Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Plays Well With Others: BASSH, Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I love my Basic-era games, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI and their clones.
BUT I also love Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The games are similar of course, drawing from the same sources, but there are also a few differences. 

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) is more closely aligned with "Advanced Era" D&D, but its feel for me has always been more OD&D, though over the last few years I have been treating it as another flavor of Basic.  

I have mentioned in the past that I see AS&SH as a good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book, and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

In fact, it works so well with Basic that I have featured AS&SH with other Basic-era books in previous "Plays Well With Others."
I find the game that useful and that inspiring.

Class Struggles: Which Each Game Offers
Originally this was going to be a Class Struggles post, but with the inclusion of the monsters below, I felt it had grown beyond just that.  

If Basic-era D&D lacks anything in my opinion it is class options. Yes. I know the classes are supposed to be archetypes to play anything.  A "Fighter" works for a Paladin, a Ranger, a Barbarian, a Knight, and so on.  But I like a little game mechanics with my flavor.  I also like to have choices.

AS&SH achieves this in a beautiful way that can be adopted by any Basic-era game, but in particular, ones that cleave closest to the original sources and of course Holmes, B/X and BECMI.

So we are going to go beyond the Basic Four (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif) here.  I'll talk about demi-humans in a bit.

In AS&SH we have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Huntsman, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock.  The Magician has the Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine), Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch (an old favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, Runegraver, and Shaman (see BECMI).  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist,  Purloiner, and the Scout.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. Every class goes to the 12th level.

Looking over at the Basic side of things we have a few more choices.  Holmes, B/X, and BECMI all cover the Basic Four in more or less the same ways.  BECMI gives us the additions of Paladin, Avenger, Knight, Druid, Mystic, and the NPC/Monster classes of Shaman and Wicca/Wokani/Witch.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord gives us the Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger in addition to the Basic Four.

Old-School Essentials' Advanced options give us the Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.  It also gives us the new race-as-classes Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, and Svirfneblin.

The B/X RPG from Pacesetter has the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger along with the Gnome and Half-elf.  (Yes, a review for this is coming)

AS&SH classes go to the 12th level.  Basic classes, at least B/X flavored ones, go to the 14th level.  I like the idea of splitting the difference and going to the 13th level. 

Additionally, AS&SH has different cultures of humans to provide more flavor to the human classes.

All the Basic-era books have demi-humans that AS&SH lacks. Lacks is a strong word, the game doesn't need demi-humans by design, but they are still fun to have.  Combining these gives us the best of all worlds! Kelt Elves? Dwarf Picts? Lemurian Gnomes?!  This could be a lot of fun.

Plus the mix of cultures in AS&SH is second only to mix found in BECMI Mystara in terms of "let's just throw it all in there!"

I might let people choose one of the Basic Four and stealing a page from D&D5 allow them at 2nd or 3rd level to take "sub-class."  I'll have to see what the various classes all get at first level vs 2nd and 3rd level.

Monsters! Monsters!
It's can't be denied that AS&SH has some great monsters.  Not only does it give us demons and devils (Basic-era is lacking on both) but also Lovecraftian horrors.  Sure, "At The Mountains of Madness" took place at the South Pole, who is to say there is not a similar outpost in the North? 

BECMI does talk about "The Old Ones" a lot and in the Core Rules is never very clear on who or what they are.  But it is not a stretch to think that those Old Ones and the Lovecraftian Old Ones have a connection.  

Oddly enough these things feel right at home in a Basic game.  If one goes back to the Masters and Immortals sets with the original idea that the Known World is our world millions of years ago this tracks nicely with some Lovecraftian mythology of our world.

I have talked about Demons in Basic/Mystara already, but AS&SH offers us "The Usual Suspects" and then some.  While Labyrinth Lord has always been good about opening the "Advanced" monsters to the Basic world, the monsters of AS&SH are of a different sort.

Maybe more so than the classes these require a bit more conversion.  Here is a monster we are all familiar with (and one I am doing something with later), drawing from the same sources to give us three or four different stat-blocks. 

Well. Not that different I guess. They are left to right, top to bottom, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, AS&SH, OSE, and B/X RPG.

AS&SH looks like a "best of" stats, combining features from both Basic and Advanced. Bite damage does a bit more on the average and the XP value is higher.  But nothing I am going to call game-breaking.

So the AS&SH monsters can be dropped pretty much "as is" into a Basic-era game. 

Anyone that plays these games should have no trouble with this really.

Putting it all Together and then Putting it in the North
It's settled then, AS&SH is part of my "Basic World" and where to put it is easy.
In the Known World of Mystara, there is already a Hyboria. It is one of the features of both D&D (Mystara) and AD&D (Hyperboria, Oerth) just as Blackmoor is (Mystara, Oerth). but Blackmoor is a topic for another day.

While none of the maps can be reconciled with each other to make one perfect Hyperboria, the concepts certainly can. This is something I have been considering since I first got the 1st Edition Boxed set.
I know that my family of witches, the Winters, come from the Hyperborean area.  Likely closer to more civilized areas, but not too civilized.  This became the basis for my Winter Witch book. 

BASSH is Born
So take what I love from AS&SH, mix in what I love from Basic and I have Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, or BASSH.  Yeah. This will be fun.


Jonathan Linneman said...

Wait, the Known World is our world millions of years ago? As in the "main" chunk of Mystara?
I had no idea.

You make a great case for BASSH, btw.

Adam Mizelle said...

Itching to mash-up AS&SH with Hollow World myself

Persimmon said...

I just bolted Hyperborea right into my home world as the north pole region. That way I occasionally have monsters or NPCs gone from one region to the other via magic portals, sea travel, or underground as the Underdark becomes Underboria through Matt Finch's awesome Cyclopean Deeps. But we're mixing Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry & AS&SH. I also set an OSE campaign in that world, but I change where it appears in my chronology, so I'm essentially running two campaigns set in different eras, one is Advanced OSE, the other my LL/S&W/AS&SH mashup.

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