“Their present king is the most renowned warrior among the western nations. He is an outlander, an adventurer who seized the crown by force…his name is Conan, and no man can stand before him in battle.” – The Hour of the Dragon
Conan The King opens with that vivid passage and focuses on the time when Conan ascended to the throne of Aquilonia, flower of the dreaming west. This supplement for Conan: Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of brings adventurers into the courts of Aquilonia. It presents new character options, details of the kingdom, and rules to help facilitate holdings and mass warfare.
Aquilonia is perhaps the most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms, especially with Conan on the throne. Founded by the eldest son of Bori on the ruins of Acheron, it is wealthy and accomplished, with many vassals, rivaled only by Nemedia to the east (described in Conan The Thief). While Aquilonia is doomed to fall, as are all great civilizations, at this time it tells a story of unmatched force, led to heights by a barbarian who achieved more than any “civilized” leader could. In this it is perhaps emblematic of Howard’s attitudes towards so-called civilized society.
The Gazetteer touches on the Aquilonian cultural mindset, one of arrogance born from accomplishment, but doesn’t hesitate to point out that life is not necessarily any better for the common people of the land than any of their rivals – it is a feudal system where only the worship of Mitra is encouraged and the people are heavily taxed. Built upon the ruins of ancient Acheron, the hierarchy of that old evil empire is maintained in Aquilonia’s social structure. That is, until Conan takes the throne. There’s a good overview of how his rule changes the land, with many areas players could become involved. What’s especially helpful is a short sidebar acknowledging the problems of Conan overshadowing PCs, and how to manage that.
There’s a brief overview of Aquilonian geography, though some areas like Tauran, Gunderland, Westermarck, and the Bossonian Marches are more fleshed out in Conan The Scout. Since the main focus of this book is Aquilonia itself and the nature of rulership in the Hyborian Age, this isn’t as frustrating as it could be. Those lands thematically fit better in another book, so don’t receive expansive treatment here. However, the capital city Tarantia gets a decent survey, as does the older city Shamar, built on the ruins of an Acheronian city and featuring an intriguing supernatural connection that could be the basis for an ongoing story. Naturally there are other ancient ruins about and two are given some deeper description along with story hooks.
As expected, this book has a focus on rulership and how to reconcile that with swords and sorcery roleplaying. “Carousing” and downtime activities become very different when you have to manage holdings between sessions; the bigger picture becomes important. After the Carousing phase, players will roll for events that occur to their kingdom. These can be anything from mundane plague or bandits, traitors in the court, the reappearance of long-lost heirs to the old monarch, or unnatural ones like cults, demons, or other things connected to dead Acheron. Because the scope has changed there is also some discussion about the movement of history, including past the Hyborian Age.
Myths and stories of the rulers of the Hyborian Age are also given an overview and are perfect for pulling story hooks. There’s also a new set of opponents and allies statted out, from the generic to named characters from the books, such as Zenobia and Pallantides, as well as Conan himself at the time of these stories.
There’s a full chapter dedicated to running Conan games at a rulership level. It covers how to get there, how to structure the game if you start there, themes, the importance of retainers and allies, feudalism, and how to handle games where conflict may occur between players due to their responsibilities or ambitions. Kingdom and faction management is abstracted and pretty straightforward, as is warfare, which extends the rules for factions to account for them harming each other in pitched battle. It may not innately have the tension of maneuvering units across a battlefield, but there’s always miniature wargaming for that.
Player characters get expanded creation rules to adjust their Homelands and Castes, with new ones included. New stories and archetypes are available, like Courtier, Knight, Minstrel, as well as new Talents that synthesize with the rules presented in this book.
Achieving rulership over a great domain is a hallmark of fantasy gaming and has been present since the early days of D&D. Not every fantasy roleplaying game includes structured rules for it, or even addresses domain-level play, as it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to emulate in a fun and engaging way. But it can provide a source for rich stories and conflicts, so I always like to see supplements (or core chapters) that focus on that style of play. Conan The King presents a simple and clear way to handle that scope of game along with an overview of the great kingdom of Aquilonia.
Conan The King can be purchased at the Modiphius Webstore or from the below Affiliate link, which helps support this website at no extra cost to you!