Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of this product for review. Also, the links I provide below are affiliate links, which help this blog produce it’s minimal income.
Also, an apology. I received and read this back in March, and started writing this review then. I’m just now getting around to finishing it.
That being said, I love this book. Written by CS Barnhart, Chris Lites and James M. Ward, this is how I want my semi-fantastical pseudo vikings to be in my world!
I fondly remember the Ice Kingdoms,The cold wind on my face,My enemies defeated before me,and the screams of their dead,In Valagard eternal we shall dwell.
The setting reads as if the viking sagas were real. The characters are heroes in a world just touched by magic. The gods influence the world. Goblins and grungi (dwarves) fight against you and by your side.
It is a human dominated world, with several different tribes or subraces presented, including the wolf-themed Fenrir, bear-themed Ursan, and the cannibalistic Varyag. Rune magic is rare, and sorcery is seen as a dark art learned form foul spirits. Clerical and druidic magic are more accepted, but the martial classes (including thieves and rogues) are the most common. The section on rune magic is flavorful and a quite usable sub-system for magic.
The Norse pantheon is present, in all but name, as the Ice Kingdoms have their own localized named for the gods. Uthin, Thrar, and Mordi are stand ins for Odin, Thor, and Loki. There is a lot of great lore here as well, with stories of hags, giants, and a version of the Wild Hunt.
Gods and their temples are given an entire chapter, going into details about their worshipers, priesthood, and domains. It details not only the human gods, but those of the dwarves, goblins, orcs, hags, and giants.
The art is top-notch. There is a lot of it, too. It’s all black and white, but I think that fits the feel of this book well. It really helps pull you into the vision of the setting. Thankfully , the maps are in color, and detailed just enough. You know where everything is, but have lots of blanks to fill in. Still, it’s full of evocative names such as the Horn Coast, a canyon known as the World Wound, and the the Mournwood, a deep, dark troll infested forest. Arfhrdheim is the great city in the Ice Kingdoms, named after a mythical hero that once united the tribes. Arfhrdheim is given an entire chapter.
The chapter of the flora and fauna of the Ice Kingdoms mostly details the monsters that one would encounter, and where they roam. There is a section on the trees of the Ice Kingdoms as well.
The book also includes 40 pages of appendices, which provide a good bit of crunch useful for the DM. The first part of the book is heavy on lore and setting details, as well as player-facing crunch, such as stats for races and classes in the Ice Kingdoms.
While written for OSR play, (including THAC0 and descending AC), Appendix A gives notes for converting stats to later editions. It colloquially refers to editions as “eras of play”, which fits the setting well.
Appendix B is the bestiary, which mostly just gives local versions of common monsters. These are given stats in the “first era of play” style.
Appendix C “Adventures in the Ice Kingdoms” does a lot of heavy lifting for the DM, with two pages of hooks and the kinds of adventures you can expect to run in the Ice Kingdoms. Raids, exploration, defense, politics, war, and survival are all mentioned, as well as the most common threats.
Appendix D goes into a good bit of detail on “second era” clerical spheres.
I’m a big fan of Appendix E, Cultural Miscellanea. The calendar, constellations, and name lists are provided.
Appendix F also gives a lot of great information, being the Codex of Eordan, which is the planet on which the Ice Kingdoms is just a part of. The Four Moons of Eordan is probably my absolute favorite part of the book, and something I’m sure to steal for my own worlds.
Layout on this book is well done. Like I mentioned before, it’s full of art and well put together. The pdf copy that I have has both a comprehensive table of contents and index, both fully hyperlinked. It really makes getting around the document easy.
If I needed viking themed barbarians to populate the northern reaches of my world, I would probably will use the Ice Kingdoms. It does give some mentions to other parts of the world of Eordan, it stands well enough on it’s own. While I’m not an expert in Viking lore, I do have a good working knowledge. The Ice Kingdoms rings true as a pseudo-historical fantasy setting.