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Dealing with powerful PCs

That is the way Minion NPCs are modeled in John Carter, which led to mass amounts of dice rolling, making things exceedingly tedious. - Minions, especially in John Carter (as in the Barsoom novels they fall not by the dozen, but by the hundreds or even thousands), are supposed to go down quickly. They are cannon-fodder.

If I want them to have 2d20 to an attack, well, then I stack two of them as a 2-person mob. That is easy and makes them slightly more competent on the attack, and still they go down a bit quicker than a single Toughened NPC.

Regarding risk for the PCs: A 5 Minion mob plus 3d20 for 3 Doom rolls 8d20 on the attack. That IS a risk for any PC. Minions are supposed to be dangerous on the attack, but very weak on the defense.
And Minions have the interpose ability, so they are supposed to be within Reach of a worthy NPC to interpose and take the hit instead of the NPC. They are basically “extra wounds” for the Nemesis type NPCs.

The “absurd numbers” issue I fully agree on. You need to muster up so many Minions to challenge PCs, that whole regions get depopulated after the PCs traveled through them.

Okay so now I’m a bit clearer on where I stand. We have 4 players over on Roll20.

I asked them all to pick the style of game they want:

  1. Gritty! - a focus on scary and dangerous, more an exploration of all the creepy things about Hyborea and trying to survive it

  2. Heroic! - a focus on being “Conan-like”

  3. Gritty then Heroic! - start of scary and dangerous with a chance to be Conan-like if you don’t get your head cut off first

All picked either 1 or 3; so it’s pretty clear they’d like a challenge.

I’m intrigued with the initiative change. As someone mentioned, giving the PCs a full turn before the bad guys can act can flatten an awesome nemesis before it can even draw its gun so to speak. Like happened to that “ancient crocodile” in Pit of Kutallu.

So I’ll update initiative as a house rule. I might also state up front that I’d like to keep initiative even more fluid than that for both sides (e.g. you can free action shout before he can minor action + standard action move and attack).

I’ll also follow the other advice from this thread but it’s clear my players don’t want a walk-in-the park. So that raises concerns about the numbers in the party as you guys have discussed.

EDIT - the other thing that jumps out is having even minions fight like they mean it. Like they don’t want to die. Unless it’s to save Doom, I don’t see a minion foregoing a parry or not reacting.

Afterthought - the only really tough battle I remember Conan having was against the thing from the lost city…was it Xuthal of the Dusk? Remember they beat the hell out of each other and Conan had the flesh ripped from his back and then drank the wine?

Sorry off topic but someone mentioned how Conan blasted through monsters which he totally did.

As living persons, they probably don’t want to die. - But Minions are tools for dramatic purposes, not persons. Any genre that has this asymmetry between over the top, highly competent “heroic” characters and rabble, mobs, minions needs this reflected in the rules.

If all of a sudden each Minion has a will to live, gets their own backstory, is short of retirement, has only two days until their wedding, is expecting their first child, etc. then that breaks genre conventions that demand faceless cannon-fodder minions.

And having them to perform Reactions will deplete the Doom pool in no time at all. Minions, even if they were to perform a Reaction, still have to pay Doom for that. And Doom is a costly resource, better spent on other things.
Instead of having three Minions spend 3 Doom for each one’s Reaction, which most likely will fail anyway, use 3 Doom to let a Mob of 3 more Minions appear.

His name’s Todd. A lot went wrong to get him to Pirate Minion status.

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Not if they use shields or parrying weapons… which they absolutely should. I mean, a shield is a lifesaver even if you cannot use a reaction.
The drawback is that that leads to a lot more dice rolling, like you mentioned above. It‘s a question of added challenge versus added complexity (meaning in this case tracking more opponents).

@FrankF so with all of this does the game speed up after players learn? I’ve probably listened to 40 hours of play at this point and it goes pretty slowly, but these game always involve newer players so I can’t tell.

Conan, as many, even most 2d20 games, offer the players a lot of choices on using skills, Talents, Momentum spends, whether to generate Doom/Threat/… or to spend Fortune/Infinity Points/… etc.

For some players those decisions will take time - a long time for some. And that is, in my experience, for some players who now play 2d20 games since MC3 (so for several years) still the case. They simply cannot make their mind up - especially with Momentum spends after the roll. (There is the penalty for wasting time in the GM adding Doom after a while, but that punishes the whole group, so I tend to use that only if the whole group is talking themselves into circles without getting anywhere.)

Most players, though, get around that and know their most often used Momentum spends, their Talents and when and how to use them, quite well, so the task resolution, especially, but not only, in combat scenes gets quicker - though not really quick.
(Really quick is more the case in Dishonored or Dune, where conflicts are resolved on a much more abstract level, so you don’t have to bother with all those details that Conan or even more so Infinity and MC3 offer.)

Higher competent characters tend to shorten combat scene significantly, too. And in the hands of an experienced 2d20 player, things “clear up” in a very short time. - I often have combat scenes that take two rounds to fully resolve, unless I deliberately design the zones and the opposition to make them last longer - for a boss fight kind of scene, for example.

Another time consuming part is the initiative. In other games you determine the initiative, serialize the turns for everyone and you’re good to go over the whole combat. In Conan your PCs will have ALL their turns before the NPCs might act. That means, the players have to decide which one of them takes the turn, who comes after that, etc. - and without any mechanics to support that decision making. And, as in the case above, some players or even some groups are very slow on coming up with any kind of decision - and that can slow down Conan combat scenes very significantly.

It is a meta-gaming part, even a player-empowering part, but still it could, depending on the players, eat up a lot of time. - And running a game for a 5 or 6 PC group, where half a dozen people need to decide how to serialize their turns, well, that makes for some waiting time.

If the GM interrupts by spending Doom, that could wreak havoc on the tender sprout of agreed upon sequence of turns the players finally decided to take. So if the first PC took the turn, the GM interrupts, takes the NPC’s turn, then the rest of the PCs can act, the newly created facts of the NPC’s actions might prompt another round of negotiating the sequence of PC turns.

Some groups get that resolved - which often depends on the force of personality of a player who takes the role of coordinator of the player group. If you don’t have one of those, things get slowed down at the start of every round with some groups.

In general, Conan 2d20 is a “mid-level” complexity rules set, so resolving tasks will take less time with experience by GM and players, but there is a certain point where you cannot speed things up anymore. To reach that, you need players (and GMs) who think in advance to plan their moves, who very quickly decide who gets to take their turn in combat, who know their characters’ abilities and the general rules, options, different types of actions and when to take them.

Then there are GM’s decisions that could prolong especially combat scenes to take out all the momentum (lower case, not the resource Momentum).
If the GM for example musters up too many Toughened opponents, especially with sword and shield, so they get to perform Reactions without spending Doom right away, then the opposed rolls can eat up time like nothing. Add to that the Cover Soak from shields and some decent armor, and your Toughened NPCs last longer, have to be whittled down - except by the combat monster axe-wielder (Intense weapons = Toughened one-hit slayer, and even Nemesis one-two-hit slayer).

As a GM you need to get the feeling when to cut a scene, when to move things forward. There is no hard and fast rule for that - and I often enough tend to let things play out beyond their time of welcome, too.

In combat scenes, you can shorten things after a while by letting the opposition surrender, flee or simply not use any Reaction (even if it were a free one), to get things moving forward.

There is a lot more to say about pacing in Conan in general - and how to use Doom for that.

Well this is almost certainly off-topic but probably isn’t worth it’s own thread, and it’s at least related to difficulty.

I think I’m close to 50 hours of listening to people play. That’s a lot. But honestly the VAST majority of those hours are spent discussing momentum and doom spends.

So now I’m not so sure I’ve made the right move convincing guys to play this game. Wonderful setting and very well done by Modiphius, don’t get me wrong…but it almost sounds like I’m listening to a day-trading floor hustling meta-currency futures.

Not giving up on it before it starts (we start tinkering around this week) as I’ve spent a lot of time and $ learning the system but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was concerned.

It’s not that bad. The basic doom and momentum spends are governed by the rules, so really not much to argue there. It takes a little while for everyone to understand how it works and that it can actually be fun. Have a cheat sheet for the momentum spends ready so everyone can look stuff up without the need of flipping pages.
But you can do more with the mechanics, which I recommend to only implement after the basics are down.
For example, I told my players that every once in a while, I’ll remove a doom from my pile (I did it subtle at first, until someone noticed me doing it and asked what the doom was for). When I do that, it is a payment to disallow them an observation check that they would normally have been able to roll. In order to do actually roll the observation check, they have to pay one doom instead of me spending one. The kicker is that not all of those doom spends are really a missed observation check, some of them are just bait.
Also, we added a rule, that players can pay doom for items not listed on their character sheets, but they could feasibly have on their person. Forgot a crowbar, no problem. Pay one doom and you have it. It’s anice source of doom and helps keeping the accounting down.

I have a lot of issues with the game but the doom and momentum spends are not one of them. Get the cheat sheet from Seth Skorkowski’s YouTube video on the game, hand to each player, and it shouldn’t be an issue after a few combats.

You can find the cheat sheet here: Conan - RPG Review - YouTube

Yup got it thanks. Seth is the first video I watched on the game. Okay last thing I’ll ask on this I promise - like someone mentioned above (Frank or maybe Kilburn) I notice a lot of the “analysis paralysis” occurs on damage and deciding whether to pay for additional damage. Do you guys have a remedy for that or is it just something you have to get used to?

That might be the problem of such recorded actual plays or live streams. Many of those switch game systems all the time, so everyone needs to learn new systems ever so often - thus being a newbie in most of their videos.

In my 2d20 games at home or online those Momentum spend “discussions” are rather short, and there are NO discussions about Doom spends, as I as the GM decide about that myself - which rarely leads to controversial discussions.

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That “analysis paralysis” happens with only a few players, but if you have one of those in your group, it could slow down combat resolution quite significantly.

I don’t have a patented solution for that. I keep preparing handouts with Momentum spends, but then those players need to read up, still ask questions about what a certain Momentum spend might mean - which is clearly explained in those handouts, think about the pros and cons about certain spends, etc. - So preparing Momentum handouts didn’t help.

Then I try to become a bit more forceful, urging the player to make up their mind. That only helps so far, but some players are very resilient to urging.

My last resort is, adding Doom when I get the impression that things slow down beyond the acceptable. That worked best - at least for those (luckily few) players of that indecisive type I have in my groups.

At the start of our campaign (GM and two players, almost hundred sessions by now) I made the following house rules (because “mowing down dozens of enemies” -type game seemed to me more like Conan of the comics than Conan of the REH stories):

  • Players can’t buy extra dice with Doom, only with Momentum.
  • No Minions or Groups.

It has worked very well for us, characters are still very competent and can take down multiple enemies with ease but they’ve also been running away quite a lot when facing superior numbers (as did Conan).


Analysis Paralysis is a player thing, not a system thing. Odds are good that the same player dilly dally over whether nor to use a potion or what spell to cast in D&D or what combat options to use in Shadowrun (assuming using the more advanced combat rules in supplements). I’ve found that often those players are looking for the best option as opposed to the one that sounds fun. Is it more efficient to spend for damage or for a second target? Maybe a swift action? How much armor do they have? Is it worth Piercing or just damage? In my experience, these players are looking to “win”, looking to spend the least amount of Momentum for the maximum effect. That’s damn near impossible to break.

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Players not being able to buy dice with Doom takes away one the best ways to generate it, especially because most players won’t do so unless they are desperate or unless the GM never uses doom against them.

That is an interesting house rule, as it cuts down on Doom generation in a way, that I wonder how you get sufficient Doom for the session?

In Mutant Chronicles it was the other way around, you can get additional dice ONLY by generating Doom (Dark Symmetry Points), not by spending Momentum. But in MC3 the GM usually cannot bank additional successes the NPCs roll as Dark Symmetry Points, only a few NPCs have an ability that allows that, most don’t.

That is true, it changes and downplays the Doom metagame quite a bit (which is fine for us, we are pretty old skool). As a GM I use Doom mostly for NPC Momentum, reactions and seizing the initiative, not for reinforcements, environmental hazards etc. It requires me to be prudent with Doom which was tricky at first, but when I got hang of it things have worked very well for our group.

Most NPCs, nearly all of the beasts and actually all of the monsters, have Doom spends. Often requiring 2 or more Doom to activate. Those Doom spends are those abilities, that make this kind of opponent special and interesting. Having to be stingy with Doom would nerf them and make them much less powerful, even to the point of some becoming push-overs.

In my experience, the Conan GM usually has TOO FEW Doom points to spend. You cannot have enough, even if you don’t spend them on reinforcements or environmental hazards (which I actually cannot recommend - it is a waste of too much Doom for too little of a challenge).

That is, why I use the more recent cost for additional dice that in the more recent 2d20 games starting with STA had been introduced: first die 1 Doom/Momentum, second die 2 Doom/Momentum, third die 3 Doom/Momentum. Those costs apply to NPCs, too, but NPCs are “a cast of thousands”, so of less concern to add 3d20 to them, than to activate their Doom spends. The latter are really important and set the mood, provide a challenge and make them stand out and become remarkable opponents.
Using the new cost also tends to deplete Group Momentum much more quickly, which is good, because a group of slightly experienced PCs will fill up the Group Momentum in no time at all, making them generate Doom even less than to be wished for (and I don’t allow adding Bonus Momentum to the Group Momentum, as that could lead to simply add 3 Momentum on a lot of skill tests where those Talents are available (and they usually are quite cheap in XP to acquire in the first place)).

I never even considered a “Doom scarcety” game, as the Doom resource and everything that depends on it is quite central to Conan. If I were inclined to lessen that, I’d use a different rules set entirely.