There is just something about a big red box for games.
I have not been able to get Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea in it's big red box form, but I do have it on PDF, and let me say it is really nice.
So what do you get with this? Well there is a 256 page player's book, 240 page Referee's book, a map of Hyperborea and pdfs of the Box Covers. So all in all about 500 pages worth of old school playing goodness.
Now there is a lot here that is old hat for the experienced role-player and some that is similar to many of the OSR games. That all being said it does also make it a great intro game for anyone and there is a still so much here for the old-timers that I don't feel a page is wasted.
The Players Book focuses on making characters, magic and combat. So ability scores are covered, alignment and classes. Most of this is the same as say D&D or S&W, but there are enough little changes to make it worth your notice.
for starters the races of Hyperborea are all human-centric. So we have Amazons, Kelts, Kimmerian, Vikings and Hyperboreans among others. All what I call the "Conan" races.
Let's move to the classes. There are the four basic classes, the Fighter, Magician, Cleric and Thief. But each also has 4 to 6 subclasses. Fighter has the Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Paladin, Ranger and Warlock. The Magician has Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer and Witch. The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, and Shaman. Finally the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist and Scout.
Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. The classes look pretty well balanced. I liked the bard as a single class option (nice to have and not something that we had in 1979). I would love to try out the Necromancer, Witch and Warlock and I know my son would love to try the Pyromancer.
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. Sub classes 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 easy. There are background skills and weapon skills.
The next 90 or so pages deals with magic and all the spells. The max spell level is 6. Not a bad number really and that is still plenty of spells.
The last 60 pages of the Player's book deals with combat in all it's forms. So combat, mass combat, saves and conditions. A great collection really of some of the "Best of" ideas I have seen in many games, but it all works really nice here.
The Referee's Manual is next.
It is nearly as big (240 pages vs 256).
The first half is fully devoted to monsters. The format is most similar to Basic or Labyrinth Lord, and it is full of the usual suspects with some notable exceptions. For starters this book includes the Demons (but not the devils). It does NOT include any dragons. But to make up for it there are many of the "Lovecraft" races such as the Great Race, Elder Things and fish men. Great inclusion.
The next 50 or so pages covers treasure. Among the magic items are things like Radium Pistols and other sc-fi artifacts. Very pulpy.
Finally we end with the Hyperborea Gazetteer. 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.
All together this is a package of such great ideas I can't wait to use it somewhere.