Hello, everyone! Things certainly got a little hectic over the last few months between Primordial Power, my day job, and the beginning of the school year. I can’t believe I fell off this review for 2 months, especially when there are plenty of other subjects to talk about, so without further ado, let’s get back into Midgard Heroes Handbook!
One of the biggest oddities to note in this chapter is the position of the roster of Midgard gods – the table is situated directly in the middle of one of the cleric domains in order to keep it as a single spread when the book is open. While useful if talking about the gods of Midgard, I’d argue that keeping the cleric domains on single spreads is much more important than the roster of gods.
I’m gonna level with you, dear reader. I started writing this review with about a paragraph per cleric Domain, but as I went down the list, I went through too many that simply didn’t feel ready for publication in a physical book to justify giving each of them a paragraph.
That’s not to say that there weren’t some great Domains in here – There are unique domains, both mechanically and thematically, which deserve a look. The Beer Domain grants access to a Channel Divinity which produces a consumable brew which can grant minor useful effects to the imbiber. Labyrinth Domain clerics gain a mix of mind-affecting spells and the ability to go toe-to-toe with a foe in a personal minotaur’s labyrinth. Moon Domain clerics get an eerie Channel Divinity which can deal cold damage and extinguish magical light sources. Dragon Domain clerics would be very interesting to see in a Tomb of Annihilation campaign – they can charm unintelligent reptiles, and gain a Channel Divinity which works like Legendary Resistance to automatically succeed on a limited number of saving throws, so they might be well-suited for adventuring in Chult.
On the other hand, for every great cleric Domain, there more than one poorly-fluffed, mechanically boring, or simply lazy Domain as well. None of the numbers look outlandish on paper, but they don’t spark the imagination, either. The Apocalypse domain throws a fistful of resistances and a necrotic divine strike into clerics’ toolkits, and the Mountain Domain gains some bland features to help their party survive in the mountains and a lackluster Avalanche ability. Some of these domains have glaringly vague issues that I’d hope review before going to print would have caught – The Justice Domain gives you the limited ability to track people who have broken the law and a vague Channel Divinity which grants advantage on Wisdom and Charisma checks “involving justice […] up to and including execution for crimes.” The Hunger Domain neglects to mention what sort of action their 17th-level effect takes, or whether the effect has limited usage, which makes all the difference in its AOE “now everyone’s a cannibal” effect. The Hunting domain has literally two vague truisms about hunting for fluff accompanied by a bland hunting quarry feature so late that players will ignore it.
Multiple Domains require external sources for information:
- Cat Domain requires a copy of the Monster Manual and Southlands Heroes(Which, while we’re here, probably should have been included in Heroes Handbook)
- Clockwork Domain requires you to refer to the Beastmaster Ranger’s Beast Companion feature(which is an SRD-compliant feature, so I would’ve appreciated having a copy of it in this book where it’s necessary and demonstrating that the Clockwork Domain’s designers consciously reviewed the feature before using it wholesale)
- Darkness Domain requires you to have not only a copy of Tome of Beasts but a copy of Deep Magic 10: Shadow Magic(Alright, so Clockwork Domain iterates on its Deep Magic counterpart, so that means that neither this book nor the Deep Magic supplements encompass all the necessary information.)
- Hunting Domain refers to the ranger’s favored enemy mechanics, taken wholesale with some level adjustment to match the standard cleric progression.
Additionally, a lot of the high-level features of these domains suffer from consistent sources of mitigation (the Moon Domain needing the moon to be present, the Ocean Domain punishing you with exhaustion levels for using your fish scales while out of water, the Void Domain requiring you to remain stationary while using its Black Star feature). If I had to venture a guess, my assumption would be that Kobold Press erred on the side of caution because of the connotation that being a third-party publisher produces “overpowered” players’ options.
With over a dozen archetypes for clerics, Kobold Press has certainly placed an emphasis on divinity in Midgard. Unfortunately, several of these class archetypes require a well-padded library. In order to get the most out of Midgard Heroes Handbook’s divine character segment, you’ll need to own the core rulebooks(no big surprise there but the cross-references are poorly handled), Southlands Heroes, Tome of Beasts, and certain installments of Deep Magic. Considering that the Heroes Handbook kind of functions as the anthology of Deep Magic content, this is more than a little disappointing.
A lot of these domains are incredibly niche, and I was disappointed at how many of them felt like filler for players who aren’t comfortable with the notion of refluffing a character to suit their narratives. A lot of archetypes shoot themselves in the foot feature-wise, even when their features are niche or ultimately not all that powerful to begin with.
If you are looking for new cleric Domains, I would instead recommend Book of the Righteous. If you’re looking for a comprehensive anthology of the cleric options from Deep Magic, I’m afraid that the Deep Magic PDFs remain your best option.
Midgard Heroes Handbook features two new sorcerous origins, three warlock patrons, and a whopping eleven wizard arcane traditions(almost one for each installment of Deep Magic). In terms of the overall quantity offered, I would have rather seen fewer wizard subclasses, considering that wizards and clerics already have a nearly overwhelming number of options available to them. Because these subclass options are for casters, I would be wary of effects which replicate spells – features like the Mazeborn bloodline’s Madness of the Maze imply the ability to cast additional spells in a turn, with no clear indication whether they cost spell slots. Several of the subclasses feel uninspired or redundant, such as the Doom Croaker being largely a different flavor of Divination wizard, the Light Eater being a warlock whose patron aims to make the world more like the plane of shadow, and the Elven High Magic wizard being largely a ritual caster who is more suited as a supporting NPC than a hero in a story.
Of the subclasses presented in this section, my favorite is the Angelic Scribe arcane tradition – a wizard subclass who can produce an assortment of nearly-permanent angelic seals. Additionally, the Geomancy arcane tradition fills an interesting mechanical niche somewhere between the sorcerer’s metamagic and wild magic, producing a d10’s worth of random adjustments to spells utilizing ley line powers. Like I’ve mentioned in my reviews of Mists of Akuma and Book of Exalted Darkness, I still have my distaste for filling a subclass’s feature with a feat – I’d much rather see Ley Initiate as a feature for multiple subclasses(possibly to round out the roster as well), especially since it could invite new ways to utilize ley lines on a per-class basis.
Feats, Backgrounds, Spells
The most stable features of the book are its feats and backgrounds – on par with those found in the PHB, they would feel at home in just about any campaign. However, the feats are categorized strangely – it’s bizarre that Negotiator and Survivor were lumped together as Elemental Magic feats, but I suppose that a lack of a martial category is to blame for that placement.
If you’re going to use spells from Midgard Heroes Handbook, I can’t stress enough that this is where your GM’s approval is most important. The spells featured in Midgard Heroes Handbook are all over the place – some of these spells are underpowered (ley whip dealing only half the damage of similar level spells at most) or incredibly situational(such as blade of my brother requiring a weapon wielded by a dead ally in addition to its spell slot cost), some of them are overpowered, and some are simply experimental (I swear, pendulum is not a necessary addition to the roster of spells) so a GM should be prepared to adjust on the fly and determine a consistent ruling.
Honestly, I’d recommend getting a copy of Midgard Heroes Handbook only if you’re looking to round out your character options for a Midgard game for an entire party. For a single player or for games not using the setting, I’d recommend getting the Deep Magic PDFs a la carte. You can get a decent amount of utility out of this book, but the size and martial options don’t make up for the mixed-bag quality and redundant content(so many races with unimportant natural weapons). The book runs $24.99 for the PDF through Kobold Press’s website and $39.99 for the print version.