Hello, everyone! Like I hinted before, I’m going to be changing my review process for larger books to make it a bit less daunting for me to write these reviews. For the next couple weeks(or at least until it’s done), I’ll be reviewing Kobold Press’s Midgard Heroes Handbook.
Heroes Handbook, released in March this year, was crowdfunded as part of the Midgard Campaign Setting Kickstarter in February 2017. This player-centric supplement features the playable races of Midgard, from the new ratfolk and ravenfolk to Midgard’s humans, dwarves, and elves, subclasses for almost every class, feats, backgrounds for the setting, new spellcasting rules, spells, and new equipment.
Interestingly, this book is the compilation of existing material from the Deep Magic series, so I’ll be repeating myself a little as I go through this book, and hopefully assessing what changed or stayed the same between the previous reviews and this one. If you’ve already read the Deep Magic series or kept up with Kobold Press’s other works, you’ll likely recognize a lot of the visuals from this book. This isn’t necessarily a negative to the book, but if you’re looking at it hoping for new fantasy art inspiration, you’re likely to be disappointed. Some of the art has been modified for its debut in print, but these changes have largely been for the better.
(I mean seriously, a dress that covers nothing but your ribs and hips?)
Editing-wise, the book keeps stylistic consistency throughout, with almost no typos, but from time to time the formatting leaves a little be desired, breaking grouped information across multiple page spreads or overcrowding important game information. With print or PDF copies, be prepared to flip back and forth when referring to subclass features.
Also unusual for the book is the distinct lack of Monk subclasses, which seems to have been an oversight when drafting the book rather than a deliberate decision to exclude one of the twelve core classes. The breakdown of subclasses is as follows:
Additionally, from time to time, the phrasing of subclass information is inconsistent(for instance, wizard subclasses are referred to as both “Schools” and “Arcane Traditions”).
The 15 races introduced in the setting are presented alphabetically. Though the book states that there are indeed major and minor races (by population count or prominence), it only does so as an aside at the beginning of the chapter – no distinction is made like the PHB’s division of major and minor races, making it difficult to note which races are uncommon without referring to this small descriptive text.
Bearfolk, as their name implies, are large bearlike humanoids whose culture revolves around a quiet sense of respect for their ancestors and overwhelming strength. They gain a strong unarmed strike from biting their foes, and a powerful natural armor. The two subraces are Grizzlehide, who can grapple a target as a bonus action, and Purifiers, who gain an extra druid cantrip and can add a d4 to any of its mental saves(Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma).
Centaurs, unlike the recent Unearthed Arcana release, are Large creatures with the standard humanoid torso and horse legs. These centaurs gain the ability to deal extra damage when charging with a pike, a much easier feat for them with a nimble 40 foot speed, and can make an unarmed attack with their hooves to deal 2d6 damage. Interestingly, it’s difficult to tell if this feature is incompatible with a monk’s martial arts feature or other extra attack features since the feature has unusual wording. My own interpretation of the text would lead me to believe that a centaur cannot make multiple hoof attacks in a turn, but see no evidence one way or the other.
Dhampirs, children of vampires and human mothers, boast darkvision within 60 feet and gain the ability to bite a grappled target as an unarmed strike, dealing a small amount of damage and allowing you to regain expended hit dice. By this point, you may have noticed that a lot of races in this supplement have alternative abilities for unarmed attacks. I’d attribute this to the fact that these races are from a consolidated body of work. While a single race with an enhanced unarmed attack can be interesting, having so many (coincidentally grouped when alphabetized) kind of highlights the popular mechanics that different designers at Kobold Press enjoy. A quick editing pass might have determined that these three races were working with the mechanical space and allowed the designers involved to develop new ideas off one another.
Gearforged are members of other races who have undergone a ritual transformation into mechanical humanoids. The soulforging ritual is incredibly expensive, but allows for a destroyed gearforged character to be brought back to life for significantly cheaper than other humanoids, at the cost of being unable to be resurrected or subject to raise dead.
Midgard’s gnolls gain a speed boost while disengaging from a fight and a slew of weapon proficiencies which you’ll likely already have from any class which would want them for combat. Oddly, the racial trait for weapon proficiency also offers you proficiency with a spear, a simple weapon which any character should already have. This decision seems to stem from a mental picture that the developers already have for a given race/class combo, and feels more limiting to not be playing how a designer intended the race to be used.
Kobolds in Midgard gain proficiency with artisans’ tools and a mitigated form of the standard Pack Tactics monster ability. Because of this ability, they’re well-suited to work as rogues or as wizards using their racial modifiers and abilities to protect themselves from close-quarters combat.
Minotaurs get natural weapons in the form of their horns and increased damage while charging with it, much like Centaurs without the speed boost or weapon proficiencies.
Ratfolk introduce a -2 penalty to their strength attribute(unprecedented in 5e), but otherwise out-Kobold the Kobolds of Midgard – they explicitly gain the Pack Tactics trait, as well as a swim speed, darkvision, and the ability to dart through Medium or larger creatures.
Ravenfolk are pretty much the Assassin rogue archetype given a race – they don’t have much mechanical nuance, gaining advantage to attack rolls against surprised creatures, proficiency in Deception and Stealth, and the standard mimicry ability for any bird-human hybrid. Their entry in the book is woefully short, and not much different from any other attempt at statting out a Kenku that you might find in your 5E library already.
The Shadow Fey, an enigmatic Fey native to Midgard, are a subrace of elves which largely mix the abilities of Eladrin, Drow, and High Elves into a single subrace with some Midgard-specific situational bonuses to learn about shadow roads and how they function.
The Trollkin get yet another natural weapon – fangs or claws – as well as the ability to expend hit dice during combat as a bonus action. Night Whisper Trollkin can gain advantage to an ability check or saving throw once per day, while Stonehide Trollkin gain a bonus to their AC.
Conclusions on Races
The races presented in Midgard Heroes Handbook kind of step on each other’s toes thematically. Everyone and their cousin gets some form of natural attack, and several of them feel like they’re primarily designed with specific classes in mind. The culture write-ups presented for each race help to illustrate their various roles in the setting, but if you’re not playing in a Midgard game, these race options are likely not going to go over well at the gaming table without a compelling character to back up the choice.