[Sword & Sanity Dissected] Character Career Paths

Now that we have covered the basics of character creation as well as alignment in a sword & sanity game it is time to discuss a character’s career path. More specifically, what character classes will the players pursue as their characters gain experience and levels.

The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).


There is a grand tradition in sword & sorcery (S&S) fiction for the heroes to have engaged in multiple professions during their careers. This helps the author establish a series of eras in the hero’s life, and also makes for an interesting read. Conan is an excellent example of this. Of course he began his adventuring career as a barbarian, but the stories also refer to him as a thief, a soldier, a pirate and ultimately as a noble when he finally becomes king of Aquilonia.

I strongly urge any game master running a S&S style game to include multiclassing in their game. Allowing characters to have multiple career paths is an essential element to the S&S genre. Ultimately, it is up to the players to decide what turns their characters career paths will take. When designing adventures keep this in mind, and help setup opportunities for the characters to branch off into new classes. This will also help keep things fresh for you and your players.

The Rules

As written Castles & Crusades does not support multiclassing. There have been articles in The Crusader that present various methods of handling this. Personally, I feel the multiclass rules in the d20 SRD are more than adequate, and C&C is easily house ruled, so there will be no issues importing these rules. As long as the character meets all the class requirements, has the opportunity to switch to a new class during his adventures and works hand-in-hand with the game master, I see no reason why multiclassing should pose a problem.


[Sword & Sanity Dissected] Alignment

While discussing the creation of characters for a sword & sanity game the morality of the game world and how it relates back to the Dungeons & Dragons alignment system was discussed briefly. This article is a continuation of that discussion.

The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).

Good and Evil

As stated before, almost all characters in the sword & sorcery (S&S) genre are morally ambiguous. The heroes of these tales are thieves and slayers, and their actions are not always “heroic”. They simply do not concern themselves with “the greater good” on their hero’s journey. Even when placed in a situation where there is an evil that needs to be battled. Usually, there is another agenda at play that gets the hero involved in the first place. Revenge and fortune are always a great motivating forces in S&S tales.

Right and Wrong

So how do you approach Alignment in a S&S style game? Doing away with the Alignment rules altogether would be the best way to go. Taking this approach should introduce a sense of freedom to the players, as they will not be penalized for their actions, at least in game terms. Of course the local authorities might argue with this when they decide to have their characters ride roughshod through town trampling women and children along the way.

Even though you as a game master have decided to nix the alignment system from the game the players will still be held accountable for the decisions they make when playing their characters. Eliminating a moral awareness of good and evil does not mean that there still isn’t a sense of right and wrong. Of course the storyline and the setting you present will regulate this for you. There is no need for a game mechanic to do that work when the story itself can. When designing your game setting make sure you establish what the laws of the land are, and hold the characters accountable to those laws.

Law and Chaos

A more traditional way (at least in Gygaxian D&D terms) of approaching Alignment in a S&S setting is through the introduction of the metaphysical concepts of Law and Chaos on a cosmic level, best illustrated by the Elric series of stories. In this approach there is a war that rages where the powers that be are attempting to sway the Cosmic Balance towards Law or Chaos, and the gods themselves manipulate humanity to that end.

The Alignment system as presented in D&D represents this approach very well. Little or no adjustments need to be made. How will this effect gameplay? It depends on how interactive the extra-planar beings are with the people of the world, and how aggressive they are when involving the characters in their cosmic dealings. Obviously, this could be a great way to take high level characters and transition them from a realm-based game and into a planar level campaign where they become agents for Law or Chaos.

Living by a Code

Sometimes it is the characters themselves in a S&S story that regulate Alignment, and they do this by a code that they have for whatever reason decided to live by. Robert Howard liked the idea of having his heroes live by certain codes of conduct.

Conan lived by a "barbaric code", which instilled in him a hatred of civilized “law”, but also gave him a deep level of integrity and honor. Despite being a man who could kill and pillage without a second thought, he was also a man of his word and a person who could become a true friend to those he respected.

Solomon Kane lived by his Puritan worldview, which makes his code much more straight forward than Conan’s. Kane was a pious man in a world of immorality and decadence, and it was his duty to God to punish that which was immoral. Despite this drive to destroy evil, Kane had a savageness that always boiled below the surface, which made him a stone cold killer when he had to be. Obviously, Kane would be a great model for anyone attempting to play a Paladin in a S&S campaign.


So what would the Old Gent of Providence say about all of this? Obviously, he would scoff at the notion of a Cosmic Balance. One of the main philosophical tenets in Lovecraft’s stories is that the universe is devoid of a higher power or a higher sense of morality, and humans are trapped in an unending existential abyss.

It was only through the efforts of August Derleth that the Mythos took a more Christianized flavor, and the Old Ones were presented more akin to demons than monstrous aliens. The cosmic forces of “good” were the Elder Gods, who opposed the "evil" Great Old Ones at every turn, but at the same time they could care less for the wellbeing of mankind. This cosmology flies in the face of what Lovecraft had established in his stories, but it makes for damn good S&S story elements. This approach is very similar to the one discussed involving Law and Chaos, and should be approached as such.


[Sword & Sanity Dissected] Character Creation

This is the first installment of a series of articles I will present that will take a closer look at the sword & sanity genre, and how to implement that concept while designing a game setting from the ground up. Each article will focus on various aspects of roleplaying games, and how they are affected when sword & sorcery meets Cthulhiana and Yog-Sothothery.

The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).

Where to begin? Well, with character creation of course…


Heroes in S&S fiction are truly heroic, and this should be reflected in the ability scores they have in your game. This can be accomplished simply by the way you allow Attributes to be generated. Here are some suggestions:

  • Random – 5d6 rolled, keeping the best three. Repeat this six times. Assign the results as needed.
  • Point Buy – each Attribute starts at 10. You have 24 points to distribute among the six Attributes. Each point spent is a cost of 1:1, until the Attribute reaches 15, at which point anything above 15 becomes more costly, and the payout increases to 2:1. Also, one Attribute can be chosen to drop below 10 for additional points (buy back at a ratio of 1:1).
  • Standardized Scores Spread – take the scores 16, 16, 14, 14, 12, 10 and distribute them among the six Attributes. An optional spread that will provide more focus along with a weakness is 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8.


Traditionally, sword & sorcery (S&S) is human-centric in its approach, and there is no reason to deviate from this standard when preparing for a sword & sanity game. The stories told in S&S literature are about humans, and their day-to-day struggles in a fantastic world. Even when the characters are from an ancient race (Atlantian, Hyperborean, etc.), come from another time or planet (Hyboria, Nehwon, etc.), or have strange physical features (pointed ears, exotic eyes, etc.) they are still essentially human nonetheless.

This means no demi-humans will be allowed as playable races. This will be hard for some players to accept. Gone are the clichéd stereotypes that we find predominant in the fantasy genre, especially fantasy gaming. What this does in game terms is it forces the players away from the fantastique and presents a realist approach to the world they will adventure in. This may sound odd since the game takes place in a fantasy world, but that is the point. If we are made to see this world through a human lens then we will come to appreciate the fantastic elements that are presented that much more.

To spice things up a bit you could consider allowing characters that are human, but they have been touched in some way by the Outer Dark. The Deep Ones that H.P. Lovecraft wrote about is an excellent example of what I mean. Many times in his stories a human character will discover his ancestral lineage has been tainted by the intermingling of human and Deep One DNA. The outcome of course is that at some point in the character's life he will start showing signs of his dark ancestry, and begin a physical metamorphosis into his worst nightmares. If you decide to introduce this type of element into your game make sure the players understand it is for flavor and effect only. This is a character background element at its core, and should have no effect on the game mechanics.

To help promote the proper mood and feel in a sword & sanity game, players should always strive to maintain a character's humanity, even when faced with the Outer Dark.


The easiest approach is to limit class choice to Barbarian, Fighter and Rogue. These are the common professions for most heroes in S&S. Having said this, it should be emphasized that no two S&S settings need be the same. Michael Moorcock did not limit himself to the standard S&S tropes when he wrote the Elric saga. There is nothing stopping a game master from allowing all the character classes into the game, if they fit the setting that is being presented.

There are some classes that are definitely out of place in S&S. Paladins and Clerics are the two classes that clash the most with the S&S genre. There are a couple of reasons for this. Morality in S&S tends to be painted in shades of gray. Good and evil are present, but the heroes tend to have a moral ambiguity that is hard to classify as good or evil. Paladins of course are not a “shades of gray” kind of class – all law, all good, all the time is the name of the game. Clerics become problematic as well, because the gods in a S&S setting do not normally hear the prayers of their followers, or if they do they do not seem to care. This makes it tough to justify the class in the setting.

So what classes should you allow in you sword & sanity game? When making this decision, think about your setting, and how the characters will live within that setting. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How will the gods interact with the world of men? Do they take an active role in the lives of their followers? If so, then Cleric makes perfect sense. A word of advice, to keep the setting gritty and dangerous it would be a good idea to limit the availability of spells that heal, cure or resurrect. Curbing these spells reestablishes the realist approach that S&S requires.
  • What about the overall morality of your setting? Is there a dark looming evil that presides over the world? If yes, then the Paladin can be included as a playable class. My sentiment on the availability of Cleric spells is reflected in the Abilities a Paladin has access to. If the Lay on Hands Ability is not allowable, then perhaps an attack bonus against undead and demons is. Be creative and fair when making adjustments. Also, I would highly suggest reading Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories to get a feel for the tone and approach the Paladin requires in a S&S game.
  • How is magic defined in the world? How common is magic, and what does it look like? Take these questions into consideration when looking over the Wizard or Illusionist. My suggestion is to maintain the “cast and forget” (or Vancian as it is popularly referred to) system of magic that Gary Gygax presented when he designed D&D. Also, make the players inventory and keep track of spell components, which will help maintain the flavor of S&S by making magic ritualistic, elusive and truly magical. (I will cover the topic of Magic with more depth in a later article in this series)
  • What about the government that rules over the lands in your game? Who is the ruling person or party? Is there political intrigue planned in the storylines you will be presenting? If so, then an Assassin would work nicely in your game. Remember, governmental hierarchy runs all the way from the ruling power down to the common magistrate. Street level politics allow for gritty intrigue that S&S is made for. Gang and guild wars should prevalent in a world where the Assassin is a playable class.
  • What will be the main backdrop for your game? Will the characters be plunged in to urban sprawl, or will the exploration of the wilder lands be the focus of the game? If the later is true then a Druid would work well. As with the Cleric it is suggested that healing and cure spells be limited to maintain the proper tone of the setting. Also, do not be afraid to dip into the historic roots of the Druid, and make blood sacrifice a part of their religious practices. S&S is not about being politically correct, so do not be afraid to bring in elements like this to heighten the overall menacing flavor of the game world.
  • As written, the Bard, Ranger, Monk and Knight can be incorporated into a S&S setting with little or no adjustment. Each is a variation on the Barbarian, Fighter or Rogue, which are the basic classes found in most S&S fiction.


Randomizing Plotlines

An old roleplaying tradition that goes back to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons is creating adventures by rolling on tables of randomized encounters, items and locations. In keeping with this tradition here is a collection of tables that can be used to create randomized plotlines for your adventures.

Remember, the charts presented are composed of buzzwords to help you formulate a quick plotline. Very little detail has been provided to allow your imagination to fill in the blanks. Use these charts as a jumping-off point for planing an adventure. It is fun to try to get the randomized results to form a cohesive story, but if the rolls do not make sense then by all means re-roll, or ignore the results all together. This article is considered Open Game License (OGL).

Locale (d20): where is the location of that kicks off the adventure?
  1. Camp
  2. Castle / Keep
  3. Cave
  4. College
  5. Dock
  6. Farm
  7. Graveyard
  8. Hideout
  9. House
  10. Inn
  11. Mansion
  12. Market
  13. Mine
  14. Monastery
  15. Outpost
  16. Ruin
  17. Temple
  18. Tower
  19. Trading Post
  20. Warehouse
Backdrop (d20): what is the Backdrop that helps set the scene for the starting Locale?
  1. Beach
  2. Bog
  3. Canyon
  4. Civilization
  5. Desert
  6. Farmland
  7. Forest
  8. Island
  9. Lake
  10. Moor
  11. Mountain
  12. Pasture
  13. Plain
  14. Pond
  15. Ridge
  16. River
  17. Road
  18. Swamp
  19. Valley
  20. Wasteland
Source (d20): who is it that approaches the party with a Goal?
  1. Beggar
  2. Child
  3. Constable
  4. Criminal
  5. Deity / Demon
  6. Ghost
  7. Guardsman
  8. Guild Leader
  9. Hermit
  10. Inn Keeper
  11. Legend
  12. Madman
  13. Mentor / Patron
  14. Mercenary
  15. Noble
  16. Pilgrim
  17. Priest
  18. Relative
  19. Trader
  20. Wizard / Witch
Goal (d20): what is it that the Source needs accomplished?
  1. Alter
  2. Capture
  3. Contact
  4. Defeat
  5. Destroy
  6. Discover
  7. Document
  8. Fix
  9. Interrogate
  10. Investigate
  11. Kidnap
  12. Negotiate
  13. Obtain
  14. Protect
  15. Rescue
  16. Retrieve
  17. Track
  18. Sabotage
  19. Steal
  20. Verify
Item (d20): if the Goal involves an item, what is that item?
  1. Alchemical Agent
  2. Animal Trophy
  3. Antidote
  4. Armor
  5. Artifact
  6. Artwork
  7. Cure
  8. Evidence
  9. Gem(s)
  10. Heirloom
  11. Idol
  12. Jewelry
  13. Magic Item
  14. Manuscript
  15. Map
  16. Money
  17. Person(s)
  18. Potion
  19. Spell Components
  20. Weapon
Person: if the Goal involves a person, who is that person? (roll again on the Source chart to determine)

Source Motivation (d20): why does the Source need to provide a Goal in the first place?
  1. Ambition
  2. Blackmail
  3. Bored
  4. Debt
  5. Diversion
  6. Exoneration
  7. Favor
  8. Greed
  9. Honor
  10. Insanity
  11. Love / Lust
  12. Obsession
  13. Redemption
  14. Reputation
  15. Rivalry
  16. Salvation
  17. Spellbound
  18. Survival
  19. Terrified
  20. Vengeance
Adventure: where does the Goal lead the party? (roll again on the Locale and Backdrop charts to determine)

Complication (d20): what are some of the things that could possibly hinder the party from succeeding in their Goal?
  1. Ambush
  2. Assassin
  3. Betrayal
  4. Curse
  5. Disaster
  6. Enigma
  7. Illusion
  8. Incarcerated
  9. Informant
  10. Lust
  11. Madness
  12. Misinformation
  13. Murder
  14. Revolt
  15. Rival
  16. Sidetracked
  17. Theft
  18. Trap
  19. Unfriendly Locals
  20. Weather
Adversary: who opposes the party from completing their Goal? (people or creatures that oppose the party need to be tailored to fit the scenario and challenge level)

Activity (d20): what is the adversary up to when the party arrives?
  1. Bound
  2. Cooking
  3. Dead
  4. Dozing
  5. Drinking
  6. Eating
  7. Fighting
  8. Gambling
  9. Grooming
  10. Hiding
  11. Lost
  12. Mating
  13. Planning
  14. Praying
  15. Relaxing
  16. Sick
  17. Studying
  18. Talking
  19. Training
  20. Unconscious