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As I write this, the campaign has been active for exactly three weeks, and we have 12 days to go.

Daily Illuminator!

Today the Norðlond Sagas was featured on Steve Jackson Games’ Daily Illuminator. If you get a moment, re-sharing or commenting on the post – especially in venues off the forums – will help bring some needed attention and (hopefully) velocity to the campaign.

Map of Norðlond

Things have not been idle since I last posted an update. Glynn Seal has completed the map of Norðlond that is available as an add-on, and it unifies the various adventure locations geographically. The team had a good time naming the various larger towns and cities. I’m looking forward to using this particular map in books and as a stand-alone.

With that in mind, I’ve done a bit of digging on the map options, and wanted to pass this information on.

The heavy, 14-point map, UV-laminated for limited use with dry-erase markers is basically printed on business card stock. I’m going to ship these directly from my house, so that I can pack them in a rigid mailer and two plies of double-wall cardboard to keep it safe. Shipping in the USA is likely to be about $10 (it can’t go by media mail, and the packaging to keep it safe is expensive); rest-of-world is likely quite a bit more.

For those who want portability, for the same price of $15 I can offer a 100# paper map, 16×20″, which can be rolled up in a tube mailer. This is just a glossy poster format, no lamination or coating. There’s no price difference there, just paper stock. As always, shipping is a pass-through, I have no control over it, etc.

For international customers, the 12×18″ maps available through DriveThruRPG will be your best bet to have a larger map but still have shipping be affordable.

Editing

I have started in to editing pieces of Rosgarth, and to a lesser extent Forest’s End and Hand of Asgard. The work is coming in a chapter at a time, and I’m going over it and making adjustments to keep the world coherent, as well as acting as editor and keeping in mind flow, art, and all the things that go into making a set of books. This part of the “publisher” job is time consuming but also a great deal of fun, helping folks achieve their vision.

Funding

Right now, we’re hovering at around $20,000 and we’ve been, well, pretty flat – the last 11 days have been tough. Roughly $600 in cancelled pledges, and some of that is related to Kickstarter itself. I hope that these folks come back to us during the Backerkit phase, which avoids that interaction.

The good news is there are nearly 400 folks who are following the campaign but not yet pledged: that means that between actual and “latent” interest, there’s as much as $43K out there. We certainly won’t pull a Pokemon and catch it all, but there’s more than enough to surpass the $29K stretch goal, and all non-shipping funds collected in both Kickstarter and Backerkit will count towards that goal. I want more pages in the book(s) as much as y’all do. The authors, of course, will want more room for more material in their books! (Plus, they get paid more as the backer count increases; my version of profit sharing. Their per-word rate goes up with backer count).

So while things have been quiet for the last week or so, there’s still nearly two full weeks in the campaign, we’ve long since funded, and there’s lots of potential to hit the big goals for offset print as well as longer books.

Gaming Ballistic on the Web

In case you’re looking for me, you can always find me here:

Just for Fun: Yrth?

Earlier today, someone pinged me on Discord and noted that they just bought Hall of Judgment, and while they really loved it, their current campaign is on Yrth, and so how would Nordlond fit?

My first suggestion was to plunk the continent on which Norðlond can be found elsewhere, simply not on the continent of Ytarria. The explicit “the Gods of the setting are real, walk the earth, and the creation ‘myth’ isn’t a myth at all” would have to be altered to fit the setting. I talk about variations on the cosmology of the setting in a blog post: Monotheism and Competing Divinities in Norðlond.

The other possibility is, well, those Nomad Lands are pretty far north. What is more, Ytarria is very big. I found this map online, which is the publicly available Ytarria map plus the continental USA and Alaska, added by Eric B Smith.

For those of you that know me, I’ve been living in Minnesota since about 2000. Norðlond is very deliberately sized to my home state, maybe a bit bigger, and the location of major cities in the setting might kinda sorta happen to correspond to county seats in Minnesota. But if Nordlond is roughly 90-100K square miles (it is), that means it can fit into the Nomad Lands about four times over. If your campaign isn’t already much involved there, you could probably drop Nordlond and a good part of the Dragongrounds into the Nomad Lands without even blinking.

Make of that what you will!

Over on the forums, a poster asked a question that probably seeks to tie the Norðlond setting in with real-world history. He has very specific goal in mind for his musings.

I’m not going to address that.

But the question of “hey, I want to introduce competing religions into this setting” is a close cousin to “I already have existing religions in my setting, but this part of the map over here would make a very handy viking-inspired realm.”

So here are three thoughts I have on the matter, which blend the two.

Delusion

Let’s get this one out of the way. I’m going to quote from a not-subtly-worded reminder in Hall of Judgment (p. 5):

The religion of Norðlond is one of worship and veneration for the pantheon (really an extended family) headed by The Allfather and his wife The Queen of the World. It is a truly polytheistic practice, and the worship of any one particular god indicates that one has an affinity with that deity’s realm or area of influence, or the deity’s demeanor and attitude towards life and conflict. It does not indicate a disavowal of the power or existence of the other gods. It is not considered polite (or wise) to speak ill of another’s affiliation. Doing so can result in a challenge to judicial combat as a matter of honor; extreme cases might invite the gods themselves to intervene.

Those that share a common affinity to a particular god gather together to form a Braeðralag, or Brotherhood, to share in the Guðrun: “God’s secret lore,” communicated by the gods to their followers through the clerics.

The worship of the Norðlond gods is a personal and immanent connection. The gods are real, occasionally walk the world, and converse with their followers and their clerics. To be an atheist in Norðlond is to be deluded, blind to the reality of the world. The brotherhoods exist to provide connection between those with a common interest in advancing the cause of the gods with which they feel an affinity.

I’ve highlighted a few things of particular relevance here.

Here’s another one, an excerpt from the upcoming Hand of Asgard (by Kevin Smyth), which I quote selectively to emphasize the point about how the Norðlondr behave in the face of such beings that physically walk the earth.

The divinities of Norðlond are a true pantheon; worship of one does not deny the existence of the others, and doing so is more than simply rude – it’s delusional. These mighty beings walk the Realm of Midgard and interact with the peoples and creatures there. As such, a cleric who serves several Aesir, or all of them collectively, is plausible. As such, the interpretation of some common disadvantages in the Adventurers’ templates needs clarification within the Norðlond setting.

Intolerance (All Other Religions) is rare, but still crops up from time to time; someone who worships the God of Law might have it in their head that all of the other gods have transgressed, or a devotee of the Trickster might feel the other Aesir have treated his patron unfairly. These sorts of fanatics tend to get the side-eye even from other members of their own order: if a priest of the Thunder God is badmouthing other Aesir, the Thunder God himself might just decide to get offended on his brethren’s behalf and smite the impious fool!

So that’s the thing. If the Allfather and the Aesir really did create the Nine Realms – and in the Norðlond/Etera setting (for those playing Dragon Heresy), they did – then any competing religions are going to have to deal with the fact that if they deny the existence of Skaði or Donnar (The Snow Queen and The God of Thunder), said gods might just show up and smack ’em down.

But what about clerics of other religions? Well, the simple answer is there aren’t any. 

This runs into worldbuilding and portability problems, and is rather less interesting in a polyglot fantasy world where  you might want to have fully functional cultures that serve as foils and counterpoints to each other (“oh, Vikings vs. Samurai, eh?” “Well . . . yeah.”). Even so: make no mistake: when the creation “myth” of a world is neither myth nor legend, but ‘yeah, this is how it actually happened, and the Creator(s) sit right over there, go have a chat’ then the concept of “religious skeptic” is likely not going to fly.

Manifestation

There’s an easy way around this. Or if not ‘easy,’ then at least plausible. It’s actually more direct in the Norðlond version of the setting, because rather than be given actual names – Woden, Donnar, Skaði, Heimdallr – the gods are presented as archetypes. The Allfather, The God of Storms, The Snow Queen, and The Lord of Warding. While “hey, Woden, over here!” isn’t quite as portable, “The Allfather” rather is. In many of the religions humanity practices, there’s an overarching chief deity who varies between supreme and first among equals. Zeus. Odin. Amun-Ra. Po. This is most explicit, I think, in Hinduism, where the supreme being is Brahman, who appears in different guises depending on what they’re doing at the time.

That basic Hindu concept of manifestation, which gains even more traction combined with “and the gods manifestations reflect the beliefs and the needs of the humans who attempt to give words to the divine concepts” allows a set of basic truths (there are Realms, in which there are holy or divine beings, who created the world(s) for Reasons) to be fairly universal, but reflected in many different ways.

This allows for different cultures and geographies to each have their own “pantheon” or even a monotheistic religion (“the One God,” “the God who is Many and One,” “The White God,” etc) while maintaining a consistent creation myth for the world or universe.

In truth, in order to eventually expand into other regions of the world in which Norðlond sits, as a world-builder, I am nearly forced to take this path.

One other possibility here is that the gods themselves are real, but given form by the Will of their worshipers. This provides for all sorts of mayhem, as if (say) the Goddess of Death gets a whole lot of followers, she will eventually be supremely powerful. This starts to look like actively proselytizing competing belief systems, which of course isn’t anything our modern world has in great supply (*cough sarcasm cough*). If you want to check out a source where some of that is referenced while still feeling the viking love: read Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword.

If you want to go all “There’s a War in Heaven,” this is probably the most self-consistent route to take. A strongly monotheistic belief could eventually “force” all of the disparate facets of a One-as-Many being into simply the One Being. If folks are worshiping only the Allfather, eventually not only will the Allfather subsume the other gods, he’ll sort of stop being the Allfather. Talk about being self-conflicted.

Invasion

One last possibility, which also has some truth in the Norðlond setting. The Nine Realms were created by the Asgardians to protect that creation from . . . something ELSE. In the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, these are the Elder Things. In Dungeons and Dragons, the Aberrations. They are outside creation, and if there’s a plan for the Nine Realms, they disagree with it. A lot.

Frequently, these beings are portrayed as Cthulhoid tentacled horrors, showing the origins of the type in Lovecraft. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, since it’s used to varying degrees of awesome in media from Monster Hunters, International to Hellboy to some versions of Aquaman. It’s a fact that “Squid Cults” are part of the canon in Norðlond, inherited from the parent Dungeon Fantasy RPG, which has Elder Things as one of the more interesting things to fight.

But what if the “squid” was a powerful entity from beyond the universe that wasn’t a tentacled horror. What if that being simply disagreed with the Asgardian purpose for the Nine Realms? Then, the new “squid cult” might be the “cult of the white god” and the magic and power flowing through the believers would be quite real. Or not: A new monotheistic religion where followers were granted Magic Resistance and could create No Mana Zones and were really enamored of technology instead of channeling divine power, as the new being put their stamp on the world in a very non-Asgardian way.

Parting Shot

As noted, the cosmology of Norðlond, and because it’ s a growing setting from a company that wants to do not just vikings, the broader world that it’s in, will take more than a few notes from the first two (Delusion and Manifestation) in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG version of the setting at least, and then the first paragraph from Invasion, as the guiding canon for worldbuilding. Since the Etera/Dragon Heresy version has Morevel (based on Macedonian Greece) and Inthriki (with history influenced by Kamakura-era Japan), I need something to allow proper development of those areas in ways that aren’t just silly.

But while the particular request of the original poster isn’t something that I’m going to explore, the underlying question of “how do I introduce a competing or parallel religious belief system or culture,” and the neighboring “but my campaign world already has gods and a cosmology, how can I fit Norðlond into it?” are valid questions. And not to put too fine a point on it, not only do they impact the game world, they impact my game company: A portable setting is more salable then a “you play my way or not at all!” version of such.

So: that’s three ways of looking at it. I’m sure there are more!

I’ll also note that, for example, dropping Nordlond into Cidri, where the cosmology is very much not the Gods are Real, but rather the Mnoren are top dogs and physics is their plaything, would require some different kinds of gyrations, since none of the Norðlond assumptions are really true!

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Notionally, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is about, well, dungeon delving. That’s the core function it’s built to support. That said, Hall of Judgment was mostly an overland trek, with the main encounters being a ruined village and of course the Hall itself. The norðalfar lairs were legit underground dungeon-type stuff.

The Citadel at Norðvörn was a setting, completely without labyrinthine delving of any sort. I have played great games with it, and more than once. The Dungeon Fantasy RPG supports it just fine.

One of the fun things that made it into Citadel at Norðvörn was a village generator. Euan Hastie, a gamer and farmer from New Zealand, had a huge pile of research into modern and ancient farming methods and yields, and he and I worked really hard together to simplify all the data, make it sensible-enough and interesting, and present it in a way where “you wander into town” became something different for each town.

Presented below is one of several village he’s made. There will be more, posted, as this one was, to the Norðlond Sagas crowdfunding campaign as an update.

 Steingarður (The Stoneyard)

Assumptions

  • Very Fertile, but with infertile hills
  • Cool not cold
  • Norman/viking

The center of Norðlond west of Konungsborg (the capitol) boasts some of the most fertile soils known to the realm. The costs of two centuries of war with the Neveri clansmen to the south have prevented the Norðlonders from fully exploiting this boon, but it is still a land of plenty.

Away from the rivers and cities, venturing into southern Norðlond, the village of Steingarður sits where the hills meet the plains. The community is well established but has become something of a backwater in recent decades. This is the type of place a wandering knight might call home. It is a community of some 750 people, with a lackluster inn and sundry support services; one can assume a strong cooperage and enough of a smithy to keep the instruments for harvesting and transporting grain in good order.

Life centers around a walled longhouse, built on the end of ridge offering a strongly defensible location and a view over the plains. A man-made channel hugs the side of the grape-covered ridge, supplying the stronghold with water. While not a towering structure the wall is well made from mortared stone. Unlike the north of Norðlond, there are few mature stands of trees; small areas of tamed and managed woods are present amongst the hedgerows and in the higher valleys. A more considered eye notes the young age of the managed woodlands, the consequences of a feud that flared up a decade back.

Goats, wine, and linen are Steingarður’s main source of money as most other goods aren’t worth the cost to transport to the river. Even so it produces the food required to keep forty of it’s soldiers – the armed levy provided by the riddar to King Krail and the Marshal – fed and supplied while they are in the field against the Neveri.

While on average the people here – many of whom are thralls – are not well armed, those who are are usually older veterans. The town boasts more than a few heirloom weapons that are kept in fully functional condition.

Products

Aside from supporting village life, the industry of Steingarður has two purposes: feeding it’s soldiers and providing the riddar with the liquid assets required to maintain his position. The riddar is young, and has only recently assumed the role. In this case, liquid assets are rather on the nose: the two primary exports are 11,000 gallons (roughly 200 barrels, perhaps 60 tons including both barrel and wine)

Notes

  • Poor in wood
  • One of the northern-most wine producers
  • Valuable wine, a desirable product realising 40-50 per gallon.
  • 1 in 3 wine crops fail due to frost unless a druid is present
  • The gardens near the longhouse struggle due to the poorer soil
  • 2000 goats are kept on the rocky hilly area.
  • Wheat crop fails 1 year in 8

Numbers

  • 11000 gallons of wine in a good year, a lot of which is fine quality.

Each acre planted produces:

  • 213 pounds of oats
  • 499 pounds of Rye
  • 495 pounds of Barley
  • 180 pounds of Flax fiber
  • 20 pounds of surplus flax seed
  • 900 pounds of grapes
  • 610 pounds of wheat

Notable surpluses for trade

  • 11,000 gallons of wine
  • 50,000 pounds of grain
  • 240 goats
  • 800 lbs of goat hide
  • 3000 pounds of cloth and clothes

So that’s Stoneyard! A winery that depends on grain and wine for sustenance, with a newbie ruler. The riddar could be a threatened ally, or a ripe plum ready for picking. The village could be something the adventurers just pass through, or perhaps they must take refuge at the village inn, which used to be a thriving place of business but has fallen on hard times.

Look for more villages in coming days. Want more information on Stoneyard? Ask away!

This and more can be had at the Nordlond Sagas crowdfunding campaign, active until October 12.

One of the nice things about interacting with the GURPS creative community is that every now and then someone takes something you’ve done and really, really goes to town on it. Sometimes it’s a review, sometimes a critique, sometimes an improvement or upgrade.

Mailanka took my article Conditional Injury from Pyramid #3/120 (my last article in Pyramid before, sigh, it closed down), and wrote, well . . . a lot about it.

Worth a read.

A Conditional Injury Deep Dive

I was a guest this evening with Matt Finch, talking about my Top 5 DM Tips.

I had a rough week, so I had little time to prepare. That made it pretty easy, in a way: the only thing I could think of was the most important stuff. I took a few notes, and I think we had a great conversation!

You tell me. It’s about an hour.

The Blind Mapmaker was a big backer – he got his own character – on Hall of Judgment. He also does great reviews.

His review of Hall of Judgment  was complete, criticized where warranted and praised what he liked.

So I offered him the opportunity to get a preview of what was done already: This was his report.

Preview of The Citadel at Norðvörn powered by DFRPG

This is Grappling

Grappling has always gotten short shift in games. Gaming Ballistic wrestled with this problem repeatedly over the years, first with GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling for GURPS (available at Warehouse 23), and then for 5e, Swords & Wizardry, and the Pathfinder RPG with Dungeon Grappling (PDF at Warehouse 23Print and PDF at Gaming Ballistic)

The knowledge and play experience from all of that helped me create Fantastic Dungeon Grappling, a short insert in Hall of Judgment. And now, thanks to the successful funding of the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 Kickstarter, Steve Jackson Games has a new stretch goal for that campaign.

New Dungeon Fantasy 2 Monsters Stretch Goal: $45,000

If the DFM2 Kickstarter shoots through $45,000, Steve Jackson Games has agreed to include a copy of the 8-page Fantastic Dungeon Grappling booklet in the boxed set itself.

All of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Fantasy RPG products are 8×10″ size . . . just like the box. And if that stretch goal is reached, we get to put that into practice.

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling takes the “attack roll, defense roll, damage roll” basic play of Powered by GURPS and makes it work for grappling as well. A new simplified tracking mechanism – tested over years of play – keeps this fast and light at the table.

And After the Grapple, easily and quickly perform feats such as Takedowns, Disarms, and inflicting pain or injury on your target.

Oh . . . and of course there are a few new magic spells that grapple, plus a short section on the best part about grappling: having your monsters grab and eat the players!

To unlock this new stretch goal and improve the box set contents, please visit and support The Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 Kickstarter today! And for those of you who already own the box, don’t worry!. . . Fantastic Dungeon Grappling will be available separately as a $9 for Print+PDF, and $4 in PDF-only, during the Backerkit phase of The Citadel at Nordvorn!

So, today’s Adventure seed features Draugr. Lots of them. Obviously, these would fit into Norðlond, because draugr. But did you know that (at least according to the Viking Answer Lady), it was expected for the groom to retrieve an ancestral sword from a barrow.

Let me quote the passage in full:

Originally by Viking Answer Lady

Since men did not wear a visible token of their bachelor status, the symbolic removal of their old identity followed a much different ritual from that being followed by the bride. The groom was required to obtain an ancestral sword belonging to a deceased forebear for use later in the wedding ceremony. There is a string tradition in the sagas of breaking grave-mounds in order to retrieve a sword belonging to a deceased forebear, to be given to a son of the family, and Hilda Ellis-Davidson finds evidence for the importance of such a sword at the wedding (Hilda R. Ellis-Davidson. “The Sword at the Wedding,” in Patterns of Folklore. Ipswich UK: D.S. Brewer, 1978. p. 123). This would indeed be a powerful ritual of separation and destruction of the man’s identity as a bachelor, with the descent into the grave-mound to recover the sword serving as a symbolic death and rebirth for the groom. If an appropriate barrow was not available, the ancestral sword may have been concealed by the groom’s relatives in a mock-tumulus (Ibid., p. 109). This would provide an opportunity for the groom to be confronted by a man costumed as a ghost or aptrgangr of his ancestor, who might elaborate on the young man’s instruction by reminding him of his family history and lineage, the importance of tradition, and the need to continue the ancestral bloodline. On the other hand, the sword which the groom had to obtain might instead be gotten from a living relative, complete with the lecture on family history: the sagas are not clear on this point and nowhere actually describe grave-breaking as a part of the wedding ceremony.

So, in order to get married . . . a vital part of the society . . . our young viking had to go on a dungeon delve. Sure, it’s likely one a one or two room dungeon, but in Fantasy Norse Thegn Land, you have a very, very real expectation of finding a dead guy (or gal!) at the end of it, and that corpse was really possessive about their stuff.

If it is a true ancestor, perhaps you could get by with a test of mettle, or suffering through a lecture on marriage and the undead’s expectations of his living ancestors. Or perhaps that was her favorite sword and she feels she needs it in Valholl, so get yer grubby mitts off of it.

Things like this, plus the deep mythology of the culture, some of which we’re all familiar with (it’s likely that the words wraith and wight came from raiðr and vaettr, pronounced, you guessed it, wraith-urr and vight-urr; not to mention Tiw’s Day, Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, and Freya’s Day/Frigga’s Day), were one of the reason that, after a quick playtest session using the Norse myths, I quickly settled on that culture as the basis for my future world.

It’s DEEP. And between marriage customs, the expected behavior of its inhabitants, and that the Viking culture got its name from the practice of venturing out, killing people, and taking their stuff, and the deep pervasiveness of magic and rune lore . . . it made it simply a natural for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Go back the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2/Boxed Set Reprint campaign, and while you’re at it, throw in for The Citadel at Norðlond too, and put this particular seed to work for you immediately.

In the Dragon Heresy game from last week, the GM had us eventually match up with Loki himself. He’d kidnapped Santa Claus, you see. We challenged Loki to a game of musical chairs. Yes, really.

A few things bore mentioning that were of interest to me. None of these were Dragon Heresy specific, just observations.

One of the players was reaching for her dice saying “I shoot him” with an arrow. Fortunately, that was never resolved. Were I the GM, it would not have ended well; either that, or Loki would have just waved his hand or phased around the shot at least the first time. But frack me, it’s Loki. Taking a pot shot at the Asgardian god of Mischief is an offense punishable by “it takes three days to find all the pieces of you squashed on the floor.”

The GM had us make a single die roll, and Loki rolled the lowest; we beat him on the first round, and thereby saved Yule/Ylir/Christmas. Afterwards, she expressed some disappointment that the contest was over that quickly.

It is likely she hadn’t statted out Loki fully; certainly she didn’t give him the kind of bonuses and proficiencies he should have had relative to a 1st level character . . . or maybe she did. If the Divine Mr L had Proficiency of +6 and a stat bonus of +7 or so, it’s a lower bound of 14. We all did roll very well.

I suggested to her that for things like this where you don’t want luck to completely dominate, you can tame the variability of a flat-roll 1d20 with several methods:

  • Roll 3d6 instead of 1d20, which will tend to actually center around 10, meaning the proficiency and skill bonus would prove the most important
  • Give Loki advantage: he’s a god for goodness’ sake
  • Break it up into two rolls, which will favor the one with the highest bonuses due to averaging. First roll is to realize the music stopped, which would be a Perception check. Loki almost certainly has high WIS and CHA, so on the average he’d probably be among the first to hear it’s time to lunge for chairs. THEN a Dexterity or even Acrobatics or Athletics roll, but made with disadvantage if you rolled a lower Perception check than Loki. Or just apply the margin of victory or defeat relative to Loki’s Perception check to the roll to grab a seat.

That last one is nice, in my opinion, because it’s multiple attribute dependent. You’ll want someone good at WIS and STR or DEX rather than just one; that should prolong the contest.

I also noted that there were, in fact, rules for a ritual exchange of insults (flyting) in Dragon Heresy on page whatever. Would have been apropos.