This is a much simpler (and therefor probably workable) approach to the idea of continuous combat rounds that I talked about previously in Fluid Combat Rounds Rules, but that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to grouse about for a moment is the notion that in order to simulate Conan, you need rules that don’t penalize characters who go around in nothing more than a loin-cloth. Recursion King is hardly the first game designer to have that notion. For instance Clint Black at Pinnacle Games proposed rules that he called Pecs and Pulchritude for giving people armor based on Toughness and penalizing their Parry scores for armor, even going so far as to name one of his example characters Konan. [update: Clint objects that I make it sound like his intention was to mimic the Conan stories and that he failed, when that wasn’t his intention at all–his P&P optional rules were just intended to fulfill the request of a fan who was looking for suggestions on how to make gear count for less and character abilities count for more.] At one point it was even a common objection to D&D–armor was too important, so it wasn’t even a good simulation of its source material like Conan.
When it comes to the Conan stories, that’s just dead wrong. Conan wore as much armor as he could afford given his circumstances (in terms of both personal wealth and what was available in the culture he found himself in), up to and including full plate (when taking the field as King). Indeed, in the very first story he appeared in, his survival was attributed to the fact that he managed to don at least some armor before the assassins got to his sleeping quarters. Even much earlier, when he had barely left Cimmeria, he wore a helmet while among the Aesir and a point was made both of it saving his life and how many other tribesmen might have survived fighting the Vanir raiders if they had taken similar precautions. Robert Howard, and Conan, appreciated the value of armor.
Even in the movie with Arnold, which was shall we say extremely loosely based on the stories, Conan armors up when it comes time to have a big stand-up fight at the end instead of skulking around stealthily.
So where did the stupid notion of Conan fighting naked against guys equipped with chain or better come from? I blame the comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith. Despite the fact that quite a few of the stories were close adaptations of the Howard stories, the depictions of Conan, particularly on the cover, tended to have him wearing barely anything at all. Partly it’s because most of the comic stories are set very early in Conan’s career, when he’s a penniless theif or a pirate, rather than a mercenary captain or king, and partly because, well, half-naked muscular men is somehow an important selling point for action-adventure comics, for reasons that probably don’t bear too close examination. It’s those pictures that seem to have been seared into the public consciousness, to the point where even in our hobby people who set out create rules to emulate the feel of Conan stories seem to think the first thing they need to do is make armor less important.
No, what you need to do to a system to make it suitable for Conan-style action isn’t to reduce the relative value of armor, but make it possible to survive battles while lightly armored as long as you’re facing lightly armored foes. You want a career of piracy or being a desert raider to be possible, while still leaving the heavily armored Aquilonian knights kings of the battlefield. That is something that D&D and the retro-clones could use some tweaking to adjust, since the armor means you get hit less abstraction makes its lack just too dangerous even against identically armed and armored opponents. Possibly you could adjust the charts so that they reflected armor on a relative instead of absolute scale, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure I can specify exactly how that would work. Still, I’m pretty sure that, at least as far as Conanism goes, what you don’t want to do is let the fighter wearing nothing hit so many extra times that his expected damage per round is the same or almost as the fighter in plate attacking him.