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Conan RPG and Argos

05 February 2014 - 11:36 PM

I'm starting a new Conan campaign, this one the exact opposite of my last.  I'm going to focus on a large city and thieves this time instead of the wilderness and barbarians.  Messantia is the city.  I figured I'd get some use out of the boxed set.  My plan is to set up a sandbox, plop my players into it, and just see what they do.  No epic storyline this time.  Just old school gaming--players allowed to roam free.  Let's see what they do.


Here are some quick notes about Argos, Argosseans, and Messantia that I've taken to help me role play the place.  In no particular order...








Women, in Argos, typically live under their father's rule until they are married, and then they live under their husband's rule.
Arranged marriages are common, though less so with peasants (since there is little or no dowry).  Aristocratic women are almost always subjected to an arrange marriage.
Argossean tend to be docile and subservient, though there are always exceptions.
There is little social mobility in Argos, unless through marriage or the accumulation of wealth.  To become noble, a person must show three generations of wealth.  This is called the Three Fathers Rule.
Rarely do people from different social status socialize--remember how Argosseans feel about their Reputation.
Social status is usually lost if a person loses his wealth.  Bankrupt Argosseans sometimes become gladitaors, as the galditorial games are not usually fought to the death.
Mitra - The majority of Argosseans worship the Hyborian god, Mitra.  Remember the priest from the Age of Conan game in Tortage.  He was a priest of Mitra.
Worshippers believe Mitra to be The One True God.  There are no other gods in the pantheon, and Mitrans look upon all others as false gods.
Mitra is worshipped throughout the Hyborian lands, not just in Argos.
Tolerance - The cities and coastal area of Argos is very cosmopolitan, and there is quite a tolerance for other religions (which is typically not true in kingdoms where Mitra is the dominate religion).  The farther one gets from the sea, the more intolerant the locals become of faiths other than that of Mitra.
Bel - Bel is a Shemite god.  He is the god of thieves.  He is quite popular in Argos, worshipped by smugglers, thieves, pirates, and fences.  The most popular symbol of Bel is an eagle carrying a bolt of lightning in its claws, symbolizing that Bel can steal the power even from other gods.
It's interesting the priest of Bel are not weak.  Typically, the priests of this god are converted from former pirates or thieves or soldiers.  Most priests of Bel are quite good in one-on-one combat.
Some priests of Bel, called the Asu, are herbalists and healers.  They sometimes move among the poor, providing their healing talents for free.  What a great way to recruit believers!
The Guardians - There are several "armies" in Argos.  The high nobles maintain their own armies, and the king maintains his standing army.  Any one army is small compared to that of other Hyborian nations, but together, the united armies of Argos would field a force that is tens of thousands strong.
The Guardians are the only nation-wide force in the kingdom.  They are chosen by lot from the populace to serve the kingdom for several years--a type of draft or conscription.  There are 700-800 Guardians in and around Messantia, with like numbers around the other major cities and along the border.
The King will also hire mercenary armies in times of conflict, as Argos is a rich nation.
The biggest power of the kingdom, though, is its standing navy.  Argos is rarely attacked by its neighbors not because of the ground armies but because attackers fear retalliation by sea (and trade embargoes).  The Argossean navy is the most powerful in the known world.
Coastal Freemen - All Argossean coastal freemen are required to receive some level of military training, and, provided they have no dependants and are not business owners, to spend two years as soldiers or sailors.  This is not a requirement of non-coastal Argossean Freemen.
Social Standing - Social status in Argos is relative to wealth.  Typically, these are the social ranks, from highest to lowest.  Rank and status in this kingdom means quite a bit.  It's definitely who you know, here.
1.  King
2.  Nobles of merchant houses and interior fiefs.
3.  Wealthy merchants and ship captains.
4.  Coastal Free Men.
5.  Laborers, peasants, and serfs.
6.  Gladiators and slaves.
Clothing - Argos has a warm climate, typically, so linen, cotton, and light wool are used for most garments.  White or muted colors.  Not flashy at all.
Men usually wear a robe that is knotted in the front, with a cape slung over the shoulders.  Some robes look a bit like today's bath robes.  The cape is a status symbol.  It is usually of heavier, better material.  Those that can afford it have it heavily embroidered.  This cape is called a tebenna.
Women wear long tunics that hang to their feet.  This is usually made of light material, pleated, and decorated along the edges.  A shawl of heavier material is worn, and this can be colorful (like the men's cape).
Footwear:  Typically high sandals, ankle boots, or shoes with upward curving toes. 
Hats:  Country folk and those from the interior usually wear hats.  The coastal people don't, except for nobles, who can have quite elaborate hats.
Status clothing:  Besides what I note above, the wealthy are usually easy to spot because of their dress.  They tend to dress more splendidly than common folk.  Materials, like silk, are used.  They wealthy also wear jewelry.
Hair - Men typically have short hair.  Beards and moustaches are not uncommon, but there's plenty of clean shaven men, too.  Probably goes with their culture tendency towards being clean. 
Women wear their hair long--at least to the shoulder.  Long hair will be knotted sometimes in fantastic designs among the more wealthy.  It is not uncommon to see a woman with items interlaced in her hair--flowers, jewelry, and other glittery things.
Tile is a common food available almost anywhere (like a taco in Mexico).  It is fried fish wrapped in flat bread, served with a relish of olives and peppers.  Sounds good!
Gladiators:  Gladitorial games are very popular.  Slaves and prisoners are forced to fight.  But, interestingly enough, the condemned are not allowed to be Gladiators.  Instead, condemned men are put to death in imaginitive and horrible ways.
Nobles will sometimes solve disputes through a gladitorial game.
Clean:  Argossean culture emphasizes being clean.  Probably goes with their thought that dirtiness leads to sickness.  Also, makes sense with their outlook on Reputation.
Slaves - Argos is a heavy slave-trading kingdom, not only to support the gladitorial games in the various cities.  Slaves can be sorted into three types:  Labor, Pleasure, and Sport.  Women and children slaves are preferred.
Herbalists - Herbal remedies are common.
Healers - Healers are considered public servants.  They are not called "doctors".  They have low social status.  Some surgeons exist, but they are somewhat hard to find.
Argosseans do not judge themselves.  Their esteem comes from what others think of them.  A person's Reputation is very important to an Argossean.
Here's the interesting part:  The Reputation is only important if other people see the actions of the person.  When people are not looking, then an Argossean may not act the same way.
This reminds me of women who cheat on their husbands.  They don't want their friends thinking that they are a *****.  A friend catching them would be devestating.  But, as long as nobody knows, they proceed to do what they wouldn't if everybody knew about it.
So, yeah, an Argossean will **** over a person--but only if  that action won't hurt him in the eyes of the people he thinks matters.
If nobody is looking, then an Argossean will do whatever he wants.
If the right people are looking--the ones that effect an Argossean's Reputation--then the Argossean will act in a way that the onlookers would approve.
I imagine that an Argossean who tithes a large sum of coin to the Church would not do it anonymously.  The Argossean would make sure that the people who define his Repuation would all find out about how generous the Argossean had been.
Interesting people.
The cities in Argos are quite liberal.  Most anything goes (but the Reputation aspect of Argossean culture keeps them in line most of the time).  Outside the cities, the people are fairly friendly, and the kingdom as a whole is pretty peaceful, as far as these things go.  It's bad for business to go otherwise, and the large merchant Houses strive to keep business good.
The feudal lords in the kingdom are quite powerful, and many people outside the great cities consider themselves members of their lord's Barony or Duchy first and citizen of Argos second.  Most all Argosseans outside the cities owe allegiance to their noble lord.  And order of preference would be:  Lord, Family, then the Kingdom of Argos.
Argosseans believe that excess leads to illness.  Drinking too much or eating too much leads to a unhealthy body, they believe.  And, large, even obese people are looked down upon because of this.  Argosseans are typically quite fit.  They care too much what their neighbor thinks of them.
Argos is on the southern edge of the Hyborian lands, south of Zingara.  See the Barachan Isles off the coast of Zingara?  This is where Tortage is located.
There are no less than sixteen major ports along the coast, of which Messantia is the largest, a city of 35,000 people.  Arguably, Argos is the major sea power in the Known World.  But, the sea isn't the kindom's only source of trade.  Note how the Khorotas River runs south, to Messantia, after touching the heartland of the Hyborian kingdoms.  (Think a huge river, like the Nile or the Mississippi.)  Either it, or other major rivers that merge into it, touch Brythunia, Nemedia, Aquilonia, and Ophir.
Notice the Road of Kings.  It starts, north out of Messantia, through Zingara, into Aquilonia, then Nemedia, through a pass in the Karpash Mountains into Corinthia, past the South Karpash Mountains into Zamora near the borders of Koth and Khauran, into the Great Eastern Desert and the city state of Zamboula, into Turan, ending at that kingdom's capital of Aghrapur.  This--the most major or trade routes in the known world--touches almost every major trading nation in the world.  Between the Road of Kings, the Khorotas River, and the coast on the Western Ocean, it seems that great Mitra himself blessed Argos with the world's trade.  Ophir may be the richest kingdom in the Known World, due to its gold mines, and Aquilonia may be the most powerful, due to its standing army, but Argos is king of mercantilism.
The chief competitor on the seas are the privateers of Zingara.  The city states of Shem are not united enough to become a peer of Argos on the seas.  The ships of Stygia are too few.  And, although feared, the Black Corsairs of the Black Kingdoms pale in comparison to the combined might of the pirates of the Barachan Islands.
Argossean sailors primarily setteled the Barachans, and the Pirates of the Red Hand, though, indeed pirates, have a soft spot for home.  Argossean vessels are typically ignored by the Barachan Pirates (who prefer to focus on Zingara's fleet), and Argos turns a welcoming hand to the Barachans when in Argossean ports.  In Messantia, Barachans openly make port and do business with their cargoes.
What a wonderful place, eh, for a thief to ply his trade!
- Geography & Politics at a Glance -
Besides the means of natural trade, Argos is blessed with items to export.  The Kingdom is littered with forests, providing wood for ships.  North and west of the Khorotas, Argos is fairly flat, fertile, and pastoral.  Several farms and orchards dot the landscape.  The Oak forest that separates Argos from Zingara is said to be ghoul infested.  But, that is one of Argos' few internal problems as the kingdom rarely sees civil uprisings. 
South and east of the Khorotas, the land becomes more hilly, with low mountains on the border with Shem and Ophir.  The land is arid and part desert near the coast (and you can see this in the recent Conan movie when Conan leaves on horseback through the wastland dotted by ruins).
Politically, Argos is ruled by a loose King.  King Milos has his palace in the port city of Messantia.  The kingdom is ruled by a tight feudal system where the Dukes and Counts and Barons rule their territories with little interference from the King.  Most territories even mint their own money, and although a kingdom, the system used seems to be more of a republic where the various territories have banded together for mutual protection and trade.
Over the centuries, the true power in the kingdom resides in the hands of the fabulously wealth merchant Houses.  The Houses control the nobles, and the nobles control the land.  In many cases, the Houses are the nobles.  But, this system works well in that there is no profit in civil war.  The Houses may backstab each other, employ assassins, and use poisonous toxins, but all-out internal war is unheard of in Argos.  It hurts the economy as a whole, and everybody loses.
Thus, there is no real standing army in Argos.  Each of the Houses and nobles have their own armies for the areas that they control.  King Milos employs a Royal Guard, but this unit is small compared to the armies of most kingdoms.  Mercenaries are employed when needed.  And, when things heat up with Zingara, an Argossean unit of mercenaries called the Guardians will guard the north and western border with Zingara.   This unit is bolstered by conscription from all of the territories and is said to be loyal to the crown rather to any House or noble faction.
The Argosseans were originally a Hyborian people, though they have intermarried with many other races, particularly the Zingarans (think Spanish) and to a lesser extent the Shemites (think Middle Easteners).
Most Argosseans are stocky and short.  They make superb sailors, traders, and pirates.  Renegade Argossean sailors have colonised the Baracha Islands (where Tortage sits), turning them into one of the greatest havens for piracy in all the seas.
Argos is a country of wo contrasting cultures.  All the seaports are cosmopolitan, with the capital, Messantia, being the most open-minded of all, while the inland provinces are filled with farmers, craftsmen and laborers who are friendly enough but wary of strangers. 
Argos is a noted trading nation of sharp-eyed, silk-clad merchants, not all of whom remain strictly within the law--smuggling and piracy are often tolerated.  The law is said to be lax, although occasionally an example is made of foreigners. 
Argos is regarded as a proud and avaricious kingdom.  The racial mixture with the Zingarans is more extensive than with the Shemites.  Argos and Zingara have an ancient feud that works itself out in their attempts to be the dominant sea nation.  Zingaran pirates raid the coast of Argos, just as the Argosseans and the Barachans raid Zingara. 
Argos allies itself with many City States in Shem, from time to time.
Like most Hyborian kingdoms, Argos' main god is Mitra (remember the Mitran priest in Tortage?).  However, its nature as a cosmopolitan trading nation means that pockets of worship of the Shemite and Kothic gods are also tolerated.


True Detective

27 January 2014 - 05:53 AM

This show has grabbed me by the short hairs like no show in recent memory.  I'm completely addicted to it.  The acting...directing...writing...all of it is AMAZING.


Three shows in, now.  I can't wait for the next.  Symbolism is blowing my mind.  The last moments of this third episode chilled me to my bones.


Truly superior TV.

Unimaginable Cimmeria

26 January 2014 - 05:44 AM

I'm wondering about the things we don't normally associate with Cimmeria actually being in Conan's homeland.  It's easy to picture a vast, mountainous, grey land, unforgiving, deadly, sparsely populated by hardended warriors wearing leather studded with iron, sporting captured weapons of steel, living in wattle and daub huts and primitive villages.


But, is all of Cimmeria like that?


It can't be.


The Rule of Life dictates variety and things we don't expect.


How common is chain mail?  It is easy to obtain in any Cimmerian village?  Do most Cimmerian warriors wear it?


What about stone-cutting?  Are there giant rocks in Cimmeria--even mountain faces or cave entrances--that feature the work of master stone masons?


How about forts?  Do Cimmerians build them?  Outposts?  And, if they do, are these places made entirely of wood, like the Aquilonian outposts in the Westermarch?  Or, are they stone built, like that the Cimmerians have seen across the mountains in Hyperborea and Brythunia?


Is all of Cimmerian land claimed by this clan or that?  Or, are there large stretches of no-man's-land wilderness?


Do all Cimmerians belong in a clan?  What about the clanless?


I would think that there are no roads in Cimmeria beyond a dirt trail, but what about finding the occasional independent tavern, where a brewer set up shop to trade with those who venture on the road?


What is trade like in Cimmeria?  How wide-spread is it?  Are the clans self sufficient?  Or, do they have a rudimentary trade situation with their neighbors, when they are not raiding them?


How often would you find a non-Cimmerian living among Cimmerians?  A Khitian sorcerer, looking for a lost Atlantean artifact.  A Brythunian trader exporting Cimmerian made leather goods back home?


Sure, the clans raid amongst themselves and over the borders of Cimmeria, but are there Cimmerian equivalents to bandit clans, like the Zuagir or the Khozaki?


And, how much difference can you expect the Cimmerian clans to be?  Are they all pretty much like Conan?  Or do we encounter Cimmerians that are backward, feral, almost like Picts?  Or, even more advanced Cimmerians, living in near-cities at the mouth of a gold mine?


What are your thoughts about Cimmeria--not the stereotype, but the place, if it were real?

Cosmopolitan Hyborian Age?

26 January 2014 - 12:34 AM

Sometimes I wonder if the settings of most fantasy tales involve a world that is too well traveled. People seem to have no trouble striding a horse and hoofing it to the next town, or even further. I would think that long distance travel would be a serious subject, never taken lightly, always planned out. Because, Death is a constant companion on the road.

I'm not much of a historian. Just how cosmopolitan was the ancient real world, anyway?



I LOVE Thieves World

10 January 2014 - 04:44 AM

I started reading Thieves World again.  My first go-through with the first couple of books occured when the the first few books in the series were published back in the 80's.  I believe I read the first three or so back then.


I just picked up the first book again, and, wow...I've fallen in love with that pit of the Rankan Empire, the city of Sanctuary, one more time.


The stories have this dark, gritty feel, not unlinke the Hyborian Age.  And, they play out not as epic tales, but more like a day in the life of a fantasy city.  I love that.


The first tale is about a scribe--one of many working for a taskmaster--who is charged with unraveling the mystery of a magicked scroll that come into her possession.  Another story is about a smith, and his gypsy-like fortune-teller wife, who have to somehow figure a way to get a new anvil--in a town at the edge of a desert where the caravans no longer run.  I remember one of my favorite tales.  It's in the third book.  One of the major recurring characters is cursed by his god to be undying.  And, in that favored tale, a vivisectionist gets ahold of the undying man, slicing him apart, watching how the human body works, all the while the undying man is conscious and living through that hell.


Great stories.


Highly recommended.