Being a barbarian isn't about being rough, rude, violent and uncultured... it speaks of a rugged vitality that more civilised places seem to have lost. This book surveys the 'barbarian' lands of the north: Asgard, Vanaheim, Hyperborea, and Cimmeria (where Conan himself came from). Legends, lore and facts swirl together to present new realms in which adventures may be set, along with a complete system for barbarian raids, and much more.
After a brief introduction showing how the north has been the subject of academic study from Conan's time onwards, we launch into Chapter 1: Barbarian Characters. This is filled with detailed notes and resources for anyone wanting to play a barbarian character, including backgrounds and castes specifically suited to them. The idea is that you use the standard system as given in the core rulebook, but swap in the new options as appropriate. New archetypes include bards and slavers, and there's plenty more to help you create an effective barbarian-themed background for your character. There is new equipment too, items unique to the north and well-suited to its rigours.
Next, Chapter 2: Gazetteer - the main part of the book - presents a detailed view of the lands of the north. History, notes about the peoples that dwell there, far more than a mere description of the geography and settlements of the region. There's a wealth of information here: tribal customs, beautiful maps, notable places to visit and people to meet, and much more to make the north come to life as a place to visit or one to call home.
This is followed by Chapter 3: Events, which presents a series of events that Northern characters are likely to know about and have probably attended, and which visitors can be caught up in, like it or not. Traditions, cultural forces: events and challenges and occurances that can catch the party up and remind them of where they are. There's the Thing, a week-long festival that mixes trading, sporting contests, law-giving, feasting and more in a dizzying kaleidoscope, replete with opportunities for adventure (particularly for parties that like intrigue). Many people are nomadic or seminomadic, so migrations can form a large part of their life - and provide consoderable scope for adventure. This chapter also deals with raids - a major part of barbarian economy. It's a bit abstract on the grounds that raiding is decidedly unheroic. Still, there's ample material for running a raid which the party may come across or get caught up in. There are also some notes on ship battles - think Viking longboats.
We next take a look at Northern beliefs and traditions in Chapter 4: Myth and Magic. Some of their habits seem strange to outsiders, it's fun to play on this as a character from barbarian lands, or spring them on a party visiting the region. This is followed by a chapter-full of Encounters - a selection of NPCs, animals and monsters the party may meet during their travels.
Chapter 6: Hither Came Conan serves as a potted history of the great one's early years (including a character sheet from around the time he left the north), and this is followed by Chapter 7: The Barbarian Way. This discusses running campaigns involving barbarians - perhaps a war band or raiding party, or the young adventurous individuals from one settlement or tribe. There's loads of ideas for things that might go on during such a campaign, many of them common milestones and happenings in barbarian life such as rites of passage, courteous behaviour when a guest, social contests like boasting or riddle games... and the way in which barbarians wage war and comport themselves on the battlefield. Not to mention the duels that occur when nights are long and tempers run short. There's a vast list of events to liven up carousing. Finally, the last short chapter contains a detailed write-up of a barbarian character - perhaps the party will meet her, or one of the group fancies playing her.
If your campaign ever looks north, or you have a party member who wants to be a barbarian like Conan himself, this book will become essential, in the meantime it provides useful information about a fasincating part of the campaign world.
Return to Conan the Barbarian page.
Reviewed: 18 June 2018