When it comes to fantastic settings full of magic, gribblies, swords and derring-do, Middle Earth and Narnia are right up there in the minds of the general public, along with the various Game Of Thrones kingdoms. Those who dig a little deeper might mention Xanth, Discworld, Shanarra… those who’ve fallen right down the rabbit hole might also reference Lankhmar, but while the name of Conan The Barbarian may be familiar to most, who among us can truly comprehend the madness that occurs when the setting from Robert E Howard’s Conan saga – The Hyborian Age – and toss it in a blender with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos? Well, thanks to the new supplement for the Conan RPG, you can. Lovecraftian horror is not alien (hah!) to Howard’s setting, but we’re taking it a step further.
Modiphius’ Horrors of the Hyborian Age is a supplement for the Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG, and if we shorten that to an acronym it’s CAAUORPG, which really does sound like something that belongs in the eldritch, otherworldly tales of the Elder Gods. You could think of it as a simple bestiary of gribblies if you like, but you’d be doing it a disservice. This is a tome 120 pages deep bringing betentacled nightmares into a savage and brutal world, merging the two and bringing a swath of new material along with rules for more familiar, classic monsters. More than that though, Horrors of the Hyborian Age steps beyond just proving stat blocks and a quick description, with a chapter dedicated to the How rather than just the What.
Horrors of the Hyborian Age is broken up into several chapters, each dealing with its own subcategory of antagonists, but the authors open the gate and set the tone with Chapter 1: The Way of the Beast. The entire chapter is dedicated to the use of different types of creatures, from the natural to the surreal, in your games and how to craft their presentation to evoke a different ambiance, elicit a different response, from your players. As someone who’s been running an RPG for some time now, it can be a challenge to keep the… challenges, I guess, engaging. It isn’t enough to just escalate the threat level. In the right hands even the most stereotypical bad guy can become a monolithic menace, depending on how it’s presented, and Crom knows we DM’s get a real kick out of watching our players’ jaws hit the floor.
Continuing through we have chapters dividing up the beasties into categories that would allow any games master to build an entire campaign around a single type of nemesis. Otherworldly denizens, the living dead, threats from before the dawn of man, creatures of the natural world, and more. I got a personal kick out of seeing an entire chapter dedicated to lethal flora. A much neglected part of the fantastic worlds, largely because of the perception that they’re inanimate, plotting a campaign around deadly plant life can completely overturn the players’ preconceptions as they storm across a field in search of a dreadful beastie, all the while being subtly poisoned by the narcotic pollen-laden mists released by Ghost Flowers…
Recognizing that not every Curse Witch is the same, there’s also a chapter dedicated to Mutations – Taking the entries in the book and twisting them into unique antagonists, each with its own strengths and weaknesses beyond the template. Why sure, your players know from previous experience the ins and outs of taking on a Mi-Go, but what about one with a dessicating touch? Surprise! One swing and you’ve got super-dandruff as your entire epidermis flakes off! Hang on, may actually be useful in the tattoo-removal industry…
Finally, Horrors of the Hyborian Ageprovides two new player archetypes, the Beast and the Beast Master. Were you raised by wolves? Or perhaps you lead a pack of your own. Maybe you’re the last survivor of an attack by netherworldy nasties that wiped out the rest of your family and almost all of your herd… but you and your three remaining oxen are out for revenge.
However you choose to steer your adventures, either as the gamesmaster laying out the fates of the players, or as one of those very players, carving your way through the labyrinthine machinations set before you, the old adage that any hero is only as good as their villains stands true. Horrors of the Hyborian Ageis an excellent addition to the any roleplaying library as a resource tome and source of inspiration. For those specifically enjoying the Conan RPG, it’s damn near indispensible.03