Review: “Midgard Campaign Setting”

MidgardCS_mockup-825x1024Overview

Midgard Campaign Setting (296 pages)
By Wolfgang Baur with Jeff Grubb, Brandon Hodge, Christina Stiles, and Dan Voyce
Published by Kobold Press

Available in hardcover + PDF, softcover + PDF, and PDF only.

Compatible with Pathfinder by Paizo with an appendix for use with AGE from Green Ronin.

If you’re looking for a campaign setting that is familiar with a twist, and a book that is the spiritual successor to the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book, the Midgard Campaign Setting is for you.

I’ve been playing D&D on and off for over 25 years now and as far as campaign settings go, I “grew up” with Mystara (then called the Known World). Once AD&D 2e came out, I dabbled in the Forgotten Realms, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, and Dark Sun. I played in a Dragonlance campaign. For most of the last 9 years I’ve been running campaigns in Eberron, which, to date is my favorite. I’ve been exposed to plenty of campaign settings and love them. Midgard definitely deserves to be included in the classics.

First Impressions

Almost immediately after purchasing the Midgard Campaign Setting in PDF, I wished I had ordered the hardcover. Not only is the book gorgeous, but the font is just a bit too small for my eyes on an iPad screen. It’s readable but difficult unless you zoom in. So after talking with Wolfgang, I agreed to write this review in exchange for Kobold Press covering the shipping to Canada (which is ridiculously high).

The book is definitely the spiritual successor to the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. It’s comprehensive, covering most of the world (but not the Southlands or the East). The relatively small font size allows a massive amount of material to be included in this book, and it took quite a long time to read. The physical quality of the book seems good, and even includes a red ribbon bookmark, which is something I hadn’t seen before in a roleplaying game book.

I was disappointed at the lack of a poster map though. The cartography of Midgard is beautiful and it’d be nice to be able to hold something large up for the players or hang on the wall. There is an iPad app that is wonderfully done that supplements the MCS, but to me it just isn’t the same.

This campaign setting feels more like several mini-settings that are loosely bound together at the borders. There is no method of widespread rapid travel across the world, unlike the Forgotten Realms’s portals or Eberron’s skyships and lightning rail. This is reflected in the lack of any real obvious global powers or factions other than the gods, and even they have more or less power depending on what region you’re discussing. In a way this a good thing, because there are plenty of different campaigns you could run in Midgard, just by focusing on a different location.

Something I hadn’t noticed originally is that the map of Midgard is actually vaguely similar to  Europe, western Asia and the Mediterranean, and the nations found there are similar in culture to their earthly analogues. You have the Northlands (Scandinavia), the Crossroads (Romania, Austria), the Seven Cities (Italy), the Rothenian Plain (the steppes of Russia and the Ukraine), the Mharoti Empire (the Ottoman Empire), and Nuria Netal (Egypt). I’m not sure what France did to anger Wolfgang in the past, but now it’s a wasteland.

Each nation is given a treatment very similar to those in the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. In addition to text covering some of the history, geography and people of the country, a sidebar gives you a lot of detail. A bit too much detail for me personally, but I’m sure detail-oriented folks will like it. If you like heraldry, you’re not only given the arms of each nation, but the blazon as well. The ruler is listed, along with other important personages (and their class and levels). Unfortunately, for the most part it feels like just a list of names, but without any context I’m not sure that information is really useful. The population distribution is shown, with the population of the capital and other minor cities is given as well. Finally a list of the major gods worshiped in that country and their trade goods are listed.

Midgard emphasizes more realism in what a feudal society would be like. It introduces a Status mechanic (though I would have liked a bit more exploration of that), there are seasons nations go to war, and those when they don’t.

The common races in Midgard are a bit different than most ‘generic’ campaign settings. Instead of halflings, and gnomes, you have dragonkin (dragonborn), gearforged (warforged), kobolds and minotaurs. This is not to say that halflings and gnomes don’t exist, just that they don’t have a major impact on the world as a whole.

Chapter 1

This chapter discusses the seven things that make Midgard unique. It is a flat world. The world was once ruled by elves who have now almost entirely retreated from the world. It’s covered with ley lines that trained sorcerers and wizards can harness (and in the past have devastated a region by doing so). The dragons are tied to elements and they rule nations. Time flies and status matters. Gods meddle but can be killed and enslaved. Midgard has a history of empires falling and rising.

The history of Midgard is discussed from the creation of the world (which feels like a Norse creation myth), to the rise of the dwarves and elves then the humans, the Great Retreat of the elves, the Great Mage Wars and the rise of the dragons, and then the story of Baba Yaga and the gnomes. Those poor, poor, foolish gnomes.

The cosmology, calendar and festivals of Midgard are covered and although I don’t really go for that sort of detail, they definitely make the campaign setting feel more ‘real’. That said, there are a lot of different languages and ways to count years. It felt a bit overwhelming. Ley lines are discussed and mechanics are provided for use in Pathfinder.

Chapter 2 – Heroes of Midgard

This chapter discusses the various races of Midgard with major sections on humans (including the optional Status rule), dragonkin, dwarves, elves and the elfmarked (similar to half-elves), gearforged (similar to Eberron’s warforged but with a much different origin), kobolds (naturally), and minotaurs. The minor races which are just given a brief paragraph include: centaurs, gnolls, gnomes, goblins, halflings, tengu and tieflings.

Twenty six languages are listed (with benefits for each), and a bunch of regional traits and feats for Pathfinder are given.

Chapter 3 – The Crossroads

I have to admit, this chapter was a bit of a slog and the Crossroads is probably the least interesting of all the regions in the campaign setting. It features the iconic Free City of Zobeck, the Empire of the Ghouls, the vampiric Principalities of Morgau and Doresh, and the demigod ruled Perunalia. Some realism is applied to the day-to-day dealings of the undead nations which was interesting.

There was some additional crunch given as well: tables covering trade and travel times, and dwarven weapons.

Unfortunately this chapter read mostly like a travel brochure. I’m not sure if it was because most of the material was stuff I had seen in similar fashion in other settings, or the style of the writing, but it took me a long time to read through this section. Also, there are no adventure ideas given for this chapter (though there are in other chapters). Given how ‘practical’ (or lazy) of a DM I’ve become lately, this was a disappointing oversight.

Chapter 4 – The Rothenian Plain

This chapter my interest started to pick up with some excellent stories starting with Baba Yaga, her daughters and what she did to the poor, poor gnomes. Fools.

This region is similar to the steppes of Asia, including the Khanate of the Khazzaki, modeled after the Mongols, the gypsy-like Kariv, the nomadic Windrunner Elves, and the Rothenian Centaur Hordes. However, evil lurks here in the form of Demon Mountain and the tragic story of its Master, and the Nine Cities of Neimheim featuring gnomes who made an infernal pact to protect themselves from Baba Yaga.

Some crunch included a couple of Kariv spells, Rothenian weapons, and poisons. Most importantly to me though, adventure ideas were given for most of the different nations.

Chapter 5- The Dragon Empire and the South

This was one of my favorite chapters, featuring the dragon-led Mharoti Empire, which felt similar to the Ottoman Empire to me. A ton of adventure ideas were given, and this region drips of potential for a rebel campaign against the draconic rulers. This is a nation where humans are not the most powerful race, and well, if you like fighting dragons this is where you want to be.

The section on the Mharoti Empire goes into a lot of detail regarding the different castes and details each of the individual provinces and their draconic leaders.

Other major nations in the region include the slave nation Despotate of the Ruby Sea, the Free City of Siwal, and Nuria Natal, an obvious ancient Egypt analogue.  New crunch includes new trade goods and animals (200 gp for a trained pickpocket monkey), food and drink (aboleth brain…nom nom nom), new magic items, Mharoti weapons, and Dragon magic, including the Words of Transformation Ritual which can transform kobolds into dragonkin.

Chapter 6 – The Seven Cities

This chapter reminds me of Renaissance Italy when the country was dominated by city-states. If you’re looking to run a mercenary-type campaign, this is where you want to be. Each of the Seven Cities is detailed, and each has its own schtick: Verrayne is dominated by druids that protect against goblin incursions, while Kammae Straboli is a surveillance state that has actually chained the god Nethus. Each city comes with adventure ideas.

The homeland of the minotaurs is also to be found here on the Serene Isle of Kyprion.

Chapter 7 – The Wasted West

Another one of my favorites, the Wasted West is a land of warped ley lines, devastated landscapes, and best of all, Old Ones straight from Lovecraft who are still wandering the land (albeit very, very, very slowly). Goblins make their living here, in some cases actually living in the shadow of the Old Ones. Magic is unreliable here and supernatural storms scour the land.

There is civilization to be found here, including the pilgrim site of the Seat of Mavros, the tribes of dust goblins, and the Duchy of Bourgund which features mages who are bound to White Knights.

If you’re a wizard you’ll want to visit the Magocracy of Allain and in particular the island city of Bemmea whose road to the mainland floods every day as the tide comes up. There is even a great piece of art showing the incredible architecture of the city.

The Haunted Land of the Giants can be found here, where giant corpses are driven up from underground to pursue strange goals. Even if a giant dies peacefully its ghost can haunt their living descendants to continue their plans. South of the Haunted Land is the Wall, which protects points north from the Gardens of Carnessa, a nation of intelligent plants.

Finally Barsella, the City at the End of the World, serves as the jumping off point for explorers sailing the Western Sea. This section includes many excerpted accounts of sailors who explored the oceans.

New crunch includes a table of potion side effects and malfunctions, different materials for wands, some new spells, a Waste Warped creature template, and a new Incantation: Each One a Champion which can pool the powers of magic weapons into one.

Chapter 8 – Domains of the Princes

This is the Grand Duchy of Dornig, the nation of elves who remained behind after the Great Retreat. Led by the Beloved Imperatrix Regia Moonthorn Kalthania-Reln vann Dornig, this is the nation you want to be in if you want to rule a barony or otherwise be involved in courtly intrigue. Information on how court is run and rules on gaining a barony, running a barony, and losing a barony are provided. The important cities of the Grand Duchy are detailed individually, and the forests of Arbonesse, the Tomierran and Lost Arbonesse are also detailed. Although there is a lot of juicy info here, this is another chapter lacking in adventure ideas.

New crunch include the incantations Walk the Shadow Roads which provides rapid transit between the baronies, Incantation of Fealty Given Form which grants a barony in exchange for a geas, and Incantation of Memories Lost which transfers a memory to a pastry to be given as payment for some service.

Chapter 9 – The Northlands

You want to play in a Norse campaign?  This region is for you. This chapter gets heavily into the culture and customs of the Northlanders and goes briefly into describing the various halls as well as giving adventure ideas for each. There is good stuff here but no new crunch (not that bugs me, I’m here for the fluff).

Chapter 10 – The Pantheon

This chapter describes the various pantheons for each region, the history of the gods, and the subject of masks which allows the gods to seem like different beings in different regions.

Two words:  Beer domain.

The Clockwork domain and Hunger domain are also detailed.

I just browsed through this section but each of the major gods is detailed in regards to their worshipers, symbols and books, shrines and priests, masks, relations to other faiths and what they demand of their worshipers.

Appendix – Using Midgard with the AGE System

Finally, the book ends with rules on using Midgard with Green Ronin’s AGE system, including new backgrounds, specializations, and magic talents and spells. Also included are some regional random encounter tables.

Quibbles and Summary

I highly recommend this book. However, there are some quibbles I have with it.

I couldn’t find the Time Flies optional rule. I’m not sure if I keep missing it or it was left out for space reasons. Although the editing was well done, there were a few typos I spotted and unfortunately the curse of See Page $$ strikes again.

There are features that I liked in the Eberron Campaign Setting and Neverwinter Campaign Setting that I miss in this product. There is no section explicitly detailing factions to interact with (for good or evil). While there are factions described in the book they’re buried in the regional sections and as far as I can tell there are no factions or beings with global reach, beyond the gods. Also, I would have liked more focus on characters in the chapters: beings who are unique to Midgard who can help or hinder the PCs. This was something I enjoyed out of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book.

As mentioned before, there isn’t a poster map included in the book, though an iPad app is available. The cartography is beautiful though the borders between countries are a bit hard to discern as they are very lightly colored lines.

Personally I would have rather had more campaign specific art than a lot of the city maps that were provided. Especially given that there are regional supplements either out there already or in production, I think unless there was something really special about those city maps, they aren’t as important as giving a view of what the campaign setting looks like. It’s not that the art was bad, but it wasn’t inspiring to me, and mostly was of what the various peoples look like. The exceptions were the excellent painting of Bennea and the chapter art. I would have loved to see some art of the Great Old Ones in the Wasted Lands, or a painting of a group of adventurers in the Northlands looking up at the Great World Serpent encircling the world, or of a picture of people living in the Mharoti Empire.

I understand that many of these choices were made because of cost, space, or time issues, but it is disappointing for a book that is an overview of the entire setting to be missing them.

Bottom Line

The Midgard Campaign Setting is highly recommended if you are a fan of campaign settings. There is stuff here you can steal for your own setting, and it’s “generic” but different. This goes double if you loved the 3e Forgotten Realms campaign or Mystara. Most of all though, this setting is being actively supported and while I do have some quibbles about elements missing from this book, the detailed products could have them in those books. I am especially looking forwards to the Western Wastes product whenever it comes out.

Comments

  1. I applaud the effort that it takes to make a huge detailed fantasy settings and sell them. But, and maybe I’m too old school, all the settings seem to come off as something a high schooler would invent. “Hey, let’s have an empire of giants!” “Yes, dude, and, totally, put in the half-dragon races!” “Oh, wait, and let’s add a bunch of homebrew races, classes, monsters and rules! ‘Cuz it just CANNOT BE DONE with stock. Got to rip it up, man.” These fantasy worlds just seem like ridiculous places. So, I won’t buy Midgard but I applaud the effort behind it and hope that it will appeal to other gamers who have different aesthetics than me.

  2. Cool review. I’ve been looking at this with interest, having liked the 4E work that KQ has put out for Midgard. Next time I’m looking at a setting I will give this one serious consideration.

  3. Carlos Ovalle says:

    I’ve got a list of errata for the first print edition going on the Kobold Press forums: http://www.koboldquarterly.com/kqforums/viewtopic.php?t=2763

    For time flies, “…assume that at least 1 month (and more often 1 season) passes between game sessions.”

  4. Adam W. Roy says:

    Good news is, the Player’s Guide to the Wasted West has gone to final layout and should be out soon!

  5. Seann Ives says:

    What PDF reader do you use for iPad? I was considering purchasing the PDF specifically so I could read it on the iPad but it doesn’t sound like you recommend that.

  6. Arcane Springboard says:

    I use Goodreader on the iPad. Most books I have no issues with reading on the iPad screen but this one is just a smidgen too small I think.

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