Hail and good health, friends!

As the Kickstarter grows closer and closer, we wanted to put something up that showcased a bit of the writing in the book, as well some of the core design philosophy that went into Sagas of Midgard.

To that end, we’re publishing the Foreward to the Corebook (a vignette called “The Skald in the Night”) and the end of Chapter One, which broadly outlines some of our goals for the game and your place in it.

As always, if you have any questions, please let us know!

“Shadows of Bifrost”. Leah Porter, Acrylic on Canvas.

Foreward: The Skald in the Night.

You knew one day the Gods would come for you, but you did not imagine that it would be like this, struck down by lightning as a storm rages around you. In your time you have seen many storms; on the sea as you raid, on the plains in summertime, unleashing fury upon fields already bare before the snows fall. But never have you seen Thor so angry as you vainly seek shelter in the forest near the road.  At last, salvation; through the tempest, a small hut, a tiny plume of smoke coming from the chimney. You pull your pack tighter to you and move as quickly as possible, your boots sinking in the mud until you reach the building, quickly open the door, and slam it behind you.

Entering the abode, you are surprised to find what appears to be an abandoned home;  save for the lit hearth in the middle of the cobblestone building, the building is bare. Sitting on the floor by the fire you see a man with fiery blue and gold eyes and light red hair, cropped short; although his face appears youthful, his eyes betray an age and a wisdom as he looks across the room at you over the fire. “Come in,” he says, although your mud-soaked boots already stain the floor. “The storm will get worse before it gets better.” You remove your overcoat and, placing it atop your drenched pack, take a seat at the fire. “Thor is angry tonight,” you say, warming your hands. The man across from you smiles. “Thor? Have you met him?” “Aside from just now? No,” you say gruffly. Admittedly, you are not in the best of humors. “Why, have you?” The man smiles.

“Of course,” he responds. “There was a time before Midgard, and a time after the creation of Midgard when the Gods walked among us. There will be a time again, when battle is joined in Vigrid and the Wolf swallows the Sun but… that Twilight is not yet upon us. I digress. Of course I have met them. Thor, Odin, Loki, Tyr, Freyja, Bragi, Baldr, and the rest of the Gods. One does not forget such a meeting. Sadly, it has been a time since I have seen them, but still they work all around us.”

“So you’re a priest,” you say. The man’s eyes harden slightly, though he continues smiling. “Not as such, no. Just a simple wanderer, seeking the truth.” You sigh. He’s not going to be much help to you, but he’s provided you a hearth and a place to sleep, so it’s not worth betraying his hospitality with the insults currently roiling through your head. You excuse yourself, citing exhaustion, and unpack your bedroll, falling asleep almost immediately as your clothes and pack dry by the fire.

You awaken to find that it is day, but no ordinary day; the cold of the night has given way to brilliant warmth. You are standing in a meadow. Before you, you see the man who greeted you by the fire. He carries a large staff of ashen wood, and nods to greet you, singing softly to himself. Under his feet are… can it be? A rainbow bridge ascending upward? With dread you realize that you are standing on Bifrost, the rainbow bridge connecting Midgard and Asgard, the realm of the Gods. That bastard must have tricked you and killed you in your sleep! In a rage, you draw your axes and run toward him at full speed. He remains motionless until the last moment, when you find yourself accelerating quickly no longer toward the man but the hard ground of Bifrost, which is less inviting to the face than to the eyes. Your axes clatter into the Rainbow Bridge and fall off into the abyss below. You stand to face the man, prepared to show the Gods your valor and avenge yourself upon him.

“You aren’t dead,” he says, as if reading your mind. “Had I murdered you in your sleep, why then should I be here as well? I exhort you instead to examine your surroundings.” You pause a second, trying unsuccessfully to read the man, and look around you. Winged, beautiful humanoids fly above you. Turning back, you see it: the great tree, Yggdrasil. It wavers and shimmers; you feel as though it is simultaneously within your grasp, but just out of reach. Its branches run high into the clouds, and down into darkness beyond your sight. “You had asked if I had met the Gods,” the man says. I wanted to show you that I had. Follow me, if you please.” He begins walking up Bifrost into the clouds. Dumbfounded, your clamber to your feet and follow him.

As you walk, wondrous realms are brought into view; by the time you could think to identify them, they are gone, replaced with another. You fall to your knees, bowing deeply before your guide. “Are you Odin himself?” you ask, incredulously. The man stops and turns around, a wry look on his face. He winks at you with his left eye and then with his right. “Both eyes, my friend. I have sacrificed much, but not as much as the Alfather. Now get up.” He sighs and chuckles to himself and begins singing quietly to himself again as he walks ever faster. “If you’re not Odin, and I’m not dead, then who are you, and why am I here?”  you ask with cautious indignation.

“That is the question on the lips of every man in Midgard,” the man responds. “Why am I here? To what purpose? What end? The problem with humans is not that they lack answers, but that they continually ask the wrong questions. But let me try to answer.

You are here because, as I said, you asked me if I had met the Gods. You are here because Odin wills it; because Thor fills you with strength, because Freyja fills you with vigor. Too many men live their lives trying to take all they can from their world of Midgard; but as you have now seen, Midgard is but one very small piece of this puzzle.”

You,” he says, fire now burning in his eyes, “were fortunate enough to be born a Drengr; a warrior of the Gods. It is your charge to bring them glory. They gain strength as the Drengr give them tribute; in return, they offer their Favor to you that you may, yes, bring them more glory. Should you achieve that, Asgard is your reward, and you will live on in the halls of Odin to fight alongside the Gods during Ragnarok. As for me,” he continues. “I have many names, but there was a time when I was called Morotar, the Mestrskald. Banish any further questions about me from your mind; time is short, and there are many other things to ask.”  

“What are the right questions then, great Skald?” you ask, your heart and breath racing at meeting the legendary Morotar. “The journey is not knowing the questions. The journey is finding them,” the man responds. “The Gods have left you clues all over Midgard. Will you be strong enough, wise enough, brave enough, cunning enough to find them in your hour of need? Ah. We have arrived.”

Ascending up through one final level of clouds, you come upon enormous white walls. Bifrost terminates through an impossibly high double gate of pristine white stone. Your jaw opens in amazement as you recognize where you are. Morotar turns around, facing you one last time. “For some,” he says, “This is closer than they will ever be to Odin’s Hall. For others, they will come this close, but no further. Being denied entry at its gates is crueler than never having known it. I have known this pain, and now you shall as well. As with all pain, when you find it, don’t brush it aside or try to overcome it; use it.” You stretch your hands, your body, your entire being out toward the white gates, but cannot reach. “Remember what I have told you, and seek the strength and wisdom of the Gods. You are no ordinary man. You are a Drengr; you are one of the Chosen of Midgard. Do not forget the lessons you have learned tonight.” You blink, and he is gone. Asgard begins fading from view around you. You scream, and with the last of your strength as your vision fades to black, you dive toward the gates of Valhalla.

You awake to the sunlight of the dawn burning your eyes, your face and clothes covered in mud. The sky this morning is clear, though the ground is wet from the storm. You see your pack behind you about a hundred paces. The building is gone, if it was ever there at all. You walk back to your pack, and pick it up. As you begin your day’s journey, a raven flies overhead. It circles you twice, caws loudly, and then flies into nearby woods out of view.

Truly, there are no accidents in Midgard.

“Glimpses of Asgard.” Leah Porter, Acrylic on Canvas

The End of Chapter One: Some Thoughts on Design and Intent

The Case Against Book-Keeping

There are a lot of things to keep track of in a conventional RPG. Too many, in our opinion. Here is something you would never read in a Saga:

And Lo, Gunnar did receive a -2 to hit and reduced movement against the great dragon because upon taking up the Greatsword of his Ancestors, he was 0.4 kg over his encumbrance. Gunnar thought he had added up the contents of his pack, but upon further inspection he had added wrong. “If only I had equipped the belt of giant’s strength instead of placing it in my bag of holding!” Gunnar’s player said, loudly, to the table.

And so did Gunnar die, a victim of his own over-encumbrance.

Certain things need to be kept track of in an RPG: your skills, your character’s abilities and HP, the amount of Favor you have, the bonuses you receive to a given roll. However, there are many other things which we feel do not need to be explicitly kept track of. These things can be handled on a case by case basis:

  • Money for Everyday Expenses
  • Encumbrance
  • Rations
  • Basic adventuring supplies (did I have 4 torches or 3?)
  • Standard ammo
  • Whatever else detracts from the enjoyment of the game without adding value to the story

Exceptions to this rule should serve the story, rather than waste time. Does the player wish to carry a keg of beer and a dragon corpse and 40 axes on his back in case the first 39 break? At that point, the Skald could tell him that he may suffer a penalty. Have the players found themselves shipwrecked and completely destitute in a foreign and hostile jarldom? Not having food or money to buy basic provisions should factor into their adventure. However, beyond exceptional circumstances, micromanagement and bookkeeping tends to add nothing to the game while taking away from its flow and excitement. Be a storyteller, not a micromanager.

A Note on Historicity and Inclusivity

While Sagas of Midgard uses the names, titles, and Gods of the old Norse pantheon, it is important to note that it seeks to follow the spirit of the myth, not necessarily the letter. Our priorities in creating the world and system of Sagas of Midgard, ranked from most important to least, were as follows:

  1. Create a gaming system that allows for the telling of memorable stories.
  2. Create an environment where players can create interesting, powerful characters to interact with that world.
  3. Create a world that is cohesive to the spirit and atmosphere of the Norse Sagas and Eddas.
  4. Create a historically accurate world with all names, locations, and dates as they happened in Europe and Scandinavia.

Names will be changed, demigods added and removed, and locations and peoples tweaked. You are free to tweak them back, or to use whatever map you wish for the world, but having to choose between myth and history, we have chosen myth, and a slightly modified version of that myth at that. That is why, throughout this text, you will often see Vikings referred to as “Drengr”. “Drengr” was a title given to a Viking who was particularly honorable, noble, and valiant. We wanted to accentuate and celebrate this side of Viking culture for Sagas of Midgard, and we also felt that using a term less well known than “Viking” would allow us to escape some of the stereotypes that have grown around the term.

Although the mythological Vikings were inclusive to females as warriors and often as equals (as are we), for the sake of ease “he” will be the default pronoun used throughout this text. No offense is intended by this. To that end and in the name of inclusion, we have done our best to remove some of the more historical gender barriers (magic being womanly and therefore undeserving of a warrior, etc). Our world is better for having stories that can appeal to everyone, and we want everyone to feel as though they have a place at the table while playing Sagas of Midgard, no matter their in-game (or out-of-game) race, religion or gender. We are all equally worthy (and, at times, unworthy) in the eyes of the Gods. If you believe otherwise, you may wish to find another system.

We should also note that for ease of use we have anglicized many of the Norse names. This was done intentionally to make the game more accessible to North American players with no offense intended to our Scandinavian friends. Players should, of course feel free to use whatever spellings and pronunciations they please.

The Spirit of the Game

We’ve tried to emphasize through this opening chapter that Sagas of Midgard is a collaborative storytelling experience, with the appropriate emphasis on collaborative. Throughout our journeys in the world of tabletop RPGs we’ve heard some horror stories: Skalds who punish players for things done both in and out of game. Players who argue their way out of character through a particular part in the game. Worst of all, players who lie about rolls. The above examples are people who, for whatever reason, are trying to “win” the game. Let’s make a few things clear here.

There is no winning or losing in Sagas of Midgard; there is only the story you create with your friends.

We also believe strongly that the story is as good as you make it. We will present examples throughout the sourcebook where you could ignore description and flavor text and simply make dice rolls. At that point, you may find Sagas of Midgard to be a rather dull and simplistic system; if that’s how you and your group prefer to play tabletop RPGs (and many do), you may wish to find a more rules-heavy and less story-driven tabletop setting. However, we think if you take a step back, and allow your rolls to act as a mediator for the story (instead of the other way around) you may discover a new dimension to tabletop RPGs that you hadn’t noticed before. Also, let us present one ironclad rule we’ve discovered over decades of gaming:

If you cheat at a tabletop RPG, you have already lost.

If we had to distill our game design philosophy down to four words, they would be don’t be a jerk. Throughout different portions of this book, you may hear us refer to The Spirit of the Game. Basically, this means that the most important thing is moving the game and the story along, and not trying to cling to a word or a phrase that you think may eke out a minor advantage for you. The best way to handle a rules dispute is for the Skald to make a judgment call using their understanding of the rules and then look it up afterward during a break or between games. Nothing kills the pace of a game like a ten minute rules argument. If you are unwilling or unable to accept the ruling of your Skald in the event of a dispute, you should consider finding another group.

The End of the Beginning

We play games to get away from the monotony of the real world. The 21st century has no more new lands to discover; in a way, the magic of our world has been taken away from us and replaced by technology. We’ve gained much from this, but we’ve lost something, too.

In Sagas of Midgard, we have tried to create a world that’s still filled with that sense of magic, wonder, and adventure, and we hope you’ll all be right there next to us, exploring its depths.