Friday, 24 September 2010

"Dammit, They Stole My Idea!": The Grande Age of Hyboria

I love alternate histories.  The idea of branching universes and realities is fascinating and awesome: from relatively realistic stories like Fatherland, The Man in the High Castle, to those with speculative fiction elements like Watchmen, The Island in the Sea of Time, District 9, and The New Dinosaurs.  I watched Sliders religiously.  It's no wonder the mirror universe episodes of Star Trek are some of my favourites (apart from Deep Space Nine's, because they are rubbish and silly) and those that deal with the ramifications of time travel, like The Next Generation's "Yesterday's Enterprise" and  Enterprise's "Twilight."

So, it followed that I considered alternate universes for the Hyborian Age.  What if Acheron didn't fall?  What if the Cataclysm never happened?  What if the Pictish and Hyrkanian invasions were repelled, and the Hyborian Kingdoms never fell - perhaps advancing to a different epoch of technology?  Say... Napoleonic?

Courtesy of James Maliszewski, I've discovered someone's beaten me to it.  Dammit.

Using Hyboria for an imagi-nation campaign world is not new. For many years Tony Bath's ancients campaign ran in Battle for Wargamers and subsequently Military Modelling and I do recall seeing someone using the idea for SF armies as well. Having always loved Howard's Conan books, it seemed a good idea to take his human fantasy world and use it as the basis of an imaginary black powder world.

Steve's idea is seriously cool. Well, in the interests of getting my ideas out there so I can say that I came up with them independently of other examples, I'm going to list all my crazy ideas for Alternate Hyborian Ages:

  1. World War 1-era. It has cuirass-wearing horsemen AND tanks: it's probably the last time old styles of warfare really took place on the modern battlefield in any semblance of regularity.  What's more, there's a sort of "experimental" feel about the technology of the Great War: tanks were weird and unusual; planes came in biplane and triplane form; zeppelins bombarded cities; submarines started to be utilized more often.
  2. World War 2 era. This ties into an idea I had for a world-wide conflict in Conan's later reign, where he leads a coalition of the Hyborian nations against Yezdigerd's empire in a colossal war reminiscent of the Hapsburg-Ottoman wars. I wouldn't make it a straight echo of WW2 with Nazis and holocausts and whatnot, but the idea of "fascist axis and non-fascist allies" of two big "chunks" of the world going at it is immensely appealing. Plus, all the crazy experiments of World War 2 could be rendered feasible by Hyborian technology: superheavy tanks, Krupp Raumers, Alkett-Raümgeräts, rocket planes, flying fortresses.  Conan would be a Fighting Jack Churchill type, of course: one wouldn't even have to exaggerate his adventures!
  3. Steampunk. I'm not quite as enamoured with the current vogue for steampunk as others, but I still like the conceit. I'd imagine it being like Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, albeit without all the dwarves and elves, and with more Howardian magic.
  4. Post-Apocalyptic. That's right, Oliver Stone territory! Ancient cities and ruins would be skyscrapers and colossal buildings of the past (maybe in a 40's Things to Come or Metropolis style?), ancient technologies like guns, vehicles and machinery being venerated as holy relics, stuff like that. The difference would be that we wouldn't be trying to sell this as faithful to Howard's creation.
  5. Planetary Romance. Instead of being countries on a single planet, the nations of the Hyborian Age would be entire planets!  Travel between them would be through a system of sort-of "stargates," though in reality they would be more like indefinable regions.  Thus, Cimmerians could invade Aquilonia from the "north" while Aquilonia and Nemedia could fight each other over the "eastern" border.  There would also be (very primitive) spaceships left behind by earlier, now extinct cultures, which tireless scholars and sorcerers have figured how to navigate - though obviously, not how to replicate.  The Great Cataclysm was a solar-system wide catastrophe: Atlantis and Lemuria didn't sink, they exploded! The resulting storm of fragments from the planets rocked the surrounding planets, sending cultures back to the stone age, radiation altering the very genetic makeup of the inhabitants.
  6. Mirror Universe.  And all that entails: good is bad, right is wrong, up is down, cats is dogs, east is west and all that jazz.  There would be some similarities, though: Atlantis & Lemuria still sank, but they were nations of seafaring sorcerous empires, with the Valusians being the barbarians of that world.  The Cimmerians thus become a nation of sorcery-worshipping cultists (no, they don't remind me of anything, why ever do you ask?) ruling in Acheron's stead; the Hyborians are the eternal barbarians on the north/western borders; the Picts, having remembered their past glories, have returned to the Nameless Continent and formed their own prosperous, advanced nation across the Western Sea; the Stygians are a loose coalition of horsemen roaming the desert south of the Styx; the Hyrkanians are builders of wondrous cities and technologies. Conan is the greatest High Priest of Crom in the Cimmerian Empire, a cruel, sadistic, power-hungry tyrant who seeks to expand Cimmeria's borders and crush the stupid Hyborians under his heel: Namedides is the savage, heroic barbarian who has united the Hyborians against the might of Cimmeria, working with noble Thoth-Amon's Stygians and humble Yezdigerd's Turanians to bring down the evil empire. They fail miserably. 

See, it writes itself!


  1. On your steampunk remarks: I do like the *idea* of steampunk, but have found little in the steampunk subgenre (in the literary field) that's actually been, well, very good, besides The League of Extraordinary gentleman *comic* and a little Canadian short story called "Ticker Hounds". I hope my own contributions rectify that fact in their own little way.

    Which is why we need Conan vs. Dr. Moriarty.

  2. The only steampunk I like is Arcanum, probably because it was my first experience with the genre.

    Still, there are plenty of fun Steampunk ideas out there. Sillof made some fantastic steampunk figures for Star Wars and Marvel comics.

    Conan vs Dr. Moriarty intrigues me, intrigues me good.

  3. Another thing to consider is that the Napoleonic Era was 'just' after the Golden Age of Piracy - I can totally see Bêlit and Conan commanding a 40-gun frigate against the Aquilonian East Kusan Company, flying a flag that bears a suspicious resemblance to a Frazetta painting.

    Also, for even wackier fun, you could try mixing two or more of the above - for example, Post-Apocalyptic + WWII gets you something not to dissimilar to 'Day After Ragnarok' (which you may have blogged about before, either way I'm sure you've heard of it).

  4. That's a kickass idea, T! (Though I'd swap Kusan for Kosala personally, not a fan of Kusan) The question is, should the Hyborian map stay the same, or should the world turn into "modern" Europe with Hyborian outlines? Decisions, decisions.

    I am indeed familiar with DAR, it's distilled brilliance. I'm actually looking about the many different RPGs out there, they seem to be more imaginative than most books that come out these days.