Monday, 9 April 2018

Campaigns I'll Probably Never Run: Kozaki of the Steppes

"On the broad steppes between the Sea of Vilayet and borders of the easternmost Hyborian kingdoms, a new race had sprung up in the past half-century, formed originally of fleeing criminals, broken men, escaped slaves, and deserting soldiers.  They were men of many crimes and countries, some born on the steppes, some fleeing from kingdoms in the west.  They were called kozak, which means wastrel." - The Hyborian Age by Robert E. Howard

A lot of people don't like the game made by Mongoose.
Which I can respect, but you gotta admit it has some
damn good looking art.
If any of you weren't aware I am a huge Conan the Barbarian fan.  Hell, my first official D&D character Thogetor Hawklight was a Conan expy.  More in line with the Schwarzenegger Movies from the '80s than the stories by Howard.  (At the time I had only seen the films and read the Tower of the Elephant).  Being such a huge fan of the character it has long been one of my ambitions to run a Campaign; set in Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age.  A number of factors have prevented me from achieving this goal.  One being a lack of players willing to play in such a game.  Compared to the Tolkien-esque dungeon crawls that people usually think of when you bring up Tabletop Roleplaying.  The Swords and Sorcery setting that Conan inhabits is hurting for popularity.  Another factor is that I kept wheedling about what system I'd use to run such a game.  Should I use the one from Mongoose Publishing?  Hack D&D 3.5/Pathfinder for use in the Hyborian setting?  Or use the Conan Sourcebook from GURPS?  So it seemed that my dream of a Hyborian campaign would be stuck in development hell for an indeterminate amount of time.

Now some of you regular readers have probably noticed that there's been a lot of inactivity on this blog.  Despite my promises and best efforts I've fallen behind on updating.  Rather than putting out my usual four posts a month I've ended up cutting back to two.  This has been caused by a combination of a decrease in free time and just generally feeling uninspired when I do get a chance to sit down in front of my laptop.  In short I've got writer's block and less time than I used to.  A deadly combination when you're writing.  I do feel obligated to update when I can though, so this is me trying to make up for lost time.

The Campaign

The style of game I eventually settled on.  A Kozak game.
When I first envisioned running a Conan campaign I always figured that it'd be a thieve's game.  Specifically one set in the Zamoran city of Shadizar.  A city that Howard had written notes about but never set a story in.  The idea of a running a game in a city so wicked that it's own creator never set a story in it appealed to me.  The fact that there was a great supplement written about Shadizar by Mongoose games, helped too.  I eventually lost interest in it though.  There just seemed to be no real source of conflict to a game about thieves in the most wicked city in the world.  It just lacked that something that would've made it distinctly feel like it was set in the Hyborian Age.  There're plenty of settings about playing thieves in a corrupt city.  Dungeons and Dragons probably has several of them.  I needed something more that would make it feel unique to Hyboria.  (I was a little disappointed about not playing in a Zamoran city since The Tower of the Elephant is one of my favourite Conan Stories).  My thoughts next turned to a campaign about Piracy (Queen of the Black Coast is another favourite) but again, there are several games like that in regular D&D.  That's when I remembered another favourite story of mine A Witch Shall Be Born.

It's unique in terms of Conan stories in that Conan himself is hardly in the story.  He's reduced to playing the role of the cavalry that arrives after the threat has been defeated by the other heroes.  While he does arrive late there was something about the forces he's leading that always intrigued me. He's leading an army of eleven thousand Zaugir raiders.  Little more than bandits, yet enough to be seen as a threat to a city-state and the mercenaries occupying it.  This idea of such humble forces being a legitimate threat to a government, is something that I seized upon.  From there it was just a matter of thinking on how to turn that into a game.  

The Kozaki prefer to strike against Turan but they aren't adverse to turning
their sights elsewhere.  The border regions of Zamora, Shem, Koth and its
subject kingdoms of Khauran and Khoraja are often targets of their raids.
Once I had the initial idea though it went easier than I thought it would.  The characters would be the leaders of a small band of Kozaki.  Nomadic bandits that live on the north-western steppes claimed by the Turanian Empire.  They dress and fight like the Hyrkanians/Turanians.  Riding atop horses, wielding bows, lances and scimitars.  Despite dressing in the style of their enemies, they are not of their culture.  Some were born on the steppes of Shemite stock with some Hyborian blood thrown in. Others came from as far west as Zingara, as far east as Khitai, as far North as Cimmeria and others still as far south as the lands of the Black Kingdoms.  Some were brought here as slaves, others criminals fleeing crimes in their homelands and some are just mercenaries/military deserters turned bandit.  The Kozaki or the Free People as they prefer to call themselves.  Aren't picky about who joins their ranks as long as a man displays skill at arms, horsemanship and a hatred of Turan.  He is welcome.  This willingness to take in anyone is great for a GM because his players can play whatever character race their little heart desires.  The same goes for character classes/types.  Though some roles might have a harder time fitting in than others.   The beauty of the setting though is that you can create characters that come from many walks of life.  Having been soldiers, thieves and pirates well before they were Kozaks.  Much like Conan himself.  The campaign also offers some opportunity to travel, so the characters won't always be out on the steppes.  They could visit the deserts of Shem to do some horse trading with the Zaugir.  Perhaps raid a Shemitish caravan on it's way to Aghrapur on the trip back to their homelands.  They could take a trip Shadizar (I still want to have them at least visit it once) to dispose of their ill-gotten gains.  The possibilities are endless.
  •  Take up mercenary work as caravan guards with merchants who have lost faith in the Turanian Outriders' ability to protect them from Kozak raids.  In true Roman fashion they hire barbarians to protect themselves from other barbarians.
  • Raid Turanian outposts, cities and forts.  Maybe even one day actually take one of them as their first step in carving out their own empire.  
  • Strike up a clandestine alliance with the piratical Red Brotherhood of the Vilayet Sea.  (An opportunity that occurs to me is to have them meet Valeria as their contact with the Brotherhood.  I'm aware she's a member of the other Red Brotherhood but hey if Conan can gallivant around the continent why can't she?)
  • Ally themselves with other bands of Kozaki in hopes of forming an army to face the Turanians head on.  Perhaps even a band lead by Olgerd Vladislav the former Kozaki hetman who later leads the Zaugir in A Witch Shall Be Born.  
  • Evade capture/slaughter by soldiers/mercenaries hired by the Turanians to stomp out the Kozaki.  Perhaps led by Constantius the Desert Falcon.  The Kothic Mercenary that crucified Conan in A Witch Shall Born, he makes a great villain for the players to hate.  
  • Attend an exchange of hostages at the Turanian Fort Ghori.  Exchanging Turanian prisoners for the release of their fellow Kozaki.  
Those are just a sample of the ideas that've been bouncing around in my head.  I think the concept holds a lot of promise.  Too bad I haven't found the right group to play it with.  I played with a guy in High School who always wanted to have a character that led an army.  I'm sure he would've salivated over the possibility of leading a band of raiders like the Kozaki.  Anyways, I think I've ramble long enough.  I hope you enjoyed reading this, hopefully I'll be able to write more than I have been later this month.  If you liked this post be sure to +1, re-share, follow this blog and share any opinions you have in the comments below.  Have a nice day and may you roll many crits.

Edit: I've written a sequel to this post, dealing with various character concepts that might appear in a Kozaki band.  You can find it by pressing this link.