Dungeon World Fronts: Conan the Barbarian

In this series of articles I’ll be describing how I prepare and run Dungeon World campaigns. That doesn’t mean this is the only or right way to do this, and you should do what works for you. However, I do hope you can find something useful to take away for your own games, and please feel free to share your own experience, as I love to steal- I mean learn- from other GMs. You can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

For the first example Front I promised, we’re going to look at a classic - Conan the Barbarian, the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a classic sword and sorcery tale that would be right at home in Dungeon World, and it translates well as a Front.

First, your heroes: Conan, Valeria, and Subotai. You have a classic Barbarian, a Fighter (she’s obviously taken some Thief Moves when leveling up), and a Thief. They’re our cast.

Next, your bad guys: Thulsa Doom and his snake cult. Obviously, snake cult = Cult, while Thulsa himself falls under the category of a Power-mad Wizard (albeit one with godly ambitions) and some Custom Moves. This rounds out our set of villains.

Our heroes spend the first part of the movie finding each other and making their Bonds. Conan rescues Subotai from his imprisonment, and they come upon Valeria breaking into the snake cult’s tower. The enemy of my enemy, right? Inside the tower they find monsters and obstacles enough to fill at least one session, if not two, making this a good example of an Adventure Front. And we have a great set, with human sacrifice, giant snakes, and odd hooded priestesses running around in a panic. Valeria even gets to dress up as one of the priestesses before making an impulsive leap into a pool far below to escape. That was a Defy Danger move if I ever saw one.

There’s more character building in the movie at this point, which would make for a good recovery session as the heroes plan to take on Thulsa Doom and the rest of the cult. It’s not bad advice for a campaign, actually. You don’t have to take a full session, but allowing the rising action to be put aside for a moment can allow for richer character interactions, and as a GM, I’ve had more fun letting characters get into trouble of their own free will in a ‘safe’ setting…and then if it drags, you can just send in King Osric’s guard to pull the players from their oatmeal and set them to work again.

Osric is a threat to the characters, but not in the way a Front is. He’s tied to the Stakes, since the goal of the heroes is to rescue his daughter and stop Thulsa Doom’s rise to power. This is our Impending Doom: Tyranny, a world where everyone is enslaved to a snake cult and Thulsa Doom rules over all. The hero's reward is equally epic, with Osric promising a king’s worth of gold if his daughter is returned, and the downfall of the snake cult. It leads to questions like: Will Valeria chose loyalty over gold? Can Conan get his revenge and keep his life? Subotai doesn’t really have a Stake, but if he were a player character, it would probably play off his earlier imprisonment or something similar.

This leads us back to Thulsa Doom, cementing him as our Campaign Front. All roads come back to him eventually. People throughout the movie keep mentioning him, which is a good tip to use with your NPCs. The Mountain of Power tower serves as a Cursed Place. It’s where our heroes finally defeat the snake cult and Thulsa Doom. I highly recommend using the soundtrack from the movie during gaming sessions. It definitely sets the mood.

If we follow the movie as our plot arc, the rescue attempt of the princess would be our second Adventure Front, with plenty of opponents in the form of Thulsa Doom’s old raiding party. Sadly, we lose Valeria after this, and the Front would wrap up with the battle in the standing stones. Conan’s vision of sparkly Valkyrie Valeria seems to me like a 12+ on a Discern Realities roll or Barbarian Move, The One Who Knocks.

We then wrap up the Campaign Front when Conan and Osric’s daughter (sadly, she’s not named) return to the Mountain of Power and slay Thulsa Doom. And at last, our Barbarian gets to know what is best in life.

You can download the Conan Campaign Front here.

For my next Front, I’ll be putting Fire and Ice through the Front grinder. After that, I may venture out of the swords and sorcery genre, and we’ll see what kind of Dungeon World that gives us.