Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Calidar, In Stranger Skies

Calidar, In Stranger Skies is the latest gaming product from former TSR writer Bruce Heard.

If you have been on the internet or follow any of the news surrounding Kickstarter or Mystara then you should have certainly heard about Bruce and Calidar.

If not here are two brief introductions:
http://bruce-heard.blogspot.com/p/a-word-about-calidar.html
http://bruce-heard.blogspot.com/p/where-can-i-get-calidar.html

Calidar is exactly what I expected it to be.  Thankfully I expected it to be awesome. It is a real treat reading this.  In a sea of "grim dark" settings Calidar brings back magic, fantasy and adventure to "D&D" and any game you care to use it with.

But that is getting ahead myself.

This book is designed for Pathfinder, at least is says so on the cover, but please do not let that stop you from using this with any other "D&D"-like game/system you own or play. In the majority of the book is system neutral.  The book is even a fair amount setting neutral, which might sound odd about a setting book, but you could put The Great Caldera on any world's polar region and then drop that world into the Calidar Universe with only a little work.  But that would get rid a lot of great stuff...

The first 40 or so pages set the stage of what is possible with this game with some game-related fiction. Now normally I dislike game fiction and tend to ignore it.  But this one deserves a read since this is different than what you might be used to doing.  A large part of the sense of wonder for this new universe is setup here.

Up next is the Calidar Universe.  Oh where was this book 25 years ago!  Immediately I am taken back in time to my aborted attempts to bridge Traveller and D&D.  This book does it and does it so well.   The "Solar" system of this universe is the Soltan Ephemeris. Nice!   Mine was Sol Invictus.  Not a surprise really. I loved Bruce's work back in the day and I am certain we drew on similar sources.  But alas that is as far as I got and Bruce kept on going at, well, light speed.  Other planets are detailed such as Draconia (wonder who live there?), Lao-Kwei (a Mars-like planet), Canis Major (no relation to the Constellation) home of the Dog Headed people,  Felix Major (Cat heads of course) and Ghüle, a Pluto like dungeon planet of alien creatures and gods (ie mostly Orcs).  Calidar also has three moons where humans, elves and dwarve comes from respectively.  There is also an Asteroid Belt (The Fringe).

In addition to the normal races we have the aforementioned Dog-folk and Cat-folk and the Starfolk.  Starfolk are a catch-all race of aliens from other galaxies.  Little is know about them.  There are also the Fellfolk, or the natives of Calidar (aka Halflings).

Some Gods are also presented and I am sure there will be more.  Gods are manifestations of the souls of the heavenly bodies.   Interestingly enough there is an "American Gods"-like version of Odin. Here he is native to Calidar, brought by a group of Vikings stranded here. I like it.

Next Chapter deals with the World of Calidar itself. Various lands and countries around the Great Caldera.   Several countries are covered in a familiar Gazetteer style.  There is also a great historical timeline that helps set the stage for this world.

One land is covered in detail, the Kingdom of Meryath.  I can't help to feel there is a bit of "Glantri" in the roots here.  Nothing specific, just a feel.  Though I have to smile that name of the main island is the same as my current hometown ("Palatine").  Also detailed are the various NPCs you are likely to encounter; both heroes and villains. I do like that no race in particular is designated as a "heroic" or a "villainous" one. With the exception maybe of the orcs.  There is certainly a swashbuckling, high seas feel to these NPCs.
Guilds are detailed, and are likely to be more important in future works; books and adventures.  Finally we end the chapter with the largest city in the Kingdom, Glorathon.

Creatures of Calidar deal some of the unique creatures we can find here.  Mostly this is background text, no stats.

System Conversion covers the Pathfinder rules stats for both the characters and the new creatures.

Skyships of Calidar cover the ships of various sizes more moving about the universe.

The PDF has a few nice features.  The Maps are all index via bookmarks as is all the art.

Let's talk about the maps and art.
Thorfinn Tait is one of the main people behind the maps and cartography of this book. Thorf has been one of the big names in maps for sometime now. He has done a ton of work of the maps of Mystara, which is certainly how he and Bruce Heard know of each other.  The maps are a work of art and I love how planets and other objects are listed in "days of travel" on hexes instead of miles.  A nice little change that means a lot really. Great from a DM's perspective and easier to adjudicate from a narrative standpoint.

The art is also fantastic.  A nice cross between the style of Planescape, Spelljammer and 7th Sea.  Which, if you think about it, also describes this book pretty well too.

Calidar, In Stranger Skies is an awesome product.  It grabs you and makes you want to play in this world.  I am not sure what the plans are, but certainly I can see an OSR version getting produced or even a D&D 5.   But if not you could do it on your own with just a little effort (less if you know Pathfinder really well).

If you liked Spelljammer, the Known Earth Gazetteer series or the Voyages of the Princes Ark, then this is a must have. Really.

Personally I can't think of a single reason NOT to buy this.

I hope to post more about this in the future.
I have a strong desire to write something about a coven of witches that operate in Meryath.

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