The Anvil of Crom: Sun, sand, and the serpent kingdom

Welcome back to the Anvil of Crom and the latest edition of the Hyborian travelogue. This week, we're going to visit the lands of Stygia in Funcom's Age of Conan for a look at the final post-Tortage lowbie zone. Previously we've journeyed to the Gateway of Khitai, the Wild Lands of Zelata, and Conall's Valley, all of them race-specific 20-to-40 zones that you can visit when you're through with the Isle of Newb.

Stygia's corresponding 20-to-40 content isn't quite 20-to-40 though, as I found out this week while adventuring through the region for the first time. Join me and my brand new Tempest of Set after the cut for some impressions of Hyboria's serpent kingdom as well as a bit of questing advice.
The serpent kingdom

The land of Stygia is a vast, open desert, south by southwest from Tortage and nearly in the center of the western continent that makes up one half of Robert E. Howard's Hyboria. Bordered by the river Styx to the north and the nation-states of Kush, Darfar, and Keshan to the south, Stygia is a land ripe with adventure despite its dusty-dry climate.

Stygian culture is often referred to as a theocracy, as the Priesthood of Set reigns supreme and Stygian citizens are collectively seen as religious zealots who view outsiders as infidels to be used and enslaved. The snake god Set is a pervasive presence throughout the land, as countless serpent monuments dot the stone and sand. Also, real snakes both large and small are a common sight in both the provinces and the cities.


If you're traveling from Tortage for the first time, you'll sail to the coastal city of Khemi, the Stygian capital located on the mouth of the Styx and the western ocean. You'll likely be level 20 unless you opted to skip your destiny quest, and you'll want to poke around the city a bit and grab all of the quests hiding under those big orange exclamation points.

Bubshur on footThere are a couple of quest lines here that take you back out of Stygia and across the wilds of Hyboria to Cimmeria, Aquilonia, and Khitai. You can safely ignore these for the moment (or delete them if you wish), as they'll be gray and largely redundant by the time you've spent a couple hours questing in the desert. One quest you'll definitely want to pick up is A Hot Day, which will task you with delivering various supplies around the city and give you ample opportunity to explore one of the more interesting locales in Age of Conan. Funcom has pulled out all the visual stops with Khemi, and the city has a distinct Arab/Egyptian flavor that never gets old. Combined with the exotic NPCs as well as the ample nooks and crannies waiting to be explored down alleys, over buildings, and out beyond the ships in the harbor, the Stygian capital is quite a unique locale in the MMO space.

After you've had your fill of exploring, you'll also want to grab the Message from Khemi quest, courtesy of Shuhotep, a purple-robed NPC standing next to the western docks. He'll direct you to the Purple Lotus Swamp on another delivery errand, and this is as good a time as any to take a quick detour to the Stygian resource zone and train up a few harvesting skills (which unlock at level 20). The quest itself will take you clear across the Purple Lotus map for the delivery, so I'd turn north as you enter the zone and hit up the harvesting trainers at Nakaset village. From there, trek southwest across the map, harvesting as you go, to finish the quest. You can then use your Path of Asura to port back to Khemi and head for Khopshef Province.

Khopshef Province

Once you disembark on the Khopshef docks, you'll see the village of Bubshur spread out before you in a series of outlying shanties as well as sandstone-like dwellings cut into the nearby cliffs. You'll want to load up your quest journal here; you shouldn't head out of Bubshur and towards those colored circles on your minimap until you've got 13 to 15 quests under the Khopshef heading in your journal.

From Bubshur, your best course of action is to proceed northeast along the coast, killing everything from crocodiles to lions to a mysterious man in black. I won't step you through everything here, but by the time you've cut a swath back around towards the village, you'll probably have a couple of levels under your belt. At that point, you can venture into the Bubshur House dungeon (featuring regular-con mobs around 23 to 25) or proceed south to the village of Caravanserai. Here you'll meet Shadure and Captain Nut (yes, really) and find a few more quests. Keep in mind that gray exclamation points mean your level isn't high enough to receive the quest, so either head back towards Bubshur and finish some quests or venture into the desert north of the Caravanserai oasis and grind up a few scorpion mobs to get over the hump.

Caravanserai and Bubshur quests should take you near enough to level 27, at which point you can head across the water north of Bubshur to Pashtun. You'll approach level 30 as you do the quests here as well as spend a bit of time mob-grinding. There are also a couple of quests along the southern edge of the map near the zone door to the Purple Lotus Swamp. After you've cleared out your journal and dinged 30, you have several options. You can head back to Khemi to do your destiny quest, find a group and venture into the Black Castle dungeon for some great XP (courtesy of level 31 to 32 elite mobs), or even take a break from Stygia altogether and head to Aquilonian, Cimmeria, or Khitai for your mid-30s leveling. If you opt to stay in Stygia, you'll probably be mob-grinding a bit, as the quest content is pretty thin above 30. Black Castle runs will help you here, and you can also head into the Pyramid of the Ancients dungeon around level 36.

Conventional wisdom holds that Black Castle is inferior to Aquilonia's Sanctum of the Burning Souls in terms of loot drops, and I'm inclined to agree. If this is your first time playing AoC, you might consider hopping over to Sanctum instead of Black Castle. If, like me, you're on your 3,720th alt but haven't spent much time in Stygia, Black Castle is a lot of fun and highly recommended provided you can find a good group.

Regardless of the path you choose, Stygian content regrettably runs out prior to level 40, and you won't see the desert kingdom again until you ding 70 and head for Kheshatta. It's too bad, as the flavor of the place can't be overstated. As much as I enjoy Khitai, Cimmeria, and even the Wild Lands, Stygia is a pretty singular space in today's MMOs, and Funcom's eyecandy and atmospherics are out in force all over the zone.

That's all I've got for you this week. Don't forget to have a look at this week's Stygia gallery, and join me next time for the second entry in my new class guide series. Until then, I leave you with my favorite non-Stygian concept art.

Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via
This article was originally published on Massively.