RPG Reviews – Conan: Kull of Atlantis

Prior to reading this sourcebook, I knew nothing of the character of Kull except that there was a Kevin Sorbo movie and that Conan: The Barbarian borrowed Thulsa Doom from the Kull stories. Having read it I want to run a Kull game even more than a Conan one. It blends the grittiness of swords & sorcery with the baroqueness and surreality I like in Moorcock’s stories.

Kull of Atlantis, or Kull the Conqueror, is the literary precursor to Conan and the two share some similarities while also being distinct characters.

Kull of Atlantis presents the world of the Thurian Age for roleplaying in Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. While I find the Hyborian Age a very gameable setting, I find the Thurian Age fascinating in its difference. The book covers this well, helping present the unique nature of this world and how it differs from the main game. The Hyborian Age is one of brutality and viciousness, grounded in the physical world. There is magic and supernatural elements but they’re presented as holdovers and mysteries of a more ancient time – which is Thuria. The Thurian Age is fading and crumbling – it’s magic subtle and the cosmic weirdness more prominent. Adventurers in this age aren’t after base, material reward and the indulgence of their vices, they, much like Kull, explore the nature of their existence and identity – this is an intellectual and contemplative swords and sorcery. To draw a line with one of Howard’s contemporaries, if Conan is “At the Mountains of Madness”, Kull is “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”.

To help create that atmosphere, the GM is given a good amount of guidance on pacing and mood-building, how to stage encounters and scenes to reflect the nature of this world. The use of Doom is reexamined, as it is one of the main ways the GM can interact with the setting, and new options for spending points are provided that make for a bizarre and surreal environment. GMs are also supported with adventure seeds and a sample adventure connected to the court of King Kull, even accommodating the usage of him and his companions as PCs. It’s a diplomatic scenario that hides a sinister mystery beneath it. That adventure also supports the suggested default campaign structure, that of using the Valusian Court as a base, giving a reason for a diverse group of characters to come together. The coverage of Valusia also includes a number of locations that could generate horror and mystery- based stories. As standard for Conan, character creation will also provide a large number of personal story seeds in the characters’ background events, giving GMs plenty to draw on.

Depending when the campaign is set, players may rise with Kull (or stand against him), either as agents of Valusia or the other kingdoms. The various sects and cults present allow many archetypal fantasy stories to which you can apply a Thurian twist. Combat the worshippers of the alien Black Shadow and struggle with its “ultimate truth”, or face the reality-shattering revelations of The Disciples of the Door. Explore ancient ruins for grimoires and artifacts and destroy them or keep them for your own gain.

The Thurian Age invokes a doomed inevitability. Its peoples are not as close analogues to our world – this being due to a Cataclysm that will end the world, rebirthing it in a more familiar form as Hyboria. The theme of the corruption of civilization is still present in these stories, as they are in the Conan tales. The Seven Empires have fallen into decadence and decay, and the other lands of the world fare little better. Valusia, greatest of the Seven Kingdoms, and the domain of Kull himself, receives the most detail and attention, the others get a paragraph or two to a half-page. That’s still enough to start building on and due to the gossamer-like nature of the world, “Your Thuria May Vary” doesn’t seem so unreasonable an idea.

There’s a nice overview of the supernatural of the age, from the gods, to cults and NPCs, and some new rules for magic. In addition to those traditions found in the core rules, Kull presents “The First Principles”, a more philosophical and meditative approach to magic that trades a Patron for self-discovery. Players from the Pictish or Atlantean people can also align themselves to a Totem and acquire a Tambu (taboo), which are cool additions.

GMs get stats for a bunch of new opponents and NPCs, including the infamous Thulsa Doom and the Serpent Men who seek to regain the dominion of the world they once had.

Characters receive a number of new Homelands and Talents, the latter of which help reinforce the declining Age with options like Decadent, Faded Glory, and Resplendent. There are, of course, new Stories and Archetypes and other elements of character creation, all of which could be applied to a standard Conan game as well. A new Ancient Bloodline: The Elder Race is also presented – it’s actually the only one available as the others have yet to really manifest.

The artwork in Kull is phenomenal. The full page work has a baroque and grandiose quality to it and the other interior work has a shadowy, faded touch to it which makes each piece seem to evoke a distant memory of a scene. A number of them don’t have a visible border either, which helps create the effect that they have less of a firm boundary and are not solidly part of the world. Intentional or not, it’s a cool effect.

If the gold has lost its luster and your heroes are examining why they’re swinging swords and axes into their opponents’ faces, perhaps it’s time you travelled beyond an age undreamed, to the oneiric borders and realms of the Thurian Age! You can pick it up from the Modiphius Webstore or this DriveThruRPG affiliate link and help support this site!

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