Gygax on Conan

Gygax devoted the entirety of his "Sorcerer's Scroll" column in Dragon Magazine #36 (April 1980) to a dossier on Robert E. Howard's Conan character. He says in the first paragraph that this was inspired by the Schick-Moldvay "Giants in the Earth" series that had recently garnered some attention. I think it's interesting in a number of ways. Without reproducing the entire article, I'll present the summary table and briefly outline the rest of the article afterward.

Looking at this table, we see a number of interesting design decisions. As Gygax writes, "All ability statistics are based on the assumption that Conan was a prime example of the physically and mentally superior individual...". All of his ability scores vary up and/or down over the course of Conan's life, not wholly unlike the rules in the DMG. (Intelligence in parentheses was "potential"; Charisma after a slash was with regard to females.) More interestingly, his class levels in Fighter and Thief also go up, peak, and then degenerate later on in life. (While this was never codified in any ruleset, I think it's an excellent idea.)

The rest of the article presents details on Conan's various skills, proficiencies, and special abilities, which take up most of two magazine pages (an immense length, considering standards of the time). These include -- Weapon proficiencies (14 types by age 40), thieving abilities (various bonuses), armor class (usually light armor), number of attacks (specially increased, up to 3 per round), damage per attack (normal weapons act magical, up to +3), special attacks (modified hit roll of 21+ does double damage), special defenses (surprised 1-in-20, saves get +4 bonus, can't die from poison, heals 10 hp/day), magic resistance (25% if aware), psionics (latent, stress situations only, see table above), special abilities (parry with 2nd weapon, run for a day without fatigue, 75% to hide his trail), secondary skills (6 types by age 25), nonlethal combat (special bonuses to pummeling, grappling, overbearing), and weaponless combat (attack with bare hands as a club). Phew!

Another interesting thing is that if you take this list of special abilities, and compare it to the later Barbarian class writeup for AD&D, you'll see that more things overlap than don't. Conan, appearing first in this "Sorcerer's Scroll" article, clearly served as the template for AD&D Barbarians as they would be constructed later.

Final note: You might also compare this to the much shorter writeup that came earlier in OD&D Sup-IV (Gods, Demigods, and Heroes) by Kuntz & Ward. There he's presented as a Neutral Ftr15/Thf9 with hp 117 (S18/00, I16, W10, C17, D18, X15; surprised only 1-in-12), this being somewhat similar to Gygax's writeup between the ages of 25 and 30. Of course, that work has the further advantage of detailing all the other interesting figures in REH's Hyborea, such as Crom, Set, Thoth Amon, several pages of special magic items, and so forth.


Giant's Armor

When I recently ran Module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, there were some adjudications I had to make about giant armor. One issue is that although in AD&D giants are given increasingly effective armor per giant type, in OD&D they all have the same fixed value: AC4. A second issue is that while the Steading has an Arsenal/Weapons complex with giant-sized shields, helmets, and spears (Greek style?), there are no rules given as to how this helps the giants if they get in and arm themselves appropriately.

Here's what I decided to do for my OD&D game: Say that all giant types are AC5 naturally without any protection. Then say that the more sophisticated giant types customarily wear better armor, with the same number of steps protection that PCs get from them (or equivalently, normal book armor AC +4 steps). For example:
  • Hill giants, AC5 base. Normally wear no armor (primitive skins) for AC5. If giants in the Steading get to the Armory for shield & helmet, they become AC3 (+1 each).
  • Frost giants, AC5 base. Normally wear leather armor (berserker/barbarian-style) for AC3 (+2 steps improvement).
  • Fire giants, AC5 base. Normally wear giant chain mail (dwarf/heavy foot style) for AC1 (+4 steps improvement).
So you can see it becomes easy to adjudicate if a giant picks up a shield, or gets caught sleeping unarmored, etc. On the one hand, the G1 giants become easier by one step when feasting/unarmored, but are more challenging by one step if they get to their shield/helmet gear. The "normal" protection here results in being within 1 or 2 points of the revised AD&D statistics, frost giants being +1 improved, and fire giants toughened by +2 steps. If you want to make some special giant King that had full plate mail ("black iron armor"?), then he'd weigh in at AC -1, but I wouldn't anticipate using that very frequently.

Finally, if you compute the average AC among all these types in their standard armor, weighting by frequency of occurrence (6:1:1, per Vol-2, p. 9), then you get a mean value of AC 4, exactly as shown in the OD&D monster reference table for all giants.