Saturday, September 23, 2017

OSR Commmentary & Reskinning Of D1-2 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth By Gary Gygax

"The final confrontation with the giant, King Snurre, and the entry of mighty adventurers into the cavers under his stronghold discovered that Dark Elves, the Drow, had instigated the giant alliance and its warfare upon mankind and its allied races."

Another one of those classic modules by Gary Gygax that shows the genius and flexibility of the father of Dungeons & Dragons.. ""Shrine of the Kuo-Toa," the second adventure in this collection, was used as part of the D&D tournament at GenCon XI (1978)." What we're really dealing with is a solid exploration and tournament style adventure. Violence is not always the answer with Descent Into The Depths of Earth & mixing & matching campaign elements doesn't take away from this classic module in the least.

Let's begin by changing the Kuo-Toa to Deep Ones which gets in more in tune with the Clark Ashton Smith vibe & HP Lovecraft. There's a certain amount of the Hyperborean cycle within D1-2 with its foul verminous humanoids and Deep One style monsters. The inclusion of  D2: "Shrine of the Kuo-Toa" (1978) gives the whole affair a foulness that sometimes seems to overwhelm the whole affair of the adventure which reminds me of HP Lovecraft's Shadows over Innsmouth.  Originally the Drow were mysterious and merely a legend mentioned in the Monster Manual for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition. Here in Descent into The Depths of the Earth their fully realized. I want them back to being weird, twisted, and completely dangerous beings of myth & legend. How can I accomplish this with my limited schedule? Well fortunately Gavin Norman has done the Complete Vivimancer.

Suddenly the Drow are far closer to the bio engineering terrorist nation of Cobra la and less of the fetish & leather crowd that players of later editions seem to love. Yeah that's much better and keeps things rolling along onto my  'Old Earth ' setting. So what exactly are the Drow now? These are
Myrkálfar straight out of Norse mythology & legend twisted by super science of space gods eons ago. We see this in the Myrkálfar's god  Atlach-Nacha lair later on.

Artwork used without permission from here
Ropers, Umber Hulks, & many of the iconic monsters of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons fit into alien and artificial breeding aspect laid out in this module. All of this ties back into the ideas of A.Merritt & Arthur Machen where the underworld is truly alien which is closer in keeping with the Underborea of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea then the Underdark of AD&D's later books. All of these are factions in the inner Earth's various underworld adventure locations. This ties back into A.Merritt's 'Moon Pool' & the caches of alien technologies from 'The Metal Monster'. 

All of this ties back in with the planet Cykranosh (or Saturn as we know it today) & with Tsathoggua. Whose machinations have been spinning for centuries leading the fire giants & Myrkálfar alliance. This leads into events happening on Hyperborea where the Deep Ones are beginning their push again for dominance of the land. This connects in with events from The Mystery At Port Greely!

Various caves, caverns, etc of the underworld have ruins & dimensional gate ways that lead off world across the planets & only the gods know where. The events depicted in D1-2 Descent Into The Depths of the Earth could be signaling that the stars are coming right as inhuman powers move the hands of the clock closer and closer.

Friday, September 22, 2017

'The Pnakotician Echoes' - More Swords & Strangeness - Actual Play Adventure Event Commentary

The PC's are about to enter the lands of Lomar & they've had their first glimpse of a Gnophkeh  skull in the alchemist's shop last week. This brings up the question will they abandon the lands &grounds of the dimensional traveling Tegel Manor or stay awhile within Lomar. My version of Lomar is a mixture of Alaska, Canada, bits of Iceland, the poles, & pieces from H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands.  This is about as dangerous as it gets and the players know it


Olathoë, lying on the plateau of Sarkis has a deep connection with my version of the classic haunted manor. The manor rooms have artifacts, relics, and reminders of the lands of Lomar even as the strange ghosts, ghouls, and horrors made from the Rump family haunt the halls. The weird city of time haunted marble is the abode of a strain of Hyperborean of distinct linage who have faced down Esquimaux raiders time and again. The lands of Lomar are distinctly alien and yet here walk normal human traders, Hyperboreans from across the Old Earth, and all kinds of warriors on business of all kinds. Some come to hunt the long armed cannibal races that exist in the hills, low lands, and upper mountain peaks. Still others come for work with the Pnakotic brotherhood and its other cults.

A good portion of the savagery & super science of my version of the lands of Lomar is inspired by George Pal's 1961 film Atlantis The Lost Continent which has been largely forgotten by today's audiences. The film supposedly isn't very good but strangely enough has a pretty hard core cult audience among certain fans. Strangely enough this film hits many of the high notes of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's high notes. Strange relic technologies, decedent society hell bent on extinction, sorcery and weird corrupt religions. Many of the high notes are hit in this film yet it remains mostly ignored by modern audiences. This suits me fine as a dungeon master.

The citizens of the lands of Lomar are mostly going to be a blend of humans & Hyperboreans with the ruins of immemorial Commoriom buried in a nearby glacier where the cult of the White Worm meets for their secret cabal scarifies & twisted pagan rites! The cult of Nodens, Tsathoggua,the spider-god Atlach-Nacha, the Great Old One Rhan-Tegoth and Ithaqua  are growing by leaps and bounds as the corruption  spreads across the lands. 

All of this ties directly into the over arching themes of AS&SH second edition, my home campaign takes full advantage of the fact that Hyperborea disappeared from 'Old Earth' one night leaving a gaping hole in the ocean where Greenland & Iceland used to be. Hyperborea is now floating out near the planet Cykranosh (the planet Saturn). The solar system is serviced by atomic rockets and mankind has lost his faster then light travel capabilities.

Ten reasons why this campaign has worked so far with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and why I'm shifting over to the AS&SH second edition.
  1. The expanded rules & PC classes make perfect sense in this altered world and the Green Death of AS&SH fits right in with some of the ideas put forth in Leigh Brackett's world settings and time line.
  2. Expanded spell lists mean that I've got more magickal choices to screw around with the PC's. 
  3. Actual Lovecraftian and Smithian deities to add to the setting instead of the usual replacement Lovecrftian horrors. 
  4. Solid player character classes mean better rounded NPC's. 
  5. A solid science fantasy play ground instead of a broken setting to add in the players too. 
  6. A beginning adventure that actually fits the rule book's implied and expanded upon setting. 
  7. More monsters! 
  8. Solid writing behind some of the NPC's and monsters 
  9. Second edition is clearly written, perfectly suited for long term campaign style play
  10. I can run a solid Clark Ashton Smith style setting with weird Sword & Sorcery rules that make sense.

More OSR Sword & Sorcery Commentary As We Enter The World of 'Manos der Dämonenjäger" For Your Old School Campaigns Part III

So let's pick it right at part three of this series of articles about the second Golden age of Sword & Sorcery comic books especially "Manos der Dämonenjäger" or  in English as "Manos the Demon Hunters". It is still remembered as one of the most enduring comic book Sword & Sorcery comic book titles today. It has a small but devoted international fan base and this largely due to the solid writing of Peter Mennigen. 
Ghosts Stories #63
14-Page-Manos Comic: "in the ambush of the demons".
Artwork: Esteban Maroto.

Mr. Mennigen is a veteran writer with many years of titles under his belt including, "Ghost Stories", "Haunted Stories", "Conny", "Biggi", "Vanessa", "Felix", "Lasso", "Phantom", " Axel F. " As well as many Bastei publishing house titles . He is stirring the Steampunk world  with Ingo Römling on the Steampunk series " Malcolm Max " which has a very nice spin on the Mystery Gerne. If you get the time I highly suggest checking it out.
Now let's dive right into the world of
"Manos the Demon Hunters" because the titles setting is one of the things that still to this day sticks with me. This isn't your average Sword & Sorcery style adventure world. The supernatural is very active, dangerous, & quite horrid with humanity at a clear disadvantage.
Ghosts Stories #62
14-Page-Manos Comic: "the witch with the snake head".
Artwork: Esteban Maroto.

This is a world that clearly not only needs the main character's deeds but those of his family this is where some of the central plot of the series lay. The hero's struggles are personal, clearly defined and quite devastating to the core characters of the book. Wizards & villains are powers going about the machinations of the structure of the world. This type of plot structure is firmly grounded in the operatic nature of the books. This was something quite extraordinary for the time. Remember this is the Eighties when Marvel & DC were trotting out titles like Secret Wars & Sword of Conan basically had Conan wandering across the face of his world. Manos had family, plot, and structure all within the bounds of his title. There was a consistency and accuracy to the world. The wizards were dangerous and quite done in the classic mold, the demons vile monsters of the darkness, and the evil was done in a way that twists things to the overall writing. But things were starting to go in a different route in 1983. This was reflected in Peter Mennigen's writing & the artistic tone of the Manos series. He talks about it here :

Visually, „Manos“ did not have to hide. His adventures in the series „Geister Geschichten“ and „Manos der Dämonenjäger“ were drawn by the Who is Who of the Spanish Top artists:

Esteban Maroto
Before the publshing of „Geister Geschichten“, during the conceptual phase of the „Manos“ comic, the question arose of a suitable artist. When the editor-in-chief Werner Geismar asked me if I had a certain artist for the artwork in mind, I reached for the stars and named none other than one of the greatest fantasy artists ever: „Esteban Maroto“.

In response, I expected something like: Wonderful, but impossible.
But he left my suggestion uncommented. About two years later he called me one day and said, „We got him.“
Esteban Maroto drew three of my Manos scripts, which appeared in the „Geister Geschichten“ #61, #62, and #63.

Antonio Correa Expósito
Undoubtedly, Esteban Maroto was the undisputed star artists of the „Manos“ series. But the Spaniard Antonio Correa Expósito, who was born in 1940, draw the most „Manos“ stories. He signed them with „Correa“. As for the quality, his style was very similar to Esteban Maroto's. This is not surprising, after all, Correa had learned his craft as a comic artist in Esteban Maroto's studio.
Antonio Correa Expósito passed away in 2003.

Carlos Torrente
In the 1980s, the Spanish artist drew numerous comics for various Bastei series. Internationally, his work has been published in comics magazines such as „As“ or „Metal Hurlant“. Later, he concentrated more and more on illustrations for the press.

Luis Martinez Roca
Born in Barcelona in 1940, he was one of the first Spaniards to work for the American publishing house of James Warren, where he draw „Vampirella“. He died in 1998 in his hometown of Barcelona.

José Maria Bellalta Suárez
Suárez was born in 1941 in Barcelona. In the 1970s he founded the „Spanish Artist Studio“. For Bastei, he also drew the series „Arsat der Magier von Venedig“ („Arsat the Magician of Venice“) alongside of „Manos“.

DeMetrio Gómez Sánchez
Born in 1944 in Pilar de la Horadada, the Spaniard became an artist of Western-, Horror- and Romantic comics. In the USA he worked for the publishing house „Charlton Comics“. For Bastei he drew many „Gespenster Geschichten“ and „Manos“.

Ertugrul Edirne
Edirne was born in Istanbul in 1954 and lives in Cologne (Germany) since 1981. On behalf of the Bastei publishing house, he created numerous cover pictures for series such as
„Bessy“, „Lasso“, „Silberpfeil“, „Manos“ and more. He later worked as an illustrator for the Heyne -, the Ravensburger - and the Norbert Hethke publishing houses.

Ugurcan Yüce
The artist, who was born in Istanbul in 1947 and became famous for his cover art. After graduating on an art school in painting and sculpture, Yüce moved to Germany in 1980, where he produced numerous cover pictures for the Bastei publishing house. Among other comic series he illustrated covers for „Geister Geschichten“ and „Manos der Dämonenjäger“. Later, he designed various covers for computer games. Ugurcan Yüce died in February 2015 in Stuttgart, Germany.

These artists helped to shape the look,visual style, & the feel of the world of 'Manos the Demon Hunters'. In many ways the artists helped to define on the whole not only the setting but the entire nature of Peter Mennigen's writing.

These artistic changes helped to grab young audience members such as myself & those glorious wrap around covers helped to launch the book over the top into another category. The covers by Esteban Maroto were incredible with  colors that  were lush, lurid, and lusty with Sword & Sorcery goodness.  They remind me of many of the best of Dungeon Crawl Classic's best covers on some of their game adventures.

Ghosts Stories #61
14-Page-Manos Comic: "the trap in the hells".
Artwork: Esteban Maroto.

"Manos The Demon Hunters" was a product of both the times & its author's imagination that had the operatic quality to it that my adopted uncle was looking for. It wasn't quite as rough & ready as Heavy Metal was for the time so it was safer for us kids to read. But it reflected what was happening at the table top during this time as we braved many of the dangers of the 'gods' from 
Der Ring des Nibelungen WWV 86 cycle of adventures.

Artwork: DeMetrio Gómez Sánchez

Overall there's an almost old school  campaign setting consistency to the world of  "Manos The Demon Hunters" that echoes in its storytelling something of the time of Eighties Sword & Sorcery pulpy goodness. There was hardly an issue in the run that disappointed me but the times were changing & so were the tastes in Sword & Sorcery fantasy. These were reflected in many later issues and as we shall see they echoed at the Dungeons & Dragons table top as well.

Artwork: Antonio Correa Expósito

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

OSR Echoes Of 'The Old Earth' Setting Adventure Locations & Commentaries

Meanwhile last night I dug out my copy of C.L.Moore's Northwest Smith stories, Clark Ashton Smith, a bit Robert Howard, and some of the usual H.P.Lovecraft tales. This puts me right back square into the territory of Leigh Brackett. The post colonial world of Old Earth is three ticks from when the 'stars come right'. And this age is  a repeat of Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean cycle

 The Hyperboreans coped with the changes and destruction of 'Old Earth' as best they could whist coming out of their bunkers to find themselves far off world. Hyperborea now sits out in the solar system. Meanwhile 'Old Earth' has been reduced to tribalism in spots with high tech city states here and there. A few Hyperborean states still exist but Antarctica is now the new continent of mystery & danger.
Earth has become one vast science fantasy resource with Leigh Brackett's Tribal Exploitation Corporation taking advantage to scoop in, take apart temporary temples and tribal shrines on the plateau of Leng. Then leave before the Tcho Tchos or the Gnophkehs swoop in & tear apart the whole hover craft or space ship. Antarctica is one of the most dangerous places on the Old Earth because of the return of the Elder Things and Shoggoths.

Cults of Ithaqua, Rhan-Tegoth  Aphoom-Zhah,  and the Ice Worm cults are also flourishing at the North Pole Aggregate an amalgamation of Alaska parts of Canada, & some fragments of Iceland. Making the whole of the the upper part of the Americas very dangerous indeed. The religion & cults  of the toad-god Tsathoggua is far more mainstream today. In many places there are hidden shrines and back wood temples not built by human hands. This happened after the return of the empire of the K’nyan. The conquest of the surface world took decades but the remains of the war abound. Hidden temples in the jungles of  Antarctica indicate that the formless demons of Tsathoggua guard dangerous secrets not meant for man's eyes. Unusual & weird artifacts appear in the marketplaces of what was once Australia and the near East.

Meanwhile in parts of Europe cities lay abandoned or taken over by various witch cults, bandit groups, adventurers, & unspeakable monsters. Lamia of many types inhabit parts of Europe, they are often the heads of cults or worse. Initiates often venture deep into other worldly wildernesses using the Aklo rites to become changed by the White People or other entities in rituals far too horrible to describe.  What comes back can hardly be described as human.

Outside the city states block after block of abandoned & lost cities stand empty as if waiting for new owners who might not come. The distant roar of atomic rock engines pierces the night sky with citizens  on their way to the gleaming  space stations that keep track of the strangely changing topography of the world below.

In what was Africa the empire of Opar has awoken from its ancient slumber & taken over their region of the world. The Atlantis refugees have reforged their ancient outpost but local tribes are still resisting them. Heroes have emerged from hidden enclaves of their own with sorcerous knowledge & relic technologies of their own. Various Hyperborean & human adventurers often find themselves here because of the old dolmen gateway systems that still function here. The empire of Opar is it said bows to hidden lizard king emperors who once ruled vast tracks of Africa from their Nameless City headquarters. Many adventurers come to Africa to try their luck in the dangerous ruins that dot the coast. Few if any ever return.

So what's going on here? Well I'm working on building some of the adventure locations and monsters of Old Earth. I've decided to use some of the classic OSR monsters from
Rafael Chandler 's Teratic Tome for some of the weird Lamia style monsters after looking into several new ones from the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition ones.  The Tome is one of my all time favorite OSR monster books and should fill my needs for mid tier Swords & Weirdness monsters for my Saturday evening game.

I'm also working tonight with Dark Albion & Dark Albion Cults of Chaos to flesh out some of the cults of Old Earth. Because Dark Albion works so well with AS&SH, this is really an easy fix because of running out of time with work. Some of the material of Dark Albion's medieval resources have super easy tables to flesh out communities, villages, and more. This means some of the heavy lifting has been done for me as a dungeon master.

Cults of Chaos helps to put some flesh on my take on the Lovecraftian entities. The magick of Dark Albion actually fits rather well with some of the material I've got going with my personal game. Cults of Chaos seems rather well suited for creating the backwater horrors of Old Earth. I'm not looking for the skull crushing horror of the Lovecraft Mythos but the suitiblier horrors of Clark Ashton Smith occultism which Cults of Chaos hits nicely. Brandon has a nice Youtube review that hits the highlights nicely.

Monday, September 18, 2017

OSR Sword & Sorcery Commentary As We Enter The World of 'Manos der Dämonenjäger" For Your Old School Campaigns Part II

As I covered in my first part of this series of articles, the Eighties were the second golden age of Sword & Sorcery adventure fiction. Coming in hot to usher in this age of decadence and magick was the  Conan The Barbarian film released 1982 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can't tell you the impact this movie had on people across the world. For small town Eric it was a huge deal & it colored my views for decades to come. This was a defining film for a generation in a way & devoured each & everything Sword & Sorcery related. I snuck into a rated 'R' showing with friends way back when.

Savage Sword of Conan magazine was going strong but it wasn't enough for a restless slightly hyperactive  kid with a passion for Dungeons & Dragons, Sword & Sorcery comic books, & that more edgy European stuff. My adoptive uncle was there to feed the flames of youth.  I got more then my share of a wider audience of  comic books from aboard. A year after Conan hit the theaters,another thinking man's  barbarian prince had hit the comic book stands in Germany. Europe had always had a different take on the Sword & Sorcery market and in post war Germany the thirst for literature of the escapist variety was very high. Manos The Demon Slayer was the perfect vehicle for it. Whist I worked on my German to read the issues. Half a world away in Germany veteran comic book writer Peter Mennigen was churning out stories of foul sorcery, deeds of daring, and a thinking barbarian warrior who used his brains and courage far more often then he used his sword arm.

These were a different breed of comic book hero carving their way across the news stands and specialty comic book shops of the Eighties. I learned quick from 'Manos der Dämonenjäger' how the pacing of an adventure was put together, where and when to apply over the top monster encounters, how to develop quick sweeping back stories for PC's, & most of all how to wrap a Sword & Sorcery campaign in the European style. Meanwhile back in Germany Peter Mennigen was creating more danger and horror for our heroes. But I'll let him tell it. 
"Manos der Dämonenjäger – Teil 2
Oder: Gezeitenwandel, Neubeginn und Ende

Manos the Demon Hunters - Part 2
Or: Changing times, new beginning and the end

In August 1983, Bastei took the next step: „Manos“ got its own magazine. The target group of readers was no longer the „usual“ Bastei reader. Rather, they tried to get a new readership among the fantasy fans who had not shown any interest in the series so far.
Instead of „Geister Geschichten“ appeared now in great letters the title „Manos der Dämonenjäger“ („Manos the demon hunter“) on the front cover. Each issue was given an impressive wrap-around cover. They were great fantasy works of art, painted by Ertugrul Edirne and Ugurcan Yüce. Both artists were already responsible for the covers of the „Geister Geschichten“, which looked - because of to the small layout - relatively unspectacular.
The „Manos“ comic was expanded from 14 to 22 pages. The two additional stories were deleted. The comic was supplemented by one pagern who, in pure text form with a great illustration, illuminated the mythology of the „Manos age“. The middle section of the comic book contained a poster of a great fantasy artist such as Vincente Segrelles, Esteban Maroto, Rowena, Boris Vallejo or Luis Royo.

For the new magazine Werner Geismar worked out the plots of the first five „Manos“ stories. I wrote them as detailed exposés and after getting the okay from the editors I wrote them as scripts. All following stories I wrote completely on my own again.
The stories in the old series „Geister Geschichten“ had mostly been completed in every issue. „Manos“ now had story arcs extended over several issues. Obviously the life of the protagonist was subject to many changes, which often led him to gloomy lands.
In one storyline, Manos’ sister Parda married a demon ruler. If Manos had expected to get the benevolence of his sister when he killed her demonic husband, he had miscalculated. Parda refused him any help and developed instead to his deadly enemy. A happy ending may look different.

Towards the middle of the eighties, the gloom of the worldwide fantasy boom slowed down. What was also reflected in the decreasing sales of the „Manos“ comic book. At some point, the series does not pay off anymore and was canceled after 35 issues in December 1984. "

The Eighties were a very weird transitional time period for comic books. There the numerous American, European, & Italian Sword & Sorcery knockoff films ( which I happen to love)  not to mention the shake ups happening in original Dungeons & Dragons, B/X D&D, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition

These comic books had plots & subplots which were a bit more involved and had far more back story then some of the mainstream Marvel ones of the time but DC was starting to go that same style of route. The Manos the demon hunter issues were consistent & much less adult then the issues of Heavy Metal & The Savage Sword of Conan making them easy fodder for the younger players in my Uncle's game to devour. We played through our Der Ring des Nibelungen WWV 86 cycle but these comics seemed to compliment the action. Plus we were learning a different language. It wasn't until years later that I finally got into the same comic book stories  with those outrageously gonzo wrap around covers!
The wrap around cover  pages are a thing of lurid pulpastic things of beauty! Simply bask in them.

There was a lot that I learned from reading these these comics from the mythology of the past catching up with the dreams of the present to the fact that familial relations between PC & NPC's are a thing to be exploited to the fullest, these comics also had a driving supernatural almost what could be considered a Lovecraftian edge to them. The plots revolved and changed, adventures were dynamic and pulpy, and the characters were well rounded to a certain Sword & Sorcery degree much of this was due to Peter Mennigen's writing. Next time we dive more into the world of the demon slayer. Stay tuned!

Hit On the Alchemist's Laboratory - Even More Swords & Strangeness - Actual Play Adventure Event

Back at Tegel Village the PC's have been dealing with the priests & sorcerous healers of the temple of Thor. They also had a run in with a pair of alchemists who were working for Sir Triston. The players found out has been using a dimensional map to navigate through the dimensional doors that surround the grounds of Tegel to go to the lands of Lomar.
Meanwhile back at the Alchemist's shop a group of five alien mercenaries assaulted the brothers who owned the place. The PC's had to stop the bastards and the alien bastards gave them a hard time. The alchemists explained that the aliens wanted some of the weird artifacts that Sir Tristan had brought back from his travels. The PC's have had dealings before with these bastards a couple times.

The PC's also learned of the the quest Tristan has for the
Pnakotic Manuscripts and his journey to Olathoë, lying on the plateau of Sarkis. The PC's also got a look at a  rune covered skull of a Gnophkeh and its connection to the mysterious ruined outpost of Atlantis that recently surfaced on Old Earth. Now the players are gung ho about getting on the corrupted knight's trail onto Lomar on Old Earth. The ruins are straight out of Ray Harryhausen's Mysterious Island from 1961.

So what's really happening here? The PC's are waiting to the other dimensional & demon haunted manor & its surrounding lands appear on Old Earth & the lands of Lomar to track down are knight. They are also really not happy that some old friends showed up in this past  week's game. What you might not know is that I quietly shifted  in the alchemy rules from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition. 

 Which gets into one the basic adventure of the Second Edition of AS&SH, (“The Black Moss-Hag of Lug”) which is a solid little romp of an adventure for first level PC's. The background, goals,etc. could easily be modified by the DM. The adventure gives a really nice quick introduction into the world of Hyperborea and like Keep on the Borderlands a possible lair and base for the PC's to operate out of.  It also ties directly in with the mythological & weird fiction roots of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I'll get into the roots and connections of this adventure & my own on going game next time. I don't really want to give too much away. If you haven't picked up AS&SH second edition yet, I strongly suggest that you do while its on sale.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review & OSR Commentary On Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Second Edition) From North Wind Adventures

So many months ago it seems that the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition's kickstarter seemed to take the OSR community by storm! Well the long await is over! Last night whist I was at my weekly AS&SH game the pdf broke! It was billed as the premiere Sword & Sorcery OSR rpg during the kickstarter. So let's see if that's true and I'll be the judge of that claim! Clocking in at over six hundred & twenty two pages this is one hell of a hefty tome. But let's get the big question out of the way first for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hypborea first edition fans this second edition is fully and wholly compatible with first edition.

For myself and other fans of AS&SH this is an OSR retroclone that we've been waiting for with both baited breath & some trepidation. Trepidation because its a game that hearkens back to Dungeons & Dragons whist wearing its sword & sorcery linage on its sleeves for all to see. All of the usual AS&SH humancentric racial choices are here with Hyperborean &  Atlantean intact inside the PC game swell.
Lets start at the top all of the usual PC core classes are there:
-Fighter: a swordsman, bowman, or other warrior type
- Magician: a sorcerer who memorizes arcane formulæ and casts spells 
- Cleric: an armed and armoured mystic sorcerer 
- Thief: a nimble swordsman possessed of numerous specialized skills
Then instead of multi classing like AD&D or certain B/X Dungeons & Dragons editions you get subclasses  of the main four and there are twenty two of them enabling players to get the pick of the Hyperborean litter: From the fighter you get:
- Barbarian: an outland warrior possessed of feral instincts
- Berserker: a rampaging shock trooper renowned for unbridled battle rage 
- Cataphract (Knight): an armoured horseman and warrior elite
Huntsman: a wilderness warrior who glories in the hunt 
- Paladin: a champion who crusades for justice and Law 
- Ranger: a borderland fighter, frontiersman, and defender 
- Warlock: a spell-weaving fighter who wields steel and sorcery interchangeably
From the Magician you get:
- Cryomancer: a sorcerer who commands the elemental power of ice
- Illusionist: a sorcerer who evokes phantasms and manipulates shadows and light
- Necromancer: a sorcerer who practices black magic and communicates with the dead
- Pyromancer: a sorcerer who commands the elemental power of fire
- Witch (Wizard): a sorcerer who brews potions, divines portents, and lays curses
The Cleric has some interesting choices:
- Druid: a mystic sorcerer empowered by ancestral, elemental, and animistic spirits
- Monk: a warrior-priest who strives for physical and mental mastery
Priest: a chaplain mystic of prodigious spell-casting capacity
- Runegraver: a mystic warrior who carves runic spells on bone, metal, stone, and wood
- Shaman (Witch Doctor): a primal sorcerer who confers with ancestral and totem spirits
 And the Thief adds their own flair to the mix:
- Assassin: a thief who specializes in murder and intrigue
- Bard (Skald): a warrior, scholar, and weaver of enchanted lyrics and/or music
- Legerdemainist: an adept thief who also commands the power of sorcery
- Purloiner: a religious thief who also practices the esoteric mysticism of a cleric
- Scout: a lightly armed explorer, intelligence gatherer, and stealth master
Now many of these character classes  are making their debut in the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea in the second edition of the game. Before this they appeared in AFS OSR gaming magazine which has always worn its pulp, Weird Tales, & old school roots proudly. For AS&SH fans all of these classes has been collected, edited, and combined in one package that works with the second edition system. This means that DM's don't have to fart around with system issues straight out of the gate. So why was a second edition necessary? The layout, artwork, organization, and internalization  of  the games contents is where this game really shines. Divisions of sorcery,campaign & world building material even the advice is all laid out with care.

So one of my friends have scoffed at the claims that the  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea rpg cleaves close to the twisted visions of HP Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith. Well I'm happy to report that its so much hog wash. This edition injects even more Smithian goodness into the rpg setting material. The author and his vision are well intact in AS&SH with the roots of Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean cycle center stage. HP Lovecraft is here sure but its really Smith's game center stage now. The monster section has borne the fruits of all kinds of metal style monsters in its blood soaked pages. I've got to say something about the demon section.

The demon section has been expanded with some brand new types with Russ Nicholson artwork thrown in. But that's the whole issue, many of the monsters from ants  to zombies have been expanded upon & amped up for the Hyperborean setting. This closely ties in with the setting material being knotted back into the world setting of Hyperborea. This is a far more lived in world not defined like you get with Middle Earth or even the HP Lovecraft  Dreamlands but lived in. This means that the Dungeon master has clear license to create lots of their own twists & turns in Hyperborean adventure for themselves.

The Lovecraftian  little touches that get brought the fore mean that you as the reader get snatches of the world within and actually will want to play in Hyperborea. Take for example that Brown Jenkins from HP Lovecraft fame is now an option for only the wickest of sorcerers;"A brown jenkin is sent by Thaumagorga (or one of his six dæmon princes) to serve only the wickedest sorcerers. Its mandate is to encourage its master to greater deeds of depravity and Evil." Its the little touches that make this a solid addition to the AS&SH line. But there are heaping slime laden gobs of  Hyperborean campaign & world building goodness.
There's a ton of expanded setting material, campaign stuff, DM advice & guidance. Plus a starting adventure and campaign location. All of this I will get into sometime next week!


Whole sections of the Hyperborea world itself have been built, expanded upon, and been blown open. This also includes the incredible map included by Glynn Seal of Monkey Blood Design . 
Let's be honest here. This is an excellent example of a map waiting for adventurers to put their mark of violence and depravity on it. There's also a fillable pdf character sheet as well that comes with the pdf

Now how would I rake this second edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Well, kids lets be honest here for a moment, I've done incredibly rude things to my own home game of Hyperborea. I've twisted the world, distorted the setting, added and subtracted huge chunks of the setting, modified the system and much more. I can totally & honestly see me doing the same thing with this edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  I give the second edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea a solid five out of five. I only got the pdf at ten o'clock this morning and cranked this review out at three! This is 'the' game system that I personally use at my table and my players love!

Right Now PDF is on sale for 12.75 HERE!