I’ve had my eye on this for a little while now, and it snuck into one of my downloads when I wasn’t looking, honest.
This is a 36-page setting, Pathfinder compatible, based on Europe in the 1450s. The idea is similar enough to what I’ve been trying to do in Irongrave to attract my attention, although 1450 is a bit late for my tastes – for me, high fantasy is about the 12th century rather than the 15th.
So, what have we here?
The book opens with a one-page map of Europe, stretching from the Atlantic to Moscow and from Norway to the coast of North Africa.
Next, a short welcoming piece from the author, and a page of fiction. The welcoming piece explains the goal of a setting containing the usual fantasy tropes, but which is both comfortable and easily recognisable. Certainly one of the obstacles I face repeatedly in my games is the time and effort it takes for players to come to grips with the background, so I sympathise with this – and truthfully, most settings borrow heavily from real history, so why not take the whole thing?
1451 is chosen because of the wide range of campaign types it can accomodate – as the author says, there was a lot going on back then.
On to the chapters.
3 pages. This retells history leading up to 1451 to include the demihuman races as precursors to humanity. After a while, the Greek pantheon, which favours humans over demihumans, overthrew the older gods, and the power of the elder races diminished. Demihuman clerics can now only cast spells if they carry a relic from one of their sacred sites, which establishes a channel to their gods. The elves have retreated to the deep forests, the dwarves to the high mountains.
The historical religions of the period are replaced by The Twelve, most familiar to me as the Greek pantheon, but known by different names in different lands, and in this game assumed to be the same divinities, as understood by different cultures.
The Crusades occurred, but were fought against orcs, sahuagin and undead, not against other humans.
5 pages. The standard Pathfinder/D&D races are available, as well as two new ones: The half-dwarf and half-gnome. In addition to the usual miscegenation approach, half-races can be created when a group of (say) dwarves decides to worship the human pantheon – one side effect of this is that over generations, they gradually become first half-dwarves, and then finally full humans.
3 pages. Each of the standard D&D/Pathfinder classes in turn is briefly discussed, with notes on its preferred religions and likely homelands.
6 pages. Languages are more complex in the real world than most games tend to illustrate.
In this setting, there is no Common Tongue as such, and most characters are illiterate – Literacy requires expending a feat, although some classes (e.g. Cleric) receive it as a free extra feat.
KOL introduces a new skill, Linguistics, whose skill checks cover translation and forgery. Each time you take a rank in this, you learn a new language; most characters start knowing two languages, their native tongue and one of the three trading languages – German, which works in Northern Europe; Sabir, useful in the Mediterranean; or Latin, used by scholars, clerics and magic-users.
Major languages of the setting are listed, with notes on where they are spoken, which language group they belong in, which alphabet they use, and example names for the relevant culture. If both parties in a conversation know a language from the same family, communication is easier than otherwise, but not as good as if they both knew the same language.
I like this idea. Whether my players would like it remains to be seen; they normally build characters in concert to ensure that the party as a whole has access to the main languages of the setting, which may be their gentle way of telling me they are less interested in linguistics than I am.
11 pages. This largely consists of short descriptions of each state, explaining its population, major settlements, racial makeup, ruler, government, languages, religion, allies and enemies, and with whom it is currently at war. There are over 30 of these, ranging from Acquitaine to the Zayyanid Kingdom. The most interesting to me is the Republic of the Archmage, which replaces the historical Vatican and nearby city-states.
There are also a couple of pages on places of mystery, for example the dungeons below King Arthur’s former seat at Tintagel. I note that the separation between planes of existence is very thin near Palmyra; I like to have a means of travelling between settings in each of my campaigns, and it looks like the author does likewise.
The book closes with a table of the various gods and their portfolios, and the usual OGL legal stuff.
D&D has arguably always been the 15th century without gunpowder and the printing press, and there is a long tradition in gaming of taking historical maps, events and people and modifying them slightly.
This setting is much more open about doing that than I am used to; normally part of the metagame in my campaigns is working out what I have used as a background, and those who do have an advantage in solving the puzzles.
KOL is tempting for me, partly because of the time it would save, and partly because at 36 pages it is short enough not to be intimidating.
The jury is still out, though. Is it an interesting setting? Yes. Do I regret buying it? Absolutely not.
Will I actually use it? That remains to be seen…