Friday, October 19, 2012

Augury – The Midgard Campaign Setting (Part II)

The first part is here.

The first major region described is the Crossroads, the “heart” of western Midgard, famous because of the Free-City of Zobeck. We get a full description of the Clockwork City, besides a color map. There’s also information on the various festivals and main roads of the region. This last bit is thoroughly described, with mention of the most common threats, costs of guards and transportation, companies (mercantile and mercenary), stats for river barges, details on trade fairs – there’s even a table with spring travel times!

Other places described are the Cloudwall Mountains, the Empire of the Ghouls and the matriarchy of Perunalia. The Cloudwall Mountains, part of the borders of the undead nations of Morgau and Doresh, are so dangerous that some cities simply sent their criminal there; those that survive and leave the mountains are granted full pardon. The underground empire of the ghouls is pure Lovecraft. Perunalia is its own beast – a country ruled by a demigoddess, daughter of Perun (a.k.a. Thor), surrounded by enemies (like the Mharoti Sultanate) and famous for its amazons, archery skills and civilized society. It’s difficult to fit Perunalia in the usual fantasy archetypes seen in most campaign settings.

The next stop is on the Ironcrag Cantons of the dwarves and in the Magdar Kingdoms.  The Cantons are a quarrelsome group of small dwarven provinces, further divided in clans, only kept from each other throats by the outside world. They’re a loving mix of dwarven classic traits and novel stuff. The Magdar Kingdoms are Wolfgang’s fantasy version of Hungary (even with its own Black Army!). In other words: proud Horse-Lords, scheming noble houses, knightly orders and war wagons! We also get a description of the Order of the Undying Sun.

Other major human realm is the Electoral Kingdom of Krakova. Like Madgar, it’s surrounded by enemies – undeads, reaver dwarves, hellish gnomes etc. Krakova seems to mix medieval German and Polony with fantasy elements, though its capital reminds me of Warhammer Fantasy’s Marienburg.

After the two human realms, we delve in the undead demesnes of the Principalities of Morgau and Doresh. Imagine if Dracula openly ruled a country. This isn’t Ravenloft though.

The next major region described is the Rothenian Plains. Wandering towns, Kariv gypsies, centaur hordes, savage elves, competing Khans and Baba Yaga are just some of its elements. A lovely place for adventures to visit. We have the silver dragon-founded kingdom of Domovogrod (which a really cool halfling culture); the Khanate of the Khazzaki, which hungers for the sweet treasures of Mharoti, Cathay and Khandiria; the (in)famous Demon Mountain (ruled by an evil and mysterious sorcerer!); the devil-tainted cities of the gnomes of Neimhein; strange Vidim, the Kingdom of Ravens, a land of humans and huginn (tengu); besides details on the various centaur hordes, the Kariv wandering realm and windrunner (or dry grass) elves.

Moving south, we finally get to see the Dragon Empire itself – the Mharoti Sultanate. What’s interesting about this hungry and behemoth nation is that it isn’t your “Land of the Evil Overlord”. Quite the contrary. The Sultanate isn’t evil at all (though some of its most powerful members are). It is actually an exotic and cosmopolitan realm, albeit an imperialist one, with its own interests and agendas. The Mharotian culture is filled with interesting twists, like the fact that scaled folk in general have a higher social status than other races (yeah, pay some respect to the local kobolds). The top of the Sultanate’s social pyramid are the Morza, the eight Great Dragon Lords that founded it.

Before delving on each of the provinces, the author provides us with adventure seeds against the empire or for the empire, again proving that things are not so simple in Midgard in regard to alignments and clear villains. Of course, there’re exceptions. In this particular case the Despotate of the Ruby Sea. These are the true nasty bastards of Midgard. You’ll love to hate these guys. The most important point regarding the Despotate is that the Rubeshi are human. Not orcs, not yet another humanoid race… just old fashioned human greed and evil. Better than Nazis. The Despotate has all the “right” elements to be hated. They’re slavers and demon-binders, ruled by a tyrannical magus with enough eldritch lore to change its otherwise mundane armies in a mass of rolling berserkers dedicated to the feared White Goddess. Flawless.

Moving on there is the Free City of Siwal, famous for its sand ships, desert folk, caravans and oasis kept by elemental magic. After Siwal, we get details on the ancient River Kingdom of Nuria Natal and its god-kings, so far holding the Mharoti juggernaut. The next location is the heavenly-touched but shattered realm of Ishadia, which places a really nice twist on the idea of an aasimar/half-celestial land.

Because we’re talking about the Dragon Empire and surroundings there’s also information on bazaars: typical goods, animals, exotic stuff (did you know that aboleth brain is considered a delicacy by dragons?), magical curiosities, local weapons and few things about dragon magic.

The next major region described is the warmongering land of the Seven Cities – the famous human city-states that thrive over the ruins of the elven empire. Because we’re talking about war, there’s information on the standing army of each city, besides the most common causa belli. I really like the fact that Wolfgang dedicated a good amount of this chapter’s opening to explain how wars are fought, for what reasons, on which time of the year etc. Important topics like diplomacy (war diplomacy that is) and alliances are also addressed. After the great introduction we get full details in the Republic of Valera, the Grand Duchy of Illyria, the Green Duchy of Verrayne, the Theocracy of Kammae Straboli, the Barony of Capleon, the Canton of Melana, Friula the City of Secrets, the Republic of Trombei and Maritime Republic of Triolo, the Serene Island of Kyprion (minotaur land). The various cities (and Kyprion) are not just not-Italy (or not-Crete/Greece), but have nice twists and D&Disms inserted to be fun and engaging to explore.

The final regions described are the Wasted West, the Domains of the Princes and the Northlands.

The Wasted West is all that remains of the mutually-annihilated human magocracies. This is Midgard’s magic post-apocalyptic wastelands dashed with a Cthulhian flavor. Vast and bizarre deserts and terrains, filled with ruins, wild magic, dust goblin caravans, a giant realm, lone pilgrims, daring merchants, infernal-tainted spellcasters and Old Ones. This last bit is probably the Wasted West’s most iconic aspect: the non-Euclidian things summoned during the height of the Great Mage Wars couldn’t be simply banished back, so they’re still around. You have gargantuan and alien monstrosities – each unique – wandering around, bound to the wastes (and yes, they show up on the maps!). The region is not only death and gloom, as we have remnant human realms and cities, famous locations (like the seat of the god of war), and even surviving magocracies (ready to start another eldritch Armageddon).

Next nation: Dornig, Domains of the Princes, see itself as the last bastion of true elven power over the human masses (and in fact a rare pure-blood elven Queen rules it from the Copper Sphinx Throne). Imagine if the Holy Roman Empire was run by an Elven Imperatrix, who would outlive all her half-human children and forge bonds (through marriage and political adoption) with practically every powerful human noble house of the region. That’s Dornig – a true hotbed of intrigue. I loved the fact that Wolfgang managed to pass the chaotic feel that I usually get from reading the convoluted history of our own Holy Roman Empire (and spicing it up whit D&D elements).

There are details on the itinerant Imperial Court, the fey roads employed by the Imperatrix, the most relevant kingdoms or cities, minor houses and even advice on granting noble titles (and lands) to player characters (including an awesome new incantation for fealty vows). Finally, there’s information on the old elven enclaves and forests.

The Northlands were already (superbly) described in a homonymous sourcebook by Open Design. Vikings, reaver dwarves, giants & trolls, lycanthrope kingdoms, Hyperborea… what more can one ask for? Other summarized topics are northern traditions, status, short information on grudge and rune magic etc.  

Next (and final!) part of this Augury: The Gods, their Masks and the AGE System.

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