The Ice Kingdoms

A Review of The Ice Kingdoms

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The Ice Kingdoms is fantasy RPG setting from a Kickstarter that funded on August 31, 2016, with a projected delivery of December, 2016. I was approached by Caleb Congrove, one of the additional writers,  at the end of January to do a review. He sent me the PDF of The Ice Kingdoms, a jpeg of the map, and a PDF of the adventure module, Lair of The White Wyvern. At this time, The Ice Kingdoms is available as a PDF on the OBS site RPGNow for $15, and Lulu for printing. With a $25 softcover, $30 hardcover, and $10 eBook options.

The three principle authors are C.C Barnhart, James M. Ward of Metamorphosis Alpha, Gama World, and many other things, and Chris Lites. There is a forward by E. Gary Gygax, Jr.

According to the Kickstarter video, there are three planned books for this setting. The first is the campaign book, The Ice Kingdoms, next will be a bestiary, and the third will be The Ice Kingdom Adventures, with demi-humans and adventure ideas. There is also a module written for the Kickstarter, by James M. Ward, Into The Mournwood. A total of five modules are planned.

I will review Lair of The White Wyvern separately.

Their website has a 404 error and the domain is returning a 500 Error at the time of this writing. Both worked a few weeks ago when I gathered the links for this review. However, you can find them on Facebook.

The map is focused on a regions several hundred miles on a side, giving a wide range of places for adventure. It also features in a two page spread in the book. The map is available on Printer Studio.

This is a Norse inspired setting, that also takes from Greek mythology and near Eastern myths to make its own variation. It is intentionally low magic, where there are no corner potion shops, or markets that sell magical items.

This is a human centric setting, but dwarves and gnomes, and halflings are a possibility. Elves are described as evil enemies of humanity, much like in Norse lore. There are thanes and earls, and a few kings. Women have no restrictions on being adventuring types, as it is specifically mentioned.

Jarls, Karls, and Thralls are the three main societal ranks. Thralls are slaves. Bondsmen are debtors who are temporarily lowered to the status of thrall until they work off their debt. Thralls can earn their way to freedom.

Karls are free men and women. There are further subdivisions. Jarls are the nobility and include thanes, jarls, landsmen, and kings. Most of these titles are for the individual to attain and keep. Few but the most wealthy and powerful kings have their sons succeed them.

Outcasts are not under the law, but also don’t benefit from its protections. They are considered lower than thralls. Types of outcasts include: tramps, seers, sorcerers, witches, beggars, or criminals. Some may be mistreated, but others have the ability to protect themselves or work revenge.

Next is a discussion of diet, crops, trade goods, and ships. All heavily influenced by the Norse of our world.

In chapter 4 we get to the characters. Ability scores recommend using 4d6 drop the lowest, to generate above average heroic types. In addition, at every even numbered level a character can increase one ability by 1 point, with exceptional strength only being 10%. There are level limits of 15th level, with 16th & 17th level achieved by divine encounters or something like limited wish. 18th level requires both divine intervention and a wish spell. If a character gains enough XP to reach 19th level, They are wisked away to serve the gods or serve out their eternal punishment.

Character death: When a human character dies there is a 5% chance per level that their soul is called to serve their deity in Valagard (or
to be punished in the underworld).

All born in the cold nothlands have two special traits: Ice Born, and Cold Blooded that give them bonuses verses cold effects and even insanity, since they are used to staying indoors for much of the cold winter.

There are multiple sorts of humans. Each type has a favored class in which they can gain additional XP bonuses. Each group also has restricted classes, in that if they pick a class out side of that list they have penalties. The bonuses affect abilities, saves, and include additional abilities. This is an interesting idea that make different groups stand out. With the bonuses plus the point buy every other level, exceptional characters will be the norm. This is perhaps one way to bring the heroic into the game without overpowering the lower levels. However, being a harsh and unforgiving place, with many foes, GMs can match this power boost with an extra foe here and there in encounters. As an old school DM, not all encounters are meant to be fought, so even heroic types need to know when not to fight.

The character races described are one of the human races, or dwarves. Humans of other racial groups and other demi-human races could be used at the GM’s discretion.

Sorcerers are added a a multi-classing option starting as a claric and switching to magic-user.

Demi-Human multi-classing – once a class hits maximum level, the other class that can still advance does not divide XP. This is an interesting idea. One I had not encountered before.

Magic is feared and seen as a sign of evil, except for clerical servants of the gods, and tribal shaman and wise elders. They include: Rune Magic, Clerical Power, Druidic Power, Hagcraft, and Sorcery. The setting advises true arcane casters to be rare, and the same with their spells, of the Invocation/Evocation and Alteration schools. Either treat them as one level higher, unless acquired form a travelling mage or scroll. Most use runecasting in their spells.

There are different types of runes. there is the normal letter and number runes used for writing, and then there are runes for other mystical purposes: The two types of power runs – spell runes for casting spells and magic runes for making magic items. Luck runes and True Runes are more powerful forms of spell runes. Oracles may use Fortune Runs, called bones or sticks in their divinations. Master runes are used by arcane casters in place of spell books and are the component used in arcane spell casting. Spell runes must be carved and used with Master runes for casting spells. If there is a lack of spell runes, traditional components may be used.

15 new spells specific to the setting. 6 new magic items. Standing stones are a special magic item requiring 50 levels of priestly magic to construct and has lots of restrictions. Upon successful construction, it can be used to boost one aspect of a priestly spell. This is a neat idea that I can see being used by druidic sects.

The pantheon of the Ice Kingdoms has its own chapter and relays the way the gods interrelate and the basis for the current religious and cultic activities. Cult is not used in the sociological sense, but as a sign of the evil beings out to punish humanity.

There is a whole long chapter on the priests of the various gods and what kings of armor and weapons, and other items such priests are permitted. For example, some can’t use shields. The power and station of a deity determine what level of spell they can grant. Such as only greater gods can bestow 7th level spells. This ties the whole mythos together and makes it an interlocking whole.

The chapter on the region’s geography is a gazetteer style, and include a two page map like that of the jpeg I was sent. It describes an immense 150,000 square mile area of mystery and adventure opportunities. there are three weather tables that begin with a modifier to daily temperature, and a general regional temperature table based on the 4 main latitudes of the region. there is a simplified table for generation of rain, snow, or special dependent on time of year.

Arfhrdheim is the main ancient city of the region, that was founded by a mythical king, and it used more as a ceremonial and traditional center of meeting. for one who dares, There is the opportunity to claim the mantle of king. The districts of the city and a general history and explanation, along with a map are given, for use when characters journey here.

The Flora dn Fauna of the ice kingdoms go into the humanoid races and other creatures found there. With frigid-zone versions of common creatures, to the very rare elves, who are faery creatures. These are merely descriptions and there are no stat blocks. Not all of them are listed in the bestiary in Appendix B, so one must turn to their rule system of choice or develop the stats for these creatures themselves.

The Details:

The Ice Kingdoms

(c) 2016 Mad Martian Games, 202 pages

Three main authors: CS Barnhart, James M. Ward, and Chris Lites.

Uses OSRIC so 1e compatible, and easily used with B/X and the various retro clones. On page 160 in appendix A, it mentions:
“NOTE: By default this book is designed more toward the side of basic era, first era and second era of play. In particular it is designed to be used with For Gold & Glory, Labyrinth Lord: Advanced Edition Companion or OSRIC.”

The Table of Contents is linked, but links to some pages seem to be off a page. Some land on the page before the heading, and some land just after the heading. I would like to see consistency in where the links hit.

It has what appears to be a great index, that is linked. This is a big help when using a PDF reader.

Chapters include:

  1. Kingdoms of Blood and Ice
  2. History of the Ice Kingdoms
  3. Of Thanes and Thralls
  4. Characters in the Ice Kingdoms
  5. Magic in the Ice Kingdoms
  6. Legends and Lore of the Ice Kingdoms
  7. Temples of the Ice Kingdoms
  8. Geography of the Ice Kingdoms
  9. The City of Arfhrdheim
  10. Flora and Fauna of the Ice Kingdoms

There are seven appendices:

A Basic Conversion Notes:
This deals with converting to the use of other rule sets. This covers 3 pages. The first section on Dice Modifiers is a bit awkward, and doesn’t have an example to make it clear. It is for converting s. bonuses, like strength and dexterity bonuses to a d100 check. I would like to see this cleaned up. There is a table of Dice Modifiers, but it falls after the discussion on Armor Class. This is a layout issue, rather than lack of explanation.

There is a discussion on converting from descending AC to Ascending AC, as well as THAC0 to Base Hit Bonus.

Next mentions skills & proficiencies, and generally how to convert to different “eras” of the rules.

Hit Dice conversion chart for advanced & basic rules with special notes. A discussion of Hit Dice and Hit Points is after this and the following table.

Terminology of what the diffeerent classes are called in different eras. This has a table for what classes were originally called. I suspose for those not in the know, this is a useful bit of Rosetta Stone. There is a heading for this topic with one line, “Class terminology also varies across the different eras of gaming.” Again, this is AFTER the table.

The final two table in this section follow the discussion, surprise and exceptional strength.

B Bestiary
The bestiary is only 12 pages, but definitely sets the tone for the setting. Each creature is in tune with the nordic setting of the north and far north.

  • Hagling
  • Ice Elf (Wraith Elf)
  • Ice Hag
  • Minotaur
  • Orcs (also known as hobgoblins or goblin men) are mansized
    humanoids.
  • Owlbear, Thanic – The polar bear version of an owlbear.
  • Stone Dwarves
  • Wereborn:
  • Wereborn, Arkon – Arkons are wereborn offspring of a werehorse. They are hulking humanoids with the muscular body of a human
    and the head of a horse.
  • Wereborn, Dynarthion – Dynarthions are wereborn who live far from civilized lands, most often in low hills and semi-mountainous regions in deep forests. A dynarthion has the head and torso
    of a human and the lower body of a bear.
  • Wereborn, Ratborn – Ratborn are humanoids, they appear to be bipedal rats, slightly shorter than humans,

C Adventures in the Ice Kingdoms
This gives two pages with examples of the types of adventures one can find in this setting.

  • Raids
  • Exploration
  • Defense
  • Politics
  • War
  • Survival
  • Classic
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • The Wildland

Threats

The major threats to the Ice Kingdoms are as follows.

  • Rival Thanes
  • Hags
    The abandoned daughter of the gods and her kin….
  • The Cult of O’Mawj
    The forbidden god O’Mawj has a secret cult that infests the
    people of the Ice Kingdoms. Many clans and tribes of the
    Varyag still pay homage to the cannibal god and engage in
    his brutal rituals and ceremonies.
  • The Frozen Thrones
    Hidden deep in the Frozen Thrones lies a powerful undead
    lord dedicated to reclaiming his rightful rule over the land
    of the Ice Kingdoms.
  • Giants
    The giants are still bitter over the fall of Thrymtur to Uthin.
  • Trolls
    The children of the hags, trolls are set lose to lurk and hunt
    in caves, woods, streams and hills of the Ice Kingdoms as
    a means to annoy, harass and terrorize the humans of the
    Ice Kingdoms.
  • Orcs
    The orcs lost much of their original homelands promised to
    them by their god Belac
  • Frost Men
    A rumored threat coming from the Jotunreach

D Clerical Spheres
This is a list of all the spells found in the original game and current retro clones and lists which retro clone has that spell. It includes the new spells introduced with the setting. 13? new spells.?

Spells with a “Y” in the FG&G, M&M, and BFRP
columns can be found in For Gold & Glory, Myth & Magic,
and Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game, respectively. “C” and
“D” in the OSRIC and LL columns denote cleric and druid
spells for OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion;
spells labeled with “B” in the LL column are found
in the core Labyrinth Lord book.

The sphere of a spell is tied to the deity a cleric follows and if their deity does not include a certain sphere, it limits or prevents them from using spells outside their sphere, or incures penalties and disfavor.

Each spell is listed as what sphere it is in, with this list.

  • All
  • Animal
  • Astral
  • Charm
  • Combat
  • Divination
  • Elemental
  • Guardian
  • Healing
  • Healing
  • Necromancy
  • Plant
  • Protection
  • Summoning
  • Sun
  • Weather

E Cultural Miscellanea
This includes the setting calendar with an explanation of the months, and number of days and names of the week days, and seasons. There is also the dwarven calendar.

There is a brief mention of constellations and the names for the 13 constellations.

Finally, there is a list of human and dwarven names with a naming convention for humans.

F The Codex of Eordan
This is a discussion of the planet Eordan and its place in the solar system of several planets. There is no more mention of them. Eordan has four continents, only two are significantly explored. There is a map showing where these two land masses meet. There are four moons. The primary one is just called the moon. The Faemoon is only visible to the fae or revealed with powerful magics. the rotan moon is only visible to those with infravision. Finally, the mythical Tide Moon, viewed as a tall tale told by sailors.

N Games to Play
This is a list of various RPGs that can be used with the Ice Kingdoms settings.

What I liked:

  • This has a feeling of the Norsemen of our world, but it not a complete copy and paste like would be tempting to do.
  • There is room for GMs to use that which suits them.
  • Those looking for a pre-packaged campaign setting for a northern setting will find it here.
  • This is a low-magic setting.
  • It is not tied solely to a single ruleset, and it can easily be used as-is with OSRIC or AD&D 1e.
  • Most of the rules sets it works with are available for free.
  • A new rules set is not needed, one can use their preferred rules, unless they want a change.
  • Tables for translating to various rules and versions of the game.
  • For GMs who want to pick a setting and go, this is all one needs.
  • A GM can easily insert this setting into a portion of their game world to use when players want something different.
  • The Table of contents is linked.
  • There is an index and the page numbers are linked.
  • The clerical spheres chart is in level number order, within each sphere.
  • The black & white art fits the Nordic setting of snow & ice.

What I’d Like to see:

  • Consistency in where Table of contents links land.
    Table of Contents links working on tablets. (I used the Adobe Reader on my Galaxy 5 tablet.)
  • Tables in the appendices following the discussion related to that table.
  • Some of the artwork looks rushed or unfinished. Some of the art appears to be a quick sketch that was cleaned up for production.
  • Some art looks like a very light pencil sketch, where pen and ink would translate better to the page, and fit the tone of the other art.
  • One more pass by an editor or proof reader on the introduction and the appendices.

Conclusion

This is a setting I could use, if I were in need of such a setting. Currently, I am building a new area in my campaign world that could have a Nordic feel in one area, but not where the characters will start. I think it gives designers of other settings something to think about. There is a new take on handling variances in human groups, and it does not automatically assume all the classes of old will be available. New spells, ideas for using magic, and some new or varied creatures gave me several ideas for potential future use.

I almost backed this Kickstarter, but was well over the limit of what I needed. I thought that I could do my own north lands setting, but this is far and away better than I could or would have done.

Other than some editing, layout, and art issues, I didn’t see anything to jump out and dissuade me from this product.

There is so much packed into these 202 pages, that I think the value is definitely there for those who want or need such a well defined setting.

The Kickstarter video:

 

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