Hands of Fate - Using the Conan Card Decks

By Jason Durall


The Kickstarter for the Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of roleplaying game line unlocked many interesting game aids, from dice and dice trays, maps and map tiles, and other useful accessories. Some of the most useful of these are the five different Conan card decks, which assist the gamemaster and players in a variety of fashions, both before and during gameplay.

Almost all the cards contain a short quote from a relevant passage in one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, and can be read aloud to evoke mood, or just provide a bit of inspiration and reference for the user of the card.

Following are some of the ways these can be used to their best effect in play and preparation, by players and gamemasters alike.

Doom & Fortune Cards

This deck can be used by the players and gamemaster. They are divided into three types: Fortune, Doom, and Momentum. These work in the following ways and are identified by symbols and colors.

  • Fortune (Mitra/Phoenix): These six cards represent the standard ways players can spend Fortune in the game. They can be placed face-up in the middle of the table as reference for the players or kept in a hand everyone has their own deck. The gamemaster can also spend Doom to achieve the same effects.
  • Momentum (Amra/Lion): These cover the standard Momentum spends and a variety of other situational ones. The gamemaster can pick others based on a given situation or location and make them available to players, should they choose to spend the Momentum.
  • Doom (Set/Serpent): These are the standard Doom spends as well as a variety of other circumstances where Doom can be spent. The gamemaster should pick these ahead of time, suitable to the circumstances or creatures in an encounter.

Encounter Cards

This deck is primarily for the gamemaster and provides a series of cards summarizing core information about creatures and their abilities. The remainder of the deck is divided into humans or creatures, one per card, color-coded as Minions, Toughened, Nemeses, and named/unique Nemeses. These are selected for an encounter or could be drawn from randomly if a new encounter is desired, and used as reference as necessary, saving the gamemaster flipping through the core book for the information.

Players could use these cards as well for Minions they have control over (sidekicks or followers, mounts, summoned creatures, etc.) or even use the named Nemeses as potential player characters.

The pictures on one side allow for a quick visual reference for the gamemaster and the players.

Location Cards

These can be used to determine random locations, or to help provide inspiration when the gamemaster is fleshing out a location and zone for gameplay. Each includes spends for Momentum, Doom, and Fortune unique to the location and the relevant costs for each. The gamemaster can hold on to these and keep the information a secret, or give them to the players to use the relevant spends.

Sorcery Cards

This deck contains a variety of cards and are usable by the players or gamemaster any time sorcery, petty enchantments, or magic items come into play.

  • Reference cards listing of all the spells from the core rulebook, an index of sorcery terms, a list of enchantments, and sorcery traditions.
  • Summary cards explaining how sorcery is learned and cast, counter magic, how to manufacture talismans, patrons, resisting magic, consequences, human sacrifice, occult libraries, etc.
  • Spell cards described summarized versions of the spells, along with all information needed to know to cast it, including Momentum spends, alternative effects, and examples. Most spells cover two cards, and are so numbered (1 of 2, 2 of 2).
  • Petty enchantment cards, grouped by type (Exploding Powders, Talismans, Lotus Pollens, etc.)
  • Sorcerer’s repertoire cards describing how sorcerers use skills in conjunction with their magic for greater effectiveness and to expand their capabilities.
  • Talent tree cards for Alchemy and Sorcery, summarizing their associated talents.
  • A small number of other cards with summoned creatures.
  • A card with the statistics for Conan’s greatest enemy, Thoth-amon, and another card with his powerful artifact, the Serpent Ring of Set.
  • A card describing a powerful enchantment, the Blessing of the Phoenix.

Story Cards

These are more versatile than the other decks but also are less specific. They are divided into the following types and identified by the symbol on the back:

  • Hooks (lariat) pull player characters in a particular direction, describe potential motivations, or suggest instigating events.
  • Goals (bow and arrow) represent potential rewards or desired states to achieve.
  • Obstacles (mountain) are challenges in the physical world that must be overcome or conditions that must be dealt with, potentially slowing the player characters or forcing them to change tactics.
  • Twists (dagger) are surprising turns of fate, changes of circumstances, hidden motivations, or hitherto unknown secrets that are revealed, perhaps casting events into a new light and complicating things for the player characters.
  • Plot fulfillments (serpents) are the realization of the story and the final conditions that need to be attained.

They can be used randomly by the gamemaster when devising adventures or introducing new and sometimes random story elements into games, or they can be given in a small batch to players for their own use, introducing surprising twists and turns to the already evolving narrative.

They can also be laid out in a tarot-style spread, using whatever five card spread the gamemaster desires. This could be done in advance of gameplay, as a means of generating a new adventure, or a fortuneteller or oracle might use such cards to read the player characters their fates.

Using the Cards with the Conan Gamemaster’s Toolkit

The Adventure Generator on pages 11–21 of the Conan Gamemaster’s Toolkit provides guidance for generating a properly Howardian adventure using random tables. Any of these decks can be utilized in conjunction with this system for adventure generation, and the decks themselves were developed specifically to enhance such adventure creation without requiring or replacing the generator.

Additionally, the cards themselves can be enhanced using these tables, adding motivations, additional goals or objectives, characterization, nationalities, and conditions where appropriate. This is especially useful when fleshing out Encounter cards, customizing them as desired.

Used together, the five Conan card decks and the Gamemaster’s Toolkit should provide even the most time-pressed gamemaster with a near-infinite number of potential adventures for one-shots, short series, or even keep campaigns fresh and enjoyable for years!