak around. The rules provided here for Heists in Conan are designed to get rid of those things that make a Heist not so fun and emphasize the things that can make a heist cool.

In any heist, there are certain things to be figured out beforehand. Who or what is the target? Why or what is the payoff? What kind of security will they run into? The Game Master will surely provide some of these details, although they needn’t all be accurate. I thought the guards changed shift at 8! That’s from an old game of mine. The player simply took the first bit of information and didn’t look into it. Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of has a number of ways for players to roleplay and roll to gain information. Have them use those non-combat skills. They’re there for a reason. They should be dropping Momentum to gain better insight. My son who is playing a Pirate Archetype right now ending up taking a number of Talents related to observation. This isn’t his usual character, but his thieves have died enough over the years from not getting the proper information and poorly thought out plans.

The game devs here have also provided us with a number of tables to generate random heists. These tables take care of the 5 W’s. Who, What, Where, hoW, and Why. The planning should be quick and fluid. There are Fortune points to help modify the story. The players will need those, so I hope they have figured out how to earn them by now.

Heroes of the Age

This section brings in characters that came from backers of the Kickstarter. They’re pretty neat and give you some more characters you can use for your NPCs. These could, in theory, also be used as pre-generated characters, which can help move your game along faster and smoother.

 

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