Robert E. Howard, for those of you who like the stories but never look for the name of the author, is the young Texan who created Conan the Barbarian. I say “young” because, although he was born in 1906, he died in 1936 at the age of 30. And this young man created not only the iconic hero of the epic sword and sorcery genre of fiction, but basically founded the genre itself. He definitely laid down the basics of it as a pattern for all others to follow. Including the players of the sword and sorcery Dungeons and Dragons game.
For D & D players the primary influence of all this is the Conan method of problem-solving. “If you are confronted with a complex problem, a life and death problem, whack it with a sword until the problem is solved.” This is the source of fascination for players with the fighter character; the warrior, the paladin, the knight, or the barbarian. Superior physical prowess gives the individual control over so much more than he or she could ever be in control of in real life. (And stop making that face while reading this. Girls do play Dungeons and Dragons too. I’ve seen it happen in school and with my own daughter.)
And for the story-teller, also known as the game master or dungeon master, this can be a very good thing. The sense of power extremely high strength and endurance scores provide get the character strongly addicted to the hack and slash style of play, allowing you to teach all kinds of timely morals to the story about the need to use your brain and your creativity once in a while as well.
Conan was a brute and a slayer. But he is perceived as a good guy because he was also capable of standing up for the little guy, righting wrongs and protecting others from powerful evils. Conan had empathy, if not love, for others, and exhibited truly magnificent levels of the power to sacrifice self for the good of others and the general well-being of the weak. As game master, all you need to do is add a vulnerable character to the party that needs some protecting in the fantasy game world. It helps if that character has a good sense of humor, useful knowledge to offer, or cuteness to offer in return for the protection. But even that is not required. D & D players learn to wield power in ways that benefit others. The Spiderman thing, you know; “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is a lesson about life that many non-D & D players also really need to learn in their youth.
The Robert E. Howard way does not always work out so well for wizards. Conan hated magic and wizards. He whacked wizards even harder than he did other bad guys. But that is generally assumed to apply to evil wizards. Conan sometimes appreciated having a wizard on his side.
But the basic conclusion is this; there is a brutal, barbarian way to handle problems in real life as well as in Dungeons and Dragons life. And it would be much better for everyone if people learned the right way and the wrong way to use it in the game world before the choice has to be made in the real world.