Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - Rats in the Walls Adventure Review

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Rats in the Walls, Jeff Talanian, Corey Ryan Walden

Author: Jeffrey Talanian (North Wind Adventures)
Price: $4.29
Format: PDF
Page count: 14
System: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (or any OSR/Old School FRP). 
Year: 2014

Jeffrey Talanian is a good dude, who has made a good game. Since I first found out about Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea I have been consistently impressed. It fits the mood and tone that I like to set as a Dungeon Master, and draws upon literary inspiration that I enjoy. And okay, I will admit it: it was only at the end of last year that I began to delve into the tales of Robert E. Howard and H.P Lovecraft, but although I'm a relative noob, I have taken to these tales like Cthulhu takes to the sea. Perhaps more importantly, all my interactions with Jeff have been very positive: he's a really nice guy, and it makes me happy to support him as an indie designer for that reason alone, not to mention he has produced a game I genuinely like. I made an overview video fairly recently detailing the contents of the box set and my thoughts on the game if you'd like to know more about it. You can find it here. If you have heard of Talanian's game, but are yet to check it out, I would encourage you to do so sooner rather than later, as I understand he has limited units of the box set still available (less than 200?). There is a planned hardback version to appear later this year or early next year too.

But I'm not really talking about the box set in this post, I'm talking about an early adventure that was written for the AS&SH system (and pretty compatible with any OSR or Old School system) called Rats in the Walls. It's not available in print form anymore, though it originally appeared in Knock spell Magazine #4, and is still available on PDF. My copy is the latter format (though I'm hoping to get my hands on a physical copy one of these days). I bought it a few months ago, and at the time skimmed it, being fairly happy with my purchase. My upcoming campaign will be using the AS&SH rules, so I thought it was high time to look over Rats in the Walls properly for a small jaunt within my 1st level campaign.

Rats in the Walls clearly takes inspiration from the eponymous Lovecraftian tale, and indeed the back cover of the adventure confirms as much. The adventure takes place: 'In the City-State of Khromarium, a dockside tavern called the Silvery Eel is plagued by rats of a most unusual breed. These abominable rodents have ruined the tavern keeper's business and his life. The man is desperate and he offers a substantial reward for the elimination of this horrific problem' (back cover blurb).
Unfortunately for the tavern keeper 'rats' are the least of his woes. Something much more sinister is afoot. I really like this adventure because it is short. Too often I read supplements or adventures which have a heck of a lot of detail, but actually running them becomes an mnemonic exercise, rather than something fun. Jeff assures the reader that once the adventure has been read through once, any experienced referee can run it 'on the fly' thereafter. I believe that to be true.

The adventure follows a rather traditional format, though like Jeff's other Hyperborean creations, this work is filled with Swords & Sorcery mojo - including a surly Hyperborean warlock, a statue of Kthulhu (a deity within the AS&SH world), an imprisoned daemon, and big mudafugin rats.

The maps offer a clear visual guideline for the referee, although I got a little lost on the bottom dungeon level (I couldn't locate the steps down). Otherwise the adventure is very clearly and cleanly written in Talanian's endearing prose, and edited under David Prata's ever scrupulous eye.

In sum, I highly recommend this one. As a mini adventure it can be inserted very easily into any existing campaign, and even makes a nice introductory module if one wishes to begin their exploits in the world of Hyperborea. I can imagine concluding this in a few hours (if that) of gaming, and I feel like it would make an excellent one-shot adventure.

8/10.