This is the newest version of the AS&SH game and there are few notable differences between it and the first edition, but it is still the same fun game from Jeffrey Talanian and the sorcerers over at North Wind Adventures.
I will be reviewing both the PDF and the physical copy. I purchased these via the Kickstarter a while back so no review was expected or asked for.
Where to begin with this massive tome? Well, let's talk about the book itself. The book is massive at 622 pages. The covers are full color and the interior art is a combination of mostly black & white with some new full-color pages; most to designate larger sections of the book.
Some of the art and text is held over from the First Edition, but since this book is designed as a replacement that's fine with me really. It is more than that too.
AS&SH2e is a complete game. Everything you need except for dice is here. There are player's sections and a game master section. I will work through them all.
Volume I: Swordsmen & Sorcerers covers character creation. We have the same basic material we see in all games, what is an RPG, how to play, dice, how to generate stats and so on. I gloss over it here because I know my readers know all of this but to a newcomer to the game these sections are written with a lot of clarity. I do think that most people coming to this game will be coming from other RPGs, but this is still good material. The bulk of this volume (over 120 pages) is devoted to classes. We still have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Theif. Each also gets a number of subclasses. Fighters get Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock with the addition of a new to this edition Huntsman. The Magician has Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch. with the new to this edition Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine). The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, and Shaman and the new Runegraver. Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist, Scout and the new Purloiner. Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. The classes look pretty well balanced. The new classes also feel right with the Cryomancer, Huntsman, and Runegraver falling into the "why didn't think of these in 1st ed, they are so obvious!" category.
Each class has a "Fighting Ability" and a "Magic Ability" which relates to attacks. So yes, even magicians can get a little better in combat as they go up in level. It's a great little shorthand and works great. So a 4th level Fighter has a fighting ability of 4. A 4th level magician still only has a fighting ability of 1 and a cleric 3 and thief 3. Subclasses can and do vary.
AC is descending (like old school games), BUT with the Fighting Ability stat it could be converted to an ascending AC easily.
Races are dealt with next. They include Amazons, Atlanteans, Esquimaux, Hyperboreans, Ixians, Kelts, Kimmerians, Lemurians, Picts, and Vikings along with the catch-all "Common" race of man. No elves or dwarves here. Alignment is a simpler affair of Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil and Neutral.
There are background skills and weapon skills. Also listed are some gods and plenty of equipment.
Volume II: Sorcery deals with all the spells of the various spellcasting classes. At a little over 80 pages, there are a lot of spells here. Even more impressive when you consider that the highest level spell is only Sixth level.
Volume III: Adventure & Combat covers the next 60 or so pages of what is essentially the Player's section. It deals with combat in all its forms. So combat, mass combat, saves and conditions. Siege combat, strongholds, waterborne adventures, and combat. A great collection really of some of the "Best of" ideas I have seen in many games, but it all works really nice here. It has been expanded on from the 1st edition.
Now there are some differences here between AS&SH and say "Normal" or "Standard" D&D. There are things like group intitative, the Fighting Ability figures more in than actually level and others. Please be sure to read this section carefully when running your first game.
Volume IV: Bestiary kicks off what is the Referee's section. Now it is no secret I love monster books so for the next 130 pages we get all sorts of monsters. The format is most similar to Basic or Labyrinth Lord, and it is full of the usual suspects with some Lovecraftian Horrors, and even remnants of alien and bygone ages. "Demons" are here, but no devils. I know NorthWind has a Player's book out now, but a Monster book would also be fantastic. Thankfully nearly every Clone or OSR monster book can be used with this with minor tweaks.
Volume V: Treasure covers the next 50 or so pages. Among the magic items are things like Radium Pistols and other sc-fi artifacts. Very pulpy. It also includes some rules on scribing spell and protection scrolls. There is even a small section on Alchemy in Hyperborea. Very useful to have really.
Volume VI: Hyperborea Gazetteer is our last volume. It is a great bit that I can easily drop into my game. The lands are a pastiche of Howard, Vance, Lovecraft, and Smith. If these names mean anything to you then you know, or have an idea, of what you are going to get here. This section has been greatly expanded from the previous edition. Included here are the gods again and a little more on religion. Basically you get the idea that gods are either something you swear by (or to) or get sacrificed to by crazy cultists. So yeah, you know I am a fan.
Appendix A: Referee Advice is just that. One page and straight to the point.
Appendix B: Weather in Hyperborea. You mean it does more than snow? Charts that help you figure out the temperature and conditions at any given time. Also useful for other games.
Appendix C: Rogues Gallery. Some NPCs, or what I guess we could call the Iconics of AS&SH. All are easily recognizable from the art in the book. No iconic witch though...hmmm. All are listed at 1st, 5th and 9th levels.
Appendix D: Introductory Setting. This gives us the Town of Swampgate. It's a pretty robust setting with some adventure keyed in.
I have said it once, but I will repeat it here. Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is hands down one of my most favorite retro-clone/OSR/Old-School games.
For me, it is another example of striking the perfect balance between B/X D&D and AD&D1. This one leans more towards the AD&D side of the spectrum, but the power level, the grit, the overall vibe is far more B/X. THEN you add in material from Lovecraft, Howard and Clark Ashton Smith? Well, that is the perfect icing on the cake really.
Of course, it is nearly perfect out of the box, but it can also lend itself to so much more than what is given us to use between the covers. I have run Zothique games and Pellucidar style ones as well where all of Hyperborea was either one continent in the far future or underground, inside hollow earth (respectively).
The book is as attractive as it is huge.
I really can't recommend this book and game enough.
[5 of 5 Stars!]