Review: Midgard Heroes
Following up on Southland Heroes, Kobold Press has released Midgard Heroes. This book contains races and backgrounds for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons based on Kobold Press’ Midgard campaign setting. It is now available on the Kobold Press website and likely DriveThruRPG.
Honestly, being the more traditional release, I’m uncertain why this followed Southland Heroes.
What Is It?
This product is a short 28-pages document offering a taste of player content for the world of Midgard. It includes 10 new races (alseid, centaur, dragonkin, gearforged, ghoul, kobold, minotaur, ravenfolk, shadow fey, and trollkin) and 7 “new” backgrounds (corsair, darkling, fey-touched, guild merchant, master craftsmen, nomad, and raider).
Like the other 3rd Party Products for 5e, this is published for the “5th Edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game” using the Open Game Licence and the 3e System Reference Document.
Unsurprisingly, this book features excellent art and good production values, and I did not catch any typos or problems in the text. Like Southland Heroes, this product likely recycles art from other Midgard products (those written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game), but since the products are not likely to be owned by 5e fans, this reuse is mostly invisible (save the minotaur). This books is also effectively a conversion of PFRPG material to 5e (specifically the Advanced Races product line), so it makes sense to share art resources between the two.
There is a goodly amount of flavour text in most races, a significant improvement from Southland Heroes. The book still lags behind the fluff races receive in the official 5e books, but the disparity has shrunk.
Most importantly for players & Dungeon Masters, the races in this product seems fairly well balanced. 5th Edition is a little looser in terms of power balance between options than 4e, but these seem well thought out and perhaps even playtested. Nothing jumped out at me as offensively broken or problematic. For example, while I might bemoan the alseid for being a little weak, but it’s not dramatically underpowered and should hold its own. I think I’d allow every option in this book into my game if asked (setting appropriateness aside).
Most of the races in this book are also fairly generic, and would effortlessly fit into any fantasy campaign setting. Even the races unique to Midgard – like the trollkin, ravenfolk, and alseid – easily fit into most worlds. The dragonkin are different than dragonborn, but have a neat magical flavour that might work well in a Dragonlance game, or a setting with multiple varieties of dragonborn. Only the gearforged seems like it would be a tricky addition, but it makes a nice alternative to the warforged (even for people playing Eberron, as they might desire a slight variant or warforged built for a different task).
Similarly, the backgrounds are easy to incorporate into many campaign settings. Whether or not an individual background will work varies on a game-by-game basis, but options like corsair, raider, and nomad should fit most worlds with little work.
Interspersed throughout the text are assorted sidebars. One has a spell, a couple give some design notes, and the rest have extra world lore. As someone who does some game design on the side for fun, I liked getting the “peak behind the curtain” at some of the design considerations. It certainly changed how I reviewed this the book, by reversing one of my complaints.
Starting with the traits that caught my eye, the gearforged and darakhul are standard humanoids and not “undead” or “constructs”. This is a little odd, but defended as the races would be immune to many spells and would not benefit from healing. Since most had a big racial trait that added immunities to the races, I wonder if it would have been more interesting to instead add clarifications and variants that allowed them to be affected by the magic. But that’s a stylistic choice and not really a huge problem. The route they took works just fine.
While the flavour for most of the races was decent, there was limited fluff text for the alseid. This is unfortunate as, out of all the races, the alseid is the race that seems hardest to fit into a world. I didn’t really walk away from their entry with a good grasp of their culture and role in the world. Basically, they’re the elf to the centaur’s human, but the role of “elf” in a campaign world is already filled. By elves. (And nymphs, dryads, unicorns, and other forest guardians.)
I’m personally not a fan on how the trollkin regenerates. The race spends hit dice as a bonus action, which pretty much means it heals just as much as everyone else albeit slightly faster. It doesn’t feel like much of a bonus, and I can imagine many times where the trollkin ends a fight and heals just in time for everyone to take a short rest. A trollkin player might also be less interested in taking a short rest, forcing the players onward when they want to take a break.
Aside from the trollkin regeneration, most of the racial traits are unimaginative, similar to traits we’ve seen before. There’s little amazing design work at play in this document. In fairness, most of these races are pretty standard and there’s less room to get creative: giving a race a dramatic and interesting power would make it a poor conversion of the existing material. But I was still never wowed by the book.
A couple racial traits can be used multiple times per day but recharge on a long rest, such as the centaur’s Pike Charge or shadow fey’s Path of Shadows. This is uncommon design in 5th Edition, and I wonder if a single use ability that recharges on a short rest would have worked. It’s not bad design per se, there are examples in classes, but it’s far less common than in earlier editions (likely for ease of tracking as it is simpler to remember if a power has or has not been used rather than the number of times). This is especially odd as the shadow fey is fairly similar to the eladrin from the Dungeon Master’s Guide but can use misty escape more often. I wonder if after the complaint that Southland Heroes copied text directly from the DMG, the shadow fey was made slightly different on purpose to avoid the same calls of plagiarism.
Several of the backgrounds are so-so. Corsair, nomad, and raider feel like variants of the sailor, outlander, and criminal respectively. The guild merchant is explicitly a variant of the guild artisan, expanding the existing variant into a full background. I can see campaigns where you would need to differentiate between a criminal who specialized and banditry and a raider, but these pages were just unimpressive.
While this book is good as a small Midgard-centric crunch infusion for 5e, I find I want more than just another book of races and backgrounds. We’ve seen that already. I’d like other content, such as information on ley lines or shadow and fey roads.
The racial entries have no sample names. This is a small problem but a problem nonetheless. Names are helpful in making a hero or an NPC, either using the existing names or following their example to create your own. They can give a glimpse into the language and values of the race, such as if they use family names, clan names, or nicknames.
The book has a small and somewhat redundant section on elves. There’s no new crunch and just some world-specific flavour on Midgard elves. But there is no comparable section on dwarves, halflings, or gnomes. It really feels like shadow fey were here and then move to their own section but these paragraphs were not removed. It doesn’t really serve a purpose and the space could have been used to give the existing races an extra paragraph of flavour.
There is an odd design sidebar on balancing large races in the centaur entry, despite the centaur skirting most of these requirements (wearing standard armour & using regular weapons). Why draw attention to the design problem that didn’t apply? It’s doubly odd as large-sized weapons are less of a “thing” in 5e, and there’s no rules for increasing the size of weapon damage in the Player’s Handbook. Really, this section feels like something from a Pathfinder product that slipped in.
This book has the minotaur… again. The playtest for the official minotaur was in a free article on the D&D website, and that was adapted into a minotaur for Southlands Heroes. So the minotaur in this book feels… redundant. I would have really preferred another race or other content in that space. But for people who skipped Southland Heroes and dig minotaurs, it’s inclusion is a perk.
I’m a little disappointed by the lack of subraces for most of the new races. Only the dragonkin and trollkin have subrace options. The darakhul ghoul has some size-based flexibility that could have been tweaked into subraces, and some variant gearforged would have been awesome. Similarly, kobolds could be differentiated in a number of ways.
It’s excellent to see the ravenkin (read: kenku) and kobold. I’m a sucker for these races, along with the minotaur (and gnoll). (Really, both Kobold Press ____ Heroes books have been right up my alley).
The shadow fey race is a near perfect substitute for shadar-kai. Just swap out the weapon proficiency for some exoctic munchkin weapon and you’re good to go.
I really like the fey-touched background. It and the darkling background stretch the concept, but I really like the ideas and flavour of the defining element of your past being a bargain with great evil or being lured away by faeries. They also feature some of the cooler bonds and flaws in the book. The backgrounds here don’t get a lot of love or attention, being less sexy and crunchy than the races, but there’s some good character ideas and hooks on the personality traits.
The art for the master craftsmen looks badass. Excellent piece. And while I mention tough looking women in art, the centaur looks a little like a half-horse Gwendoline Christie. Centaurs are often portrayed as super-masculine (often being entirely male) so female centaurs are always cool to see.
I was never blown away my Midgard Heroes. It was what I expected and did what I wanted. It fills a need for more 5th Edition crunch and some new monstrous races. It helps people convert the Midgard campaign setting to 5e, allowing people to play in a fully fleshed out world that isn’t the Forgotten Realms. It’s a good product. But it’s also a safe product. It doesn’t break new ground or get experimental with the rules or give us something other than familiar mechanics (races and backgrounds) to play with.
But that’s me being a cynical jerk.
The bottom line is if you want to allow a player kobold, ravenkin/tengu, centaur, ghoul, troll/ogre, or minotaur this is exactly the book you need. If you want an alternative to the playtest warforged, this is the book you need. If you want to play someone who’s half-deer then this is the book you need. And if you want to scratch that it for new 5e crunch and cannot wait for November, then this is the book you need.
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