Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Get oiled up in Barbarians of Lemuria by Simon Washbourne

The Barbarians of Lemuria is a free swords and sorcery roleplaying game set in Lin Carter's world of Lemuria. It mounts wild fantasy cliches, breaks their spirit and rides them around its prehistoric world. You play muscle bound (or scantily clad) warriors and sorcerors who spend their time fighting, wenching, gambling, drinking and all manner of vices. You're no paragon of virtue because they just don't have as much fun. Is it just another lite fantasy game? No. Allow me to explain...

Character Creation

You begin with four attributes: Strength, Agility, Mind and Appeal. You bestow 4 points upon them - a value of zero represents human average. You do the same with combat abilities: Brawl, Melee, Ranged, Defense. Hit points are 10 + strength. All very comfortable, like an old pair of slippers.

Careers act as a skill package and is a good technique for keeping a system light. Rather than list lockpick, force door, pick pocket etc etc, you simply write "Thief". A good range of Careers is provided of which you select 4, assigning points as you require. It is suggested that the careers are chosen with a narrative in mind: "I was down on my luck so spent a year as an money lender's clerk - a chance encounter and I became a pit fighter..."

Hero points provide that heroic flair by turning a miserable failure into a success. They can also boost damage, save the hero from teetering on the brink of death and anywhere a player can justify something heroic can happens. The lid of the jar is stuck! Stand back, fair maiden of unlikely proportions, for I am A HERO! You start an adventure with 5 hero points and they replenish each session - unless you were rubbish heroes, then the GM may dock some. Harsh. Advancement points do what they say on the tin.

Equipment is handed out on a common sense basis. Heroes don't buy anything. There is a just-enough-to-remain-light list to choose from.


The mechanic is breathtakingly simple: roll 2D6 + Attribute + Combat Ability or Career level + Modifiers to get 9. Criticals occur on double 1 or double 6. You can use Hero points to boost your Critical Success or recover your failure. Combat is an extension highest Agility goes first and you take it in turns to prod each other with the 'shing' end of your weapon. Dodging doubles your defense score but means you can't swipe back. Damage levels is weapon dependent - you roll a die.


The magic system is a light delight. Each session you get 10 + Magician career points to spend on magic. The more points your spend, the more hocus pocus you can conjure. Spells are either cantrips or first, second or third magnitudes. The spells aren't listed explicitly but examples of each level are provided. Godly magic can be tapped by Druids - which requires some sort of worship but the magic system is the same. Each level of spell requires a more effort. The highest level of spells require a personal ordeal, sacrifice, the correct arrangement of stars and demonic transformation! This is great! Not so much that it makes powerful spells difficult to obtain, instead it makes them more within reach - but with a lot of effort.

You want an earth shattering tomato of doom to shatter the will of your enemies? No problem. Cut off a toe, sacrifice a bull in heat, ensure that the Bear is in the north and risk growing horns. Then you can have your giant army crushing tomato!


Barbarians of Lemuria is a tasty delight, there are sample characters, flora and fauna, races, a list of 19 gods, a glossary, Lemurian personalities, a maps and places. There is a solid GM section with general tips and some sample sagas (campaigns) too. Everything teeters on the brink of not being lite but the text is so readable and the graphics numerous enough that it does make for light reading. Perhaps that is part of the secret of a lite game - not bulk of background and reams of rules but good writing and stopping just short of what is overkill.

Simon Washbourne? Surely I know this fellow?

We have shaken hands with Simon before in the splendid Tales from the Wood. The softly spoken Gent also featured on The RPG Haven Podcast where he talks about how Barbarians of Lemuria has been polished, expanded and is now a commercial game. If anyone has difficulty understanding his accent, I speak West Country and can translate.

Bit's I'd Change

I'm on thin ice here, although I am reviewing the free version on 1KM1KT, Simon has updated this game and released it. The layout can be very tight (not much space between columns) in places. Conversely, there are also chunks of white space and the ordering could be tightened. The graphics are delightful but some of the line art will have trouble printing clearly on all but the highest resolution home laser printers. Not that I have not brought out my usual gripes to play. They remain in their toy box for the next generic fantasy RPG.


Barbarians of Lemuria is a complete fantasy roleplaying game with its own distinct aroma. Quotes from Lin Carter's original source help tie the setting together. Barbarians of Lemuria is a good example of how to cure the problems I find with generic, lite, fantasy RPG. There's not towering pillars of setting nor spells but it gushes with flavour. It is a lite RPG and that is its strength. If you're looking for a lite fantasy RPG that binds cliches together in a comfortable and tasty manner then Barbarians of Lemuria is for you.

Thank you Simon for keeping it free!

1 comment:

misterecho said...

Looks very good. This serves as a good example on createing a lite fantasy game.