We’re at one of those milestones that snuck up on me a little: the Midgard Campaign Setting has been in print for five years as of today! It’s interesting to look back and see what’s changed. Part of me says, “Whoa, five years! What’s new?” and part of me thinks, “Good! Growth and confusion and a rich patina of worldbuilding.”
Little Things Shine Brighter: World Trees
I think of changes to a setting as falling into two categories: those elements that require more polish and those that can be left alone, like strange experiments in mold gardening. As an example of the polish and shine, consider the World Trees. These are in the original 2012 Midgard Campaign Setting book but with nowhere near the importance they have in other contexts. They’re a major highway onto the planes for characters who wish to visit other realms; they’re remnants from the height of Northern and elvish power; they’re wonderfully weird and mysterious and filled with annoying squirrelfolk.
Of course I love them to pieces. And that means they get a bit more play as bigger, brighter, shinier toys on the new Midgard cartography, in the lore, and (one hopes) in future adventures.
Patina Grows: Adventures and the Shadow Fey
Other characters showed up in the patina style, just layering more elements into the world and making those elements connect to each other. The arrival of the shadow fey as a major force in Zobeck dates precisely to the publication of Courts of the Shadow Fey, an adventure with a long pedigree. But the shadow fey and their fey realms were just designed enough to fill out the adventure, without much thought to where else in Midgard their schemes might grow.
Over the last five years, it’s become obvious that they make good PCs as well as good NPCs, and their influence has grown in Dornig, in Zobeck, and in their own realm. All of that adds richness and depth to the world, even for players and GMs who have never played Courts.
The same story applies to the Bearfolk (which only got strong fan reaction after their recent appearance as monsters in the Tome of Beasts) and to the trollkin (which showed up in The Raven’s Call but really deserved better treatment in the Northlands overall). So various races have asserted themselves as players.
The March of History
The other element is world events. The designers of the original MCS made a point of “stacking up gunpowder” (as I discussed on the DM’s Block podcast recently), and some of those things need to pay off or the world becomes… stale, I suppose. You can only hold suspense for so long before it becomes intolerable. So of course, there were designers who said, “Let’s do an adventure called ‘Freeing Nethus,’ and let’s set up a slave revolt on the Corsair Coast, and let’s put the Dragon Empire on the warpath”—and all those things shift borders and change circumstances for players. I’m not sure any of them quite reach the level of a Spell Plague or the like, but they do provide new opportunities for conflict while neatly closing out other stories. Many grew out of convention adventures, home games, and published adventures.
Maps and Markers
The other thing that happens, invariably, is that maps get updated. I always forget just how much they get updated because it’s just “one set of ruins over here” or “a sketch of the highlights of Beldestan for Warlock patrons” or some other small element. Over years, they add up, and the map becomes settled or more interesting, especially when a cartographer of the talent of Anna Meyer starts asking questions or pointing out interesting elements, such as “Why is this island not settled? It’s awfully convenient as a staging ground for raids over here…” And next thing you know, another little adventure or story seed is planted.
I think, looking back at the setting, I’m most pleased that the designers and GMs and players I have heard from all took a section of the map or a region and made it their own. Some of their stories are wild, high fantasy sagas; others are small murder mysteries and gritty trade route struggles. But all of them make me realize that publishing any active campaign world is an invitation to explore, to change, and to personalize sections of it. And that has happened at tables far beyond what I’d hoped.
Here’s to the next five years, to new friends and new villains, and to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. I look forward to sharing much more Midgard with everyone this winter, but for now: wow, five years!