Code of Honour
Generally speaking, deciding what is moral and what immoral is up to the individual. However, certain dark, corrupting forces can turn humans into cowed slaves or gibbering madmen. Holding to a code of honour, however primitive, is one way by which heroes can avoid such a fate.
The most common codes of honour are given over the page. At the Games Master’s discretion, variant codes of honour may be permitted but it is strongly recommended that they be based on those given here. For example, the Games Master may agree with a player that a variant barbaric code of honour is better suited to the Vanir character he wishes to play, given that the standard barbaric code of honour is based more on Cimmerian morality.
However, there should be no ‘thief code of honour’ or ‘pirate code of honour.’ As portrayed in the Conan stories, most such characters are inherently without honour, though they may occasionally feign honour for their own purposes. Any who do have a code of honour have retained a civilised or barbaric code from their earlier lives but they are in the minority and most lose even that honour sooner or later. Conan is a rarity, a barbarian so strong-willed he upholds his honour even when among the most treacherous and amoral rogues and corsairs.
Benefits of a Code of Honour
Any character can begin the game with a code of honour at no cost. Any character with a code of honour gains a +3 morale bonus on all Will saving throws, rising to +6 if the Will saving throw is against Corruption (see page 82). Furthermore, he gains a +2 bonus to Reputation (also on page 82).
However, living by any code of honour requires certain restrictions on what the character can and cannot do and breaking a code of honour usually means the loss of its benefits forever.
Barbaric Code of Honour
This is Conan’s style of morality, such as it is. The barbaric code of honour is common only in lands with harsh climates, such as Cimmeria, Vanaheim and Asgard in the north and Ghulistan in the east. It is also found among some of the Shemites and Kozaks who live in the great deserts that stretch over many of the southern and eastern lands. Here even strangers are given hospitality and fallen foes are extended mercy if they ask for it, since it is recognised that humanity must to some extent work together against the bitter cold or suffocating heat. Barbarian tribes who have a relatively easy time of it, such as the Picts in their lush forests, do not usually have a need for a code of honour, for their environment is not sufficiently deadly as to be their most dangerous enemy. It could be argued that the presence of a code of honour is what separates a barbarian from a mere savage.
A character with a barbaric code of honour will:
- Respect alliances with other honourable characters.
- Ignore an alliance with a dishonourable character, even pre-emptively, if it suits him.
- Abide loyally by a contract of employment, even with a dishonourable employer, so long as the character is well-treated and shown loyalty in return.
- Slay a dishonourable foe, even if that foe is helpless.
- Slay an honourable foe who is not helpless.
- Protect those weaker than himself, at least from physical dangers, if such protection is requested. This includes ordinary folk such as peasants captured for interrogation who will be set free once it is safe to do so and rewarded if they were of assistance, as well as children and most women. A woman who has demonstrated herself to be more capable in war than the average man need not be protected, though the typical male with a barbaric code of honour will probably attempt to protect her anyway.
- Offer his allegiance only to an honourable leader who is clearly stronger and better suited for power than himself, or to a greater cause of some kind; once allegiance is granted, the character must be utterly loyal so long as his leader remains honourable and loyal to him in return. Note that a character with a barbaric code of honour need not necessarily retain an allegiance that was always intended to be temporary, such as a mercenary contract, after its conditions are fulfilled.
- Plunder and rob anyone other than honourable allies.
- Lie, cheat and con anyone other than honourable allies.
- Have no in-principle objection to slavery, being willing to keep or free slaves as suits his purposes.
- Grudgingly respect genuine piety but despise venal priests and the typical trappings of civilised ‘religion.’
- Like or dislike others based on their honour and their actions, not their religion or race.
- Be hospitable and generous to those in need, even to strangers. It is said that no man starves in Cimmeria unless there is a famine and all starve, because every family will give of their own food to anyone without.
- Respect the hospitality shown him.
- Avenge any seriously intended insult with immediate and lethal force, if at all possible. Note that barbarians new to civilisation are likely to avenge even a jesting insult in the same way, not having yet learnt the subtleties of civilised behaviour, which can allow a man to insult another without the imminent danger of having his skull split.
- Avenge any physical harm done him at his earliest opportunity in a manner fitting his sense of balance and justice. A character with a barbaric code of honour will not:
- Slay a wild animal or any other creature for sport alone. He may slay in self-defence, for revenge or to get food or other resources and he may slay a sworn enemy.
- Slay an honourable foe who offers a ransom or throws himself on the character’s mercy.
- Slay or steal from someone who has shown him hospitality in his own house, even if he turns out to be an enemy, unless the other breaks hospitality first.
- Harm anyone currently under his protection or receiving his hospitality, even if he turns out to be an enemy, unless the other breaks faith first.
- Assist the authorities with any information about his friends or allies, even if refusing to do so puts him at risk.
- Desert his henchmen or retainers, even if they appear to desert him. If he ever achieves the position of chieftain or a similar authority, he feels he must set an example to his followers. Even if they doubt him, he must prove himself to them, particularly if they need him.
Civilised Code of Honour
This is the code of honour practiced by most knights and nobles from the civilised lands. Some civilised warriors, soldiers and mercenaries also practice this code of honour. A character with a civilised code of honour will:
- Respect alliances with other honourable civilised characters. He may also respect alliances with honourable barbaric characters but this is not required.
- Respect an alliance with a dishonourable civilised character until that character breaks the alliance.
- Offer his allegiance to any leader who might be regarded as a legitimate authority, or to a greater cause of some kind; once he grants his allegiance, the character must be utterly loyal, so long as his leader or cause remains honourable and loyal to him in return. Note that a character with a civilised code of honour need not necessarily retain an allegiance that was always intended to be temporary, such as a mercenary contract, after the conditions are fulfilled.
- If seriously insulted, demand a formal duel at the next suitable opportunity. Honour may also be satisfied with sincere and profuse apologies, at the discretion of the insulted party.
- Protect those weaker than himself, if such protection is formally requested and if the person requesting protection is highborn.
- Obey the laws of his homeland and co-operate with lawful authorities in other lands wherever possible, unless at war with those lands. This applies even if such behaviour would be to the detriment of his friends or allies.
- Have no in-principle objection to slavery, being willing to keep or free slaves as suits his purposes.
- Respect religious authorities.
- If religious, make war upon the enemies of his religion without showing mercy or offering quarter. A character with a civilised code of honour will not:
- Break the law of the land, unless he has formally thrown in his lot with an organised and (in his opinion) legitimate force of rebels.
- Slay an honourable foe who offers a ransom or throws himself on the character’s mercy, unless ordered to do so by a legitimate authority. Even in the latter case, if the character believes that such an order indicates that the authority is no longer legitimate, he may at the Games Master’s discretion be able to avoid killing the foe, so long as he immediately attempts to remove the illegitimate authority from power; this may involve something along the lines of the rebellion mentioned above.
- Slay a dishonourable foe of noble birth who offers a ransom or throws himself on the character’s mercy, unless ordered to do so by a legitimate authority.
- Knowingly work for a dishonourable employer.
- Attack peasants or ordinary civilians and tradesmen, unless those folk have openly rebelled against a lawful authority.
Mercenary Code of Honour
Although they wander far to make their way as ‘sellswords,’ many mercenaries live by a code of honour. Ruthless but not without principles, these mercenaries are highly sought after and renowned for always fulfilling their contracts to the letter.
A character with a mercenary code of honour will:
- Demand half of all promised payment up front if payment is to be a lump sum.
- Demand two months’ payment in advance if payment is to be monthly.
- Notify other mercenaries if a client does not pay.
- Require the client to spell out exactly what will satisfy the requirements of employment, preferably in writing.
- Fulfil all requirements of employment.
- Maintain confidentiality concerning who hired him and what he is asked to do.
- Only work for competing employers after 30 days of a contract’s expiry. A character with a mercenary code of honour will not:
- Betray or disobey his employer, no matter what his master asks of him or what bribes are offered.
- Violate any explicitly stated requirements of employment.
- Violate the confidentiality of his employer including revealing what he was hired to do.
- Take assignments from his employer’s competitors before 30 days have elapsed.
- Take any risks or perform any difficult deeds without payment (in money or in kind), unless those deeds bring immediate personal reward to the mercenary.
Losing a Code of Honour
Any character who voluntarily breaks his code of honour immediately loses its benefits.
The character may regain his code of honour if he seeks out a priest who can provide atonement, so long as he worships the same gods as that priest and the priest has a code of honour of his own. The priest will set the character a task which must be fulfilled before full atonement can take place.
An irreligious character or one who cannot find a suitable priest may attempt to right a wrong himself somehow. The Games Master will always be the judge of how much needs to be done in this case before the code of honour can be regained but generally it should be at least as much of a challenge as a task set by a priest.