Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #10 - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I’d originally planned on making this list a “top 10 list”, but given the name of my blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to make it a “top 19”. It’s taking me a bit longer than I would have liked. Unfortunately, over the past few months I’ve had to dial back on my posting frequency. It’s been a combination of finishing up my master’s degree (eight classes down, two to go) as well as actually working on my first gaming product intended for publication (more on that in a few months if it becomes something real).

That said, we’ve made it to the top ten. Another of the reasons I expanded it from ten to nineteen is I wanted to get some retroclones that I’ve played in. Today’s entry is one that I’ve really enjoyed - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorceres of Hyperborea. Take Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and super-emphasize elements that would fit into Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborean stories - a swords & sorcery corner of the Cthulhu Mythos.

The rules themselves are a close variant of AD&D, with a number of changes that I really liked. No more multi-class characters - but each of the main four classes have a number of subclasses which often borrow from other core classes. For example, one can be a warrior who dabbles in magic. There are no non-human characters, something which feels appropriate for the genre. While characters can create minor magic items, the more techniques of more major magics such as enchanted weapons have been lost.

The setting is a mini-universe - a hexagon shaped sea whose waters drop off to infinity, surrounding a small continent and many islands. There are untold ruins, remnants of many cataclysms, and those cities that remain are often a fraction of their former populations. Above a pitiful dying sun provides feeble warmth.

AS&SH isn’t as open-ended as some other D&D-style games in tone - I think, for example, it would be an awkward fit for heroic fantasy - but it’s not trying to be an anything game. It sets its sights on a specific genre and masterfully executes.


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