As many of you will know, Kobold Press (formerly Open Design/Kobold Quarterly) recently launched a new major product: Midgard Campaign Setting. This is a full fantasy world based on Wolfgang Baur’s personal campaign, which we’ve been lucky enough to share snippets of through the pages of Kobold Quarterly and Open Design products over the last few years.
I am very proud to have been a supporter of this and a number of Midgard products through Open Design’s patronage model (which was well established before Kickstarter became all the rage – in fact I believe this product was the last Open Design project before they too got on the Kickstarter bandwagon).
I’ve been avidly devouring the material since I received my PDF copy, and wanted to share some of my impressions on this blog. At almost 300 pages of pretty densely packed material, this is way too much for one post – so I’m going to make this into a mini-series. So here goes:
This is a beautiful product! The cover (as per the image above) is a marvellously evocative piece (see here for the artist’s comments) inspired by a medieval etching. The border panel around three sides is used throughout the book on the right hand page in a partly transparent parchment style, providing a slightly darker border to the main page, and re-appearing in the burnished gold colour bordering a glorious full page colour artwork at the start of each chapter. The ‘panes’ in the border allow a glimpse of another image, such as a map.
The text is a nice readable font, if perhaps a little small, and most of the headings and banners are shades of brown and gold, with evocative little images throughout e.g. a World Serpent icon for chapter numbers, and a set of gears (the icon of Rava the Gear Goddess) surrounding each page number. Sidebars are highlighted by a darker parchment background (with a subtle pattern of decorative swirls), and along with interior art/maps are ‘attached’ to the page with picture corners. The main cartography is by Jon Roberts, which is as awesome as usual!
Overall the book consists of two introductory chapters (overview and player character info) followed by seven chapters each exploring a distinct region, and finished off by a chapter on the deities and religions of the world, plus appendices (covering use of the setting with the AGE system, random encounters and further reading).
Welcome to Midgard!
The first chapter provides an overview of the setting, from an initial page highlighting seven ‘secrets’ that make the setting special, through a brief history, information on the cosmology and calendar, and onto lore (and game information) about ley lines, the magical rivers of power which infuse the world of Midgard.
I remember an early comment on the Open Design forums (Patrons are able to see and contribute to the brainstorming and design ideas of each project) where Wolfgang made it clear he was only interested in historical information where it stimulated current adventures, and this chapter delivers here. In only five pages (including a couple half-page images), the entire history of the setting is covered in evocative language which gives an overview of the long ages of the world, but still littered with specific concepts and hooks which I’m sure will be picked out and developed in the regional chapters.
The second chapter discusses the races of Midgard, especially those from which are drawn the main heroes (player characters…) of the world: Humans, dragonkin, elves and elf marked, dwarves, gearforged, kobolds and minotaurs. The information here is tight and focussed on how the cultures of these races are portrayed in a Midgard setting. Game information (Pathfinder Role-playing Game compatible) is kept in side-bars. The gearforged, a race of mechanical bodies and living souls, is a Midgard specific race that looks a huge amount of fun to play (“sorry guys, need to oil up before we can move out …”). The chapter is rounded out by a set of Midgard specific feats and traits allowing you to give regional flavour to your characters.
The overall impression (which Wolfgang freely calls out in his foreword) is a world conceptually drawn from Germanic/Slavic/Norse mythology more than the traditional western European sources, but with many twists and additions. There also is a slightly dark feel to the setting, for example there is a sidebar on ‘Human Corruption’, whilst the cantonal dwarves are portrayed as arrogant and militaristic, regularly raiding the surrounding lands and keeping ‘thralls’.
To my reading, there is a slight D&D 4E flavour – from the prescence of dragonkin (a Midgard twist on the Dragonborn race), tieflings (product of the corrupted magocracies if the Wasted West), the creation myths, the ‘withdrawal of the elves’, and the general ‘civilisation is fading/points of light’ feel. Now I fully realise that these ideas are not original or exclusive to 4E, but it is my understanding that Wolfgang was playing 4E in his home campaign when the project kicked off, so maybe some of these ideas in the setting reflect that.
In fact one of my only disappointments about the whole product is that it is not 4E-based. I’m not complaining, as it was a completely democratic vote amongst the patrons at the beginning of the project as to which settings would be supported, but I’d love to see this product in 4E colours :) Maybe a supplement will be released in the future (please…)
Why, we’re at a crossroads … quite literally, as Chapter 3 documents the heartlands of Midgard, the Crossroads region which includes the Free City of Zobeck, where the tale of this world in print began. We’ll take a look here in the next mini-review …