I don’t think I’ve enjoyed reading a campaign setting so much as I have the Ice Kingdoms. I’m a collector of North-inspired settings and systems, and I’ve learned that my personal game preferences lean more into Viking fantasy than “authentic” or historical representations (this is partly why I abandoned an Yggdrasill campaign) of Viking Age belief, culture and legend. My current game is set in Middle-earth, and I think my next one might incorporate wholly the Ice Kingdoms into the north-central portion of MERP’s mega-continent Arda. Ice Kingdoms evokes a wondrous sword & sorcery, early Middle Ages northern milieu and should be a natural fit for a human centric Fourth Age Middle-earth.
Of secondary pleasure, to me, is watching the authors use decidedly old school sensibilities to achieve this ethos and experience. Personally, I intend to use Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC and some early Rolemaster for my upcoming game. So the authors’ rules systems preferences admittedly is another reason why I enjoy this supplement so much.
The first four chapters entail the usual descriptions and explanations of northern culture, a necessary but (for this reader) tedious offering in books of this nature. (Did I mention that I collect northern-flavored rpgs and settings? Seriously, I have most of them—ICE Vikings, 2e Vikings, Vikings of Legend, Mythic Iceland, Codex Nordica, Yggdrasill, many others. I add these so that you understand that I have points of comparison with Ice Kingdoms.) I suppose that, for this genre of campaign setting, such content is as requisite as “What is Role Playing?” in a typical rules system. However, the authors of Ice Kingdoms still make this interesting and worth reading, probably because of how they mingle the “known ethos and geography” with their own world building.
My interest increases even more while reading about the authors’ pantheon and religious system, which is a slightly weirded and syncretic version of the Northern mythology we already know. This empowers Referees to use these deities and practices “how they want,” liberated from any “canon” of the world’s or the authors’ creation. It also prevents any players versed in mythology from guessing the game world’s “reality.” It also ensures that the game experience takes place in a secondary world. And this secondary world is intriguing, fantastical and numinous while remaining grounded and “realistic.” I particularly like the Gardens of Woe—which is eldritch and yet feels anthropologically “right”—and the Mournwood Forest, which contains, at its heart, the faerie premise that the wrong thought can release something terrible into the world. The authors’ explanation for human centrism (in a 1e setting) makes sense and feels likewise Tolkienian—right at home in my current game.
I have read a number of Ice Kingdoms adventures, too, and they strike me as usable, versatile, and evocative of the world’s setting and purpose. I’ll be following new additions to the Ice Kingdoms canon for the foreseeable future.