Tuesday, June 23, 2009

B/X Norse

While I may not have got much blogging done over the weekend, I was able to get a fair bit of reading done…so much so that I’m nearly done with The Wizard and the Warlord; I’m either on the last or the second to last chapter. Which means I’ll be able to get back to Asimov’s Foundation series soon (which I am reading for the FIRST time). Loads o inspiration there for a Traveler campaign.

Anyway, reading the tales of the Alfar with an eye to incorporating the setting into B/X has been mui useful. Here’s the Norse treatment of magic and elves (Alfar) according to Boyer (a scholar of Scandinavian folklore):

  • Alfar (elves) exist in a faerie realm parallel to the mundane.
  • Elves are inherently magical (can do cantrip-type magic), but need training to pull off spectacular effects.
  • Wizards are simply well trained in the use of magic, though magical training does not preclude them from fighting with arms and armor.
  • Aside from their inherent magical nature, elves have the same foibles and weaknesses of human folk.
  • Elves have neither “infravision” nor particularly keen senses, and they don’t speak a plethora of languages (presumably they speak Old Germanic).

The alfar are divided into two types: the ljosalfar (light elves) and the dokkalfar (dark elves). The dokkalfar cannot stand the light of day, although dokkalfar still require torches and fire for light and warmth, and there are dokkalfar farmers who (presumably) must toil a bit in daylight to grow crops(?). This latter may simply be an inconsistency in the author's writing, as elsewhere the dokkalfar are depicted as living in underground caves/ruins/forts. In at least one section, it states the dokkalfar are slain instantly by sunlight, being turned to stone as with trolls, though this never occurs in the book and may simply be a rumor.

The ljosalfar have no such weakness to darkness, they simply prefer the sun. Because of their war with the dark elves, they often patrol at night hunting trolls and dokkalfar.

Anyway, one thing that this book has gotten me thinking about, even more than “another way to perceive elves,” is the Magic-User class in general. Wizards in Boyer's book are one of three types:

- The young apprentice learning the trade.
- The mature wizard, powerful and arrogant.
- The wizened old man, knowledgeable but weakened with age.

These first two are portrayed as hale and hearty individuals…often relying on spells, but certainly capable of wielding swords in their defense (and presumably able to wear armor…little description of armor other than an occasional helm is ever given in the book anyway). To me, these “hale and hearty” wizards are much more like the Elf class of B/X D&D. It takes them longer to train in combat than a fighting man (because of their studies) but they are perfectly capable of learning spells like a magic-user AND fighting like a fighter.

The Magic-User class on the other hand represents the wizened old wizard or witch…the reason he can’t use armor or weapons has nothing to do with his class and everything to do with his AGE. His staff he leans on for support, his dagger is for cutting his meat or occasionally of use in ritual magic. He is too old to march long distances wearing armor…or even carrying a heavy backpack! And yet the aged wizard often has more magical might due to his time spent studying and poring over old tomes and scrolls.

There was a line in one of Robert Aspirin’s early Myth books that I always found noteworthy…Aahz is telling Skeeve (his apprentice) that the reason humans don’t study both magic AND fighting is that their life spans are so short, they rarely have time to master one, let alone both.

Certainly, this would be true of anyone “working the Elf class;” a race with a long life span (say, an actual elf) could accumulate more XP over hundreds of years than the average human adventuring as an “Elf.”

In a game world that mimicked the Norse mythology of Boyer’s books, one could make the following adjustments:

  • Limit classes to Cleric, Dwarf, Fighter, Thief, Wizard (Elf), Aged Wizard (Magic-User). Non-dwarves may be mundane (scipling), ljosalfar, or dokkalfar.
  • No class may progress past level 14.
  • Only dwarves and dokkalfar have infravision; dokkalfar are precluded from using fire/light magic and suffer -1 to all rolls when in sunlight.
  • Languages are determined by Intelligence only, not race (though dwarves will always speak both Common and Dwarvish); there is no “elvish” language; reading runes is a separate language.
  • Norse Trolls = Bugbears (use bugbear stats rather than troll stats) and are rather plentiful. They die in sunlight (turned to stone).
  • Magic items are rare and often have "strings attached" (curses or conditions).
  • Limited armor (no such thing as plate mail).

After going through this exercise, I actually feel less incentive to change the Elf class in normal B/X play. I still like the “heroic elf” character; something between Tolkien's vision and the Alfar for a straight D&D campaign, but the above adjustments are good for a true Northern Reaches campaign of the Norse variety. While Boyer doesn't get into religious differences, the Norse gods are definitely present (dwarves, for example, consider themselves the "chosen priests of Thor") and I feel no qualms in including clerics of Odin (Law) or Loki (Chaos) or any of the other Aesir and Vanir.

This is pretty cool, actually...perhaps I'll do a similar treatment of Tolkien for B/X.


  1. I think it's astounding that you posted this now. Once upon a time I started The Sword and the Satchel, and even though I don't even think I ever finished the book it influenced my first "world" design and also gave Kilgore his name.

    I've just been thinking it's time I check these out and give them a read, watching eBay for decent copies and such. Thanks much for posting.

  2. Hmmm...great minds think alike?

    I'd be interested to know what you've taken from S&S as inspiration to your campaign. Do any of my "adjustments" sound good from your reading of Boyer's work?

    Get her stuff if you can; I find her writing to be quite good.

  3. Well, my looting consisted mainly of using some Norse-type themes and names in my world map and using Norse mythology as the general background for the campaign. It was my first attempt to creat a world and I didn't really know what I was doing, so I looted from the book I was reading at the time.

    I haven't read enough (I don't think I actually finished Sword and the Satchel, though I could be wrong) to really comment on your adjustments, but they do seem both workable and interesting. They're pretty much in line with what little I recall from back in the day.

    If you go ahead with any of this I hope you will keep us updated.

  4. Oh, I certainly will do.

    I'm reading The Elves and the Otterskin now, and it's bearing out my ideas, quite nicely so far. But I will make adjustments if necessary.

    Maybe I'll adapt M1: Blizzard Pass as a B/X Norse adventure. That would make a good "one-off" scenario.