I’ve recently been reading Norse-inspired Powered by the Apocalypse role-playing games: Sagas of the Icelanders, Bodil’s Gap, and The Wyrd of Stromgard. As background, I even read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which I adored; it was like a Bulfinch’s Mythology of the Norse cosmos.

I played a “traditional” one-shot (two sessions!) of Bodil’s Gap a few years ago. I’d read the first 60 pages of the PDF but wanted to own the book. It’s chonky! (The worst part about DriveThru is that their business model doesn’t support printing any books in advance. It took weeks to get.)

Wyrd of Stromgard book, Bodil's Gap, Norse Mythology

The first 120 or so pages are lore. I really liked the discussion of longhouses, which I hadn’t been picturing correctly. I can definitely see dipping into this section as prep for fantasy campaigns in other systems.

I like the Bodil’s Gap playbooks (bonus: great art). In the “one shot”, I got to play the Dýrsark, a type of berserker, which I enjoyed. Even better, there’s a nice list of adventure hooks broken out by playbook, an idea worth borrowing for other PbtA games.

The abstract wealth system seems easier to understand than others I’ve read and used, with six categories of goods: Trivial, Minor, Significant, Major, Extravagant, Kingly. The equipment and magic item lists are detailed and great.

The GM advice was unique in the way it focused on themes of the setting (e.g., honor, gift-giving, folk magic, ramifications of Ragnarok). Very different from other RPG books. It doesn’t give you general GMing advice, but it is clearly positioned as a layer on top of Dungeon World.

About the only cons for me were that the setting lacks a map, has a focus on whaling, and that  named NPCs lack drives or instincts. Overall, the book is quite the labor of love, and I’m glad to own it.

Wyrd of Stromgard is another labor of love, as this blog post spells out. Random things I liked:

  • Nice tip I might use elsewhere about fantasy settings: “In playtesting, I found one of the most surefire ways to communicate its historical placement to players was in how easy it was to obtain iron weapons—make any fully iron swords and axes that aren’t starting equipment expensive or available only as gifts from the wealthy if you want to run a Scandinavian iron age setting. This tells the PCs to treat their weapons with care or they’ll be carving spears by the fireside all night. Conversely, make these weapons easier to obtain for a more recognizable, fantasy-medieval feel.”
  • I appreciated that there’s a page in the Runecaster section about the use of runes by neo-Nazis and to keep that in mind and get the table’s buy in for rune magic.
  • One of my favorite bits of gear ever: Steinnr, 1 armor, clumsy, worn, 2 coins, 3 weight– “Two flat pieces of stone tied to hang over the chest and back. Stupidly impractical but better than nothing.” Totally dressing an NPC in this!
  • Working my way through the monster section, I love the second part of the trigger on this monster, though I can’t imagine it ever coming up in play. “Fjölð are non-corporeal demonic spirits attracted to confusion and bad math.”
  • I really like the Dvergar: “Dvergar appear to be living rock, fused with dark gray flesh, usually with quite fascinating features like huge crystalline structures, veins of glittering ore, or glowing lines of magma.” And “The Dvergar believe that anything forged or crafted by them never leaves their ownership, no matter how the item changed hands in the first place.” The playbook and stats are a bit underwhelming though: +2 Armor, +1 against magic. I’d rather have it be something like: “You take no damage from any weapon without piercing, but are susceptible to damage from X (damage against you is rolled at advantage).” Not sure what their kryptonite would be though.
  • The book ends by providing four different Dangers on the way to Ragnarök. I’m not sure even the Level 10 PCs I’ve had in DW campaigns could prevent that, but it would certainly be memorable. I’d want to amend Last Breath to having the PC go to Freya or Odin, and then give players a chance to play their dead PCs again during the final battle.

Some minor dislikes:

  • The treatment of races is very inspired by D&D, discussing each race’s religion, outlook, and culture—reading like an encyclopedia. Stonetop’s Book II has spoiled me: give me names, random tables, treasures, story hooks, questions to ask the players…
  • Too many playbook moves are like this series for the Seiðr playbook— “Well Read: When you Spout Lore about the divine or mystical, take +1. Secret Finder: When you Discern Realities to uncover a lie, take +1. Threads of Fate: When you accomplish an alignment goal in combat, take +1 forward.” A common characteristic of the playbooks of Dungeon World hacks is to avoid stat buffs like these in favor of more flavorful moves.

Finally, rounding out the three books, check out my full review of Sagas of the Icelanders, of which this is a good summary:

One of the first Apocalypse Engine (Powered by the Apocalypse) hacks, originally crowdfunded in 2013Saga of the Icelanders by Gregor Vuga focuses on playing out a historically accurate campaign within Iceland. There’s an emphasis on gendered roles, and playing against or toward gender expectations, which may not be for every table (male moves, a Man playbook, female moves, a Woman playbook, etc.). There’s little to nothing of the supernatural; the focus is on society and feuds. (Continued.)

As I concluded that review, “If you’re looking for a Norse-inspired RPG campaign that sticks close to the history, you can’t do better than Sagas of the Icelanders. If you’re looking for a Norse fantasy RPG campaign, on the other hand, check out The Wyrd of Stromgard for something more traditionally Norse or Bodil’s Gap for something Norse inspired.”

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash.