Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: GURPS Classic Conan the Wyrmslayer

I don’t often get to play in role playing games, so I naturally accumulate piles of solitaire adventure modules. But what gaming time I do have, I’m generally going to spend face-to-face at the table top, anyway!. So even though I buy these things routinely, I rarely find that they capture my attention the way a real game session would.

Until now….

When I found myself sick in bed for a week, I decided to try out GURPS Classic Conan the Wyrmslayer. I’d put off playing it thinking that I’d wait until I could get my hands on a GURPS Third Edition rule book. (I’m a purist that way.) But I like Fourth Edition GURPS so much, I finally figured, why not….

In the mood for a challenge, I gave myself a budget of 250 character points and went shopping. (The Conan pre-gen character had 375 third edition points at this point in his career.) Strength 17, Dexterity 13, IQ 12, HT 12… oh, yeah! I love all the secondary attributes in 4e, so I bulked up with +1 Per, +1 Move, and +3 hit points. Just right there I felt completely invincible. Yeah, even before I’d shelled out the points for Combat Reflexes, Fearlessness-1, and Very Fit. I ended up with a nice range of skills, from skill level 11 on up to 15. I was pretty pleased with myself. I took forty points of disadvantages and then hand-waved the whole equipment and cash accounting thing. (“Whatever, man… let’s play!”)

So I sallied forth into the adventure and very quickly found out it was optimized for someone much, much better than my character. I was shocked when everything had huge skill penalties… some ranging up to -5. (I’m an easy going “yeah, it worked” kind of game master, so I didn’t expect to get slammed with that stuff.) I blundered into a big fight, missed with my first attack by one, then did just 7 points of damage to one dude on my next pass whereupon I was taken down mostly by some serious impaling damage.

Needless to say, it was a very un-Conan-like performance on my part. But one nice thing about the big brawl– the designer had condensed the tactical situation down to something that wouldn’t require a massive battle on a tactical map. Even better… he had an elaborate morale system in play, so even though I was dealing with 10 to 15 foes at once, I wasn’t forced to grind through all of them one after another..

So, the real problem wasn’t the scenario– it was me! I poured over the fourth edition Basic Set rules to find out where I went wrong:

  • I forgot my defensive bonus for my shield! That would have been enough to save my skin right there, probably. (And looking up the numbers for that, I see that there’s a defensive bonus for cloaks, too. Oh man… that is bad news… for my foes!)
  • I forgot to apply the cutting damage bonus of x1.5 to my attacks. Doh! That would have taken the wind out of the sails of the guy I’d sliced– his dodge would have been halved from there on out.
  • Chintzy munchkinism– I should have gotten weapon bond perk for a nearly-free +1 to hit. (That would have gotten my hit on the first turn right there.)
  • I also should have looked into how to get a Very Fine broadsword for +2 more damage. (That would have put the dude down to zero hit points with just the one attack.
  • I was facing a multitude of foes… checking over the defense rules, I probably should have allowed them to parry if it was better than their dodge score. (But I think that should result in a chance for broken spears if they parry with those. The rules for that are not easy to find via the Basic Set index, though, so too bad!)
  • For my defense rolls, I guess they didn’t need to be too much higher than they were (thanks to the forgotten DB’s.) It looks like I was doing it right by allowing myself one parry (my best score), one block (my next best defense option– and very reasonable against thrown weapons), and then as many dodges as were required from there on out.
  • As for more bonuses that I just threw away in-game, I could have spent 1 FP (or 1/2 FP due to being Very Fit, really), and used one of the extra effort options. I could either take +1 damage per die (+3 total with my broadsword), or else make two attacks at -3 each.
  • Toughness! Seems like everybody had it in 3e, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Maybe I should at least look into getting some leather armor in a couple of strategic places….
  • I really should have taken several levels of Hard to Subdue. A “12” isn’t good enough for knockdown and unconsciousness rolls.
  • All of the above looks sufficient for taking someone down every single turn without having to do anything too fancy. I think I will see what the random hit location table serves up next time, though. Two rolls on that  table in a single turn could produce some gruesome results. (Going after the vitals with an impaling or piercing weapon for a mere -3 to-hit to get x3 on damage seems like I worthy tactic, though.)

This module is great for me if only for the fact that it gave me the impetus to brush up on the rules. And it reminded me of how much I love GURPS and all its nitty-gritty detail. (Yes, I’m always casting about for something “simpler”, but the fact is… fourth edition GURPS works beautifully.) Another thing… I have never dared to run a game at anything higher than the 150 point range. This module allows me to experiment with that while having fun– after all, there’s only so much I can pick up just from reading Dungeon Fantastic!, Gaming Ballistic, and The Rusty Battle Axe. Actual gaming experience is invaluable if you’re considering starting a totally new type of adventure or campaign, and this book brings it. Even better, the author uses a plot-word system in order to significantly increase the replay value– it’s almost like having several variations of the situation deftly intertwined.

The tone is very, very Conan. Well… I’m no expert on the Hyborean age, so maybe I can’t say that with any degree of credibility. But the general experience of this module is, at the very least, consistent with the overall tone of the 2011 Conan the Barbarian movie– which, for me, was worth watching just for the chance to see the Great Stone Skull on film. Yes… it’s very much an exercise in roll-playing (what else could it be?), but the way this game puts non-combat skills through their paces should be inspiring to novice and intermediate GURPS game masters even if they’ve long since switched to fourth edition.

(Oh… and by the way… the license Steve Jackson Games has for Conan themed gaming material is probably not perpetual. If you want to partake of these classic products in PDF format, you should probably get them sooner rather than later.)

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2 responses to “Review: GURPS Classic Conan the Wyrmslayer

  1. Douglas Cole February 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    One interesting factoid that you’re probably familiar with, but I’ll say it anyway. Due to the way point costs work out, if you have, say a 300-point 3e character, you’ll probably build him on 450 points in 4e. When I converted the 700-point Black Ops templates from 3e to 4e, they wound up at about 1,000 points.

    So if you went in with a bog-standard DF character (250 points is entry level) and the adventure was pegged to a 375-point Conan type in 3e currency, you’d expect to equal Conan on 550 or so 4e point budget (!!). So you probably did pretty well for yourself, all things considered.

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