posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post


IN HIS HISTORIA FRANCORUM, Bishop Gregory of Tours records that the Geatish king Hygelac raided Frisia sometime between the years 516 and 534. The Old English epic Beowulf also mentions that raid, placing it in a larger context of Scandinavian heroism. Since the events of Beowulf unfold within the same timeframe as the Pendragon roleplaying game; since the tale was told by the same Anglo-Saxons who fought King Arthur; and especially since both traditions have heroic exploit in common - Land of Giants uses Beowulf as the basis for a source-book of Scandinavia.

You want to play Arthur Meets Beowulf? You can do that. Land of Giants is already looking pretty fuckin' awesome. The book can be used in one of two ways - either to allow Arthurian Knights to travel to the lands of Thule and have awesome adventures there, or to create a Northmen-centric campaign full of Northmen doing awesome Northmen things (and who knows, maybe raiding into Britain every so often...). There are handouts in the back of the book called "Foreigner's Knowledge of Thule" and "A Foreigner's Map of Thule," detailing what foreigners might know about this strange land... some of which is patently false, by the way. Different, more informative handouts are available for the natives. Already I'm liking this book and its willingness to stretch the boundaries of what Pendragon can and cannot be; after the focus of the core book this is definitely refreshing.

The introduction cautions us that, by default, we won't actually be seeing Beowulf much; he's there as the ideal to attain, not usually as someone you pal around with. Why?


Though this source-book based is on the epic Beowulf, the hero of the same name does not play a prominent part in these adventures. Why? Quite simply, roleplaying games should provide players with the opportunity to relive heroic moments through the personae of their characters. In the saga, Beowulf tends to hog the glory. His minor exploits are replete with struggles against giants, sea monsters, and foreign foes. Therefore, his two greatest adventures - The Adventure of Hrothgar's Hall and The Adventure of the Barrow-dragon - are reserved for the player characters instead.

Holy shit, is this really a Pendragon supplement? After the core book's "You won't complete this adventure, that's Lancelot's job" this is remarkably refreshing.

(really, most of the supplements do this - they are much, much less focused than Pendragon, and really broaden the game's scope, as a good supplement - IMHO - should. I just wasn't expecting this much respect for player agency right out of the gate.)

There is a lengthy glossary and pronunciation guide, which I will larely ignore because who the fuck wants to read about a glossary. I do love this entry, though:


Ofermod : Overconfidence, what no good hero should be without.

Our first chapter is entitled The Perilous North Sea . See, while Land of Giants is a Thule-centric book, "knights from more civilized lands" still go there on occasion, and the best way to do it is by boat. That's what this chapter is about - getting there by boat and all of the ways that the water hates you and wants you to die.

There's a lot of discussion about getting a ship, how the ship sails, et cetera, which is a little dull, but I wanted to point out this bit:


A Northman may have part-share in a ship, or he could describe the proposed undertaking to his lord. If the adventurer seems promising - that is, he wins a Personality Dispute of his Energetic vs. the lord's Selfish (see Pendragon, p. 198) - the lord lends him a small longship (and a crew of young warriors, if necessary). Custom demands that he repay his lord with a gift: the best piece of booty from the adventure.

That bit there about a "Personality Dispute?" Yeah, that actually was in the core book and I just never noticed. Seriously, I read that and thought "What, is this referring to an older edition?" I knew you could have two characters try and talk one another into something via an opposed Trait roll but I never knew it had a name.

I first started playing Pendragon in 1992. And I just noticed this now.

Then we get to the section on stuff that can happen while at sea, and I would like to note that there is one entry in that table which fills me with glee: "Polar Ice and Polar Bears." If the dice gods smile on you (or hate you, depending) you can run into ice floes that you have to slow down to weave through and then sometimes one of those floes has a fuckin' polar bear on it Jesus why did I never read this book before.

Also there might be a giant magic whale that tries to swallow your entire ship. If you ever wanted to know what would happen if Sir Lancelot was a character in Moby Dick, have I got a game for you!

I am significantly more excited about this project now. Next time I'll delve into The History of Thule , which promises to be interesting.

A note: There are actually two Saxon-centric Pendragon books; Green Knight Publishing put together a book titled simply Saxons! . I find it inferior in some ways, in that it focuses almost entirely on those Saxons found in Britain; it's a further narrowing of the game's scope when the scope is pretty focused already, and I prefer the books that broaden the game's horizons a bit more. That's a matter of taste, though, more than anything; Saxons! does go into more detail in some ways, especially those related to Saxon culture and specifically the culture of the Saxons still living in Britain, and is a fine book in its own right.

But this one has polar bears so it wins.

One final note: it is immensely gratifying to me to read about people who've come to this game because they read me rambling about it. Seriously, I hope you have even a tenth of the fun I've had playing Pendragon over the years. If you have questions and you don't want to clutter the thread with 'em, I have PMs, and believe you me I'll talk about Pendragon for ages.

History of Thule

posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

Now where was I? Oh, right - the History of Thule chapter.

This is mostly just a really big bulleted list, which I will summarize; I will undoubtedly miss some stuff, but just think of that as a good reason to buy the book yourselves. A nice note I rather liked:


As noted in the introduction, the Northern "now" is A.D. 521, immediately preceding Hygelac's fateful raid, although you may wish to start your campaign considerably earlier. Note that the "now" of Pendragon is A.D. 531, 10 years later. When introducing Logres knights into the Northern setting, you have two options:

• Follow the time-line. Beowulf has already completed The Adventure of Hrothgar's Hall, but The Adventure of the Barrow-dragon awaits brave heroes.

• Ignore Gregory of Tours. The chronology becomes a rough outline for possible events. Since the Northmen have no firm calendar, why should you?

Again, Land of Giants' insistence on "Look, if you want you can just say 'screw it' and do what you want" is really refreshing to me. One of my biggest complaints about Pendragon is that in trying to evoke the Arthurian canon it goes a step to far and becomes beholden to it; it's really nice to see the expansions try and get away from that a bit.

Now, the Prehistory entries are pretty sparse; boats first began to see use in Thule around 6000 BC, for instance. Okay, sure. It's the next section, Age of Giants , that starts off with a bang:


c. 4000 B.C.: Odin and other gods slay the ancient giant Ymir, creating the world from his body. The race of giants spring from Ymir's corpse as well. The gods carve man and woman from two trees and give them life.

So while we know that man first came to Thule many thousands of years prior, the Northmen would peg their beginnings to roughly 4000 BC.


c. 3000 B.C.: The giants perfect the use of iron, creating weapons of outstanding craftsmanship and strength. Their culture reaches its peak. In their shadow, humans struggle to survive (much as mammals did during the age of dinosaurs).

Apropos of nothing, I love the comparison of giants to dinosaurs. Fuck your scientific accuracy, I'm picturing Surtur as a T-Rex who is also on fire and that is awesome.

Much of early history is basically Norse mythology, which if you don't know anything about it, get to reading. In the early years of the first century AD, the Northmen begin to forge trade links with the Romans.


127: The Kingdom of Vihtesleth. The legendary king Dan creates a Cimbri kingdom made up of Zealand, Fyn, Falster, and Lolland. Specifically, these Cimbri were the Eruli tribe. While his realm is called Vihtesleth, Dan's name would one day apply to the Danes and to Denmark.

Huh. Neat. Apparently this dude's kingdom lasts less than a century before a guy named Heremod shows up to wreck the party.


c. 230: Heremod was a good king, strong in battle and firm of rule, but as he grew older he encompassed evil and became a kin-slayer. None mourn his death when he is killed by monsters in the Troll Woods of central Zealand.

The kingdom of Denmark basically falls to shit after a while, and when the Roman Empire collapses the loss of trade makes things worse. Now there's a mess of independent clans and mini-kingdoms everywhere, and a bunch of kings rise and fall and I'm not typing all that out. According to this timeline, Arthur is born in 492; Beowulf is born in 499. Take that, old man! The Danes kick the Angles and Jutes out of Denmark and they flee to Britain; there are more coups and dead kings and betrayals.


510: After being defeated by the Lombards, the longlost Eruli (Heruli) return to Thule. Three hundred years of constant warfare has made them one of the fiercest peoples in Europe.
Arthur draws the Sword from the Stone.

The Battle of Badon Hill, the final defeat of the Saxons in Britain, occurs in 518; Beowulf slays Grendel in 520.


521: The Battle in Friesland takes place. King Hygelac and Beowulf, with two ship-loads of warriors, are surrounded by a superior force of Frisians and Franks. The Geats fight valiantly, but are soon overwhelmed by sheer numbers. A Frankish champion named Dayraven strikes Hygelac down with his magic sword, Nailing. Beowulf, in turn, crushes Dayraven with his bare hands. Taking Nailing and thirty mail coats, he alone escapes the slaughter by jumping into the sea and swimming across the British Channel to relatives among the royal house of Kent. Hygd, Hygelac's widow, and the West Geatish nobles offer the kingdom to Beowulf, but he demurs. Instead, he marries Hygd and serves as regent for her son, Heardred.

Nobody likes the Franks. Still, Dayraven is a kickass name. Also, Alternate History Pendragon where Beowulf shows up to declare himself King of Kent and serves as a rallying point for British Saxons to regain strength, leading to a constant state of low-grade warfare and skirmishes with King Arthur, would be fucking great .

Imagine this shit going down with Lancelot and Gawaine in the thick of it holy shit who could handle that much

There is a lot more history. Alliances are formed and broken, peace is brokered and then broken, battles are fought, people die. Ain't no Pax Arthuriana here. The Battle of Camlann is set at 565; Beowulf's adventure of the Barrow-Dragon and his subsequent death happen in 567. The overlap between the two is really impressive.


The tides of history roll over Thule, hiding the truth of these years behind layers of song and story. Scops and Skalds sing of the glorious age when heroes walked the earth. Three hundred years later, the lands of Europe are stunned by the ferocity of the Northmen's descendants: the Vikings.

Seriously, I know I skimmed a lot... but the History chapter is very much several pages of "dudes with funny names kill each other. Then try try not killing each other for a while, but they get sick of it and go back to killing each other." This should probably be indicative of the kind of game we're gonna see here in this book.

Next time: The Wild Northern Lands , the geography and nations chapter.

The Wild Northern Land

posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

Kavak posted:

Next time I am at Games of Berkeley I am buying everything Pendragon related they have.

This is so awesome that it deserves more posting. Ergo:

Let's talk The Wild Northern Land . This is the overview chapter; more detailed entries for most everything are found in a later chapter.

Nicely detailed and ambiguous enough to be interesting, I like it!

There are mountains, there are highlands, there are forests and marshes and waterways. Some interesting excerpts:


Jotenheim Mountains: These mountains are the "Home of Giants" according to local tradition. The giants who live here are larger and less degenerate than most of their kin, so this rumor could very well be true. Magicians notice that local Life Force is stronger than in other wild places (Ambient 5d20, + 5d20 to Summoning giants). The Jotenheim peaks rise to 8000 feet; Mt. Galdhopiggen (8097') and Mt. Glittertind (8048') are the highest points in Thule. Just west of these mountains flows the Jostedalsbre glacier, the largest ice mass in all of Europe.


The Highlands tend to be damper and cooler than the plains to the north and south. Some say that such a harsh land breeds harsh people. Others point out that the barbaric Eruli chose to settle in the Highlands.


Forest of Thunder: This light, mixed woodland stretches between the Trondheim fjord and the mountains of Thule. Due to the frequency in which lightning - or angry Thor's hammer - shatters treetrunks, Northmen refer to these woods as the "Forest of Thunder." Between the birch and pine trunks grow five-foot tall wildflowers such as northern monkshood and great valerian.


Ultima Thule
This semi-legendary land cannot be found on any map, but is rumored to lie far north of Thule. There snowy mountains spit fire into the air and icebergs float in
boiling seas. Even further north, one encounters a primeval jelly called the lung of the sea which is too thick to sail through but too spongy to walk on. One day north of the lung, some say, the sea becomes solid ice!

I just thought each of those was kinda neat for one reason or another. Still, while geography is neat and all, let's talk about the political landscape.

For the most part, Northern politics are tribal politics; you belong to a tribe, your tribe has a chief, and maybe you even call him King if he's pretentious. Your tribe runs a chunk of land, which is usually named after you; the Geats live in Gautland, the Cwenas live in Swenaland, and the Svear live in Svitjod, which apparently is named after them somehow Northern languages are weird.

That said, larger kingdoms do exist - Denmark consists of many small island tribes, each of which owes allegiance to King Hrothgar. There are five great kingdoms in Pendragon's Thule:

• Denmark: Zealand, Jutland, North Jutland, Fyn, Lolland, Falster and Skane
• Svitjod: Uppmanland, Sodermanland, Gastrickland, Gotland, Vastmanland, Oland and Aland
• Gautjod: West Gautland, East Gautland after 534
• Ostland: Thelamark, Ranrike and Heathomark
• Vestland: Hordaland and Rogaland

What follows is an alphabetical list of thumbnail descriptions of lands and kingdoms, much like Pendragon's The Lands chapter. As I did there, instead of summarizing everything I'll just pick out some of the entries that jump out at me as being interesting:

"Aland was the first Cimbri island to fall to the Svear. Unable to oppose their Svear overlords directly, the Alanders take petty revenge by skimping on tribute." They have a listed navy of "one war-canoe." Sucks to be Aland.

Cwenaland is "ruled by women who may be either fighters or shamans, sometimes both."

Frisia is kinda cool: "Frisia is a semi-independent kingdom. It was around A.D. 138 that the Frisians bound themselves, more or less willingly, to the Romans as protection from Celtic and Germanic tribes, and despite a number of revolts, Frisia was still governed by Roman officials when the Franks took over the Imperial government. The current ruler of Frisia, Theudobert, is the son of a Frankish lord and a Saxon princess. His retinue includes some of the greatest Saxon and Frankish champions in the North (including Dayraven, from A.D. 510 to 521). Frisia is covered with many artificial mounds and dikes, and Theudobert is often heard to claim: "The Gods made middle-earth, but Frisians made the land"."

"Gotland is ruled by free men, mostly traders who profit from the long-distance exchange of goods, but also rich bonder. There is no single ruler - all important
issues are decided at the Thing. Despite the decline in trading, following the collapse of the Roman empire more than a century ago, this island has maintained relations with people all around the East Sea, and with Frisia and beyond. There are still many goods being traded by Gotland traders: furs and pelts, iron, weapons, ornaments and exotic goods are exchanged with the Northman, Cwenas, Franks, Frisians and different tribes of Finnar." Democracy? In my Pendragon?!?

"Several Cimbrian tribes have hidden deep inside the conifer woods of the Highlands and are living as tiny independent "kingdoms", giving the region the name Smaland {Small Lands). The most famous of these small lands are: Tjust {north-east), Njudung {central), More {south-east) and Finnveden {west). Once these kingdoms were larger and more influential, but with the rising power of Denmark, Svitjod, Gautjod and, most importantly, the arrival of the Eruli of Varend, they have been forced to withdraw into the rough hills and woods. Most Northmen have no idea who runs the tribes, nor even how many there are!"

The book does a fine job at playing up the idea of tension between many of these regions and tribes; the Svear are apparently quite expansionist, for example, and regions between them and... most anyone else are described as tense and harried. King Wald of Thelamark has converted his aristocracy to Christianity, though his karls remain Odinic (Odinic = Wotanic, in essence).

The contrast between this and the base book couldn't be sharper; while Pendragon's Britain is described as largely at peace, given the game's default setting of the apex of Arthur's reign, Thule is described as a simmering pot about to boil over with war. In Britain, knights are assumed to be heading out to Adventure, sometimes dealing with mortals but often with strange monsters and places; in Thule, characters are assumed to be heading out to kill other Northmen. And maybe some giants, too, if they're up to it, but mostly Northmen. Pendragon 4th edition assumes a setting where the greatest of Arthur's wars are behind him - Land of Giants assumes a setting where the greatest wars are yet to come.

The People of Thule

posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

Let's talk about The People of Thule . This is where the interesting stuff happens.

First up, let's talk about social classes, which are a little different than the ones you find in Pendragon: On the top of the ladder are Kings. Kingship is a relatively new development in Thule, and while any tribal chieftain can call himself a King (in Pendragon terms they'd be classed as Pennaths), there are only a few K9ings in the Arthurian sense - rulers over vast swaths of peoples and lands.

A guy gets to be King through three forces - Inheritance, Election, and/or Force. For Inheritance, a potential King must be of noble blood (an ethling ). Descent from the prior King helps. Descent from Wotan is even better. Election is a thing one does not see in Arthurian Britain; the Northmen realize that a King is only as powerful as the lords ( jarls ) who will support him, so if the King can't get elected by the jarls, why bother making him King in the first place? And lastly there's Force: if either of the prior two criteria are not met, well, overwhelming military force solves a lot of problems.

It is also noted that, while rare, kingship in Thule may be held by multiple people simultaneously; "Hrothgar and his brother Halga rule together, dividing responsibilities by function, rather than geography." Basically 'when it comes to war I'm king, when it comes to peace and diplomacy it's all you, bro.'

Beneath the Kings are the Ethlings - the aristocracy. In the game's setting, the ethlings are in the middle of making the transition between 'powerful chieftains' and 'hereditary aristocracy;' the implication is that in a few decades they'll look an awful lot like the nobles we've met in Pendragon already, but they're not quite there yet.

A prince or a chieftain is a jarl, and jarls are a subsection of the ethlings; though not explicitly spelled out here, there's a sense that being a jarl involves skill at warfare rather than just 'being born noble.'

The free peasantry, beneath the ethlings on the social ladder, are the karls . If you think you're going to confuse karl and jarl a lot, well, join the club. "All have protection under the law, the right to carry weapons, and a say in local politics." Some karls live on their own land, and some hold it in exchange for service to a jarl. Craftsmen of all stripes fit in this category.

Finally there are the thralls , or slaves. Their life sucks.

Land of Giants goes on to explain how it's not just the nobility in transition at this point - it's the entirety of Northern society. Changing from tribal to feudal, many long-held ways of life are in flux; in some areas the society is strictly tribal in nature, cleaving fast to the old ways, while other regions are adopting feudal customs with an alarming speed. Though it's never expressly suggested as such, this tribal/feudal dynamic could be a wonderful source of plot hooks and dramatic tension as players decide to back one side or another in the frequent conflicts these changes provoke...

There are also, in certain areas, "Free Farmers" - settlement has expanded inland from some of the densely populated coasts faster than society can really follow. "Karls rule the valleys and alpine meadows as farmers and herders. The farmstead ( igaard ) replaces the great-hall, and a farmer with large land-holdings (a bonde ) holds as much prestige as a jarl, at least in the eyes of fellow "bonder"."

Now, on to some of the customs of the North. The felag or "fellowship" is a much more common occurrence in the North; part-owners of a ship might form one, or a band of warriors, or even fellow craftsmen might form one as a proto-guild. This is basically an excuse to make Loyalty (group) passions.

The Thing is a gathering and then some; it's important to all the karls and absolutely essential to free farmer society. It's kind of a combination of social event, trade fair, court date, Super Bowl, and - in free farmer societies - Congress. It's a feast and a tournament all in one, with even more stuff tacked on.

Wergild is a relatively new concept in the North; instead of sticking with the whole "an eye for an eye" response to murder, it is permissible to pay the 'blood price' to a slain person's family and erase the wrongdoing. This can range from six pounds of silver for a humble karl to 500 pounds of gold for a prosperous jarl. Thralls have no wergild price, because they are property, not people; an owner can, however, seek recompense of roughly equal value to an ox - 180 pence - for 'stolen property.'

Wyrd and Ofermod have together shaped the warrior mindset in Thule. Wyrd means fate - specifically, the certain fate of a transient life. Everybody dies. Even the Gods are not immune to Wyrd; they are fated to die at Ragnarok. So, the Northman reasons, it's probably best to live well and die gloriously and then at least in story and song a part of me will live on. Ofermod would most readily - if not precisely - be translated as "overconfidence;" in Pendragon Trait terms, Recklessness. It is not just accepted but encouraged. Ofermod is what lets you charge blindly into eternal damnation because you think you can win (if you don't mind my swiping a HoL skill name...).

Now, wealth in Thule is handled slightly differently than in some parts of the world. Like everyplace else in the Pendragon setting, landed wealth is the only 'real' wealth worth speaking of, but in the North, weak trade links and lack of monetary exchange - no one mints coins in Thule - shift them away from a more traditional economy and into a gift economy .


So ought a young man, / in his father's household,
treasure up the future / by splendid bestowals
his chosen men stand / his retainers serve him
by his goods and goodness, / so that later in life
by him in turn, / when war comes.
--(Beowulf, 11. 20-24)

The key difference here is that in Arthurian Britain, one receives wealth for services. Perform well in battle, get spoils of war. Impress your Lord, get granted a Manor. And so on.

In Thule, however, you get the wealth in advance of service; Kings and jarls give their retainers lavish gifts and lands in the expectation that when it is time for war, the retainers will be there.

"Every member of Northman society engages in reciprocal generosity, not just the ethlings. Gifts are given for friendship and for thanks - for almost any reason - but gift-giving is never frivolous. Often, accepting a gift is more difficult than giving one, because it creates an obligation to repay with an even greater gift. To Northmen, the phrase "I am in your debt" has greater meaning than it does to us. Material wealth (gold and gems) forms just one facet of gift-giving. Food, lodging, arms and armor, horses, land, animal hides, ancient heirlooms, slaves, brides, military service, and the glory garnered from this wealth are all part of the gift-economy."

That said, there is some 'conventional' commerce in Thule, and matters can be simplified by paring things down to the listed costs in Librum in Pendragon.

There follows a list of some of the changes one might see in the usual Pendragon equipment list (there are no inns in Thule; armor heavier than Norman Chain is not made locally, though it could be imported at great expense; chargers are rare and cost more, et cetera) and goings-on (the contests held at the Thing are not strictly a tournament in the Arthurian sense, for instance).

Next time I'll get to the Worship chapter, and how Thule's Odinism differs from Arthurian Wotanism and also what the hell Christianity is doing in Thule, and so on.


posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

So - Worship in Arthurian Scandanavia. Land of Giants is quite clear about how this is all very much anachronistic; different regions had different faiths and a coherent mythology didn't spring up for another 500 years, but that's less easily played, so you get a more simplified and unified set of belief systems. There are three main faiths:


• Odinism is the religion of Northmen. To keep spirit with Beowulf, non-martial forms of worship have been softened from the brutal reality (Hrothgar does not condone regular human sacrifice).
• Heathenism describes beliefs shared by both the Cimbri and the Skridfinnar. Cimbri Heathen practices take up the barbaric slack released by Odinism, though Skridfinn Heathenism is relatively peaceful.
• Finally, Christianity is anachronistically included in one region to reflect Beowulf's Christian sub-text.

So, let's start off with Odinism :


Unlike Christians, who worship God as an end in itself, Northmen usually pay respect to a given deity when they expect a favor in return. Thus a farmer's wife might worship Thor (protector of the common man) for most of the year, then pray to Freya just before harvest to call upon her powers of fertility. But during a pregnancy, she would hold Frigg (goddess of childbirth) above all others.

I'm not going to go into too much detail on Odinism because you should know about Norse Mythology by now. Because it's awesome. If you don't, here, have a Wikipedia page . I will, however, talk about the main Odinist cults - sort of subdivisions of the faith that focus on different deities.

There is, of course, the Cult of Odin . Odin is "the god of warfare, magic, and death. His followers include jarls and warriors, who exchange loyalty for victory in battle." These are the dudes you think of when you think of northern warriors; they don't bother with the whole 'prayer and praise' thing, because Odin doesn't give a shit about those. He cares about deeds . So go kill things in battle and die well.

Then you've got the Cult of Freya :


Freya is a goddess of all things associated with prosperity: sunlight, rain, the earth; love, poetry, and riches. While most farmers credit her (and her husband Thor) with the land's bounty, the king-priests of Freya's cult in Svitjod emphasize rewards of wealth.

The priesthood of Freya has intertwined almost completely with the nobility of the Svear, so that Svitjod could be said to have her cult as a state religion; the impression I'm starting to get here is that their focus on wealth basically makes them the Odinist version of Prosperity Doctrine followers, which is kinda funny for a book written in 1996.

The Cult of Thor is basically the cult of the common man; pretty much all his dudes are common people, the people that Arthurian knights probably won't encounter - farmers and craftsmen, the people who know that Thor will take care of them.

Neat detail:


Thor and his farming followers have little need for temples. Instead, shrines are erected near villages, farmsteads, or along paths. In a typical shrine an oaken statue of the Thunder-god, hammer in hand, is sheltered by a small roof supported by four wooden posts. The statue's forehead contains a chip of flint, which travelers can use to light fire (this custom recognizes that Thor's lightning brought fire to mankind). The shrine is always surrounded by a holy sanctuary, a Frithgeard , where neither plow nor bloodshed are allowed to disturb the soil.

There is one other variety of Odinist faith that deserves discussion: Eruli Odinism . The Eruli are cultural Cimbri (we'll explore the different cultures and ethnicities soon, promise) but they are Odinist rather than Heathen; they have blended some of the most brutal aspects of both faiths. They meld Heathen cruelty with Odinist battle-lust; many of the tribe's warriors are berserkers, and human sacrifice is still practiced. The Eruli are not nice people.

So, next up: Heathenism .


In Pendragon, Heathen is defined as a tribal religion which respects the impersonal forces of nature, animals as prey and predator, and spirits from the Other Side.

Essentially, think animist shamans with a healthy patina of New Age thinking... and a bit of old age nastiness. There are two varieties of Heathenism to be discussed further; Cimbrian Heathenism is the slightly more violent variety, with human sacrifice being quite common, plus this gem:


Their simple lifestyle persists through tradition and a constant shunning of practices which are too unnatural. When Cimbrians defeat a technically superior opponent, they follow strict rules about abandoning booty. They throw gold and silver into bogs, break swords, hack apart mail shirts, and drown horses. Partially, this is a sacrifice to the spirits, but more importantly, it ensures that the way they practice and understand warfare remains unchanged. Thus the Cimbrian culture remains stable despite the influences which sweep though Thule over time.

Cultural prescriptivism. Kinda neat, that.

Then there's Finn Heathenism , practiced by the Skridfinnar. They're a much more pastoral bunch, and they have some awesome descriptors for their shamans:


Skridfinn shamans are of four types. Seeing-shamans are seers and mystics, able to speak with spirits of the Other Side through meditation. Knowing-shamans use what they have learned about nature to perform unnatural feats, such as shapechanging or becoming invisible. Eating-shamans are destructive: they can slay at a distance, make reindeer disappear, or conjure dangerous spirits. If a shaman were to learn all of these skills - and only a few of the most powerful have - he becomes a Flying-shaman . This title comes from their amazing ability to be in two separate places at once!

Finally there is Christianity , about which Land of Giants says, basically, "go read Pendragon." It is completely ahistorical; "It has been included in Land of Giants only to account for certain moral references in Beowulf." There is no formal Church hierarchy in the North.

Next time: Northern Character Generation , where we make Northmen, not knights.

Northern Character Creation

posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

I didn't abandon this, I'm just lazy. Shut up.

Welcome to Northern Character Creation . The chapter helpfully starts off by informing us that knights from Britain could come to Thule for adventure; in such cases, use the normal Pendragon character creation. This section is not for them. This section is for making natives of Thule.

Northerners get their own character sheet, to reflect some of the differences between themselves and knights; for one thing, they lack heraldric devices and squires, and horses play a much lesser role in their exploits, so those sections of the sheet are gone. Other sections, such as a tally for Boasting Contests (to replace the tally for career Jousts) take their place.

Other than that, creating a character works the same way as it does in Pendragon, except the tables you roll on are different. The book definitely doesn't want you playing too fast and loose, though:


Mostly, Northmen follow the Odinic religion, while the Skridfinnar and Cimbri are Heathen. However, certain historical and social factors have resulted in a few variations. Thus Northmen jarls in Ostland are Christians, and the Cimbri Eruli of Varend follow Odin. Under no circumstances may a player mix and match cultures and religions beyond those shown on the tables.

Obviously, the Father's Class tables are vastly different, allowing you to play as the son of a Scop, a Hall-Thane, a Berserk, et cetera. Son Number is rolled on 1d6; however, the book notes that primogeniture is the exception in Thule, not the rule; positions of importance are typically elected or appointed, so being the first son of a chieftain doesn't make you the chieftain-in-waiting.

Religious Virtues are also vastly expanded; many individual cults are predominant in one area or another. If your character is from these regions he may choose to be a general Odinist, or he may choose to follow a specific deity, which alters his religious virtues as follows:


Odinic : Generous, Proud, Worldly, Reckless, Indulgent
Frigg : Chaste, Forgiving, Merciful, Prudent, Trusting
Freya : Lustful, Energetic, Generous, Honest, Proud
Forseti : Honest, Just, Prudent, Trusting, Valorous
Balder : Energetic, Honest, Merciful, Pious, Temperate
Aegir : Energetic, Vengeful, Selfish, Cruel, Reckless
Tyr : Energetic, Generous, Honest, Just, Valorous
Thor : Energetic, Arbitrary, Worldly, Reckless, Indulgent
Heathen : Vengeful, Honest, Proud, Arbitrary, Worldly
Christian : Chaste, Forgiving, Merciful, Modest, Temperate

This also adjusts your Religious Bonus:


Odin +1d6 to Damage statistic
Frigg +5 to rolls on Childbirth Table
Freya +2 to Healing Rate statistic
Foresti +10 to Boating skill
Balder +6 to Major Wound statistic, or +5 to Chirurgery skill (player's choice)
Aegir +10 to Swimming skill
Tyr +5 to Sword skill, and Opponent's sword can break on a fumble
Thor +2 to Movement Rate statistic
Heathen +5 to Awareness skill
Christian +6 to Total Hit Points statistic

As usual, you then age up until you qualify for a career class, from Hall-Thane to Trader to Hunter.

It is also noted here that Skridfinnar do not have horses. They get domesticated reindeer mounts instead. Okay, that's kinda awesome.

Magician Character creation follows; see the Pendragon rules, but the Gods are different. Big deal.

Now then, let's finally talk about Cultures.

First up we get the Northmen . These guys are the largest ethnic group in Thule, and they give no fucks.

Northman. No fucks given.

Their beginning skills are geared towards boating, swimming, and killing fools; their cultural weapon is the Greataxe. They get the same +3 SIZ, -3 DEX, +3 STR
as Saxons in Britain.

Next up are the Cimbri , which the book tells us is the least realistic of the various cultures presented within.


Originally a Germanic or Celtic tribe inhabiting the Jutland peninsula, the Cimbri first entered history in the 2nd Century B.C. during their forcible migration southward. The Roman army finally defeated them just south of the Alps in 101 B.C. This culture draws inspiration from Icelandic legend, which frequently mentions stocky, dark-featured people as well as the tall, fair-haired Nordic race (Northmen in this book). Finally, at least one scholar of racial origin links the Cimbri of Thule with the Cymri in Britain.

Cimbri tribeswoman. Possibly one of the 'warrior-women of Cwenaland,' in which case she gives plenty of fucks; they have a Directed Trait of Lustful (Northmen). SEE WHAT I DID THERE HAW HAW

The Cimbri are basically the Northern equivalent of the Picts in Pendragon - the original residents of an area who are slowly dying out/being assimilated into a broader, more inclusive culture. They are isolationist in nature, content to keep to the old ways in peace. They get +1 STR, +2 CON; their cultural divisions are less sharp, so their starting skills include more emphasis on folkways and other traditionally 'peasant-y' things. Their cultural weapon is the Spear.

Finally there is the Skridfinnar , Thule's equivalent of modern-day Lapps. They are nomadic hunters and reindeer-herders, and can be hard to integrate into a Beowulf-style campaign, the book tells us. Their stat modifiers are -4 SIZ, +3DEX, +4 CON, making them so short that they apparently get no artwork.


The Skridfinnar divide into three sub-groups:

• The Mountain-Finnar are nomadic herders found in Scanderna. They follow the reindeer migrations from winter grazing lands near the coast into the alpine pastures in summer.
• The Forest-Finnar live in the pine forests between Uppmanland and Cwenaland. They live in semipermanent, timber dwellings, breeding reindeer and engaging in some pastoralism.
• The Coast-Finnar (the most numerous group) range from Halogaland to Trondelag. They engage in fishing and trapping, and live in turf huts. Of the three sub-groups, these Finnar have the most contact with Northmen.

Skridfinnar use reindeer instead of horses, and their skills have plenty of emphasis on skills that a Briton would call 'unknightly;' they have virtually no class distinctions in their society. They also use skis, which in snowy terrain add +2 to one's Movement Speed but require DEX rolls in perilous circumstances; no skill covers these. Their cultural weapon is the Spear.

Next time: The Map of Thule .

Map of Thule

posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

The Map of Thule is a lot like the earlier section on geography (The Wild Northern Lands), except that it goes into more geographical detail and less political detail. This is key for magicians, who will find all kinds of useful magic-boosting sites, and buried within are some interesting hooks.

The entries are set up as follows:

Name of Place (Grid Location - ? indicates movable or unknown site): [ Modern name ] A brief explanation of the place. Ruler : the lord of the place, if any. Vassal of : person to whom the ruler answers.

So, for example:

Blue Mountain (C-4): [ Blakollen ] On Midsummer's Night, many horrible and monstrous beings - giants and trolls foremost - meet for a Troll-Thing, where they discuss matters of evil. Life Force is strong here (Ambient 5d20, +3d20 to Summon Faerie Creature).

So we learn things like the existence of a large stone rising from the tundra called Akko; "Local Skridfinnar call it The Bring-Luck Stone of Akko, after the properties of local Life Force (Ambient 4d20, Blessing 3d20, Curse 3d20). Those who leave an offering will have one wish come true (usually it brings reindeer to a hunter). If someone tries to deceive it, the stone causes bad luck for a day [-5 to all rolls]." We also learn, more succinctly, that at Bergtagen "A troll-hag who owns a magical black cow lives nearby." That's all we learn; we know nothing about what makes the black cow magical. Who cares, right? Magic cow.

It's a neat section full of interesting little fiddly bits of folklore that suffers from inconsistency of detail. For instance, compare the above magic cow with this entry:


Brusi's Island (B-4): This desolate isle is the realm of Brusi - a man-eating troll who breaths fire from his nostrils - and his mother, a coal-black cat as large as an ox. Anyone who sleeps on the island (before encountering Brusi) dreams about a woman. She is Brusi's half-sister; they share the same giant for a father, but her mother was an alfar. She asks the dreamer to slay the two monsters so she can regain her stolen inheritance. If he agrees to help, he wakes up wearing magical giant gloves (+ld6 damage). The character that manages to kill Brusi and his mother may keep the gloves, and the affection of Brusi's sister. If he is killed, the gloves disappear. A greedy coward that flees without trying to fight Brusi find that the gloves disappear, with his hands still in them! The character takes 2d6 damage, and his hands are severed at the wrist. Local Life Force is somewhat warped towards attracting unnatural creatures (Ambient 6d20, +7d20 to Summon Faerie Creature).

So basically, it's kind of a crapshoot whether you get a fleshed-out concept or the barest thumbnail sketch. Still, even the thumbnail sketches are evocative and interesting (usually; there are a couple entries like " Drage-fjeld (D-3): A dragon ravages the area" and that's the entire fucking entry), and provide interesting adventure fodder... at least, if you like adventures about killing trolls, giants, or sometimes trolls and giants.

I'm not going to copy and paste the whole thing or even a selection because then it's just a list of stuff and that's boring to read. Instead I'll leave you with my favorite:


Tyrs-lund (B-6): A young girl from this village raised a lindorm until it grew so large that it ate her family's cows and horses. In response, the villagers raised a bull on sweet milk and wheat bread until it grew so large it could fight the wyrm. Unfortunately, the bull went wild. Now both monsters terrorize the land.

The next section is Lords of the North , the "notable NPCs" section. Complete character sheets are provided for Beowulf; Beowulf's childhood rival Breca (intended as a foil for PCs, like Brus sans Pitie in the Pendragon book); Dayraven (his magic sword Nailing can, once per day, strike for max damage); King Hrothgar; Halga the war-leader; the young and still untried Geatish King Hygelac ("He is not particularly adept at anything but boating and swimming, two skills necessary for a pirate-king" - hah); Ingeld, Prince of the Heathobards; Svear prince and priest of Freya, Onela; the hero/demigod Weland, the world's greatest smith; and Widsith Far-Wanderer, the most renowned of all Thule's scops.

There is also a section on Nordic monsters, like the Nidagrisur (spirits of newborn children left to die in the wildnerness, they lie and deceive travelers) and the Stallo (a kind of turf golem created by Heathen shamans).

Next time I'll talk about the two adventures in Land of Giants, ones you may have heard of before - The Adventure of Hrothgar's Hall (aka "the tale of Grendel and his dam") and The Adventure of the Barrow-Dragon . These two great tales of Beowulf are left for characters to participate in and possibly even complete themselves, which is kind of a big deal... except if you've ever read Beowulf then you already know how the stories go. Heh.


posted by DivineCoffeeBinge Original SA post

Hey, remember when I was doing this?

Yeah, me either. But I'll fake it.

Land of Giants includes two adventures, both of which are taken pretty well directly from Beowulf . The difference is that they're set up so that the PCs can be the heroes of the adventure, rather than sitting back and waiting for Beowulf to show them all how it's done.

I've beaten this drum before, I know - but I can't help but contrast this approach to the adventures with the Scenario chapter in the Pendragon core book; as I mentioned before , several of those scenarios include things like "encounter a cool thing that you can't do anything about because it's destined to be dealt with by Galahad or Lancelot or someone, you know, better than you." Which is very Arthurian and fits in nicely with Greg Stafford's whole faithfulness to the canon schtick - but isn't exactly a ball to play, many times. Chris Hind and I are apparently on a similar wavelength, since in writing Land of Giants he tossed that approach right out the fuckin' window.

So the first adventure is The Adventure of Hrothgar's Hall , and it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect. The introduction does tell us that "To succeed (probably after multiple attempts) the heroes should be proficient at Swimming, Grapple, and blunt weapon attacks" - these are three things that I have never made any of my Pendragon characters excel at, so clearly your run-of-the-mill knights from Britain who're sightseeing will have a trickier time of things, but hey, them's the breaks.

Let's have some background.


However, the true story is somewhat different. Fueled by the passions of Love and Hate and not a little fear, it began over twenty years ago with a young warrior in King Halfdane's retinue. This warrior was named Unferth.

At that time, Unferth had only recently reached manhood, and was as yet untried in battle. Still, he reckoned himself a mighty hero. On a warm spring day, as he walked with a maid by the sea, he boasted of the brave deeds he would someday perform. Neither of them paid much attention to the choppy sea, or to the sea-beasts which thrashed below. A single wave and a slippery patch of rock - and a striking serpent's maw? was enough to pull them in. The strong currents coiled about the lovers, and they drowned.

Unferth awoke, finding himself in a gloomy hall. He had never imagined Valhalla to be so... lacking in mirth. When a hag-like troll loomed into view, he recognized Hel.

In fact, this place was neither. It was a sunken giant's hall, home to a degenerate giantess. She fed on those unfortunate mortals dragged thither by her serpents. But something strange occurred when she viewed this young man. A twisted passion, long-dormant, fluttered in her breast: Love.

An unnatural relationship began. Only when Unferth began to waste away did the she-troll guess that her sunless world beneath the waves was unsuitable for a mortal. So she placed a special ring on his tiny finger and sent him home.

But she did not set him free.

Over the years, she summoned her unwilling paramour by means of the magic ring and lavished him with gifts. With her aid he was able to survive the murder of Halfdane and the reign of Froda, and was one of the first to welcome Hrothgar and Halga to the kingdom.

Unferth became increasingly horrified by his situation. As he rid himself of the giant-gold, Hrothgar's treasury grew. Meanwhile, Unferth had sired an abomination, a half-giant that would later be known as Grendel. His progeny reached maturity in a mere ten years.

Then the full horror struck Unferth. He realized that the ring - which he could not remove - gave the giantess power over his mind. In a fit of anger and despair, he cut off his finger and hid the ring in Hrothgar's treasury.

By that time, workers had just completed Heorot. Spurned by Unferth, the heart-broken troll-wife set her son loose upon the world above. Hrothgar and his hall were caught in the secret intrigues of Unferth and the giants.

Now, after twelve years of horror at Heorot, heroes finally arrive to aid King Hrothgar.

You forgot how much date-rape was in Beowulf , didn't you? Anyways, the tale proceeds pretty much the same way it does in the story, and I'm not going to go through all the details because seriously, go read Beowulf (I found Seamus Heany's translation quite accessible). There aren't many surprises here - though people mmore casually familiar with the tale of Grendel might be surprised to find out how much of the story isn't about killing monsters but is instead about the various intrigues and politics of Hrothgar's court.

This is followed by The Adventure of the Barrow-Dragon , which I find even more interesting - because while it, too, hews fairly close to the source material, there are suggestions strewn throughout the adventure for ways in which the PCs can stray even further from canon.

For example, the adventure's setup involves the PCs being present at a Thing (a big meeting sort of affair, not like A Thing That Happened), during which a dragon attacks and slays a local chieftain named Saeferth. The adventure also suggests that they should all be friendly to Saeferth - his death is the emotional hook used to push the PCs towards the adventure, while also supplying them with Passions that might be useful.

Now, in many game books - and in a depressingly large number of games - that's it. The book says Saeferth dies, so that mofo's dead, and you can't do shit about it. Right?


The plot works best if Saeferth dies. While this adventure will soon allow for a great deal of initiative, players or the gamemaster may sneer at any sort of pre-ordained events. Therefore, the following guidelines provide a slim chance for the heroes to save their friend, making any success memorable.

While the gamemaster should not suggest it, the characters would be well-advised to invoke an appropriate Passion. Stopping the dragon with missile weapons or other means is not possible, nor is attracting its attention (the dragon sees Saeferth clutching its flagon). The best option is to knock Saeferth out of harm's way and shield him from the blast. Again, here is a round-by-round outline.

Round One: Saeferth has 7 hit points left; he is barely conscious. Valorous and Reckless characters can only run towards the terrible tableau this round. A gout of flame and smoke strikes Saeferth (1d6 damage).

Round Two: Saeferth slips unconscious just as his friends dive into the smoke and flames. Players should roll [DEX. Critical = the hero catches Saeferth over his shoulder, escapes from the flames into a snowbank; Saeferth takes no damage this round, while his savior takes only 1d3. Success = he knocks Saeferth into the cold snow, shielding him; Saeferth takes only 1d3 damage while the hero takes 1d6. Failure = he slips in the snow and falls; he takes 1d6 damage from the flame while Saeferth takes 2d6.]

Round Three: The dragon flies off.

The dragon gone, Saeferth requires medical attention. He has 7 hit points, minus the damage from the dragon's breath. If this number is higher than -5, he might live. In effect, he has only two wounds: an 8-point gash in his back (see Stoking the Pyre for an explanation) and a burn wound of 13 (burning hall) + the dragon's breath damage.

Therefore, they have only two chances of healing him. Unless a character has a higher score, Fridla will attempt First Aid (skill 13).

Even if brought back from the brink of death, Saeferth will still need Chirurgery each week until conscious (when he recovers 7 hit points) to prevent deterioration from setting in. Fridla's Chirurgery is 10, Finn's 16. Unless watched carefully, Finn will not try very hard to aid in Saeferth's recovery (consider Finn's "aid" as a failed attempt).

If Saeferth recovers, the gamemaster should adjust his statistics to reflect the injuries. Roll once on the Statistics Loss Table for a Major wound, perhaps thrice more if he received a Mortal Wound. Loss of APP should be at least one result.

Glory: 100 for somehow saving Saeferth.

Land of Giants gets so many props from me for this sort of thing. Too many games aren't willing to even entertain the notion of players doing shit that doesn't 'fit the story;' this one's willing to run with it. Bravo, Chris Hind, you're good people.

At any rate, there's a dragon; the PCs go kill it. One other bit I quite enjoyed:


Because of the venom's crippling effects, allow player characters to forgo healing for a glorious death (and 1000 glory). Those who accept their fate may make a final speech before embarking on a journey to Valhalla.

Terribly appropriate for the genre!

I'm not going into a ton of detail on the adventures, because, well, people might want to run them one day (I hear some of you are interested in picking up Pendragon - damned if I'm gonna spoil that for anyone!), but suffice it to say that these are both pretty lengthy and involved adventures; the general Pendragon rule-of-thumb that "one game session equals one year of adventuring equals one adventure" would probably have to be broken here, but since I've never had much use for that rule of thumb anyways, I don't mind.

Land of Giants is one of the best Pendragon supplements I've read, and I'd not given it the attention it deserved before now. So thanks for that, thread!

As before, I figure I'll give people a chance to weigh in on what (if anything - I suppose 'nothing, you're boring' is an option) I should review/discuss next. So would people be interested in seeing:

Pagan Shore , Ireland in the Age of King Arthur;
Lordly Domains , the book of Wealth, Lands, Titles, Prey, War & Heraldry,
or Beyond the Wall , Pictland and the North...

...or should I take a break from Pendragon supplements and instead talk about HoL (Human Occupied Landfill) , the beer-and-pretzels sci-fi parody game thingy?