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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Free RPG Day 2017: Robert E. Howard's Conan – The Pit of Kutallu

Saturday, June 17th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. The scenarios are of course for existing games, but whilst the quickstarts may likewise also be for existing games, many are for forthcoming games, giving gamers a chance to experience a new game or setting before they are  released. One such title is Conan: The Pit of Kutallu.

Conan: The Pit of Kutallu is a standalone adventure and quickstart—though not the quickstart, which is available here—for use with Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, to be published by Modiphius Entertainment following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It includes the rules needed to run the adventure, four pre-generated adventurers, and the adventure itself, essentially enough to play through the adventure in a couple of sessions at the very most.

Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of uses the 2d20 System and so does Conan: The Pit of Kutallu. Previously seen in Mutant Chronicles, when a character undertakes an action, his player rolls two twenty-sided dice, aiming to roll low. This roll is made against an Attribute or against an Attribute plus the Expertise value of a skill. Each roll under this Target Number generates a success. Further, a character can also have a Focus associated with a skill. This is not added to the skill or the Target Number, but ranging between one and three, it represents a ‘critical’ target which when rolled also generates a success. So when a player rolls his character’s Focus for a skill, two successes are generated. The number of successes generated are compared against a Difficulty Rating, one being average, two being challenging, and so on. Any successes generated above the Difficulty Rating are counted as Momentum and these can be spent for various effects. For example, to learn more information, reduce time taken, improve the quality of the check, and so on, whilst in combat they could be used to increase the damage, target a specific area, or disarm an opponent. They can also be used to buy extra dice to roll for actions and they can even be saved to be used as a pool to draw from to represent teamwork and further co-operation.
For example, Papius Varro, an Aquilonian noble (and one of the pre-generated heroes in Conan: Pit of Kutallu) has been captured by pirates and taken aboard their ship. A storm has driven the ship ashore and as it crashes onto the rocks, the pirates have abandoned it and are trying to row to safety, leaving the noble behind. Papius has already snatched up a sword and wants to leap into the boat. The Game Master sets the Test Difficulty to D2 or Challenging. This means that Papius’ player needs to roll two successes with his Acrobatics skill. Papius has an Agility of ten, an Acrobatics of two, giving him a Target Number of twelve. He also has a Focus of two.
Papius’ player has two dice to roll, but to ensure that he succeeds, decides to purchase another using the group’s Momentum. So now he has three dice to roll. He rolls one, five, and twenty. This is both good and bad. The five generates one Success, the one generates two Successes because it is under the Focus of the skill, and the twenty generates a Complication. Since Papius’ player has rolled three Successes, he not only succeeds, but also generates one Momentum. Knowing that Papius is going to suffer a Complication immediately, his player donates the extra Momentum back to the group pool. The Game Master rules that the effect of the Complication is that Papius lands off-balance in the pirate’s boat and loses grip of his sword. Papius has escaped the shattering ship, but is unarmed and standing in a pitching rowing boat full of pirates!
Complications occur on rolls of nineteen (if unskilled) or twenty (if skilled) and represent critical failures, but failures in narrative terms rather than mechanical terms. What this means is that a character can succeed, but still suffer a complication. In addition, all characters have access to Fortune, points of which can be used to add a bonus die like Momentum, add an action, recovery mentally or physically, ignore wounds or trauma, or make a story declaration. Fortune is earned for invoking one of a character’s traits, good roleplaying, and so on, but earning Fortune is a little beyond the scope of Conan: The Pit of Kutallu. The Game Master also has his own fund of points--Doom points. These are are used to activate an NPC ability or environmental effect, to have an NPC grab the initiative or overcome a Complication, and so on. The Game Master begins each session with a limited supply of Doom, but it can be augmented by a player buying extra dice instead of using Momentum (having run out), as the result of a Complication, or even lingering over a course of action.

Combat includes melee, ranged, and threat attacks. What this means is that a character can suffer physical attacks which reduce Vigor and mental attacks which reduce Resolve. An attack which inflicts five or more damage or reduces a character’s Resolve or Vigor to zero, also inflicts Harm, either Wounds if physical Harm or Trauma if mental Harm. A character who suffers four Trauma or four Wounds is incapacitated. Beyond that and a character is either dead or mad. In addition to damage, certain weapons have qualities that can impose certain Effects with the right roll of the combat dice. For example, a weapon with the Quality, Vicious 1, inflicts extra damage for each Effect result rolled. Armour and cover can help Soak physical damage, whilst Courage can Soak mental damage. 

Of course, Conan: The Pit of Kutallu can only give a taster of the rules to Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, but combat feels rough and bruising and actions possess a pleasing physicality. There is also plenty of scope for outcomes beyond a simple yes or no with the use of Momentum and of course, Doom. The rules given are certainly enough to play the scenario, ‘The Pit of Kutallu’.

In truth, ‘The Pit of Kutallu’ is not a particularly original in terms of plot. Designed for four characters, it opens with their having been recently captured by Kushite slavers and the ship they are held in being caught in a storm. Their motivation to escape is bolstered both by a fellow captive offering a handsome reward if they can free her too and the storm being bad enough to drive the ship ashore. Worse, their benefactor is swept into the water and dragged ashore by something batrachian. Now the adventurers will have to escape the shattering ship, get ashore, deal with the slavers, and trek into the interior where they will find the ruins of a lost city and who knows what…? It is straightforward, written to be action packed, and can be played in a single longer session—just about—though two sessions will probably be a typical playing time.

Four pre-generated adventurers are provided to play the adventure. They include a disciplined noble warrior, an accurate archer, an observant ex-pirate, and a brutal barbarian. The latter is the adventure’s Conan analogue and although all four characters possess Talents that are not used in the adventure, they are well designed, all different, and all suited to the physical nature of the adventure. More characters are available to download.

Physically, Conan: The Pit of Kutallu is clearly written, laid out in a tidy fashion, and pleasingly illustrated. It is a very nice looking booklet. The rules are clearly explained and if the adventure itself is not all that original, it nevertheless feels in keeping with the pulp fantasy genre, is written to be fast paced and action packed, and is supported by some good characters. Overall, Conan: The Pit of Kutallu is a crowd-pleasing introduction to Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.