I confess that I have a problem with a lot of RPG campaign settings on the market. Some of them are simply tired and played out. Some are designed to lock customers into purchasing adventures and sourcebooks, leaving little room for customization. Some take a “kitchen sink” approach, avoiding anything too distinctive in an effort to support every type of campaign.
As the lead designer and publisher at Kobold Press, I decided it was time to launch a project that would reinvent a few fantasy traditions, and restore all that I think is great and good in classic fantasy RPGs. It would be based on time-tested elements of my own homebrew campaign, not on market research, potential licensing opportunities, or maximizing shareholder value. It was time to let slip the drakes of war, sharpen up the great ax, and split some skulls with a new setting!
With that in mind, I worked with my talented colleagues Jeff Grubb and Brandon Hodge, and the Open Design community, to create the Midgard Campaign Setting. It’s made for conflict, plunder, deep magic, and horrific secrets. That’s reflected in the design choice to provide clear adventure hooks for every place described in the book, for instance, and in the decision to provide a system of ley line magic. Better yet, much original material for Midgard is written by newcomers, so it’s a place where everyone can sharpen their game design chops (more on that in a minute!).
When you’re in Midgard, you’ve got big missions, mythic adventures, and lots of options — but the setting is designed to be compact and easy to pick up. There’s also the part that’s harder to explain, the getting-fantasy-right part. To quote a new fan TwistedGamer
Not since I was a teenager and first peeled back the plastic that had been wrapped around my first Forgotten Realms campaign boxed set have I felt the giddiness that I feel right now…
The masks of the gods, the blending of myth and pure invention, the shadow roads and some new, lighter elements like the beer goddess and the school of clockwork magic all make Midgard sing.
Ravens, Devils, and Baba Yaga
The Midgard Campaign Setting is compatible with Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Dragon Age RPG, although there’s plenty in the worldbook that can be easily brought in to other fantasy RPGs. It includes a Midgard Bestiary for Pathfinder, 4e Dungeons & Dragons, and AGE System, numerous adventures and sourcebooks, and a thriving community of fans and designers, including pros like me and Jeff and Brandon, and newcomers like Brian Suskind and Michael Lane. The setting has gotten more and more attention over time, from gamers with a wide variety of tastes and backgrounds. I might go so far as to call it a sleeper hit, since the first print run is disappearing quickly.
Why has Midgard attracted so much attention? Partly it’s an overnight success that has been 6 years in the making: all of the adventures I’ve created for Kobold Press are set in Midgard. I suspect it’s also because Midgard casts a much wider net than just the usual source material. (British and Celtic myths, I’m looking at you!) The Midgard style is to put a dark fantasy twist on setting, characters, and dungeon delving by drawing as much from Russian, German, and Norse myths as from the more common Irish and British traditions. It was, frankly, time that the European part of the fantasy tradition got a little respect. Odin’s ravens must be fed!
And so they are, in the dark temples and the kobold ghettos, and in the longships when reavers go to sea. The Midgard dragons are in the Germanic style but with Zoroastrian gods; the dwarves are dangerous and mercenary creatures; and the kobolds of Midgard are not to be trifled with.
The setting offers a kaleidoscope of the familiar and horrific — imagine the dancing hut of Baba Yaga chasing devil-worshipping gnomes through forests dark and deep. Midgard offers less little wee folk and more demons that will eat your head. Midgard is about barbarians, wild things in the forest, and entire empires fallen to ruin and madness. The shadow roads still exist, but they’ve gotten very, very dangerous.
If that sort of Conan-meets-Lovecraft-and-the-Brothers-Grimm set of influences is appealing, and you think that the old sagas and the Lorelei could do with a little reinvention, well — Midgard might be just the thing for you.
Midgard Needs Adventure Writers!
One of the best elements of Midgard has been the opportunity it provides to work with new game designers, especially adventure designers. Right now, we’re running the Valhalla Calling adventure design contest, and it is open to anyone and everyone. Five judges will winnow out the selections, voters choose the finalist, and the winner gets a contract to design an adventure for publication with Kobold Press. It’s quite exciting to see new talent show up and do something great, and Midgard has already launched a number of freelance careers.
The greatest joy of Midgard to date has been that sense of sharing a world, watching it grow, and hearing the “Wow, I am so glad I checked it out!” responses from people who maybe have gotten a little jaded about fantasy settings, or who might not otherwise check out a release from anyone not named Paizo or Wizards of the Coast.
I’m very happy to hear from the many readers who have said, “I might not use the whole setting, but I’m swiping big chunks of it for my home game.” One of the biggest things that great fantasy settings do is inspire us to adapt bits of them into our home games. After all, orcs, halflings, and treants were elements not original to D&D, but inspired by a certain famous trilogy, and other elements over the years have migrated between fantasy and gaming, and back again. It’s a healthy sign when the World Trees of Midgard or the ravenfolk or the like are adopted in many new homes beyond their origins.
If you’d like to get a look at the setting, there’s a free preview that contains a short story by Jeff Grubb of Dragonlance, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars fame.
Give Midgard a look, and I promise the ravens won’t eat you if you do.