Monday, March 28, 2011

My Favorite Setting Book

In my early high school years, in the peak of my AD&D heyday, my favorite setting book wasn’t even a role-playing game supplement--or actually a book, I guess.  It was The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe. Marvel published this thirty-six page gem in 1986 as a reference to its various Conan comics. At the time, I thought it was just about perfect, and reconsidering it today in the light of the recent discussion of how to present setting material, I still think it’s pretty good.

Mostly it covered the various countries of the Hyborian Age, but it also had articles on Conan and other prominent characters, the gods and religion, magic, and (a bit unexpectedly) arms and armor. Of course, being a comic reference, it was well illustrated by John Buscema, and Michael Kaluta among others. The articles were short, amd to the point--most were half a page, and only a couple were two page spreads. Also, each featured a related quote from Howard’s work to give “the feel.” Here’s a typical example:


And another:


Since I wasn’t going to play in the actual Hyborian Age, but instead cribe for it for my own Howard/Leiber/Burroughs inspired setting, I found these to be nice bits of inspiration. I also found this presentation style really worked for my own setting write-ups (I had tried. but never quite been able to fit, the World of Greyhawk model--I couldn't come up with those imports and exports, and population percentages). Looking back at it now, I still think it would be useful for running a Conan campaign, at least if one was already pretty familiar with Howard’s stories.

16 comments:

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

Good call! I love this one too.

Johnathan Bingham said...

For some reason, I never did get into the Conan books much as a kid. Oh, I read an issue every now and then, but I was a HUGE superhero fan so that was what I primarily read. Alothough I did love Warlord and Arion of Atlantis. Hm, I might need to go back and get the collected editions.

Aos said...

It's funny the things we get hung up on. I had the same problem with imports and exports and such. It totally stalled my setting design for years.

Jay said...

Marvel always did a great job with the "universe" type books where they sort of sketched out the worlds their characters inhabited. I still love my old Marvel U handbooks that detail all the characters and settings like the Avengers mansion. I'll have to track Conan's down.

Martin R. Thomas said...

I love this book! It was a huge inspiration on my current campaign world for the game I'm running.

I blogged about the Conan Universe comic here: http://daddyrolleda1.blogspot.com/2011/02/game-world-inspirations-world-of-conan.html

Sean Robson said...

Holy Crap! How did I miss this? I collected the entire run of Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but I've never even heard of Conan Universe until today. Now it must be mine.

NetherWerks said...

This is a great guide to the Marvelized Hyboria, and it works really well as a guide for an enterprising DM out to run a Conanesque game. 36 pages, profusely illustrated, and not a single table in sight...hmmm...might not pass the current groupthink filter. But it's still great stuff.

Trey said...

@Aos - Yeah, I think its just the other mundanity of all that stuff. CIA factbook style info just doesn't fire the sword & sorcery-geared imagination.

@Martin - That was a good post-- which I had completely forgotten about--despite having commented on it at the time! :P

@Sean - Go forth and seek it out! ;) There are two versions, the original color one and a b&w giveaway with an issue of Savage Sword a few years later.

@NetherWerks - Let me consult my comment reaction chart to respond... ;)

Deadstop said...

A copy of the black-and-white version was included in a used copy of the old TSR Conan RPG (the basis for ZeFRS) that I acquired at a con.

I guess the previous owner definitely found it useful for RPG use, and it was a nice surprise to receive it along with the game.

Trey said...

Indeed. Sounds like you lucked up. :)

Akrasia said...

Very cool!

My Mitra I wish I had a copy of this!

Trey said...

@Akrasia - I might be able to help with that. Email me. :)

The Drune said...

This probably isn't news but the Hyborian Age d20 Campaign Site is a pretty great online resource. I think it has a similar feel to the Marvel handbook...it seems to be illustrated with images from the Marvel comics and includes a page for each nation, maps, d20 stats for Hyborian monsters, etc.

It's at http://hyboria.xoth.net/index.htm

James said...

It is, indeed, all kinds of groovy! :)

Akrasia said...

OK, I'll send you a message soon, Trey. Thanks.

Brutorz Bill said...

Great book, love my copy and used the heck out of it over the years!