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Initial “Norden World” Notes

Last Friday, I was was inspired by the snow on the ground in Seattle to run a Dungeon World game set in Mythender’s Mythic Norden. Four fantastic people joined me for an evening of sword and sorcery adventure in a land that truly hates them. And between the players and others who heard about the game, I am energized to write more about it. Here’s the first set of notes. (I’m not inherently keen on calling it “Norden World,” but it’s a useful working title.)

Assumptions

You can read. You can play Dungeon World. You can read the few pages in Mythender on Mythic Worlds and Mythic Norden. If you know about none of these things, this post won’t make sense.

Premise

A harsh and unrelenting winter has come for the people of Norden. Your community was but one of countless that were frozen in place as the Great Ice Storm fell upon it. Many of your friends, neighbors, and family hid in their houses in hope that it would blow over–they were frozen inside. Others ran along with you for the dangerous forest, hoping it would provide shelter, but only the small number you travel with now made it. You left behind so many people frozen in place, endlessly staring in horror.

You have traveled for a day in this forest, heading west to the massive mountain of Odinberge. The Wise Women of your town told you many stories, many bits of knowledge and wisdom, and you all recall the tale of the Horn of Sorrow–a relic at the top of Odinberge capable of warming the heart of the gods themselves. If you are to ever see your family and friends freed from the icy grip of Norden’s cruelty, you will get to that mountain and blow that horn.

The legends of this horn say that such a quest is filled with peril. Each of you, tell me one thing the Wise Women warned you against?

(The four in my Friday group answered with: “the wolves, who are not our brothers and never were,” “the four winds, for they seek to punish those who stray from their homes,” “the moon, for it seeks to reveal ourselves to our enemies,” and “to never look back on the road behind.” These each became potential fronts.)

Choosing Classes

Norden is not a land filled with caring gods or mortal magic, so classes like the Cleric, Paladin, and Wizard are right out. As a bit of neat happenstance of needing to come up with an easy way to setting on asynchronous class choosing, I wrote out this:

The first thing you do before creating a character is choosing a prompt to answer. That determines your class, and the GM will ask follow-up questions—maybe at character creation and certainly during play.

  • Which of you watched as you lost your older sibling to a clan-war, and swore that you would never be so weak as to let another loved one die? You grew up to be a fighter.
  • Which of you were lost in the woods, and were nearly eaten by the wildebeasts save for the hunter that rescued you? You grew up to be a ranger.
  • Which of you grew up under the harsh and relentless tutelage of the Wise Women, and are the only keepers of their lore left? You grew up to be a druid.
  • Which of you lost your parents in the great fire, and had to raise yourself and your younger sibling on the streets? You grew up to be a thief.
  • Which of you were stolen away as an infant, and had your blood mixed with that of some foul monster before your family rescued you? You grew up to be a barbarian.

I also want to reskin the bard to be the skald, but don’t know the lead-in question for that class yet.

Community Bonds

Rather than having bonds be based solely on classes, I want them mostly based on the community. Things like:

  • _______ gave me hospitality when I  dearly needed it.
  • _______ and I grew up together.
  • I have a crush on _______.

Except punchier. Anyway, that’s what I want. I want a continual reinforcement of community, because there is no community in Mythic Norden anymore and this is why they quest.

Character Sheet Additions

First, there’s a seventh stat to reflect Mythender’s sense of Mythic corruption: POW (Power). It starts with a modifier of +0, and increases of its own accord.

You also have a record sheet of things to write down, as a chronicle of your journey:

  • Your foretold doom. When this is filled in, while you’re in a situation where this doom could genuinely come true at the moment, you have -1 ongoing to all Defy Danger actions.
  • The scars the Mythic World leaves on you.
  • All the things you let the Mythic World destroy because of your hubris: same thing as scars.
  • Bargains you have made that you have yet to fulfil.

Because…

New Moves

Beseech the Mythic World

When you beseech the Mythic World for the power to overcome and dominate, roll+POW. On a success, you gain such power: the GM tells you what you’ve gained for that moment, and you use it as you will. Additionally, on a 10+, you choose 1 of the following; on a 7-9, the GM chooses 1 instead:

  • The Mythic World foretells your death or doom, and you see it in your mind. You can only choose this if Your Doom is unrevealed.
  • The Mythic World leaves a scar on you, permanently. Write it down on your sheet.
  • You watch as the Mythic World destroys something you love. Write it down on your sheet.

You do not want a 6-. The GM chooses 1 from above, or leaves you at Death’s Door.

If you have at least POW +2, your choices expand 10+:

  • You become a Mythender.
  • You become a Myth.

The GM cannot choose either of these fates for you. If you choose either of those, after this moment or encounter is over, your story as a mortal Ends. You will either leave the party, be spirited away, or they will leave you — but you no longer have a place in this tale. Describe how this happens.

Whether you succeed or fail, mark XP. You may only call upon the Mythic World for power once per battle or significant moment.

Bargain with Forces

When you seek to bargain with a Mythic being and it is willing to listen, ask of it a favor and roll+CHA. On a 10+, you get this favor for a minor cost, something that is inconsequential to you but means the world to it. On a 7-9, you get this favor, but it asks for something of consequence in return (GM’s choice):

  • It wants a promise that you will return to it, and just a little of your blood to seal that promise: Take 1 damage, unavoidable, and write this creature and bargain down on your sheet.
  • It wants you to speak a truth: It will ask a question, and you will speak the truth of the answer aloud.
  • It wants something you hold dear: It will name something you have—an item, a memory, a hope, etc.—and demand it as payment.
  • Or the GM will ask something else of you.

If you deny the being, treat as a 6-. Perhaps if you do not like the price, you can offer something different, but of more value. (If you dare command the being instead, roll+POW, but beware.)

New GM Principles/Agendas/Moves

Chief among what the GM should do for Mythic Norden is:

  • Make the Wise Women’s words true
  • Discover more of the Wise Women’s warnings and portents. Ask players what the Wise Women have said about the current or impending situation—ask those who aren’t involved in the immediate moment.
  • “Embrace the fantastic” becomes instead: Embrace the fantastic and the terrifying together.

Race & Alignment

There are no non-human PCs in Norden, but I like those mechanical hooks, so I just need to reskin the races. I’m thinking about making them prompts, where it’s not just a choice that a fact is true, but also a question for you to answer. (Then, if you’ve read Mythender, you know I’m all about choosing questions to answer.)

Also, I don’t like alignment for this build. Really, your alignment is “fucked by the Mythic World.” I’m inclined to just reduce the XP needed to level by 1 and just remove alignment than add something in alignment’s place. [Edit: I have been convinced that I should alter alignment rather than change it.]

Little Player Healing

Because there aren’t spellcasting classes that can cure wounds, needing to be healed of a large amount instantly is something you beseech a force for, or dare channel Mythic Power to heal you and all your friends. We had a great scene involving a spirit of healing waters, and the druid bargained for it to heal the fighter (and agreed to come back to it in a year and a day).

The Lack of Community

There are some other bits here, but I come to the one that’s the most troublesome. Much of DW’s sense of progression and economy comes from the idea that you’ll go back to a community to resupply and do other stuff. None of that is true for Mythic Norden, as it’s a story of isolation and unrelenting hell. All the special moves around that — Carouse, Supply, Recover, Recruit, Outstanding Warrants, and Bolster — are void. The need for gold is also void, but items in Dungeon World get consumed and lost. And therein lies the issue: how to build back in some of that player agency to resupply and decide what their character uses (and thus decide how awesome their character looks).

That isn’t a problem in a one-shot, but is a problem in a long-term game — and this quest is far from a one-shot. If I were to write this as a thing, it would be “you start at level 1, and when you get to the top of Odinberge, you’re level 10” sort of thing.

What other DW games have run on this premise of no community and long-term play?

Other Comments?

I don’t want to end on a specific question, as that implies that’s all I’m curious about. What else do you think?

– Ryan

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12 Responses to Initial “Norden World” Notes

  1. Marc says:

    Super hot. I’d jump on that in a second.

  2. Andy says:

    Depending on how screwed-up you want it to be, you could replace towns/communities with lairs. You resupply (and get exposed to trouble) by taking something/someone else’s home for shelter. It’d be a great way to build in pockets of the Mythic World, too.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That is an interesting concept. I’mma chew on that.

      I know the value in games like these of downbeats, where you creatively have a chance to rest, and get to take a break from Action All The Time. That’s the trick when it comes to removing the community, because that’s part of its role (and the role of resupply — it’s a pacing mechanic).

      – Ryan

  3. Ryan Macklin says:

    Some thoughts on the G+ thread about how to reskin alignment:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RyanMacklin/posts/5GJU6C7rpWG

  4. Tracy says:

    I dig this. A lot. My own work has been very Norse of late, and this resonates. I like how you’ve captured the feel of Mythender’s world, but give a different perspective on it. This is, for sure, a Thing I Would Play.

  5. Love this! I especially love that it could transition into a Mythender game (or start as a Microscope/Kingdom/Eternity game). It’s a very fluid and flexible piece of work, even as it specifically hones in on a kind of storytelling that could be considered part of the subset of Dungeon World. :D

    I think the Doom is a particularly great mechanic, as it drives home that Defy Danger has consequences, even when heroes attempt it.

    I think Monsterhearts actually works on a sense of perverted community. It’s like there’s this place you have to go every day that sucks the life out of you and makes you awful. It might be worth looking at how the playbook moves in that game highlight that aspect.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Another thing that the GM can do: erase your doom, show that you have somehow changed your Fate, but in a way that makes the path ahead murky again. (Which allows you to refill it up later as a cost of beseeching the Mythic World for power.)

      I need to re-exampling MH and AW again, for other mechanics at least, but I’m not sure it’ll solve my community problem. Those games are about community, and even DW is about partly community as a waystation if not a continual hub. Community is where you return to, and there is no returning to anywhere in Norden World. (Which is part of what I like about this. I like the sense of isolation you get in certain sword & sorcery stories, when there’s no home to turn back to.)

      In fact, I think as a subtle way to reinforce that is to remove the “your character retires to safety” element of advancement. There is no safety until you free your people and warm the hearts of the gods. I’mma chew on that.

  6. Jason Pitre says:

    Could you not have a dark reflection of the Paladin; a servant of the Myths who gains obligations and quests on their behalf? Those servitor-types do seem prone to becoming mythenders.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Oh, no. This is not that game. I’m sure someone will later hack it later to put that in, but that archetype is against the premise.

      – Ryan

  7. Jason Pitre says:

    Oh, and you have considered Sagas of the Icelanders, right? They do the nordic community aspects rather well and has plenty of AW-friendly mechanics for plundering.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I need to read that, though as I’ve mentioned I’m not looking for community moves. This is explicitly a game without community.

      – Ryan

    • Jason Pitre says:

      Sorry for my quick misreading of the post which led me to thinking it was about community rather than the opposite. I still think that Sagas will be particularly handy for other moves pertaining to the anarchic society.