Inside Monolith’s Conan: The Hyborian Age – The Roleplaying Game | Preview

July 6, 2024 by brennon

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Monolith recently made their new Conan: The Hyborian Age - The Roleplaying Game available as a Quick Start for you to dive into. The Kickstarter for the game will be coming later this year but for now, you can dive in and try this roleplaying game set in the world of Conan for free!


With that in mind, I thought I'd have a read of the new Quick Start rules and the sample adventure provided and give you my thoughts on it as a core system and if it feels like it manages to get across the "vibe" of Conan.

First Impressions

The focus of Conan: The Hyborian Age from Monolith is to give the feel of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories where you play characters who sit in the morally grey area regarding the spectrum of heroics. To this end, they have tried to work on mechanics focused on making the characters feel powerful yet mortal. That folds nicely into a "lite" approach to core mechanics where the emphasis is much more on the characters dictating the course of action and the flow of narrative rather than feeling like the game is grinding to a halt each time you check the rulebook.

conan the hyborian age cover

With that in mind, the read through the Quick Start Rules was a breeze. It didn't feel like I had to go back and re-read sections again and again to get an idea of how the game worked. It all felt very natural and I liked that, at least as part of the Quick Start, there were plenty of examples of play throughout which made it easy to understand how they wanted to get the game across to a newcomer.

The download comes with a set of pre-generated characters which cover different nations within the world of Conan, giving you a feel of how they want to represent different archetypes within the finished rules. I liked that the characters presented you with a suite of different skills for the roguish, the magic-dabblers and classic barbarians, offering up a look at the way they want to approach making your heroes feel unique.

the hyborian age map conan

I also thought that the choice of adventure was a good pick for someone getting started. It has the taste of adventure and the lure of treasure as well as the threat of betrayal and something strange lurking in the shadows. It's not a massive adventure either and I reckon it could easily be played in the course of an evening. Monolith also feel like they've left enough there for you to play out a few bonus adventures should you see fit thanks to the enemy profiles they have included.

The Mechanics Of Adventure

Mechanically, the game is (as mentioned earlier) rather more focused on the action and the narrative rather than the number crunching. When a player wants to do anything that has the chance of failure or indeed furthers the narrative they need to make a check. A check is made based on your relevant statistic plus a die that is tied to it. For example, Conan has a Might of 6 and a d10 so when he needs to make a Might check, maybe to smash through a door, he rolls the die and adds his Might to the roll (plus any situational bonuses) to see if he succeeds. Easy tasks range from 4-6 whilst a tougher task might be somewhere between 10-12.

the rules conan the hyborian age

A roll of 1 will always fail a roll but this can be mitigated by a number of other mechanics in the game. All characters get a pool of Stamina for example which can be used to avoid the automatic failures of a 1 and instead boost it to a 2. You might fail in the action all the same but it means you've at least got a chance. Players also have access to a Flex die which, if it rolls its maximum number, doesn't add to the final result but does allow you to automatically succeed on a check. The Flex die can also be used for other means like generating more Stamina (which we'll get into later) or for inflicting a hefty critical hit (massive damage) on your foes.

If you're going to be in a contest against another player or an NPC then you simply roll the same kind of check but see who rolls highest. In combat, things change slightly in that you don't hit a number set by the storyteller but instead the Physical or Sorcery Defence (in the case of a spell) of your enemy. You roll a check as normal but then once you've hit, you roll the damage of the appropriate weapon and then if you're in melee, you add your Might to the final result. The enemy then removes a number of damage based on their Armour Rating and that's it. Nice and simple.

enemy actions conan the hyborian age

The natural progression is then to look at killing and death in Conan: The Hyborian Age which is a regular occurrence. Player characters and some NPCs have a pool of Life Points that, once reduced to zero will end with them falling in battle. Unlike D&D where you might get up a second later, Conan: The Hyborian Age wants things to feel brutal. When you hit zero Life Points you must make a Grit Check of 8 which gets progressively harder each time you go down. If you pass, you're out for the count and just knocked down in the dirt. If you fail. You die. There are ways to tweak that and it's also up to the Game Master's discretion of course but I love that if you don't watch yourself, you could be cut down like the mortal dog you are.

Monolith has also introduced the concept of Fateful Intervention so if you're a benevolent storysmith, you could always get the characters out of danger so that it doesn't ruin your story. Roleplaying is a cooperative affair after all and not just a race to see if the storyteller can get a TPK.

I also liked the mechanics surrounding Minions. Some enemies are so weedy that they can be dealt with fairly swiftly by your characters. However, if you tickle a Minion with a hit but it doesn't go down right away, as long as a follow-up attack does at least one point of damage, they are out of action and killed. It means that you can get across the feel of a mighty warrior or backstabbing rogue scything their way through enemies and such without making it too complicated.

stamina points conan the hyborian age

Some foes you'll face also have a variable Defence and Armour Rating. This has been baked into statistics for your foes so that you as the Games Master don't feel like you're cheating when you make an enemy easier or harder to attack/damage. You can go with the flow of the adventure and the conflict bubbling away at the tabletop. It's a nice quality of life addition I didn't really think about until I dived in and read about it a bit more.

I also mentioned Stamina above and talked about how it could be used to mitigate your poor luck. Stamina is also a resource which can be used to activate certain character abilities and perform special actions. You can use it to increase the results of checks, do massive damage to your opponents and more. I like the system. It's simple and easy to get your head around and helps lend the air of heroism to your character's actions, making them stand apart from the regular plebs that you meet on your adventures.

weapons and combat conan the hyborian age

Last but not least, we have Sorcery. Magic isn't a big part of regular life for most folks in the world of Conan and it only really manifests in understated ways or as part of epic rituals which are going to end the world. With that in mind, Conan: The Hyborian Age has tried to show that "magic" has a purpose but comes with great cost. Some spells might cost you Stamina in order to use but others quite literally spend your Life Points. Your very life force is drawn from your body in order to cast particular spells which feels like a great way of doing things to not only get across the vibe of the world of Conan but also make spellcasters dangerous glass cannons.

the seal of acheron conan the hyborian age

All of this comes together to create a set of rules that "fee"l very Conan. This is obviously still just a slice of what Monolith are looking to offer with their new roleplaying game but it feels like they have nailed the vibe whilst also providing players with a good set of mechanics for playing around in this sandbox. I am really fascinated to see what the main rules are like once we get to dive deeper into them. I hope a lot of the detail is still within the character creation when it comes out so the players get to be the ones deciding on how complicated and in-depth their characters become.

Where Next?

We don't know much about where Monolith are going to take their plans at the moment but I am certainly intrigued by what I've seen so far. I think that they have clearly grasped what makes Conan feel awesome and it's understandable considering their time working on the board game over the last few years. I have the recent Modiphius roleplaying game in my collection and whilst I found it an interesting prospect, I felt it was perhaps a little too dense mechanically. That's not to say I didn't like it but I think Monolith's version fits more with how I play my roleplaying games.

gudrun character conan the hyborian age

Talking of the board game, I think that the opportunity is ripe for them to offer up miniatures from Conan to use when setting up your encounters in The Hyborian Age. I think you can very easily play the roleplaying game in the theatre of the mind but as someone who owns the original core game, I could sure see myself breaking out some of the plastic figures and boards to showcase the action if I were playing in person.

mhambi character conan the hyborian age

I hope the forthcoming Kickstarter offers a way to get your hands on just the rules (and some cool accessories of course) and also ways to dive into the wider Conan range for those that want to splurge.

Make sure to give the Quick Start Rules a download and perhaps play them over the next week or so. Come back and tell me what you think!

Will you be giving Conan: The Hyborian Age a try?

"Mechanically, the game is rather more focused on the action and the narrative rather than the number crunching..."

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"All of this comes together to create a set of rules that "fee"l very Conan..."

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