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Midgard Campaign Setting (PFRPG/AGE)

****½ (based on 11 ratings)
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The World is Ready. Are You?

Deep in an ancient forest, a trembling young woman enters the clearing where a ramshackle hut crouches on birds’ legs.
Far below the earth, a caravan of kobold merchants passes through a stone archway carved with the faces of leering ghouls.
High atop a northern mountain, a dwarf grips his battle-axe and gazes over the rim of the world toward whatever fate the gods have in store for him.
This is Midgard, and its gates are now open.

The Midgard Campaign Setting brings to life a dark world of deep magic, with seven regions flavored by the folklore of Central and Eastern Europe plus a heady dose of weird fantasy. Lead designers Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, and Brandon Hodge led the Open Design community in a two-year project to build a sprawling setting supported by adventures and sourcebooks compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Dungeons & Dragons, AGE System, and more.

Midgard is ley line magic and warped alchemical experiments; the Western Waste’s giant, shambling horrors and magic-blasted landscapes; diabolical gnomes and the schemes of immortal Baba Yaga; wild, wind-riding elves and swashbuckling minotaur corsairs; the Mharoti Empire’s lethal assassins and exotic splendors; and the dragon-haunted crags of the icy Northlands.

The Midgard Campaign Setting 296-page book includes:

  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and AGE System rules for gearforged, kobold, and minotaur PCs
  • 26 new backgrounds, 3 new schools of magic, and new specialties for AGE System
  • New clerical domains including clockwork, moon, hunger, and beer
  • More than 50 kingdom write-ups, with new feats and traits for each region of Midgard
  • New spells, magical items, and incantations
  • New gear and weapons unique to the setting
  • Ley line magic and the secrets of the shadow roads!
From the Northern fjords to the hidden tombs of the gnolls, from the raven-headed reavers to the ruins of the great mage-kingdoms: all of Midgard is yours!

"A wonderfully rich and beautiful sourcebook chronicling the world of Midgard. Think of how many game masters have fancied their campaign worlds awesome enough to publish in the book. So few actually have the writing and publishing chops to accomplish this, and to do so with such style is pretty much unheard of." —WIRED GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide 2012
"What I look for in a setting book, particularly a fantasy setting book, is something that inspires me to run a game there—a book that draws me into the world, presents setting material in a way that’s both useful and entertaining, and looks like it will shows its best qualities at the table. The Midgard Campaign Setting is all of those things, in spades, with extra magic gravy on top. This is a superb book that I can recommend without qualification to any GM who likes well-realized, gazetteer-style fantasy settings." —Martin Ralya, Gnome Stew
"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. ...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." —Critical Hits

Lead Designers: Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, and Brandon Hodge
Cartographers: Jonathan Roberts, official cartographer of George R.R. Martin's Westeros, with Lucas Haley and Sean Macdonald
Artists: Aaron Miller, Blanca Martinez de Rituerto, Christophe Swal, Hugo Solis, Jason Rainville, Rick Hershey, Marc Radle, Malcolm McClinton, Pat Loboyko, Steve Wood, and Darren Calvert
Editor: Michele Carter

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Product Reviews (11)
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****½ (based on 11 ratings)

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An excellent, flavorful campaign setting

*****

I bought this book as a pdf and this review covers the pdf version of the product.

It was a campaign setting (the Forgotten Realms) that got me involved in RPGs, hooking me to the idea of playing (and running) adventures in an actual world that keeps on spinning regardless of the adventure's outcome, with nations, power groups, and individuals with their own goals and plots full of gaming potential. Flipping through the pages of a good campaign setting usually leaves me with dozens of potential adventure or campaign ideas.

The Midgard campaign setting is no exception. This wonderful, mythical world is overflowing with fascinating locations, horrifying evils, and excellent, original takes on many fantasy tropes. On most pages there is at least one or two ideas ready to be made into campaign or character ideas. There is an excellent mix of folklore inspired and truly original creations. Some particular standouts for me include the subterranean Ghoul Empire, the Seven Cities and their wars, the Wasted West with the slow moving horrors, Ley Lines, Shadow Roads, and the Gnomes, oh the awesome of the gnomes.

If you are looking for a world oozing with fun, flavorful locations and beings, with intriguing adventure ideas on almost every page, pick up this setting. Even if you don't move your campaign to Midgard you can find lots to use in this great book and setting.


MIDGARD CAMPAIGN SETTING REVIEW

*****

(This is my 1st review.)
I’m a sucker for campaign settings. I have been since I purchased that first Greyhawk Campaign Setting with the charging knight on the front. I’ve used them as the foundation of my campaigns (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Birthright, Golarion) and I’ve taken and ported elements that I liked from others (Ravenloft, Scarred Lands, Krynn). But despite my love of campaign settings, as with most things gaming, I’m pretty damned picky. If something doesn’t work for me, it usually really doesn’t work for me.

Also, for the record, prior to a few issues of Kobold Quarterly and an Advanced Feats PDF or two, I had not purchased any Open Design/Kobold Press products prior to the Midgard Campaign Setting, so I’m not reviewing this product through the lens of a Patron, a Kickstarter supporter, or as an established fan of the setting. I’m also someone who initially avoided the setting as it seemed to me that in those dark days before the PFRPG was launched, the setting was fully embracing 4e. (Full disclosure, there is little in 4e that appeals to me.)

This review is of the PDF, solely focused on the PFRPG elements (but I’ve ordered a hardcopy).

WHAT COMPRISES THE MIDGARD CAMPAIGN SETTING?
The Midgard Campaign Setting is a gorgeous book. Layout is clear, yet attractive with full-colored illustrations & detailed maps (with a scale on each map!).

Chapter 1: Midgard presents the setting at a high level and introduces setting-specific characteristics. Most notable are the “Seven Secrets” that present some core fundamentals about Midgard, in particular, that dragons seek to rule in parts of the world, ley lines are a major conceit of the setting, and that while the timeline isn’t overtly fixed, it is assumed that the setting can change in significant ways. While that last bit may be old hat for seasoned gamers, I’ve rarely seen the “permission” to change the world so explicitly stated.

History, calendar, recent events, festivals, and planes are presented next. The history is detailed enough to present a sense of scope and backdrop without bogging down into textbook-style reading, the planes are flavorful and presented more in a tone of myth and uncertainty than a scholar’s treatise on their characteristics. Calendars, festivals, and recent events, which are often relegated to later chapters in other setting books, help ground the reader in the setting by showing up earlier than usual.

Finally, Ley Line mechanics are presented. These support the richness of the setting lore within the familiar framework of Pathfinder feats. Some subsystem details complete the Ley Line rules without becoming a burdensome add-on.

Chapter 2: Heroes
Races, Languages, and campaign-specific Feats & Traits are up next. Here are many of the things that make Midgard distinct and they are the same things that foolishly deterred me from looking at the early Open Design releases when they were 4e-centric. Kobolds as a major race? Minotaurs as a player race – didn’t we already get that with DragonLance? Dragonkin, -er Dragonborn… can you see the eye-rolling from here? Except that it all works and deliciously, flavorfully, so. The dragonkin & kobolds tie directly to the setting conceit of empire-building dragons. The dragonkin are more akin to Arcana Evolved’s dragonman race than the 4e dragonborn fluff hyped by WotC (IMO, at least). Much as Paizo has done for Goblins and Ogres, dwarves and elves are familiar but varied slightly in their own unique ways. I’m still not a huge fan of Gearforged but they’re not omni-present in the setting. Centaurs, gnolls, and tengu get more prominence than they do in many settings. Every race is recognizable from Pathfinder RPG core concepts, but all have a distinctive Midgard spin to them.

The standouts of this chapter, however, are the Midgard Feats & Traits. Broken down by region, they are mechanically sound yet dripping with setting flavor from evocative names to concise descriptive text. These reinforce the cultural differences of the various regions while avoiding long stretches of description-by-essay. By not having to hit the “generic PFRPG” button that the PFRPG line has to do, these all feel very connected to the setting yet can easily be ported to other settings. They avoid the sometimes over-specific traits found in some of the PF AP player’s guides, but those are designed to serve a slightly different function anyway.

Chapters 3-9: The Regions of Midgard
The bulk of the campaign setting, it is also the part I will summarize the most as this review is lengthy as-is. Here are the sections where Midgard is painted in vivid colors and contrasts. Each chapter covers a particular region: The Crossroads, the Wasted West, the Dragon Empire, the Seven Cities, the Rothenian Plain, the Domains of the Princes, and the Northlands. With the exception of the Northlands, the names themselves are evocative and inspire further investigation. Yet all of the chapters have a structure and flow to them that encourages one to continue reading through – a feat most campaign settings fail to achieve. Plot hooks and adventure seeds are laden throughout and each region is distinct. Yet by pulling from Earth-based myth, particularly of Norse and Eastern Europe, it has a familiarity that allows the reader to quickly grasp the cultural concepts of each region.

Important game info is presented for each region: a more detailed map, population info, gods worshipped, etc. as one would expect. But it’s the little details that stand out. Details that are often hand-waved away in other settings are found here as well. Travel times & costs between various cities, trade goods, prominent castles, cultural tidbits, and relevant game mechanics all combine to form a rich, yet cohesive whole that can support a very diverse range of themes & playstyles. It’s a customized kitchen sink, not a generic one, and the setting is stronger for it.

Midgard is a darker setting yet is still a setting ideally suited for High Fantasy. Most settings chose to hew strongly towards the dark (WHFRP’s Known World) or the High Fantasy genre (Forgotten Realms), with only token attempts to support other genres and styles of play. Midgard strikes a great balance, making it easy for a GM to lean whichever way suits the campaign or players without having to drastically change the tone of the setting.

Chapter 10: Pantheon
Once again, my expectations were dashed with this chapter. Fantasy pantheons are a favorite setting aspect of mine and compared to a Book of the Righteous or Scarred Lands’ pantheon, how could gods pulled from Norse, Eastern European, and Egyptian myth possibly compare?

As it turns out, pretty damn well. Forgive my soapbox-grandstanding for a moment, but gods should not be the top of the monster pyramid for homicidal players to slay. In a game where alignment provides a shorthand for a character’s morality and ethics, portraying the gods as relevant for something more than the source of a cleric’s power can be a difficult goal to achieve. Pages of backstory on a god’s personality might make for an interesting read, but often has little bearing on the playing of the game. Too often, there is little room for theological debates, heresies, or wars and a rich source of conflict and story/setting development is lost.

So how does Midgard avoid these pitfalls? Masks & alignment. See, some of Midgard’s theologians believe that the gods represent themselves differently to different cultures. Few regions agree which of their gods are the “masks” of another in a different region. One man’s Thor may, or may not, be another man’s Mavros. Also, most gods, being unknowable and beyond mortality, usually only have one alignment axis fixed (Law, Chaos, Good, or Evil) and the other is variable. The result is a world where the familiar mythological figures shorten the learning curve for new players and where mystery is injected back into fantasy RPG religions.

In short, it rocks.

Of equal import, rather than paragraphs and pages on a god’s personality, we get more practical, game-relevant info: expectations of worshipers, symbols, holy texts, shrines, priests, and interactions with other faiths along with standard domain & favored weapon info.

WHAT SETS MIDGARD APART FROM OTHER SETTINGS?
I’ve considered writing RPG reviews of other products. However, with Midgard, I was inspired to write a review. Honestly, that bugged me. What was it about this setting that made it stand out among the many I’ve read and used in my games over the years? I’ve been ruminating over it for a few days and these were my “Aha!” takeaways:

1. Seasoned, not saturated.
This was the setting I shouldn’t have liked. It allowed for dragonman characters, gunpowder, clockwork/steampunk, and Earth-myth gods. All things I generally do not like in my FRPGing. But they’re placed in the setting in such a light-touched and organic way that the “coolness” outweighs my reservations. Limitations are placed in a way that seems plausible rather than forced. Most importantly, the writers understand that a little can go a long way and that it’s easier to increase certain elements to suit a GM’s game than it is to rip something out.

I love the clockwork city of Zobeck and the fact that dwarves have invented gunpowder. But I still get to have orders of knighthood, witches in the forest, and all of the medieval tropes that I embraced when I bought that first Greyhawk campaign setting. It doesn’t feel forced and it’s not laden with anachronisms that break the immersion in the setting.

2. Rules serve the setting rather than the setting serving the rules.
This is perhaps an unfair critique against other settings, and I’m sure it’s not true in all cases but it rings true to me. It’s how I felt after reading this book. I look at things like Ley Lines, the Mana Wastes, gearforged and the rest and it’s clear that they are there because the writers thought they were interesting and cool. They added to the distinctiveness of the world, the plot hooks, the adventure seeds – they added to Midgard’s character. They didn’t build a world to fit the Pathfinder RPG. They built a world and then built PFRPG rules that made the integration seamless.

3. “I want to run a campaign…here”.
This is the first RPG setting where I could not only envision running a campaign in every region, I wanted to do so. There were no regions that didn’t interest me, nowhere that I definitely wanted to stay away from, no place that didn’t “work for me”. I don’t know that anyone else will feel that way, but it was a first for me.

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
Not a great deal, honestly. There are a few errors/typos such as the omission of the “Time Flies” optional rule while reference to it survives and things like races having a Favored Class rather than a character choosing their favored class.

While some will find it part of the setting’s charm, fans of elves and half-elves may be surprised at how elves are less common than in other settings. Halflings return to their Tolkein-esque roots and seem almost an afterthought.

After Paizo’s much-cheered revamp of gnomes into an interesting race, some might be taken aback at the dark circumstances of many of Midgard’s gnomes. However, it’s not a universal situation for the entire race, so again, season to taste.

There is little mention of orcs, and I’ve always had a soft-spot for orcs as one of my go-to bad guys. I hope that they gain some prominence in the setting if the line expands to regions beyond the seven described in the campaign setting.

CONCLUSION

Midgard is a rich, vibrant campaign setting that should be in every fantasy RPG library. It’s familiar without feeling rehashed. It’s unique in a way that enriches the differences rather than overshadowing other genres or aspects of the game. It’s written in a way that provides a massive amount of info in manageable chunks and ignites the imagination.

Yes, it’s that damn good. Go get it now. 5 of 5 stars.


a great book, please, where in golarion can i put the Midgard?

*****

Ok, maybe for someones the book is not so good!!
but try to read me and i explain why my 5stars

There is no classes inside, its ok, i would prefer one or two but i can handel it.

what you will find inside this pages is a lot of flavor, old and beautiful flavor!!

I want a golarion as flavorful as Midgard

There are a lot of races to expand with the ultimate race guide, there are some new spells. feats and items. I also love the traits per nation!!

Seriously, im still waiting for the traits for every etnithy in the iswg!!

Great game, my second purchase from midgard (the 1st one was the crossroad and there is one of my favorite class: The Shadowsworn)


Great Product, but I recommend waiting for the second printing

****( )

I can support most of the positive things people have said below, so there's no reason to dive into what others have obviously spent more time going over. I love the flavor of the world and the setting, and it has a nice Germanic flavor that really tickles my personal interest. I love the cartography in this book as well, so amazingly well done!

I do have some problems with the product though and figure I may as well give warning to anyone interested in purchasing the first print run. There are quite a few typos throughout the book, and while that's not so bad there are some instances of placeholder text left in (the most prominent instance was $$ rather than the page number that was being referenced). While this can be understandable to some as an admissible error for a smaller publishing company, but when I'm investing $50 on a hardcover book this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Other small complaints of mine include: I feel there is some pretty poor art at points, but the overwhelming amount of art is astounding and more than makes up for it. This is a very admissible problem for a smaller publisher, and the good far outweighs the bad. I was also a bit disappointed with the section on the races of Midgard in general, it only encompass about 1/2 the amount of info I would have liked and am left assuming that if it wasn't covered in the MCS that I should just grab the flavor from Golarion (which takes me out of the setting a little).

So as you can tell these are only minor distractions. Honestly if just a bit more care was taken with the copy editing for this book I would still have given this product a 5 star rating, and I personally find the amount of issues in this book to be careless and not just an accident here and there. The second printing I'm sure will fix these issues so my recommendation is to wait on that and get the gorgeous hardcover version. The setting, layout, cartography, and world building in this book are top notch and it is because of that the issues I have with the first printing sting all the more.


I think the other reviewers are biased and don't realize it

***( )( )

After reading several of the reviews here, I went out and bought the MCS and started reading it. I was expecting to be blown away by how good and unique the setting of Midgard was. Unfortunately, this campaign setting book is no different than the Inner Sea World Guide or the 3E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting in that it is a high level look at the world.

Why do I think the other reviewers are biased? Every one of them that I have seen here, and on enworld.org, were backers of the Open Design process. This means that they have a radically different view of this setting compared to someone like myself that hasn't read one word on it. And when I looked here on Paizo's store, I saw all of the products for Midgard and thought it was logical to start with the campaign setting.

That was a mistake but I don’t know how I could know that.

The MCS came out AFTER more than 450 pages of other setting material had been written and released, not to mention discussed on Open Design. So, for all of the other reviewers, the MCS works to remind them of what they have already read and knew about the world. For someone like me who has not read all of that information, the MCS read like any other high level campaign book. It was not highly detailed, despite what many reviewers say.

For me, a setting is made unique by its details. What do the people wear? What language do they speak? What do they eat? What is their daily life like? What are the names used for the people? Does the name tell you where they are from? Do the various races mingle or are they separate? If they are separate, do they like it? Or are they working toward integration? What about the gods? How present are they? What are the politics like? What are the nobles trying to do? What does the area import or export? What are the relations with their neighbors?

When I started reading the MCS, I expected all of those questions answered and more. I got a few of them answered but not enough, in my opinion, to set it apart from any other campaign setting. And what I did get was confusing. As I read through the chapter on the Crossroads, there was no sense of what the conflict was. There was an obvious bad empire but no talk about what was being done about it, if anything. I’m not even sure if there are the "standard" ruins and dungeons to be explored by adventurers!

For example, the city of Zobeck has a general in charge of its armies to repel invaders. Who invades them? Why is this army needed? That’s not answered. The city also has secret police and I have no idea why a council of five good, five neutral and only two evil members would allow such a thing to exist. Maybe it doesn’t matter, though, because there is no mention of the secret police’s goals.

I understand that campaign settings have to appeal to the widest group they can. I also don’t want everything explained such that as a DM, there is no place to add in my own creations. I do expect some things detailed out as examples of the flavor and then gaps left for me to fill. Going back to the council of Zobeck, it would have been nice if one of the evil council members had been fleshed out with goals and motivations as well as a good member, preferably the one working against the evil one that was fleshed out. This could have served to show how politics happened (Open violence? Words? By the laws? By strength of arms? Assassins? By the gods? By a vote?) in the town and still left me ten members to do with as I pleased. From my perspective, though, I’m left to do all of that.

It was at that point that I realized that the MCS wasn’t what I thought it was. In talking about it in the discussion area, it seems as if I would have liked it if I, too, had had the other 450 pages of material to read and this served to remind me of all that was happening. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s too bad because I get the sense that I would be just as excited as the other reviewers if I had started with Zobeck and watched the world come alive. Instead, my introduction didn’t excite me or pull me into the world. In fact, after all of the enthusiasm from the other reviewers, I was so disappointed that by the time I finished the section on the Crossroads, I glanced at the religion section but then put the book down and have had no motivation to go back and finish it. That’s my loss.

I give this three and a half stars. I rounded down due to bad editing. I found typos or extra spaces on most pages and every reference (“see page $$”) was not filled in. I think in trying to summarize the Midgard setting and not repeat themselves from their other products, they went too far and removed too much information. This still has some good ideas but they missed the mark for me in describing a game world with conflict where adventurers are needed to help resolve that conflict, one way or the other.


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