Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ruins of Hyboria- a great reference work with a lousy cover.

Like many of you, I’m one of those who actually read The Lord of the Rings decades before the movie came out. I would get the books out every couple of years and reread them as I did so I would wonder what this locale would look like or how to stat out that character. When Lord of the Rings came out I was an instant fan, sure they left out a couple of favorite characters and missed a few beats here and there, but for all of that I finally got a glimpse of Middle Earth beyond the Brothers Hildebrandt calendars. For me LoTR was a feast for the eyes. And such is the case with Ruins of Hyboria.

From Conan to Thundarr, Ruins are a staple of Sword and Sorcery fiction. In Ruins of Hyboria we are not only provided with a system to help create and flesh out ruins of our own creation. But we are also treated to full descriptions of some of the more famous ruins in the Conan saga.

Ruins of Hyboria starts with a unique system for generating ruins, I say unique because in goes much further than just laying out the size, location and denizens of the ruins. The generator takes into account many of the social aspects of the ruin back when it was a new and vibrant location. What was the nature of the ruin, who were the builders, how did it meet its fate and so on. If one wants they can get as detailed as what types of clothing and musical instruments would be found in the ruins treasure chambers. The particulars are up to the GM, but just the fact that such questions are presented for consideration is appealing.

The next section gives an overview of various Hyborian nations and the different types of ruins most likely found within those nations. The book links the ruins not only with the current population (legends and rumors about the ruins) but also with the motivations of the builders of the ruins. Each description is just two or three paragraphs in length but it conveys enough information for the GM to choose and begin fleshing out a ruin for his own use. Personally I would have liked to have seen this section expanded. Most of the ruins are of cities, I would have liked to have seen more temples, border forts, villas, and villages. One such locale was the Castle of Count Valbroso, who met his end in the Conan story The Hour of the Dragon; I thought its addition was a nice touch.

Ruins of Hyboria then goes into detailed descriptions of ruins from some of the most popular Conan stories such as Queen of the Black coast, Red Nails, The Devil in Iron, and many more. Histories, legends, layouts, maps, and denizens of these ruins are provided. I really enjoyed reading these interpretations of locales from some of my favorite stories.

The final section is a sort of GM’s toolkit of advice and tips for running an adventure in a ruin setting. From cave-ins to spiked man traps, there are more hazards than just the ravening packs of ghouls to contend with. A bestiary of creatures, a handful of new Feats round out this section and bring the book to a close.

As with almost all the books in the Conan Line from Mongoose, Ruins of Hyboria is an excellent sourcebook even if you don’t use the D20 rules engine. The only fault I can find in this book is my own dislike of the cover art. The picture on the cover looks like Conan is In the middle of a jailbreak, rather than entering a ruined temple. I know, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I do all the time, I’m just glad I was able to get past the cover of Ruins of Hyboria and into the treasure trove of gaming goodness inside.