Review of the Midgard Campaign Setting by Open Design

Like many other GMs out there, who have run a fantasy role-playing game long term, I’ve tried my hand at creating a world setting. It’s just something I think that all game masters are compelled to try building at some point in their gaming careers, and invariably there is many degrees of success among world-builders.

For my own part, I’ve tried building about a half dozen settings at one time or another, and because I could never decide on one that fit my gaming group, I ended up jumping from world concept to world concept, abandoning my previous multiverses to a dusty box in the closet. Finally, I just began collecting store-bought settings, stocking my gaming shelves with a score of world settings created by many notable designers in the gaming industry.

As it turns out, a well-known designer who was at one time the assistant editor of Dungeon Magazine (TSR era), as well as the editor-in-chief of the recently discontinued Kobold Quarterly, has been working on a fantasy RPG setting since the early 1980s. That designer, Wolfgang Bauer, has been building his personal fantasy game setting since the age of 14 years old, and has been running campaigns in the setting using various editions of D&D and other FRPGs for many years now. Well known for its Free City of Zobeck, which appeared in many issues of KQ, the Midgard Campaign Setting has finally been published by Open Design LLC, beckoning the gaming community to go beyond the city gates and encounter a strange, but strangely familiar, new world.

Midgard Campaign Setting (for Pathfinder & AGE)

  • Lead Designer: Wolfgang Baur
  • Illustrations: Aaron Miller (cover); Darren Calvert, Nicole Cardiff, Richard Clark, Storn Cook, Emile Denis, Rick Hershey, Michael Jaecks, Stephanie Law, Pat Loboyko, Malcolm McClinton, Aaron Miller, Marc Radle, Blanca Martinez de Rituerto, Mark Smylie, Hugo Solis, Christophe Swal, Stephen Wood, and Kieran Yanner (interior); Jonathan Roberts, Sean Macdonald, Lucas Haley (cartography/heraldry)
  • Publisher: Open Design LLC
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (298 pages)
  • Price: $19.99 (PDF available from the RPGNow)

The Midgard Campaign Setting is a campaign setting for the Pathfinder RPG system, detailing the personal fantasy world of Wolfgang Bauer, lead designer of Open Design LLC and editor of the late Kobold Quarterly magazine. The Midgard Campaign Setting contains a detailed gazetteer of the lands of Midgard, which includes information about the famed City of Zobeck, featured in Kobold Quarterly and other Open Design releases. The sourcebook also contains content for creating Pathfinder RPG characters in the Midgard Campaign Setting, which includes new feats, racial variants, and new spells and equipment. And finally, the Midgard Campaign Setting offers an appendix containing setting-specific random monster encounters, and rules to adopt Midgard for the AGE RPG system.

Production Quality

The product quality of Midgard Campaign Setting is excellent, and must say this book may be one of the finest releases this writer has reviewed from Open Design. The writing is really great, offering very detailed and vivid descriptions of the lands, cultures, and politics that make up the world of Midgard. The layout and format of the setting content is presented to the reader in a very logical fashion, and there are plentiful side bars which take a focus on many important topics.

The Midgard Campaign Setting has a solid table of contents, and a really substantial index which is nearly five pages long. In addition, there are plentiful PDF bookmarks – and I mean there are A LOT of bookmarks. The bookmarks cover all major subsections on every page in every chapter, including maps, tables, and side bars. It does mean that there can be several bookmarks that will take you to the same page, but coupled with table of contents and index, make the voluminous PDF very easy to access and reference.

Sadly, I would have given an even higher rating to the releases product quality, but there were a few editing errors which mar what could have been a superb book. For instance, there are references to later sections of the book with page numbers appearing as a $$ placeholder instead of actual digits, and the entire bookmark set for chapter 6 is repeated without pointers after the index. There were a few other minor issues, but they tend to all the more noticeable when the rest of the sourcebook is so excellent.

But on a positive note, the illustrations and maps in the Midgard Campaign Setting are simply spectacular! There is plenty of full color renderings and illustrations which are both evocative of the content, and enhance the overall reading experience. And the maps are simply gorgeous – highly detailed using an isometric format and boldly colored. In addition to the traditional world map one expects to find in a world setting, the Midgard Campaign Setting goes even further to include more than a dozen maps showing each region of the setting, as well as maps of major cities. As a fan of fantasy cartography, this release is definitely a feast for the eyes!


Welcome to Midgard

The Midgard Campaign Setting is a book filled with quite a bit of content, and touches on many of the topics one would expect in a gazetteer, as well as “crunch” content for actual character development. The sourcebook contains ten chapters which cover the nature of the campaign setting, many player-character options for the Pathfinder RPG system, the seven major regions of the lands of Midgard, and information about its gods and pantheons. In addition, the Midgard Campaign Setting offer two appendices, with the first covering an adaptation of the content and players-character options to Green Ronin’s AGE RPG system, and the second consisting of random Encounter Tables for the various regions described in the setting.

The first chapter details some of the basic premises about the world setting, which include some unexpected quirks – for instance Midgard is a “flat” world floating in a sea of stars, has ley lines which grant power, and that the gods visit Midgard fairly often to meddle with the populace and occasionally sire offspring. This chapter also contains lore about the pre-history of Midgard, information on its calendar and holidays, and details about how ley-lines can be used in a campaign.

In Chapter 2, the author covers the major races present in the Midgard Campaign Setting which include humans, dragonkin, dwarves, elves (and elfmarked – sort of quarter-elves rather than half elves), gearforged (sentient souls housed in clockwork bodies), kobolds, and minotaurs. There are also seven minor races in Midgard which include centaurs, gnolls, gnomes, goblins, halflings, and tieflings.

Each of the major races is given its own section which contains details such as general descriptions, racial traits, and points of interest about each race – like how dwarves use airships and guns, or the components in a gearforge’s body. The major race sections also include special rules, such as the option rule for tracking a character’s Status, or the spell which is used to transfer a consciousness to a gearforged body. The racial adaptations for the major races are quite detailed and make for an interesting read. The minor races, on the other hand are given a bit of short shrift, with all seven races appearing on the same page with only a single paragraph written about them. Although there are references to more information about these races in the regional chapters, it is still far less detailed than the major race section.

Chapter 2 also includes a list of 26 languages used in the setting, and a rather extensive collection of setting-specific feats and traits for characters. These are divided up regionally and by race, and there are more than 80 setting specific feats and traits to select for a character or NPC.

Chapter 3 through Chapter 9 discusses the seven major regions of the Midgard Campaign Setting – The Crossroads, The Rotherian Plains, The Dragon Empire, The Seven Cities, The Wasted West, Domains of the Princes, and The Northlands. As I previously mentioned, each regional chapter contains a beautifully detailed isometric map showing the countries, kingdoms, and districts in that part of the Midgard Campaign Setting, as well as major geographical features like seas, rivers, hills, forests, and more. Each map also shows capitals, major cities, castles, towns, and ruins, and the roads which might connect them together.

Within each regional chapter, the author goes into great depth of detail regarding topics ranging from geography and geology to trade, politics, governments, customs, and societies with in each area. The social details mentioned include tribal groups, schools, orders of knighthood, and mercenary groups. The region is further broken down into sections within each chapter by major city-states (like Zobeck), countries, inherited lands like baronies and duchies, and other major locales with large population centers. In several cases, stunning maps are provided for major cities and capitals.

The designer also made sure to include heraldry and banners for each country or land in the Midgard Campaign Setting. They are quite stylish and beautifully rendered, with many uses devices found in historical heraldry.
Locations of interest within each region are also described in these chapters, along with special tables and boxed text which discuss rules or rule variants for use in the setting. In the case of the latter, tables and boxes provide focus on topics such as gnome names in Neinheim, dwarven weapons found in the Iron Cantons, and spells specific to the wandering Kariv. Adventure ideas and hooks are found in most regional sections, providing GMs with inspiration for utilizing the setting to the utmost.

One of the interesting aspects of the Midgard Campaign Setting is the diversity of cultures, many of which are almost-but-not-quite like certain cultures in our own mundane world. The designers did a good job of adding some unexpected twists and quirks to fit them into a fantasy setting, but there is still some points of familiarity which the players and GMs can identify.

The tenth chapter of the Midgard Campaign Setting focuses on the deities and many pantheons in the world. Each of the major regions in Midgard have a unique pantheon, often a mixture of well-known deities from our own mundane world, such as Thor, Horus, Ceres, and Baal, and unique fantasy deities created to match the Midgardian cultures which worship them. The designer opens this chapter revealing the nature of the gods in the Midgard Campaign Setting, as well as their machinations in the world setting. But as with the regional gazetteer chapters, there is some unique setting-specific “crunch” for various Pathfinder RPG character classes. There are new Divine Aspects for Paladins (per Divine Favor: The Paladin), new Mysteries for Oracles, and a plethora of new Domains for Clerics.

Finally, there are two useful appendices in the Midgard Campaign Setting: the first for adapting the setting to the AGE RPG system, and another presenting random encounter tables to determine NPCs and monsters that might cross the paths of heroic characters as they travel the lands. The first appendix is filled with more than twenty new backgrounds and seven new specializations which are setting-specific to enhance the immersion of characters into the world of Midgard. There are also three new magic schools and talents and 40 new spells in the Midgard Campaign Setting specifically designed for AGE RPG. The second appendix has ten random encounter tables, divided by region, and they are populated by monsters from both Pathfinder RPG and a few specific to the setting. Personally, I think adding these appendices not only open the setting up to even more members of the gaming community, but offer a handy tool for game masters to run a campaign easier and more productively.

Overall Score: 4.4 out of 5


Conclusions

I have to say that the Midgard Campaign Setting is possibly one of the best products I’ve ever reviewed from Open Design – and that’s saying a lot considering how many products they’ve invited me to review over the past few years! And as settings go, this release puts Midgard easily in the top 5 settings I would personally run for my gaming groups with just about any fantasy adventure role-playing game system.

There’s just so much content and details of the world packed into this product that it’s very apparent that the setting has been the labor of a lifetime for designer Wolfgang Bauer. And the production quality of the layout, content, maps, and illustrations have elevated the setting from being merely a personal game world to one is richly presented for many in the gaming community to enjoy for years to come.

Even while there were a few editing issues, and recognizing that some of the content has appeared previously in scattered issues of the recently lost Kobold Quarterly magazine and the City of Zobeck release, there is still a mountain of great gaming to be found in the Midgard Campaign Setting - and if you’re like me and love new settings, then this one is a real steal at twice the price!

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 4.25
  • - Design: 4.0 (Excellent layout; noted a few editing issues)
  • - Illustrations: 4.5 (Great cover and interior art; gorgeous maps!)
  • Content: 4.5
  • - Crunch: 4.5 (Tons of character content; nice GM tables; awesome AGE RPG conversion appendix)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Amazingly detailed world; unique setting content and racial variants)
  • Value: 4.5 (It’s a massive, well-developed world setting, with kickass maps for under 20 bux… ‘nuff said!)
 

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Kalontas

First Post
As interesting as it sounds, they probably couldn't have found a more generic name. Really, "Midgard"? FYI, "Midgard" is what the Norse called our world (at least in relation to the other eight worlds of their mythology) and the name means "Middle Earth". Yes, that's where Tolkien got that name. That's not bad, just... very generic sounding.
 

As interesting as it sounds, they probably couldn't have found a more generic name. Really, "Midgard"? FYI, "Midgard" is what the Norse called our world (at least in relation to the other eight worlds of their mythology) and the name means "Middle Earth". Yes, that's where Tolkien got that name. That's not bad, just... very generic sounding.

It's absolutely appropriate given the details of the setting though.
 


Zaukrie

New Publisher
Great setting. One of my favorite settings yet. I highly recommend it. Lots of stuff you recognize if you want, lots of stuff that is new if you want that. Really, go buy this.
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
A review of The Midgard Campaign setting in Supersonic underpants: It rocks, go buy KABOOM!

As to Midgard, AFAIK it is the name Wolfgang used for his home campaign, and that is what it is just Like FR and Greyhawk (and probably a ton of other stuff I don't know about)
 

evildmguy

Explorer
I disagree and think the reviewer was off on his score. I myself can only give the book three and a half for its ideas, rounded down to three for the editing.

The Midgard Campaign Setting contains a detailed gazetteer of the lands of Midgard

It offers no more detail than any other campaign setting book.

offering very detailed and vivid descriptions of the lands, cultures, and politics that make up the world of Midgard

Again, no it doesn't. In the Crossroads section, it talks about how there are various groups of dwarves, called cantons, and each one has its own culture, coin and even religion. And then each canton that is described gets at most three paragraphs. Not sure how that is "very detailed."

The section on the city of Zoback talks about some of the cities factions but not how they are related to each other. There is no conflict that is spelled out and at times not even hinted at.

the author goes into great depth of detail regarding topics ranging from geography and geology to trade, politics, governments, customs, and societies with in each area

The final thing I have to say is that I have noticed that here, and on Paizo's store, the people who have given this high marks are all people who have been involved in Open Design, some since the beginning. The MCS is preceded by nearly 450 pages, or more than this book itself, on Zobeck and some of the other areas of the world. I think that every reviewer knows that material and this book helps to reinforce or remind them of what they have previously read. Not having that background, I don't see what they are talking about. The city of Zobeck underwhelmed me with its lack of details, as I said. They mention the general of the armies but not who the armies are used against or why they are needed. They mention a secret police, which makes no sense given that the ruling council is more good than evil, but no reason to have it or who it's used against. Without the background from all of the previous material, this high level look at the city, and indeed the region itself, was very sparse. It left me with very little idea of the character of the city and barely an overview of the politics of the people and council members it did introduce.

This is not to say it's a bad book or setting. There are some good and great things about it. But it is no more detailed than the Inner Sea World Guide or the Forgotten Realms 3E Campaign Setting. I think the people reviewing the work don't realize that some people out there haven't followed Open Design, and don't have all of the other stuff out there for Midgard. As such, there would still be work, or more to buy, before an adventure could be run with the details of the "cultures and politics that make up the world."

edg
 

Jhaelen

First Post
It's absolutely appropriate given the details of the setting though.
And what are these details? I find the title extremely misleading, particularly since there's been a (German) rpg of the same name. My expectation was that this is supposed to be a kind of 'Mythic Scandinavia' setting similar to Ars Magica's 'Mythic Europe' based on Nordic Myths. At least the cover art warned me that it's probably not what I initially thought it was.
 

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