Revisiting Hyperborea


Revisiting is a strange word, as I've never actually played Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH). I reviewed it several years ago and I liked what I read, though I wound up using ACKS and Dungeon Crawl Classics. It's been a while since I played an OSR game but as I evaluated options for our upcoming game, I found myself coming back to it a lot. There's a new edition of it due within a few months but this new edition is designed to be fully compatible with the first edition. I will confess that I'll miss the boxed set and coil-bound rulebooks but as a backer of the Kickstarter I'm definitely looking forward to it.

When I first reviewed AS&SH I wasn't particularly familiar with Clark Ashton Smith. However, over the past several years I've read a number of his works and his writings have had a large influence on my Call of Cthulhu gaming. The Book of Eibon had an important role in my campaign as has his creation, Tsathoggua, As my familiarity with Smith increased, my appreciation for AS&SH has gone up. One of Smith's creations was his land of Hyperborea. Once a land dominated by jungles and dinosaur remnants, over time it becomes threatened by an ice age. By the modern day, Hyperborea is no more, all that remains of it is modern Greenland.

In AS&SH Hyperborea has found its way to the center of a hexagon-shaped world - almost like a demiplane. The Hyperboreans are a dying race,  though the world is inhabited by others from Earth as well - Vikings, Amazons, Kelts, Picts, etc. It has a number of features that make it conducive to adventure - a Green Plague wiped out most life centuries ago and the world has not fully recovered, leaving many ruins, cities not fully populated, etc. The secrets for creating major magic items have been lost - no one even knows how to make a lowly +1 sword anymore.

AS&SH's Hyperborea, like that of Clark Ashton Smith, is threatened by extreme weather. It isn't threatened by an ice age (though its overall climate is cool) - rather its year which lasts about 13 Earth-years, leads to an odd cycle (for the most part years in the setting refer to our traditional year length, with 13 making up the cycle). One of these thirteen years is daylight almost all the time. Another is a year of constant night. I was initially a bit hesitant to embrace this part of the setting - it makes my suspension of disbelief a bit stretched that such a night could be survived. However, the more I think of it the more ways I can think of to make the challenge of surviving such an event to be conducive to adventure.

I've done a bit of polling for interest in a game of AS&SH on Google+ and I've been pleased at the interest I've heard, so it's looking promising for a game of this with some new folks in the group (we've been running a bit small which works nicely for Call of Cthulhu but I'd like a few more folks for OSR games). If anyone is interested, feel free to give me a holler.

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