Midgard: Northlands (PFRPG) (based on
Take up your axe and raise the dragon's head upon the longship's prow!
The time has come to brave the frozen empires of the savage north. Here honor is more common than steel, trolls and giants battle the gods, and a hero lives by strength of arm and reckless courage. Northlands is a 114-page sourcebook detailing the icy northern realms: their geography, culture and magic.
12 Original Monsters based on Finnish, Inuit, Viking, and other legends of the north.
Rune and Grudge Magic offer all-new magic, plus new spells, magic items and incantations.
New Haunts and Hazards: the spirits of the land, the dangers of the trail! Tools to make any adventure exciting, and turn every encounter into a nail-biter.
New Equipment: From skis to Northern alchemy, lots of new toys and tools for PCs or villains.
Feats, Traits, and Class Features for any cleric, barbarian, oracles, sorcerer, and more, both regional traits, teamwork feats, and metamagic. Rich roleplaying elements and exciting new twists to make the Northerner come alive!
Northlands covers campaign sites for adventurers to pillage or save:
Trollheim is ideal for low magic or pseudo-historical campaigns focusing on human opponents; feuding clans, wars and viking raids.
Thule is a classic land of monsters, focusing on giants and environmental hazards caused by the elemental clash of fire and ice.
Hyperborea is a tropical lost world at the northern pole, based on Greek myth.
This official Midgard setting sourcebook is easily portable to any setting. Written by Dan Voyce with project patrons for the Pathfinder RPG.
I honestly don't know why I purchased this book, since I rarely play in northern settings, but something about it just intrigued me, perhaps because I come from the north myself and wanted to see how Open Design had handled Odin, Thor and Loki. Looking at the cover, how can you not be drawn to this book?
The first two chapters present the Northlands setting and the myths on which it was built. I love the nordic mythology and have read plenty of stories in my day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the designers had changed certain things, like names, to give the setting its own feel. For one, Odin and Thor are nowhere to be found, but is probably hiding beneath the names, Wotan and Donar. These two chapters will probably get the least use in my own games, but are really well-done and did inspire me while I read them (especially the strange world of Hyperborea!). I should probably also mention the awesome map whose cartographer is not mentioned in the credits (I am guessing Jonathan Roberts?)! Shame on the person who did the layout, big mistake, or maybe I am just blind?
Chapter three presents new options for players, like the various northern races, new class options (for nearly all the core classes), expanded skill options, feats, character traits and new (northern) equipment. Most of these options are useful in games outside the Northlands, and I just want to mention a couple of my favorite options. First there are the two Hyperborean races, the dayborn and the nightborn, these have a really cool Sword & Sorcery flavor and will definitely find their way into one of my games (they felt slightly like those two races in H.G. Well's The Time Machine). I also want to mention the two new sorcerer bloodlines, Giant and Hyperborean. The giant is just shear genius and I love the flavor and especially the signature ability at 20th level. The achievement feats are just cool and if one dares introduce them into a game, will offer so much flavor and challenge to the players. The equipment section is probably my least favorite, but that is probably because it will see the least use in my games as they are highly tied to the Northlands setting. And really, snowballs deal 1d3 nonlethal damage? I could really do without the whole snowball theme that is scattered throughout the book.
Next up is chapter 4, magic of the north. Having read the small section on Grudge magic, I am still not sure why it is there or what purpose it serves, but I did like the rune magic section. The spells were not that interesting and I could probably have done without half of them, but a few were really cool and inspiring, especially Jotun's Jest (which causes a weapon to increase in size, becoming fit for a colossal creature) and Wolfsong (which allows a person to howl like a wolf, sending a message that can be heard up to 5 miles away, outdoors, of course). Most of the magic items are highly tied to the Northlands setting and even carry nordic-sounding names such as Hringhorni, Lævateinn, black lavvu, eisenscham and raidho sled. There were a couple that I didn't understand the purpose behind, like the World Tree (I understand the whole Yggdrasil thing, but to make it an artefact? I think not.). How is this supposed to be introduced and even used in a setting? I am also unsure about the Warning Wolfband, while I really like the idea (the wearer cannot be surprised), I dont get the pricing of this one (321,300gp). How did the designer arrive at this number? Rather make it an artifact or lower the price considerable. I would definitely go for the last option, as the ring isn't that powerful when compared to other items such as a Vorpal blade. Among the items that I thought were really cool, were the feather of huginn (break the feather and create a raven messenger) and the bitter horn (a drinking horn that can tell friend from foe, how cool is that!?)
The last two chapters presents optional rules for the frozen north and, of course, a bunch of new (or rather old) monsters. The rules chapter was well written and useful if you are playing in the Northlands setting, but also a little crammed and chaotic in its structure (while reading about natural hazards, we are certainly presented with Fate Afflictions and then, the hazards continue afterwards, as if it was just thrown in there at random). The monsters were just cool and useful. The only monster that I thought was missing was a low-level monster (CR 1-3). Aside from that, we get monsters for both epic, high-level and mid-level games.
Overall, a surprisingly good book with lots (and I do mean lots!) of options for both player and GM. My biggest concern is the layout. There are lots (and I do mean lots!) of small mistakes scattered throughout the book (spelling mistakes, font mistakes, font size mistakes, text placement mistakes etc.). It would have greatly benefitted from a couple of proofreaders before hitting the market. I own the softcover, so I am particular sorry to see so many mistakes, as it can't be updated along the way (as a pdf can).
I am going to settle on a 3.5 star verdict, but since the material is just so good, I am going to round up to 4 for the purpose of this format.
This pdf is 114 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC , 1 page patron list, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a whopping 109 pages for the Northlands, so let's check it out!
Disclaimer: I was a patron for this project and contributed my fair share of material to the book. Additionally, I'm working with Scandinavian literature and culture as one of my day-jobs, probably not making me the most unbiased of potential reviewers in this instance, but I'll try to remain as critical, nitpicky and obnoxious as in my other reviews.
Now that that's out of the way, let's check it out!
Northlands is a sourcebook for the North, to state the obvious, but from the very beginning you'll realize that it goes above and beyond what you'd expect of e.g. an environment-book like e.g. 3.5's "Frostburn", which will serve as my point of reference for this review.
You have to know that, while I did like Frostburn and consider it to be one of the finest publications for 3.5, I was also sorely disappointed by its lack of true understanding about what makes the North compelling as both a cultural backdrop and a setting and this is where Northlands gets it right: It starts off with not only an introduction to the climate, but more importantly, how both religion & harsh climate have shaped the social order and mindset of the people of the North: Shaped by relentless, deadly yet beautiful environments, a hard and gritty breed of men (and women) emerged from the climate, depending on strength of both sword-arm and wits and defined alignment-wise by what is considered honorable and what isn't. We're not talking chivalry in the north, though, as honorable is a relative term and reputation is a precious good not to be tarnished by excessive displays of mercy - being "good" or "evil" is much more relative in these regions. The semi-democratic social order and the differences from feudal, traditional fantasy settings is also extensively and comprehensively covered, providing for a concise and aptly-written introduction to culture and land for just about anyone - for scholars, it offers the basics to add fantasy elements to what they already know, for novices it provides a compelling read that conveys the necessary mindset to plunge into the north and get the most out of this book.
After these explanations on feuds, hospitality, tafl games and social drinking rules, the pantheon of the north and their implementation in the setting of Midgard, we are introduced to the continent of Thule and with it, one of the very best gazetteer-section I have read in all my years of roleplaying - from human-centric jarldoms and their feuds, the conflict-laden history of reaver-dwarves and men, the animal kingdoms of bear and wolf and the cthulhoid-threatened/pulpy lost lands of Hyperborea, we get insane amounts of seeds capable of sparking of whole campaigns and a stunning map of the continent.
All right, you say, but what about the crunch? Well, 4 human ethnicities are provided as well as a set of alternative racial traits for Reaver-dwarves. Hyperborean Day-and Nightborn (influenced by the strange energies of the Hyperborean aurora borealis) and Trollkin are presented as new races that serve their niches and have a definite reason for existence and go beyond the "X with arctic abilities"-races I've come to despise in 3.X. There are also new class features: Barbarians get 10 new rage powers and 2 alternate class features, ranging from sheathing hands in boreal cold to becoming so bear-chested that one counts as a size-category bigger. Bards get a whole alternate class variant with so-called Dróttkvætts (lordly verses) and a focus on fortitude rather than agility. I won't comment on this one, as I was the one who designed it. Clerics get 2 new domains and there is even a monk-variant, the Glima Master, who focuses on rather worldly pleasures, serving as a nice counter-point to all the ascetic monk types out there. Oracles get some love in the form of a new mystery (fate) and 11 associated revelations that make you an arbiter or fickle fate and the norn's destiny-weaving, serving greatly to enhance the theme of stoicism in the face of fate. Sorcerors get the new giant and hyperborean bloodlines and 10 new familiars, which should also interest teh witches, who get two new patrons. We also get expanded information on skills as well as a plethora of new feats, among which there are some awesome achievement feats - which are hard to do, at least in my opinion. They have to be hard to get, but not too hard and their benefits have to reflect that and if that's not enough, we get a huge amount of cool traits to customize characters from the very start.
As economy in the north is based on gifts and favors rather than monetary rewards and both sample rewards, new equipment and alchemical items are provided - Remorhaz fat and honey that makes the consumer easy to track being examples as well as prismatic steel and berserker iron as materials.
Of course, magic is also expanded upon and in a very interesting way: Rune magic grants bonuses for both knowing them, mastering them and scale in benefits with gained levels. Additionally, we get 4 new incantations, a LOT of new spells and magic items. Let me talk a bit about the magic items. You probably know that I'm not that into boring magic items or magic items as commodities. What can I say? I love the section. It's glorious, the items rock and are EXTREMELY iconic - what about snopw shoes that can make snow powdery and ice crash, for example? Or a kind of large ski that unerringly can lead you toward your destination, over both water and ice? Returning, yet jealous arrows that despise each other and are each other's bane? Or the incarnation of legendary, doom-bringing Tyrfang? I was drooling over this section and look forward to inflicting these upon my players!
The next chapter provides all the environmental hazards, haunts, rules for coastal, ski and ship chases, rules for altitude, boreal chill, midnight sun and boreal dark, frots bite and so called fate afflictions, a mechanic loosely tied to hero points, serving to further underline the feeling of preordained destinies and entwined fates woven by the norns. Sounds boring? Well, they're not! There are, for example, rules to escape the legendary maelstrom!
The final chapter of the book is the bestiary, detailing an avatar of Boreas, the master of the northwind, whose living glaciers slowly seek to bring the fimbul winter, a song of fire and ice-style, to the world. The Jotun, most powerful and ancient foes of the gods are given stats and some truly disturbing creatures are also found: The Krake-spawn (somewhat cthulhoid creatures) and the Nightgarm, the champions of wolves and worgs, who can give birth to falsemen-duplicates of people they devoured. The unearthly Liosalfar, a kind of creature that feeds on the mystic rays of the northern lights, Valkyries and the Son of Fenris - each and every monster in this section is a winner, has unique abilities and some kind of angle/ability I haven't yet read in any other sourcebook - top-notch material and each critter gets its own, cool artwork to boot!
Conclusion in the product discussion, post nr. 34.
The material of this supplement is everything it promises and more. Others have reviewed it more eloquently than I am able, so I won't try.
I will say that I am fairly disappointed in the print edition. The cover is beautiful, but all 114 pages inside are black and white. To make matters worse, there are several instances where a graphic lands on top of text, making it difficult to read. The second page listing patrons is completely blacked out on the right side, cutting off text. For $20 for 50 pages (even front and back), I expected more.
Despite my misgivings, I still recommend this book- just skip the print edition!
Jumping right in, the first chapter - Riddles of Steel: Roleplaying in the Frozen North - explains what's so special, what's so different about games set in harsh northern areas inspired by Norseland sagas and Viking lore. The familiar cod-mediaeval or renaissance fantasy civilisations of the majority of games is replaced with a bloodier and darker mindset, never mind that the place tends to be darn cold as well! Vicious monsters abound, and those which walk on two legs live life to the full in conditions that others may see as primitive, certainly more self-sufficient than their neighbours to the south.
But it's not just a lack of urban luxury, guards to protect you from thieves and villains, and lower temperatures: the whole mind-set is different, and to get the most out of such a setting both GM and players - particularly those whose characters are native to it - will need to start thinking in a different way. Curses and prophecies vie with an ingrained fatalism, and even luck is viewed as more than mere chance. Nature features large in everyone's life, just surviving in such lands poses a great challenge even before you throw in monsters and raiders. Glory, honour, revenge are often the causes for which you might take up your sword, rather than the abstrations of 'good' or 'evil' which may motivate other men and women. A lot of this background information is provided here to empower you to capture the 'feel' of the Northlands - with everything from customs and games to the nearest thing they have to a legal system and an array of deities to worship, or at least propitiate.
Next, Chapter 2: Thule, the Last Continent, presents a gazetteer of the Northlands, replete with history and mythology to help the locations described come alive to visiting adventurers. It's a mystical place, harsh yet rich and strange, a place where legends abound and new ones can be written by those with courage, endurance and daring. Stirring stuff, perhaps such tales as inspired many an adventurer to take up that profession, even those who stick to safer lands to actually practise it.
This is followed by Chapter 3: Heroes of the North, which describes the different peoples to be found in the Northlands: human sub-races, and other humanoids. Much of this is flavour, with the actual numbers you need unchanged from regular racial details, although there are specific traits you can build in, but this is the sort of flavour which can enable players and GMs alike create and play characters who fit in to their alternate reality as if born there... as indeed perhaps they were. The information necessary for local class variants is also presented, such as new abilities for bards (often called skalds) and new domains for clerics, based as always upon their choice of patron deity. Sorcerers get a couple of new bloodlines, and then the discussion moves on to new skills and modifications to existing ones appropriate to this particular setting. There is an impressive array of new feats as well. For those wishing to fine-tune their monsters there are some monster feats than can make them more suited to the Northlands, beings of legend about which adventurers can, if they conquer them, create legends of their own.
Characters built to suit their environment need equipment to match, whilst visitors from elsewhere will need to ensure they have all they need, so the next section provides all manner of things that you might need to live, travel or adventure in the Northlands. Whether you are after a few sledge dogs, a pot of honey to attract bears with, or a set of runestones to conduct your divinations in an appropriate manner, these and more are here. Consider portage ale, a brew so potent and flavourful that having once tasted it, the average Viking will do literally anything to have some more, very useful if you have some heavy work to be done! Preferable, at least, to troll whiskey, which has been known to make trolls ill, never mind members of less-tough races.
Next, Chapter 4: Magic of the North looks at the distinctive style and flavour of magic as it is practiced in the Northlands. Never mind ritual incantations, cast your spells with mocking rhymes and shout them as challenges to your opponent, for rough and vibrant are both the mages up here and the spells that they cast. Specific styles include grudge magic - which fulfils the old saying, 'When you go to seek vengeance, first dig two graves' as it causes harm to target and caster alike, and of course rune magic, bringing the power of the ancient carved symbols to play by use of the Rune Mastery feat and tracing the shape of the desired rune either by painting it or running your fingers over an already-carved or inscribed one. Mystic strangeness to bring a real distinctive difference to spellcasting up here in these frozen lands. Quite a few more conventional spells are presented as well, but all breathing the very essence of the North across your spellbook. Steal spells from your enemy's very mind, enlarge someone's weapon to giant-size, harness the very power of Loki himself to aid your lies or worm out embarassing secrets, ir just summon up a swarm of mosquitoes to plague your enemies, all these and more can be learned. There's even a neat Level 0 one to improve your snowballing abilities... after all, mages like to play too! The chapter rounds out with an impressive array of items... items about which legends will surely be written, if they have not been already.
Chapter 5: The Frozen Land contains a wealth of additional rules to make refereeing a game in the Northlands flow. Rules to cover chases over frozen terrain, rules for coping with the unique environmental hazards the location presents. To reflect its importance to the Northern psyche, there's a system whereby Fate can play a part in a character's life story, a neat mechanic which preserves player freewill whist trapping characters in the coils of destiny.
Finally Chapter 6: Bestiary presents some mighty opponents - or potential allies - for your characters to encounter. Beware, though, there are some such in the previous chapter, such as the Splintered Stump - tucked in with rules on the effects of cold, seeing that this wicked remnant of a tree that has frozen so much that it exploded now seeks to gull passers-by into thinking it is warm, and remove their heavy clothing to freeze as the Stump sucks up their life-warmth. The book rounds out with a fine map of the area.
Written in an engaging style, often reminiscent of the Norse Sagas and clearly influenced by them, this work provides an evocative campaign setting that gathers up much of the mythology and legends that spring to mind when you mention the frozen north, packaging them into a playable whole. A bit of proof-reading would improve it, but nothing that makes it incomprehensible, just mis-spellings and logic that jars on occasion. If you want to send those soft civilised characters somewhere that will shock them, or run a campaign wholly-set in the land of the midnight sun, this will set your feet on the path of legend.
This product is 114 pages long. It starts with a cover, credits, and ToC. (3 pages)
Chapter One (16 pages)
This chapter is about the people of the north, culture, religion, lifestyles. Basically what life is like for those to live in the north and how you can bring that to life for your players or for a player to make a character from the north come to life.
Chapter Two (16 pages)
Campaign setting. This talks about the lands, cities and major land marks for the north.
Chapter Three (23 pages)
This is the character creation section of the book. There is four human ethnic groups, mechanically they are the same but from a RPing point of view they are fairly different. There is also two variate humans as well the Dayborn and Nightborn. Typically it is just those born on Hyperborean that show the traits of one of the two. There is also a new type of Dwarf with fey subtype and Trollkin of fey subtype as well.
Next it gets into the classes. They get the following new.
Barbarians – They have three rage paths to follow. Nine new rage powers and two archetypes.
Bard – Skald variant bard.
Cleric – Cold and Fate domains.
Monk – 1 archetype.
Oracle – two new mysteries, Fate and Revelations.
Paladins – have a new code.
Sorcerer – two new bloodlines, Giant and Hyperborean.
Witch – two new patrons, Fate and Grudges.
Wizard – may take Rune mastery as a specialty.
There is some expanded skills on what all you can do with them, which is followed by new feats. There is 15 achievement feats, 9 combat feats, 6 general feats, 1 item creation feat, 10 meta magic feat, 5 monster feats, 2 team work feats and 38 traits. After that it gets into new equipment. There is 3 new armor, 11 new weapons, and 35 new varies equipment.
Chapter Four (27 pages)
This section is about new magic. There is two new types of magic, Grudge magic and Rune Magic. There is also 4 new incantations, 45 new spells, 59 new magic items of varies types from artifact, to cursed items to general magic items and finally 5 new weapon properties.
Chapter Five (12 pages)
New rules for Arctic Chases, Coastal Ship Chases, Snowshoe/Ski Chases, New environmental rules for server cold, altitude, frostbite, food/drink, cold water, and scurvy. There is also a bunch of new hazards. Fate Afflictions, new haunts and pretty much anything you might think of as needing a rule for characters traveling and surviving in arctic like conditions.
Chapter Six (14 pages)
There is twelve new monsters in this section ranging from a CR 4 to a CR20. There is also one new template that adds a +2 to a monsters CR. The monsters are well done with very good artwork. They fit the setting and myths of the north well.
It ends with a OGL, full page map and back cover. (3 pages)
Closing thoughts. The artwork is black and white and very good. Editing and layout was very good. I did notice a couple of spots here and there but that’s to be expected in a book this size. Everything about this book was well written and interesting. If you are looking for a new campaign setting then this book has what you need, if you are looking for information to add to a existing setting to cover the northlands of a campaign world then again all you need is here. Or even if you are just looking for idea's for adventures and characters from such a environment. I really have nothing negative to say about this, other than to say this book does for the northlands what Tales of the Old Margreve did from Grim Tales folklore forests. I highly recommend this book if the subject interest you in the slightest. So what's my rating? Well despite a couple of minor editing/layout errors this book is outstanding. So I am going to give it a 5 star review.