278 Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

We talk about Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea role-playing game, by Jeffrey Talanian. But we need some help so we enlist our friend, and big fan of the game, Tim Deschene!

From Hyperborea.TV:

“Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is sword-and-sorcery role-playing at its pinnacle. Now in its second edition, AS&SH™ has been expanded to include new classes, new spells, new monsters, new magic items, and more! It also includes a new, full colour map, an introductory town and adventure, as well as hundreds of new illustrations!

This game’s milieux are inspired by the fantastic literature of Robert Ervin Howard, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Game rules and conventions are informed by the original 1974 fantasy wargame and miniatures campaign rules as conceived by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.”


I ran “Rats in the Walls” at Evercon. It’s easily completed in a 4-hour slot at a con. Would be a good introduction to AS&SH as a one-shot. There are a number of helpful resources on the North Wind Adventures Website including character sheets, and quick start equipment lists. On DriveThruRPG you can purchase a Rogues Gallery of characters at different levels to use as pregens. I got them as part of a KS and is what I used for pregens at Evercon.

My Evercon game ended in a TPK, btw. Boss fight did them in. :innocent:


I had the great fortune to game with Talanian at Gamehole Con. He ran “Rats in the Walls.” I promptly bought the adventure and have run it twice: first as the beginning of an AS&SH campaign that never quite got the traction it needed, second as a dungeon sneaked into a Swords & Wizardry homebrew. It worked out memorably both times.

I also had the good fortune to interview Talanian here.

As far as reading the book. Part of the pleasure in reading it, I believe, is because of the evocative, Weird Tales prose and spelling Talanian employs. Here’s a taste:

MAGICIAN: The magician is the archetypal sorcerer: the conjurer, dweomercræfter, enchanter, evoker, and thaumaturge. He may be a guild apprentice trained by masters of sorcery, or he might learn his craft from an heretical hedge wizard who dwells beyond the outskirts of civilization. Regardless of his education, the magician learns to harness eldritch forces from outré dimensions. He accomplishes these marvels through the memorization of strange and oft-forbidden incantations and formulæ, accompanied by the use of verbal recitations, weird gestures, and peculiar components. The magician is the most powerful and versatile of sorcerers, rightly feared and renowned by even the mightiest of men and monsters.

As far as it being the best version of “D&D.” I get that. It’s a really good rules system, and it feels familiar to anyone who knows D&D—especially the older versions. But I think you guys had it better with “Dungeons & Elder Things.” Now, I never played the early forms of D&D at the time they were being published, but AS&SH feels notably different. In other words, it doesn’t embrace all of Appendix N (no Elves or Dwarves—at least not the referents that most of us are thinking of) but just the Weird Fantasy. It might be that one can use AS&SH mechanics to play D&D, but I think you’re better off with OSRIC, 1e, B/X, Swords & Wizardry, or almost any other straightforward retroclone.

Setting. Oh man oh man oh man, you guys, the setting! It is so weird and wondrous. The world is flat! The oceans literally pour off its edges into the gulf of night. Speaking of night, Darkness lasts for years. The seasons are LONG. I believe that you can pull the rules out and run any kind of humancentric D&D, but, I believe even more strongly that, to do so would be to omit possibly the best part. Don’t forget the “races,” Classes and Beasts have been carefully curated for the setting. I believe that this is for the intended experience.


The link for the zine Tim talked about is up. http://kck.st/2tpITjQ


Great episode! My only experience with AS&SH was actually “Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Solomon Kane” (same system, different setting) at Gary Con last year. I got pulled into a game that had a no-show by someone I’d played in a couple of other games with. I’d not had any exposure to the rules or the game before (other than general D&D experience), but it ended up being one of the best games I played at the con.

I’ve since picked up a PDF of the rule book as part of a Humble Bundle, and it’s on my list of games to play at the next Gary Con in March. The Solomon Kane game was a blast, and I’d happily play it again, but the weird fantasy Hyperborea setting is more appealing to me. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get into Tim’s scheduled game, or be in the lobby bar when Brett decides it’s finally his time to run it in an after-hours session. In any case, it looks like there’s plenty of AS&SH events happening, so it should be pretty easy to fit a game or two into my schedule.


I found this episode refreshing. Instead of tearing down other editions of D&D, it was uplifting features that a self-confessed huge fan of AS&SH liked about the system and setting.

By sticking to “what’s great” about the topic, it was easy to take away a sense of how to make any D&D-like game more fun.

Thanks to Tim Deschene for being a great champion for the game.


Thanks Randy. Glad you enjoyed it. Tim’s a great guy.


This was a great episode, and the game sound fantastic. Going to investigate it tomorrow, and see if I can get some Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to re-read as well.

I am looking forward to Sword of Cepheus, from Omer Joel at Stellagama Publishing. He is the writer of Cepheus Light - the simplified OGL game that mirrors Classic Traveller. Here’s a link from some time ago. He is in play testing and proofing now, I think.

I’ve had zero interest in a fantasy setting until I read about this game, and AS&SH sounds much like it! Now I’m king of excited!


I talked to some of the folks who’d played in that game, bumped into them after it was over as they walked around the con, and they told me they had a lot of fun and that you did a great job.


My friend Kevin has run SO MUCH ASSH. He fell in love hard with this game system. I still have yet to read it cover to cover, but I still have a very strong urge to own a physical copy of the book.


After having listened to this episode, I’ll have to provide some clarification to Fafrd’s comments since he mentioned me. The issue in question was a Gary Con game run by someone (who will remain nameless) before the 2E hardcover came out. So we are working with the first edition spiral bound books. In this particular game which was an evening game, we all showed up to the table and that’s where stuff went wrong.

First of all, the “referee/GM/etc.” let two walk-ons join the table. I’m not against that at all, because at my games I run at conventions I always have at least one additional pregen for precisely that purpose. However, at this game there was NO pregens… We were told we had to make 7th Level characters. The ONLY two people who had the player book from 1st Edition AS&SOH were me and the ref. He left his book on the table and I picked a fighter to quickly make a PC so I could pass the additional book around to those who needed to make a pregen. At this time, the ref decided it was a good time to spend about 45-55 minutes AWAY from the table to NOT answer questions and let us “have at it”. We didn’t start actually gaming until an hour and fifteen minutes after event start time and with that, a lot of people still had issues about resolving things from a 7th level character gen standpoint. The rails were much stronger than the worst thing Sean could throw at us as things in the beginning were as rigid as a straitjacket.

To make things worse, as we concluded, a few players had to leave because they had an event in the next hour block (SOMETHING THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED IF THERE WAS REAL PRE-GENS!) So the rest of us stumbled on as we could for the next hour… something only possible because the table wasn’t scheduled for another event. Then as the “conclusion” the ref just narrated out what happened since we were “running late” despite the complete ignorance/willful disregard of us having to make 7th level characters including magic items with almost no books or referee input because the ref was “away from the table.”

I was thoroughly disappointed with this gaming session and resolved to NEVER play again in this particular person’s games and avoid that person when I see that name show up as the “DM/GM/Referee” ever since.

But to end on a good note, I have played with Jeff T., and many others who work on AS&SOH and I run a home game for it also. If any of you wish to read my foolish attempts to write it up, here goes…



That sounds like a bad experience. And as you mentioned it didn’t need to be if at the least pregens had been provided. Even if the adventure had been a railroad, I think just some organization and being prepared would have made it an ok even if lackluster session.

In contrast, I’ll mention I’ve played in @mrmanowar 's AS&SH con games before at Evercon and I highly recommend them! Not only does he bring pregens, he uses terrain tiles and at least in my game gave each of the players a prepainted plastic mini to use during the session and to keep afterwards. I unfortunately didn’t get to play in his games this most recent Evercon since I was running my own games. But I highly recommend playing in his games! And the rumors are true. He really does wear a Manowar shirt every time I’ve ever seen him at a con.

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I’ve only played ASSH once, at Gamehole. I was not impressed, but was left with the feeling it was very much the GM, and not so much the system or setting. It happens. Would like to try it again.

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Mr Manowar, have I met you? Have you been to one of John’s gaming socials at Bub’s in Winona, MN?

If we’ve chatted, I’m guessing what it was about. I’m finally getting to play some more AS&SH! I’m running the character Gundrabu in The Scorched Sanctuary PbP forum.


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Thanks for the kind words! I’ll try to get my Evercon 2021 games listed much sooner next year so we don’t have schedule issues. Looking forward to seeing you in the future!

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Wow, small world. Yes indeed I have been to some (not all) of those socials. It’s my Minnesota trip, haha! I think we may have met there. John was the guy that got me back into gaming in 2003 after about a six-eight month lapse after graduating college and entering the workforce. That guy has a skill at finding gamers and getting groups together better than anyone I know. Once when I visited in Minnesota, he assembled a group together so I could run a game for them all. I had a blast and hope to do it again!

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I’ll be at Gary Con. Maybe we’ll cross paths or be at the same table?