Supplement Review: Illfrost Campaign Guide by Don Pritchett & Tom Flowers from Illusionary Press

What is it about winter and lands of eternal ice and snow that makes them so compelling for role-playing games? Beyond “The Wall” in George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones, evil things once again stalk the land as winter comes on… Paizo is coming out with a new adventure path in January 2013 set in a harsh winter landscape (Irrisen—Land of Eternal Winter)… The world of Jotunheim from Norse
myth
came to life in Marvel’s Thor movie and provides a cold northern border to Wolfgang Baur’s Midgard setting… These lands are populated by giants, creatures of dark magics, and worse. (My apologies for messing up Tom Flowers’ name as “Powers” – some days I can’t read it seems. :()

Illfrost from Illusionary Press has much the same feel with a cross between the Game of Thrones‘ Westeros and the mythology of the Norse. Here we have a mostly human-centric setting made up of different nations with warring factions battling for supremacy over resources fair and foul. Then add to that a terrific world myth that sets up a divine battle continuing to rage across the world with mankind as the pawns.

Illfrost promises an adventure path for 4e to take characters from 1st level to 30th level. The Illfrost Quick Start Guide presents an overview of the world, with some historical context, descriptions of all the nations and religions in the region, and character creation details for players. The book really has a Game of Thrones feel to it, with national banners as well as political details, a bit of national lore, and background options to really ground a particular PC to a country on the map. Little details like coinage variations from country to country and “national powers” that characters from that area will get really help make a character feel like they belong to a country and it’s not just a word on the character sheet.

In the 40-page PDF, you really do get a solid feel for the setting at a high level. I don’t think I’d be able to give the guide directly to a player and expect them to run with it. It might be nice to have a player guide with separate sections for each country or even separate smaller PDFs containing what they’d have available at character creation time like a little “gazetteer.” I believe an enterprising GM could probably pull something together, but it would be nice to have GM and player resources available from the beginning.

My biggest nit with the setting is the class restrictions. Though I appreciate that the world lends itself more to fighters, thieves, and clerics, I’m not a big fan of turning wizards and sorcerers into tools of the big baddie – Necrath, the Ice Duke. It may just be me, but this hits me much like the taint on magic in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which works well in fiction but not in tabletop RPGs in my experience. Automatically removing a portion of the potential audience because they can’t play a good old wizard or sorcerer without being evil seems shortsighted. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d rather leave arcane casters alone and let them be part of the fun. And because of the way magic is twisted by Necrath in the story, I don’t know if there’s a way to give wizards a chance without changing the storyline significantly.

The Illfrost Quick Start Guide hints at the cold-weather rules needed for some of the settings’ brutally chilly environments, as does the gorgeous map from Jonathan Roberts and the artwork from Chris Quilliams, but really we don’t see more than that here beyond a short collection of charts for creating random weather conditions. I suspect that the adventure path itself will expound on the weather aspects, but would have liked to have seen some examples of that here since the name suggests we’ll be dealing with more of a “frosty reception” than we see here.

Other than that I would have liked to have seen the table of contents be hyperlinked for easier access and a hyperlinked short (one page) index of key terms somewhere for easy reference. If this is truly to be a “quick start,” I think PDF navigation is a must have these days.

That said, even with my hesitation about arcane casters being maligned, I look forward to diving further into the Illfrost campaign path starting with Illfrost: Bondage. I’m very curious to see how long it will take to move from 1st to 30th level and what challenges they’ll face along the way!

For more about Illfrost and Illusionary Press…

 

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