OSR Retrospective: Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I’ve really liked Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea for a long time but I have to admit that this one of the clones that I’ve had the least amount of experience playing. But hell, they had me with the cover art of the first edition.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea has a lot going for it. First, it’s one of the few games that’s not firmly routed in Tolkien. Instead it dives head first into weird pulp fiction of days gone by. There’s no elves or halflings. Dwarves exist but only as monsters. Humans are the only option but there various races to choose from.
Game mechanics are firmly rooted in the old school games. So if you’re already familiar with that then playing this should be little problem and GM’s shouldn’t have too much difficulty converting any material. There’s descending AC, Thieves with their own set of skills (in this case x in d12), and so on. Like Swords & Wizardry Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea uses a single Saving Throw modified by class. The game does use some of its own nomenclature such as Casting Ability, Fighting Ability, and Turning Ability. At first this was a little confusing to me, but reading in detail even I was able to figure it out.
Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea handles classes well. If the GM wants to keep things simple then they can use only the four basic classes (Fighter, Magician, Cleric, Thief). If the GM wants lots of options then the game goes the “sub-class” route and offers lots of options. There’s the what you would expect Assassins, Bards, Barbarians, Druids, and Necromancers plus there’s more like the Shaman, Cataphract, Runegraver, and Purloiner just to name a few. What concept a player comes up with, there’s probably a class that fits.
While the material is separated into volumes when that it’s complied into a single book or PDF, it clocks in at over 600 pages. I know that seems like a lot compared to other old school games. There’s a lot of material there. It not only combines material you would find in a Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and DM Guide but also includes the material fro the Hyperborea setting.

For me, this is where Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea really shines. Since the game ditches the Tolkien style fantasy for a weird pulp Swords & Sorcery approach, the setting and the adventures are what really set it apart from most other games. The setting manages to alien but familiar. Now IMHO, it is a bit too detailed in parts like I’d probably never use a setting specific calendar. But it’s full of inspirational material for a GM to run with to make their own unique setting.
Even if you already have your own game system of choice, it’s worth grabbing up a few of the adventures. The standard dungeon crawl with orcs, goblins, and dragons can get a little mundane after a while. The jaunt down the path less traveled makes things all the more interesting and weird. Crap even the cover art and titles are evocative and inspirational.

You can get Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea on DrivethruRPG or visit North Wind Adventures site for the material plus some freebies.

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