So about a week ago during the last snow storm I emailed Jeffrey Talianin about grabbing a copy of the updated Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure The Rats In The Wall & Other Perils. Boy I'm glad I did! There are several different things right off the bat about this pdf. First of all every adventure featured in this pdf is centered the Hyperborean city of Khromarium. Next is the fact that the lay out & cartography is light years ahead of the first edition adventure. In fact let's not touch on that other version of Rats in The Wall again. There are in fact three adventures Rats in the Walls, Chainsaw’s “The Brazen Bull”, and “The Lamia’s Heart”, by Jeffrey P. Talanian. (An early draft of the latter was published in the AFS fanzine.) Now Rats In The Walls is named after the controversial HP Lovecraft story but shares only a few adventure elements of its name sake. What the adventure does instead is to place 1st level AS&SH PC's at ground zero & to keep the adventure pressure up. The real star of Rats In The Walls & Other Perils is the city state of Khromarium.
Khromarium feels like your wandering around someone else's Sword & Sorcery kingdom that your adventurers have inherited right after they died in their sleep. Elements of this adventure don't feel real but not in a bad way. There is a nightmare like quality about these adventures. Even though Rats In The Walls is only a first level adventure this isn't a first level you really want your PC's to screw up on. They will die rather badly. The adventure is well done & really brings home the madness of the AS&SH's Khromarium
If Rats in the Wall is the introductory travelogue into the world setting of Hyperborea's capital city. Then 'The Brazen Bull' is the weird 'Heavy Metal' kid in the corner of the school bus.
"“The Brazen Bull”: Whilst traversing one of the seedier neighbourhoods of Khromarium, your party are solicited by a greasy-haired Pict. He offers to sell you a sheaf of magical lotus that allows one to see the future or to brew potions that empower the imbiber with sorcery. He beckons you to follow him into a dilapidated building...."
Here the player's PC's are brought into the mind warping effects of the world of Hyperborea right in the city state center of the action. This adventure is like the side streets of a 70's used Sword & Sorcery paperback story brought into focus into the interior of the adventure. This one doesn't over explain every single element & there's room here to really customize the Brazen Bull for your own AS&SH adventure. I like the adventure elements & the bring your own death vibe to The Brazen Bull. So far these are the adventures that I wished had been used for the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyberborea second edition rule book.The adventures feel real & solidly like they belong in AS&SH's world setting without being too heavy handed.
"“The Lamia’s Heart”: Your party are contracted by the nascent master of an unsanctioned thieves’ guild. To earn his favour, you must steal a singular gem from the mansion of a prominent merchant. Purloining this gem, however, may raise the ire of the city’s official thieves’ guild; notwithstanding, the reward is significant."
If the first two adventures in The Rats In The Walls & Other Perils are Clark Ashton Smith & HP Lovecraft inspired then the third adventure is a straight up homage to Robert Howard creator of Conan. This is straight up an adventure that pays its dues in respect to Conan & his exploits. The design is tight, the layout very well done & the pay off could be a complete TPK if the player's are not careful.
AS&SH art by Del Teigeler and Glynn Seal
Thieves & purloiners are a must in the 'Brazen Bull' & besides the obvious uses. The thieves guild is vitally important to the success or death of the PC's. The fact is that these three adventures are easily exploitable for getting the characters into a heap of trouble in the back alleys of Khromarium. There's plenty of adventure hooks to grab adventurers by the throat & exploit their weaknesses to get them into the further ends of Hyperborea. I'm speaking of using some of the hooks in 'The Brazen Bull' & 'The Lamia's Heart' as lead ins for Tim Callahan's Beasts of Kraggoth Manor. The deep alleys of the city lead to the edge of sand & suffering just waiting to put the 'hold of Hell' on player's PC's.
That's the beautiful part of The Rats In The Wall & Other Perils its easily customizable to fit the campaign design & refinement of the dungeon master. Even though it only clocks in at forty four pages there is enough meat here to have the dungeons & adventure elements of Rats In The Wall to fit into your game. The Hyperborean burial grounds that brim with pre–Green Death treasures is only part of this series of adventures.
Is The Rats In The Wall & Other Perils worth your time & your money?! In a word yes! This series of adventures sets the tone & ideas of Hyperborea very well. AS&SH has been using its adventures to help define the world of Hyperborea well & serves as a series of gate way adventures into this blood stained & violently soaked world.