Monday, 15 March 2010

Imperial Cimmerians and Aquilonian Federations: Tony Bath's "The Wargamer's Guide to Hyboria"

After seeing it over at the Conan forums, I HAD to link to this.

What is it? It's the Hyborian Age... of the Mirror Universe in Star Trek.

AQUILONIAN FEDERATION: Formed from the self-governing states of Aquilonia, Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Nemedia, Corinthia, Brythunia, Khauran and Turan. Each member state looks after its own internal affairs, but foreign affairs and military matters are dealth with by the Federation Council. Each Head of State has a seat on the Council, and they elect a Bretwalda to co-ordinate their activities. The Bretwalda is elected for life, but can be disposed of by a vote of the Council having a 2 to 1 majority. The same majority is necessary to elect a new Bretwalda, who must be a sitting member of the council. Present Bretwalda is King Conan of Aquilonia. Federation capital is Tarantia.

Wow. So in this crazy Mirror Universe, Aquilonia has become, effectively the Holy Roman Empire. This "Bretwalda" is intriguing: it's an Anglo-Saxon word, which indicates that the Nordic Drift happened a lot sooner than in the Prime Universe. Evidently, the Nordheimir have conquered not only Nemedia, but just about *all* the Hyborian Kingdoms, even Zingara and Aquilonia, normally ruled by the Picts. Perhaps this is no longer the Hyborian Age, but the Nordic Age? An aside: I'd be tickled pink if Mirror Conan sported a Vandyke!

I notice that Khauran is present, but there's no Khoraja. Did the little city-state that could get conquered by Thugra Khotan in this timeline? Did it get absorbed back into Koth? Did it even exist to begin with?

CIMMERIAN EMPIRE: Now defunct and replaced by the confederation of Varnar. It originally consisted of the subject states of Cimmeria, asgard, Vanaheim and the Border Principality. The Empire was forged by Thern Eldred of cimmeria, who became the first and only Emperor, and collapsedfor lack of a strong successor. capital was Cimmur.

Wow, a Cimmerian Empire? How in the seven hells did that happen? Did the Cimmerians drive the Aesir and Vanir out of their homeland, forcing them into the Hyborian kingdoms? This "Thern Eldred" (odd name for a Cimmerian) must have been a veritable Alexander to get the Cimmerian tribes to work together as a fighting force. Who, then are this mysterious "Varnar"?

VARNAR, confederation of: Formed from the wreckage of the old Cimmerian Empire following the civil war which occured on the serious illness of the old Emperor; to which has been added the formerly independant Kingdom of Hyperborea. No clear details are available of the framework of the Confederation, but it is apparently under the joint control of the present ruling houses of Asgard and Carulia. Capital is Cimmur.

I suppose the civil war was over who got to kill the ill Emperor, who must surely have been too ill himself to take to the battlefield. "Varnar" is odd: evocative of Vanir. Carulia is even stranger. What mysterious craziness is going on, that the mighty Cimmerians could be so changed?

HYRKANIAN CALIPHATE: Comprising the twin Satrapies of Hyrkania and Turan, ruled by the royal House of Damocles, the Caliphate collapsed in the year of the Leopard when Vakar of Hyrkania revolted and declared his independence. On the death of the last Caliph, conaire, Turan became a member state of the Aquilonian Federation. With the recent conquest of Turan by Hyrkania it is possible the Caliphate will be restored under a new ruling house.

This House of Damocles intrigues me. My theory is that a great warlord with the name--a rebel prince of Koth, a Corinthian mercenary general, a Nemedian outcast, an Aquilonian renegade, an Argossean count--must have somehow travelled west, and conquered Turan. Evidently there was no Yezdigerd in this timeline to stop him. It's equally interesting that Turan became a member of the Aquilonian Federation--talk about Bizarro World! However, the most stunning of all is that the last Caliph of Turan prior to its membership of the Federation is... Conaire! That can only be a Cimmerian name! The only explanation I can think of is that a Cimmerian married into the Hyborian House of Damocles, either siring or becoming their ruler himself. Fascinating stuff!

SHEMITE EMPIRE: Consisting of the subject countries of shem, Stygia, Kush, Darfar and Keshan and ruled by the royal House of Shem. Collapsed when the second Emperor, Tas Karrel, was murdered. Shem became an independant kingdom and the other states were occupied by the Vendhyan Empire without resistance. With the emergence of a new and vigorous ruling house in Shem attempts have been made, with considerable success, to re-establish the Empire and wrest its former territories from Vendhyan control.

Ha-ha, now I know it's the mirror universe, because Shem has conquered its old nemesis Stygia once and for all. It did damn well for itself, all things considered: ruling over the northernmost Black Kingdoms too. "Tas Karrel" might be Shemite, I'm unsure.

VENDHYAN EMPIRE: Originally a kingdom, it was officially declared an Empire in the Year of the Wolf. It consists of the Principalities of Vendhya proper, Lodidhapura, Zem, Pnom Dhek and Khitai and also lays claim to that of Karnak and the old Shemite territories south of the Styx. The ruling House of Chand is represented by a minor and the Empire is governed by a Council of Regency composed of the Princes of Lodidhapura, zem and Pnom Dhek, the other princes being also minors. The capital was originally Laegaire but was moved to Alkmeenon when the Kingdom became an Empire.

Damn, that's a big freaking Empire: at its height, it stretched from the equivalent of Africa to China! That might well be the biggest empire in history (well, before the Terran Empire, obviously). Certainly larger than any in the Prime Timeline. I'd guess Lodidhapura, Zem and Pnom Dhek are the counterparts to the "Golden Kingdoms" in the PTL, perhaps even Iranistan, which is conspicuous by its absence in this universe.

Let's look at the kingdoms in more detail:

AQUILONIA, kingdom of: The largest and most powerful of the purely Hyborian nations, it controls a large area of the western seaboard of the continent but is not itself particularly interested in the sea.

Woah, what happened to the Picts? Did the Nordic Aquilonians--somehow--conquer them? Did the Picts survive the cataclysm? Did they resettle in the Nameless Continent? We must know! My guess is in this timeline, the Picts never became mercenaries of Valusia, instead keeping to their homeland: after the Cataclysm, what few were left settled back in the Nameless Continent, with any on the Thurian continent wiped out by the proto-Cimmerians.

It is bounded on the north by the Confederation of varnar, but its other frontiers march with those of other mebers of the Federation. The people of Aquilonia are predominantly fair haired and light skinned, but vary somewhat between the Piotanians of the south and the Gundermen of the north.

That proves it: the Nordic drift. How else could the Aquilonians be fair-haired and light-skinned?

The capital of the kingdom is Tarantia. For many years Aquilonia was engaged in intermittent warfare with her traditional enemy, Nemidia, and sometimes with Argos or Ophir. With the end of the old Royal Dynasty and the seizure of the throne by Conan of Cimmeria, Aquilonia began the climb from nationalism to Federation. Both Nemidia and Zingara were first defeated in war and then accepted as equal partners in the Federataion; the other members joined voluntarily. The present king, Conan I, is also Bretwalda of the Federation. The chief religion of the country us Asura/Mitrism and there is some rivalry between the Archbischop of Tarantia and his colleague of Zargova in Shem for pre-eminence within the faith.

What a strange, unusual place this alternate universe is. Somehow, Asura/Mitra worship has either merged, or is shared in equal measure. There is also apparently a consecrated clergy in Mitraism, since Tarantia has an Archbishop. Craziness! Apparently, the Shemites have taken to Mitraism too, to have an Archbishop themselves in Zargova.

ARGOS, principality of: Member state of the Aquilonian Federation. Originally of pure Hyborian stock, its people have been ratially diluted through extensive trade with the peoples to the south. Argos is heavily committed to seaborne trade: she provides almost half the ships and sailors of the Federation Navy and her coastline contains several excellent harbours. It has been said that her merchantmen are not averse to eking out the profits of peaceful trading with a little piracy and raiding in the south, but this is hotly denied.

Good to see some things never change, even in insane bizarro-worlds.

Argos has benefitted territorially from the last Federation war when she was awarded the former Shemite Duchy of Kalgan, considerably extending her coastline to the south.

Shem has Dukes? Bizarre.

At the time of the founding of the Federation her then ruler, Prince Pellias, was the first to join. On his death the crown passed to his son-in-law and the House of Mirtra became the new ruling house. The present prince is a minor and during his minority King Conan of Aquilonia rules as Regent. The capital is Messantia and the religion Asura/Mitrism.

Wonder if there's some relation to the Aquilonian region of Pellia, or the wizard Pelias?

BRYTHUNIA, suffarchy of: Originally of Hyborian stock, the Brythunians early mixed nationalities with the original populace and were regarded by such countries as Aquilonia and Nemidia as backward and less civilised. For many years, Brythunia's energies ware totally absorbed in the long struggle with her northern neighbour, Hyperboria, which ended in the year of the Lion with her conquest and subjection to Hyperborea. In the year of the Leopard the present Suffete, Valannus, took advantage of the virtual collapse of the Hyperborean Royal Family to re-assert his independence and, realising that he was not strong enough to resist further aggression, he applied for and obtained membership of the Aquilonian Federation. He has since founded a Military Academy and is renowned as a patron of the arts; he has also founded a new State Religion of Suffete worship. The capital is Cypria.

Intriguing: far from the country being no more or less civilized than any other kingdom, Brythunia is viewed as somewhat backward in this universe. This Valannus sounds a right cad. "Suffete"?

CORINTHIA, kingdom of: This small but important kingdom, situated in mid-continent, a member of the Aquilonian Federation, was never fully overrun by the southward trust of the Hyborian peoples.

Wow, very different from the PTL Corinthians, who were always a Hyborian people.

Its inhabitants therefor retain much of their original culture with some Hyborian admixture. Agriculture is the main industry and the people are basically hardy peasants. Corinthia engaged in various wars with varying success until in the Year of the Elephant civil war broke out over the question of involvement in the Shem-Zembabwei war. The royalists were at first succesful, and the main rebel leader and his elder sons were slain in battle or taken and executed; but a younger son, Bleys, then took control and in a series of brilliant victories utterly overthrew his opponents, killed or drove out the existing Royal House and himself seized the throne. He was then faced by a Hyperborian invasion which he beat off with great skill; and in order to consolidate his position he applied for and received membership of the Aquilonian Federation. The capital is Corinth. There is no official state religion, the people being allowed to worship as they please.

... What is Corinthia doing in a Shem-Zembabwei conflict? That's like Medieval Hungary getting involved in an Ethiopian-Egyptian war. The plot thickens!

HYPERBOREA, kingdom of: The first kingdom founded by the southward drive of the Hyborian invaders, its hard climate and relatively poor soil inevitably made it a poor relation of the rich kingdoms further south and west. Moreover its full energies were soon engaged in a gruelling struggle with its southern neighbour, Brythunia. The kingdom rose to its height under king Namedides I, who conquered Brythunia and part of Nemidia, but in his old age his reckless and ambitious sons wasted its resources in fruitless and unsuccessful wars.

Wow, this puts the PTL's Aquilonia-Hyperborea feud in a whole different light--in this universe, an Aquilonian (or Nemedian) king leads Hyperborea to victory over Brythunia and Nemedia! Absolutely unpredictable.

In the year of the Leopard plague ravaged the royal family, leaving no responsible ruler; in the confusion of almost civil war, all Namedides' conquests were lost. To obtain peace, Vakar of Hyrkania was accepted as regent and overlord, and the country thus became involved in the great struggle between Hyrkania and the Aquilonian Federation.

Cool, it seems the Pictish-Hyrkanian struggle is mirrored in this universe as an Aquilonian-Hyrkanian one.

An Aquilonian invasion quickly overran the southern half of the country before it was checked by a Hyrkanian general, Koris. At this point Vakar's lieutenant Leodogrance usurped power and declared himself king. Leodogrance was later overthrown and killed by an alliance of Cimmeria and Asgard, and the country is now a subject state of the Confederacy of Varnar. The capital is Krakow. No state religion exists, the people following many and varied gods.

"Krakow" is a bit unsubtle, but hey, maybe there's no real "Krakow" in the Mirror Universe.

HYRKANIA, principality of: Lying to the north and east of the Sea of Vilayet, this region of rolling grasslands was never encroached on by the Hyborian invasions, and the people remain of pure stock. Originally entirely nomadic tribes, there is now a fairly sharp division between these and the city dwellers, who have increased in number and influence over the years. Once part of the powerful Hyrkanian Caliphate, Hyrkania itself broke away in the Year of the Leopard to form an independant state. Under the strong rule of Prince Vakar Hyrkania has conquered almost the whole of Turan and seems likely to re-establish the caliphate.

... Seems kinda bizarre to break out of a Caliphate that they themselves were a part of, but considering the royal house was apparently of Hyborian stock, I don't blame them.

Already the prince has followed the example of earlier caliphs by shifting his capital from Hyrkanian Shushan to Turanian Agrapur. The gods of Hyrkania are the twin deities of Ormazd and Ahriman, reprensenting light and darkness.

So the Hyrkanians conquered Shushan instead of Turan in this timeline: a very interesting twist. I'm also intrigued by the replacement of Tarim and Elrik with this "Ormazd" and Ahriman: where's his heart?

KHAURAN, kingdom of: Originally a small principality lying alongside the desert, in the Year of the Lion it conquered the much larger principality of Koth and thus aquired the status of a kingdom - though at present ruled by a queen.

Damn, you go Khauran! Show those Kothic bullies who's boss!

It is a member state of the Aquilonian Federation and closely linked to Aquilonia through the marriage of queen Taramis and crown prince Ban Cruach. Its people are a complete mixture, with strains of Hyborian, Zuagir, Shemite and others. The capital is Mahalatta. religion is mixed, with sects of Asura/Mitrism, Ormazd/Ahriman etc.

This Ban Cruach (which I *think* translates as "Slaughterer of Women","Bloody Woman," or possibly "Crooked Stacks of Women") can only be the son of Conan. He has to be quite the toyboy for Queen Taramis, the cradle-robbing hussy.

NEMIDIA, kingdom of: Second among the rich Hyborian nations only to Aquilonia, for very many years it disputed supremacy with that country.

Some things are too strong to be altered by time and space: I guess Aquilonia and Nemedia will always be on-and-off at loggerheads.

At the end of the Great Continental War, however, Nemidia was dismembered and ceased to be a kingdom.

And some things... aren't. Rather than being the sole survivor in the Pictish/Hyrkanian Hyborian Land Grab, Nemedia seems to have been torn apart before even then.

One half became a vassal of Aquilonia, the rest was split between Corinthia and Hyperborea. during the civil wars in Corinthia and the dynastic trouble in Hyperborea, however, Conan of Aquilonia seized the opportunity to re-unite the kingdom...

Man, that's gotta smart: the dude who humbled your country in one universe has to save their arses in another. Nemedia can't catch a break.

under the rule of his friend and all Riach, Glyndwyrr, and to admit the kingdom to the Federation, of which it is now a loyal member. The people are of pure Hyborian stock with little or no admixture, but perhaps a trifle softer and more pleasure-loving than their western neighbours. The capital is Belverus. The state religion is Mitrism, the older and more hidebound form of Asura/Mitrism.

Glyndwyrr? Evidently the Brythonic side of the Aesir was a lot more in evidence too. Are the Nemedian Chronicles of the Mirror Universe now written in Welsh?

OPHIR, principality of: The smallest of the Hyborian nations, but for its seize one of the richest. The country is fertile with an excellent climate, and has always enjoyed good trade relations with its neighbours. A member of the Aquilonian Federation. Capital is Berillus and the state religion is Asura/Mitrism.

Wow, I can barely tell the difference between the two universes here. Apart from Asura/Mitraism, of course.

SHEM, kingdom of: Covering the area of fertile grasslands north of the river Styx, Shem was originally a collection of free cities. These were made into the basis of an empire by a Shemite adventurer, Zargheba, who founded a dynasty.

The same Zargheba of "The Servants of Bit-Yakin"? Such different universes they are: in one, he's a mere adventurer-ruffian-scoundrel, while in the other, he's the founder of an empire! I bet he'd be kicking himself, knowing that he could've been Emperor instead of a head hanging from a tree in Keshan.

When the last of his line, Tas Karrel, was torn down by angry nobles tired of his despotic rule, Ktar Wassreck, prince of Amorica, was called upon to reconstitute the ancient realms as a kingdom. The people are dark complexioned, usually with heavy black beards and hawk noses, tending to be grim and serious minded. Shem is at present locked in a death struggle with the Venfhyan Empire. The capital is Zargova (renamed in the honour of the founder of the empire) and has a flourishing university. Religion is Asura/Mitrism and the Archbishop of Zargova claims to be the head of the religion throughout the continent.

Amorica sounds suspiciously like Armorica, a Gaulish area during the Classical Period. Not just the Brythonic Aesir, then, but the Gaulish Aesir were more asserted in the Hyborian Age.

TURAN, satrapy of: The strip of land enclosed between the great Eastern Desert and the Sea of Vilayet. Originally an independent state though of the same racial stock as the Hyrkanians further east, it was conquered and incorporated in the Hyrkanian caliphate. In the breakup of that realm it remained loyal to the last caliph until his death, when then Satrap, Serapion, re-established independence and joined the Aquilonian Federation. In the Year of the Wolf the country was largely overrun by the Hyrkanians and Serapion was slain, but remnants of the Turanian army are still fighting alongside other Federation forces. The capital is Tadmor, and the people worship Ormazd and Ahriman.

Another Hyborian satrap, it seems. Strange that in this universe, Turan appears to be a humble little land, a marked divergence from the mighty juggernaut of the PTL. Was Yezdigerd one of those men who could alter history in ways unpredictable by social trends?

Overall, as alternate universes go, it's pretty interesting. There are a lot of major alterations, though I can't tell the Point of Divergence. Perhaps it was the Cataclysm, or the events leading up to it. Perhaps sorcery or divine interference was the deciding factor.

Obviously, if I were doing an "evil alternate universe" it would be a lot cheesier and sillier. Atlantis would be a civilized super-state giving rise to the imperialistic Cimmerians; the Stygians would be a nation of hippies lolling in the sun, no great constructions or empire; the Aquilonians would be blood-mad barbarians; the Picts would be eloquent scholars and artists. Stuff like that.

Still, good work, Tony. It's a version of the Hyborian Age I've never seen before, and nobody could mistake it for Robert E. Howard's.


  1. Having been a wargamer for many years, I know how deeply some of us go into creating their backgrounds for campaigns.

    However, personally I would have been much happier sticking closer to Howard's histories of the Hyborian age, as new players would find in much easier to fit in as long as they new a little of the Conan stories.

    After all what is the point in using an existing history, if all you are going to do is completely re-write it! Far better to just make up your own campaign background from scratch, even if it is "inspired" by REH's Hyborian Age!

  2. You got me there, David. I think there's something to be said for a mirror universe, mostly the camp value, but if you're going to make sweeping divergences like this, why not make your own campaign up?

    For example, I love dinosaurs and don't think there are enough of them in the Hyborian Age. But I don't make a dinosaur-heavy Hyborian Age: I made my own wee thing up.

    The twist is it's nothing but prehistoric beasties in a big melting pot of periods. No humans: they have enough of a monopoly. Watership Down with dinosaurs, essentially. Because I want to play as a dinosaur instead of having to kill them in every other setting.

  3. As far as I can tell, the entire Hyborian campaign was slapped together from a cursory glance at the map in the Lancer editions and some (very, very) vague memories of the stories. Looks like this was just a case of trying to strike play balance while only "spicing things up" with a different map and giving the players something to chew on (via hastily-written descriptions) before getting into the gritty business of wargaming. Who knows, maybe the game itself was fun to play, regardless of authenticity to Howard?

  4. that Federation of Aquilonia sounds like NATO in hyborian times...
    is it for a wargame with miniatures or a board one...?

  5. I'm unsure, Francisco: I'm thinking it was just designed as a setting for any sort of game: miniatures, RPG, pen-and-paper and whatnot.

  6. I just came across this rather jaundiced and I'll informed assessment of Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign and felt the need to respond. This was created as a war game campaign back in the late 60s/early 70s. There was no internet and very few wargamers. Bath made it for himself to generate battles. Only in 1978 did he publish a series of articles in Battle magazine for others to read. As such it was never a replication of Howard's work and many of the pastiche books had not even been written yet. You need to remember attitudes before the empowerment provided by the internet were very different. People just did their own thing in relative seclusion. No permission from smart area zealots or fanboys was required because they did not exist. I know because I was there.

    1. Hello Anon, thanks for the clarification! In truth, just knowing that it's not meant to be a replication of Howard's work makes any arguments regarding fidelity a moot point in and of itself - though I will reiterate that I found Bath's take to be very interesting as a "mirror universe". Your assertion that this was Bath's intention doesn't make it any less interesting, and in fact makes me think of it far more favourably.

      That said, while it's true that *most* of the pastiches weren't written yet, the amount of pastiche in terms of volume had already overtaken the volume of original Howard Conan stories: all the Lancers were published during the late 60s/early '70s, for instance.

      Again, I appreciate the response, even as a smart area zealot fanboy.