I most definitely enjoyed reading through the Blackmoor campaign setting. It resonates with old school style -- harkening back to the heyday of D&D. The campaign setting is full of the little bits and pieces a DM is looking for to bring the campaign setting to life in their sessions. The organization is intuitive, well laid out and complete with an index.
For first time visitors to the setting, the essence of Blackmoor is a dispersed across the chapters on magic, places and NPCs, but is comprehensive enough to give the DM all the canon they require.
I haven’t played in the previous incarnations of Blackmoor. However, years ago my group romped about in the classic Mystara D&D setting for over a decade of adventures. At that time, TSR had slapped Blackmoor in as the long distant past of Mystara. Consequently, much of Blackmoor felt very familiar to me here. Especially the common pantheon of gods. I always gravitate to gods who actively meddle in the affairs of mortals rather than mere vague deities who serve as spell dispensers. These gods, while briefer than they appeared in the “Wraith of the Immortals” D&D boxed set, are complete enough with physical manifestation descriptions just raring to step into game play.
The chapter detailing the geography and locales doesn’t disappoint. Less crunchy bits than some settings, but it has a wealth of descriptive text giving great detail on the purpose, function and characteristics of the various places. Although, its attention to NPCs is fairly light (i.e. the DM will be stocking his own NPCs accordingly to bring the places to life). For the NPCs they do mention (within the places or NPC section), I would have liked a lot more stat blocks -- even abbreviated ones. They seemed to arbitrary in detailing some NPCs while skipping others.
I definitely felt I could run adventures through the Blackmoor lands with the material available. Unfortunately, key to any setting would be the map. And this is where it falls down immensely. The black and white map reminds me of my maps. Meaning, cluttered, messy and amateurish. Certainly a vary nostalgic map style, no doubt!
While the map might appeal to some, there is a problem with it that will annoy people similar to me. At the very least, a campaign setting map should include the locales that have been described in detail in the setting’s text. Unfortunately, the map is missing quite a number of places. For example, Boggy Bottom, South Pim, Kenville, and Wizard's Watch are missing. And a bit sloppy, Archlis is labeled Archus.
Hoping this might have been corrected, I poked around the publisher and distributor websites, but garnered nothing useful. However, the edition of Blackmoor available on here for third edition D&D (at least as of this writing) has a free PDF preview you can download. It includes a full colour map with all the major sites labeled! So, I found that map essential to figuring out the setting and suggest downloading it for anyone who doesn’t own the previous Blackmoor edition.
Which brings to mind art. Certainly quality artwork isn’t essential for a RPG book. Although, this tends to be a mark of a high quality publication. The solid black cover is a giveaway to what you will find inside. The chapter lead-in murals are decent, but overall this is not a book you will ever flip through and show off any artwork at the gaming table. (Although, on the upside it is printer friendly.)
The integration into fourth edition D&D feels functional, but incomplete. In the character class chapter, they introduce new 4e races into Blackmoor (Dragonborn, Eladrin, Tieflings). But they are never mentioned anywhere else in the setting. In fact, each traditional race has a “Lands” section in their write-ups -- glaringly missing from the new 4e races.
On the reverse angle, notably missing are gnomes. They didn’t exist as of 4e Player’s Handbook 1. So, I see the writers just tossed gnomes out completely from their prior Blackmoor edition. Bad foresight -- since gnomes were later introduced as player characters in 4e.
I skipped over the new Blackmoor character classes, though, since 4e Player’s Handbooks 1 through 3 have enough classes and races for my players. As a DM, I don’t need any more classes to keep a wrangler on. So, I can’t speak on this section.
The monster section is neither here nor there for “must have” additions, but it does include the setting’s antagonists -- the Afridhi. However, I would have liked more overall governing information on utilizing them as adversaries. Such as information on their named ruler Toska Rosa, their motivations, tactics, plans. Something to be able to slip them in quite easily.
Only recently did I upgrade to 4e and I was looking for a setting to change things up and have some fun. While not a radical departure in creatively, this setting immediately felt like home and compatibility with 4e sold it for me.
Time for some adventures in Blackmoor!