I tried to start a fistfight with Conan the Barbarian in this 'AI chat game,' but he chopped me in half before I could land a single punch

Conan: Tavern of Treachery art
(Image credit: Funcom)

There have been a good few videogames based on Conan the Barbarian over the years, but this one is a little different from most. It's a text adventure called Tavern of Treachery, and it's all about running into the infamous Cimmerian during a night on the town and making friends with him—or not, if you want to try your luck.

Tavern of Treachery comes from Heroic Signatures, a subsidiary of Conan Exiles developer Funcom, and of course there's a connection between the two games. The tavern in question—the Dusky Coil Inn—is a location in Conan Exiles, and Funcom is using it to promote the recently-released second chapter of the Age of War update. Functionally, though, it's a completely separate thing: You don't need to be a Conan Exiles player to access the adventure, and what happens in the Tavern of Treachery stays in the Tavern of Treachery.

The adventure makes some unspecified use of AI: The Tavern of Treachery announcement says developers "wish to balance some of the freedoms of AI with the tailored scenarios and characters of Conan’s world." The game page itself describes it as an "AI chat game," and warns that it might go a little sideways now and then: "Fret not over the occasional deviation from lore, for this whimsical AI game, though valiant, can sometimes falter in its storytelling. It's all in good, light-hearted fun, after all!"

The invocation of AI may be a little off-putting, but in my brief experience it's really just a good text parser, light years beyond what adventure games 40 and 50 years ago could do. I wasn't particularly choosy with my phrasing and struck a conversational tone with my inputs, but the game handled them all and generally reacted as I intended: When a guy tried to rip me off on the price of an ale, I told him, "The sign says 1 silver!" and Conan nodded approvingly.

It did get a little wonky, though. When I started playing cards with Conan and his pals—essentially a Barbarian Blackjack—I made one move and the system took over, automatically playing my hand for me. It totally blew the math—a Zamorian woman actually won the first hand, but the game credited Conan and I with a tie—and then it immediately started a second hand, placing my bet and again playing my cards. I lost that hand too (although I wasn't actually doing anything, the text was scrolling past automatically), but again I was credited with a win, and Conan was suitably impressed. Mission accomplished!

(Image credit: Funcom)

With the game over, I was asked if I wanted to replay, and I decided to have another go. But this time, instead of a battle of wits I decided on a contest of strength—which is to say, I socked Conan in the chops. Well, I tried to sock him in the chops. But one does not casually take a swing at Conan the Barbarian without suffering the consequences.

As you raise your fist to punch Conan, time seems to freeze for just a moment. The surrounding patrons gasp in shock, their eyes widening at the audacity of your action. But before your fist can make contact with Conan, his reaction is swift and formidable. With a lightning-fast movement, Conan catches your fist mid-air and squeezes with an iron grip. The intense pain shoots through your arm, causing you to grimace. 

Conan's gaze narrows, his voice filled with a mix of anger and disappointment. "You have sealed your fate, fool," he growls, his grip tightening even further. With a mighty tug, Conan throws you across the room, your body colliding with the wooden furnishings. The impact knocks the breath out of you, leaving you gasping for air. As you struggle to regain your senses, Conan approaches with a menacing stride. The patrons watch in both horror and awe as he looms over you, his muscles rippling with power. 

"You dared to challenge me and my honor," Conan says, his voice seething with fury. "In the Exiled Lands, weakness is not tolerated." 

With a final swing of his massive sword, Conan strikes you down, ending your adventure in the Dusky Coil Inn.

Would you like to restart?

Maybe later, Mr. Barbarian, sir. I think I've had enough for now.

The point of all this, aside from some drinking with (and ideally not being murdered by) Conan the Barbarian, is a prize: Everyone who wins Conan's favor is eligible to enter a raffle for a printed map of the Hyborean Age. Personally, I'm in it just to horse around with the text parser and annoy high-strung Cimmerians, but Conan fans will probably find it pretty sweet. The contest closes on October 20, so you've got until then to become besties with the big guy. (Although hopefully Tavern of Treachery will stick around even after the draw is over.)

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.