Friday, June 30, 2017

Conan, Fafhrd, and Mouser Walk into a bar . . .



I've often thought that the default D&D adventurer's attitude most definitely came from Conan and Fafhrd and Mouser. I mean, that's not revolutionary, it's just that the "we want to be rich, maybe famous, and we might save the world while we're at it" default of earlier editions got clouded a bit with 2nd edition's push that PCs are heroes, and if they aren't paragons of virtue, then they must have deep philosophical reasons for not being good.



Now, what I've had a harder time with is pinning down the slight differences between shades of Conan and shades of Fafhrd and Mouser. I know their worlds are different--Conan lives in a world where the supernatural always seems to be way at the edges of things, whereas magic is a bit more common for Fafhrd and Mouser to encounter, even if it's not easily accessible to the heroes.

I even thought about how early D&D showed higher level adventurers and how they end up gaining followers and getting settled in. Conan becomes a king, Fafhrd and Mouser retire to Rime Isle with their crew of miscreants in tow. But following that thread backwards, I think I finally hit on what (to me) the big difference between the approaches might have been.

Conan doesn't have a home. He's a wanderer that is largely devoid of sentimentality. When he becomes a king, it's not because he feels especially endeared to that nation--he has the opportunity, and it seems like the next challenge in his life. Even when his rule is threatened, it's more about defending what is his and proving himself than any affection for his kingdom.



Fafhrd and Mouser get attached to things. They have a home. Early on its Lankhmar. Even when they try to run away from the city, they end up back there. Later in their lives, they finally break away from the city, but they are still attached to Rime Isle. You could argue that both of the Twain have those homes because they also form specific attachment to their lovers, and while that's not wrong, they also show a need to have a home base even when they don't have consistent, attached lovers.

So, to me, that now starts to stand out as a big difference in the style between Conan and Fafhrd and Mouser--do you have a home base and attachments, but a need to adventure as well, or are you all about the next conquest, without any real desire to settle down.

I am almost loathe to say this, but--Conan is much more the murder hobo than Fafhrd or Mouser. Fafhrd and Mouser are more Murder Homebodies. Conan wanders the land, back and forth, murderhoboing, while Fafhrd and Mouser go on extended murder vacations, then come home in the off season.

It's not that one is better than the other. The idea of getting rich, maybe famous, and indulging in the spoils of adventuring, is a strong theme in both. Both sets of stories have the protagonist doing morally questionable things. But as a person who likes to set down roots and have attachments, I think I get Fafhrd and Mouser more, and that might be while I'm a bit more drawn to them than I am Conan.

Another difference? Fafhrd and Mouser are DC guys and know Wonder Woman and Catwoman


I also think this plays into what you want out of your D&D-alike game. If you like knowing persistent things about the city outside of the dungeon or the wilderness, a different playstyle is going to appeal to you then if you are looking for the next challenge and the city is the place you relax, provision, and maybe get double crossed, before you move to the next city next to the next challenge.

The Hyborian Age certainly has consistent characteristics, but they exist to make sure you know you are in the same setting, at the same time. There isn't the sentimentality of the same bar on the same street with the same bartender. There is the utilitarian knowledge that nobles from X culture behave this way, armies from Y nation arm themselves thus, and the trade road between Z and A is important, so many battles naturally happen there. Conan's world is all the harsher because Conan himself is very results oriented.

Anybody surprised that this happened? Makes perfect sense to me.


Conan gets restless and decides to challenge himself with a new, greater task. Fafhrd and Mouser get bored and decide to poke something dangerous with a stick. Unlike the author of a story, of course, when you DM, you are likely to have a mixed table of Conans, Fafhrds, Mousers, and maybe an Aragorn or a Bilbo along for the ride as well. And probably Deadpool. Deadpool doesn’t care about genre.

1 comment:

  1. "Deadpool doesn’t care about genre."

    ROFL...

    I have always been more attracted to Conan than the Mouser and Fafhrd mostly because of the worlds they inhabit. While it is different, the world of Lankhmar is very Tolkien-esque with the commonality of its magic, and places where magic is scary and dangerous appeal to me more from a storytelling perspective. Hence, why I tend to prefer low-fantasy games and settings to Tolkien-esque high-fantasy.

    But you are right Conan and his motivations being more oriented toward personal goals and self-challenge than to any sort of sentimental attachment to his surroundings.

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