This is the fourth of four reviews of the GURPS Conan solo adventure series. For the previous ones, click on the title below.
Conan the Wyrmslayer
Conan Beyond Thunder River
Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast
All of my reviews are linked on the reviews page.
by W.G. Armintrout
Steve Jackson Games 1989
$5.99 in PDF
This adventure is based on Moon of Blood, a Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp short story that is a sequel to Beyond the Black River. This adventure, similarly, can stand alone or be played as a sequel to Beyond Thunder River - assuming you did no better than Conan.
The adventure takes place on the Pictland/Aquilonia border, just after the Picts have taken back lands settled by the Aquilonians.
One thing that makes this adventure stand apart from the other Conan adventures - and most solo adventures in general - is that it features mass combat. You start the adventure co-commander of a pair of half-companies of Bossonian archers and Gunderman pikemen. If you survive to the end, you get to fight a battle between a few hundred Aquilonian troops and upwards of nearly 2000 Picts. Both feature the Mass Combat rules originally found in GURPS Conan, GURPS Japan, and GURPS Horseclans (and later put out in Roleplayer 30.)
The adventure is 220 keyed entries, with four battle maps, stats for four monsters (and one nasty horse!), stats for a variety of troops, scouts, and NPCs, and of course for Conan himself. It also has a two-page roster of troops for mass combat, and a digest version of the mass combat rules.
Like the others in the series, it has:
- Plot Words, which when garnered affect your options and your rolls going forward.
- the rules are straight-up GURPS.
- the better your non-combat skills, the better you'll do - don't blow your Leadership or Tactics rolls!
- You get to be Conan, or generate your own 300-point character.
- You get to earn character points at the end, and find out how Conan did in the story (not well, like in most of the more interesting Conan stories.)
Unlike the others, it's a pretty thin adventure. There are really three big things to do:
- Survive an initial patrol with just enough troops to attract trouble but not enough to deal with it.
- Deal with some back-at-the-fort issues, which hopefully turns into a nasty brawl.
- Win a final series of mass combats with the Picts.
There are connective fibers between them, but once you've played it once, you've pretty much done it all. Unless you get yourself killed or want to see if you can't choose a bit better the next time. That's not to say it's a railroad, but there really are three big events and you'll end up doing all three in some fashion. This cuts down on the replay value.
It's a solid if thin adventure. The mass combat adds a lot. As Conan you have to deal with commanders of lower skill but higher social status, misplaced chivalry, Morale that's all over the place, superstition, and magic. The picts have numbers and supernatural aid; you have your own skills and man-for-man mor effective troops, if you can marshal them well.
I played this adventure twice. I remember the one time as an endless slog of mass combat rolls; the other time as getting an amazingly destructive victory over the Picts thanks to a mismatched set of rolls (ending up with no Aquilonian losses and nearly 100% Pict casualties). Still, it was entertaining enough, and it is a good way to learn the basics of Mass Combat. It's also a good way to see how to include mass combat in a PC-focused game. It's not a wargame, it's a way to determine a battle's results and how the PCs do . . . and let them influence the results with their skills and actions. That alone is good stuff.
The roster for mass combat is also well done - it shows its math. This makes it very easy to use, change up when casualties occur, check for Morale by unit, etc.
One interesting thing about this adventure is that's its one of the rare times Conan isn't set up for the job. Oh sure, you have Leadership-19 and Tactics-18 . . . but you have to do a lot of Mass Combat rolls based on your default Strategy-12. Not that this is bad, but man, you miss what would be easy rolls sometimes. The saving grace is that the Picts are awful at Strategy. It might be fun to run it as if the Picts weren't howling warbands of foolhardy savages but cunning group fighters, and give them a leader or three with better Strategy. That would make for a much more challenging adventure.
If you ran this with 4th edition, I'd probably skip converting it over to the newer GURPS Mass Combat. It's balanced and effective as-is, and the "flip to page" instructions assume you're using the older system. It's not like 3e Mass Combat will choke on 4e characters, either, so it's not a big deal.
I like the cover art on this one, except that Conan has no nipples. That's just bizarre and it really detracts from what's otherwise a moody and impressive piece.
Overall, it's a good adventure and has excellent use of mass combat, but doesn't have as much replay value as the other three Conan adventures.