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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Hyborian Age as a S&S setting  (Read 4979 times)
rabindranath72
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Posts: 26


« on: August 19, 2008, 02:18:32 AM »

Hi all,
new to the boards, new to Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword, bought them two days ago, and I literally devoured them. Excellent material!
I have been searching for a good RPG which would support playing in the Conan setting (IMO d20 Conan is not a good system for playing in this kind of setting), and I guess I have found it in S&S.
I have a campaign running with d20 Conan, but I would gladly "move it" to Sorcerer. The problem is, only one of the players could be considered a sorcerer; the other two are not much into sorcery at all (in d20 Conan, they are a thief and a nomad, respectively). Now, how would you assign Lore for these two character types? Would you consider them Lore 0, or perhaps Lore 1 (Naive), just to contemplate the fact that they are main characters, and might some day access some ritual? Perhaps not strictly related to Demons, but much like the thief who destroys the magical wards of the tomb of Nathok, or Conan in Beyond the Thunder River (though Conan tracing a sort of Warding spell might be considered strictly sorcery).

Thanks,
Antonio
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2008, 05:22:32 AM »

Hello,

If you examine the thief and nomad characters in Howard's fiction, you will find that they use Lore quite often. It's usually defensive, or involves some kind of weird item or substance rather than a Bound demon, but it's there. Taurus, certainly the classic example of the professional thief in Howard's fiction, does exactly this in Tower of the Elephant.

It may help to consider situations in which knowledge, or at least familiarity with demonic and scary stuff, is a better defense than simply fighting it. Despite a lot of he-man rhetoric, Conan often encounters things for which his sword or wits are inadequate. He deals with them by using rituals or interactions which can only be called sorcerous - see Beyond the Black River for his Containment of the swamp devil, or his authority over the vampire in Hour of the Dragon (usually titled Conan the Conqueror).

Try to throw away the idea of "fighter vs. magic-user." In classical sword-and-sorcery, heroes always have at least one foot in the sorcerous zone. It doesn't mean they throw spells or own demons - it means they know about them and can handle them in their own terms.

Best, Ron
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rabindranath72
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Posts: 26


« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2008, 05:33:04 AM »

Mr. Edwards,
thanks for the detailed answer and the precious suggestions.
I am definitely willing to do a "paradigm shift" and throw away the idea of "fighter vs. magic-user". I am quite frankly tired of the needless complexity of games which shape a setting based on rules. To me, rules must be a medium, not the end.

Thanks again for the answers, and for all the excellent food for thought in Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword.
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Erik Weissengruber
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2008, 12:10:03 PM »

Dont' be afraid to treat any kind of traditional or tribal myth/prayer/rite as a form of Lore.

Odysseus, in the Odyssey, makes a physical journey to the mouth of hell and with a few traditional rites he is able to summon up the prophet Tiresias.  He never went to sorceror's school, never wears a pointy hat, etc.

Each of the Heroes in the Iliad is watched over by a god who provides favours in return for services, exemplary actions, etc.  Many are possessed by their Daimon or by a passion that allows them to do extraordinary things at costs to their general humanity.

Achiles' and his wrath is one such hero.

And again, he never inscribes glyph decorated circles or sacrifices puppies to the horned one.

Now the sorceror game is about those who make conscious decisions to treat with inhuman powers so you have to have a bit of Prometheus or Faust in your characters. 

But bust that paradigm, bust it into a thousand tiny shards.

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Finarvyn
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« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2008, 04:54:08 AM »

Hey, Ron. Thanks for giving some comments about this – I also have been thinking about using S&S to run a Conan-setting game and I’m hoping that this thread will provide a good jump-start in this endeavor.

If you examine the thief and nomad characters in Howard's fiction, you will find that they use Lore quite often. It's usually defensive, or involves some kind of weird item or substance rather than a Bound demon, but it's there. Taurus, certainly the classic example of the professional thief in Howard's fiction, does exactly this in Tower of the Elephant.
I’m still a bit uncertain about this. I mean, I think I get the basic concept that Taurus can be a “sorcerer” even if not a spell-caster, but as a GM how do I handle this? From your example, I’m guessing that Taurus might use Lore to detect a trap or avoid it. Am I thinking correctly?

It may help to consider situations in which knowledge, or at least familiarity with demonic and scary stuff, is a better defense than simply fighting it. Despite a lot of he-man rhetoric, Conan often encounters things for which his sword or wits are inadequate. He deals with them by using rituals or interactions which can only be called sorcerous - see Beyond the Black River for his Containment of the swamp devil, or his authority over the vampire in Hour of the Dragon (usually titled Conan the Conqueror).
I’m going to go dust off these stories again to check out your examples.

Try to throw away the idea of "fighter vs. magic-user." In classical sword-and-sorcery, heroes always have at least one foot in the sorcerous zone. It doesn't mean they throw spells or own demons - it means they know about them and can handle them in their own terms.
This does certainly require a shift in the way we think of the game. I guess I’m used to trying to imagine how a character would control a demon and the other examples seem to be trickier for me to come up with at the moment. But I’ll stay with it because my brain still seems stuck in the “you are a sorcerer and cast spells, or you’re not” and getting the concept of “sorcerers can be non-spellcasters” still makes my brain hurt a little.

Thanks again for the insight!
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Marv (Finarvyn)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2008, 06:47:54 AM »

Here's something that might help: in the canonical fiction, particularly the Conan stories, no one casts spells.

?! What?!

Really, they don't. Characters like Tsotha-Lanti, Pelleas, Nabonidus, Xaltotun, and I could go on and on from the Conan stories alone, rely on any or all of the following:

- gadgets and mirrors, whether elaborate like in a house or more personal like explosive powders
- drugs
- mesmerism (so-called)
- martial arts
- artifacts that utilize unfamiliar energy sources
- knowledge about unnatural Things which permits them to call, cage, command, exploit, or serve them

However, they don't memorize incantations, incant them, and point their fingers to unleash magic. That's not a characteristic feature of the pulp fantasy I discuss in the book. "Wizard" means expert and arcane; "sorcerer" means practitioner of forbidden or un-understandable acts. No one casts spells.

Once you move out of Howard's Conan territory and a little forward into the post-WWII fiction, things are a little looser, but I think it's still fair to say that even in Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, "spells" are hardly the stuff of modern fantasy - I can count them throughout the whole canon of those stories on one hand, and a single spell is so freakily significant as to have a whole story or novel revolve around it. Same goes for Poul Anderson's stories or even Tanith Lee's.

So maybe this isn't about how a character like Taurus or Conan can "be a sorcerer." I think it's more about how no one, including the sorcerers, is a "spell-caster."

Best, Ron
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rabindranath72
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Posts: 26


« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2008, 03:43:43 AM »

Here's something that might help: in the canonical fiction, particularly the Conan stories, no one casts spells.

?! What?!

Really, they don't. Characters like Tsotha-Lanti, Pelleas, Nabonidus, Xaltotun, and I could go on and on from the Conan stories alone, rely on any or all of the following:


Exactly my thoughts! This is how I figure "spellcasters" should be in Conan; mysterious figures, learned in forbidden and forgotten lore passed down through the ages. Whether "sorcery" allows them to bind demons or know how to wake the Children of Set, all of it reduces to different degrees of Lore, and possibly having demons at their beck and call.
Taurus has this to say about Yara:
Quote
We'll steal down through the top of the tower and strangle old Yara before he can cast any of his accursed spells on us. At least we'll try; it's the chance of being turned into a spider or a toad, against the wealth and power of the world. All good thieves must know how to take risks.
Now, how Yara actually casts "spells" or his reputed abilities are the result of demonic abilities, is not very relevant to the concept that sorcery may actually be a "force" completely external to the sorcerer.

Another example I could add: why Toth-Amon does not free himself from servitude in "Phoenix on the Sword"? If he was such a mighty spellcaster, he could have killed Ascalante without a second thought. Instead, he needs the Ring of Set. I got thinking about this fact since when I saw the stats for Toth-Amon in Conan rpg, and I thought they were completely inappropriate. Therein Toth-Amon is described as knowing tens of spells, yet by the time of the Phoenix on the Sword, we see that he is a Master of the Black Ring, yet he must bow to an outlaw like Ascalante.
But with S&S, such a character becomes definitely possible, and its finding of the Ring a powerful motivation for his actions: the Ring is the thing which gives him power, not his "spellcasting".

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Vortigern
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Posts: 11

aka Tony


« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2008, 01:35:56 PM »

I've noted, rather importantly I think, the reduced occurence of humanity loss in S&S.  Does this include the potential for losing humanity when using sorcery?

Even if it doesn't it still opens the door to more frequent use of sacrifices and thus more powerful 'black-hearted' sorcery without fear of losing humanity as long as you are sacrificing your friends.  Combine this with rollover victories and a sacrifice at each stage ( contact / summon / bind ) and the potential for accrueing rollover points and a really astounding binding seems much more reachable/possible in this type of setting.  But perhaps that is part of the point in this genre?

I'd be curious how anyone else playing in this setting chooses to reflect some of the iconic elements of hyborian age fantasy like 'black lotus' and the like.
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V/R,
Vortigern
"Adventure is something bad, happening to someone else, far far away."
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2008, 01:56:09 PM »

Maybe.

Perhaps, also, there's a crucial typo in your post? "as long as you aren't sacrificing your friends"?

I also question the idea that sacrificing or basically being rotten to anyone except a friend is exempt from Humanity checks. That's not quite what I meant by the discussion of Humanity in the book.

When Conan, imprisoned, thinks about the girls in his seraglio being tortured by Tsotha-Lanti and groans aloud in agony, that's a Humanity check. He considers himself responsible for them.

Best, Ron
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Vortigern
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aka Tony


« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2008, 02:16:12 PM »

Ha.  Yes, you are correct on the typo.

And I would be curious about a further discussion of S&S style humanity then.  My impression was basically the usual view of humanity only really was applied to people that were 'close' or 'friendly' to a character... and that was intentional in order to encourage the 'life is cheap' atmosphere of S&S style games.  If you have/had a different vision with that ruling I'd certainly like to hear it?
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V/R,
Vortigern
"Adventure is something bad, happening to someone else, far far away."
Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1159


« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2008, 04:27:59 PM »

Hi Vortigern,

(I tried to find your name, but I might have missed it!)

We had a thread about this a while back: Premise in Sorcerer & Sword

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2493.msg24380;topicseen#msg24380

Back in 2002, I wrote:

Quote
Humanity is living by your Golden Rule, whatever that Golden Rule is for you.  This is why the central tenant is treating friends and family well.  But when you break your own code, for friend, family, yourself, or are caught in any kind of no-win choice, a part of you is wounded by breaking your Golden Rule.  If you're dealing with lunkhead caninbal mutants out in the hills, fine, mow them down.  But what if it turns out they actually live by a code you respect -- and you still have to mow them down to get to the woman you love?  This guys could have been your buddies -- but not in this lifetime -- Ouch!  And your sense of living by your own code is threatened, and thus Humanity is risked.

And Ron replied:

Quote
Hey,

Works for me. This is now my "point to" thread for the Sorc&Sword Premise inquiry.

Best,
Ron

So this might be something to consider as we move forward.

CK
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Vortigern
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aka Tony


« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2008, 06:44:03 PM »

I'm not certain if the 'Golden Rule' explanation of Humanity really makes sense to me, though terming it 'Honor' or something like that might work for a Hyborian Age setting.  A lot of the material seems to depict the struggle between corrupt decadence ( seen as the trappings of society ) and simple trueness of barbarism.  The point however is that violence isn't as much of an ethical concern in the lit.  Conan doesn't think twice about cracking the skull of an enemy.  And if you want to have a S&S with a real hyborian feel... the PCs shouldn't stop to consider such either.  Ethical concerns perhaps should be more about deciding who to fight, or why... and then don't worry about it once the blood starts to fly.

I would say I think potential for losses having to do with sorcerous sacrifice should perhaps stay, but with some sort of rule allowing one to mitigate the risk via some kind of roleplaying or resource expenditure etc.  Otherwise sorcerers that keep pace with the classical role models in the genre will, I would think, rapidly descend into the 'madness' or 'utter depravity' of zero.  How to work that however I'm not exactly certain on.
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V/R,
Vortigern
"Adventure is something bad, happening to someone else, far far away."
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2008, 08:29:54 PM »

I have some more thoughts on Sword & Sorcery Humanity; it's been a topic of long-term consideration. I'll have to get to them later.

For the moment, and only as piece of the issue, I call attention to Pelleas, my favorite sorcerer in the Conan stories. He's certainly lost some Humanity - in fact, that's displayed in one of the most explicit scenes about this nebulous quality in literature - but he is, also explicitly, "still human" and looks to remain that way.

Damn, I called him my favorite and then Khemsa and Thoth-Amon indignantly clamored for my mental attention. Okay, guys, I'll post about you soon! Geez!

Pulp-fantasy sorcerers keep their sanity by enjoying life, and part of that is choosing sides and caring about the living. Meaning the full range of "to care."

Best, Ron
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2008, 11:03:55 PM »

While I'm looking forward to Ron's additional response, Vort, I want to point out that in my use of "Your Golden Rule" I made no bones about acts of violence, or ethical concerns thereof. The concern was over who you were killing.

I think there's a big difference there.

CK
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rabindranath72
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« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2008, 02:33:52 AM »

I would say I think potential for losses having to do with sorcerous sacrifice should perhaps stay, but with some sort of rule allowing one to mitigate the risk via some kind of roleplaying or resource expenditure etc.  Otherwise sorcerers that keep pace with the classical role models in the genre will, I would think, rapidly descend into the 'madness' or 'utter depravity' of zero.  How to work that however I'm not exactly certain on.
I do not think the risk should be mitigated. Humanity 0 in S&S does not mean "madness" (this is reserved for Lore), but certainly could mean depravity of some sort (see Tsotha-Lanti or Zogar Sag).
Sorcerers like Khemsa, Thoth-Amon or Pelias surely have higher humanity scores than the above guys.
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