Viking Age: Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes & Monsters of the Vikings

For the glory of Odin…

They were bloodthirsty. They were savage. And they dominated Northern Europe in the 9th and 10th Centuries. They were the Vikings, and they had just one goal: to die heroically so that they could enter Valhalla and serve Odin in the last battle, Ragnarok.

Avalanche Press brings you the most complete RPG book on Norse-mythology ever.  Learn about Norse culture, Viking warfare, and the special magic known as sejr.  Take the roles of a crazed berserker, a wise rune-caster, or one of the gods. Viking Age offers eight new character classes, a host of new skills and feats, and two new magic systems.  Take your d20 campaign to a whole new level of adventure, playing a Norse god trying to stave off Ragnarok.  Packed with historical information and new rules, this is the definitive RPG book on Vikings and their gods – how they lived, how they fought, and most importantly, how they died.

I’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover.  Viking Age (like most of the Avalanche Press RPG books) has a beautiful, scantily clad woman illustrated by Lorenza Sperlonga, better known for his pin-ups.  Her dark hair and leather armor that fails to cover her exposed rear end while she crouches is the snow doesn’t really say ‘Viking.’  But there’s a longship in the background, so that’s something, right?  I’m not opposed to a little ‘fan service’ in fantasy publications, but if I were judging the book by the cover I’d be thinking that while this book might be trying, we’re not going to see much about authentic Vikings.

This judgment is more or less correct.

I’m a big fan of the Vikings, and one of my favorite campaigns ever was set entirely in a low-magic Viking world.  To make this campaign work, the DM took a hammer to the standard rule set.  There’s just a lot in the core rules that simply don’t fit into a Viking game.  It would’ve been great if there’d been a guide that helps a DM easily make the conversion.  It was with that hope that I finally got around to thoroughly reading this book.

The book is organized into 13 chapters.  The first five chapters deal with real world Vikings.  Chapters six through eleven cover suggested game rules for a Viking campaign.  The penultimate chapter deals with the realms accessible through the world tree.  The final chapter provides stats for the Norse gods.

The first five chapters are easily the best part of the book.  The first chapter is a very simple primer on Norse mythology.  Enthusiasts will be disappointed that the whole chapter is two and a half pages long, but despite the brevity, it manages to hit the ‘highlights.’  The second chapter delves into the actual history of Vikings beginning with the raids on the Lindisfarne monastery and ends with major Viking colonies, like the Danelaw and Normandy.  Through these historical examples DMs will likely glean some ideas for raid style adventures, but not much else.  The focus here is on how Vikings dealt with others (trade or loot, basically), but really nothing on how the Vikings dealt with each other.  This is covered to a degree in chapter 3: Norse Culture.  We learn about how individuals interact with society, but not a lot that will drive adventures in the Viking world.  Chapter 4 deals with Norse daily life (including their magical beliefs), and is probably the best chapter.  Chapter 5 addresses combat tactics and typical weaponry.  Altogether, this provides good information to begin inspiring a culture for a DM building a world.  What this section lacks is any mechanics to translate these ideas into game terms.  Essentially, the beginning chapters are all ‘fluff.’  It should be pointed out that there are other sources for this material; both historical reference books and gaming books for other editions.  Of course, without the mechanics, they aren’t really going to be useful for running a game.  So the mechanics are arguably the most important part.

This is where the book fails.

In the next section it attempts to translate the fluff into mechanics.  While we now have a good sense of what the world should look like, the next several chapters try to give it to us.  The biggest issue is probably a fundamentally poor grasp of the game mechanics, but more telling is their unwillingness to work with established material.  There are no suggestions for modifying existing classes to accommodate them in a Viking themed game; instead they’ll replace everything from scratch. 

Chapter 6 begins with the premise that to run a proper Norse style campaign, it is not enough to simply play a mortal hero.  To make the game fun, each player should have two characters.  The first is a normal mortal hero for ‘low-level adventures’; and at the same time you should play a ‘minor god’ for ‘high-level adventures.’  Maybe this advice works for some people, but not for me.  I’ve always found that if you try to run two campaigns simultaneously (whether they’re set in the same world or not) one will always be preferred over the other by some or all of the players.  Something about the dynamic causes one to be favored, and that means playing the ‘other’ campaign can be a chore.  More importantly, trying to ‘tie’ the two together can get extremely awkward as the chronology between the two games can be easily strained.

If I found Chapter 6 objectionable, I found Chapter 7 frightening.  This chapter includes the ‘Aesir’ and ‘Vanir’.  It’s as if they have no concept of level adjustment.The Aesir can be either a ‘greater’ or ‘lesser.’  Greater have +10 to two stats and +8 to four stats; lesser have +8 to two stats and +6 to four stats.  To compensate for this, each gets ‘racial HD’; 7 in the case of greater, 5 for lesser.  These ‘bonus HD’ are not ‘outsider HD.’  They’re a weird mix of other things.  They each provide a d8 hit points, and a good BAB (as fighter).  It doesn’t talk about saving throw progressions or even what type they’re considered (I’m guessing monstrous humanoid since that’s the only full base attack type with a d8 HD).  There is no ‘Aesir’ base monster provided to build on.  This is a real weakness.  This could easily have been avoided by having a monster manual style entry for a lesser or greater deity along with a proper Level Adjustment since this was designed for PCs.  The ‘lesser races’ might even be worse.  Humans keep their extra skill points and bonus feat at 1st level, and also gain a +2 to Intelligence and Wisdom (net +4 stat adjustment).  The standard races are replaced with more ‘appropriate’ races.  Light elves have a net +2 stat adjustment, dark elves a net +0, and dwarves a net -2.  So humans get more than in standard 3rd edition and the other races get less.  And the non-human races really lack anything to offset this.  The end result?  There’s no reason to play anything other than a human.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging the players to select human for a race in a ‘historical-esque’ Viking game.  But to pretend that the players MIGHT choose anything else when doing so is mechanically a mistake just seems silly.  A bad choice is no choice at all; this chapter would have been better just leaving them out completely.

Chapter 8 seeks to provide appropriate classes for a Viking game.  We remove the barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, monk, paladin, sorcerer and wizard.  I’m guessing they meant to remove the ranger as well, but they forgot to say.  For those of you counting at home, that leaves only the fighter and rogue.  For some of them they offer a replacement, such as berserker in place of barbarian.  But considering that the barbarian as presented in 3.0/3.5 is essentially based on a Norse berserker, you’d think that they could have left it alone.  I’m not real convinced that the substitute classes are either more appropriate to the setting or more balanced with each other.  Two of the classes deal with sejr which essentially allows a character to enter the spirit world.  The spirit world involves a whole new set of rules, and also can create awkward situations for a gaming group.  In my mind, it suffers the same problem that a decker in Shadowrun suffers – when the decker enters the net, they can do things that other players can’t.  So while it can be cool to use from a story perspective, when it comes to the game, actually making use of the spirit world will bore those players that are simply ineffective in this ‘mini-game.’  Another major omission – several classes have access to spells, but no spell lists are provided.  The book refers to access to ‘arcane spells’ or ‘divine spells’, but it’s up to the DM to guess what that means.  Imagining a ‘Viking’ style game with ‘normal’ spells strains belief.  The standard 3.0/3.5 setting is ‘high-magic.’  This results in something of a disconnect for me, personally.

Chapter 9 presents some additional minor variations in rules; feats, skills, equipment, etc.  There’s not much here that seems like a good idea.  For example, one feat available is ‘behead.’  With a +4 BAB, Power Attack, and Weapon Focus (slashing weapon) you can hack off your opponents' heads.  If you threaten a critical, roll to confirm normally.  If that confirms, roll to confirm again.  If that is a hit, the opponent is beheaded with everything that goes with it (instant death being the big one).  The only real restriction is that you can’t behead anyone larger than you…The section on equipment doesn’t present any equipment appropriate to the Viking game – it simply lists restrictions on standard equipment that is no longer available in a Viking game.

Both chapter 10 and 11 deal with magical systems.  Chapter 10 provides the rules to use rune magic; chapter 11 provides the information on sejr.  Again, I’m not convinced that either are the best possible translations of concept to mechanic.  The chapter on rune magic is more comprehensive, providing all the runes and what they can be used to do (both a beneficial and baneful effect for each rune).  Since there are 24 runes, there are 48 possible effects.  The actual effects are not well-balanced either with each other or the game.  One rune allows the user to add his Wisdom modifier to basically all rolls (skill checks, attack rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws) for 10 minutes/level.  YIKES!  Another ‘equal’ rune allows the target to gain +5% to 10% on financial transactions.  While the effects might be interesting, it is NOT balanced.  It may be worth a read to see a variant magic system, but only as a starting point for doing it again and doing it right.

The chapter on Sejr doesn’t provide a lot of detail.  Movement in the spirit world is pretty much like movement through the standard world.  The only real mechanic is a spiritual guardian that all characters have.  Every character’s spiritual guardian is determined randomly.  This means that even a class that is primarily invested in the spirit world may have either a weak guardian (a chipmunk) or a strong guardian (a dragon).  Since these guardians follow the standard rules for the creature (mostly) this is a very random way to determine what COULD have major bearing on a game.  Again, the major concern is that time spent in the spirit world is likely time spent with one player, while the rest sit around bored.

Chapter 12 provides brief overviews of the nine worlds on the world tree, Alfheim, Asgard, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, Nidavellir, Nifelheim, Svartaflheim, and Vanaheim.  Since most descriptions are around two pages in length, there’s really not a lot to build an adventure on.  There are no sample encounters, or even random encounter tables.  There are three ‘suggestions’ for why a group of PCs might visit the plane, and the descriptive elements (read: fluff) are good.  But again, the book only scratches the surface, leaving the DM to fill in a lot of material.

Finally, chapter 13 provides stats for many of the major Norse gods.  These stats include the ‘bonus Hit Dice’ that go with being a God, but no challenge ratings.  By and large, these are some of the least intimidating gods you’ll find.

Altogether, the book doesn’t really provide much to recommend.  As a campaign guide, the book falls far short.  For a good campaign guide I’d expect at least a cursory bestiary.  The only creatures in this book are the animals that might serve as a spirit guardian that aren’t included in the core rules (chipmunk and fish, in case you were wondering).  More fully advanced adventure seeds would also be greatly appreciated.

The fact that there’s so much that isn’t included would make it difficult to recommend.  Coupled with the poor mechanics it is impossible.  While the information on Viking culture is good, other similar sources provide at least as good a background, including the 2nd edition Vikings Campaign Sourcebook.

 

Viking Age

Viking Age: Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes & Monsters of the Vikings

Author: John R. Phythyon, Jr. and Mike Bennighof, PHD

Publisher: Avalanche Press

Publish Date: 07/2003

ISBN: 193209108-4

Pages: 192

Rating: 2 out of 10

Retail Price: $19.99

 

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For the glory of Odin…

They were bloodthirsty.They were savage.And they dominated Northern Europe in the 9th and 10th Centuries.They were the Vikings, and they had just one goal: to die heroically so that they could enter Valhalla and serve Odin in the last battle, Ragnarok.

 

 

Avalanche Press brings you the most complete RPG book on Norse-mythology ever.Learn about Norse culture, Viking warfare, and the special magic known as sejr.Take the roles of a crazed berserker, a wise rune-caster, or one of the gods.Viking Age offers eight new character classes, a host of new skills and feats, and two new magic systems.Take your d20 campaign to a whole new level of adventure, playing a Norse god trying to stave off Ragnarok.Packed with historical information and new rules, this is the definitive RPG book on Vikings and their gods – how they lived, how they fought, and most importantly, how they died.

 

 

I’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover.Viking Age (like most of the Avalanche Press RPG books) has a beautiful, scantily clad woman illustrated by Lorenza Sperlonga, better known for his pin-ups.Her dark hair and leather armor that fails to cover her exposed rear end while she crouches is the snow doesn’t really say ‘Viking.’But there’s a longship in the background, so that’s something, right?I’m not opposed to a little ‘fan service’ in fantasy publications, but if I were judging the book by the cover I’d be thinking that while this book might be trying, we’re not going to see much about authentic Vikings.

 

 

This judgment is more or less correct.

 

 

I’m a big fan of the Vikings, and one of my favorite campaigns ever was set entirely in a low-magic Viking world.To make this campaign work, the DM took a hammer to the standard rule set.There’s just a lot in the core rules that simply don’t fit into a Viking game.It would’ve been great if there’d been a guide that helps a DM easily make the conversion.It was with that hope that I finally got around to thoroughly reading this book.

 

 

The book is organized into 13 chapters.The first five chapters deal with real world Vikings.Chapters six through eleven cover suggested game rules for a Viking campaign.The penultimate chapter deals with the realms accessible through the world tree.The final chapter provides stats for the Norse gods.

 

 

The first five chapters are easily the best part of the book.The first chapter is a very simple primer on Norse mythology.Enthusiasts will be disappointed that the whole chapter is two and a half pages long, but despite the brevity, it manages to hit the ‘highlights.’The second chapter delves into the actual history of Vikings beginning with the raids on the Lindisfarne monastery and ends with major Viking colonies, like the Danelaw and Normandy.Through these historical examples DMs will likely glean some ideas for raid style adventures, but not much else.The focus here is on how Vikings dealt with others (trade or loot, basically), but really nothing on how the Vikings dealt with each other.This is covered to a degree in chapter 3: Norse Culture.We learn about how individuals interact with society, but not a lot that will drive adventures in the Viking world.Chapter 4 deals with Norse daily life (including their magical beliefs), and is probably the best chapter.Chapter 5 addresses combat tactics and typical weaponry.Altogether, this provides good information to begin inspiring a culture for a DM building a world.What this section lacks is any mechanics to translate these ideas into game terms.Essentially, the beginning chapters are all ‘fluff.’It should be pointed out that there are other sources for this material; both historical reference books and gaming books for other editions.Of course, without the mechanics, they aren’t really going to be useful for running a game.So the mechanics are arguably the most important part.

 

 

This is where the book fails.

 

 

In the next section it attempts to translate the fluff into mechanics.While we now have a good sense of what the world should look like, the next several chapters try to give it to us.The biggest issue is probably a fundamentally poor grasp of the game mechanics, but more telling is their unwillingness to work with established material.There are no suggestions for modifying existing classes to accommodate them in a Viking themed game; instead they’ll replace everything from scratch.

 

 

Chapter 6 begins with the premise that to run a proper Norse style campaign, it is not enough to simply play a mortal hero.To make the game fun, each player should have two characters.The first is a normal mortal hero for ‘low-level adventures’; and at the same time you should play a ‘minor god’ for ‘high-level adventures.’Maybe this advice works for some people, but not for me.I’ve always found that if you try to run two campaigns simultaneously (whether they’re set in the same world or not) one will always be preferred over the other by some or all of the players.Something about the dynamic causes one to be favored, and that means playing the ‘other’ campaign can be a chore.More importantly, trying to ‘tie’ the two together can get extremely awkward as the chronology between the two games can be easily strained.

 

 

If I found Chapter 6 objectionable, I found Chapter 7 frightening.This chapter includes the ‘Aesir’ and ‘Vanir’.It’s as if they have no concept of level adjustment.The Aesir can be either a ‘greater’ or ‘lesser.’Greater have +10 to two stats and +8 to four stats; lesser have +8 to two stats and +6 to four stats.To compensate for this, each gets ‘racial HD’; 7 in the case of greater, 5 for lesser.These ‘bonus HD’ are not ‘outsider HD.’They’re a weird mix of other things.They each provide a d8 hit points, and a good BAB (as fighter).It doesn’t talk about saving throw progressions or even what type they’re considered (I’m guessing monstrous humanoid since that’s the only full base attack type with a d8 HD).There is no ‘Aesir’ base monster provided to build on.This is a real weakness.This could easily have been avoided by having a monster manual style entry for a lesser or greater deity along with a proper Level Adjustment since this was designed for PCs.The ‘lesser races’ might even be worse.Humans keep their extra skill points and bonus feat at 1st level, and also gain a +2 to Intelligence and Wisdom (net +4 stat adjustment).The standard races are replaced with more ‘appropriate’ races.Light elves have a net +2 stat adjustment, dark elves a net +0, and dwarves a net -2. So humans get more than in standard 3rd edition and the other races get less.And the non-human races really lack anything to offset this.The end result?There’s no reason to play anything other than a human.Now, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging the players to select human for a race in a ‘historical-esque’ Viking game.But to pretend that the players MIGHT choose anything else when doing so is mechanically a mistake just seems silly.A bad choice is no choice at all; this chapter would have been better just leaving them out completely.

 

 

Chapter 8 seeks to provide appropriate classes for a Viking game.We remove the barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, monk, paladin, sorcerer and wizard.I’m guessing they meant to remove the ranger as well, but they forgot to say.For those of you counting at home, that leaves only the fighter and rogue.For some of them they offer a replacement, such as berserker in place of barbarian.But considering that the barbarian as presented in 3.0/3.5 is essentially based on a Norse berserker, you’d think that they could have left it alone.I’m not real convinced that the substitute classes are either more appropriate to the setting or more balanced with each other.Two of the classes deal with sejr which essentially allows a character to enter the spirit world.The spirit world involves a whole new set of rules, and also can create awkward situations for a gaming group.In my mind, it suffers the same problem that a decker in Shadowrun suffers – when the decker enters the net, they can do things that other players can’t.So while it can be cool to use from a story perspective, when it comes to the game, actually making use of the spirit world will bore those players that are simply ineffective in this ‘mini-game.’Another major omission – several classes have access to spells, but no spell lists are provided.The book refers to access to ‘arcane spells’ or ‘divine spells’, but it’s up to the DM to guess what that means. Imagining a ‘Viking’ style game with ‘normal’ spells strains belief.The standard 3.0/3.5 setting is ‘high-magic.’This results in something of a disconnect for me, personally.

 

 

Chapter 9 presents some additional minor variations in rules; feats, skills, equipment, etc.There’s not much here that seems like a good idea.For example, one feat available is ‘behead.’With a +4 BAB, Power Attack, and Weapon Focus (slashing weapon) you can hack off your opponent’s heads.If you threaten a critical, roll to confirm normally.If that confirms, roll to confirm again.If that is a hit, the opponent is beheaded with everything that goes with it (instant death being the big one).The only real restriction is that you can’t behead anyone larger than you…The section on equipment doesn’t present any equipment appropriate to the Viking game – it simply lists restrictions on standard equipment that is no longer available in a Viking game.

 

 

Both chapter 10 and 11 deal with magical systems.Chapter 10 provides the rules to use rune magic; chapter 11 provides the information on sejr.Again, I’m not convinced that either are the best possible translations of concept to mechanic.The chapter on rune magic is more comprehensive, providing all the runes and what they can be used to do (both a beneficial and baneful effect for each rune).Since there are 24 runes, there are 48 possible effects.The actual effects are not well-balanced either with each other or the game.One rune allows the user to add his Wisdom modifier to basically all rolls (skill checks, attack rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws) for 10 minutes/level.YIKES!Another ‘equal’ rune allows the target to gain +5% to 10% on financial transactions.While the effects might be interesting, it is NOT balanced.It may be worth a read to see a variant magic system, but only as a starting point for doing it again and doing it right.

 


The chapter on Sejr doesn’t provide a lot of detail.Movement in the spirit world is pretty much like movement through the standard world.The only real mechanic is a spiritual guardian that all characters have.Every character’s spiritual guardian is determined randomly.This means that even a class that is primarily invested in the spirit world may have either a weak guardian (a chipmunk) or a strong guardian (a dragon).Since these guardians follow the standard rules for the creature (mostly) this is a very random way to determine what COULD have major bearing on a game.Again, the major concern is that time spent in the spirit world is likely time spent with one player, while the rest sit around bored.

 

 

Chapter 12 provides brief overviews of the nine worlds on the world tree, Alfheim, Asgard, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, Nidavellir, Nifelheim, Svartaflheim, and Vanaheim.Since most descriptions are around two pages in length, there’s really not a lot to build an adventure on.There are no sample encounters, or even random encounter tables.There are three ‘suggestions’ for why a group of PCs might visit the plane, and the descriptive elements (read: fluff) are good.But again, the book only scratches the surface, leaving the DM to fill in a lot of material.

 

 

Finally, chapter 13 provides stats for many of the major Norse gods.These stats include the ‘bonus Hit Dice’ that go with being a God, but no challenge ratings.By and large, these are some of the least intimidating gods you’ll find.

 

 

Altogether, the book doesn’t really provide much to recommend.As a campaign guide, the book falls far short.For a good campaign guide I’d expect at least a cursory bestiary.The only creatures in this book are the animals that might serve as a spirit guardian that aren’t included in the core rules (chipmunk and fish, in case you were wondering).More fully advanced adventure seeds would also be greatly appreciated.

 

 

The fact that there’s so much that isn’t included would make it difficult to recommend.Coupled with the poor mechanics it is impossible.While the information on Viking culture is good, other similar sources provide at least as good a background, including the 2nd edition Vikings Campaign Sourcebook.