Mor Aldenn setting guide opens with a piece of fiction, a short story set within the city of mages, that serves as an excellent introduction to the feel of this city. Operating as a perfect vessel to immerse the reader in the culture of the setting as far as how the lower class folk live, view their situation living in the shadow of spell crafters, and the drastic differences in how the different social castes view each other. It is within this story that perhaps one of the better “sound bytes” (if you will forgive its usage in this form) can be found. Here's the scene, apprentice mage, barmaid and mercenary are thrown together by circumstances, and investigating a prophetic dream that the barmaid has had that seems to be unfolding around them. They are on their way to the ruins of an ancient battle that now serves as a magical prison for a demon when they come upon four bad guys (the attire gives it away, trust me, when you actually read it yourself, you'll understand) surrounding a small girl who the mercenary had rescued from a fire earlier in the evening. Now, here's where this excellent quote comes in, the type of quote you wish, as a player, you had said.......”They hurt that girl the day after I can't swing a sword, “ Zeldan growled, and charged forward. OK, Zeldan is our grumpy mercenary, for clarification, and is that not a great line? I mean come on, who hasn't wished they had a great line like that to utter before combat with a character?? By the time it's all over....oh, you'll have to read for yourself, there's a bit of a twist, lol. My point being, as has been proven time and time again, give us a story, with characters to connect to, and we're going to read it, we're going to invest, and that helps make a setting all that much more real. It was just a handful of pages, but it was enough, enough that I want more stories, and that's when you know a setting is going to work..
Mor Aldenn, being a city of mages, and ruled by mages, enjoys a certain level of luxury that could be construed as reskin...but it works. By this I mean the streets are lined with streetlights (globes with a continual flame spell sitting on poles) or water founts comprised of decanters of endless water to guarantee fresh water for all. As most cities are, this one is segregated by class and industry as well,with sections bearing names such as the Grand Market, Tower Hill, and the Northern Docks, the atmosphere of the city changes as you traverse from economic neighborhood to economic neighborhood. Southside of the town one finds the Horse Downs, wherein live the centaurs..wait, centaur? Yes, there is a large enough population of centaur as to necessitate an area of town for them. By far the largest concentration of anything architecturally within Mor Aldenn would be the mage towers, they tend to dominate the skyline of this city. The majority of the town resides upon an island resting in the fork of a river, which is depicted very well on the two page map included within the book (albeit in B&W, its still of pretty good quality).
Where this product excels, and I mean really excels, is in the details. It is one thing to state “Its a city run by mages.”, and quite another to actually detail that out. We are given laws pertaining to registry for the usage of magic, licensing for the rights to sell or traffic in bat guano (it is the primary component for fireball after all), a perfectly viable explanation of how a school of necromancers would appropriate the amount of bodies they would need to be able to continue their craft within a society, legally. We are introduced to bar games for the magically inclined (including a variation on darts that amazes me no one ever thought to design before, it's so obvious its brilliant), as well as more magical variation to cock fighting. There are breakdowns of punishment and fine levels for violating any of the laws pertaining to magical usage, as well as a rather amusing take on the very laws themselves, in that many of them were formed to handle case by case situations, and are only still on the books because, lets face it, every society has a collection of odd laws that are on the books simply because no one has ever removed them. In short, where this city guide really impressed me beyond anything else, and there is a great deal of impressive material here, was in the small things. The things that could have easily been overlooked, and by a lot of companies and guides, would have been overlooked. Little details like the necromancers school using their undead to aid during fires and floods to search for and rescue survivors, the fact that the mayors family have let his power and position go to their heads, or that centaurs who embrace the gods of their humanoid neighbors are looked at as sell outs by their more traditional kin. Local holidays, and how the townsfolk celebrate them, including Spirit Eve (Halloween) with an excellent illustration of children with candy bags in costume. These types of things all build, and add up to a thriving, breathing setting that draws you in, and makes it easier to believe, and want to visit a setting.
As with any true setting guide, you will discover new playable races (centaur, Giaint, Sprite), Classes (Spellwarden), feats and spells, alternate racial traits, and new archetypes. I could go into these, I could. But as I stated, you will find these in practically every setting, so to me, as long as the design is consistent and good when it comes to these things, when presented in a setting guide, this is one of those times when crunch takes a backseat to fluff. For in the end, setting guides are all about the fluff, and this product delivers in truckloads in that regard.
There is a great deal of material to discover within this book, and whether you are looking for a full setting to base your adventures, or merely a city for your players to experience upon their journeys, you can do a lot worse than Mor Aldenn. I personally have added the city of mages to my own campaign world, and have begun spinning the tales that will draw my group to this city, as I know they will be just as impressed with it as I was.
Artwork wise, you're looking at B&W, with most of the illustrations being very good, some only OK, and a few that are not so much. Formatting follows the dual column approach with artwork embedded. There are several locales fully mapped for interior layout and detailed as to be usable for running encounters within many of the locations within the city. I did find the occasional stumble in editing, the usage of “with when the sentence calls for within, or a missing space between words. They were minor mistakes, and I truly only counted three.
The setting book does borrow heavily upon material already released in other products, or perhaps it is the other way around, as I am not positive on release schedules. The Giaint race for example, have their own book, but are presented here as well. Many, if not all of the creatures presented within this guide are in the Mor Aldenn Creature Compendium, and several of the magical items I recognized from other PDF offerings from this company. Where as that is a disappointment, it does have it's positive side, as for those who have not purchased a great deal of books from this company will find enough within this book to be able to tun a full setting from this material alone. On the other hand, for those who have picked up a handful of Mor Aldenn books, there is a great deal of repetition going on, and that would tend to make one question the value, and leave a customer wanting new, fresh material.
Loving the setting, and the ideas behind its design, that becomes my one true complaint and dislike of this product, the sheer amount of material presented here that is also presented within other books. If the material was first presented here, and then recycled to other books, it invalidates this material as being unique. If, on the other hand, this book is indeed the borrower of said material, it mars the design originality of the work presented here. Either way, it ends up costing this book a full star from me, as this setting has room for more growth, and I feel there should have been nothing within the pages of this PDF that had already been covered extensively in another book.
My final rating will be a 4 star for this excellent setting, and I recommend you take a look through this city setting, and consider introducing it to your players, as it is a unique and interesting locale.
[4 of 5 Stars!]