I had the uncommon luck to get a very advance copy of The Citadel at Norðvörn and Douglas Cole graciously allowed me to publish a short article to provide you with a first look at his newest Kickstarter offering. Though something tells me his reason for that might not have been to boost the page-views of my blog…
First things first: this is a spoiler-free preview. You can read on without having to fear that I reveal the big plot behind it all. Indeed, it may come as a surprise to you that there is a larger plot in a setting book. After all GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting – Caverntown – a clear inspiration for this volume – doesn’t have dangling plot hooks all over it. The Citadel does, however, and the overarching developments are quite interesting, involving multiple dangerous factions that plan to bring the Northland down.
It is left to the GM to arrange the discovery of each and every clue themselves, though. This is not a pre-scripted adventure and player characters might well go on a quest in the service of one of the more villainous characters without realising it until later. Not exactly something for utter novices in the art of game-mastering and a bit more on the roleplayey side of things tan dungeon-delving. On currently seventeen pages, the author gives us the main villain plot and who is directly or indirectly involved in it, as well as several related adventure seeds. The seeds are relatively short, but hey, that’s a stretch goal, right? You know what you have to do.
The plot is not the main purpose of a setting book, however, and the larger part (about 75 pages as of now) is made up of detailed descriptions of the citadel city of Norðvörn and the surrounding lands, including to some degree what lies beyond Audreyn’s Wall. All those dragon-gods of yore sure did leave a lot of treasure lying around.
The civilised lands are organised similarly to the description of Isfjall in Lost Hall of Judgment. Only instead of 18 pages you get 26 for Norðvörn, 8 for Áinferill and 6 for Löngbrú. The rest are for smaller sample villages and the destroyed outpost of Elskaðr. The author really manages to make each of these come alive and differentiate them enough to avoid blurring them in players’ minds.
Each of the bigger places has its history, geography and main features detailed. Law and Order, resources, magic, and important social groups as well as notable residents round that off. There are also sections on shopping and services – a bit less detailed than in Caverntown, but it’s still more than enough for most tastes. Most importantly, there are taverns and inns. What better place to make the party meet up? Unless you want to use one of the adventuring hooks provided to introduce your newly-minted DF heroes to the setting.
The really interesting bits are the interspersed parts about Norse-inspired laws, customs and preferences, though. Especially the festival section is fun and not quite the same as in Hall of Judgment. It’s in these cultural sections where Douglas Cole really gives Sean Punch a run for his money.
In addition to information on NPCs in the town sections, there’s also a whole chapter of more in-depth information that is still unfinished. Same goes from the bestiary, which includes some of the foes from Hall of Judgment and keeps the same one-page monster style.
Art is, of course, still a work in progress, but what I’ve seen looks good and certainly up to the standards of Hall of Judgment and the Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set (reprint also on Kickstarter, at the moment). It’s not quite as good as the really big productions from Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, but it gets close enough. No maps yet, though – something that will hopefully change soon!
Writing is good with the asides typical for a Dungeon Fantasy product. I still like Sean Punch’s acerbic wit better than Douglas Cole’s more down-to-earth humour, but you mileage may vary.
On the whole, the book looks extremely promising and will tickle your fancy if you are at least somewhat interested in Norse-inspired fantasy. Hopefully we will get an overview of the whole realm of Torengar some time in the future, but on the savage northern frontier The Citadel at Norðvörn will soon serve as a fine entry point for any adventurer worth their salt.