What Do I Know About Reviews? The Warlock Guide to the Planes (5e OGL)
It’s been a while since I checked back in with Kobold Press’ Warlock zine, the periodical that the company releases to support D&D 5e as well as their Midgard Setting through their Patreon. Since I last touched on Warlock content, the company has not only continued to publish issues, but also introduced Warlock lairs, short adventures that come put in between issues of the zine, as well as two compilation hardcovers of previous content. After hitting a recent Patreon goal, they will also be releasing a compilation of some of their Warlock lairs as well.
Beyond the monthly zine and the lairs, there are occasionally special topic issues of the zine that are released. In this case, we’ll be looking at the Warlock Guide to the Planes, specifically addressing the cosmology of the Midgard setting.
Codex of Finite Planes
This zine is 40 pages long. It is in black and white, like the rest of the line, and is generally in two column format with various headers and shaded sidebars. Most of the chapters have quarter page black and white line art based on the theme of the planes being addressed. The zine itself contains a table of contents and a full page OGL statement, with the rest of the book dedicated to content.
The zine is broken up into the following segments:
- Part One: Introduction
- Part Two: Planar Overview
- Part Three: Magical Equipment for the Planar Traveler
The introduction specifically mentions that The Eleven Hells and the Shadow Realm don’t get a lot of detail in this volume. Warlock 16’s theme is The Eleven Hells, and a previous special issue of Warlock was Warlock Guide to the Shadow Realms.
Part One: Introduction
The introduction covers so broad topics regarding the planes in the Midgard setting. This includes the general disposition of souls in the afterlife, planar convergence, the World Tree, the Ever River, and portals between the planes.
The “transitive planes” of the Midgard setting are a bit less conceptual than those that exist in the core D&D setting. There are rules for climbing Yggdrasil to reach other planes, and the effects of the portion of the Ever River that becomes the Lethe.
My favorite part of this section is the section on Convergence Days. This posits that some of the biggest holidays celebrated in the Midgard setting commemorate times when various planar barriers are weaker. For example, on the Night of the Open Road, the Shadow Realm is particularly close to Midgard. There are rituals that can be performed during these ceremonies that might allow transition between planes. I like anything planar that feels mystical, still retains a “boundary” between planes, but doesn’t require an “X level spell” to engage with content in that location.
Part Two: Planar Overview
The following planes all get their own details in this section:
- The Infinite Halls (Heaven)
- Silendora (The Summer Court)
- Valhalla (I mean . . . )
- Klingedesh (The Planar Marketplace)
- Ravatet (The Plane of Gears)
- Evermaw (Where undead go when they “die”)
- Ginnungagap (The Void, kind of a cross between the Astral and the Far Realm)
Each of these entries has sections on cosmology (how the distinct structure of the plane is set up), locations of interest, and personages of note. They also all have a Mini-Campaign Seed section.
These mini-campaign seeds use a similar structure to the one that appears in the Demon Cults and Secret Societies book. If you aren’t familiar with that structure, there is a paragraph or so for different ranges of character levels. This paragraph will set up various events that will introduce the campaign theme, advance the goals of the antagonists, and then allow the player characters to resolve the situation.
I love this structure to communicate an example campaign. The zoomed-out structure means that you can introduce other adventures and themes in between the “meta-plot” highlighted in the mini-campaign seed, or it can be the primary focus of the campaign. It also helps to define how wide the threats and the impact of these plots should be at different levels.
While this section does a good job of presenting all the planes as solid adventuring sites, I am particularly drawn to Ginnungagap, in part because the Void is often just vaguely portrayed as being the darkness where cosmic horrors dwell. This section introduces a few islands of safety(?) in the Void. There are void sailing merchants and pirates, and it almost feels like having some Githyanki from the standard cosmology falling off the “edge” of the Astral plane wouldn’t be too far off the tone of this region as presented.
Part Three: Magical Equipment for the Planar Traveler
There are some ideas that are heavily tied to the Midgard cosmology on display in this section. While you have items like emergency random planar apertures, you also have signal flares for the void, saplings that help you cut your time traversing Yggdrasil, a means of propulsion through the Void, and a rod that can open planar gates.
In addition to the very specific planar items, there are some that are just tangentially connected to planar themes, like oracular items, summoning necklaces, extraplanar scroll containers, or items to protect you from hostile environments. My personal favorite is the book of poetry that can cause psychic damage, charm, and incapacitate the listener.
This is generally true of Warlock issues, but this one is filled with “actionable” information on the topic being covered. It jumps right into content and how to use it in a campaign, provides a range of useful ideas for adventures, and gives you a nice selection of items you can share with your players. This is especially useful for this topic since Midgard doesn’t share the same cosmological assumptions of a traditional D&D world.
Falling from the Branch
The same virtue of getting right to the point can also be a bit of a detriment. The book uses its 40 pages well, but some of the mini-campaign ideas could go from good to great with a few more paragraphs, and I would love to see some of the NPC entries or mini-campaign ideas work in some of the magic items presented as well. Given the format and the objectives of the zine, they do a good job of portraying the “right” information. I just want a wee bit more connective tissue.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Despite wanting more, I think this is a great model of presenting campaign specific material that is also widely applicable, as well as useful across a range of character levels. The more mythic envisioning of planar travel is a great way to capture a different fantasy feel than is often presented in level-based fantasy, and while I would love more ties back and forth between sections, this product doesn’t lose sight that it is both presenting imaginative ideas, and that those ideas need to be useful to someone running a fantasy game.