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Mor Aldenn—City of Mages: Setting Guide (PFRPG) PDF

****½ (based on 2 ratings)

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Located at the heart of an ancient realm, Mor Aldenn is a wondrous place where magic is part of everyday life. It has been home to the mages for more than three centuries and their magic has had a great impact on the city itself. Their towers rise above even the great trees of Ossindrillon, overlooking the vast realm that surrounds the city.

People of the City of Mages accept magic and try to use it to their advantage. They understand fully that, used correctly, magic can be one of life's many luxuries. It is a rare thing to find a person with Mor Aldenn who fears magic and the mages.

This is the ultimate (and final) guide to Mor Aldenn, City of Mages! Inside you'll find plenty of new options for players, a detailed tour of the sites, history, threats, monsters and surrounding lands. You'll also find an entire chapter devoted to ley lines!

Written by K. Axel Carlsson, Ron Lundeen, David Nicholas Ross and Stefen Styrsky, with additional contents by Thomas Baumbach, Christian Gunter, Sam Hing, Sean Holland, Jonathan Palmer, Andrew Mongeau, Scott Moore, Jason Kimble, Marc Radle and Dean Siemsen.

Cover by Florian Stitz; maps by Andrew Law, Jonathan Roberts and Rene Walk. Interior Artwork by Florian Stitz, Bruno Balixa, Mike Burns, Richard Chaplin, Gary Dupuis, Felipe Gaona, Justin Hernandez, Daniel K. Lorentsen, Jeremy McHugh, Carlos Torreblanca and Rene Walk.

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Product Reviews (2)

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****½ (based on 2 ratings)

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****( )

Mor Aldenn setting guide opens with a piece of fiction, a short story set within the city of mages, that serves as an excellent introduction to the feel of this city. Operating as a perfect vessel to immerse the reader in the culture of the setting as far as how the lower class folk live, view their situation living in the shadow of spell crafters, and the drastic differences in how the different social castes view each other. It is within this story that perhaps one of the better “sound bytes” (if you will forgive its usage in this form) can be found. Here's the scene, apprentice mage, barmaid and mercenary are thrown together by circumstances, and investigating a prophetic dream that the barmaid has had that seems to be unfolding around them. They are on their way to the ruins of an ancient battle that now serves as a magical prison for a demon when they come upon four bad guys (the attire gives it away, trust me, when you actually read it yourself, you'll understand) surrounding a small girl who the mercenary had rescued from a fire earlier in the evening. Now, here's where this excellent quote comes in, the type of quote you wish, as a player, you had said.......”They hurt that girl the day after I can't swing a sword, “ Zeldan growled, and charged forward. OK, Zeldan is our grumpy mercenary, for clarification, and is that not a great line? I mean come on, who hasn't wished they had a great line like that to utter before combat with a character?? By the time it's all over....oh, you'll have to read for yourself, there's a bit of a twist, lol. My point being, as has been proven time and time again, give us a story, with characters to connect to, and we're going to read it, we're going to invest, and that helps make a setting all that much more real. It was just a handful of pages, but it was enough, enough that I want more stories, and that's when you know a setting is going to work..

Mor Aldenn, being a city of mages, and ruled by mages, enjoys a certain level of luxury that could be construed as reskin...but it works. By this I mean the streets are lined with streetlights (globes with a continual flame spell sitting on poles) or water founts comprised of decanters of endless water to guarantee fresh water for all. As most cities are, this one is segregated by class and industry as well,with sections bearing names such as the Grand Market, Tower Hill, and the Northern Docks, the atmosphere of the city changes as you traverse from economic neighborhood to economic neighborhood. Southside of the town one finds the Horse Downs, wherein live the centaurs..wait, centaur? Yes, there is a large enough population of centaur as to necessitate an area of town for them. By far the largest concentration of anything architecturally within Mor Aldenn would be the mage towers, they tend to dominate the skyline of this city. The majority of the town resides upon an island resting in the fork of a river, which is depicted very well on the two page map included within the book (albeit in B&W, its still of pretty good quality).

Where this product excels, and I mean really excels, is in the details. It is one thing to state “Its a city run by mages.”, and quite another to actually detail that out. We are given laws pertaining to registry for the usage of magic, licensing for the rights to sell or traffic in bat guano (it is the primary component for fireball after all), a perfectly viable explanation of how a school of necromancers would appropriate the amount of bodies they would need to be able to continue their craft within a society, legally. We are introduced to bar games for the magically inclined (including a variation on darts that amazes me no one ever thought to design before, it's so obvious its brilliant), as well as more magical variation to cock fighting. There are breakdowns of punishment and fine levels for violating any of the laws pertaining to magical usage, as well as a rather amusing take on the very laws themselves, in that many of them were formed to handle case by case situations, and are only still on the books because, lets face it, every society has a collection of odd laws that are on the books simply because no one has ever removed them. In short, where this city guide really impressed me beyond anything else, and there is a great deal of impressive material here, was in the small things. The things that could have easily been overlooked, and by a lot of companies and guides, would have been overlooked. Little details like the necromancers school using their undead to aid during fires and floods to search for and rescue survivors, the fact that the mayors family have let his power and position go to their heads, or that centaurs who embrace the gods of their humanoid neighbors are looked at as sell outs by their more traditional kin. Local holidays, and how the townsfolk celebrate them, including Spirit Eve (Halloween) with an excellent illustration of children with candy bags in costume. These types of things all build, and add up to a thriving, breathing setting that draws you in, and makes it easier to believe, and want to visit a setting.

As with any true setting guide, you will discover new playable races (centaur, Giaint, Sprite), Classes (Spellwarden), feats and spells, alternate racial traits, and new archetypes. I could go into these, I could. But as I stated, you will find these in practically every setting, so to me, as long as the design is consistent and good when it comes to these things, when presented in a setting guide, this is one of those times when crunch takes a backseat to fluff. For in the end, setting guides are all about the fluff, and this product delivers in truckloads in that regard.

There is a great deal of material to discover within this book, and whether you are looking for a full setting to base your adventures, or merely a city for your players to experience upon their journeys, you can do a lot worse than Mor Aldenn. I personally have added the city of mages to my own campaign world, and have begun spinning the tales that will draw my group to this city, as I know they will be just as impressed with it as I was.

Artwork wise, you're looking at B&W, with most of the illustrations being very good, some only OK, and a few that are not so much. Formatting follows the dual column approach with artwork embedded. There are several locales fully mapped for interior layout and detailed as to be usable for running encounters within many of the locations within the city. I did find the occasional stumble in editing, the usage of “\with when the sentence calls for within, or a missing space between words. They were minor mistakes, and I truly only counted three.

The setting book does borrow heavily upon material already released in other products, or perhaps it is the other way around, as I am not positive on release schedules. The Giaint race for example, have their own book, but are presented here as well. Many, if not all of the creatures presented within this guide are in the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium, and several of the magical items I recognized from other PDF offerings from this company. Where as that is a disappointment, it does have it's positive side, as for those who have not purchased a great deal of books from this company will find enough within this book to be able to tun a full setting from this material alone. On the other hand, for those who have picked up a handful of Mor Aldenn books, there is a great deal of repetition going on, and that would tend to make one question the value, and leave a customer wanting new, fresh material.

Loving the setting, and the ideas behind its design, that becomes my one true complaint and dislike of this product, the sheer amount of material presented here that is also presented within other books. If the material was first presented here, and then recycled to other books, it invalidates this material as being unique. If, on the other hand, this book is indeed the borrower of said material, it mars the design originality of the work presented here. Either way, it ends up costing this book a full star from me, as this setting has room for more growth, and I feel there should have been nothing within the pages of this PDF that had already been covered extensively in another book.

My final rating will be a 4 star for this excellent setting, and I recommend you take a look through this city setting, and consider introducing it to your players, as it is a unique and interesting locale.

And, as a final thought. Axel has lowered the price (at the time of this writing) to about 50% of the normal cost...you should really take advantage of this while you can folks, because the setting is worth far more than the price.


Mor Aldenn actually makes sense! Neat Old-World-style setting!

*****

This pdf is 167 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a whopping 164 pages of content for the setting, so let's check out HHG's City of Mages!

As has been the tradition with Mor Aldenn books, this one also includes a short story that is supposed to draw us into the city's flair - in contrast to all 3 of the player's guide, though, Jason Kimble's 12-page short story Demon Dreams actually paints an understandable, logic and exciting city rife with adventure, social structures and most of all, doesn't fall into the "Alert the Mages"-scheme, but rather provides valid reasons why the mages don't immediately act and why one of the most powerful figures of the city remains behind the scenes. Clever and a nice read.

After that, we get a guide to the city, including a b/w-2-page map, information on the archmages and governing bodies, guilds, religions (including some sample religious tales) and, most of all: The 3 laws of magic that serve as the judicial foundation of how Wizardry is practiced in Mor Aldenn. Local holidays, festivals, organizations etc are covered as well and after reading this mere paragraph, the city makes more sense to me than after the lecture of the whole player's guide. More importantly, the grand logic bugs have been wiped and while I'd love to see a more detailed section on festivals, laws etc., the amount of information provided is enough to create plenty of adventures. Any awkward wordings that have plagued the predecessor have completely vanished and been replaced with text that is fluent to read and is actually enjoyable. The section can be considered a success.

After this very fluffy introduction to the city of mages, we are introduced to crunch galore in the player's options. The first new bit of crunch would be the Spellwarden, a 20-level base-class alternative for the Magus focused on defense, especially against magic users. This class was somewhat of a surprise for me, as I sincerely didn't think it would work. Surprisingly, though, it does: The class gets d8, 2+ Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good fort and will-saves, profiency with light weapons and armor and martial weapons, Int-based spellcasting like a wizard and an arcane pool that can be used to apply defensive qualities to armor and shield as well as defensive bonuses. He gets medium armor proficiency relatively fast and can cast with shields. Quite cool, he also can use his arcane pool to grant defensive auras when casting spells, the effect of the aura depending on the school of the spell cast, effectively adding another usage to prepared spells that would otherwise be useless in combat. They also are rather adept at counterspelling and get spell progression of up to 6th level. His arcana selection is limited, though, as is his spell-list and he gets 4 additional arcanas. I really like the class, as it makes for a great "anti-magic-cop"-character/SWAT-team-like style. Think about Spellwardens attacking a cabal of wizards conducting a ritual with the PCs...or the PCs trying to pull one of while beset by them. Two thumbs up for this one!

This section also contains 3 new races - the Centaur, the Gaiant and the Sprite. I have already commented on the hgaiant and centaur in their respective original products (Player's Guide & Gaiants Discovered), so just to quickly sum it up: Centaurs - I prefer SGG's Lapith-race, as they can turn bipedal and thus explore normal dungeons etc without the mount/large creature problems of the centaur. Gaiants: I like the race per se, their fluff and idea, but some parts of them are overpowered: There is a racial trait that gives them a natural attack (with reach, they are large!) that does 1d12 damage. Go forth and weep, ye monks! This section was a wasted chance to repair/improve some balance-concerns. The Sprite is an interesting race: They get +2Dex and Cha, -2 Str, an additional form of movement, low-light vision, a bonus feat, +2 to a kill selected from a limited list, a daily reroll and...well. They are tiny. PFRPG's first tiny PC-race. There are also new feats (29 to be precise) that support the sprites, centaurs and the ley-lines. Ley lines? Yep, these feats grant supernatural abilities and work better on ley lines and not at all in anti-magic fields, but more on ley-lines later.
Next up are 4 archetypes: An arcane paladin, a hunter of magical creatures (ranger, including a new combat style) and 2 new rogue archetypes, the Prestidigator who can use his talents at range (think a better arcane trickster of the 3.0 days of yore) and the street magician who gets minor magic access. Then there is also a new wizardry subdomain for the cleric and we get new spells as well - the spells mostly centered on nature and the land, fitting with the fey/old world theme. It should be noted that some of the spells are reprints from e.g. the Gaiant-book etc. Finally on the new-rules side, we get the Aldennic Spellshield 5-level PrC. Where the Spellwarden is the magic anti-mage specialist, the Spellshield is his mundane equivalent: Gaining full BAB, d10, medium fort and will saves and 6+Int skills per level, they get minor spell resistance and several tricks for using dirty fighting to neutralize arcane threats. Nice PrC and one of the examples where a PrC is truly prestigious and justified - nice!

This concludes the player chapter and we'll now go into detail - the third chapter details specific sites of the City of Mages: The chapter contains information on the wizard's towers and the fallen tower (the latter complete with a detailed map and read-aloud text), the tower of all-magic (the center of the mage's administration, also with a map) and include some fully stated NPCs and hooks galore. The setion also contains detailed information on inns and taverns, including maps for the Wizard's Staff and Ugly Harpy. We also get 16 shops with read-aloud texts, including a place to care for animals and an arena to battle strange creatures. The section also includes a map of the dungeon of barrowdelve, the citiy's necropolis that contains benign ancestral spirits as well as recently a disturbing influx of undead that roam the street at night. The mechanics of ancestral spirits make them essentially benign haunts - neat idea! The final location that comes with a onepage map is teh house of blades, a kind of fighter's guild. (And if you want more, I'd recommend Soldragonn Academy...)

Chapter 4 details one of the truly unique aspects of Mor Aldenn, the ley lines - set on a nexus of several of them, the chapter includes rules to tap into their respective powers, a map of Mor Aldenn with the known ley lines drawn into it. We also get write-ups for teh respective ley lines including lore-sections to detail the strange aspects of the overabundance of magic and several other bits and pieces of knowledge on them. The lines also come with DCs to know/recognize them and generally, the section makes creating more rather easy. The chapter also includes places of power, another cool staple of fantasy literature that is rather underused and contain fey circles, monolithic mounds and stone-circles as well as specific information for e.g. the Nexus of Mor Aldenn. I did VERY much enjoy this section in particular, due to it being unique and helping set the city of mages apart from other fantasy settings.

Now, what is adventure without foes? Mor Aldenn, the city of mages definitely has enough of them and chapter 5. Unique villainous foes like the Demon of the Fallen Tower, a unique demon (CR 18, btw.) with rather deadly powers that is confined to the fallen tower that once housed the city's summoners, seething and seeking to escape. The giants of the grand Ossindrilon also get their fully stated king and the skin-less, flayed-looking harpies of the Spindlewood flow get an erinyes-queen. And then, there are two more major foes - Taraathalorm Wyrmmother: A green dragon ghost that still stalks the woods, lusting for revenge. And then, there is the final primary antagonist of the city, the dreaded mistress of covens, the Night Hag - she is a CR 18 witch 14 and sheis quite an iconic, almost Baba Yaga-like figure. Have i mentioned the malign, intelligent cauldron?

After these movers and shakers, we get a brief timeline of Mor Aldenn' history and then new monsters. That is, they might be new for you. They include the Marsh Dragon, the Bog Giant, the Gold Cap, the Hag Spider, the Leyspinner, the Mahr, the Mirejack, Mythravens, Portunes, Spell Pikes and Veraxar. It should be noted that all of these creatures are included in the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium (for detailed information, check out my review of it) and that the Spell Pike got a new piece of artwork - nice.

In chapter 8, we are introduced to the lands surrounding the city, including stats for the clockwork-possessed Miller, Moon Folly (I'd recommend checking out the pdf, though!), Ossindrilon and the Spindleflow as well as some pieces of information on hazards and a random encounter table.

The last chapter is devoted to an introductory adventure called Ringside seats. This contains SPOILERS, so potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
...Still here? SPOILERS ahead.

All right! The PCs are contacted by Arvin Pheltapor, owner of Pheltapor's Phantabularium, the place where due to a loop-hole in the law, people may bet on (non-lethal) bouts against strange creatures. If the PCs have only knocked out his escaped wild animals, they will have a thankful customer at their hands who wants them to escort his latest acquisition home. On their way to get the goods, the PCs are beset by Lizardfolk and finally receive the boars - boars? Well... the particularly ugly, scaled boars are in fact three imps in disguise and thus can manage to easily escape from their confinement. One leads the PCs on a merry chase, one confronts them in the Phantabulrium and the final wants to be taken as a familiar once his brothers have been vanquished. (Though until Improved Familiar is taken, the creature is more than unreliable=. I did enjoy this rather light-hearted introduction to the City of Mages and while the scenario per se is nothing to gasp in astonishment at, I do have read far, far worse scenarios, especially at the back of a campaign setting book. The pdf concludes with an NPC-name appendix that would be even more useful, would it include the page numbers where the information on the NPCs can be found - after all, many of them are scattered throughout the book.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are actually top-notch - I did notice less than 5 glitches on over 160 pages - neat! In contrast to some of the other offerings of Headless Hydra Games, I noticed only one page that contains some rather awkward wordings, making this a very good read and pleasantly surprising me with the quality of the rather concise writing. The pdf comes with quite extensive bookmarks that make navigation of the pdf very easy. The pdf is slightly bigger than 100 mbs, at this length, with the wide variety of high-res maps and fully bookmarked, this is ok. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w- standard and the b/w-artworks rock. I already commented on the quality of writing and the new crunch is mostly nice. While I'm still not sold on centaurs and a certain racial trait of the Gaiant, I do absolutely love the fluff of the city. The city of mages makes sense and is a concisely-presented magocracy that makes for a neat little setting and contains some rather interesting characters, hooks galore and dreadful villains. I particularly enjoyed the "anti-mage"-classes like the magus-variant and the PrC.

Since I already commented on the high quality artworks and neat maps, I'll move on to some bits that didn't quite strike my fancy as much: If you already own all the other Mor Aldenn-pdfs like e.g. Moon's Folly and the Player's Guide, you'll find some of the information/content repeated. This holds especially true for the monster-section. I would have loved to see new critters there or alternatively get all the monsters from the compendium reprinted, not just a selection. I also would have loved some sample statblocks for Spellwarden-guardsmen and similar characters that utilize the unique crunch of the city - as written, you'll have to build the statblocks for e.g. watchmen yourself. On the other hand, the campaign setting is actually cheap for the amount of content provided and the quality you'll encounter in these pages.

While personally, I think some of the options to be on the upper scale of power, generally these glitches are by far outweighed by the cool ideas and content and the rather distinguished, unique fluff of the setting. The Ley lines especially offer potential galore. I am really hard-pressed to judge how to rate this particular pdf - On the one hand, I absolutely loved a lot of the content and Mor Aldenn actually came to a logical life in my mind - this by one who abhorred the player's guide and thought that it made no sense, by the way! On the other hand, there are some crunchy bits that are unbalanced, some wordings that could be slightly more precise and there is some reprinted material. Due to these minor issues, I can't bring myself to rating this campaign setting the full 5 stars, but I'll settle gladly for a final verdict of 4.5 stars. Your mileage may vary whether you'd round up or down. Due to the low price of only 10 bucks, though, and due to liking the fairy-tale like, truly magical atmosphere, villains with unique abilities etc.pp. of the setting, I'll round up. Just please be aware of the rough edges I mentioned in this review.

Endzeitgeist out.


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