Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Conan Adventure

This is an idea I had for a Conan adventure setup. I wanted to get a good amount of the feeling of the middle Conan stories, where Conan was not just a fighter but a political player as well. To do this I created an unstable situation, a rich city full of danger, and five powerful foes that are also all foes of each other. I see it playing out a lot like A Fist Full of Dollars, but with 6 powers that be rather than 2, and 3 to 5 Men With No Names coming into town rather than just 1. I’d also play it that the PCs didn’t have to work together, and would probably even work against each other at points. That’s something many aren’t comfortable with though, so it should be able to be worked so the PCs all end up fighting together for the sake of survival.

There aren’t a lot of stats here. Level and class guidelines are given for Mongoose’s Conan RPG – but you could do this with lots of systems. (I’d be tempted to use HeroQuest.) Whatever you do, be sure to play Basil Poledouris’s “Conan the Barbarian” as your soundtrack.

The Setting

Seconderam is a city where rapacious men with shining swords trade tender flesh and shimmering silk for stained coins and winked favors. Its yellow stone walls loom over the vast aridity of the Hyrakanian step, guarded by hard-eyed soldiers with weapons of Akbitanan steel against the hawk-nosed nomads with their brutal horn bows. The blood and life of this stone whore is the trade that passes between Shem and Vendhya, for Seconderam is the only safe stop between the tenebrous Vilayet Sea and the glittering towers of Khorala. Any merchant wishing to make the silk run must stop here, and must pay, pouring gold and silver into the corpulent hands of the collectors.

There are five towers in Seconderam, arranged in a dread pentagram which some say binds the will of the city to its points. In each monolith lurks one of the five who rule, each eyeing the others with knives in their hands and malice in the black pits of their hearts. For a decade they have split the city between themselves, each scheming to fell the others. What no one in the city realizes, not even the rulers, is that the very towers they sit in drive them to fight against each other. No man may live in towers built by that beyond the stars and stay sane. When the rulers chose their towers they instinctually took the tower opposite that of their worst rivals, and so the fiercest rivalries are those which cut across the pentagram. If a new lord were to take over the tower they would mystically find themselves inheriting these conflicts.

The NPCs

First among these iniquitous equals is the sorcerer Bunchhan Muul (Khitan, Scholar 16) who sits in the Ebon Tower opposite Cittaprasadana Jayasurya’s Ivory Tower and Merlino’s Gold Tower. It was he who raised the five towers, calling them from the dark between the stars so that they were built in a single night, giving him the power to claim equality with the other leaders of the city. Though he has fewer followers than the others he commands fear and the blackest of sorcery, and few have ever dared oppose him. The heads of those who did still scream from the top of his tower, despite having lost their bodies years ago.

Cittaprasadana Jayasurya (Vendhyan, Noble 11 / Solider 3), known as the White Bull of Saiva’s Fury, sits in the Ivory Tower, opposite Bunchhan Muul’s Ebon Tower and Shalmaneser’s Wormwood Tower. This mighty man is the royal delegate from far off Khorala, and holds his position partly by being the guardian of the route to fabled Vendhya, partly from his own prowess in battle, and mostly from the hundreds of loyal Vendhyan lancers under his command. So long as he holds the royal seal, even Bunchhan Muul is wary of crossing him openly.

The Blood Tower is the opulent commorancy of Urracca Knife-Dancer (Zamorian, Thief 8 / Noble 6) and sits opposite Shalmaneser’s Wormwood Tower and Merlino’s Gold Tower. This provocative murderess turned ruler knows how to use men’s lusts, be they for flesh, coin, or power, against them. She rose to her position by turning brother against brother and murdering whatever was left after their feuds. Even now, when she has a small army of thieves to serve her, she is known to go out on dangerous missions herself, as she lusts for the kill.

Shalmaneser (Shemite, Nomad 12 / Noble 2) is lord of the Wormwood Tower, sitting opposite Cittaprasadana Jayasurya’s Ivory Tower and Urracca’s Blood Tower. As Cittaprasadana guards the caravan route to Vendhya, Shalmaneser guards it to mighty Shem. However he answers to no crown, and has no noble seal to back his orders. All he has is his incredible brutality, which is bestial enough to give even Bunchhan Muul pause, and his hundreds of Shemite swordsmen.

The Merchant Prince Merlino (Zingaran, Noble 8 / Thief 4 / Borderer 2) holds the Golden Tower, facing Uracca’s Blood Tower and Bunchhan Muul’s Ebon Tower. Of all the rulers Merlino is the wealthiest, and the most loved by the people. Where the others are followed from fear, many of the merchants and commoners see Merlino as a tolerable, civilized man. That he really has no heart (literally as well as metaphorically) is a secret he keeps well hidden behind his pleasant smile.

There is, of course, a sixth man of importance to Seconderam, but from the outside rather than the in. He is Hafizullah Amin (Hyrkanian 12th level Nomad, 3rd level Noble), khan of the Farishta clan. His are the raiders that take the most caravans, his the savage bowmen that terrify the city’s soft inhabitants, and his the desire to pull Seconderam to the ground and take from it all the gold, silk, and flesh that his men can carry.

The PCs

Arjuna (Vendhyan, Noble 8 / Solider 4): Lecherous but loyal son of House Bharata, Arjuna has been sent by his family to find a way to either bring Cittaprasadana Jayasurya into line or force him out of power. Arjuna has come with a royal decree and a large number of lancers, but he knows that he must be careful. Cittaprasadana Jayasurya is a dangerous man, after all. Even worse, while Arjuna must corral or kill him, he must do so without disrupting the noble power of Vendhya in the city – for doing so would lose the vast amounts of gold that flow to the royal coffers.

Madog (Cimmerian, Barbarian 12): Unlike the weak civilized men around him, Madog knows that life is nasty, brutal, and short. So he lives every moment to the fullest, and accepts nothing but the finest in weapons, women, drugs, and wine. Unfortunately for him he arrived in Seconderam with nothing but the clothes on his back and the two cheaply made daggers in his belt. This is an expensive city, but it’s also a city where a man with nerve can make a lot of money, and gain a lot of power. The question isn’t so much who to kill as who to kill first. Perhaps this Merlino everyone speaks about would be a good man to ask?

Xiao Xing (Khitan, Scholar 12): Wise, silent, and disciplined, Xiao is the last student of Grey Master Phoenix, and before she can be released from his service she must complete one last quest. So it is that she has come to Seconderam with the humble task of killing Bunchhan Muul and recovering the Phylactery of Cyaegha’s Schism, the very thing which allowed Bunchhan Muul to raise the Five Towers in the first place. Of course, if she can gain power for herself in so doing, all the better.

Fortunato (Zamorian, Thief 10 / Borderer 2): They say that Bunchhan Muul has a box that can summon demons, Cittaprasadana Jayasurya a bull of gold and ivory that weighs over a ton, Merlino a diamond the size of a man’s heart, Shalmaneser a hundred casks of golden coin that have the minting mark of Acheron, and any one of these could make a man a king among thieves. Fortunato wants all of them together. But even more he wants the heart of Urracca Knife-Dancer, whom he has been obsessed with for over a decade.

Shamshi-Adad (Turanian, Nomad 12): Son of the Khan of the Ocalan clan, he has come to Seconderam because his people are currently being squeezed between Shalmaneser’s rapacious mercenaries, Hafizullah’s murderous scorge, and Merlino’s gouging of food and water prices. His father sent him to sue for peace, but on the way his entourage was attacked and his younger brother killed. Now Shamshi comes for vengeance. First he will find who sent the man that killed his brother and make them die so it will be spoken of for 100 years, and then he will really begin his vengeance.


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