When it comes to the worlds of fantasy and magic and roleplaying games, most are familiar with some of the works of Dungeons and Dragons and, if you are a bit more nerdy, you may know the world of Paizo: Golarion.
In the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the work so far has focused almost entirely in the setting called the Forgotten Realms. (Though there have been two recent releases which open up the worlds of Eberron and the Magic the Gathering associated Ravnica, so there may be more forthcoming). And, as mentioned, Paizo has done excellent work in building out their world of Golarion.
Between those and homebrewed worlds, you would think there isn’t much new or different out there to explore. Which is why the Midgard setting from Kobold Press is so interesting. Why go through all the work of world building to such an expansive scale?
Admittedly, I was skeptical of if there would be much from the Midgard Worldbook that I would really love. Which is an interesting starting point, because the publisher of this work (Kobold Press) has released some of my favorite D&D supplemental books, like the Tome of Beasts. The book itself is massive, over 400 pages before you get to the multiple appendices, but to be clear, this isn’t largely a rulebook, it is a world setting. And that world is very different and it makes it extremely interesting if you are looking for some new ideas. Here are some of the aspects of the book that really intrigued me.
The mythologies of the gods. Midgard as a world delves deep into the mythologies of unique parts of the world; while the very name “Midgard” likely triggers you to recall some of the mythology of the Norse and the Vikings, that isn’t the only place where they focus. In other areas of their world, you encounter gods that honor the mythology of the Nile River Valley, the eastern mountains of Europe and more.
While it isn’t completely analogous, the world of Midgard is based on Europe and northern Africa and the map reflects that proximity. And the thinking of these shared pantheons is that these gods are at work in the world and things change; sometimes even dramatically.
The optional rules and the flavor they add. Kobold is great at adding in optional rules that allow the world to have a unique flavor. For instance, they have a mechanic for how time moves forward in your game between your game sessions, assuming you don’t end a session right before a large combat, etc. If there is a week between games, 2 weeks have moved forward in the campaign world. What has happened in that time and how has it changed your characters?
Another example is around your PCs’ status and how they can “level up” in prestige. Why would your first level characters be called upon by the king to save everyone? The reality is that they probably need to build up to that level of renown and there are mechanics for how to do that. As a DM, that kind of touch to detail gives me some ideas on how to make my campaign even more interesting.
Zobeck and the Crossroads. If you want to get my attention, give me a big city with lots of options and how the cultures come together in a vast soup of fun character development. Zobeck is that city for the Midgard setting and within it, there are loads of little ideas to get your party spinning in lots of directions. But even the areas around the city are invested in and developed. Kobold Press’ latest Kickstarter is around developing the dark mysterious forest of the Old Margreve, which exists outside Zobeck.
Real diversity in settings and a sense those settings will evolve. In the course of the book, there are 10 very different campaign settings. The bulk of the book is spent in sharing those areas and ideas. And while you get enough of the stories that could happen there, the Midgard book has a sense that it will embrace the fact that things are going to change in its world. To put it in comic book terms, at the end of any creator’s run, the odds are s/he or whoever comes right behind him/her has to put the hero back at ground zero for the next person.
The Forgotten Realms and Golarian have the sense that you are playing with someone else’s toys and they will put them back where they want them. Midgard has a sense of permission to mess with the edges and do your own thing.
A good worldbook for a fantasy setting does all the things above. And the Midgard book does it well. While it is massive (I ordered the pdf and had no idea that the volume is the equivalent of a college textbook!), if you give yourself time and permission to go through it, it will also do that thing that all the best fantasy books do: trigger your own imagination and that alone makes it worth checking out. You can get it here.