One of the newer supplements for the Conan RPG published by Mongoose Publishing is The Warrior’s Companion. Quote the author:
The Warrior’s Companion is a sourcebook designed to add new elements of martial prowess and skill to the more militant or pugilistic classes of Conan the Roleplaying Game, giving them new depth and ability.
Section 1: The Way of the Warrior
This section talks about warriors from a thematic perspective. First up is a new code of honor. I can’t help but point out that I’m tired of new codes of honor, besides that I despise the mechanics for the original codes of honor. Codes in Conan are money for nothing and chicks for free. But, isn’t your behavior constrained? Judgment call; I’ve yet to see anyone lose one. But, whether you lose one or not in the first 5 minutes of play isn’t important. It cost nothing to start with a code and you lose nothing except the bonuses for having one from losing one, so you got 5 minutes of a free character feature stronger by far than highly playable feats like Iron Will.
Anyway, the proliferation of codes is absurd. With Hyboria’s Fallen’s “Honour Among Thieves” and the like, I can just imagine that someday there will be (as I said to my GM): Code of Honor – Beggar; Code of Honor – Villain; Code of Honor – Demon-pacted Sorcerer. Why is there not just rules for developing one’s own code, like exist in many RPGs?
Moving on, there’s explanations of how different warrior’s live. The concept of saying something on such fluff topics is fine with me; I like getting a better sense of the world. But, I don’t get any sense of the world from a lot of these sorts of sections. It’s just so obvious, bland, and/or nonspecific. There’s also a comment in the barbarian part that my GM and I find offensive. The author talks about how more experienced barbarians switch from high damage weapons to two-weapon fighting with jank. That is contradictory to the well-established problem in the game that the two-handed fighting style is vastly superior to other fighting styles for anything besides thieves. It reminds me of advice in Hyboria’s Fiercest about how to assign skill ranks that would be suicidal in our campaigns. Look, not playing the same way we do is fine, but enough with the bad advice. Possibly the thing I find most bothersome in the splat books is the lack of advice on how to make an effective character, and here we get more advice on how to make an ineffective one.
Section 2: Warrior Nations
After fluff about warriors of different classes comes fluff about warriors of different nations. Again, too generic and obvious to offer anything of value. Why can’t we get something like a unique character created from each race with analysis of how to assign attributes, what feats to take, what role the character will serve in a party?
Section 3: The Art of Bloodshed
Finally into something crunchy, we get permanent wound rules. I have two problems with this. Before that, though, I’ll say that different RPG players are into different things and mechanics-related stuff seems to sell books better than fluff. The first problem is that impairing and/or permanent damage rules just screw player characters. Who cares if you take out some monsters eye, it’s just going to be slaughtered anyway? Meanwhile, who wants to play a cripple? People who play fantasy RPGs (and most other RPGs) are engaging in escapist behavior where they can pretend to be something greater than themselves. I play poorly designed characters all of the time and have virtually a sidekick mentality, but I can totally understand someone creating a new character rather than playing a cripple.
What’s the second problem? For me and quite a few others, the d20 system that Conan uses has plenty of mechanics, very possibly too many. Why add more mechanics that don’t address a problem or weakness in the game? Oh, right, to sell books. Silly me.
Narrative combat rules, on the other hand, in my opinion, address a need. We’ve used them twice in two sessions, already. Combat is slow in most RPGs and Conan is no exception. Combat with lots of units and a clear outcome should not be played out like meaningful combats should, but I do see the point in there being some cost to engaging in combat. Are the rules good? Eh, they seem strange, but I’d much rather use them than play out a lot of the trivial encounters.
Another concept that has merit is the Duel of Fates mechanic. As the author says, having the epic one-on-one battle in the middle of a larger battle is problematic with the standard rules. But, I have a number of problems with the execution of this idea. Why would there be “No Tricks” when tricks are frequently used by villains and outclassed heroes in epic one-on-one clashes? The mechanics may work, but I doubt it. The Constitution damage sounds unlikely to be fair and the simplified attack/defense rules eliminate all of the interesting maneuvers and subtle differences in ability/equipment that would seem to be the point of running a duel in the middle of a combat. Then, the victory rules are inconsistent with all kinds of epic showdowns in fiction.
New class benefits is more shrug-worthy stuff. Sure, I’ll take Terrain Tactics over Guide because Guide is useless, except borderer is useless as a class in the first place since barbarian is pretty much strictly superior. It’s the usual mix of “Why does this minor variant of something need to exist?”, “This sounds cheesy.”, and “OMG, not more borderer styles!!”
Ah, new feats, the lifeblood of d20 sales methinks. I noticed Deadly, I think, in the preview. My group thinks it’s abusively good. I think it’s a win more effect where the feat slot spent on something else would be more valuable whether due to better flexibility, addressing a weakness rather than adding a small benefit to a strength, or whatever. As usual, most of the feats are crap. I just can’t imagine the thinking that goes behind wasting people’s time with feats that are only usable when sundering a shield (how about cutting the enemy in half instead, which is easier?) or when an enemy is trying to feint you (how about cutting the enemy in half instead, which is easy when you spend feat slots on useful feats and not this sort of junk?). As one of our players said recently, it’s like you should get three of the awful feats when you spend a feat slot. Actually, we did have a mechanic for getting feats we’d never spend a feat slot on, but it was being abused, and it still wouldn’t justify the absurdly narrow crap. I could almost see taking War Cry.
More maneuvers, of course. Much like feats, there seems to be no effort to balance maneuvers. Get esoteric maneuvers that involve all sorts of obscure prerequisites mixed with an unlikely combat situation on the one hand and “Wouldn’t I always do this?” on the other. The concept of combat maneuvers is nice, but the increased complexity is just painful. We used called shot rules (and impairing/”permanent” damage rules) for a while, and it was just more overhead for little benefit.
The monastic scholar rules are too involved to analyze without playing. It seems like various powers are overcosted, but then, Power Point costs are weird in that the right character in the right group could end up with vast amounts of PPs while our sorcerers typically run out of PPs in a few rounds of combat. At the flavor level, I just don’t care. If people want to play warrior monks, my vision of the Conan world allows for some of that.
Section 4: Skills of the Warrior
The more I think about this section, the more it will irritate me. Conan has too many skills already. For some reason, supplement authors like to create new skills in addition to coming up with new uses for existing skills. I’m actually quite happy to get new uses of existing skills, though why there isn’t a lot more effort put into making suck skills better escapes me. But, new skills? Come on. Only high Intelligence, 8 skill rank class builds ever seem to have enough skill ranks to be good enough skillwise, and we are expected to spread skill ranks out even thinner? Particularly galling in this book is how the Tactics skill is thematically the same thing as Knowledge: Warfare. It’s just laughable to think that there’s some player out there thinking, “Knowledge: Warfare helps with my character concept, but, boy, I wish I could really spend these extra skill ranks I don’t have on another skill that does what it should have done.” Considering that I consider soldiers unplayable due to their paucity of skill ranks and considering that the obvious character concept to have skills like Tactics would be a soldier, I wonder if there’s some sort of author’s joke. It’s just sad that what Tactics actually does is what K: Warfare should have done, so we will likely merge the two skills.
Challenge and Sharpen are both just dumb. The former is easily handled with one of the existing social skills and is broken as written, the latter with a craft skill (you know, all of those craft skills besides Alchemy and Herbalism PCs never bother putting skill ranks in because they never get used). And, the idea of having a skill to cover such minutia … argh.
As for the new uses of skills, I do want to use Subtle Threats and the concept of personalizing weapons is good, though why it needs a mechanic escapes me. I could imagine using Temporary Aid, but it seems like, with many things, there’s not enough explanation of how something works.
Section 5: Wood, Stone, Steel
Equipment. Some people are fascinated by shopping. I’m not one of them. I don’t think different stuff should have different stats as it just causes players to min/max with nonthematic arms and armor, as we clearly see with the common use of bardiches in Conan games. Maybe there’s some optimal weapon or armor in this batch, but with the existing brokenness of two-handed weapons, my give a damn is busted.
The other new equipment and the arms/armor modifications are just way too much detail to interest me. I should mention that I’m a big believer in internal power, that having a character’s value be based on gadgets and things just annoys me. Conan is relatively good about characters being powered off of their attributes, feats, specials, skills. It’s another reason that the imbalances in equipment out of the main book irritates.
Section 6: Many Paths, All Warriors
Ah, prestige classes. In some people’s minds, the reason why D&D 3.5 was unplayable. In other people’s, the reason to buy a lot of the supplements for that game. Conan has been interesting with prestige classes. There are a number, but you need certain supplements to find most of them, and they are mostly very narrow and very terrible (for PCs). These don’t seem so terrible.
Axeman has crappy skill ranks, but they are better than soldier. Weapon Focus (prerequisite) is an awful feat, but the Axeman’s saves are surprisingly good, especially getting decent Will save bonuses at higher levels, and the class sounds very beatstickish, which is like, um, good, in this game.
Duellist just doesn’t sound like a PC class. The whole supplement may be trying to encourage one-on-one battles, but I just don’t see it coming up often enough to be so specialized. But, a significant amount of the material in Conan is only relevant to NPCs, including IMO half the base classes.
Pit Fighter is better, good base attack bonus, yet again with the classes in this book, better than expected save bonuses. But, still, it’s not PC material – low skill ranks and too much focus on combat, where’s it’s easy to have a strong build, dooms it.
Savage also has the skill rank problem, but I can see someone wanting to be a savage beastie. Tenacity is the hotness. Greater Acuity is good for a Thief/Savage build. Felling Blow doesn’t hurt. Saves besides Tenacity are solid. No weak prerequisites.
My main problem with Warlord is, of course, that I don’t consider Soldier a viable class in the game due to the horrid number of skill ranks it gets. Never Surrender sounds good, though it’s probably trivial. Embodiment of Victory sounds like it has a lot of strange potential.
Wrestler … oh grapple rules, how I hate thee. Seriously, the grapple rules are painful. Sometimes, they are painful for what a hose job they are on PCs. Sometimes, they are just confusing and timewasting. I don’t think people realize how complicated multiple grapples by multiple parties all using special animal/monster abilities that follow different rules can get. Anyway, I see value in a PC “countergrappler”, a party member who is highly effective at keeping other party members from being grappled by being awesome at grappling him/herself. We have a wrestly character in our party right now. The 2 skill ranks per level is typically awful.
Section 7: Famous Warriors
Two thing come to mind: Can my character take these guys? Mostly … no. Are they good examples of reasonable builds? Power Attack + high Strength is the bomb, so they can fight, but I don’t find combat builds difficult to stat up. And, what, can’t make a female combat monster?
Section 8: Martial Disciple
Seems like a far, far better combat character than the Pirate, a class that kind of isn’t so good at much (I’d always rather play a thief/barbarian). The damage reduction path is cute. I wonder how I’d multiclass. Thief for Sneak Attack damage and better skill ranks might be the way to go.
Do I like the concept? Not really. I can tolerate some monk action in my Conan, but I dread having a party turn into one of those parodies of fantasy role-playing where player characters make no sense adventuring together or even being in the same world. Here’s my pirate, here’s my ninja, here’s my dwarf, here’s my druid … just say no to silly genres. I kind of like the monastic scholar more because it has more diverse abilities.