Wolfgang Baur, Kobold-in-Chief at Kobold Quarterly magazine, has launched the newest Open Design project, the complete campaign setting of Midgard. Among the rules sets being considered for this massive undertaking we find the popular staples of Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and a scrappy newcomer to the scene, the AGE System, the engine which powers the Dragon Age RPG. Not only that, AGE has surprised everyone by becoming one of the most popular choices among the patrons!

I’ve been a fan of Open Design since their second project, Castle Shadowcrag (geek boast alert: my one contribution as a patron to that project? I was the one who suggested to Wolfgang the name of the Shadow Fey, scathsidhe), and Midgard had already called my attention even before I read that another of my favorite designers, Jeff Grubb, would be a part of it, and that the AGE System was a possibility in terms of rules for the game world.

With all this in mind, I shot Wolfgang an email with some questions and he was gracious enough to take the time to answer them for the readers of the Dragon Age Oracle. Let’s see what the Prince of Midgard has to say.

Dragon Age Oracle: Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background in the gaming industry, what are some of your prior projects, things like that.

Wolfgang Baur: Sure, I’m a biochemist by training, have been designing adventures since the 80s, and learned the ropes at Dungeon Magazine in Lake Geneva. My better-known publications include the Dark*Matter setting, Planescape boxes, Al-Qadim, Frostburn, “Kingdom of the Ghouls” in Dungeon #70, Crucible of Chaos for Paizo, —and Courts of the Shadow Fey and a few dozen others.  I’m an adventure-holic and a fan of monster and setting design generally.

DAO: You run Open Design, where people sign up to be Patrons of various projects you’ve got going on, and they get to affect to varying degrees the product as it is being created. How did this come about and how has it been doing?

WB: It’s been doing moderately well the past 5 years, with Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming plus a gold ENnie and a scad of silvers and a string of glowing reviews to show for it. I launched the patron system as a lark late one night, thinking I would imitate the Renaissance era but with internet-based distribution. I was thinking maybe I could cut out the publishing middleman and write directly for gamers. Two things became clear fairly quickly: 1) I could find supporters and patrons to fund the work, and 2) they wanted to contribute to the design. Things have never been the same since.

DAO: You are also the creator of Kobold Quarterly, what’s been called the spiritual successor to Dragon and Dungeon. In Kobold Quarterly #13 you published an interview with Chris Pramas and an article written by him with some Dragon Age-compatible material for Freeport. What made you seek Chris out for this interview and what made you decide to publish material for a system other than Pathfinder/OGL or D&D 4e?

WB: I think Chris has done a brilliant job turning licenses into great, playable games, and he has a keen nose for design, and frankly he was sort of screwed over by Wizards of the Coast during the D&D Minis Game days. So, I was curious about Dragon Age, because it’s a perfect fantasy game, magic+dwarves+elves in the grand tradition. Hell, Wil Wheaton plays it, there must be something to it—and whaddya know, it’s fast and fun. So, I figured with Chris’s design chops and a powerful setting like Dragon Age, it would do well. Whaddya know, it blew through the first printing in record time.

DAO: Your current Open Design project, Midgard, was recently announced. It’s a complete campaign setting to be designed by you, Brandon Hodge and Jeff Grubb. How did this project come about? How were the co-designers chosen?

WB: The project was never meant to happen: I tried very hard to keep the Open Design default setting for our adventures — the Free City of Zobeck — totally self-contained. It was meant to be droppable into any campaign, from Greywawk to Golarion and Eberron to your homebrew. That worked for a while, but each adventure by Open Design added a bit more about the world, and fans kept asking about what was over the next hill.

So, the time has come to go beyond the city walls. I asked Jeff Grubb because I’ve known him since Lake Geneva and the Al-Qadim days, and yet we’ve never done a collaboration. I sort of expected he’d say “thanks for asking, but no” because he’s a busy man designing awesome story and setting elements for Guild Wars 2 these days. But he shocked me by saying yes.

Brandon Hodge was a patron on two prior Open Design projects, and now he’s working for Paizo and the big guys. I asked him whether he’d help out the little people who knew him when, and he was kind enough to say yes. I predict in five years, he won’t return my calls and Hollywood will own his soul. Seriously, he’s a rising star. Keep an eye on this guy.

DAO: In the announcement about Midgard, you mention that (underlined emphasis mine), “The world will be shaped for the systems that patrons prefer: that means OGL and Pathfinder RPG and 4E Dungeons & Dragons, of course, but it might also mean using the AGE system from the Dragon Age RPG.” Pathfinder/OGL and D&D 4e are what could be called your “bread and butter,” so they make sense, but what made you consider the AGE system as a possibility for this project as well?

WB: I liked the cinematic elements of the mechanics, the speed of play, the fact that it doesn’t require a bookshelf and a software subscription to get to the point of rolling dice and killing goblins. I also got the sense that maybe, just maybe AGE system fans would want a wider range of material than the BioWare setting offers. Other PC races and backgrounds, more monsters, different material but still in a fast-play style. I’ve got reaver dwarves, diabolical gnomes, and even minotaur corsairs that might be fun to work up in the AGE system. It seems like the fan support is there.

DAO: The fan support is most certainly there! Is there any chance that you could give us a sample of what Midgard could look like using the AGE System? Perhaps a background to one of the setting’s races and/or cultures?

WB: Ok, ok, you talked me into it.

This is a first draft and has NOT been reviewed by patrons or playtested in any way. It is the sort of thing, though, that will be a starting point for rules and setting discussion in the project. I hope you and your readers like it.

Triolan Corsair

Citizens of the Maritime Republic of Triolo will tell you they are a nation of merchants, but the truth is, they are corsairs and seafaring raiders who keep the Sultan of the Dragon Empire from encroaching further on the western seas. The corsairs go raiding the White Sea frequently, picking rich merchant prizes, but they also fight a perpetual sea battle against the Mharoti dragonkin and their fire mages.

Triolan Minotaur Corsair concept art by Aaron Miller

The humans of Triolo are part-bandit and all ship rat; many believe that the city’s people have gills (not true!) because so many of them are strong swimmers. They are certainly more comfortable around the water than most. They navigate well and are comfortable in many ports.

The minotaurs of Triolo are largely immigrants from the southern islands, and Triolo’s major island possession, Kyprion, is the home of minotaur culture. Their strength, their gilded horns, and their shaggy heads are all signs of status, and as corsairs they are always first across the gunwales to board enemy ships. Even on land, few want to tangle with the bull-men. They carry a grudge for long years, and most ships believe it is unlucky to sail without at least one deck-clearing bruiser. They are especially respected for their ax-tackling prowess.

Playing a Triolan Corsair

If you choose to play a Triolan Corsair modify your character as follows:

  • Choose a race. You can play either a human or minotaur.
    • If human, add 1 to your Dexterity ability. Humans are quick and clever with their hands.
    • If minotaur, add 1 to your Strength ability. Minotaurs are tall and deeply muscled.
  • Pick one of the following ability focuses: Strength (Intimidation) or Cunning (Navigation).
  • You can speak and read Labyrinthine and the Southern Tongue.
  • Choose a class. You can play either a rogue or a warrior.

Roll twice on the following table for additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, re-roll until you get something different.

Triolan Corsair

2d6 Roll Benefit
2 +1 Constitution
3-4 Focus: Constitution (Swimming)
5 Focus: Communication (Gambling)
6 Weapon Group: Axes
7-8 +1 Strength
9 Focus: Strength (Might)
10-11 Focus: Strength (Climbing)
12 +1 Perception

DAO: Wolfgang, that simply rocks. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you the best with Midgard and what can I say, I’m hoping the AGE System wins!

To all our readers, if you haven’t signed up as a patron for Midgard, what are you waiting for? Head over to the Midgard page at Open Design and pledge your support for the project and for your favorite rules system, AGE.

* Triolan Minotaur Corsair concept art by Aaron Miller.