Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Dungeon Fantasy: The Ultimate Norse Campaign

I liked my Aquilae game because of the entire Norse-themed area I created and the intense survival adventures I had up there. I started this game with Pathfinder 1e, but I stopped when I realized, "Hold on, there is something bigger here." The rest of the world seemed small, and my interest in those areas lessened. Up in the icy north is where I wanted to be.

So I planned to switch to Dungeon Fantasy, then I decided maybe not, then I re-decided that my original feeling to switch to a more visceral and point-based system with detailed blow-by-blow combat was the right one all along. I don't need a few thousand Pathfinder 1e monsters, items, and spells - most of which would not thematically fit into the experience. And I wanted the detailed skills, and the intricate combat builds that a GURPS system could bring to the table.

And then something interesting happened...


With Gaming Ballistic's line of Dungeon Fantasy books, we have a rare gem of a series that covers Norse-based adventuring called Nordlond. There is an adventure series, the excellent Delvers to Grow book, a book of Nordic fantasy races, and a fantastic extraordinary Norse-themed bestiary.

In short, everything I need. I get a mini-campaign sandbox, NPCs, a series of adventures, monsters, and more Norse-themed content that works with Dungeon Fantasy than I could ever dream of having. And I have to convert nothing into the game; it is all ready to use! And I can add my fabulous collection of Dungeon Fantasy PDFs from Warehouse 23 to add to the fun.

The races book is a fun treat and gives me many flavorful modern-ish varieties of fantasy races. This is not a "hardcore" selection of races that limits me to Norse mythology, but more of the traditional fantasy mix of races re-imagined in a Dungeon Fantasy lens. We have wolf-blooded, dragon-folk, halflings, traditional elves, gnomes, dwarves, cat-folk, raven-folk, and a bunch of fun choices that are a little on the cartoony side but very cool, and they feel great to me for a more "expanded" worldview on Norse mythology. I love the choices here, and they will mix well with anything else I can come up with in Dungeon Fantasy.

It gets better, a nearly 200-page traditional fantasy bestiary, in full color, with an excellent B/X assortment of monsters that feel like I always wanted Dungeon Fantasy's missing monster manual. All monsters are Norse-flavored, but the selection here is fantastic and blows me away. I always wanted this, and it has none of the monsters I will skip over. This is truly one of the best Dungeon Fantasy books out there and worth getting even if you do not play Norse-style campaigns since it does the whole monster manual thing right.

It gets even better since we have a book with Norse-themed gods. This is a shorter book, but it hits all the best choices for Norse gods and presents them slightly more generic than having a list of dozens of specifics. I like a smaller selection of gods since it creates clear decisions, and you don't get as many minor-but-similar pantheons competing for attention. And considering you build clerics focused on the gods, the differences are apparent and thematic.

Great stuff; I am all set, right?

I Need a World

Putting Aqialae to the side hurts, but I have a great replacement. If we dip into the world of 5E for a moment, we find the fantastic Svilland Campaign Setting by DRS Publishing. The 5E market is vast, which means books where they spend a lot of money on art and looks, and this book is flat-out unique and beautiful.

It is a sort of a "dark Norse" setting for D&D 5E, but I won't play this with 5E because my heart is set on Dungeon Fantasy and Gaming Ballistic's fantastic work with their line. I won't use the gods or races here either, as my Nordland Folk and their simplified but similar pantheon will make this their home quite nicely. Everything else from the dark feeling, strange cults, battle-scarred lands, excellent locations, city maps, and stunning art for sites and places is all mine. There are adventures, too, I can convert, along with a few sourcebooks that fill out areas of the world.

Now why replace Aquilae? If what I love about the world is just the tiny 20%, why not spend all my time there and focus on that? If I have an incredibly thematic and beautiful setting, this will be a perfect replacement for the one I worked hard on, but there is so much to get excited about here, and the art and maps are fantastic.

Some of the art in this book is Free League level jaw-dropping work.

Svilland Campaign Setting, page 117

This is the best Norse setting for 5E, and I am thrilled to borrow it for my game. If I were playing 5E, this would be my setting it. It is that good. But I get this feeling the gritty and brutal combat of Dungeon Fantasy will feel right at home here, and it may do a better job of telling the story I have in my head for this game. With 5E, the rapid recovery of spells and health would work against how I see the world working - a brutal struggle to manage scarce resources and survive.

Do Nordfolk Break Immersion?

The Nordland Folk do break the feeling just a little by being a bit on the toony side, and the gods from the Hand of Asgard are not as extreme as the ones here. I like that, though, since I want the greater diversity of races and character types to all to have a chance to make this their home. There are no "boar people" or "cat folk" in the Svilland setting, as it tries to take that already toony nature of 5E and dials it way back to an intricate level of immersion and realism.

Raven-folk followers of Tyr? I got to have them. I am sorry, realism and folklore, this is just too much fun. And they are statted for Dungeon Fantasy. Great stuff! Plus, I would rather have toony characters doing awful things to each other than real humans doing the same. The shock value is higher, but also, the connection to the characters feels better than in a primarily human-focused world.

If terrible things happen to my raven-folk character because of mistrust and intolerance, I will feel really bad. That is a good thing since that will be the conflict I fight against. If a dragon attacks a town and the town rounds up the dragon-kin as possible "collaborators" because of a loud-mouth instigator, that is a terrible example of all-too-familiar suspicion and distrust. That is a wrong that screams to be righted.

These are the things heroes fight for.

Are they upsetting and triggering? Yes, but you get to take action, fix the problem, and root out the evil who tried to sew distrust and division.

And you bet I would make that evil secretly influenced by the demons, evil cults, and devils looking to weaken society and drive these divisions between good people and townsfolk.

Dragon-folk and half-demons? Those work, and given a little grit and tarnish, will make great outcast societies and outsider types. Those work, and given a slight grittiness and tarnish. Cat-folk and the other beast races also can see tribes of them wandering the north or taking islands for their own lands. I intend for some cities to be more melting-pots (due to trade) and other places to be a little more suspicious to fit the darker theme. But there will be places they all can come together and interact. I want to keep that sort of dynamic between the cultures that allow a lot of interaction being more vital in trade and culture, while the more isolated and fearful realms have that distrust and suspicion.

Everything fits and is fantastic. This is an epic-level replacement for the theme-park style of the world I built for Aquilae and one I still intend to use, but I have so many A+ pieces for this setting and game they fit in with what I loved about my Nordic survival game, so much.


About 85% of this all fits together nicely with rules and stats. The only part is meshing all of this in the Svilland setting, but once you say "population can be anything" and open your mind to the possibilities, things open up quickly and become very cool. There will be a conflict in this world between "peoples coming together" versus "those who isolate and turn inward," and I will pick a few factions that embody each.

Some of the races will be caught in the middle of these conflicts. Do dragon-kin feel beholden to the chaotic dragons who destroy towns? Some isolationist clans will accuse them of being one and the same and see them as a future threat as a potential draconic army. Like tieflings and devils, some clans will decry them as impure and see them as spreading devil worship. The beast races may be seen as friends of violent humanoid tribes. There will also be mistrust those who use sorcery and magic outside the gods.

I need these divisions reflected in my game since the factions and communities that accept people's differences will ultimately have the best of everyone and be more robust than those who want to divide and isolate. I need to give players something to fight for and the sinister forces of intolerance to fight against.

This won't be a happy world, but the happy world the players dream of will be one they can fight for.

A Strange Brew

This is a bizarre mix, you have a 5E setting that feels like it is pushing back against the norms of the 5E aesthetics by going hardcore Nordic realism with a human-based world, and you then have a Dungeon Fantasy setting that pushes back towards the 5E aesthetics by making things more diverse and exciting with animal-characters and all sorts of fantastic options.

Dungeon Fantasy is my peanut butter, and Svilland is my chocolate.

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