Conan the Bold: Cthulhoid Cancer

Chapter 11

Hey, so remember last time when I said that probably this confrontation in Ophir would do in Axandrias? Well, I’m no longer so certain about that, due mostly to this passage just a few paragraphs into chapter 11:

[Axandrias] had awakened that morning with a ringing head, a sour stomach, and a general feeling that death was not an undesirable thing. He had drunk too deep the night before, as had recently become his habit. So, as an experiment, he had halved one of the pills with his dagger and swallowed it. He used no spell this time, so surely he could take no harm from it. In minutes he was fully recovered, feeling like a youth again. He had spent the morning at sword practice with a succession of men.

Axandrias is developing a dependency on the space cocaine he got from Ancient Aliens priest #1. He might be the second most evil barbarian that Ancient Aliens priest #2 referred to, although he doesn’t seem to have the qualities that this story refers to as making a man a barbarian, i.e. an unwillingness to be ruled over by either direct authority or indirect tradition. It’s all very Nietzschean, though not in a bad way (I wonder if John Maddox Roberts even realized the story he was writing was Nietzschean, or if he just osmosed the concepts second-hand from having read other Conan stories?).

It’s possible that he becomes more dependent on the drug during the battle, but paying off this setup in 24 hours isn’t easy and it seems reasonably plausible that Axandrias is getting out of this alive. And if Axandrias gets out alive, probably Tahakra does, too, so possibly we only lose the Hyperborean here. Except, I’m pretty sure the Hyperborean has already left with the captives they plan to sell into slavery in Stygia (they definitely discussed having him leave early in the last chapter). Taharka and Axandrias do have a secret escape tunnel they haven’t told anyone else about, so that it won’t be jammed with other bandits if they should ever have need of it. And really, since the Hyperborean joined team evil halfway through, it’s only the length left in the book that’s got me convinced that he is probably not getting replaced by a new lieutenant when they leave.

In any case, this chapter opens with the Ophirian cavalry arriving. They decline to wait until nightfall so Conan can scout the hidden cavern lair of the bandits and instead charge in, whereupon they are decimated by ambush. Retreating the Ophirian officer admits that Conan was right and they should wait for nightfall for him to scout. It never says how many cavalry the Ophirians have, but I guess it must be enough to prevent the bandits from just leaving? ‘Cause it’s not like they’d be unaware that their hideout has been discovered.

Conan’s headed out for his scouting run.

As he had anticipated, most of the men were asleep near the small fires, their weapons close to hand. There was little to fear from a night attack by a civilized army. Men unaccusomed to such warfare more often killed friends than enemies.

But Cimmerians have darkvision, I guess?

Conan scouts the camp and returns with one of the sentries as a prisoner, from whom they confirm that the captives taken from the caravan are being taken south to Stygia, led by the Hyperborean. Conan resolves to finish his vengeance that night before chasing down the Hyperborean to free the captives.

“So, they are both alive,” [Kalya] said when he was finished. “Perhaps, tomorrow, our vengeance will be accomplished. If that is so, do you still propose to follow the rest and free Ryula and the others? Truly, they are not our affair. The Hyperborean had no part in your woes or mine, and he may live forever as far as I am concerned.”

“That is true,” Conan said, “but, having taken this up, there is something within me that makes me want to see it through. I told them, albeit half in jest, that they had naught to fear while I guarded the caravan, yet Ryula was taken from under our noses. And Vulpio has been a friend.”

I haven’t glossed over a bunch of scenes with this knife-throwing Vulpio guy, by the way. There was one conversation with him, back in the tavern where Conan say the prophetic magic show, and then also like four lines exchanged after the caravan battle where he confirmed his wife was taken. He isn’t a well-developed character at all, but I do admire his spirit in chasing down the bandits who captured his wife despite throwing knives not exactly being a weapon of choice for bandits or soldiers.

The “battle” actually turns out to be a total rout as disorganized bandits crumble under the Ophirian assault, Taharka and Axandrias having slipped out the past night to make their escape. That was disappointing.

Continue reading “Conan the Bold: Cthulhoid Cancer”

Conan the Bold: The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Be King

Chapter 8

Conan and Kalya come to a market town in Ophir, hoping to dredge up rumors of a Keshanian leading a band of brigands. As Ophir is at war, the place is under a bit of a lockdown.

“Very well,” said the scribe. “You must arrange for lodgings for yourselves and your animals. There will be no sleeping on the streets or in the public square. As soon as you have found a place that will take you in, you must report your location to the office of the city watch. Each day of your stay, you must confirm your location before noon, or the watch will search you out and throw you into the city dungeon if you cannot pay the fine. When you leave, report to me so that I may cross your names off my list. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly,” she said through gritted teeth. They paid their toll and rode into the town.

“I have slain men ere now for using such a tone,” Conan said. “If this is the way cities are run, I prefer the life of a barbarian.”

She smiled at him, a rare occurence. “I have been in far worse places, where a stranger is issued a papyrus which must be signed each day by the authorities and surrendered upon demand to any official. If you are caught without it, they clap you into the dungeon. But, do not worry. The worst places are the small remote cities like this one. They are eager to prove how civilized they are, and so they insist upon these niggling little rules. The great cities like Tarantia are wide open and there you may do as you like, within reason.”

This is a lot of administration for an iron age society. Even Rome didn’t tend to enforce any laws more strict than “only legionaries are allowed to carry swords within city limits,” and Rome was head and shoulders above their contemporaries in terms of legalism and efficient bureaucracy.

During Conan and Kalya’s trawling for rumors while watching a tavern show:

The acrobats made a sweaty exit and were followed by fire-eaters and jugglers. These were followed by a spell of more sedate entertainment as a group of minstrels played upon instruments, singing of the latest news from near and far. Conan and Kalya listened closely to these songs, but none mentioned the men for whom they searched.

Don’t get me wrong, minstrels serving as primary means of hearing news is a perfectly reasonable way for an iron age society to work, but it makes me think of a world where Autotune The News and similarly gimmicked competitors are people’s primary news source. It’d be better than the world we’ve got, where people’s primary news source is Twitter and Facebook.

Continue reading “Conan the Bold: The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Be King”

Inspirobot

Inspirobot is a website that automatically generates inpirational posters. Most of them are gibberish, but every four or five you get a good one. These are some of my favorites.

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You wouldn’t think a robot would need or want a sex cult, but here we are.
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Inspirobot attempting to break into YA dystopia fiction.
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The image is what makes this one perfect.
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After dabbling in YA dystopia, Inspirobot pivoted to the classic 1984-style.
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Inspirobot also writes for White Wolf, apparently.
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Are you okay, Inspirobot? Do you need help?

Conan the Bold: Oiled Up Gladiators

Chapter 6

Taharka and his band have run into trouble with Nemedian law enforcement and Taharka sacrificed several of his followers to stop them. By astonishing coincidence, this appears to have been pretty much all of the followers who weren’t on Conan’s hit list. I can appreciate that 1) we don’t want the list of targets constantly growing and 2) it makes little sense for Taharka to raise 30 bandits for his slave raid into Cimmeria and then stick with just four or five when operating at the Nemedian/Aquilonian border, but the straightforward solution to this is just to have him overwhelm the Cimmerian homestead without losing obscene numbers. There were only four defenders. It would perfectly sensible if just nine or ten bandits could overwhelm them taking only a handful of losses.

Sure, Conan personally regularly takes on like five guys and wins, but he’s supposed to be exceptional. A hero in the Greek sense. Random Cimmerians don’t need to be that awesome, and if they are, how come they don’t all end up kings of Aquilonia?

The trouble with the Nemedians’ only purpose is to winnow the slaver band back down to the guys in Conan’s quest log. He gets back to the border town just fine. Apparently it was the Bossonians’ job to train the new slaves, so Taharka learns they’re dead from the guy the innkeeper had to hire to replace them.

“Killed!” Taharka exclaimed. “Without asking my permission! What insolence!”

I like this line.

Continue reading “Conan the Bold: Oiled Up Gladiators”

Two of Clubs (Deep Space D6)

With my video GM’s guide finally complete, I need to find new Sunday video content. Or, y’know, I could just continue not having any content at all on Sundays like I did for like three months that one time, but YouTube is such a massive potential audience that I feel the need to at least try to capture that market.

I’m still focused far more on audio than video, though, so for now I’m doing that thing where you upload what is basically a podcast to YouTube because tons of people listen to YouTube videos like they were podcasts but don’t listen to actual podcasts. Go figure. Anyway, this one is Podcast Theater, specifically, a dramatized after action report of a game called Deep Space D6, played in Tabletop Simulator, in which all three roles are played by myself using different Voxal voices.

Conan the Bold: Priest of the Ancient Aliens

Chapter Five

The chapter starts us off from the perspective of the mysterious wizard that the one Aquilonian bandit wizard get his cocaine from. Apparently portents have informed him that Conan knocking around town are of great importance, and he reports this to some mysterious face he conjures up from the smoke of a cauldron bubbling up from assorted magical ingredients and incantations.

“What these things portend I cannot as yet say. It is difficult to imagine such puny human matters attracting the interest of higher Powers.”

“All the pieces are not yet in place,” said the face. “You will keep us informed daily of new developments. Until this matter is resolved, we will devote much observation to events in that sector. Hold yourself in readiness for the return of the Masters.”

“Sector” makes me think of sci-fi, like the big twist here is that space aliens are keeping tabs on primordial Earth. I don’t know how out of place that would be in a 1989 Conan story. I tend to associate that kind of crossover where sci-fi and fantasy are considered practically interchangeable genres more with the 70s and earlier 80s, but that’s not really backed up by careful study or anything, just a vague intuition.

So far, it’s been ambiguous whether this story is planning on being episodic or more interconnected. There’s an episode where Taharka kills that one woman Conan knew for like three weeks, and an episode where he meets Kalya, but whether that’s just the story getting its ducks in a row before the the plot gets rolling for real or a sign of the episodic nature of things to come isn’t yet entirely clear. This bit indicates that probably there’s going to not only be an overarching plot in which latter parts depend upon earlier parts for context and pace, but also that the overarching plot is going to be way more important than just Conan and Kalya getting some revenge. This bothers me. This story didn’t need any higher stakes than a story of personal vengeance against a particularly dickish bandit.

The mysterious priest finds Conan while he’s on a midnight stroll, hoping to find the rest of Taharka’s band when they return from a slave raid to sell off more gladiators to the fighting pit. The priest says he can tell Conan more about the slavers he’s seeking, so Conan pays a visit to the temple.

“The beings to whom this temple is dedicated,” the priest said, “are not gods in the usual sense. They are beings unimaginably ancient and vast, but they are natural creatures of this universe, as are we. Their powers are truly godlike, as men reckon such things. We their priests do not truly worship them. We contact them. We do their bidding, and in return they grant us powers and other rewards.”

Seems like we’re definitely leaning into the whole ancient aliens thing here.

Continue reading “Conan the Bold: Priest of the Ancient Aliens”

Heroes of Ramshorn: ‘Ere We Go

Back in September of 2018, I ran a Kickstarter for Petals and Thorns: Strangers in Ramshorn, a D&D adventure about power and politics in a small town caught in the jaws of imminent civil war. I’m now locking in final prices for maps, formatting, and illustrations for the sequel, Heroes of Ramshorn, so I can get the Kickstarter up and running. It’s looking like, in order to get the sequel up to the same level of quality as the original, I’ll probably need to raise something like $3,000, although that price isn’t final. The last one raised $4,000, so that should be doable.

However, the last one made me $24 off the Kickstarter itself and a little over $100 so far in sales post-Kickstarter, in exchange for like 80 hours of work. This was perfectly expected, and in fact much better than I initially expected (my original goal was $500, and initially I scarcely hoped to hit $1,000). My plan was always that I would have to accept minimal profits for the work put in early on in order to get the engine running, and that a greater backlog and growing awareness that I exist would bring in a larger customer base with each release. The question is, will I hit sustainable profits before I hit my ceiling? And the answer is: We’re about to find out. Well, maybe not. It’s entirely possible that I get more money, but still not enough to justify the time, thus stranding me for another four months in this limbo where maybe I’ve hit my ceiling or maybe the next one will continue the trend of increasing success.

Anyway, Kickstarter incoming. Just like the Magignosis Kickstarter, this one is probably not going to lead to any hiatuses in posting updates, although Tuesday/Friday articles may be focused on the Kickstarter.

Conan the Bold: Racist Against Bossonians

Before we get rolling, I want to back up and comment on something that I’d missed in the last chapter (hazard of pushing these out on a deadline is that sometimes I don’t give them as much thought as they deserve). What Kalya’s said to bring to the party is mainly that she understands how civilization works. As a story specifically set towards the very beginning of Conan’s career, Conan has only a vague idea of how things like law enforcement and criminal networks work. Kalya’s a less fearsome fighter than Conan, but she can handle herself alright and she has a valuable understanding of civilization. Perfectly good team-up, right?

It would be, except that Conan pays basically no price for his barbaric lack of subtlety in the town where he met Kalya. Sure, he gets ambushed by Rario, but he hacks his way out with no difficulty and if losing a potential informant was a major setback to their pursuit, neither Conan nor Kalya brings it up. Kalya doesn’t even bring it up when telling Conan that she’s joining his party, and you’d think if it were actually that important, she would have: “If I’d made inquiries instead of you bullrushing into every conversation, Rario would’ve told you where our quarry is” is a lot more compelling than just “we both want the same men dead.”

Chapter 3

I find shockingly little to discuss in the front half of this chapter. We’re following Taharka and his men again as they arrive at a lawless border town between Aquilonia and Nemedia, where the local gladiator business has been gummed up by a crackdown on the slave trade by the Aquilonians. Taharka hatches a plan to kidnap people, teach them how to fight with simple weapons, then drug them up so they’re manic and vicious and set them fighting each other. So far as villainous plots go, it’s pretty well-suited to the story. It’s clearly evil, there’s obvious profit in it for the bad guys so they’re not just doing it for the evulz, and the stakes are comfortably local for something this early in Conan’s career. There’s not really anything new to comment on, though. It’s a pretty similar Taharka scene as was in the last post, and I’m kind of wondering how important these Taharka scenes are going to end up being to the narrative. The closest thing to something notable I can think of is mainly in the descriptions of the town, but, I mean, it’s a lawless border town in a Conan story. Imagine Tortuga but with more sand and scantly clad women and you’re basically there.

It’s the back half of the chapter, when the Aquilonian sorcerer guy goes poking around for the aggression-inducing drugs he’ll need for the gladiatorial scheme, that things start to get more noteworthy.

Axandrias saw a light in the dense darkness at the far end of the room. With some trepidation, he began to walk toward it. Several times he stopped and squinted upward at the serpent heads above. Always they were blank and enigmatic, but as he walked he had the uncanny sensation that they moved slightly, and from the corners of his eyes he kept half-seeing a flash of motion, as if long, forked tongues darted from scaly mouths.

He reached the source of the light, and found that it was a flame burning in a brazen bowl. The bowl stood on a tripod, and he could see no trace of fuel to feed the flame. This did not disturb him unduly. Since he was something of a conjurer, he assumed that most wizard’s feats were the same sort of trumpery.

Something disturbed him, and he looked back the way he had come. The bright rectangle of the doorway was at least fifty paces away. Yet, when he had stood before the temple, he had estimated that the city wall was no more than twenty paces away. That meant that this structure must extend through and well past the wall. It was another mystery, but he had not come here to sort out puzzles.

“What brings you here?” The voice came from behind him and Axandrias whirled, his hand darting to his sword hilt. The speaker was a tall, gaunt man dressed in a featureless black robe. He was shaven-headed, his cadaverous face as immoble as those of the stone serpents.

With a relieved sigh, Axandrias relaxed. “Your pardon, good priest. You startled me. I did not hear your approach. Are you the sole priest of this temple?”

“I am. The gods I serve are ancient beyond the dreams of men, and are all but forgotten in this decadent age.” The priest’s accent was strange. Axandrias was widely traveled but he had never heard its like. There was something odd in the man’s phrasing as well.

What with the strong snake themes, I’d assumed this was just a temple of Set, but Axandrias would presumably recognize a Stygian accent, considering he travels in the company of someone from even further south.

Feigning scholarly interest, Axandrias convinces this priest fellow to show him where they keep the magic around here. One book in particular quickly catches his eye.

“Great indeed,” intoned the priest in his sepulchral voice. He opened the cover and exposed the first page. It was an oddly thick and creamy parchment, inscribed all over in tiny characters the color of rusty iron. Axandrias touched the page and found it strangely smooth. He commented upon the fact.

“This is a book of spells written by the wizard-king Angkar, of the pre-Atlantean Empire of Walkh. To one who can read these characters are revealed the secrets of communication with beings that ruled the universe ere the earth was created. He was a sorcerer of all-embracing evil, such as is not seen in these times. He compiled this book as the masterwork of his reign. He had his fifty subject kings send him their daughters, more than nine hundred in all. These pages are made from the flayed skins of those princesses. The characters were written with the blood of royal infants. When the book was complete, he had the bones of his own face set into its cover, cut from his skull while he yet breathed. The binding is his own skin.”

Axandrias jerked his hand away as if the page was red-hot.

Oh, don’t act all surprised, Axandrias. This was clearly a standard-issue Necronomicon from the first sentence of description.

This weird snake prince guy really likes to show off his voodoo, and they end up looking at another bit of it:

“I can see,” Axandrias said, desperate to change the subject, “that I have come to the right place. To one who is privy to such secrets, the trifling things I seek must be as naught.” Idly, he raised the hinged lid of a plain, copper bowl. Inside, he saw a mind-shattering vista of the gulfs of deep space. He was looking as if from above into a monstrous whirlpool of stars. Abruptly he slammed the lid shut and tried to make his stomach return to its accustomed position. The wizard seemed not to have noticed.

This one’s more original than the bog standard Necronomicon, at least. A bowl with space in it doesn’t seem all that mind-bending and I’m not sure why you’d actually want one, but it’s a neat curiosity, anyway.

The next item on the tour is the murder steroids that Axandrias is actually here for, which need to be activated with some kind of spell to get their full effect. Axandrias leaves the temple and finds that it’s some weird space-time folding thing that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside:

When Axandrias reached the mouth of the alley, he looked back and saw the face of the temple once more. Consumed with curiosity, he hurried down a side street until he came to a stairway which mounted the city wall. With his prize tucked inside his tunic, he went up the stair and then made his way gingerly along the ruinous wall. When he saw the two warehouses which flanked the temple, he leaned over and surveyed the view. As he had estimated below, the flat, featureless roof of the temple extended about twenty paces from the paved alley until it disappeared into the wall.

He turned and crossed the thickness of the wall, a distance of less than four paces. He leaned over the parapet, expecting to see the greater bulk of the temple extending beyond. There was nothing. Just a featureless face of rough stone wall and beyond that, a grassy field where oxen placidly cropped the vegetation. His scalp crawled and his mind reeled. Where was the rest of the temple?

And…that is the chapter? I’m really not sure what we accomplished, here, but it’s still early enough in the story that this could be going somewhere.

Chapter 4

Conan and Kalya have lost the trail of our villains when they check into a small roadside inn, who warns Conan that he shouldn’t be traveling with just a girl for a companion in these parts, because there’s been a spate of slave raids targeting healthy, strong men, specifically. You might think this justifies the previous chapter, in which the reason for these slave raids is set up, but I think it’s the reverse. Here, in these first two pages, we’ve set up all we need to know about the slave raiding operation in this part of the country. As an audience, we can guess that it’s not a coincidence that there’s mysterious raiders, and we don’t need to know the details of Taharka’s plan in order to follow Conan’s story, so long as we know everything that Conan knows, including why Conan cares. Indeed, Kalya figures out where this is going just a few paragraphs later:

When the woman had returned to the hut and the others were engaged in their conversations, Conan leaned across the table. “What think you of this? Might it have aught to do with Taharka and the others?”

“I cannot say, but I feel that there is some connection. The man is full of plots and schemes, and this may well be one of them. What its nature is I cannot yet tell, but it must be something crafty and devious.”

“Yet the slavers are said to be Nemedians,” Conan said.

“Nemedian clothes are as easy to put on as any. Raiders of any kind know how to use false colors. I think this is a good area in which to concentrate our search. If there is any new villainy being done, we can be fairly sure that Taharka and Axandrias are at the center of it.”

Of course, we’re still early on in the story, and there’s plenty of time for that spooky temple that got set up to be paid off later. We’ll see whether or not that actually happens.

Conan speaks to Kalya about his past:

“I am not like my countrymen,” Conan agreed. “Before I was old enough to hold a man’s sword I was always at odds with any who would rule me or order my life. My father, the village elders, the chieftain of my clan, they all had a go at thrashing me until I grew too large for such treatment. When I earned my warrior’s standing at Vanarium, they gave up trying.”

This makes him different from most Cimmerians? I thought refusing to bend the knee was a whole thing for not just Cimmerians, but Hyborian Age barbarians in general. In any case, this explicitly sets the novel after the events of Venarium. It’s even consistent, if vague, with how Second Venarium went for Conan, specifically:

“You were at Vanarium?” she said. The news of that battle had been all over Aquilonia and the borders a few seasons before; The Aquilonians had pushed across their borders onto ancestral Cimmerian lands and had built the city of Vanarium, manning it with Gunder and Bossonian frontiersmen. The Cimmerians had annihilated the settlement in a day and night of screaming slaughter. All three races were warlike in the extreme and fought without mercy.

Conan’s face twisted, as if this had turned his thoughts down paths he did not wish to follow. “That is past,” he said shortly. “Let us see what is to be found in this town of rogues.”

Conan lost everything at Venarium, so it makes sense he wouldn’t want to talk in detail. It’s really Conan of Venarium’s final chapter alone that’s fucking with the placement in the timeline. Without that, these two stories don’t have to be alternate origins at all. Personally, I have no difficulty just ignoring that final chapter and assuming Conan returned to Cimmeria after raiding Aquilonia for a while, and that this story is then a sequel.

Their investigation quickly brings them to the inn where Taharka has been selling his gladiators:

“A fighting-pit,” Kalya murmured. “Have you ever seen such?”

“Aye,” Conan said. “In Vanaheim and Hyperborea.”

So not only does this post-date Venarium, it probably post-dates quite a few stories taking place in Conan’s viking mercenary days (including the Frost Giant’s Daughter and a few post-Howard stories I have’t read). I didn’t expect the Chamomile Chronology I’m piecing together to stand superior to others, but now that I’m seeing such obvious cracks in the existing chronologies, I’m beginning to have my doubts.

Conan and Kalya observe a gladiator battle.

Although the swords had clipped, upturned points, they were better designed for cutting than for the thrust.

What do you mean “although?” The word you’re looking for is “because.”

There’s a whole thing here where Conan and Kalya are trying to figure out what’s going on. I know I’ve knocked points off Threadbare for hanging its entire plot on “what’s going on” instead of “what will happen next,” but that doesn’t mean that a book like this, where we have to watch our heroes figure out what’s going on even though we already know, is much better (although it is better). Threadbare gave us a mystery but neglected to give us any reason to care about the answers besides “ooooh, it’s mysterious,” but here in Conan the Bold the story has given us a reason to care about the answers (Conan’s personal grudge with Taharka is really dumb, but accepting that he has a personal grudge, we want to know what Taharka’s up to) but then gives us all those answers way ahead of Conan.

They do eventually start closing in, though.

“There,” he said, pointing, “against the far wall, between a Kordavan poleax and a silver-headed staff. Two Bossonian longbows. We are far from the Marches to see two such weapons.”

Kalya smiled, and the demented gleam returned to her eye. “There are two men nearby with whom we should have some words.”

Conan leaned on his elbow, chin cupped in a hard palm. He did not take his eyes from the bows, lest the weapons should be retrieved while he and his companion were not looking. “How should we go about this? Should we slay them, or take them aside and question them, or follow them to where the others are?”

“I recommend we take them to some private spot and find out what they know. If you slay them out of hand, part of your vengeance will be done, but I will be no closer to mine.” She sipped at her ale meditatively. “It may be that the others have ridden on and these two have stayed behind. If so, we must know of it. As for following them,” she thought for a moment, “it is tempting but dangerous. If they have separated, we might trail them for days accomplishing naught while the others draw farther away. Even should they lead us to the band this very evening, we might find ourselves facing six hard men. And it is likely that the band has grown. Your business is only with the six you were tracking. Mine is only with Axandrias. We do not want to take on perhaps ten or twenty at once.”

And shortly thereafter, they spot their quarry on the balconies with some whores:

There was no mistaking their nationality. Both were stocky men of medium height, strongly made. The hair of both was brown and square-cut. They closely resembled one another save the eyes of one were gray, those of the other, brown.

I’m not racist, I’m just saying all Bossonians kind of look the same to me.

The two ambush the Bossonians.

“Speak!” Conan barked. “You can die easy or die hard, but die you shall! Where are the rest of those who raided the Cimmerian steading? I want Taharka and the two Gundermen and the Aquilonian, Axandrias. Are they all still with you?”

Murtan shrugged, eyes still on his weapon-belt. “What are they to us? Aye, the wily Keshanian is still our leader. The Gunder brothers do this bidding as well.”

Okay, sure, no honor among thieves, but you aren’t exactly being offered a lucrative reward, here. For that matter, you’re not in a super compromised position. I’ve skipped the ambush, but they’re just being held at swordpoint in some alleyway. Odds of getting away alive are very slim, so if Conan and Kalya were offering to let them go, that’d mainly be a question of whether or not the Bossonians believe them. But it’s not like they’re strapped to a chair or deep in enemy territory. Odds of being able to force captors to either kill them or let them go are pretty solid. Just go for the swords at your necks and if they slit your throats, they were gonna do that anyway, and if they don’t slit your throats, you’re now in a position to run away.

“We have learned what we needed from them.”

Conan said to the woman. “Have you any further use for them?”

“Nay.” She dropped her point from Ballan’s throat. “These two are nothing to me. It is Axandrias I want. Do as you will with them.”

As she stepped back Conan snatched the weapon-belts from her hand and cast them at the feet of their owners. “There are your swords,” Conan said. “Use them!”

Or just run away. Granted, you do have him two-to-one (he asks Kalya not to get involved, and her vengeance is only with the Aquilonian), but he’s also got a proper length arming or maybe long sword, and you’ve got a pair of short swords used as archer sidearms. Plus, you’ve been making bank off of this slave trade thing, you could probably get a whole lot of reinforcements if you run into a heavily populated area and promise money to whoever brings you the Cimmerian’s head. It’s doubly weird that the Bossonians settled for “die quickly” when – as they confirm – they were confident that Conan would let them fight for their lives and were only afraid of immediate execution from Kalya. They could’ve just demanded that Kalya back off in exchange for the information and promised to give Conan the honorable(?) vengeance he was seeking.

But, no, the Bossonians attack head-on like idiots and get chopped to pieces. Kalya even confirms that they’ve got tons of money on their person while looting the bodies in the aftermath.

Also, Kalya’s musing on the fight in its aftermath just makes me dislike Conan:

A fight that consisted of three blows, two of them mortal. All of them struck by one man before his foes could strike effectively. Her swordmasters had told her that the ascending backhand blow was the weakest possible stroke, as the descending oblique was the strongest. The latter had the full weight and most of the muscle power of the body behind it, while the former utilized only the muscles of one shoulder. They had taught her that certain very skilled fighters could use the muscles of the flank and the leading leg as well. She had seen that blow tear through leather, bone and flesh as through so much smoke. The man’s art was minimal, but his speed, strength, timing, and coordination were little short of supernatural.

Conan isn’t actually good at anything, he’s apparently just arbitrarily granted perfect reflexes and super strength. Of course, in reality, using specific moves and stances is how amateurs fight. It’s a foundation that you build general situational awareness and familiarity with your own body’s capabilities on top of. And if you want to be super strong, you have to actually work for that, it doesn’t just happen. Sure, some people are more pre-disposed towards it than others and natural talent can disqualify you from being competitive in certain fields (including melee combat) no matter how hard you try, but nobody gets to peak performance without even trying.

Conan the Bold: Chainmail Bikini

Chapter 2

Conan is pursuing the people who killed that one woman he knew for like three weeks, Hellbent on revenge. He comes across an abandoned Nemedian slaver, slowly dying from a wound he received in the battle with the Cimmerians. Conan interrogates the Nemedian to find out who his companions are, and the answer is two Bossonians, two Gundermen, an Aquilonian who allegedly has sorcerous powers, and their Keshanite leader. Notably, everyone but their leader is from somewhere in greater Aquilonia, so why on Earth were they set up as this bizarre international band? Why not have one guy very far from home, and everyone else is locally sourced?

Perspective changes to our villain, whose second in command (the Aquilonian wizard) is speaking to him about the morale problems caused by their 80% losses.

“Ah, but these fellows have the wrong attitude,” said Taharka. “You see, we lost many men back there, but that is no matter. In all the world, nothing is so easily replaceable as men. Each likes to believe himself unique and irreplaceable, but this is sheer self-deception. If you would ever be a leader of men, my friend Axandrias, you must understand that men, whether they be slave or free, few in numbers or in the tens of thousands, are nothing. Their death, if it serve your purpose, is acceptable. Their life, if it is inconvenient to you, is intolerable.”

“Wise words, my lord,” said the Aquilonian.

This isn’t terrible villain dialogue. It’s extremely on the nose, but it comes across as not too cartoonish for a Conan story. Provided the narrative manages to avoid running this into the ground, this guy could be a pretty effective villain.

Continue reading “Conan the Bold: Chainmail Bikini”

The Tomb of Annihilation

One of my paid GMing groups just reached the end of a nine month run of the Tomb of Annihilation. I wrote a brief summary of everything that happened each week in the LFG forum to help get people caught up and to help demonstrate how rarely the game missed a session (a total of two missed sessions in nine months, one of which was Christmas Eve). Now the campaign is done and the LFG is closing down forever, I’m reposting the complete summary here for archival purposes.

And yes, the campaign did end on April Fool’s. There’s no joke there. Actual coincidence.

Continue reading “The Tomb of Annihilation”