From the days of titanic struggles between giants and dragons, to the time of warring gods, Midgard has been a world of great powers and endless change, triumph and conflict.
This week, I had the opportunity to take a look at Kobold Press’ Midgard Heroes Handbook for Fifth Edition (Print $39.99 and .PDF $24.99). Simply put, this sourcebook is awesome.
Some initial impressions. The print version of the Heroes Handbook is high quality. It contains over 200 pages of thick-weight paper filled with countless full-color art images (several shown in this review). The detailed text is well-organized and adorned with stylized color framework. But, this book is far, far more than beautiful art splashed across a number of pages. Stats, tables, lore, spells, and character builds fill each page without needless filler. The Heroes Handbook is a well-written, critical companion for any player character adventuring in a Midgard campaign setting.
The Midgard Heroes Handbook offers fifteen alternative races for player characters to explore. These races, themed for Midgard, are divided in to major and minor races. The major races include: elfmarked, gearforged, humans (Kariv), kobolds, minotaurs, ravenfolk, and shadow fey. And, among the minor races are: bearfolk, centaurs, vampiric dhampir, gnolls, Midgard gnomes, ratfolk, trollkin, and winterfolk halflings.
Maybe I am just fascinated by the various intelligent bear species that have recently wandered their way into the RPG scene but, Midgard’s bearfolk also have my attention. “Bearfolk are massive people of iron resolve and deep nobility, resembling bears that walk upright rather than all fours.” Bearfolk exhibit +2 Strength. When fully grown, Bearfolk can reach a height over 7 feet. Additionally, Bearfolk have a natural bite weapon and thick, tough hides which grant them a natural AC of 13 (+ Dexterity modifier). Bearfolk branch into two subclasses: Grizzlehides and Purifiers. Bearfolk are but one example of the many unique playable races offered in this handbook.
The Heroes Handbook also offers new options for a number of classes: barbarian, bard, fighter, paladin, ranger, and rogue. Notably, the Fighter class gets a significant expansion, adding a number of niche specializations. The Griffon Knight Martial Archetype patrol the Great Northern Road and keep the Free City safe from attackers. At 3rd level, a Griffon Knight gains a trained griffon as a mount, advantage on saving throws and ability checks when trying to avoid falling from her mount, and the ability to cast the feather fall spell (Charisma) once per day. At 7th level, through the ability Aerial Combat Mastery, a Griffon Rider learns several aerial combat maneuvers: Blackfeather’s Fury, Sir Andros’s Daring Flyby, and Hammerschlag’s Forceful Charge. This ability increases again at levels 10 and 18.
There is also a new circle for druids and a a significant expansion of domains for cleric characters. Druids of the Circle of the Stones arrange large circles of standing stones “where they commune with both the spirits of the land and the souls of the departed.” At level 2, these druids gain a minor spirit guide familiar. When within 100 feet, the spirit can maintain concentration on a spell cast by the druid. This can be a handy implement as you can still share the spirit guide’s senses and cast spells through the spirit guide normally while it maintains concentration, with the spirit guide making concentration checks only when it takes damage and not the druid. The druids of the Northlands tend to more than the land. Some see to the health of the spirits.
For all you hop heads out there, clerics gain the Beer Domain. At 1st level, clerics of the Beer Domain gain the message cantrip, as well as proficiency in either Insight or Medicine and proficiency with brewer’s supplies. All ability checks made using brewer’s supplies enjoys a double proficiency bonus. At 2nd level, Clerics of the Beer Domain can use Channel Divinity to transform a container of nonmagical liquid into a blessed brew, with dosage quantity based on her Wisdom modifier. Such blessed brews last one hour before converting back to a traditional beer and if timely consumed, grant the drinker one of several bonus benefits lasting one hour. At 6th level, Clerics of the Beer Domain can use Channel Divinity to rally compatriots. At 8th level, they gain the ability to infuse weapon strikes with radiant energy allowing each blow to deal extra damage (increasing again at 14th level). And, at 17th level they gain resistance to cold, poison, and psychic damage. The Beer Domain is just one of a dozen refreshing new domains for cleric characters to explore. The heady brew of fortitude, courage, and companionship is your nectar, and you share its blessing with those who need it.
The Heroes Handbook also contains two new sorcerous bloodlines, three new otherworldly patrons for the warlock, and eleven new arcane traditions (schools) for wizards – all complemented with nearly 300 new associated spells! Spells like Black Well, a 6th-level necromancy (illumination) spell that allows the caster to summon a seething sphere of dark energy that pulls creatures toward it and devours the life force of those it envelops. Or, Darkbolt, a 2nd-level evocation (shadow) which creates a black nimbus around the caster’s hand, before she hurls three rays of darkness at one or more targets in range. And, Power Word Kneel, caught my eye. This instantaneous 2nd-level enchantment (hieroglyph) consumes a 100 gp emerald, and allows the caster to shout a word compelling all creatures within 20 feet of a specified point to kneel down and face the caster.
The Mazeborn Sorcerous Bloodline embodies magic stemming from an ancestral blood connection to a minotaur. Such sorcerers who embrace their blood manifest the bestial aspects of a minotaur. At 1st level, she can speak, read, and write the Abyssal language, retrace previous paths taken (without using a skill or ability check), and gain proficiency bonuses when making Charisma checks while interacting with minotaurs. 1st level also grants Sorcerous Charge which allows bonus actions while Dashing and casting a melee spell attack (like shocking grasp). At 6th level, the sorcerer’s bestial blood has further manifested resulting in hooves and horns that allow for a piercing damage melee attack (1d6 + Strength modifier). At 6th level, the sorcerer may also cast enlarge on herself by spending 1 sorcery point. At 14th level, spells cast by the sorcerer that deal psychic damage deal additional Charisma-based damage. In addition, by spending 2 sorcery points, the sorcerer can also target the creature with a confusion spell. At 18th level, by spending 3 sorcery points, for one minute or until the sorcerer loses concentration, all attacks against the sorcerer are made with disadvantage and all creatures within 5 feet at the end of the sorcerer’s turn must make a successful Wisdom check or lose the ability to use reactions until the end of their next turn.
The Heroes Handbook is abundant with rich supplemental information for players wishing to trek the lands of Midgard. It contains rules and tables for keyline, rune, and ring magics, 20 character backgrounds to develop character lore, and so much more. Any gamer with a library of printed RPG materials knows that hardcover supplementals are not cheap. At $39.99 for the hardcover print edition, the Heroes Handbook is no exception (although, fairly standard). The difference, however, is in the value. This player’s guide is well worth its weight in gold pieces. Aside from extremely minor criticisms (I did discover a typo buried deep in the text – something all humans, myself included, are guilty of from time to time), I have very little negative commentary. And, you have options – if you prefer a .PDF version, you can have this supplement at a more affordable price ($24.99). Reading through this book, I was swept into the realm of Midgard. With it’s unique and exotic setting, Midgard allows player characters to feel comfortable with the familiar, traditional fantasy RPG settings of old, while simultaneously allowing players to venture into new more exotic veins of life and lore. If you have the Midgard Worldbook or are interested in giving your 5E character some Midgard flair, this book is a must have.