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A minimalist Sword & Sorcery toolkit

by Antonio Eleuteri

I LOVE S&S tales, in particular Howard's yarns. I also like rule-light games (namely Classic D&D). I had recently started a rpol campaign with d20 Conan, but soon I got tired of all the crunch of the game. In the end, we resorted to using a mix between Stormbringer and Pendragon, and it works quite well. But I have also run some FtF games with some friends, in which I used Mentzer D&D as the rules basis, and they also were quite successful. After some iterations and playtesting, I wrote the following "minimalist" notes.

- No demihuman classes. PC classes are restricted to Fighter, Thief and Magic-user (more later). Fighters gain the ability of doing multiple attacks equal to their level when fighting creatures of 1HD or less. Thieves gain infravision 60' (as Taurus of Nemedia said: A good thief should have eyes like a cat.). Magic-users gain the ability to decipher script (like 4th level thieves).

- Limit maximum character level to Name level, or at most the whole Expert range.

- Alignment is interpreted as Honour. Lawful characters are considered to have a strong code of honour (barbarian or civilised). Neutral characters do not have a strong code of honour, though they are not dishonorable either. Chaotic characters are totally without honour.

- Allow players to choose a background, namely Civilised vs. Barbarian (usually the theme of Howard's tales). Allow Civilised characters +1 to reaction checks and morale of retainers, to represent the niceties and diplomacy of civilisation. Allow Barbarians keen senses and stealth, so they are only surprised on 1 on d6, and they surprise on a 1-3 on d6 when in their native environment.

- Evil (or Chaos) exists in a tangible way, whereas Good (or Law) is to be found only in the actions of Men. Gods do not walk on the Earth, but Demons visit it frequently.

- As a consequence of the above, Clerics are implicitly assumed to have entered some form of demonic pact. They are "taught" their spells from some demonic entity. They may be actually priests of some religion, though they need not be. Priests of Set for example may be Clerics. They should only be used as NPCs (and invariably of Evil/Chaotic alignment).

- There may exist Good (or Lawful) organised religions, but they are not backed by any higher power. There may be spellcasting priests, but these are always Magic-users. To the common man, there is not much of a difference between Clerics and Magic-users. They are both considered sorcerers. A sorcerer priest of Mitra or of Ibis will be a Magic-user for example.

- Since magical healing is not available, other means of fast recovery are needed. 1d3 hit points per day of complete rest, plus Shock Recovery, i.e. after each combat 1d4 hit points can be healed out of those taken during the combat. Drinking a flagon of wine or other strong liquor increases the amount to 1d6, though this can be used only once per day.

- Do not use many magic items, if at all. They should be fairly rare and weird and wondrous.

- Make plenty use of giant-type or monstrous versions of animals (those which live in "Lost worlds" areas), and non-intelligent weird monsters and constructs, trying to avoid the ones which can only be hit by magic weapons, unless finding one is made part of the adventure. The following are among my favourites:
Great Cats (3+2 to 8 HD)
Ape, White (4 HD)
Bears (4-7 HD)
Lycanthropes (3-6 HD) (these represent cursed humans)
Giant Lizards (3-6 HD)
Ochre Jelly (5 HD)
Owlbear (5 HD)
Rust Monster (5 HD)
Living Statues (3-5 HD)
Snakes (1-5 HD) (You WANT giant snakes!)