13th Sage: Thoughts on a Mythic Viking Campaign

Vikings tradingA while back I asked members of the 13th Age Facebook group what they’d like to see from a future 13th Sage column. Longtime community member Antonio Eleuteri asked for suggestions on running a “mythic Viking campaign”, and I’ve been giving that a lot of thought ever since. Today I’m going to take a stab at that topic.

Disclaimers: this is just how I, personally, would start to think about  running a mythic Viking game of 13th Age. It’s not 13th Age: The Viking Supplement! Also, I suspect Antonio is actually more qualified than I am to write about this particular topic, so I apologize in advance if this is a terrible disappointment to him. Not only are there folks out there who know a lot more than I do about the Viking age and Norse mythology, there are those for whom this is their living religion.

Resources

The first thing I’d do, naturally is educate myself about the Viking era and the various forms a mythic Viking 13th Age game could take. Here are a few books I’d check out:

HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook for AD&D 2e

Northlands for Pathfinder 1e

Mythic Iceland for Basic Role Playing

GURPS Vikings

The Mythic North

To me the word “mythic” says that my game will draw upon the folklore, culture, and history of the North Germanic and/or Icelandic peoples of the Early Middle Ages, but it should feel to the players as though their characters live within that culture’s myths—their stories about gods, demigods, monsters, and supernatural heroes. Everything the heroes do should feel larger than life, and part of a larger cosmos where all paths lead eventually to Ragnarok.

The mythic nature of the setting, characters, and events means I’m going to use 13th Age Glorantha heavily, and loosely base the campaign world on the actual historical Viking era. A character might stride into a mead-hall in Sweden and end up arm wrestling a mysterious one-eyed stranger who later reveals himself to be Odin.

Icons, Runes, and Rune Magic

One obvious approach to icons would be to use allegiance to one or more gods as icon relationships. However, instead of icons I think I’d use the rune mechanics from 13th Age Glorantha, perhaps with the 24 Elder Fúþark runes in Mythic Iceland.

During character creation, each player chooses three runes for their character that are deeply significant to them—perhaps related to the god their character is devoted to, an important background, or their One Unique Thing. These three runes, magically embodying concepts such as fire, death, truth, and wealth, aren’t just resources the characters are connected to: they are, in a cosmic sense, the essence of the character.

Whenever heroes take a full heal-up, each of them becomes attuned to one of their runes. To see which rune their character is attuned to that day, they roll a d6. On a 1, 2, or 3, they’re attuned to their first, second, or third rune, respectively. On a 4–6, roll they randomly on a table to see which of the full list of existing runes they’re attuned to, even if it’s not one of their personal three.

Runes are used by narrating them during the game to affect the story in a way that benefits the heroes. For a mythic Viking game,  I might interpret this as heroes using rune magic as described in Mythic Iceland—thus highlighting the fact that these are mythic characters in a mythic world. In that book, each rune has a “narrative magic use” section that can provide inspiration for what the use of that rune looks like in this game.

Rune magic would probably take place outside of combat and its effects would look more like a cantrip or a ritual than a spell. For example:

  • A rogue using the Kaun rune (associated with fire) might cause a spark from a woodfire to set a hall ablaze.
  • A barbarian using the Þurs rune magic to gain protection from enemies might slow the advance of an oncoming army, or diminish their forces by causing them to be attacked by wild creatures along the way.
  • A commander could use the magic of their Yr rune, associated with death, by delivering a thundering speech before a battle against mighty foes, describing how their bodies will lie strewn upon the ground to be food for wolves and ravens. The GM might decide that fulfilling this curse and slaying every enemy on the battlefield grants the heroes an incremental advance at the end of the battle.

The GM rolls a d20 when the character uses rune magic, and on a result of 1-5 adds a complication.

Available PC Races

  • Humans
  • Beastblooded (Book of Ages, p. 77)
  • High elves (known as Ljósálfar or “light elves”) who dwell in Álfheim
  • Dwarves, who dwell deep in the Earth
  • Half-elves and half-orcs, both reskinned as “trollkin”—a term I’m borrowing from Northlands that encompasses the offspring of ogres, trolls, elves, and other fey creatures who’ve taken humans as husbands or wives.

Available PC Classes

  • Any class from 13th Age Glorantha (Troll Warrior becomes Trollkin Warrior)
  • Barbarian
  • Bard (the Battle Skald talent is encouraged!)
  • Commander
  • Fighter
  • Ranger
  • Rogue

The World

Midgard, one of the Nine Worlds, is the realm of mortals, and where most of your adventures will take place. It’s surrounded by a huge, impassable ocean, and encircled by the titanic World Serpent.

Travel to other worlds is possible via Yggsrasil, the World Tree—but travel on the tree is an adventure in itself, due to the monsters and other mythic beings that dwell in it. How one gets onto the path can be the object of a quest in itself: maybe through sacrifices to the proper gods, the acquisition of certain magic rings, or tricking the guardian of a portal.

Magic Items

I would give all true magic items names and a lineage. Who made them (almost always the dwarves), and for whom? What heroes and villains have wielded them in the past? What fate befell them?

I might consider making them all cursed somehow, so that most people avoid them out of fear. But our heroes, who fear nothing, gladly take them up—even though one day, something bad will happen as a result. It’s just a matter of when.

Foes

The giants will fight against the gods at the end of all things, so I suspect they’re recurring and climactic villains. Other foes include dragons, troll raiders, human clans and kingdoms, hostile elves and dwarves, the restless dead, and ravening Grendel-type monsters who emerge from the world’s dark places to prey upon the innocent.

Ben Naylor’s Mythic Viking Campaign

13th Age fan Ben Naylor is currently running a mythic Viking campaign, and has shared some of his notes in the 13th Age Facebook group. Here are a few glimpses he’s provided over time.

Ben’s reskinned classes include:

  • Paladin (Doomsayer of Tyr)
  • Bard  (Galdr, using the mythkenner feat to morph into a runecaster. No songs, just rune casting.)
  • Barbarian (Berserkir, with a bit of Fire Jotun blood, so it has a fire-related talent)
  • Ranger (Fardrengir, a wandering Norse hunter)

The icons are based on gods and monsters: Aesir, Vanir, Fenris, Gorgamund, etc. Characters earn their icon rolls by roleplaying as heroic Vikings performing mighty, courageous deeds as they explore North Norway during the coming of Fimbulwinter.

To make the game more deadly, Ben swapped the recovery mechanic with a rune point economy, where physical runes enable a recovery. It’s so deadly, in fact, that one of the character aims is a heroic death in battle, giving the character a place in Valhalla (or other desired destination in the afterlife). If a player gives their character a good death fighting heroically in battle, their next character will be more favored by the gods. In Ben’s game this means unlocking special backgrounds and PC races.

A player who chooses to give their character a heroic death activates a Heroic Death ability which gives them special powers as they make their last stand: things like refreshing some of their daily powers and granting their allies a bonus by inspiring them to fight harder. If the character somehow fails to die, there’s a cost: maiming, a wound which doesn’t heal, or some advantage given to the kin of their foe.

Image: Calling of Vikings,’ by Viktor Vasnetsov, early 1900s – Credit: WikiPaintings


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One Response to “13th Sage: Thoughts on a Mythic Viking Campaign”

  1. Michael says:

    I would definitely recommend Saga of the Icelanders as another point of RPG reference material!

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