What Do I Know About Reviews? Warlock (5th Edition OGL)
I’ve been a fan of Kobold Press’ Midgard setting since before it was really a setting. I missed the tactile feeling of my monthly Dragon Magazine when the magazine moved to a digital format when it was moved back in-house in the days of D&D 4th edition, so when Kobold Press started publishing Kobold Quarterly, I jumped on board.
Eventually, Kobold Quarterly faded away, but Kobold Press was putting out an enormous amount of content for the Midgard setting. The setting was never entirely defined by one set of rules, having products with stats for Green Ronin’s AGE system, Pathfinder, 4th edition D&D, 13th Age, and now 5th edition D&D.
Earlier this year, Kobold Press did a Kickstarter to fund a 5th edition version of the campaign setting, and now, as a follow-up, they have set up a Patreon for Warlock, a ‘zine format publication to put out articles about the Midgard campaign setting with stats specifically tailored for 5th edition D&D. In some ways, having a published periodical about the Midgard setting brings us full circle from the Kobold Quarterly days. Almost like a Midgard serpent, wrapping around the fans. Or something less ominous, if that imagery isn’t for you.
As a Warlock patron at the five-dollar level, I get both the PDF and a mailed physical copy, so I had both available to look at for this review. For the purposes of this review, I’m looking at issue #1, which means all kinds of changes can come along as the company responds to feedback or realizes what direction they may want to go, or how they wish to alter their current format.
The PDF is 24 pages long (as is the physical book), with a single page at the back for the OGL legal information. The artwork in the book is black and white line art, but it is quality work. Most of the articles in the magazine have one piece of accompanying artwork, but the Beldestan article has multiple NPC images as well as a map.
Physically, the book is on heavier weight paper, with a stapled spine, and digest-sized. It’s a format you would expect for a ‘zine, but it utilizes quality components even in that format.
Warlocks, Witches, and Wanderings and The Forbidden Mountains of Beldestan
The introduction is a general welcome to patrons, and it explains the general purpose of the publication–to provide articles on the Midgard setting, supplemented with D&D 5th edition statistics. It also mentions that the individual issues may have themes, such as the first volume, which is dealing with eldritch horror related material.
The Forbidden Mountains of Beldestan section details a region where the worship of Dark Gods is prominent and open, and where gnoll and dwarf mercenaries help the slave trade by waylaying travelers. The region has its own special metal, which is given 5th edition stats, and there is a bullet-pointed list of reasons why a group of adventures might visit.
In the Midgard setting, the Dark Gods are different than just “evil gods.” These are gods that most people in society have no use for, and don’t have many redeeming qualities. Some gods might be evil due to their capricious natures, but they aren’t Dark Gods, in the sense that even offering them prayers might be an invitation to ruin.
While the purpose of the publication is to provide 5th edition material, most of the information on Beldestan would be useful even to a GM running AGE system, 13th Age, or Pathfinder. The special metal would require the GM to do some creative work, but it could just remain as a plot element metal that someone, somewhere wants. I especially appreciate the bullet-pointed list to call out why adventurers might end up in this region.
The Delights of Enkada Pishtuhk
The next article details an NPCs that might be placated in exchange for various rewards. The crux of the article isn’t to give stats to the NPC, but to build up their “weird” credentials as a hermit with very odd tastes. PCs that can feed those tastes (some of which are given as examples in the article) can find the eldritch spellcaster, and receive a reward.
There is a list of possible rewards, but the catch is that the rewards are in various locations that the wizard has visited in the past, and some of them may still have guardians or traps–although if the PCs can retrieve them, Enkada Pishtuhk is A-Okay with them taking them as payment for providing him with his odd tastes.
I like the way that PCs might contact a go-between, the built-in “quest” to bring the weird wizard his due, and the fact that the rewards might still be mini-adventures in and of themselves. The article is built to be used at the table, and gives the GM an excuse to send them all over Midgard on a scavenger hunt. The list of possible rewards makes it easier to use if the GM has nothing in mind, but more items can be added if they want the PCs to have a specific thing as well.
Most of the items that the wizard wants aren’t dependent on statistics, and the list of rewards contains items that either have statistics for various fantasy RPGs, or have easily researched equivalents, meaning that the article, like the previous one, has usefulness outside of 5th edition D&D.
Legacy of the Unhinged Gardeners
Tying in with the theme of eldritch abominations, this article is about some gardeners that ended up making evil mutant plants to fight off evil otherworldly insects, and what the remnants of their research look like.
The article provides some location-based effects and the stats to a new, evil plant creature. The story hooks tie into some other monsters from Midgard products. It’s a solid article, but I’m not sure it’s as strong as the previous articles in the collection, especially if you can’t convey the history of the plant monsters during the encounter.
Evil plants made to feed off otherworldly bugs is a cool origin for evil plants, but without that hook, it can feel a bit too much like “hey, remember Little Shop of Horrors?”
Void-Touched: Warped Flesh and Twisted Minds
The final article in the collection for the inaugural month uses some of the rules already in the 5th edition SRD to explain what might happen when people are exposed to the Void, the vast, cold, cosmic vastness of uncaring space.
The article gives situations that might cause a character to be Void Touched, provides DCs to resist those circumstances, and uses the long-term madness rules from 5th edition to show what happens when the mind is touched. As an alternative, a character can allow themselves to become flesh warped, which has positive and negative elements–including, you know, having visibly warped flesh.
I really like what this is doing, and the rules have broad applications in a campaign, where they can be used wherever you think the PCs might encounter sanity shattering or body warping magical power. The only downside, which isn’t really a downside, given the mission statement, is that this article is one of the more 5th edition stat dependent articles, and would take more work to adapt to another rule system.
In twenty-four pages, there are a lot of adventuring hooks delivered. Not only do those hooks exist, but between the lists, examples, bullet points, and charts, it’s easy to pull that table-ready material out of the articles.
The Gardeners article is a little soft compared to the rest of the articles in the collection, but that’s not an entirely fair comparison, since there is consistently high quality throughout the book. While the Patreon clearly labels this as being for 5th edition D&D fans of Midgard, if you are used to the cross-system support provided from Kobold Press, the last two articles in the collection might be less useful to you. Then again, they did say this was for 5th edition D&D.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
In general, if you are looking for story hooks, interesting NPCs and encounters for a D&D-ish fantasy game, this product is going to provide you with a lot of value. Given that I received the print copy for my $5 patronage level, that’s pretty noteworthy.