Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Own Private Hyperborea

My Own Private Hyperborea

I became a huge fan of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperborea a few hours after opening the box. I loved the Baggley art, and if that had been it I would have been fine with the set. What I quickly realized is that Jeff Talanian had somehow tapped into a setting that brought me back 30+ years to the dawn of my gaming experience and the Greyhawk setting.

Hyperborea is nothing like Greyhawk and yet it brings back to me the same feeling of having found a well-spring of imagination and the invitation to drink my fill.  The game rules add greatly to my own 1e AD&D Houseruled system.  Jeff would probably be appalled out how readily I trim to fit his excellent rulesystem, but then again probably not. The mechanics aren't really the Thing.

Then there is the setting. As you read through the rulebook you realize how meshed it is with this fantastic setting. The setting itself is described in a relatively small gazetteer, until you read more and realize that the chapter on monsters enhances the gazetteer and the chapter on treasure, and even the chapter on character classes which fit this amazing setting so well. Everything is really part and parcel with Hyperborea, but drastic alterations and additions fit Hyperborea as well. You can easily have a Conan-esque game with only touches of weird monsters, technologies and horrors from beyond space and time. You can have a Lovecraftian game of mind-warping terror or something inspired by Clark Ashton Smith with adventure and fantastic encounters, or an A. Merritt inspired game with technology that is more akin to magic and alien races that have been on earth longer than mankind. Anything goes, adventures and ideas drawn from the pulps and early strange fiction writers, adventures with a touch of the weird and historical such as C.L. Moore penned or Clark Ashton Smith described in his haunted French countryside of Averoigne.

My own campaign drags quite a bit of the historical into the game and removes some of the more alien and technological from the realms of common experience. The esquimox have mostly disappeared from my campaign (I have given them the ability to cross between Hyperborea and Old Earth at will). The Ixians are gone entirely, the Hyperboreans and fading race of man akin to such people as A.Merritt described in his various works, but completely human. The Hellenic people are much more populace (as are all the places and cities of Hyperborea) and important in my campaign (the fishing town of Port Greely has disappeared and in its place is the Hellenic city-state of Ptolemides; a place a growing importance in my campaign). I have added the Rus as an important cultural group and plan to add a civilization of Finns, the Kimmerians becoming more of a Cossack-like civilization (without guns). Technology does still play a part in my campaign, but mostly alien technology which is hard to understand and extremely dangerous. There is also room for a lost expedition from the Miskatonic University of the 1920's and perhaps ships, planes or even submarines run aground on the shores this lost land.

Almost everything fits. So much so that the land grows and twists as it is traveled and a sudden mist may find travelers on the other-side of the continent, or somewhere in the distant past, or another dimension entirely.  And yet there is a stability; Khromarium the eternal city, Ptolemides, they provide a running continuity for my players.

I'd love to hear about other people's Hyperborea campaigns. I recommend trying it if you have a taste for Clark Ashton Smith or old Weird Tales kind of adventure. I will certainly be posting much more about in various ideas (which hopefully can generate some inspiration in any campaign setting) but also expand on this post to detail my own campaign, because talking about your campaigns as DMs and/or players has become part of the great enjoyment AD&D has brought to me over the years and I can't think of a better place to talk about it and hopefully receive responses.


  1. My problem with AS&SH's setting is that it's far, far, too derivative of existing sources for me to take seriously.

    I mean, it would be like someone 75 years from now (whenever Greyhawk's copyright goes out), publishing a setting called GrayFalcon, and then combining it with a Blackmoore and a Gloranathia, etc. Like generic knockoffs of the real thing.

  2. I would have thought that myself and said that "no way could AS&SH and its Hyperborea setting work" but it does and very smoothly. I think part of the reason it works is that CAS, Howard and Lovecraft, were all part of Lovecraft's circle. These early writers began experimenting with blending and sharing ideas and I think it enriches their works and what Jeff Talanian did with AS&SH is something I wish I'd thought of myself. It seems so obvious but it is really genius.

    But as for Greyhawk I find some very Lovecraftian CASian elements in the setting and I am working on adventures which are really Cthulhuhawk. The Temple of Elemental Evil, should be, I feel, a much more horrific otherworldly setting, something akin to the movie Prince of Darkness with a percolating mass of ultimate evil calling to the evil in the hearts of man and monster and drawing them to it.

    I am also not sure that most settings for use in actual gameplay should be taken too seriously. Serious stuff all the time is good for novels but a mix of grim horror and touches of humor go very well with real live players gathered together for a bit of fun bonking things on the head and taking their stuff. Sure, in AS&SH they may be twisted into abominations of flesh for their trouble, but that is part of the charm. Sorry you don't see it. You can also easily make the setting your own. Hyperborea has existed as an idea for a long, long time and there is a lot you can do with it. I have found AS&SH to be a great starting point, but you really aren't meant to take it too seriously.


Generic messages by Anonymous users will be deleted.