Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea: Actual Play Impressions

Including a character generation session, we had our third session of AS&SH last night. I reviewed it over four years ago but sometimes there's a world of difference between reading a game and playing it. So how does it play?

As I've mentioned, as far as the rules go it is in many ways a cleaned up version of AD&D. A bit more complicated than Swords & Wizardry but nothing anyone with gaming experience would have trouble with.

Having played it a few sessions there's a few things that I've noticed in play. First, despite being based on AD&D, the lack of demi-humans makes a big difference, even when you aren't going for deep immersion characterization. It definitely gives off the swords & sorcery vibe that the game is going for. While it lacks multi-classing, it does give some sub-classes that represent a number of fantasy and swords & sorcery tropes. For example, it is possible to play the traditional fighter/magic-user as a warlock. They favor the fighter side but make for reasonably effective magic-users. There is also a thief with some magical ability, feeling much like the Grey Mouser of the Lankhmar tales.

I am still coming to grips with the combat system - I excerpt the sequence below...

The idea is tour break down a combat round into two phases with characters who do not move being able to act in the first phase. So as I read it, a character who lost initiative but is stationary will act before a character who won initiative but is moving. I'm unclear if the intent is also within a side's phase if the sequence is melee, missiles, magic, then movement. That's how we played it but I've found that to be a touch awkward. I might give it a good rereading prior to our next game before I make any tweaks.

We've just begun playing through the classic AD&D Saltmarsh series. I'll likely do a full writeup on adaptation but for the most part it's been pretty smooth adapting it. There's certain creatures that don't feel quite right for the Hyperborean setting but for the most part I've found adaptation to be quite smooth. I suspect most classic adventures would port pretty easily which is quite handy for those of us in grad school part-time...

Overall I've been enjoying the game quite a bit. Like many old school games, the game rewards careful planning - the players quite value the henchmen they've hired to go into the adventure with them. I think the cosmic horror stories of HP Lovecraft remain my first love for gaming inspiration, but when it comes to fantasy, the Swords & Sorcery genre shares much in common with Lovecraft (indeed, many of the creatures in the setting are straight from Lovecraft).


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