Monday, December 11, 2017

Why not D&D?

Reading a review of Atonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I was struck by the passage posted below.  First, let me give a little context.  The system for this game is a slightly derived evolution of AD&D.  The setting is a pastiche of Howard and Smith and Lovecraft's S&S output.  As I've noted before... well, read it for yourself.
So what's the problem? 
The problem is that AD&D is a poor vehicle for portraying adventures in that world. AD&D is all about collecting: the heaviest armor, the baddest weapon, the deadliest spells, the flashiest magic items. Conan or the Gray Mouser were never defined by their +2 frost brand sword, boots of striding and springing, gauntlets of ogre power, and rope of climbing. No sorcerer of Howard's or Leiber's ever cast a spell like ice storm or haste. 
When magic spells function like rocket launchers and tasers, wizards turn into soldiers. When the power of magic items outstrips the power of the character wielding those items, the character becomes an adjunct to his gear, a carrier. Both of those styles are characteristic of AD&D (and, by extension, AS&SH), but they're contrary to the pulpy flavor that Hyperborea wants to place front and center. [...] 
Could AD&D / AS&SH replicate Weird Tales? Of course they could, but not without either the DM or the publisher of the setting placing severe limits on what's allowed. 
Rules have profound impact on the underlying assumptions of a game world. In the stories of Howard and Leiber, human freedom, courage, and indomitability are ultimately more powerful than the potent but decadent force of civilization and its corrupting familiar, magic. Contrast that to AD&D, where a high-level magic-user is unlikely to be bested unless he's confronted by an almost equal use of magic and where a warrior's or thief's inventory is likely to contain as many magical items as a wizard's, if not more. 
AS&SH's extensive chapters on AD&D-inspired spells and magic items contain no discussion of limiting magic for the sake of preserving the old-shool weird fantasy feel this game wants to be about. The original DMG at least contained warnings to the DM about what would happen if too much magic was set loose in the game. That warning wasn't just Gary spouting about his preferred style of play; it was motivated by the sacks of letters TSR received from DMs begging for advice after rampant magic torpedoed their campaigns--magic that was, in most cases, generated straight off the game's treasure and magic item tables. Since AS&SH's random treasure table is nearly identical to AD&D's, history leads us to expect it to generate the same Monte Haulish problems. [...] 
Grafting AD&D's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to spells and magic items onto Hypberborea is a disservice to the pulp-style setting. Of course, a DM can go through the AS&SH spells and magic item lists and cross off all the effects and items he wants his players never to get their hands on. I'd be fine with that approach if AS&SH was a generic fantasy game, but it's not. 
As it stands, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is the Odd Couple of FRPGs: two individually excellent products cohabiting the same box yet living in separate universes. If you're looking for a solid, approachable retroclone of AD&D, AS&SH is a strong choice. If you're looking for a weird fantasy setting inspired by the stories and ambiance of Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, and Smith, you won't find one much better than Hyperborea. But these two sharing an apartment? The linguini will hit the wall.
In other words; D&D (or at least AD&D) is a poor emulator of exactly the kind of source material that it deliberately claims to be emulating.  Yeah.  That's a problem.

Read the full review here:

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