My idea for "Brawny Thews" was from about a year ago, and actually predates the release of the Conan RPG. I was originally thinking about this as a potential campaign -- entirely set within the gladatorial arena and the royal court. I was originally unsure of what the system would be -- I was primarily thinking about using a variant of the Action! System from Gold Rush Games. However, when the Conan RPG came out I considered it as a possible natural choice. Thus I decided to run a convention game using it as a test.
The spiel for my original campaign was:
A group of Cimmerian barbarians have been captured for combat in a gladiatorial arena within the city of the God-Empress. Their fights have become immensely popular not only with the crowds but also with figures in the court of the God-Empress. Powerful magics prevent their escape by direct means, but by intrigue they may find freedom for themselves or possibly for all their people. What the game really is about, though, is the barbarians' sense of self. Their fighting skills have made them popular, but ultimately it is their popularity, not their fighting which can free them.
The adventures are intended to have regular setpiece battles in the arena, but also intrigue from friends in the court. One of the key points is that how the barbarians perform in the battles determines their popularity. Just defeating the beast only means another fight the next week. Ultimately, their survival depends on how good they look while doing so -- though of course winning is a vital part of looking good.
My concept of Brawny Thews is that it should have a fun, crunchy combat system -- but should also support intrigue and the crises of culture and identity that the Cimmerians are feeling. However, I do not want there to be a disconnected combat system. The combat should be an integral part of the stories.
Ideally, I would like it to be like the better martial arts movies, where the martial arts themselves help tell the story. For example, in Tai Chi Master, the protagonist Junbao evolves his concept of Tai Chi from his life lessons. He begins in a Shaolin monastery, where the rigid all-male society is reflected in the martial arts. After he leaves the monastery and comes to know women, families, life and death. He invents Tai Chi, which is like flowing water or wind. You can see the change in his life in the fighting style he invents.
Particular features I am considering: