First Impressions of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition



I just received my backer PDF for the 2nd edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Often when a backer PDF is released I'm playing something else so sometimes it may take days or even weeks until I get around to downloading it. Since I'm actually GM-ing an AS&SH campaign currently, I actually downloaded it right away.

I've given the original version of the game a review as well as a more recent actual play impressions. This isn't a full review of the new edition - I've only had time for a quick skim. But from that skim it's worth noting that the game hasn't changed - there's some rearrangement here and there, some tweaks, and a bunch of additions. So it's important to note that my earlier reviews are still very much applicable. Indeed, unlike many games, the fact that this is a new edition isn't even advertised on the cover. This reminds me of the way revisions to the D&D Basic and Expert sets were released in the 1980s - new cover art, new contents, but no big banner proclaiming a new edition.

So what's changed? There's new art - a new cover and some full-color art at the start of each of the six "volumes" within the PDF. There's additionally a lot of new art, art which co-exists with the original art which reappears in this new edition. All of the classes are from the original edition are still here. Additionally, there are four new classes - a new subclass for each of the four main classes. The new classes are:

  • Huntsman - a fighter subclass, a wilderness warrior and hunter
  • Cyromancer - a magician subclass, specializing in ice magic (Fafhrd, your mom is looking for you...)
  • Runegraver - a cleric subclass who specializes in rune magic. This magic requires the expenditure of caster hit points to cast which seems in keeping with some of the sacrifices found in Norse mythology.
  • Purloiner - a thief subclass with some priestly abilities. Often serves the god of thieves...
A quick scan of the spell lists shows it has been expanded somewhat with new spells. The adventuring section looks pretty much unchanged from a quick scan.

As before, the referee's section covers monsters, magic items, and details of the world. The monsters section has some additions from the 1st edition as does the section on magic items. It's still the same world, though one addition I really appreciated was a series of random tables for generating weather. In a world with winters lasting for years (and dominated by a year of eternal darkness), weather is more than a background detail in Hyperborea and these tables (complete with game effects of certain weather conditions) make for a great addition. There is also an appendix with a starting village and nearby dungeon location.

In addition to the rulebook there is a PDF of a new color map of the setting - it's the same geography as the original map but much prettier.

It's worth noting that as a while the game looks much nicer. I found the layout enhanced in such a way to make for overall easier reading. The new art nicely complements the art from the 1st edition - and both styles of art evokes the setting - from elder things to laser-wielding zombies to orcs Atlantean spacemen. 

If you've the 1st edition, do you need to upgrade? Probably not. For the most part, the upgrade reminds me of the changes you'd find when going form one edition of Call of Cthulhu to another (though the 7th did make for a fairly major change, though even there backward compatibility was maintained). If you enjoy the game I think you'd like the improvements and would be happy you upgraded. If you don't like the game, I can't imagine any of the minor tweaks would change your mind. If you're curious about the game then the 2nd edition is a great starting point - there's no metaplot which has been advanced some years - it's the same setting as before. And as before, it's really well equipped for the insertion of most old school adventures you could think of, albeit with a tweak here and there for more of a swords and sorcery feel. 

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