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Northlands (PFRPG) $9.99 $7.49
Average Rating:4.9 / 5
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Northlands (PFRPG)
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Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Kenneth A. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/04/2012 11:37:43

I honestly don't know why I purchased this book, since I rarely play in northern settings, but something about it just intrigued me, perhaps because I come from the north myself and wanted to see how Open Design had handled Odin, Thor and Loki. Looking at the cover, how can you not be drawn to this book?

The first two chapters present the Northlands setting and the myths on which it was built. I love the nordic mythology and have read plenty of stories in my day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the designers had changed certain things, like names, to give the setting its own feel. For one, Odin and Thor are nowhere to be found, but is probably hiding beneath the names, Wotan and Donar. These two chapters will probably get the least use in my own games, but are really well-done and did inspire me while I read them (especially the strange world of Hyperborea!). I should probably also mention the awesome map whose cartographer is not mentioned in the credits (I am guessing Jonathan Roberts?)! Shame on the person who did the layout, big mistake, or maybe I am just blind?

Chapter three presents new options for players, like the various northern races, new class options (for nearly all the core classes), expanded skill options, feats, character traits and new (northern) equipment. Most of these options are useful in games outside the Northlands, and I just want to mention a couple of my favorite options. First there are the two Hyperborean races, the dayborn and the nightborn, these have a really cool Sword & Sorcery flavor and will definitely find their way into one of my games (they felt slightly like those two races in H.G. Well's The Time Machine). I also want to mention the two new sorcerer bloodlines, Giant and Hyperborean. The giant is just shear genius and I love the flavor and especially the signature ability at 20th level. The achievement feats are just cool and if one dares introduce them into a game, will offer so much flavor and challenge to the players. The equipment section is probably my least favorite, but that is probably because it will see the least use in my games as they are highly tied to the Northlands setting. And really, snowballs deal 1d3 nonlethal damage? I could really do without the whole snowball theme that is scattered throughout the book.

Next up is chapter 4, magic of the north. Having read the small section on Grudge magic, I am still not sure why it is there or what purpose it serves, but I did like the rune magic section. The spells were not that interesting and I could probably have done without half of them, but a few were really cool and inspiring, especially Jotun's Jest (which causes a weapon to increase in size, becoming fit for a colossal creature) and Wolfsong (which allows a person to howl like a wolf, sending a message that can be heard up to 5 miles away, outdoors, of course). Most of the magic items are highly tied to the Northlands setting and even carry nordic-sounding names such as Hringhorni, Lævateinn, black lavvu, eisenscham and raidho sled. There were a couple that I didn't understand the purpose behind, like the World Tree (I understand the whole Yggdrasil thing, but to make it an artefact? I think not.). How is this supposed to be introduced and even used in a setting? I am also unsure about the Warning Wolfband, while I really like the idea (the wearer cannot be surprised), I dont get the pricing of this one (321,300gp). How did the designer arrive at this number? Rather make it an artifact or lower the price considerable. I would definitely go for the last option, as the ring isn't that powerful when compared to other items such as a Vorpal blade. Among the items that I thought were really cool, were the feather of huginn (break the feather and create a raven messenger) and the bitter horn (a drinking horn that can tell friend from foe, how cool is that!?)

The last two chapters presents optional rules for the frozen north and, of course, a bunch of new (or rather old) monsters. The rules chapter was well written and useful if you are playing in the Northlands setting, but also a little crammed and chaotic in its structure (while reading about natural hazards, we are certainly presented with Fate Afflictions and then, the hazards continue afterwards, as if it was just thrown in there at random). The monsters were just cool and useful. The only monster that I thought was missing was a low-level monster (CR 1-3). Aside from that, we get monsters for both epic, high-level and mid-level games.

Overall, a surprisingly good book with lots (and I do mean lots!) of options for both player and GM. My biggest concern is the layout. There are lots (and I do mean lots!) of small mistakes scattered throughout the book (spelling mistakes, font mistakes, font size mistakes, text placement mistakes etc.). It would have greatly benefitted from a couple of proofreaders before hitting the market. I own the softcover, so I am particular sorry to see so many mistakes, as it can't be updated along the way (as a pdf can).

I am going to settle on a 3.5 star verdict, but since the material is just so good, I am going to round up to 4 for the purpose of this format.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by thomas c. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/23/2011 14:51:08

Great job from Open Design. With land of the linnorren kings and the jade regent AP this product was right on time for me. Great ideas.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2011 15:41:59

Very cool campaign setting for a Norse/Viking like area. Not a setting by itself, it is designed to be easily inserted into your game world. Though there is nothing stopping you from just using this book all by itself.

In its 110+ pages you will find a area ready for adventure. There are new classes, skills, feats, weapons and spells. There are rules for variant races (humans and Dwarves) and new races from the bestial Trollkin to the Hyperborean. Everything is given a new look to reflect the cold lands of the north. The culture here is a very different one. It’s not just colder, the people (and thus the characters) are different.

The magic chapter is very cool, with new spells, and new types of magic such as grudge magic and runic magic.

The lands are detailed in both chapter 2 and chapter 5. So there is plenty to work from here. The chapter on monsters contains quite a nice number of creatures and they are not for the faint of heart.

The author capture not only the rules of playing in these lands but the feel as well. Author Dan Voyce obviously has a love for this setting and their real world counterparts that show through the writing. This is a well researched book.

The art is equally fantastic and even though it is spare and black and white, it adds to the overall feel of the book. The cover is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

The legends of the Scandinavian countries are ripe for adventures and part of the very fiber that makes up the core of the FRPGs. The Northlands helps bring these tales to life.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2011 16:55:03

Travel to the North and find adventure (or live there and try to survive)! The Northlands is an amazing supplement for Pathfinder packed with useful information, ideas and rules. If you are thinking of having a Norse-like area in your game world, this product will provide everything you need to make it a rich land for adventure. Even your campaign is not heading to icy lands, this product is packed with so much useful information, new toys and interesting challenges that it is a worthwhile sourcebook for those alone.

Northlands: Roleplaying in Winter’s Chill is a 114-page PDF (111-pages if you remove the covers and OGL page) for the Pathfinder RPG written by Dan Voyce (with a lot of support) and published by Open Design. This is part of Open Design’s Midgard campaign setting line.

The layout is primary traditional two columns, with some of the introductory bits in single column, and the various tables are easy enough to read. The cover and maps are beautiful full color creations. The interior art is black and white with an original piece for each new chapter and much carefully chosen public domain art to support the theme though the new monsters do each get their own new illustration.

Northlands opens with a discussion about life in the cold lands of the north is hard and dangerous, a world of destined fates and a hero is someone who challenges all risks. Cultural norms and themes are discussed along with adventure ideas, gods and more (including a glossary). It is a good introduction to the setting and its dangers and rewards. Chapter two details the physical lands, and seas, of the setting complete with intriguing locations begging for adventures to come and explore them. These thirty-odd pages provide a wealth of setting and background material.

Chapter three moves into actual game rules with races both variant (human, dwarves) and new (hyperborean, trollkin), the variants on the classes to fit with the culture of the Northlands (including new clerical domains and such), and new uses for skills. A wide variety of new feats are present, including achievement and monster feats, that build on the setting and culture. Along with a good group of setting specific traits to properly embed a new character in the land and culture of the North. Lastly, a brief discussion of the economics of the Northlands and a collection of new equipment, including weapons and armor, but also dog sleds, drinks and special materials.

Chapter four is magic, starting with grudge magic, for using magic for hatred and revenge is powerful but dangerous. Next is the magic of the runes, which are mastered primarily through feats, and are an important part of the magic of the north. There are new incantations, including curses. A considerable number of new spells, including such lovely ones such as: Mosquito Bane (that kills bugs), Rain of Blades, and Triumph of Ice (which transmutes the other elements into ice). An impressive collection of new magic items, including artefacts from Norse myths and a lovely selection of cursed items.

Chapter five is the frozen land and contains rules for traveling and more in such, including: arctic chases, expanded environmental effects, new hazards, rules for bringing the hand of the Norns into play with Fate and Hero points and afflictions, and Northlands haunts.

Chapter six is the bestiary with new monsters, starting with the various names the creature may be known under to encourage wonder and fear. Most of these monsters are not for the cowardly as they range from a CR of four up to a 20(!) for the Jotun Giant. A good mix of interesting and straightforward beings to allow for a variety of adventures.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2011 09:14:31

What is it about the frozen north that has always been so enticing to explorers? The danger? The sense of the unknown? The fact that you will die unless you keep your wits about you and prepare for the worst? Or could it be myths and legends of the Norsemen who not only survived, but thrived in that unforgiving environment?

Personally, I think it’s the challenge of going where humankind obviously isn’t made to survive easily. And in roleplaying terms, there’s a lot to be said for the allure of places we’re not supposed to go. In a fantasy or pulp setting, there’s that need to be the first to discover some new place, beast, or item, or rediscover something ancient mankind has forgotten about.

Northlands by author Dan Voyce captures that sense of frozen mystery beautifully, weaving in myths and legends of the Norse traditions and adding plenty of magic. But what’s always kept me curious is the dagger dangling above the heads of gods and monsters alike… Ragnarok. It’s an apocalyptic event where many major gods will die and a new world with new and reborn gods will be left in its wake. I was very interested to see how this book took that into consideration.

The Northlands is not a kind place. You either fight for everything you need and want or die trying. Even good and evil are mostly set aside for the “might is right” philosophy, and yet the boundaries between order and chaos must still be maintained. The gods know this and are watching. As a result, there is a place for heroes and villains both grand and terrible. I can’t imagine a world that contains the wisdom of Odin, the strength of Thor, and the trickery of Loki without PCs and PCs fighting for the very same things.

The amount of research that went into the writing of Northlands is impressive...

For the rest of this review, check out http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2011/04/book-review-northlands-by-dan-voyce-and-open-design/

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/24/2011 07:21:44

Jumping right in, the first chapter - Riddles of Steel: Roleplaying in the Frozen North - explains what's so special, what's so different about games set in harsh northern areas inspired by Norseland sagas and Viking lore. The familiar cod-mediaeval or renaissance fantasy civilisations of the majority of games is replaced with a bloodier and darker mindset, never mind that the place tends to be darn cold as well! Vicious monsters abound, and those which walk on two legs live life to the full in conditions that others may see as primitive, certainly more self-sufficient than their neighbours to the south.

But it's not just a lack of urban luxury, guards to protect you from thieves and villains, and lower temperatures: the whole mind-set is different, and to get the most out of such a setting both GM and players - particularly those whose characters are native to it - will need to start thinking in a different way. Curses and prophecies vie with an ingrained fatalism, and even luck is viewed as more than mere chance. Nature features large in everyone's life, just surviving in such lands poses a great challenge even before you throw in monsters and raiders. Glory, honour, revenge are often the causes for which you might take up your sword, rather than the abstrations of 'good' or 'evil' which may motivate other men and women. A lot of this background information is provided here to empower you to capture the 'feel' of the Northlands - with everything from customs and games to the nearest thing they have to a legal system and an array of deities to worship, or at least propitiate.

Next, Chapter 2: Thule, the Last Continent, presents a gazetteer of the Northlands, replete with history and mythology to help the locations described come alive to visiting adventurers. It's a mystical place, harsh yet rich and strange, a place where legends abound and new ones can be written by those with courage, endurance and daring. Stirring stuff, perhaps such tales as inspired many an adventurer to take up that profession, even those who stick to safer lands to actually practise it.

This is followed by Chapter 3: Heroes of the North, which describes the different peoples to be found in the Northlands: human sub-races, and other humanoids. Much of this is flavour, with the actual numbers you need unchanged from regular racial details, although there are specific traits you can build in, but this is the sort of flavour which can enable players and GMs alike create and play characters who fit in to their alternate reality as if born there... as indeed perhaps they were. The information necessary for local class variants is also presented, such as new abilities for bards (often called skalds) and new domains for clerics, based as always upon their choice of patron deity. Sorcerers get a couple of new bloodlines, and then the discussion moves on to new skills and modifications to existing ones appropriate to this particular setting. There is an impressive array of new feats as well. For those wishing to fine-tune their monsters there are some monster feats than can make them more suited to the Northlands, beings of legend about which adventurers can, if they conquer them, create legends of their own.

Characters built to suit their environment need equipment to match, whilst visitors from elsewhere will need to ensure they have all they need, so the next section provides all manner of things that you might need to live, travel or adventure in the Northlands. Whether you are after a few sledge dogs, a pot of honey to attract bears with, or a set of runestones to conduct your divinations in an appropriate manner, these and more are here. Consider portage ale, a brew so potent and flavourful that having once tasted it, the average Viking will do literally anything to have some more, very useful if you have some heavy work to be done! Preferable, at least, to troll whiskey, which has been known to make trolls ill, never mind members of less-tough races.

Next, Chapter 4: Magic of the North looks at the distinctive style and flavour of magic as it is practiced in the Northlands. Never mind ritual incantations, cast your spells with mocking rhymes and shout them as challenges to your opponent, for rough and vibrant are both the mages up here and the spells that they cast. Specific styles include grudge magic - which fulfils the old saying, 'When you go to seek vengeance, first dig two graves' as it causes harm to target and caster alike, and of course rune magic, bringing the power of the ancient carved symbols to play by use of the Rune Mastery feat and tracing the shape of the desired rune either by painting it or running your fingers over an already-carved or inscribed one. Mystic strangeness to bring a real distinctive difference to spellcasting up here in these frozen lands. Quite a few more conventional spells are presented as well, but all breathing the very essence of the North across your spellbook. Steal spells from your enemy's very mind, enlarge someone's weapon to giant-size, harness the very power of Loki himself to aid your lies or worm out embarassing secrets, ir just summon up a swarm of mosquitoes to plague your enemies, all these and more can be learned. There's even a neat Level 0 one to improve your snowballing abilities... after all, mages like to play too! The chapter rounds out with an impressive array of items... items about which legends will surely be written, if they have not been already.

Chapter 5: The Frozen Land contains a wealth of additional rules to make refereeing a game in the Northlands flow. Rules to cover chases over frozen terrain, rules for coping with the unique environmental hazards the location presents. To reflect its importance to the Northern psyche, there's a system whereby Fate can play a part in a character's life story, a neat mechanic which preserves PLAYER freewill whist trapping CHARACTERS in the coils of destiny.

Finally Chapter 6: Bestiary presents some mighty opponents - or potential allies - for your characters to encounter. Beware, though, there are some such in the previous chapter, such as the Splintered Stump - tucked in with rules on the effects of cold, seeing that this wicked remnant of a tree that has frozen so much that it exploded now seeks to gull passers-by into thinking it is warm, and remove their heavy clothing to freeze as the Stump sucks up their life-warmth. The book rounds out with a fine map of the area.

Written in an engaging style, often reminiscent of the Norse Sagas and clearly influenced by them, this work provides an evocative campaign setting that gathers up much of the mythology and legends that spring to mind when you mention the frozen north, packaging them into a playable whole. A bit of proof-reading would improve it, but nothing that makes it incomprehensible, just mis-spellings and logic that jars on occasion. If you want to send those soft civilised characters somewhere that will shock them, or run a campaign wholly-set in the land of the midnight sun, this will set your feet on the path of legend.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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