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Barbarians of Lemuria (Legendary Edition)» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A semi-review of Barbarians of Lemuria rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
Barbarians of Lemuria - a semi-review. This means I've read the book thoroughly, but have not yet played it, so take my opinions with that in mind. The game has had many releases, including an early free version. I have the April 2009 version, which is not free, and has grown considerably since its earliest days - and improved in art work, according to the author. (He says that primarily means he took his own art out of the game!)

Barbarians of Lemuria is a Sword & Sorcery roleplaying game by Simon Washbourne from Beyond Belief Games. I grew up reading Sword & Sorcery books, though I haven't read many of them as an adult, I admit. This genre includes such things as:

* Conan, of course, and other Robert E. Howard characters, as well as
* Morcock's Elric,
* Leiber's Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser (Leiber actually coined the term Sword & Sorcery),
* Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique Cycle, and
* Lin Carter's Thongor of Lemuria.

This game is roughly set in the latter series of books, but the system could be used for any of them. In fact, it's not really solidly grounded in Carter's world - the author admits he didn't get a license, and so simply changed many things. So yes, you could use the setting for any Sword & Sorcery game.

What You Get

The April 2009 version has 100 pages of material, including a thorough table of contents and sections on roleplaying the Sword & Sorcery genre, character creation including much background material for the characters to choose from, playing the game, gear, magic, priests & alchemy, a gazetteer of Lemuria, including a bestiary, list of gods, and glossary, sample starting characters (enough to run an initial game skipping the character creation process entirely), a few adventure seeds, two somewhat more fleshed-out adventures, a lovely map, and some optional armor rules. And a page of author's notes.

The organization is a little spotty - some of things that you look for under gazetteer turn out to be under character creation, because an important part of character creation is picking where in Lemuria your character is from. But overall, it's not bad, and the table of contents is largely sufficient to find anything.

Character Creation

Ah! Well done, Simon! Character creation matches the tone of Sword & Sorcery very well - better than any other game system I know. I've always felt that a strong system of generic rules is good enough for most settings, but I have to admit this book makes me less certain of that. The character creation system is perfectly suited to the genre, and probably wouldn't work very well for most other genres. Maybe Space Opera, which is basically a science fiction version of Sword & Sorcery.

There are four phases of character creation, and they're all pretty easy. I created my first character in less than five minutes (after having read the relevant chapter, anyway), and I'm pleased with him.

Attributes: there are four. Strength, Agility, Mind and Appeal. A good mix, and the Level of each is added to an appropriate die roll when called for. You have four points to spend among the attributes, with a max of 3 in any one for a starting character. You may reduce a single attribute to -1 to gain a point for elsewhere. Since 0 in an attribute is the human norm, starting with four points means your character is definitely hero material.

The sample character I created, Orgath of Tyrus has Strength 1, Agility 2, Mind 1, and Appeal 0, setting the tone for what I think he's like.

Combat abilities are next, given the genre. There are four: Brawling, Melee, Ranged, and Defense. You have four points to spend among them, and you may reduce a single one, if you wish, to -1. This should sound familiar, which is one reason character creation is so easy!

Orgath of Tyrus (the sample character I made, remember) has Brawl -1, Melee 1, Ranged 2, Defense 2. You can get a better sense of him now, but there's more to come!

Heroic careers: ah! This is where the game shines. The author noticed a trend in Sword & Sorcery heroes: they all had varied backgrounds and checkered careers before you meet them. Conan, for example, was a barbarian, a thief, a pirate, a soldier, etc., etc. So in Barbarians of Lemuria your character starts with four careers you select during character creation. You have, you guessed it, four points to allot to the four careers - except this time, no career can be lower than 0.

A career is a very loose collection of skills which are not, for the most part, spelled out in the game. Instead, there are meta-rules about the player being creative in convincing the GM that a particular career should grant its level as a bonus to the die roll in question - but the GM's word is final, of course. The game details 25 careers, ranging from Alchemist, Barbarian, Hunter, Mariner, Mercenary, Minstrel, Slave ("not a career of choice"), Tavern Wench, etc., through Torturer/Executioner. With half a page devoted to each, there's enough information to give you an idea of what skill set should be included with each career.

Orgath of Tyrus started out as Farmer, but learned quickly that he didn't want to do that for the rest of his life. He became a Hunter, but was shanghaied while selling pelts at a port city, so became a Mariner for a while. He rescued a Physician from pirates, and became the Physician's apprentice for a lengthier spell of time, learning to read in the process. He's now feeling wanderlust again, and is ready to set off adventuring: Farmer 0, Hunter 1, Mariner 1, Physician 2. The career as a Hunter explains his good Ranged combat ability, and as a Physician his good Defense combat ability (he realizes it's better not to take wounds if you can help it!). See how easy it is to tie all this together? I love it!

Heroic Beginnings, the final phase of character creation, requires a bit more reading, and takes the longest time to complete. During this phase you pick which part of Lemuria your character is from, and take a starting Boon based on your choice. So you'll probably want to read the whole six pages about the various regions and cities of Lemuria, the type of society that can be found there, and the possible boons/flaws you can take.

Orgath of Tyrus, as his name reveals, comes from Tyrus, an area inland from the port city of Satarla. The jungles of Qush and Qo surround the area, so for my free Boon, I chose Jungle Tracker, which comes from his Hunter career. Tyrus is famous for its bows, so I wanted a second boon, Tyr Longbow (bonus to Ranged combat). In order to take a second boon, you have to either take a flaw to balance it, or lose two of your Hero points, which I'll discuss next section. I didn't want to lose any Hero Points, so I took a flaw. Net result: Boons: Jungle Tracker, Tyr Longbow. Flaw: Distrust of Sorcery.

Miscellaneous things: every character gets Lemurian language for free, and an additional language for each point of Mind. You may also get a language based on a career. Literacy can be substituted for an additional language. Orgath took literacy - it came with his Physician training, of course - and I decided he would have picked up a smattering of the Pirate language during his Mariner career. Not enough to pass as a Pirate, but enough to recognize the gist of a conversation. The GM would have to approve this request.

Starting gear is whatever you need, appropriate for a wanderer of your career background! I love it - I've never enjoyed the nitty-gritty details of equipping a character. If you take too much, the GM is instructed simply to take it away from you during the adventure, so it's not a problem. Ah, an author after my own heart.

Orgath starts with a small pouch of healing salves and medicinal herbs, an average sword and knife, the Tyr Longbow, change of clothes and some pocket money. No armor - he's not the type - but there are a number of choices for armor listed, as well as different weapons with ranges and how much damage they do.

That's it - character creation is done. As I said, it only took about five minutes, though I suppose I did have to peruse the places of origin for more time than that before choosing one.

Game Mechanics

Sweet and simple, befitting the genre. Roll 2d6. Add the relative Attribute (which, for a beginning character, ranges from -1 to 3, remember). If it's a combat situation, add the appropriate Combat ability. Add the level of an appropriate career, if any. Add any GM assigned modifier (which is usually for difficult tasks and so likely to be a negative number). If the result is 9+, you succeed.

That actually sounds more complex than it is. Here's an example:

Orgath of Tyrus is searching an ancient ruins for an opening to an underground passage he's heard rumors of. The appropriate attribute would be Mind, which is 1 in his case. Looking at his careers (Farmer, Hunter, Mariner, Physician), none are really going give a bonus. The GM decides this is of "hard" difficulty, so there is a -2 modifier. Since his net modifier is -1 (+1 for Mind, -2 for difficulty), Orgath needs to roll 10 or higher on 2d6 in order to find the passage - assuming the rumors he's heard are true, of course, and there really is a passage to be found ...

If the rumors were more specific about the location ("at the base of a broken pillar"), then it might only be "moderate difficulty" (+0) for focusing his search on a smaller area, meaning he'd only need an 8+ on the die roll to succeed.

Boons & Flaws have game mechanics that appeal to the mathematician in me. You roll an extra die in a task, and remove the lowest die (for a boon) or the highest die (for a flaw), and read the remaining two dice as the result. This returns a truly lovely bell curve, nicely done!

Hero Points: a character starts with five Hero Points (unless they traded some for extra boons). These may be spent during an adventure in order to influence the game in various ways: suggest a coincidence that can get you out of a jam, or re-roll dice, or, if fighting rabble, have each point of damage you deal out dispatch one enemy, or convert a death blow to merely one that puts you out of commission for a while, etc. Again, these are perfect for the genre.

Rewards and Advancement: if you survive an adventure, your character will get loot galore! How much? What, are they suddenly become accountants? As much as they can carry off, that's all they need to know. Advancement Points received depend on how they spend that loot. If they hoard some of it, they get fewer advancement points. Spend it all, and you get more. Spend it in such a way as to set up the next adventure ("Orgath, after a few days of hedonistic pleasure, spends the rest of his loot to buy a ship to search for treasure he's heard of"), you get even more! Pure Sword & Sorcery!

You can spend Advancement points to raise an attribute or combat ability, buy a career or new boon, or buy off a flaw.


The chapter on magic correctly sums up the genre by saying magic-wielding heroes are rare. Most, but admittedly not all, magicians in Sword & Sorcery are the villains. So player character magic is allowed, but it's made "expensive" in that to be any good, you have to have a decent Mind score and more than one rank in the career Magician. And for each Rank of the Magician career you take, you are required to take another flaw ... magic use is hard on people. Alchemist is a little easier, and a gentler way to play a magician if your mind is set on it. Or Priest/Priestess, and use divine magic. But you can do it, one way or another.

Spells are divided into four levels, from Cantrips to city-destroying powerful spells. PCs are not going to be able to do the latter, but they should be able to do Cantrips and Level One spells easily enough. Of course, the heroes will be facing powerful evil magicians who undoubtedly will be working on long ritual castings of Level Three spells, often requiring human sacrifice at precisely the right moment, so the book does provide information on such spells.

All in all, the magic system is a bit loose, in that specific spells (such as how much damage a lightning blast does) are really only given as examples of the different Levels - precise details for most magical effects are left up to the players and GM approval.

Setting Material

The setting material is impressive in a book of this short length (100 pages total). At least a third of that is given to describing the land, people, cultures, languages, beasts, history and geography of Lemuria, including some of the many ruins dating from previous epochs when the land was ruled by the evil Sorcerer Kings. There's enough material that even if you never read one of Lin Carter's novels, you'll have plenty to go on. (You can find used copies of the Thongar books on the web for less money than the postage will cost you, BTW.) The seven fully detailed sample characters can either be used to get a game going instantly, or as NPCs if the players make up their own adventurers. They're quite varied, and simply reading their backgrounds suggests more than one adventure to me.

The adventure seeds are pretty skimpy, and the two more fleshed-out adventures aren't all that good, to be honest. This is the weakest part of the book, but I'm grateful for it, as it gets pretty tiring raving about a game for an entire review. You can use one of them as an initial adventure, but I expect you're on your own after that. Fortunately, if the players are at all into the genre, their very characters will give you ideas for new adventures.


Highly recommended reading - an excellent example of game mechanics matching theme perfectly. It's fun to make a sample character, and I'll be trying to get people to play it, rules as written, in the near future. If you have any interest in this genre, you should get this game for ideas, if nothing else.

[Note: this is part of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products.]

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Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
I just found out there is a new supplement to this game: Barbarians of the Aftermath.

I must say I'm almost salivating simply by reading the sample file available at ! This looks awesome! Admittedly, it's more rules-intense than the lovely simplicity of BoL, but the introduction both defends it and then says you can ignore it if it's not your thing. Good choice!

I also notice they have a bundled deal if you buy both games together. Well, it won't help me as I already own BoL, but if you're a fan of the post-apocalypse genre, I'd say jump at this. Great system!
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Yoki Erdtman
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Handsome devil huh?
Very nice semi-review Steffan. I actually found the Barbarians of the Aftermath entry first, and then this review. I'm adding it to my wishlist, although I had promised myself to buy no more RPGs.
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David Bezio
United States
Lyndon Station
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Yokiboy wrote:
although I had promised myself to buy no more RPGs.

Aren't we all constantly promising ourselves not to buy any more RPGs....right before we buy some more?
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