Way back when I first started writing for In the Mouth of Dorkness, I had plans to explore one of my favorite hobbies, tabletop roleplaying games. I started the Prodigal Son column, where I chronicled my attempts to get back into the hobby, which sadly didn’t really work out. At the time, I thought I’d write the occasional review of a game or game book. I only did that once, with my exploration of Over the Edge. Well, I’m giving it another go.
I can’t remember where I first came across the name of Barbarians of Lemuria (BoL, as it’s known). I think it was on a Facebook gaming page where people were talking about their favorite “light mechanics” games (games with fairly simple, straightforward rules). Whatever the case, something struck me. I read further into it and found that it was a small game, independently written and produced, that had garnered quite the fan base. Those who had heard of it; who had read the book, seemed rather enamored of it. Looking deeper, it started to sound like just the thing I’d been looking for, a game made for running Swords & Sorcery games, a la Robert E. Howard’s Conan. So, I hopped on to Lulu and ordered the hardcover (I always prefer a print copy, and hardcover if I can get it; I’m just not very good with e-books and PDFs).
The game evolved out of Simon Washbourne’s desire to create a game based on the world of Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria, kind of a second string Conan. Because he couldn’t get an official licensed game out, he modified things, making it more his own. The setting is fine. It’s very true to the Sword & Sorcery aesthetics and would make a fine sandbox to play in. But the system is what I was most interested in, this time around (not something I ever thought I’d say). I was looking for a good system for Conan, and I found it. The basic mechanic is easy and intuitive, which I like. But the thing that really makes the game for me is the career path system. This captures something of the genre I haven’t seen captured before. When you look at a character like Conan, or Solomon Kane, or Elric, or Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, they weren’t always one thing. Conan wasn’t always a roving adventurer. He was a thief, a military man, a deckhand on a ship, and many other things. He had several careers, learned many skills over his years. And BoL’s career path system reflects that.
The only weakness I see in the game comes from its adherence to some of the less advanced views of many of the classic genre authors. I’m talking about women, here. The game is firmly set in the ‘big tough men rescuing shapely, weak women’ mindset. It’s not too blatant or overbearing about it, but there are bits dropped throughout that remind you many of the more interesting female swords & sorcery heroes came around much later. It wouldn’t take much of any effort to tweek things onto a more enlightened path.
So, for folks who like easy, numbers light game mechanics and Swords & Sorcery Fantasy adventure, this is a great game. The setting is fine. The mechanics are nice. And I think you could have a lot of fun with it. I know I’m really looking forward to roping some folks in to Hyborian Age game, and I’ll almost certainly be using Barbarians of Lemuria when I do it.
-Matthew J. Constantine