From The Unspeakable Oath #24 (July 2014), page 67.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
Published by North Wind Adventures
Writt en by Jeffrey Talanian and illustrated by Ian Baggley
Reviewed by Bobb y Derie
It may be that no man save Randolph Carter
has ever known Kadath; but if Kickstarter were a
night-gaunt then the stream of pilgrims to the city
of the Elder Gods would be steady enough to find
the gates guarded by a Starbucks and a duty-free
shop. For the backers of North Wind Adventures,
the prize is “a Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery,
and Weird Fantasy” unlike anything else on the
market. A retroclone by any other name, Astonishing
Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a throwback to
old-school roleplaying. It’s effectively a new edition
of the very first version of Dungeons & Dragons, but
with the fresh face that comes from electronic word
processing and the organization afforded by forty
years of hindsight. The box set, if you can afford it,
is a thing of austere and functional beauty. This is
what D&D might look like if the world had taken
a different path.
While some gamers might bask in the nostalgia
of actually rolling up a character instead of assigning
a pile of points, the real selling point for the game
is the Hyperborea Gazetteer. This default setting for
the game seems torn from the pages of Weird Tales,
combining aspects of Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria,
Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea, Lovecraft Country,
and more obscure weird geographies, without
being identical to any of them. Players who venture
in these lands will encounter names familiar but
strange. Instead of sighting the peak of Mount
Voormithadreth from the rooftops of Commorium,
they might catch sight of Mount Vhuurmithadon
from the city-state of Khromarium, which is threatened
by the Keltic tribes of Kimmeria. The planets
in the sky include Saturn, called Kyranos by the
Xathoqquans, Poseidonos, and dark, mysterious
Yuggoth; and sorcerers and inhuman races worship
gods like Ythaqqa, Xathoqqua, and Kthulhu.
ASSH is either a complete success or a total failure.
In embracing the old D&D system so completely, it
has taken upon it all the strange, idiosyncratic flaws
of that system. The setting is a wild mishmash of
historical periods and names, where R’lyeh coexists
with Atlantis, Kelts with Vikings, Mi-Go and
vhuurmis with Men of Leng and snake-men. The
creations of A. Merrit and William Hope Hodgson
stand elbow-to-elbow with those of Smith, Howard,
and Lovecraft. If you want old-school swords-andsorcery
action in a setting of weird fantasy, I can’t
think of a single game on the market to compete
with it. Adventure books are also available.
Reviewed items are rated on a
scale of one to ten phobias:
1-3: Not worth purchasing.
4-6: An average item
with notable flaws.
7-10: Degrees of excellence.