My thoughts on doing these previews is to show some pre-generated characters at various levels and then highlight any relevant changes. So first up are a pair of Warriors; Cain the Slayer and Anya the Red. Yes, they may seem familiar. There are three classes for Forgotten Tales of Sword and Sorcery; The Warrior which is basically the Fighter, The Wanderer which is like a Thief/Rogue/Skill Monkey, and the Sorcerer which is the magic using class.
There’s a couple of things I want to highlight with this preview. First is Weapons & Armor. Like in the original White Box, all weapons do 1d6. We took that one step further and all Armor provides a -2[+2] bonus to AC. Not only does that keep the overall tone of the original edition, it also makes damage and Armor Class more a function of the character rather than the equipment. There aren’t magic shops and +1 weapons and armor readily available. Magic items are very rare and will often have unfortunate side effects. And since this all about Sword & Sorcery based around comics and B movies. Nobody wears practical armor.
Which leads us to Combat Bonus. This replaces the standard Attack Bonus. It’s used as an Attack Bonus and a bonus to AC. It also provides a bonus to Damage for Warriors.
NPC Portraits created with ePic Character Generator.
I’ve been saying that I’ve been working on a big project (well, big for me anyway) and I’m at a point where I think I announce it publicly. So here you go.
The current working title is Forgotten Tales of Sword & Sorcery. It’s built around the White Box set of rules and leans towards a Savage Sword of Conan style campaign with a little bit of Lovecraftian influence. I’m not trying emulate the literary works of Robert E Howard nor am I making it a game about cosmic horror. And it’s not a grim dark art haus type game.
The bigest influences in my youth were things like the Savage Tales of Conan, Frank Frazzetta and other genre artists, and all those B Sword & Sorcery movies from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The goal is to make a game filled with a lot pulp style action .
I’ve made some major tweaks to the Combat and Magic systems and few other things here and there without losing the feel of the original rules. And if you like later old school rules, I’m adding some notes to help folks convert it.
Right now, it’s just over 90 pages and there’s a few more sections that I still need to finish writing but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. More previews, design notes and other goodies are coming soon.
If you want to see those updates early, I’ll be posting the previews and design notes on Patreon and Locals first.
I kicked back in my spare time and did a little binging. I couple of weeks ago I mentioned the failed Conan Red Nails. From what I could I find out, the production company just ran out of money but I was feeling nostalgic and just wanted to sit back and enjoy so I dug around the internet and started watching the old Conan the Adventurer. The animated one that is. I know there’s a live action one too and might rant about that one in a couple of weeks.
I’m about half way through the first season and well it is Saturday morning fare. There’s the obligatory annoying, comic-relief sidekicks for Conan and the main villain, Wrath Amon. Speaking of Wrath Amon. Doesn’t he look like he should be working for COBRA?
So here’s the gist of the series. Rocks fall and everybody wants them. It’s the “Star Metal”. It makes a mean sword plus our main villain wants it bring Set back. In the process, Wrath Amon turns Conan’s family into stone and our barbarian goes on a quest to reverse the spell and gathers a bunch of sidekicks along the way. Of course, Wrath Amon can’t take over the world all alone. He’s got an army of serpent men to help out. Yep, sounds like Kull story, The Shadow Kingdom. And that’s not the only wink to Kull. Early on Conan gets a mighty shield that once belonged to a might king of Atlantic, Kull perhaps. Of course being Saturday morning toon, there had to be toys. I mean that’s why they made the cartoons is to sell the toys. And there’s enough weirdo villains to full up your toy chest.
So what about the stories? A few things I noticed that the writers really snuck under the censors. Sure when Conan hits a serpent man with his sword, it just gets sucked up into the Abyss. Cause we can’t have the little ones seeing that. But I guess a city ran by cannibals is OK. Or that even on Saturday morning, Conan is willing to follow a dancing girl out the back door and down a dark alley. It’s not any real conversion of the literary works and softened up for the little ones. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t just a little bit of a guilty pleasure. Oh and of course there has to be catchy theme song.
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.
Let me start this off with a very brief overview of The Cepheus Engine. It’s basically old-school Traveler. Ability scores and task resolution are on 2d6. The whole system uses only d6’s. There are no classes like the World’s Most Popular RPG. Characters have careers that give them skills and material benefits during character creation. And yes, you can die in character generation but many GM’s house rule around that.
The Sword of Cepheus is the Cepheus Engine take on Sword & Sorcery and with very little tweaking you could use it for Sword & Sandal or even Sword & Planet. The game is presented without a setting but it does explain it’s three “pillars”: Gritty Heroic, Dark Sorcery, and Open World. In other words, you’re average PC is better than mooks but they still need to be careful. Magic will screw you up. And go out there and get into trouble.
Character generation and game mechanics follow pretty much the same formula as you see from the original source systems. Roll your stats then pick a career and so on. Since it’s been literally decades since I messed with Traveler, it took me a while to digest it but a good read through got me back into the swing of things. The best thing about the character generation/career steps is that also gives a character a bit a background or at least some bullets points for the player and the GM to work with. Now I’ll probably rename some skills just to fit my own sense of style but that’s not really a big deal. There’s also Traits to define a character further. Think of these like Feats but without that silly Feat chain effect in 3rd Edition.
Let’s get the meat of what makes this a Sword & Sorcery games. Magic and Monsters. First up. Magic. Magic is divided into three colors (White, Gray, and Black) and six Circles. The color is pretty obvious. Casting Black Magic causes Corruption. Misusing Gray Magic also causes Corruption. Get enough Corruption and bad things happen to your character. Also, magic is magic. There is no Cleric, Magic-User or Druid spell list. Any distinctions are based on how the character is played, their career, and choices. Circles are a bit like spell levels. The Circle denotes the spell’s relative power and difficulty to cast. This isn’t Vancian Magic. There isn’t a specific number of spells per day or memorizing. If the character knows a spell then they know it. Most of the spells will be at least familiar to experienced gamers but most of the direct damage, combat-type spells are gone. Why? Well, it takes 10 minutes to cast a spell. With each round taking six seconds, that means it would take 100 rounds of concentrating on a spell to cast it combat. Not going to happen. But there’s a way around that. Spell Foci. Think of these sort of like the equivalent of D&D scrolls or wands (but they don’t have to be those objects). There are one-use and rechargeable foci. A foci is for specific spell and basically let’s the spell caster have that spell cocked and locked (to use an old military term). There’s an optional rule to allow for rushed casting at a penalty for a more magical campaign. Like I said, there isn’t a limited number casting per day. The character just keeps casting and eventually a bad die roll is going to happen and the consequences are pretty bad. Yes, the character can die, or go into a coma for 1d6 years. So there’s a steep price for magic. Another thing to note is that even a beginning character has access to the most powerful spells. They might not be able to cast them effectively but they may know them. Another thing I like are the healing spells. They don’t give a character x amount of HP. Instead they give natural healing for a specified period of time. The lowest circle healing spell (Respite) gives a day’s worth of natural healing but that doesn’t help for Major Wounds. Or to put roughly into D&D terms, a bunch of Cure Light Wounds spells won’t help you if you’ve had the crap beaten out of you.
For monsters, the book has pretty much the standard array of monsters that you would expect. The stat blocks are pretty easy to ready except for the UPP. This is something from Traveler. It’s a string numbers and letters designating an NPC/PC/Monster’s ability scores. So an average human would have 777777. Stats above 9 are designated with a letter like with hexadecimal. So a character with a UPP of C77777 would have a STR 12 and 7 in the rest of their scores. The order and the attributes aren’t that difficult, they almost mirror d20 based games. The thing is if I have a monster with Strength of “F” that means a a Strength of 15. Now what is the damage mod on that? Well that’s in the beginning of the book. If you’re used to it then it isn’t a problem but if you aren’t there will be some page flipping.
Of course, the book is rounded out with weapons, armor, equipment, magic items, mounts, and vehicles along with chase and naval rules.
Overall, I’m glad I picked it up. I will say that game really needs a GM screen since there are lots of modifiers and tables spread throughout the book. This is another option if you want to run a more Conan/Kull type game rather than Tolkien. I can see bringing a lot of inspirational from existing OSR resources especially things that tend more towards the weird fantasy. It’s also worth noting that Human is the only option in the core book but never fear there is an inexpensive non-humans supplement and that’s pretty good too.
What am I going to do with this? I dunno. I like it. I want to run it. And screams for it’s own setting. Ah. Now that’s something to think about.
You can grab the Sword of Cepheus over at DrivethruRPG.