Written by Doug Poniarski
When I was first handed this module for the game Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea I was excited to dig my teeth into it. The game is based on the tales of Conan and his adventures in Hyboria. Hyperborea is just much more intense and now I can be a part of the gritty pulp adventures.
As a kid I loved watching Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan and running through the Hyborian age and the remake with Jason Momoa also grabbed the feeling of the grittiness that was greater Hyboria. This module grabbed all of that grittiness and pulp amazingness and tied it up into a nice package delivered to my hand in over 50 pages of Hyperborean goodness. The fact that I can create a character and live my own Hyborian born adventure makes this a treat in itself. Jeffrey and the team over at North Wind really impressed me with this module.
As a Dungeon Master, full time working man and student, I have almost zero time to create my own adventures. I love being able to grab a module and insert it into the adventure currently being tackled by my group. This module gets an A++ in terms of the amount of material fully-fleshed out. This book gives us all the working parts of an adventure, from a introductory paragraph for the players, to individual handouts and finds during the adventure. Each page is a font of information for everywhere your players will venture to. There are plenty of maps, monsters, magic items, tables, and much, much more for you DMs to enjoy.
Looking at the cover and all of the artwork in the book seems to enlighten me on some of the infinite struggles of Hyperborea. You can see Vikings fighting flying simian creatures as well as fortresses on cliffs in complete ruin. The artwork is beautiful in its own right and makes a great way to show your players where they are in relation to things, as well as make better on descriptive events. Each map looks almost 100% hand-drawn for that “my friend wrote this” feel. I love that. I have personally drawn plenty of maps for my games with friends and love the feel of those kind of maps. It really shows their love for this game. I look forward to seeing other artwork and maps drawn by this team.
The layout of the module book allows the DM to easily navigate and leave off from session to session. The appendices in the back are concise and give the DM the information he/she may need throughout the adventure. Each page has a very nice design with corner artwork to clearly define the page area and give it a very Hyborian look. It’s a pike with a viper wrapped around it onto a sword at a 90-degree angle. It’s very eye-grabbing.
So enough about the aesthetics of the book and the layout. Let’s examine the content. The module brings the players into a struggle with a wizard and his greed for green radioactive crystals. These crystals are the source of many a terrible nightmare in this world. The greed for them is incredible. Anyone who is anyone would want these crystals. This wizard wants these diamonds more than anything in the whole world and is willing to pay for it, queue the party. The party is made an offer they shouldn’t refuse for them to escort the wizard on his quest for these diamonds. This quest will take players across a great sea, through a mysterious village, into many dangerous fights, and through a desert. The players will face many enemies and puzzles. They will fight giant spiders and werewolves. They will fight giant radioactive ants and a large flying spectral Viking Long-ship. What would the adventure Ghost ship of the Desert Dunes be without a large flying Ghost ship!?
Each leg of the journey is split into 3 parts. The sea journey, the village, and the desert. Each part of the module is so descriptive and interactive with the DM. There is so much the DM can add to have it contain a little of their own flair. The book even has portions for options with NPCs and enemies! The story is very compelling and it gives the DM an amazing addition to their tabletop rpg sessions.
Overall the module is a delightful addition to any Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea game. It wouldn’t be difficult to even add this adventure to other game systems. Some of the core mechanics of this module can easily be translated into OSRIC, AD&D, and even D&D 5th edition. With that being said, folks who are running these other systems shouldn’t be shy about including these adventures in Hyperborea. Fun for all party types and a worthwhile additive to a campaign in another realm.
A couple of criticisms I have for the adventure module are negligible compared to the greatness that it is. I don’t much care for the lack of color inside the book. I know it is cheaper to print in black and white, but I really wish I could have seen the winged ape fight the Viking in color. I suppose I could just color it in myself, or have someone else do it, but it isn’t the same as immediately opening it and having it grab my attention as such. Something else I feel like it did well (but could have included more of) is its new monster additions. The uniqueness of the Ghost Ship itself is stupendous and I bow to the ingenuity of it all, even though some of the monsters could have been deadlier. The ship stole the show. Also, the Ghost Ship isn’t a guaranteed encounter within the module either. Make sure, DMs, that you throw it at your groups anyway! It’s a hard encounter and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
After reading the module cover to cover I feel like it’s the perfect length for a 4-session adventure with serious players. If your players are the type who love to muck about then this book can turn into an infinite time sink into your campaign. They wrote a lot, I mean a LOT. 55 pages of material is enough to keep player enamored for a long time. Each one of the caves and dungeons has quite a bit to explore and can even be difficult to leave. The town has tons to do in and if you aren’t on top of guiding your players along they could chill in town for multiple sessions. So, DMs beware; make your players move!
Players and DMs, even if you don’t like Conan, or the world of Hyboria, the world of Hyperborea and this module bring a load of amazing fun for you to include in your campaigns. I couldn’t suggest getting this module or some of the other modules by North Wind Adventures enough. The inventiveness and unique level of storytelling make this Mad Max journey of radioactive shiny goodies a perfect addition to any campaign. The story plays like an 80’s fantasy pulp adventure and is a rollercoaster of exciting Hyperborean born adventure.