Review – Kos City Campaign Setting & Lands Beyond Kos
Campaign settings aren’t new. Many D&D players have fond memories of adventures in Eberron or the Forgotten Realms. But fantasy settings modeled very closely after real history tend to be harder to come by. Individual GM’s have been crafting cities and countries based on real history for decades, but commercial offerings for such settings tend to be sparse. If you’ve had the privilege to play in such a game, you know just how engrossing it can be to blend fantasy and history. Imagine your paladin kneeling before the Pope after a mission questing against evil, or playing a Teutonic barbarian resisting the spread of Rome. Except, you know, Rome has wizards in its armies and you also have to fight bugbears in the forest.
Skirmisher Publishing has brought us a new campaign setting based in history. Kos City and Lands Beyond Kos are the first two volumes of the Swords of Kos campaign setting. Set in Kos City on the island of Kos (an island you can still visit today) off the coast of Turkey, players and game masters are handed the keys to a world that is recovering calamity.
From the introduction of Kos City:
“The premise behind the Kos milieu is that the real-world Minoan culture of the eastern Mediterranean persisted for about 2,000 years beyond its historical demise around 1700 B.C. and came to dominate the region and large parts of the three contiguous continents. Its fate was only deferred, however, and when the capital volcano-island of Thera exploded with unprecedented force, not only was the culture centered on it shattered, races and creatures only vaguely remembered by humanity were awakened from their ancient slumbers and driven out of their remote forests, trackless mountains, and hidden subterranean realms.” -Kos City (Skirmisher Publishing)
The characters you create will be weaving their story a hundred years after this calamity has taken place, finding adventure in the alleys and grand halls of Kos City, or in the strange lands beyond. These books are highly detailed. Kos City alone describes well over thirty unique locations complete with prominent, three dimensional NPC’s and story hooks. These locations and characters both encourage fantasy story-telling while reinforcing the theme and feel of the setting; namely, one highly inspired by Minoan and Greco-Roman culture. For instance, perhaps your character will meet Gorgias of Cindas, a man who bought the once-prominent training hall Alexandrion (named after a “Great” man) from the family that had owned it for decades and is looking for an heir to inherit the hall from him. Or maybe Spiros of Attikis, owner of Attikis Harvest of the Rocks seafood restaurant, will convince you to help him resolve a feud between his family and a band of Goblins they believe are responsible for poaching mussels necessary for the restaurant’s most famous dish.
Not only do these entries texture the places one can find adventure around Kos City, they also set the tone and inform the reader, piece by piece, of the local climate and politics. For instance, as you read through the setting don’t be surprised to find numerous mentions of the Blue Faction. This chariot racing faction includes a prominent orc minority and is made up of thug and mercenary types who can’t seem to help but make trouble everywhere they go.
Lands Beyond Kos discusses the makeup of the nations and lands surrounding and the island city in much the same way that City of Kos covers Kos City. While no nation gets as specific a treatment as Kos City gets, the book is a valuable addition that further allows GM’s to include nuance and a satisfying level of detail to their games. After all, it is so much more satisfying to be able to tell your players how the beer shortage is because tensions between Kos and Aigyptos (inspired by Egypt) keep escalating.
Throughout both books the writing is clear, to the point, and dense. This is both good and bad. While the prose avoids the all-too-common trap of overly flowery description, it can also feel like reading a dense history book at times. This may not be a problem for some readers, but getting through the writing can feel like a chore at times. The art, while occasionally interesting, by and large is unimpressive, and did relatively little to enhance my appreciation of the world Skirmisher creates. Given the supreme attention to detail inherent in the book, I found it strange that the visuals should be lacking. Luckily, at seventy-nine and forty-three pages, cover to cover Kos City and Lands Beyond Kos shouldn’t tax your reserves, and it is well worth taking in.
+ Supreme attention to detail
+ Huge world, great value for the price of the campaign setting
+ Puts historical fantasy adventures in easy reach for those of us who aren’t hardcore history buffs
+ Large amount of companion texts
+ Compatible with any system designed for a medieval or ancient fantasy
- While richly detailed, the writing paradoxically runs dry and dense at times
- Visual art serves more as a distraction than anything else
While the setting was originally crafted to play out OGL/d20 games, the creators intentionally left out system-specific references. I know I for one would love to play a Burning Wheel campaign throughout Kos City. And if these two books are not enough for you, Skirmisher includes information on a plethora of companion books whose rules and story hooks easily fit into the Swords of Kos campaign setting. If you’re looking for a new world to run an adventure in or have always wanted to try a historical fantasy game, go download Kos City ($6.99) and Lands Beyond Kos ($3.99) from DriveThruRPG today.