Thursday, December 11, 2014

Astonishing Swordsman and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I recently had the pleasure of acquiring the pdf version of the Astonishing Swordsman and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Players / Referees manuals.

I have to say, after an initial review I'm really impressed. While it isn't quite as clean and elegant of current house-favorite Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it has a lot going for it.

The color cover from the box set catches the eye off the bat, wearing its pulp influences on its shoulder, both in fearless display of anatomy on the front cover (can you claim sexism when the guy isn't wearing anything but a loin cloth either?) and the delightfully retro typography of the logo. The individual pdfs have covers that evoke the original white box set in many ways. Though I don't have the physical edition, I'll post an image here from their website:

Very cool.

The internal layout is very spartan and relatively clean. In some ways, it reminds me of the AD&D1e book, albeit not nearly so cluttered and crowded. There are a large number of illustrations throughout the book, and it seems clear that they retained the same artist to do all of the work. I can appreciate that.

The game in many ways appears to be an AD&D retroclone, and it is probably closest to that edition from what I can tell. However, because of its specific Sword & Sorcery bent, they have made a few changes to fit thematically. For instance, Races are human only, but they have a good amount of information on different "races of men," representing them in a suitably interesting fashion. Many of the spells are flavored in a similarly S&S fashion, attempting to further etch out a flavor to the book.

Classes are very interesting as well, as they offer the "classic four" of  Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief, but within each category exists a fairly comprehensive list of sub-classes. Fighters have the Barbarian, Paladin, and Ranger options you might expect, but also have Berserker, Cataphract, and Warlock as additional options that add some flavor to the setting. That said, even the book advises that for those seeking to closely emulate the genre, the classic four are often the best.

Most classes have progression listed up to only level 12, which might be a disappointment for some, but is entirely keeping with the genre being portrayed. Even in classic D&D editions, the levels above "name level" have always been the stuff of super-heroics.

Another interesting feature that strikes me is the separation of attribute tests into "Tests of X" and "Extraordinary Feat of X" with X being Strength, Dexterity and so forth. By way of explanation, a Test of Strength is an X-in-6 chance of doing mundane tasks that require significant strength - forcing open a stuck door, carrying an ally, and so on. These range between 1:6 chance at Strength 3, to a 5:6 chance at 18. Extraordinary Feats are defined as such heroic tasks as bending bars, breaking manacles, forcing a portcullis open, and so on. Stuff of true Conan stature. This is handled as a percentile role, outright impossible at 0% for Str3, and only 8% at Str14. At the upper scales, this then goes up to 16%, 24%, and finally 32% at 18. For the genre, this is a very neat touch and helps make the difference between ability scores feel even more pronounced.

I still have reading left to do through the Referee's Manual, but overall I definitely like the style. If you're at all interested in OSR style games in general, or Sword & Sorcery in particular, it's definitely worth picking up and giving a read through to mine for ideas if nothing else. Hopefully, I'll get time to play a game or two of it in the near future and report in.

Until next time,

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