One of the earliest and most popular heroic fantasy settings was created for Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons by TSR – the Mystara Campaign Setting. As one of the pioneer designers of this setting, Bruce Heard worked for TSR for over a decade and on several game design projects including the episodic story series Voyage of the Princess Ark from Dragon Magazine.
Bruce Heard has continued designing world settings and has recently published a new heroic fantasy setting, after a successful Kickstarter, which draws inspiration from Mystara and the Princess Ark in Calidar: In Stranger Skies.
Calidar In Stranger Skies·
Author: Bruce A. Heard·
Contributors: Ed Greenwood (City of Glorathon), Thomas Reid (Game System Conversion)·
Art: Ben Wootten (cover); (interior) John Dollar, Savage Mojo; (cartography & deckplans) Thorfinn Tait·
Publisher: Calidar Publishing·
Media: PDF (140 pages)·
Price: $9.95 (Available in PDF or POD fromRPGNow.com)
Calidar: In Stranger Skies is a new heroic fantasy setting written by Bruce Heard and designed for use with Pathfinder RPG. The world setting comes with a wide variety of content material including the world of Calidar and the worlds around it in the Soltan Ephemeris, as well as information on its inhabitants, its gods, and history. Calidar: In Stranger Skies also includes more details on the Kingdom of Meryath, the City of Glorathon, NPCs, creatures, and more.
Production QualityThe production quality of Calidar: In Stranger Skies is very good, with some excellent and imaginative content writing by the designer. The layout of the PDF is quite user-friendly and easy to read, with a pleasant parchment-like finish to the pages and headings in sepia-tones.
The PDF of Calidar: In Stranger Skies has several nice features to make navigation through the book very easy. There is a detailed set of PDF bookmarks, which includes not only the links to major chapters and sections, but also bookmark indices to the maps and the artwork for easy reference. In addition, Calidar: In Stranger Skies has a standard index at the back of the PDF with references hot-linked to specific pages. This allows the Reader to find topics quite quickly in the electronic version of Calidar: In Stranger Skies.
The artwork and illustrations in Calidar: In Stranger Skies is really excellent, with a fine mix of full color images and pencil & ink sketches. The cover art by Ben Wooten is a dramatic depiction of the skyships of Calidar over the city of Glorathon as well as an equally fantastic color depiction of Calidar as seen from space. The pencil & ink sketches depict a wide range of NPCs and creatures found in the setting for reference, and are nicely rendered throughout the book.
But the real treat in Calidar: In Stranger Skies has got to be the maps! The cartographer Thorfinn Tait did an amazing job of creating gorgeous maps not only of Calidar, but of the planetary system around it. In addition, there are detailed maps of the city of Glorathon, world maps showing climate and air currents, and even maps of the various skyships that fly around the world. Overall, just the kind of maps a GM would love to have access to when using a new world setting.
More information and references to the cartography of Calidar can be found at Bruce Heard’s blogsite devoted to the setting found here.
The Sky is No Longer the Limit Anymore
Calidar: In Stranger Skies is divided up into seven sections and an index, with each section taking on a different aspect of the setting’s contents. As previously mentioned, the index and the PDF bookmarks are quite useful for getting around the book and finding the content as needed.
The first section, entitled In Stranger Skies, is a short 50-page novella describing the adventures of the crew of a skyship called the Star Pheonix. This story serves as an introduction to many of the concepts of the setting, such as traveling between worlds, the operations of a skyship, and some of the political and social factions existing in Calidar. Most importantly, it makes the reader aware that skyships travel not only through the skies over Calidar, but can sail to its moons, and to the other planets in the solar system (here called the Soltan Ephemeris). It’s a good read, and gamers who have read the Voyage of the Princess Ark will likely recognize the author’s style.
Calidar Universe gives the Reader an overview of the Soltan Ephemeris (solar system) and the worlds within it. In addition to the world of Calidar and its three moons Alorea, Kragdûr, and Munaan, there are the planets Draconia, Lao-Kwei, and Ghüle. There’s also an asteroid belt with the dwarf planets Canis Major and Felix Minor. Each planet of the system is considered an empire or kingdom in its own right, and skyships can jump between those worlds using a variety of magical methods. This chapter also discusses the population of the Soltan Ephemeris, which includes humans, elves, dwarfs, and gnomes. The native race of Calidar is actually halflings, which the designer has turned into feral tribal folk with sharpened teeth. There are a number of human-types, culturally different depending upon the world where they hail from. There are also two races of humanoids – Caniseans and Feliseans – being dog-headed and cat-headed entities. And there is a race of tall aliens called the Starfolk, who traveled to the Soltan Ephemeris from beyond and once had advanced technology, some of which might be found rarely as strange devices or artifacts. Orcs and other humanoid threats live on Ghüle, so indeed one can end up facing raiding space orcs when in the Calidar setting.
This section also gives an overview of the cosmology of the world setting and the gods, many of which are essentially the world-souls of the various planets. But there is also the Norse god Odin thrown into the mix, brought when Vikings ended up traveling to Munaan. This also suggests that other pantheons could have small cults in the setting, brought by the strong beliefs of voyagers who end up finding their way through the Vortex to Calidar.
The planet of Calidar is described in the next section aptly named World of Calidar, and this covers the overall geography of the world, its continents, its weather and climate, air and ocean currents. This section also sports a variety of maps of the world, including ones naming the lands and oceans, as well as polar maps from north and south. This section also has a timeline covering about 1500 years known as the Common Age, with a short write-up of each of the major events of the era. The designer does include a short couple of paragraphs about Before Common Era (BCE), but clearly the concentration is upon the millennia and a half where skyships allowed greater exploration, travel, and trade throughout the Soltan Ephemeris. This is all wonderfully detailed information about the world setting, and many GMs will likely enjoy having access to such lore when designing their own adventures on Calidar.
The designer offers details on the Kingdom of Meryath in the next section, a large island in the southwest ring of the Great Caldera. Of course, there are many other empires and kingdoms in the Great Caldera of Calidar, and it would be no surprise to see the designer releasing expansions based upon those other realms. There is a lovely topographical map of the whole island kingdom in this section, along with maps the Royal Domain (province) and the main city of Glorathon – the latter apparently co-designed by Ed Greenwood, long-time friend of Mr. Heard’s. This section functions as both a gazetteer of the kingdom and the city, but also provides information about Heroes and Villains in the setting, quite a few taken from the In Stranger Skies story at the beginning of the setting book. There’s a touchback to the Basic and Expert D&D roots of the designer in a system of Notoriety called Eternal Glory used in this setting. Heroes can actually cease to age and become immortals, even demi-gods, by acquiring and maintaining enough Notoriety points. Epic adventures truly await heroes who can become ageless and carry on throughout the long years.
The section entitled Creatures of Calidar covers some unique monsters and entities unique to the setting. The statistics for the heroes, villains, NPCs, and creatures is found in the System Conversion section using Pathfinder RPG stat bocks. It’s important to note that a great deal of the material in Calidar: In Stranger Skies is essentially system neutral – having a single section with the statistics for a particular system makes the book completely usable by any heroic fantasy RPG with a little work. Or perhaps the designer plans to release additional versions of this book with a different System Conversion for other game systems? (Very smart planning ahead if that is the case!)
Finally, Skyships of Calidar discusses the operation of the skyships and offers maps of six different skyship designs, including the famed Star Phoenix from the story. The designer explains the various methods of magical flight both in the atmosphere over a world, as well as space travel throughout the Soltan Ephemeris. Obviously, magic and alchemy maintain the air and gravity on board a skyship when it leaves the atmosphere, and the most common way to travel between planets is to jump through the netherworld – literally, dragged there by the spirits of the dead – which serves as “hyperspace” for the setting. The various skyship maps described here include an Alorean (elven) ship, a Kragdûr dreadnought, and a Wayfarer (Norse) Marauder ship, just to name a few. The designer also includes notes about ship movement speeds and points of sail, and other considerations which would allow GMs to design their own versions of skyships. This section really offers a different venue and theme for heroic fantasy adventures, and skyship battles could be some amazing (and dangerous) new experiences for many gamers.
Overall Score: 8.7 out of 10.0
Calidar: In Stranger Skies is a really fascinating and unique world setting offered to the gaming community by a veteran RPG designer. The details about the Soltan Ephemeris and its planets and moons really transports the heroes to a wondrous new world where the sky is no longer the limit, and multiple worlds offer potentially unlimited exploration and questing opportunities. The writing is great, the maps are fantastic, and the science-fiction/heroic fantasy mash-up will doubtless be appealing to many gamers. The fact that the setting was designed as system neutral for most of the content makes this book useful to a wide range of RPGs beyond just PFRPG.
And one certainly has to wonder if a version for the new D&D 5e isn’t being prepared?
And this world setting is really value priced, a real steal given the vast amount of content, maps, and lore present in the PDF. It’s wonders are bound to delight even the most jaded RPG fan, and I imagine there will be quite a bit of anticipation to see what new supplements will be released for the world of Calidar!
Personal Note: This Reviewer would like to thank Mr. Heard for providing a copy of the PDF for review purposes, and wishes the designer all the best with this and future releases.
Grade Card (Ratings 0 to 10)·
- Design: 8.0 (Awesome writing; solid Reader friendly layout)·
- Illustrations: 8.5 (Very good illustrations; Fantastic maps and deckplans!)·
- Crunch: 7.5 (PFRPG system conversion looks solid)·
- Fluff: 9.0 (Amazing lore and content; tons of ideas and adventure hooks!)·
Value: 9.5 (Utterly a steal for a very complete setting!)