New places to explore and have adventures in are always welcome, and those that push the boundaries out from the commonplace temperate quasi-mediaeval settings even more so. This one offers deserts and 'jungles' (somewhere in the back of my head a voice reminds me 'tropical rain forest' is the correct designation) and swathes of savannah grassland to roam over... and doesn't just provide places but all manner of new goodies such as new races, new types of magic and other enhancements to help you remind yourself that your character is indeed wandering around a new and different place. The diverse places are linked by a common theme: it's hot! This brings particular challenges as an environment but also an attraction... at least to me, I like my weather warm!
Intended to describe a large continent to the south of the lands depicted in the Midgard Campaign Setting, it can equally well be transplanted to your own campaign world to fill an appropriate geographical/ecological niche. The Introduction covers the scope of the work and speaks of some of the real-world influences - relics of ancient Egypt, classic Arabic tales and so on. Much is in a grand scale, and much is ancient lore waiting to be discovered. At times there's even a hint of a Conanesque flavour, throughout there are hints of things rich and strange, of an epic sweep of adventure to be had.
The first chapter, Welcome to the Southlands, provides an overview and presents 'Seven Secrets' - some quick facts to whet the appetite and maybe spawn ideas for adventures or an entire campaign. (There are, however, plenty of suggestions and adventure seeds scattered throughout the book, so don't worry if ideas are slow to come at first!) For those who want to promote the feeling of exploration, it can be fun to bring a party from elsewhere to visit the Southlands, and to facilitate that there's a wonderful NPC, Samad el-Fasiel, a local guide and factotum who always seems to know about interesting places to go and things to do... no matter where you happen to be at the time. There's a bit of history, going back to the dawn of time itself and running up to the present, with whole civilisations rising and falling (naturally leaving behind plenty of artefacts and lore...) and leading to current tensions. You'll find familiar races - humans and dwarves and more - and others, fully playable, such as the proud werelions (or nkosi), gnolls and trollkin, and stranger yet the plant-based kijani and the insectoid tosculi. The gods themselves take an interest, there is magic, there are dragons, mighty empires and ancient libraries... It all leaves one slightly breathless but wanting to find out more!
We then begin a tour of the various parts of the Southlands, starting with the River Kingdom of Nuria Natal, strongly influenced by ancient Egypt. After all, if you visit here there are tombs to rob and hieroglyphic magic to learn. Local deities - of whom there are rather a lot - take an active role in everyday life and are believed to walk the streets and even engage in theological debates with the assorted priesthoods! A large river runs through the centre of the kingdom enabling fertile lands to be carved out of the surrounding desert. There are several towns to visit, described in considerable detail like Per-Bastet, swarming with cats and where law enforcement is different depending on which part of the town you happen to be in. You'll find notes on monsters and other perils and a selection of adventure ideas.
Each succeeding region is given similar treatment - descriptions of the region and places worth visiting, creatures found there, local deities, notable items of equipment, the environment and its dangers, and so on. There are maps and city plans, new spells and even classes... all manner of material to help you bring each place alive, vivid reminders that this isn't a mediaeval version of your hometown where magic works but something far richer and stranger. The text itself spawns many ideas for adventure, never mind the specific lists of ideas scattered throughout. If deserts are not your thing, you might prefer the jungles or the dwarf-inhabited western areas, the Corsair Coast or the vast central expanse of the Abandoned Lands, a vast area with a small and scattered population. Or maybe the Southern Fringes with vast riches and greater dangers will attract you?
For those who enjoy exploring new places this is a real treat. There are discoveries to be made and adventures to be had... once your party has visited the Southlands they'll never be quite the same! A delightful addition to Midgard, or indeed to any campaign world that could do with a warm, unexplored continent.
Return to Southlands Campaign Setting page.
Reviewed: 11 December 2015