Norse mythology and culture is a rich well for drawing inspiration from, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For every thoughtful Norse game like Yggdrasill there’s a crazy horn-helmet-fest like Avalanche Press’s Viking Age and the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook for AD&D. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with playing to stereotypes for fun but it misses the bigger picture of what’s out there. An upcoming game from Swedish company RiotMinds, however, is firmly in the first category and is an original and detailed fantasy setting rooted in Nordic lore.
Trudvang Chronicles originates ultimately with the celebrated 1982 Swedish-language RPG called Drakar och Demoner (literally “Dragons and Demons” but legally distinct from Dungeons & Dragons… whatever, it was the 80s). It has been through several editions since then and the Eighth Edition made such a splat that RiotMinds (who has owned the license since 2000) decided to make an English edition. When the Kickstarter launched in the fall of 2016, it was highly praised up by the creators’ fellow-Swedes at Fria Ligan (whose stuff I love) and I thought “eh, I’ll give it a try.”
I’m so glad that I did.
While the book hasn’t been released yet, RiotMinds has been sending out beta versions of all the manuscripts in the past few months and letting us all know that the official release will be imminent. I’m really excited, not just be the gorgeous art but by the incredible setting and immersive content.
The People of Trudvang
So what makes things so different with this RPG? The mechanics are different but it’s really the setting that won me over so I want to get into that before the mechanics. At first glance, the peoples of Trudvang have a lot of familiar themes to them: some human groups, aloof elves, stout dwarves, trolls, and ogres. While those last two are not PC races, it seems like there are a lot of overlaps with Dungeons & Dragons, right?
It seems like it but things are pretty different. First of all, you can freely pick from all the different races and you don’t have to worry about any mechanical compatibility. Your race determines a lot narratively but mechanically only determines your native language, religion, and (possibly) magic as we’ll see below. Picking a race isn’t the whole picture either since there are ethnic groups and half-breeds that make the picture a little more complicated.
Humans can be Stormlanders (the new dominant culture), Mittlanders (the old people), Viranna (spiritual wanderers), and Wildfolk (barbarians). Elves can be Illmalaini (highborn elves trying to rebuild their former glory) or Korpikalli (forward-thinking wood elves). Dwarves can be Buratja (living deep in dark tunnels) and Borjornikka (cosmopolitan traders living in underground halls). On top of this are the Zvorda (Dwarf-Troll offspring), Dyfir (half-Illmalaini, half-Human), Barkbrule (half-Korpikalli, half-Human), Changelings (humans with forest troll blood), Gray Brutes (humans with brutish gray troll blood), and Ogros (half-human, half-Ogres). Again, this smattering of races is common in an RPG but what’s interesting here is that there is a small number of races in the world with tons of variations among them. It has the varied conditions of a place like Forgotten Realms without it being a freakshow.
Classes in Trudvang Chronicles (called “archetypes”) follow a similar pattern. Players will be familiar with bards, rangers, rogues, and warriors but they will be less familiar with the other three. Dimwalkers are the clerics of the setting but their practices differ for each of the peoples they live among. Dwellers are a tradition of craftsmen who move through the land plying their skills as they are needed and then moving on when they’ve done everything a hamlet is willing to pay for. Vitners are mages but they vary as much as the dimwalkers, plus magic is thought of as “weaving” in the setting so its more about knowledge and artisanship than fire rods and such.
The Lands of Trudvang
I’m only looking at the Beta version of this so I don’t know exactly how this is going to be lain out in the end, but the emphasis here seems to be narrative over analytical. That is to say, the setting is meant to be read through together rather than made up of profiles and quick-guides.
Trudvang is the name of the world for this campaign as well as the game itself, and it’s made up of a handful of broad areas which each contain settlements, wilderness regions, and ancient ruins. To the east are the Stormlands populated by a rough people descended from northern wanderers who live in seven fractured, squabbling kingdoms. In the middle of the continent is Mittland, a stable region of lyrical bards, stalwart heroes, and home to the Eald tradition (a collection of gods and heroes similar to the Norse pantheon). In the west is, appropriately, Westmark ruled over by the Virann people who freed the region from slave raiders and now promote the monotheistic Tenets of Nid.
Nhoordland to the north is an empty land of cold, primeval forests as well as the dwarven kingdom of Muspelheim where thuul runesmiths craft wonders. The Wildfolk wander here as well worshipping the dark Haminges who seem more like the selfish giant gods of D&D. Finally, the archipelago of Soj is home to the elves who came from the silent darkness beyond the “rim of the world” and blasted into the forests of the south with their gods the Vanir.
Let’s get down to brass tacks here. What sort of mechanics does the game use? Well, the original Drakar och Demoner was a percentile system (allegedly just a translation of Basic Role-Playing, the generic version of RuneQuest) but this one is a little bit of a hybrid. In order to do something you roll the dice and try to get your skill rating or lower (just like RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu) but the die you roll is a d20 (like the D&D family). The whole thing is constructed as a point-buy system. The actual target number for a roll is the Situation Value (SV) which starts at your skill rating (1-10) and might be modified up or down depending on the… well, situation. Figuring out the best path through wild country would be a Wilderness check, for example, and if you have a Wilderness score of 10 but inferior maps for a -2 penalty then your SV is 8.
Characters also get “traits” which resemble D&D‘s attributes of Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Strength, and Intelligence but also include Perception and Psyche (which, yes, can be thought of as splitting up Wisdom). The weird thing here is that they aren’t really attributes and actually run from +4 (awesome) to -4 (terrible) as situational modifiers. If you had a smart character with +2 Intelligence, for example, you can reasonably argue that applies to your route-planning check above to boost the SV to 10 again.
Lastly, when you get good at some skills you can use your character points to buy disciplines (narrow focuses within a skill) and specialties (really narrow focuses within the skill). Continuing with the example above, you might have the 3 ranks in the Geography discipline so you can add on +3 to the SV and improve your odds even more. On the other hand, the 2 ranks you have in the City Knowledge specialty (which could give you +6 to your SV) doesn’t apply here so you get nothing. All in all it somewhat resembles Early Dark and Shadows of Esteren, which is all very appropriate.
There are other factors like the Vitner weaving and the Inspiration-like Raud which serves as a sometimes +1d6 bonus when heroes are in dire situations. The only one we really need to go into in detail here, though, is Combat Capacity. This system is a little intricate and tactically fiddly (a technical term) but also offers some cool options. In a nutshell, here’s the deal: you get Combat Points equal to your Fighting score (plus Disciplines and Specialties, though those are often used only for particular weapons) and you can invest those into your attacks and defenses. You can spend them on attacking, on parrying, on feinting, on leaning over your saddle and slashing someone, etc. It might take some paradigm-shifting but in the end you get a system that requires you to think about whether you’re charging forward, cautiously back-peddling, or pushing past the axe of a towering giant to stab as best you can into its thigh. Narrative as well as tactical…