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Conan d20 - Core Rulebook - Atlantean Edition

Conan d20 - Core Rulebook - Atlantean Edition

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Published by Simon Scrivener
The core rules book for playing a D20 adventure game in the Conan world
The core rules book for playing a D20 adventure game in the Conan world

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Published by: Simon Scrivener on Apr 02, 2012
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07/08/2015

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Welcome to the Hyborian Age

‘Know, o prince, that between the years
when the oceans drank Atlantis and the
gleaming cities, and the years of the rise
of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age
undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread
across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars
– Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyberborea, Zamora
with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted
mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on
the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded
tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold.
But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia,
reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan,
the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand,
a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and
gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth
under his sandaled feet.’

Robert E. Howard The Nemedian Chronicles (from The
Phoenix on the Sword)

The Hyborian Age is the scant few hundred years
in which the kingdoms descended from the old Hyborian tribes
have become civilised and powerful, dominating the lands all
about them both economically and militarily. This is a mythical
time, thousands of years before recorded history, when even the
continents had a different shape from their modern contours.

Aquilonia, a richly fertile land, dominates the Hyborian
kingdoms themselves. It includes within its capacious borders
some of the doughtiest soldiers in the world, including the fierce
pikemen of Gunderland, the stalwart archers of the Bossonian
Marches and the superb knights of Poitain. These, along with
the strong plate armour manufactured by Aquilonia’s highly
skilled armourers, have ensured that this nation is virtually
unassailable from without and have allowed Aquilonia to get the
best of the raiding in its sporadic wars with its traditional enemy,
Nemedia.

Despite this, Aquilonia can sometimes be a victim of its own
success. It is landlocked and has no direction into which its
surplus population may expand, without going to full-scale war
with Nemedia. Various attempts to settle in Cimmeria and
the Pictish Wilderness have been repulsed by the barbarians of

those lands. Aquilonia’s ordinary farmers and craftsmen look
longingly upon the vast forested estates claimed by its nobles
for their hunting. A strong leader who offered to cut down
the forests and let the people settle there might one day gain
the popular support to wrest control from Aquilonia’s ancient
monarchy. Indeed, this is exactly how Conan eventually
becomes King here.

Aquilonia’s Hyborian neighbours are its old rival Nemedia,
almost as powerful and perhaps a more ancient civilisation;
Brythunia and Corinthia with their city-states; Argos, the great
maritime trading nation; and Ophir and Koth, two kingdoms
somewhat weakened morally by the influence of the pleasure-
oriented culture of the east. Like Aquilonia, most of these
countries revere Mitra, an enlightened, civilised god, though
Koth and perhaps Ophir have allowed the Shemite pantheon
to displace Mitra in their reverence.

The lands to the north and west of Aquilonia are beyond
civilisation. The Pictish Wilderness extends up much of the
continent’s western coast and only the heavily fortified strip
of land known as the Bossonian Marches prevents the Picts
from surging into Aquilonia on constant raids. South of the
Wilderness is Zingara, the lifelong rival of Argos for maritime
trade and influence, a land of expert swordsmen, chivalry and
frequent civil war. Just off its coast are the Baracha Isles. These
are pirate strongholds largely settled by Argossean sailors, who
regularly plunder Zingaran ports and do battle with Zingara’s
own buccaneers.

North of the Aquilonian province of Gunderland is Cimmeria.
This misty, barbaric hill country is the original home of
Conan himself. Beyond Cimmeria are the two nations of the
Nordheimir: Asgard and Vanaheim; grim, icy lands populated by
warriors who are grimmer still. Also to the north is Hyperborea,
whose culture mingles that of Nordheim and the Hyborians.
The sparsely populated Border Kingdoms form a bulwark
between Cimmeria and the Hyborian countries of Brythunia
and Nemedia.

South of the Hyborian kingdoms is the vast expanse of
Shem, with a pastoral meadowland of city-states to the
west and desert populated by nomad tribes to the
east. Shem has almost no maritime trade
but Shemite merchants send caravans
far to the north, east and south, across

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the True Nature of

the Hyborian Age

Emphatically not. Most of the Conan stories, even those that focus predominantly on battling armies or conflicts
between individual warriors, feature at least one evil sorcerer – often whole societies, priesthoods or covens of them.

Magical items abound too, though not the beneficial swords of power and useful wands of typical fantasy games.
Almost any sorcerous object is unique, and comes with its own price and risks. Likewise, strange creatures are
relatively frequent in the lands beyond civilisation – whether created by foul magic, left over from an earlier age or
somehow degenerated from savage humans over the centuries. Though an ordinary citizen of Aquilonia may never
encounter a sorcerer, weird ghoul or alchemical preparation in his life, the adventurer will have to become used to such
things being commonplace.

However, Conan, as originally visualised by Robert E. Howard, is not ‘high fantasy’ either, but sword-and-sorcery. It
has much the same relationship to the works of Tolkien as the hard-boiled crime fiction of Raymond Chandler to the
more distinctive detective tales of Agatha Christie. This is visceral, dark, weird fantasy.

There are no elves, gnomes and dwarves to befriend, and if you do meet a monster, it will be a figure of terror, not a
convenient way to garner a few experience points. Furthermore, your character will not begin the game with some
great destiny to fulfil, as the descendant of a legendary kingdom or the inheritor of some great artefact – whatever
destiny you have is what you can wrest from life with your own calloused hands or hewn from it with your great
sword.

It should also be noted that despite the apparently common presence of the supernatural, it is always mysterious and
terrifying. The supernatural element is deftly woven into the main plot, but it is often scheming human foes whose
plots provide Conan with his most dangerous adventures. The weird non-human creatures encountered must often
be fled from, rather than simply battled. On several occasions Conan elects to abandon any chance at the staggering
wealth on offer rather than be destroyed by its dreadful guardians and the wise adventurer should consider doing the
same.

trackless desert, through jungle and to almost every nation of
the world. South of Shem is the ancient sorcerous theocracy
of Stygia. Beyond that lies the unexplored, savage continent of
Kush.

East of the Shemite desert is similarly unknown territory for
most Hyborians. It is said the kingdoms of Turan, Khitai and
Vendhya control the lands beyond the desert and steppe and
caravans do sometimes come out of these mysterious lands with
exotic goods and strange artefacts for trade.

Also to the east of the Hyborian kingdoms but far better known
to them is the ancient civilisation of Zamora. Bordering on
Brythunia, Corinthia and Koth to the west and the trackless
steppes between Shem and Turan to the east, Zamora is famed
for its complex religion of spider-worship, its unequalled
thieves and its superb Bhalkhana warhorses.

Adventuring within the Hyborian kingdoms is well suited
to more martial characters who are happy enough to
join a mercenary company and fight where they
are ordered. For those thieves content to
rob the occasional merchant caravan
or rich household, the Hyborian

lands can also provide a good living, if perhaps a short one when
they are caught.

Beyond the civilised Hyborian lands lies adventure: lost cities still
populated with mysterious civilisations, ancient tombs filled with
sorcerous artefacts, unexplored jungles, weird kingdoms whose
customs and even language are utterly unlike anything known
in Aquilonia. For those who are not afraid of the unknown
and are prepared to risk everything on a wild venture, untold
wealth awaits – riches from before the dawn of time, hidden
pirate treasure-caches, the war chests of defeated kingdoms.

The folk of these lands are often strange to Hyborian eyes. The
nomads of Shem are fierce and primal, travelling from Turan
to Zamora with only their mounts, a few herd animals, white
robes to ward off the harsh sun, lances and bows for hunting and
war. Then there are the Kshatriya warrior nobles of Vendhya,
whose heavily stratified society has endured and prospered for
centuries. The upstart Shahs and warriors of Turan, so recently
no more than Hyrkanian horsemen, now control much of the
east and its wealth. The cat-footed men of Khitai, sorcerers
and priests, chime brass bells in their lost jungles. The savage
warriors of Kush and beyond, clad only in feathered headdresses,
are as ready to bash in an enemy’s skull as to breathe.

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Here, too, can be found monsters – the legendary man-apes,
the dragons of Kush, the primeval forest beasts of the Pictish
Wilderness, the enormous serpents of Stygia and many a strange,
unique creature, created or summoned by sorcery in past aeons.
All these foes are terrifying to behold but it is said that most can
be slain by a man with a stout heart, strong arm and sharp blade.
The demons of the Outer Dark, called up by sorcery or trapped
on Earth by bad luck, can be quite another matter.

The open seas provide another set of challenges. Pirates abound
on every stretch of water, in the Western Sea, up and down the
Black Coast and far to the east in the Vilayet Sea. So successful
are these raiders that most are as confident about attacking a
fortified port town as they are when simply taking merchant
ships. Whether hired to guard against pirate attacks, engaged
in a spot of buccaneering themselves, or exploring the seas for
mysterious islands and new continents, adventurers can get into
a lot of trouble – and gain a lot of coin – sailing these blood-
drenched waters.

On a more spiritual note, most nations have a religion of
some kind. Few have any proof that their religions provide
anything more than comfort for the soul but this does not
stop them believing. The only folk who know of
such matters with certainty are the sorcerers,
who are for the most part assured
of damnation.

Many of the movers
and shakers of society,
particularly in the sorcerous
land of Stygia, are either
sorcerers

themselves
or regularly employ
sorcerers to get what
they want. Occasionally
a genuinely pious priest
will learn a little sorcery,
the better to fox the
wizards of his enemies but
even for these good-hearted
folk there is a risk of corruption,
for sorcery is power. Those scholars
driven to the study of magic purely by a
quest for knowledge are often the first
to abandon their lofty ideals when
they get a taste for the pure power
of wizardry.

The sorcerers speak of other realms
beyond the Earth of the Hyborian
Age. The Outer Dark is home to
demons; hell itself is home to more
diabolic creatures and to lost souls.
Beyond the Outer Dark are more
planets, often cold and accursed, the
source of many a weird monster
travelling through the void under
its own power or blown as
spores by cosmic forces.

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