For the second day in a row, I am overjoyed to welcome yet another robust, creative mind as contributor for Exploring Infinity: Dain Lybarger (@DainXB) has earned my respect and high regard for his imagination, writing, fascinating areas of expertise beyond my usual arenas, generosity, commitment, and being an all around great guy.
Dain authored three recently released John Carter-style Savage Mars adventures (Face of Mars, Blood Legacy of Mars (image at right), and Sell-Swords of Mars). In addition, he has been an invaluable part of developing MWP’s upcoming Dragon Brigade RPG, and I hope you will benefit from his creativity as much as I have.
This series of posts will outline how to adapt the Heroic Roleplaying rules to capture the tone of Dain’s sword and planet adventures as well as many classic sword and sorcery stories. Let’s make him feel welcome!
Sword & Sorcery Heroic Roleplaying – Part 1 of 3Follow the links for Part Two, Part Three (and Part Four).
I have a deep and abiding love of both the Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Planet genres. Both genres originated back in the days of the pulp magazines, when adventure fiction for its own sake was a fresh idea. The successors of early pulp heroes like the Shadow and Doc Savage are modern comic book heroes, so what better tool to emulate the astounding action and vivid intensity of those other pulps, featuring swordsmen and sorcerers, than the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game?
Adjusting Character Creation
In order to emulate the lower-powered (usually) but still fantastic worlds of Sword & Sorcery, we will need to hack character creation a little. Heroic Roleplaying uses Affiliation dice to represent how a hero goes about his tasks, either alone or with others. But Sword & Sorcery heroes are most frequently found alone, or at most in pairs. We’ll need another way to represent the how of an action.
Replace Affiliation with Means
There are three Means – ways for a hero to achieve his goals. Like Affiliations, only one Means die can be a part of a given roll, whichever is most appropriate to the action at hand.
Steel – whether it’s the steel in your fist or the steel in your nerves, if you are using violence or the threat of violence to get what you want, roll Steel.
Guile – if you misrepresent your intentions, yourself, or something else to get what you want, roll Guile.
Lore – if knowledge, secret or open, sacred or profane, is the means to your own personal ends, roll Lore.
Each Means starts at a d6. Step up any of your Means dice a total of three times. (This gives starting possibilities of d6, d8, d10; d8, d8, d8; or d6, d6, d12, in any order.)
Characters have Distinctions as normal. Even more than in the standard game, Distinctions for Sword and Sorcery should be atmospheric, describing the characters relationship with his world.
Modified Dice Scaling
Most Sword & Sorcery heroes are not truly superhuman, and often fight with only their weapons and their wits, not with special powers. To account for this, we need to adjust the default scale of the dice:
d6 – ‘typical human’ levels of capability.
d8 – ability at or near the maximum capability of a human being.
d10 – a supernatural level of performance. (For explicitly supernatural effects, even a d6 is startlingly impressive – representing the ability to do something that no ‘typical human’ can do at all.)
d12 – truly unearthly levels of performance; the provenance of Gods, demons, and creatures from Beyond Mortal Ken.
Weapons, armor, and other objects with a die rating
d6 – baseline for daggers, short swords, arrows, leather or chainmail armor, serviceable lockpicks, etc.
d8 – heavier or sharper blades, axes or other massive weapons, flaming arrows, metal plate armor, and other highly effective tools or devices.
d10 – magical or ensorcelled items, the supernatural, or arcane technology.
d12 – legendary artifacts; items that have either been touched by Gods or demons, or which are so sophisticated in their operation that they are treated with awe and reverence—if not outright fear.
The two most common Power Sets in our Sword & Sorcery hack will be based around (obviously) swords or other weapons, and Sorcery or other forms of magic. You may also construct Power Sets based on the dice scales above to represent exotic equipment, esoteric training, or skills specific to an individual and not shared generally across all followers of a particular career.
For example: Practically anyone can fight with a sword, but the Grey Mouser’s skill at counterattacking and disarming an opponent is the stuff of legend. His companion Fafhrd’s occasional berserk fury is something not shared by every barbarian in Nehwon.
Weapons, armor, and other personal items can easily be grouped into a Power Set with the limit Gear, and SFX appropriate to their uses. Your choice of SFX can really help differentiate and make unique otherwise ‘mundane’ Power Sets.
GM Character Creation
Power Sets for signature villains and monstrous creatures are easier to create, since bad guys in tales of this type commonly have supernatural abilities far outside the grasp of the heroes. Giant serpents? Villains who transform into giant serpents? Hordes of near-human marauders? Writhing masses of shadow tentacles? Teleporting, telepathic priests of a mysterious goddess? Any power trait from the Heroic Roleplaying rules is fair game for the GM’s use in creating such opposition.
Stay tuned for part two, where we look at Careers and Milestones for our Sword & Sorcery heroes!
Finally, in part three we’ll provide examples using key characters of the genre: Conan the Cimmerian, Elric of Melniboné, and John Carter of Mars.
Part four now provides sample threats, villains, monsters, and even active adventure locations for your Sword & Sorcery adventures.