A Review of Ice Kingdoms: An OSR Setting

I’m not going to lie. When I was first approached to write a review of the Ice Kingdoms RPG Setting, I wasn’t sure there was anyway I could like it. I mean, Its OSR (Old School Revival), low magic, gritty setting.

Anyone who knows me, or my gaming style will tell you, my games are just the opposite. I love high magic , epic fantasy, with several sub-types of mage, and while magic items may be rare in some of my games, the ones that are there are on the level of Stormbringer, Excalibur, and Mjolnir. Earth shattering and game changing.

Not to mention that I love the newer systems. Don’t get me wrong, I started with OD&D many years ago. But my tastes in games has matured and expanded over the years.

Still, I like to believe that I am open minded when it comes to gaming, so I sat down to read and then GM with an open mind.

I’m going to break this review down into several sections:

  • Feel
  • Content
  • Playability
  • What I like
  • What I didn’t

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The Feel:

When I was a kid, even before I knew what D&D was, or had ever heard of Gary Gygax, I was a fan of Conan, Kull, & Elric. I scoured my local library for Authors named De Camp, Howard, Carter, & Morcock. In other words, I was and still am a great fan of the Sword and Sorcery Genre. Particularly the adventuring heroes that you might see in art by Frank Frazetta.

This is the feel that arose within the first few paragraphs of Ice Kingdoms.It hearkens back to pulp stories like “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “Brak Mak Morn”. Reminding me of those many happy afternoons reading these tales I was suddenly very impatient to put this setting to use.

The Content:

The PDF weighs in at 202 pages and is packed with so much that you will definitely feel as if you got your money’s worth. The art, while great and modern, hasn’t lost sight of the games that have inspired it.

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The chapters are as follows:

  1. Kingdoms of Blood and Ice: This is the true introduction to the setting. It breaks down survival of the environment, along with an overview of the preferred classes, races, and government. Also it gives an explanation of what this game is for. (Hint: It’s shamelessly created for the lovers of all things Old School Gaming. Which is kind of a nice change, after playing so many systems that try to encompass all things for all players)
  2. History of the Ice Kingdoms: This gives both a history of the Kingdoms and an abbreviated timeline. It introduces you to Important historical figures like the hero, Arfhrd, The Lost Tribe and the evil sorcerer Thoth-Albrecht. (As a GM who likes to pull a good portion of my adventure ideas on the history of the setting in which they are based, this was easily one of my favorite chapters)
  3. Of Thanes and Thralls: An easily understandable explanation of the social classes (The Thralls, Karls, Jarls and Outcasts) and clans. It also has a further explanation of present day life in the Ice Kingdoms.
  4. Characters in the Ice Kingdoms: The first chapter to really deal with mechanics of the game. It gives the rules for making characters for each Clan, their favored classes, the classes they are restricted to, Special traits for each class, along with a deeper explanation of those classes.
  5. Magic in the Ice Kingdoms: Now, I stated in the beginning that this setting is Low Magic. That is not, by any means to imply that it is without magic all together. Unlike most fantasy settings, Ice Kingdoms is not Arcane-centric. In this realm the Divine Caster is where the true power lies. This is where you can also find the in depth explanation of Rune Magic and the Original Spell Descriptions.
  6. Legends and Lore of the Ice Kingdoms: Simply put, this is the mythology of the Ice Kingdoms. Very cool and deep explanation of the Patheon and Legends that come with it. Obviously based on Norse Mythology, but with enough new touches to make it original.
  7. Temples of the Ice Kingdoms: I wasn’t kidding when I said that Clerics were the superstars of this setting. This chapter explains the different Priesthoods and how they operate.
  8. Geography of the Ice Kingdoms: The different Regions of the setting and Points of Interest in those Regions. This chapter also includes full color maps.
  9. The City of Arfhrdheim: Every setting has its major kingdom. Forgotten Realms had Waterdeep, Planescape had Sigil, Greyhawk had… well.. Greyhawk. The Ice Kingdoms have The City of Arfhrdheim.
  10. Flora and Fauna of the Ice Kingdoms: I know, the last thing you think about in a place named the ICE Kingdoms is plants. But they do exist. Or at least enough for a couple of paragraphs. The rest of this chapter is devoted to the Monster Races of the region.

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Playability:

If I’m going to tell the truth, I have to admit that I only break out my AD&D books about once a year. That’s when my original gaming group and I all get together for our own mini-con. We bust out the old characters, blow off the dust, and play in the homebrew setting that we played as kids.

My current gaming groups are, primarily, new players and the systems we play are decidedly modern (5e, Pathfinder, FATE core, Monster of the Week, Dungeon World, and Apocalypse World).

But, wanting to give Ice Kingdoms a fair shake, I decided I was going to play it two ways. I was going to play it OSR style with my old friends. Plus I did a conversion to Pathfinder with my  new crew.

This is probably obvious, but playing with one of the primary systems it was designed for, with players that understand the concept of the setting, it was easy. Things went together like pieces of a puzzle and the guys and I spent the evening playing through the region and having fun.

But that isn’t to say that conversion to newer systems is all that complicated. I was able to convert the setting to Pathfinder with only a minimal amount of effort. Between you and I, I wouldn’t let the OSR label that has been so clearly stamped on this setting discourage you. If this is the theme you want for your game, but you don’t happen to care for descending Armor Class or THACO, it wont take much effort to switch it up to the system you prefer.

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What I like:

  • As previously stated, the setting is heavily inspired by vikings, but they didn’t simply copy over the Wikipedia page and leave it at that. They took that foundation and built it into something really original.
  • You don’t have to dump the world you have been using (or building if your playing a homebrew world). Ice Kingdoms can be easily inserted into most game worlds as their Arctic Region.
  • The Pantheon. I was really impressed with the way they twisted the traditional Norse mythology to make it their own.
  • The variety in the Regions and Points of interest. No matter what type of game you’re looking for. Ice Kingdoms has a region that will accommodate. (short of one set in a tropical paradise)
  • The section on weather in the different areas of the Ice Kingdoms. This gives you the chance to really make the environment itself less of a background character and brings it much more into the forefront.

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What I didn’t:

  • It’s Low Magic: This is completely based on my personal preference. There are a lot of things that Ice Kingdoms had that made me OK with not playing in my RPG Comfort Zone. But this was one thing I didn’t get past. On the other hand, if you enjoy low magic, they do it well.
  • The Racial, Class, and Clan restrictions: It’s no secret. I’m a huge proponent of Homebrew. The reason why is because I’m of the opinion that a game world should have as many options for character creation as there can reasonably be. When a setting restricts them, I find myself feeling stifled. Again, this is personal preference. I’m aware that there are those out there who feel these restrictions add to the realism and the opportunities for roleplay.

 

Summary: I would definitely give  Ice Kingdoms a Positive Review. It’s original, in depth, and quite fun. A great addition to anyone’s OSR collection.

 

As always, I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helps. If you have any questions, ideas on future subjects you might like me to tackle, or just wanna tell me your own solutions, please feel free to comment below.

If you want to chat about RPGs or say hello, come hit me up on Twitter @DMLeviathan

Thanks again, and have a great one…

DML

 

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