Saturday, August 17, 2013

B is for Barbarian

And not just any barbarian, I’m talking about b-movie barbarians. You know, those bare-chested outlaws that littered the cinemas back in the glorious ‘80s. I was watching Deathstalker the other day, and it inspired me to put together a quick mini-game of ‘80s barbarian action.


You are a barbarian warrior. Heck, not just a warrior, a freaking barbarian lord! That means you don’t need to worry about races or classes or all that nonsense.

As a cat-like barbarian lord, you have 9 lives (more on that later) and you’re a kick-ass combatant. In combat, which uses a D6, you score a hit as follows:

     vs. unarmored foes roll 2-6 on 1d6
     vs. leather armor or thick skin roll 3-6 on 1d6
     vs. chainmail or thick scales roll 4-6 on 1d6
     vs. platemail roll 5-6 on 1d6
     vs. magic armor or ethereal foes roll 6 on 1d6

Each hit takes one life from a foe.

Of course, less skilled fighters use different hit scores. The full attack matrix is there to the right.

In the attack matrix, a 6 followed by another number means if the attacker rolls a “6”, they must roll another 1d6 and roll in the additional range to succeed.
Attacking from horseback or in an awkward position or without a weapon drops one’s effective skill level (for each such problem) by one column.

Okay – so that’s combat!

So, how do we distinguish one barbarian from another (other than hair color and style of loincloth) – with the extras.

Each barbarian hero can choose two pieces of equipment. Each weapon causes a special effect when the hero rolls a “6” in combat and follows it up with a second “6” on 1d6

  • Axe: Can be used to chop down doors (roll 3-6 on 1d6); in combat, decapitates foes for instant death
  • Bow: Range of 200 yards; in combat, can pin foes to walls
  • Broadsword: In combat, decapitates foes for instant death
  • Chainmail Bikini: Can negate hits on a roll of 4-6 on 1d6; and if you're a guy, the bikini is also going to get you a few weird looks
  • Chakram: Range of 50 yards; in combat, can decapitate foes for instant death
  • Flying Guillotine: Range 5 yards; in combat can decapitate foes for instant death
  • Francisca: Range 10 yards
  • Helmet: Can negate one hit and is then destroyed; can have wings, horns or a plume
  • Maul: Can be used to smash down doors (roll 2-6 on 1d6); in combat, can knock foes flat on their back
  • Shield: Can negate one hit and is then destroyed
  • Spear: Range 10 yards; in combat impales foes for extra loss of life

Each barbarian hero can choose one extra skill to possess:

  • Beastspeaker: Can communicate with animals, and can control their actions on a roll of 4-6 on 1d6
  • Bull Strength: Can tote wenches, kegs and other heavy objects on his shoulders; up to 300 pounds
  • Cat-Like Reflexes: Can climb walls and move silently on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Cleave: Can make a free attack on an opponent within reach after successfully killing another foe
  • Eagle Eyes: Can spot ambushes, traps and secret or concealed doors on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Fortitude: Can ignore the effects of fatigue, poison or disease on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Horseman: Can attack from horseback with no penalty
  • Intimidate: Can get information out of foes or cause unskilled combatants to flee him on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Iron Will: Can ignore the effects of magical control and fear on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Savage Cunning: Can hide in the wilderness and surprise foes (free attack) on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Scholarly Mein: Can read ancient inscriptions, disarm traps on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6 and produce 1d6 bombs (range 10 yards) per day if he has the ingredients for gunpowder (watch the gorn episode of Star Trek for the formula)
  • Skullduggery: Can pick pockets and find and disarm traps on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6
  • Whirlwind: Can make multiple attacks against foes within range, reducing his combat skill by one column for each additional foe attacked during the round
  • Woo Women: Can make the ladies knees weak and cause their hearts to flutter on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6

A good barbarian does not travel alone. The barbarian hero can choose two companions for his adventure from the following list. Each companion can fight by his side and brings other abilities to the table as well.

  • Amazon Warrior: Expert warrior with sword and bow, can intimidate foes; has 6 lives
  • Charming Warrior: Expert warrior with sword and shield, can woo women; has 6 lives
  • Cunning Outlaw: Skilled warrior with sword and bow, capable of skullduggery; has 6 lives
  • Feisty Peasant: Unskilled warrior with club, can carry stuff and use common sense to get out of predicaments on a roll of 4-6 on 1d6; has 3 lives
  • Hedge Wizard: Unskilled warrior with staff, possesses a scholarly mein, can cast simple spells of detection and can counter the spells of other wizards on a roll of 4-6 on 1d6; has 3 lives
  • Holy Man: Skilled warrior with mace and chainmail, can hold spirits and undead at bay on a roll of 3-6 on 1d6; has 3 lives
  • Wily Thief: Skilled warrior with dagger, possesses cat-like reflexes, eagle eyes and skullduggery; has 3 lives
  • Young Barbarian: Skilled warrior with axe, possesses savage cunning and bull strength; has 6 lives

With each adventure, a barbarian hero has one of three motivations: Greed (i.e. gold, jewels, etc.), Lust (for a prince or princess, feisty peasant girl, dashing swordsman, etc.) or Revenge. Some adventures might allow more than one such motivation. Whenever the barbarian hero (or a comrade) would be destroyed during the adventure, he or she can play a motivation card and manage an amazing feat that ensures their survival.


So, you have your barbarian hero and his retinue. Adventures are simple – come up with a patron, a cause, a villain and his lieutenant and soldiers, a fortress for the villain, dangers along the way, and you’re done.

For evil high priests, wizards and sorcerers, give them whatever spells make sense – usually things like teleportation, gaseous form, fireballs, lightning bolts, mind control, invisibility, etc. To resist a spell, a barbarian hero or hedge wizard needs to roll a 3-6 on 1d6, while others need to roll a 4-6 on 1d6.

For monsters, dig into your game books. A monster has as many lives as it has hit dice, fights like a monster, beast or demon (use your best judgment) and has as many attacks as you think it should have. Give the monsters skills (as above) where necessary. The main thing – don’t overthink it. This is a barbarian b-movie, after all. It’s not the story, it’s the action!


  1. Please allow me to introduce my friends: Attila, Genghis, Kubla and Tamerlane. They don't feel fighting from horseback is a disadvantage.

    Or is it because horses tend to be too sensible to work in the movies and are thus uncooperative?

    Other than that, I like it. Of course I'll have to tweak the combat system. I mean who plays a game without messing with the combat system first?

    1. I don't think they were really barbarians, more "nomads" in the fantasy setting sense.

      Barbarians are more like the Celts and Gauls than anything else.

      See the first Conan movie. You had Conan and then the other guy, Subotai, who was a hun like guy. Hrykanian?

    2. It is difficult if you're not trained to do it, thus the skill "horseman".

    3. All I'm saying is it should be advantageous to fight from horseback when you know what you're doing-not just not a disadvantage.

  2. Very nice!

  3. An idea whose time has come. Well, it came in the 80s, really.

  4. You are amazing: You watch Deathstalker and whip up a post with gameable emulation, I watch Deathstalker and wonder to myself "this used to be a favorite of mine?" and go looking for a zombie flick I have yet to see to cleanse my fiilm watching palette.

  5. "...gameable emulation," is an understatement.

    This qualifies him to go back in time, bump Dr. Holmes from the role and publish this as OD&D.

    Everything else is easily handled on the fly (equip, hirelings, etc.) with the same mechanic.

    Brilliant, elegant and complete. Well done.



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