Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Augury – The Midgard Campaign Setting (Part III)

The first part is here, the second here.

Midgard’s devotes an entire chapter to explain its Pantheons. Following the premise briefly mentioned in Kobold Quarterly and in sourcebooks like Zobeck, Midgard deities are described as mysterious, treacherous and ultimately furtive figures. While they do intervene in the mortal world (often in a very personal and local fashion), their goals are ineffable and often simply contradictory. One of the few things that mortals know for sure is that the gods hold steadfastly to their immortality’s secret. Maybe the original deities were just ancient druids, shamans or mystics that ascended, or killed an older pantheon, or learned eldritch secrets from the roots of the World Tree. Who knows? To murk the waters even further, Midgard’s gods are archetypical and are found of wearing “masks”, hiding their true identity (if there’s any) behind their roles. Even when one deity manages to kill, imprison or absorb a rival, it can keep wearing the victim’s mien. Thus, everything about the gods is mysterious, strange and dangerous.

Because of such approach, Wolfgang manages to put back some mystery and a sense of wonder on D&D’s religion. All of it without changing the basic rules regarding divine classes and spellcasting. A very nice touch, one which I’m tempted to steal for other settings like Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.

Midgard introduces new domains (Beer, Clockwork, Hunger and Moon), a complete table of Domains for the most important deities/masks, another table with mysteries for Oracles and a small box explaining that Midgardian paladins use Divine Aspects (check it here). My favorite part are the rules for Pantheist Priests (who can change their granted domains, selecting a new one from the deities of his Pantheon).

After that we get (more murky) details on the Pantheon, with information on the World Serpent, the Northern Gods (like Wotan or Thor), the Crossroad Gods of Zobeck (like Rava and Khors), the Dragon Deities of the Mharoti, the Southern Deities (Aten, Horus, Bastet etc.), the City Gods and the Dark Deities (including devils and demon lords). There’s a lot here.

Finally, we reach Midgard’s Appendices. The first one is a pleasant surprise, with full conversion rules for running Midgard campaigns with the AGE System (from Dragon Age). The second Appendix is all about Encounter Tables for the regions previously described (I found them specially useful for populated areas). A short third Appendix lists recommended reading.

The Norns are happy. Jormungand may sleep for another age.

I waited a long time for this campaign setting, since reading the Zobeck Gazetteer for the first time and I must say that Wolfgang didn’t disappointed. Quite the contrary, he managed to keep (if not raise) the initial gambit. Midgard is an engaging, dark and original setting that easily mixes history with low and high fantasy (albeit with more the former).

Midgard’s strength comes from the fact that it drinks deep from historical and mythological roots rarely explored by D&D or Pathfinder. Because of that, it has the selling point of being original, without being strange or otherworldly. It also isn’t simply dark or low fantasy, much less the (severely abused genre of) high fantasy. By mixing less known historical and legendary themes with D&D tropes, Wolfgang gave us a new and twisted toy, worthy of classics like Forgotten Realms, Planescape and Birthright.