Review: Modiphius Entertainment – Robert E. Howard’s Conan (2d20)

Robert E. Howard’s Conan
Robert E. Howard’s Conan is a pulp fantasy role-playing game, written by Richard August, Timothy Brown, Michael Coker, Rachael Cruz, Vincent Darlage, Jason Durall, Chris Lites, Kevin Ross, Mark Finn, Jeffery Shanks, and Monica Valentinelli and published by Modiphius Entertainment.
By Aaron T. Huss

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Robert E. Howard’s Conan is a pulp fantasy tabletop role-playing game set in Robert E. Howard’s Conan universe and is powered by Modiphius Entertainment’s 2d20 system. There are two major things to focus on in that opening statement – Conan and 2d20.

First, let’s look at the Conan aspect of the RPG.

Robert E. Howard’s Conan is the latest in a long line of Conan products after Robert E. Howard’s death that includes books, comics, board games, and other tabletop role-playing games (along with games inspired by Conan). Through the years, the Conan universe has been added to as many authors see fit, but generally sticking to the underlying theme of Conan’s very of fantasy. This particular take on the Conan universe strips out all of those additions throughout the years and gets back to the original stories and setting written by Robert E. Howard; and nothing more. It is a game of heroism in a dangerous, pulp fantasy world that is quite different than the grandiose flavor of epic fantasy. Magic is not the focus of the game, although a darker-flavored spellcasting exists (not high magic epic fantasy, but something that is meant to be more serious and dangerous); characters are more likely to use their strength and wits to get them through an adventure than the over-powered wizard that can blow everything in a room up with one wink of the eye. Additionally, to align with the not-always-moral side of pulp fantasy, character archetypes are not all shiny goodness. They can be pirates, scoundrels, and even witches.

Of course, the flavor doesn’t end there. Whereas many fantasy games focus on combinations that make you more powerful so that you can attain epic levels, Robert E. Howard’s Conan sticks to the tight focus of heroic pulp fantasy with importance placed on homeland, caste, and the talents you gained from those two. Player characters are humans, at least in the core rulebook, and everybody combines equally with every option as opposed to some fantasy games where certain archetypes are designed to best accommodate certain species. Finally, there are the heroic aspects that bring out the story. What is your story? Every character has one and that story makes them as much of a hero, or at least a protagonist, as the next character.

Second, let’s look at the 2d20.

2d20 is Modiphius Entertainment’s “house” system. It is the system they developed and use for many of their games, such as Mutant: Year Zero and Mutant Chronicles. However, do not think this is another generic universal system that applies equally across all games and is layered below the setting. Instead, Modiphius utilizes the underlying mechanics and then modifies and tweaks the remaining mechanics for the game setting. Attributes and Skills are set according to the setting, but are utilized in the same fashion as all 2d20 games. Talents and weapons are created specifically for the Conan setting and character development is designed to match the heroic pulp fantasy theme. This means the game is familiar and new at the same time, creating a unique experience for the player.

I was already a fan of the 2d20 system. However, I truly appreciate the desire to make that system unique for every game to match the game’s setting instead of making everything generic.

Of course, that’s not all the book contains. It also takes a good look at the Hyborian World setting created by Robert E. Howard for his Conan fiction. This is not a detailed gazetteer, but rather an overview of every important locale, of which there are many. To keep the Game Master supplied is a chapter on Gamemastering and a large collection of adversaries of all kinds.

Robert E. Howard’s Conan is a great book that is not only mechanically structured well, it also contains lots of great heroic pulp fantasy artwork (it definitely avoids any type of epic fantasy look and feel). This would definitely be my first choice for a heroic pulp fantasy, but then I tend to lean towards settings that avoid vanilla flavoring and are backed by a bit of horror or dark-themes.

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