Posted on May 18, 2012 by Flames
Available at RPGNow.com
Alright, my first real RPG book review. Bear with me folks.
Today I’ll be talking about Northlands, the Norse themed sourcebook for the northern realms of the Midgard world. From what I gather Midgard is a homebrew setting writ large. Created with help from a proto-Kickstarter system called Patronage through Kobold Quarterly, fans can chip in to the design process and get special supplements. This is one of the first books to explore outside the Free City of Zobeck that is the heart of the Midgard Campaign Setting.
Overall this was a very well put together book. The maps are good, the art is very nice black and white and the content is engaging and well designed. I’m going to give brief run downs of each chapter with some brief highlights of things I found especially cool. Finally I’ll make some concluding remarks and give an assessment.
Personal Note on Scales
Just to get this out there, I don’t like numerical reviews or stars or some other short cut metric for evaluation. What does 3/5, as compared to 7/10 even mean? Yes something was good but could have been better. I almost made a 3 criteria with two sub criteria metric on a 10 point scale that I would average out at the end to arrive at a seemingly objective assessment of the book.
But why? I thought that telling people about what got me excited about this book would get them excited too. At least a lot more than subjective numbers in an objective suit.
Chapter 1 Intro
The book begins with essentially this mission statement: This is not the historical Norse regions and culture, this is the Norse regions and culture out of the Norse Sagas. While much of this book is based on the world and cultures of the Norse peoples from our past, in Midgard they are living in the legends.
This first chapter is full to bursting with roleplaying ideas, from culture to government, to pastimes, to the Gods and values the Norse hold dear. Some highlights, “Twenty Reasons to Go Raiding”, and simple yet robust drinking rules, with rules for hangovers. This chapter also includes mechanics for debates and contests of boasting and insult, important social skills in the North.
Chapter 2 Regional Info
This chapter is a combines the history of the land with the interactions of its peoples and descriptions region by region with details about locations. Here is my first gripe, it was hard to go back and forth to the nice half page full color map from later on in the PDF. Looking at a region I would have to go back a fair bit to see where it was. Not much of a complaint, but still annoying to me. There is also a full page map at the end of the book as well.
A particular region that I enjoyed was The Kingdom of the Bear, a small region ruled by bears. Awakened bears and lycanthropes do most of the ruling but bears are free to roam. They even have a fairly well traveled trade port protected from raiders out of the nearby steppes by swarms of bees that live around the town. Residents eat so much local honey they are not attacked. Of course the town also ships the best mead in the North all over.
Chapter 3 Player Info
This section is where a lot of the mechanical parts reside. Most of the fun stuff for players is here. It starts with descriptions of the peoples of the North, including optional racial features for Reaver Dwarfs, they out Viking Vikings. Also new class features that make Northern characters much more in keeping with the theme, such as Skald (bard), and a Fate mystery for Oracles of the Norns.
The feats section is dripping with thematic fun; one new type is Achievement Feats. These have rather daunting and story focused requirements and represent acclaim among the people and rulers of the North, such as Dragon Slayer, Lawspeaker and Viking Renown. These feats are a goal to work towards and the chance to take a place of leadership in regional affairs, a great way to expand the scope of adventuring as players gain levels.
Another really cool feat option players have is various masteries of Runes, these give you power over Runes that Wotan claimed during his 9 days handing from the World Tree. Basically runes are minor to medium magic effects that even non casters can use. I will discuss them more fully in Chapter 4 where they are detailed. Finally, just a really great thematic feat is Huginn’s Horde, you gain an unkindness of ravens to go along with your raven familiar and they are a swarm in your square and can cast divination 1 / week.
This chapter introduces a host of traits that build history and connection to the eccentricities of the North right into character creation. Finally there is Viking equipment, a host of historical and mythical weapons as well as new types of mail armor to stay in keeping with theme and history while allowing fighters to get the armor they need. Additionally there is a discussion of Northern economics, mostly a barter system instead of currency.
Chapter 4 Magic
Of course there are new spells and magic items that fit the themes and gods of the North, but the most exciting thing in this section to me was the Rune Magic. This allows characters with no magic ability access to limited magical abilities focused through Runes carved or marked onto things or people.
The Rune Mastery feat discussed above allows a character to use the mastery bonus from a Rune, usually a +1 bonus on certain skill checks, or a new language, or a characteristic bonus in certain circumstances. Also, Runes provide spells known for the purpose of crafting with the Runesmith feat, an expansion on the Master Craftsman feat. So mastering Runes can allow non spellcasters to create magic items with great skill. Taking the Deeper Rune Lore feat allows a character to use one of the powers of a Rune 1/day, there are three powers that increase in power with your level.
Chapter 5 GM Info
This chapter is about the hazards of the North itself, introducing new rules for environmental hazards such as altitude and cold that is colder that extreme cold. Cold so cold that you have weapons being broken by cold; and exposed flesh being frost bitten in seconds.
Another great GM section is about Fate, a very important theme in the North. Using Hero Points from the Advanced Players Guide is a good way to entice players to play into their Fate without having to force them. There are also Fate Afflictions, basically a compulsion mechanically similar to disease that can be acquired by going against or cheating one’s Fate. Such as We’ll Meet Again, when you escape a major foe or he escapes you can sense the direction they are in and this distracts you so much that you have to reroll a successful skill check once per day. It lasts until the foe is found and defeated or you give up pursuit for two months. Little things like this saturate this book; it’s more than new locations, monster, feats and weapons. It’s a whole new way to play.
Chapter 6 Bestiary
Honestly I felt this was the weakest chapter. It’s just new monsters that have been woven into the story and content preceding them. With wonderfully creepy creatures like Nightgarms, she wolves that devour and then birth a pod person like version of someone to infiltrate their community, that this is the weakest part of the book speaks greatly to the rest of it. Many of the monsters mentioned in story, feats and spells are here in this end section, it gives you a look at what you’ve been wondering about the whole time.
On a last note, this is a great book, go buy it. Seriously, if you want to run Vikings need this book. I don’t know much about Midgard and have never heard of Zobeck until writing this review, apparently it’s really cool. But I want to take this book as a full campaign setting and run games, or better yet play in the North. Go on Viking raids, become a leader of the community or a feared stone cold killer. I would take this and set it right into the Land of the Linnorm Kings in Golarian, or better in Baba Yaga’s land. Runes, the Achievement feats, the alternate class abilities, I want to play in this place.
Buy Northlands. Play Vikings. Write Your Own Saga.
Review by Bryce Pearcy
Bryce is gamer who has recently finished law school and hopes to keep playing wargames, boardgames and RPGs while holding down a job. He blogs about 40k and gaming at dissentingdice.blogspot.com. He can also
be found on twitter @bryce963