'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Friday, January 26, 2018

Conan 2d20 review. How clunky is it? A comparison with Pathfinder.

I have seen a lot of posts. People often read the Conan 2d20 rules and decide without playing them that they are too clunky. They have too many fiddly bits and they are just too slow.

But are they? Does Conan 2d20 present us with a system that is actually clunkier? I aim to answer this in this post by comparing a combat through multiple systems to see how they stack up.

For simplicity our encounter will start with a lone fighter, "Conal", breaking into a dark tomb to retrieve some long forgotten treasure. In an ancient tomb he is attacked by five skeletons.

Conan Zone Layout
Pathfinder Grid Layout

-- Conan 2d20 --

Conal
Agility: 13
Melee: Ex 5, Fc 5. TN 17/5
Coordination: 10
Parry: Ex 3, Fc 3. TN 13/3
Brawn: 12, +3cd
Fortune: 3
Broadsword: R2, 5cd, parrying
Shield: R2, 3cd, 1H, parrying, Shield 2
Armor = soak 2 everywhere.
Vigor: 13
Resolve: 10
Talents: No Mercy (equivalent 3 ranks): Re-roll xCDs

Skeletons (M)
Agility: 9
Combat: 2. TN 11/2
Pitted Sword: R2, 5cd, parrying
Armor: 2
Vigor: 5
Resolve: 8
Fear: 1

DOOM POOL: 3

Round 1

Conal
Conal goes first (Don't need to roll initiative in Conan, PCs always start unless interrupted by a GM doom spend)
Conal moves into a new zone(minor action)
Conal attacks the skeleton. (standard action)
Conal pays 3 doom into the pool and rolls 5d20. DOOM=6
Conal attacks and rolls 5d20 vs D1: 4,15,11,16,1 = 7 successes = 6 Momentum.
Conal rolls 8cd for damage: 5,2,3,4,3,2,3,5. Re-rolls 3 misses, rolls 3,4,4. tough luck. Damage = 6.
Conal spends 1 momentum for 2 points of soak ignored.
Conal does 6 vigor damage, causing a wound, destroying the skeleton.
Remaining momentum to the group pool. MOMENTUM=4
Conal approaches the first skeleton and raises his sword, striking the abomination. Although his sword blow is not devastating it slashes past a week spot in the skeletons ancient armor, through the torso reducing the bones to a broken and collapsed mess.

Skeletons
Skeletons form a mob.
The remaining 4 skeletons all move to engage Conal. They form a mob giving them extra attack dice.
Skeleton mob rolls 4d20+3d20 from doom. DOOM = 3
Conal attempts to parry and rolls 5d20, buying 3 dice with momentum. MOMENTUM=1
Skeletons attack and roll 8d20 vs D1: 6,11,16,11,14,15,4,18 = 4 successes = 3 momentum.
Conal parries and rolls 5d20 vs D1: 4,16,1,11,9 = 5 successes = 4 momentum.
Conal successfully parries the mob of skeletons. MOMENTUM=2
The shambling mob approaches Conal and with only the noise of metal on bone the 4 raise and slice at Conal, with a terrific effort Conal wards off the blows, feeling as if he has gained the upper hand on this undead horde.

Round 2

MOMENTUM reduces by 1.
MOMENTUM: 1
Conal
Conal pays 1 doom into the pool, uses 1 point of momentum and 1 fortune and rolls 5d20 against the mob of skeletons. DOOM = 4
Conal rolls 5d20 vs D1: 20,10,14,8,1 = 5 successes = 4 momentum. MOMENTUM=5. Complication. DOOM=6
Conal rolls 8cd for damage: 6,4,6,6,2,4,3,5. Re-rolls 3 misses, rolls 3,2,4. Damage=8.
Conal spends 2 momentum to increase damage to 10.
Conal spends 1 momentum for 2 points of soak ignored. MOMENTUM=2
Conal does 5 points of vigor to the first skeleton destroying it. 5 damage is carried to the next skeleton. 2 skeletons remain.
Taking advantage of the skeletons being pushed back by his parry, Conal swings a deadly arc of steal crashing through two of the skeletons reducing them to dust.
Conal spends 1 point of momentum and strikes at the remaining skeletons with his shield (Dual Wield, Swift action)
Conal kills 2 with a sword and 2 with his shield.
Conal spends 1 point on an extra die and 2 into the doom pool. DOOM=8
Conal rolls 5d20 vs D2 (D1 +1 for swift action): 11,17,1,19,14 = 5 successes = 3 momentum. MOMENTUM=4
Conal rolls 6cd for his shield. 1,3,4,3,3,5. Re-rolls 3 misses, rolls 2,3,2. Damage = 6.
Conal spends 4 Momentum to bring his damage to 5 and spends one point of doom to gain 2 points of soak being ignored.
Conal causes the other two skeletons 1 wound each.
As Conal's sword slices through two of the skeletons, he lashes out at the other two with his shield. With a terrific crash the impact reduces the remaining two skeletons do nothing more than a pile of bones and a slight haze of dust in the air

-- Pathfinder --


Conal
Fighter
Human Level 1
STR: 17 +3 (attack rolls, Damage rolls)
DEX: 14 +2 (Armor class, initiative)
CON: 14 +2
HP: 12
Longsword DMG: 1d8 Crit: 19–20/×2
Chainmail AC:+6 Max Dex Bonus:+2 ACP:–5 Spell Failure: 30% move: 20 ft.
Shield, light steel: AC:+1 ACP:–1 Spell Failure: 5%
Power attack, Cleave
AC: 10+6+1+2=19
MELEE ATTACK BONUS: 1+3=+4

Skeletons
AC: 16
Hp: 4
Speed 30'
broken scimitar +0 (1d6)
Base Attack = +0
FEATS Improved initiative (+4 initiative)

Round 1

Roll for Initiative
Rolled and sorter for order
Skeleton 5: 20+4 = 24
Skeleton 2: 17+4 = 21
Skeleton 4: 10+4 = 14
Skeleton 3: 9+4 = 13
Skeleton 1: 6+4 = 10
Conal: 4+2 = 6

Skeletons
Skeleton 5 moves to engage Conal and rolls a d20 for his attack. Rolls 15. Conal's AC = 19.
Skeletons move to attack.

Skeleton 2 moves forward 30'
Skeleton 4 moves and attacks Conal. Rolls a d20 and scores a 9. Not enough to beat Conal's AC.
Skeleton 3 moves up and attacks Conal as well. Skeleton 3 is opposite Skeleton 4 and so gains a +2 flanking bonus. Rolls it's 20. Gets an 8+2=10. Still fails to strike Conal.
Skeleton 1 moves forward 30'
The skeletons advance quicker than the undead should be able to. Three reach Conal with 2 close on their heals. Their sword swings are ineffectual, a combination of armor and dexterity cause all three to miss

Conal
Conal attacks Skeleton 4. Rolls his d20 and rolls 9. +4 = 13. Not enough to defeat the skeleton's AC.
Conal being pressed back by the horde of bones strikes wildly but fails to land an effective blow against the skeletons.

Round 2

Initiative
Skeleton 5
Skeleton 2
Skeleton 4
Skeleton 3
Skeleton 1
Conal

Skeletons
Remaining 2 skeletons close.  All attack and miss.
Skeleton 5 swings at Conal! Rolls a d20. 12. not good enough.
Skeleton 2 moves and attacks Conal. Rolls a d20. 12. Not enough.
Skeleton 4 attacks Conal. d20. 16+2 flanking = 18. Not enough.
Skeleton 3 swings. D20. 7+2 flanking, misses.
Skeleton 1 moves up and swings. 4...Misses.



Conal
Conal strikes at Skeleton 4 and rolling a d20, gets a 14+4=18! A HIT!
Conal rolls 1d8 for damage and gains a +3 from attributes. He rolls a 5+3=8! A skeleton falls!
Conal using cleave strikes at Skeleton 2! He rolls a d20 and scores a 15+4 = 19! Another hit
Conal rolls a 1d8 and scores a 2, but with his +3 it becomes a 5 and a second skeleton falls.
Conal slashes out at the skeleton beside him, his blade passing easily across the bones reducing it to dust, his deadly arc continuing in a devastating attack, striking down a second skeleton

Round 3

Initiative
Skeleton 5
Skeleton 3
Skeleton 1
Conal

Skeletons
Skeleton 5 swings out, this time enjoying a flanking bonus, and Conal is at a -2 for his AC from using Cleave.
The skeleton's D20 roll is a 16. +2 = 18, enough to hit Conal with his temporary AC of 17.
Skeleton 5 rolls a 1d6 for damage and scores a 5.
Skeleton 3 stikes next enjoying the same bonuses as his cohort. Rolls a 19. Also enough to strike Conal.
Skeleton 3 rolls a 1d6 for damage and scores a 6.
Conal has suffered 11 damage, leaving him a single hit point.
Skeleton 1 lashes out at Conal, rolling a 13 on a d20. Not enough to hit Conal, even with his -2 AC
Unbalanced by his massive attack two of the skeletons slice out with ancient steel, blood flows and Conal barely blocks the third blade from ending his life.

Conal
Conal swings at Skeleton 5. He rolls 6 on his d20, missing the Skeleton.
Conal staggers and ineffectually swings back at the undead seeking to have him join them.

Round 4

Initiative
Skeleton 5
Skeleton 3
Skeleton 1
Conal

Skeletons
Skeleton 5 rolls a 4, +2 flanking isn't enough to strike Conal.
Skeleton 3 swings and rolls a 17. +2 = 19. Enough to hit Conal.
Skeleton 3 rolls damage. and rolls a 2. Conal only had 1 HP left and so it reduced to -1 and dying.

-- Analysis --

Number of Rounds
Conan-2d20: 2
Pathfinder: 4
Verdict: Conan resolves combat faster.

Number of d20s
Conan-2d20: 22 in 4 rolls
Pathfinder: 16 in 16 rolls
Verdict: This depends on if you like dice pools. We roll more dice in Conan. We roll more often in Pathfinder. Time wise I suspect Conan will win here as I do not think each combat roll in Conan-2d20 will take 4x the time to resolve, and there are times it will be just as fast in my experience

Damage dice
Conan-2d20: I didn't count this. You roll A LOT of damage dice.
Pathfinder: Way less dice to resolve damage
Verdict: I am going to go with Pathfinder. It's simpler to roll a single die and things can be sped up by just rolling damage with your attack die. The upside for Conan-2d20 is with it's effects you can have a lot more interesting things to happen. More damage, grappling, stunning etc.

Narrative guidance
Conan-2d20: Each roll you make tells you what has occurred. How much you were successful by, if your weapon pierced armor etc.
Pathfinder: While providing some it is generally obscured by choosing a simpler resolution
Verdict: Conan, in my opinion provides the player and GM with more ideas about what is actually happening.

-- Final Thoughts --

I am not here to tell you which system is better. I simply wanted to compare two systems, one I feel is a popular game with a combat system people seem to enjoy, and the other a system that often gets a bad rap. The system in Conan reads poorly, but in actual play is a fun and interesting combat system. It is not without it's problems, but all games have some.

One of the interesting things about this comparison is seeing the hero die in Pathfinder, having this occur in Conan against enemies like this is practically unheard of. The system provides players with characters which are by all definitions, heroic.

If you have any comments, I would love to hear them!

7 comments:

  1. One problem with games that have lots of options in combat (e.g. new Runequest/Legend) is "player paralysis". During their turn, players have to 'think' about which options they want to use, which can greatly slow down turns.

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  2. "and spends one point of doom to gain 2 points of soak being ignored"

    Just FYI, you can't do that - you can only give the GM doom for immediate momentum spends (e.g. adding extra dice to your pool), and not for combat results.

    But minor point - good comparison overall - still trying to decide how I feel about the pace of combat in Conan; it felt rather slow as my players and I slowly got used to the rules and options (and made mistakes such as the one above !)

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    Replies
    1. Good catch! I did the Conan section mostly from memory!

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    2. Further: I find the HEAVILY combat centric characters have the ability to take a lot of time in combat rolling, re-rolling, swift auctioning and riposting. I think it makes balancing the encounter a little trickier sometimes.

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  3. This is just my 2 cents but I have been running the Conan game for about 2 months now and love the system. It was a little slow to start with my players (Pathfinder players) but now we breeze through encounters and this game has a lot of one shot kills. At least for the PC's. As a GM, I love the game's more open (subject to common sense and gm discretion) than Pathfinder's mechanical system. I cannot count how many times a Pathfinder game has slowed down because either players or gm must consult the mechanics and or discussions on the Forum for clarification.

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  4. Haven't played Conan yet, but it does seem pretty clunky from this example. Too many things to keep track of. That being said, I don't like Pathfinder either. House ruled 1st edition or Castles & Crusades play much faster than the latter. Still trying to decide if I'll shell out cash for Conan. The books look great, but the system seems like a pain.

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  5. Thanks for the write-up!

    I've been running Conan for two months now and we still have a lot to learn about the rules and keeping track about what is done how and what options you have and what not. The game doesn't lend itself well to memorizing and the GM screen is plain useless as it for example fails to name the skills and difficulties one has to roll for combat actions that are described.

    The rules text is also hopelessly disorganized. You learn that with a shield you can use the Parry skill to defend against ranged attacks. In another chapter you learn that you can use Acrobatics to dodge ranged attacks. This is typical of the whole book - they give the player the option that with certain equipment they can substitute other skills to achieve the same but on first reading, especially before playing the system, you can leave the text with an entirely different impression - like I thought you needed a shield to be allowed to use a Defend Reaction against ranged attacks.

    The rules are not wrong. But they are spread around a lot and badly organized, making the game harder to learn.

    In practice it's also harder to assess what is dangerous and what a cakewalk and the book gives very little guidance on building challenges. I found that a demon is dangerous not because of its ability to withstand damage, but because of being nigh-impossible to hit which also tends to generate lots of doom, making it an actually very dangerous monster whereas most "strong" monsters end up being minced in 3 turns or less, nemesis or not.

    The sorcery system is badly written - mostly through omitting examples etc, leading to lots of questions about it online. After seeing it in play I might run it wrong, but casting does not seem dangerous by itself very much.

    The books repeat a lot of the text and info, spreading the same material into more volumes, then cross-referencing one of the many for details. Instead of getting a bestiary you get half a dozen books each with a few monsters, so I keep combing the books for thematic monsters.

    Still, we had fun. Players can become paralyzed with decisions or forget half of their options all the time. Fights needs visual props, at least a minimal zone map, to not become all samey-samey and to convey what's going on.

    (And if anyone can convince me the "Immense" monster quality makes actual sense, I would be glad. I tried to see how I could run a Kraken as a final campaign challenge but it seems... very broken. Maybe my bad, maybe not.)

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