Monday, May 16, 2011

Open Design - Northlands

Northlands - Roleplaying in Winter's Chill (Print+PDF, PDF)
by Dan Voyce
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design, which is really cool of them when you think about it since, honestly, they didn't have to do that. I mean, seriously, while my readership is fierce, it is also tiny. *grins*

One of my favorite things is the amalgam of historical ethnographic aspects and fictional groups and places, I'm just a massive sucker for it. Whether it's Tad William's world of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn or Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea, or Robert E. Howard's Conan, I just love it and eat it up like teriyaki beef and noodles — seriously, if you've not seen it, I'm a beast when it comes to pan-friend noodles with various flora and fauna thrown into it.

So I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when I first heard about the Open Design patronage for Midgard, and it's not just because I've been a patron for several Open Design projects or that I'm a sucker for a lot of things that come from these folks and their projects — well, it's not totally because of that — but it's also because I enjoy that source folklore and mythos. It could be the norse in me, or the gael in me, or even that odd mix of norse-gaels, but you get the idea.

Now let's move the timeline forward a bit and there in my inbox is an e-mail for Wolfgang Baur's other half, some might say better half yet this is not a review for talking sides and weighing the worthiness of kobolds. Within this e-mail is a link, which once followed down the rabbit hole led to a file known as Northlands.

Yeap, a piece of the Midgard within my grubby little HDD — okay, it's more dusty than grubby, as I don't mind dust as much as I do garbage.

It's Pathfinder Roleplaying Compatible; although as I've said in several other reviews, Open Design is one of those publisher who's  work I enjoy and use in any and all systems. I mean it, too. I seriously think that they could use a codified version of Rock-Paper-Scissors, such as that used by various LARPs, and it'd still be just as awesome as everything else that they've done.

With cover art by Aaron Miller, and cover design by Crystal Frasier, we're given a crisp, clean and enticing window into the wintry lands of the North. Once we're within the offering, we're met with the teamwork of designers Dan Voyce with Wolfgang Baur, Thilo Graf (also the linguistics lead), Jim Groves, Chris Harris, Jonathan McAnulty, and Christina StJles — I swear, if I typed that right it's a miracle — as well as the artwork of W.G. Collingswood, Rick Hershey, Arthur Rackham, Carl Wahlbom. We also have Liz Courts on layout and Hank Woon, Jr. as editor.

Now I don't know about you, but that seems a group worthy of the price of admission, and that's just the credit's page. Of course, there is also the classy move of giving the patrons a healthy slice of the pie with their gratis page. Always a nice touch.

As with the ever eccelctic nature of my reviews, which those who read my blatherings should be use to by now, I shall throw out some quick crunch and then gloss over the details.


I hope so, because I'm gonna do it anyway as I'm a jerk like that...I also always tear band-aids off before I actually say three when I count to three. I've also short-sheeted folks, yelled weird things out car windows as I drive by people I don't know, and I've thrown mayo packets at douches. I'm sure there's some issues in there, but I'm a psychology major so it comes with the territory and it grants me an awesome CR.

Northlands is over one hundred pages of material that's cut up rather nicely into six chapters. It's got nice artwork, solid layout, and a nice mix of crunch and flavor. As an editor, it's look like it was picked over rather nicely and I'm sure Huginn and Muninn would approve, and I rather enjoy pointing out when I think something was well-edited, regardless of being able to prove it. It's more an article of belief than fact, and it's my blog so it works.

The Northlands takes its time and bathes you in the setting material, and in many ways it's not only a primer for sending your PC's a viking, but it's also a lesson in how to immerse folks in a culture. They do it often, they do it well, and I think it pays off handsomely.

For me slang and words are a good thing to have in a game, with respect to cultures, since it not only sounds cool when you use them but it also helps a player 'think' in the terms from which the words are driven. In sociology it's one of the things that helps break down the fundamental attribution error since thinking like someone who is not you weakens the reflect to not give them the benefit of the doubt, or apply negative motivations to the actions of others. Basically, you go beyond the stereotype of someone and actually start to understand their motivations. 

Anyhow, that seems weighty of thought so I'm gonna go back to blathering and saying that this book is awesomey.

If you're someone who wants a campaign thrown into the wintry lands of epic tales and wonder, then you could do so much worse, and rarely better, than Northlands. It's meaty, it's chewy, and it's thick in all the right places. It has culture, mythos, sociology, teratology (I know, not the totally right usage yet I do it anyway), and it can be dropped into any campaign that needs it. There's solid environmental rules, haunts, magic systems, features for PCs, and location, location, location.

See that? Glossy details with works praised, I'd throw in a catchy reference to A Song of Ice and Fire, but I was doing it before the hipsters and I don't wanna justify their behavior. Next thing you know I'd be all copying Wil Wheaton, talking about how I've penetrated this town, or the other, and I'm just not Johnny Depp pretty enough to do it...this is known.

Frak! I did it anyway. Well, at least I avoided the whole frosty climax line. Or is that chill is cresting? Cold is almost here?

Eh, I give up. Go get Northlands, it's awesome.

Check them out (Print+PDF - $19.95, PDF - $9.95) and enjoy!

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