Lankhmar: Carnival of Swords
"Let there be no sorcery tonight!" Gwaay cut him off sternly, though speaking hardly louder than before. " 'Twere an insult to my sire and to his great servant Flindach here, a Master of Magicians, even to think of such! Bide quietly, swordsman, keep peace, and speak no more." His voice took on a pious note. "There will be time enough for sorcery and swords, if slaying there must be."
-- Fritz Leiber,
"The Lords of Quarmall"

The air was cool and moist and, nourished perhaps by underground water of most distant source, thick green grass grew and an open forest of black cedars sprang up. Herds of black antelopes and black reindeer nibbled the endless grass to a lawn, yet there were no herdsmen or human folk at all. The sky grew darker yet, almost a perpetual night, odd low hills topped by congeries of black rock appeared, there were distant fires of many hues, though none blue, and each vanished if you approached it, and you found no ash of other sign of it at its site. So the Mouser and Fafhrd well knew they had entered the Shadowland, death-feared by the merciless Mingols to the north, by the bone-proud, invisible-fleshed ivory Ghouls to the west, to the east by the hairless folk and bald beasts of the shrunken yet diplomatically subtle and long-enduring Empire of Eevamarensee, and to the south by the King of Kings himself, who had a standing rule that instant death be the lot of any person, even his own vizier or most-beloved son or favorites queen, who so much as whispered the name "Shadowland," let alone discussed the dark area in any wise.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"The Price of Pain-Ease"

Fafhrd cursed superstitiously. Sorcery working against him he could always accept, but magic operating in his favor he invariably found disturbing.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"When the Sea-King's Away"

"So much hate for a little cash. Lankhmarts are ingrates. They don't realize the tone we give their city, the excitement we provide."
-- Fritz Leiber,
The Swords of Lankhmar

Fafhrd had heard that the Mingols, by stark-real tests, inured their horses to all manner of horrors almost as sternly as they did themselves, slaying without mercy those who still quailed on the seventh attempt of a beast or the second of a man.
-- Fritz Leiber,
The Swords of Lankhmar

It is an old saw in the world of Nehwon that the fate of heroes who seek to retire, or of adventurers who decide to settle down, so cheating their audience of honest admirers -- that the fate of such can be far more excruciatingly doleful than that of a Lankhmar princess royal shanghaied as cabin girl aboard an Ilthmar trader embarked on the carkingly long voyage to tropic Klesh or frosty No-Ombrulsk. And let such heroes merely whisper a hint about a "last adventure" and their noisiest partisans and most ardent adherents alike will be demanding that it end at the very least in spectacular death and doom, endured while battling insurmountable odds and enjoying the enmity of the evilest archgods.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"The Mouser Goes Below"

Home | Characters | Background | Mechanics | Logistics


A General Note

Mechanics exist to simulate those actions in the game which the players can't (or shouldn't) actually do in real life. Nevertheless, part of the purpose of a live role-playing game is to make things look as if you were really there. So while the mechanics help you decide "what happens", it's also your responsibility to actually act out the results for the benefit of everyone else around you. Always remember that in addition to being a player, you're also an actor performing for an audience, with the bonus of also being part of the audience yourself!


Your character will have a Combat Card, on which will be printed your combat rating, a number between 1 and 5.

Your combat rating can be modified by your health condition, special abilities, or items. The most common modifier is the possession of a weapon (see the notes on weapons at the end of the Costuming Tips). A weapon, whether it's a pair of giant swords or a tiny dagger, gives you a +1 combat bonus. Other sources of bonuses (or penalties) should be self-explanatory. Note that it is possible to have a zero or negative combat rating after modifiers.

To initiate combat with someone, simply say "Defend yourself, miscreant!" or some equally unequivocal statement of purpose. Then immediately start acting out the combat. As you fight, do a quick round of rock-paper-scissors. Whoever wins gets to add +1 to his combat rating. If it's a tie, no one gets this bonus. Then tell your opponent your current combat rating (with all modifiers counted in). But remember to keep "fighting" throughout all this; you're performing for an audience!

Whoever has the higher combat rating wins. Keep fighting. Consult the Combat Results Chart (which will also be on your card) to see what happens. Keep fighting. Make the decisions appropriate to the results, then act them out. But keep fighting throughout, even while you're working out what happens!

Combat Results

Win By Description Mechanics Results
tie You're too evenly matched. Make it a long, drawn out fight! Both combatants: Fatigued and Retreat. At option of either, you're both Wounded also.
1 A close call! This fight should be long and hard. The winner decides whether to play it easy (A) or hard (B). Winner chooses:
A) Winner: Fatigued. Loser: Fatigued, Retreat.
b) Winnder: Fatigued, Wounded. Loser: Fatigued, Wounded, Retreat
2-3 The loser is in over his head, but has the choice to get while the gettin's good (option A) or go kamikaze (option B). Loser chooses:
A) Winner: Nothing. Loser: Wounded/Item Lost, Retreat
B) Winner: Wounded. Loser: Wounded, Unconscious.
4 No real contest. The winner gets to decide whether to just chase the rascal away (A) or teach him a lesson he won't forget (B). Winner chooses:
A) Winner: Nothing. Loser: Wounded/Item Lost, Retreat.
C) Winner: Fatigued. Loser: Wounded, Unconscious.
5+ Was there a fight? It's over in a second. Winner: nothing. Loser: Unconscious.

Wounded: You are at -1 combat rating until healed by some means. If you get Wounded again, you become Unconscious.

Unconscious: Fall down and close your eyes for 5 minutes, after which time you wake up (and are Fatigued, see below). While unconscious, anyone can take any or all of your items, wound you (if you're not already), or just kill you (fall down, close your eyes, and wait for Death to come get you).

Fatigued: You are at -1 combat rating for the next 10 minutes, in addition to any penalties from being Wounded. If you're already Fatigues you don't get an additional -1, just add on an extra 10 minutes.)

Retreat: You've either managed to slip away or been driven away -- play it however you like. Leave the room in which you fought and do not return or initiate combat with your opponent for at least five minutes. Your opponent may not pursue you for one minute, but if he runs into you after that may initiate combat. Special Note: You can always turn a "Retreat" result on yourself into Dead or Unconscious (your opponent's choice) if you're foolish enough not to believe in the better part of valor.

Item Lost: In the heat of battle, your opponent managed to steal one item of his choice from you. No "fishing", it must be an item he knows you possesses or which you're visibly carrying.

Wounded/Item Lost: This result only happens to losers, and it's always an either/or choice for the winner, who can inflict the wound or take an item.

In addition to the mechanical effects described above, remember to act out your health condition. Wounded characters should wear some bloody bandages, and seriously wounded characters should be limping!

Multiple Combat

If you've got multiple combatants on a side, choose one person as your "leader" (presumably the one with the highest combat rating). Each additional fighter adds +1, up to a maximum of +2. (Yup, four or more guys on a side just get in each others' way.) No one is required to accept an ally, but once combat starts no one can leave or add in until it's over. Win or lose, all combatants on a side suffer the same effects. The exception is "Item Lost"; three people working together don't get to take three items. Instead the winning leader can choose a single item from any of his opponents.


If you attack an opponent by surprise (ie, you successfully use your stealth rating to hide in shadows, see below), then you get +1 to your combat rating for that specific combat.

Acting Out Combat

Combat in Lankhmar can be both theatrical and deadly. Characters with high combat ratings are encouraged to engage in fancy maneuvers. Characters with low combat ratings can make amusing blunders. Lankhmarites love to watch a good fight, so put on an entertaining show for the bystanders!

At the same time, always put safety first. Never actual aim a blow at your opponent. Take everything slowly. All weapons must be padded (see the Costuming Tips). Watch out for nearby breakables or players. While in the house, don't even draw your weapon -- simply act out the combat with mime.


Your character will have a Stealth Card with three numbers on it. The big number on the yellow side is your basic stealth rating. There's also a corresponding number on the green side which I'll explain in a bit. Finally, there's a small number printed on both sides which is your awareness rating. All ratings are between 1 and 5.

Your stealth rating lets you do two things: hide in shadows and pick pockets. To do either one, simply hold your stealth card up in front of your face, yellow side out, and then either walk around normally (hiding in shadows) or take an item off of another character (picking pockets, see more detail below). Anyone with an awareness rating equal to or higher than your stealth rating can see you and act appropriately (though they can certainly ignore you voluntarily). Anyone with a lower awareness rating cannot see you and must pretend you're not there. It's that simple!

There are various abilities and items which can modify your stealth or awareness ratings. These should be self-explanatory. If you have an item or ability that gives you a stealth bonus, see one of the refs to get a second stealth card -- and remember to use the right one!

The number on the green side, two less than your normal stealth rating, represents your stealth rating when doing something "hard". Hiding in shadows is always hard when you're in the palace or the Silver Eel (both of which are relatively well lit). Picking pockets is hard when you try to steal something big (a sword or an entire pouch). (Note that picking pockets is not harder in the better-lit places because the carnival crowds make it almost impossible not to be in close proximity to people.)

In order to allow pick-pocketing to work, all items must be carried openly visible on your person. The exception are small, pocket-size items (this includes money) which may be placed in a pouch. However, the pouch itself must be visible and easily detachable from your costume! I strongly urge every character to wear an open pouch tied to your belt or sash with a simple bow knot so that pickpockets won't have to actually ask you to empty your pockets. You're allowed to wear as many pouches as you want, but if you do carry things in your pockets then it's all considered to be in one pouch.

To summarize: When you "pick a pocket" you get (at your discretion) either a single, small item on the target's person (a dagger, a scroll, a piece of worn jewelry) or a small handful of objects (presumably money or gems) grabbed randomly out of a pouch; don't get gready and try to get a fistful. If the character doesn't have a pouch, you will need to actually ask the target player to pull her belongings out of her pocket and let you take a handful. If you want to steal a large object (a sword) or an entire pouch, use the green side of your stealth card. You may only steal from each target once during the entire game.

And remember, if you're using stealth, then act stealthy! Talking or fighting immediately negates your stealthy actions and reveals you to everyone. And use common sense -- if someone is chasing you, you can't "hide in shadows" unless you actually manage to duck around a corner or otherwise leave their line of sight for a second.

Other Abilities

All other abilities will be handled in an ad hoc manner. Most will be with ability cards that tell you what to do on what side and what happens when you do it on the other. Ability cards may do almost anything, including modify the normal combat or stealth rules. Unless specifically noted, special abilities are not transferrable. Remember to act out the ability! The card exists only as a handy reminder for how the appropriate ability works.


Some items allow the user to do special things. These will be handled by ability cards as above, but the card must go with the physical prop, so if someone takes the item they get the card. Items without cards will certainly exist in the game, and may be quite valuable, but they have no special abilities. The only exception to this rule are weapons, which don't need a card since they all have a standard effect (+1 to your combat rating).


Lankhmar's coinage comes in three values: the agol (a purple "copper piece", the smerduk (a green "silver piece"), and the rilk (a gold "gold piece"). Coins will be simulated with plastic Mardi Gras coins of the appropriate colors. For the sake of simplicity, ten agols make a smerduk, ten smerduks makde a rilk. Feel free to refer to the coins by either name or metal; the characters in the stories often did. For reference: A copper agol will buy a glass of cheap beer. A silver smerduk will buy a fine meal, a whole flagon of good wine, or the services of a typical whore. Gold rilks are rarely used by anyone other than the wealthy.

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