Friday, October 14, 2016

Beyond The Borea Winds: Hyperborea, The Dying Earth (subgenre), & Campaign Settings For The Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

With the new Kickstarter coming up for the second edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea on October 21; I got an email request about some of the variations of Hyperborea and weird settings I've used with the game. A lot of this is going to be my commentary and opinions so consider yourselves warned.

There are times when I really & truly don't care what's happening inside the whole of the OSR, because what the actual gaming scene only happens right at your the players & dungeon master's table. So what does this have to do with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Quite a bit actually. A couple of years ago I bought two box sets of AS&SH directly from the author/designer Jeffrey Talanian. Over the years I've had a good professional relationship with Jeff, he's a very nice guy whose got a great game. But right out of the gate after getting the game I literally began to write up my own version of Hyperborea. Was I dissatisfied with the game? Was there a problem with it? No quite the opposite in fact I was so taken with the game that I began to make the setting my own.

I didn't want to violate the copyright & trademark of the setting but literally three worlds were birthed from my experiences with AS&SH. My Warlords of The Outer Worlds setting, Accursed Atlantis, & now my Inner Earth setting are all direct results of my experiences with AS&SH. This is because most folks who have read AS&SH think that the 'Sword & Sorcery' genre is the only influence right out of the box. Well yes & no, according to the original AS&SH kickstarter; " Hyperborea is the default campaign setting for AS&SH. This “flat earth” realm is overlooked by a bloated, dying sun, and hemmed in by the mystical boreas (or “North Wind”).  Hyperborea is in a perpetual state of decay, populated by disharmonious men, hostile monsters, and weird, alien beings." So for me Hyperborea takes place in one of my all time favorite subgenres of dark fantasy the 'Dying Earth' setting. Wiki actually has a good break down of the Dying Earth genre believe it or not;"Dying Earth is a subgenre of science fantasy which takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the End of Time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to dominate."  Its a part of the implied setting where the Sun is a giant bloated ball of fire in the sky. This might be the final curtain of Hyperborea or is it? The table top rpg hobby has a tendency to attract very strong personalities & there were arguments over the fact that, "You can't use the Dying Earth genre as one of the elements for your games."  Well in fact Robert Howard's  Conan is a dying Earth setting between the ages;"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.". That quote is from "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932) by Robert Howard. In fact The Forgotten Fane of the Coiled Goddess pulls from this tradition quite nicely.

Well in fact in my games its not but there are other worlds across the 'Straits of the Borea Winds' & the leather shod feet of such as the principal classes of fighter, magician, cleric, and thief; or a subclass, such as barbarian, berserker, cataphract, illusionist, necromancer, pyromancer, druid, shaman, assassin, legerdemainist, scout, and more have crossed worlds. In fact they've crossed into jungles where the palaces of green porcelain of what they thought were Howard's lands were in fact HG Wells instead! "The most famous science fiction work to utilize the familiar Dying Earth imagery was H. G. Wells's famous novella "The Time Machine" (1895). At the end of this work, the unnamed time traveller travels into the far future, where there are only a few living things on a dying Earth. He then returns to his own time to relate his tale to a circle of contemporaries." Isn't this a dirty trick? Well no because way too many players know of Clark Aston Smith's Zothique.
"From the 1930s onwards, Clark Ashton Smith wrote a series of stories situated in Zothique, the last continent of Earth. Smith said in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:
Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves.
The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity."
Instead I went back to the source material of Well's Time Machine and pulled the Morlock's stats from Labyrinth Lord. The PC's ran for their lives after encountering the Sphinx statue & nearly got eaten by a tribe of Morlocks.This was two years ago & the players still relate the story.
There's that balance between fantasy, science fantasy, science fiction, and rpg settings.Actually those are all labels & I pull from the tradition of Clark Aston Smith & the Lovecraft circle of writers who mixed and matched freely these elements.

The North Winds held countless worlds within their grasp & Hyperborea was rife with all kinds of relics,alien objects, forgotten temples, & more. Right off the bat, "Hyperborea is an adaptable campaign setting. It can be used independently or in conjunction with other settings, published or home-brewed; indeed, Hyperborea might be just beyond the North Wind of any campaign setting."  After players had taken their PC's back to the taverns, temples, and had their PC's healed. Slowly began to raise up in levels and got some other adventures under their belt, the gauntlet was cast again. "Too bad you don't have an Underdark or setting to really challenge us for this game!?" So after watching this review of AS&SH, I went back to my Appendix Y reading list.

Appendix Y is my alternative list from the first Edition AD&D  Dungeon Master's Guide & one name stuck out on it William Hope Hodgeson. I've been a devotee for many years of this writer and specifically two works of his The House On The Borderland & The Nightland. Both HP Lovecraft & Clark Aston Smith loved the Nightland;"H. P. Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" describes the novel as "one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written". Clark Ashton Smith wrote of it that "In all literature, there are few works so sheerly remarkable, so purely creative, as The Night Land. Whatever faults this book may possess, however inordinate its length may seem, it impresses the reader as being the ultimate saga of a perishing cosmos, the last epic of a world beleaguered by eternal night and by the unvisageable spawn of darkness. Only a great poet could have conceived and written this story; and it is perhaps not illegitimate to wonder how much of actual prophecy may have been mingled with the poesy."

If anyone's got a spare copy of this book they want to send me its one of the ones on my stolen list.

"Two brooding works by William Hope Hodgson would elaborate on Wells's vision. The House on the Borderland (1908) takes place in a house besieged by unearthly forces. The narrator then travels (without explanation and perhaps psychically) into a distant future in which humanity has died and then even further, past the death of Earth. Hodgson's The Night Land (1912) describes a time, millions of years in the future, when the Sun has gone dark. The last few millions of the human race are gathered together in a gigantic metal pyramid, the Last Redoubt (probably the first arcology in literature), under siege from unknown forces and Powers outside in the dark." 
Yeah this was my ultimate dungeon world setting, filled with monsters, far future ruins, & absolute danger spoken of in harsh whispers when sorcerers, black alchemists, and lonely brooding black lands blanketed in darkness. For more then forty years the Nightland has haunted my dreams. HG Wells Time Machine, William Hope Hodgeson's House on The Borderland & The Nightland all link up and in this fascinating article the whole thing is examined in detail here is part one & two  of  The Fading Sun By Kate Coady   An Examination of the Astronomy in The Night Land, The House on the Borderland, and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

The Nightland  is not an easy read at all & its the place where my last AS&SH had a total party kill at the claws & tendrils of an Ab human giant thing . The Nightland isn't for the faint of heart but its well worth the time and effort.

You Can Download The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson HERE

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson Here

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells Here

   These works are some of the back bone of both the Dying Earth genre &  science fiction. They can provide countless hours of weird fantasy setting material. So remember to keep those dice rolling!

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