From the moment I became familiar with the D&D 4E ruleset, I considered Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor to be the perfect setting. I was frankly aggravated that it took so long to release an updated campaign book. Whether it was worth the wait or the expense will depend on your expectation.
In many ways, the 4E Blackmoor campaign is just a rehashed version of the 3.5E release with updated character generation rules consistent with 4E including one non-standard race (the Docrae) and six new professions with paragon paths. New skills and powers are included. Some, like the Arcane Warrior, are a lot like Sword Mages from the Forgotten realms and others may see similar WotC releases in future Player Handbooks. Still, the Elderkin and Idolater look fresh and having a Noble class PC in a party could make for some interesting situations! As to the new races of the 4E, Blackmoor does a very credible job of integrating them into the setting. The back story for Tieflings could be the underlying quest of an entire campaign itself regardless as to whether anyone played such a race.
Also included are a handful of magic items, artifacts and rituals that add detail and character to a Blackmoor campaign. I was especially impressed with the artifact selection.
The gazetteer of locations is very much like that found in the 3.5E release with little additional information and some information from the previous edition missing. Information is included as to racial physical appearances, how hair is worn, types of clothes worn, common naming conventions, etc. Deities are reasonably well fleshed out and attention is paid to things like calendars, festivals, and the politics of the North. A time line is also provided that adds welcome detail as to how the north got where it is today.
One area where the gazetteer adds considerable information above the prior edition is in the area of organizations. Several magic oriented organizations with conflicting interests are outlined setting the stage for friction and mysterious plotlines.
Several NPCs are provided as well new monsters to battle in the wilds of the North.
Those comfortable with adapting 3.5 professions and races themselves may not find the value they are seeking if they already own the excellent 3.5E of Blackmoor. There is new stuff to be had but 110 pages out of 260 are devoted to character development and another roughly 50 pages are spent on NPCs and monsters. A few pages are used for fiction to aid DMs in understanding the ambiance of Blackmoor.
Roleplayers new to Blackmoor or who would rather have professionals handle the retooling for the 4E will find a great deal to like. The classes appear to be well balanced although it will take more than a few sessions to really make determinations on that score. As a Point of Light setting, few will be able to match Blackmoor’s potential and I doubt any will exceed it. It has a wealth of detail but manages to avoid being overwhelming. Of course, the number one concern is whether the setting is sustainably playable and the answer is a resounding “yes!”
There are a handful of shortcomings that future updates will hopefully address. 1) The 4E campaign guide inexplicably lacks population information for the various settlements. Of course, no DM is bound by such guidance but it is usually helpful in conveying a sense of the settlement’s provincialism or lack thereof. If the campaign guide is updated, I hope CMP will add that information back in. 2) While I appreciate the digital version being created in a printer-friendly fashion, the lack of a color map is a major (and inexcusable) oversight. Purchasers of the digital Blackmoor 4E campaign guide should be allowed an additional color download of the regional map as a separate file. Correcting these two issues, especially the lack of a color map would increase my rating by a star.
If D&D 4E is your game and you are in the market for a setting in which to host a campaign, you need look no further than Blackmoor: the First Campaign.
[4 of 5 Stars!]