[Sagas of the Icelanders] An Unwelcome Visitor

We just played our first session of Sagas of the Icelanders and it kicked so much ass.

Four players, all challenged to play against type.

A level-headed Goði, played by the guy who always fucks shit up.

A loyal Huscarl, played by the guy who always ends up the reluctant leader.

An enterprising Woman (the Goði's wife and the power behind the high seat), played by the guy who always plays lone wolves.

A Wanderer, played by the guy who always plays weird grandmas and family people.

So that, in itself, was a treat to see! I brought the Wanderer in on a broken down boat from Norway with a braggart named Lambi Tonnbrekka who immediately claimed hospitality for him and his shit-ass crew. The entire session was about trying to get rid of these useless yeggs. There was a nice side-story about the White Christ, who these guys had embraced as powerful magic - they wore crucifixes to protect them from arrows. The Goði wasn't having any of that but his wife was intrigued, so that's a fun development for the future. Eventually some insults were thrown and Einarr the Huscarl and Lambi threw down.

The game's moves really shine. The duel between Lambi and Einarr really showed this off - there were taunts, then a physical contest, and then harm, and we realized that when you fight someone things are 100% going to go wrong, just like in the sagas. It is brilliantly engineered that way and we marveled at how well the moves emulate the source fiction. Einarr killed Lambi dead, but got a festering wound in the process that is going to cause some problems this summer when he goes raiding. And Lambi has relatives. Similarly, the Wanderer's "secret" move is perfect - Ian gets to observe the unfolding tale of our game and choose just the right moment to reveal his character's true motivations, then earn a bonus to anything related to resolving his issue. You could pull that straight out of Laxdaela.

I'm so excited about this game, we had a great first session and the action just writes itself.

Comments

  • Wow, I was excited about this game before, but now... now I am more excited and lacking an appropriate word to show it! Maxcited? Just spitballin' here.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarFour players, all challenged to play against type.
    Love this. Individuals in my Sunday group often explicitly take up this challenge for any given mini-campaign, but never all simultaneously (yet).

    I am bringing Sagas of the Icelanders to Gamestorm for pick-up gaming.
  • I am really really excited by this...it seems like maybe with some work, AW could work well for two things I've wanted to do for a long time, namely a creepy game set in medieval eastern Europe with various horrors in the winter woods, and even better, a game where the setting is the epics of Tekumel (think f-ed up, nihilist, Mahabharata)
  • Jason, it sounds like a blast!

    The old fighting move when you fight with your weapons and armor sure looked glamorous. By contrast, when you accept a physical challenge seems kind of vague, but it sounds like it worked out okay :) I'll have to try it!

    Actually... how do you feel this new move compares to the old one?
  • So women can't perform anything physical? What happens if they try? They just . . . fail?
  • It may be important that the physical-challenge move is triggered because a PC is challenged by someone else. Maybe men and women alike don't challenge women to physical feats?

    Seidkona can take the move Curses and Poison which causes their opponent to make the Harm move - - extra fun: the opponent cannot choose the option "it gets better on its own".

    The shield maiden has the move Tough, which lets her accept physical challenges.

    I suppose a (free-)woman could do physical tasks, including fighting, just like everyone else, so maybe you just do it - and for that matter, the implications of not using the Physical Challenge move could be that you don't tempt fate and nobody really draws attention to what you did - - maybe I'm stretching the "empty space" in the concept to the breaking point, but it seems like what you get out of doing a Physical Challenge is that you have to make a choice: do I want to do well, or do I want to be noticed? That appears to be the question you have to ask yourself if you roll a 7-9. Very cool.

    Whoa, weird. In a place like medieval Iceland, women are going to be as tough as anybody else. But maybe it's custom for women to be humble or just not recognized for physical ability? Seems like an interesting "fruitful void" to explore - - you can get interpretative with the move and focus play on what isn't covered by it, and there really is no other move that works for "general physical expertise", so it seems like it's deliberately handed off to the GM for interpretation.
  • Oh no! Look out!

    The reason that Apocalypse World has basic moves the way it does is because if you try to do a thing that you should be able to do, and there's no move for it, it's really, really awkward. I know because I wrote a game like that and it sucked, and then I read Apocalypse World and I was like "Oh! That's how you make that work."

    Hopefully women get some move that they can use so that when you say "Fuck it, I straight up punch him in the face, who gives a fuck" the GM doesn't have to be all "Hmm, well, ummm, I guess you can't? I dunno?"
  • edited March 2012
    You guys! The game totally doesn't have that problem.

    (Actually, it isn't even a problem, since there is a rule for what you do when a character does something that isn't a move. Like in AW when you shoot someone in their sleep. But that's like a whole other discussion. Sagas is set up just right and I'm sure Jason can elaborate on why that is.)
    Posted By: nemomemeI am bringing Sagas of the Icelanders to Gamestorm for pick-up gaming.
    I will be at Gamestorm. I can be "picked up." The math here looks good.
  • (John, you've just totally redefined "pick-up artist" in my head from something sleazy to something awesome.)

    Jason, thanks for putting this back on my radar! It's a setting-hack I've wanted since reading AW for the first time (though I lean more towards the Orkneyinga than Laxdæla, but this has compelling reasons for being Icelandic rather than Orcadian!) But most importantly for me, it's helping me see more approaches to dealing with heavily gendered historical societies in RPGs. Not that that's been heavily on my mind or anything.

  • edited March 2012
    Awesome! Jason, this really made my morning over here. It's really good to hear that the stuff seems to click together in play just the way I intended it. A couple of questions:
    1. It sounds like you're drawing on your knowledge of the sagas a lot to inform play. How do you think it would fare with someone who isn't acquainted with the source material? What kind of guidance would you offer to someone like that?
    2. Did the MC 1st session sheet work ok for you? Did you use it at all?

    @Zac, the new move is vaguer, but I personally found it works well in play. I might have to reword it, I worry it might be a bit misleading as to when you should use it.

    Malcolm Mykel, women can do physical stuff just like anyone else. It's the same as describing, I dunno, shooting a defenseless person in the face in AW. You say you do it and it's done.Fiction first. The physical challenge move kicks in in specific circumstances, not every time you do something physical.

    So, frex:
    The Huscarl: "I grab her by the arm before she can leave."
    The Woman: "Fuck no, I twist my arm out of your grasp."
    MC: "Do you let her go?"
    The Huscarl: "No, I try to hold her down."
    MC: "Well, sounds like she's posing a physical challenge, you want to roll for that?"

    Violence would be mostly just trading harm for harm or inflicting harm as established in most instances. Especially against NPCs.
    Posted By: Simon CHopefully women get some move that they can use so that when you say "Fuck it, I straight up punch him in the face, who gives a fuck" the GM doesn't have to be all "Hmm, well, ummm, I guess you can't? I dunno?"
    When a woman says "I straight punch up punch him in the face, who gives a fuck." she just does. If he's a PC the man can try to be faster or stronger than her to avoid the punch or stop her hand but otherwise he's punched. Either way, men have it worse in this game, very much so.

    If anyone wants to talk gender roles, I'd be happy to.

    Zac's right that "it's custom for women not to be recognized for physical ability" unless, again, you're a shield maiden subverting gender roles. I don't want to tear all the curtains down (there is some merit to a game's skeleton being concealed) but there are layers and layers of thematic conflict ingrained in how the moves for this game were written.
  • edited March 2012
    From our session:

    IAN (looking over male moves): What if I want to stab a guy in the back?

    ME: Then you stab him in the back.

    IAN: Aaaaaaaaah.

    And if you really, really want this game to sing beautifully, I highly encourage you to be very judicious about sharing playbook information. Don't let the players of male characters pore over female playbooks and vice versa, because they are very different and those surprises will be delicious. Also if you want to be rich and awesome play a woman.

    @Gregor: We've played in Iceland before, a very long campaign, so we are totally up to speed on how things are supposed to work regarding hospitality, gender roles, etc. Half of us have read a bunch of source material. I think this helps a lot, but a one sheet explaining the important points* would be good enough to communicate the feel, and even without that the playbooks tell you how to act. So somebody with no background would do fine, I think.

    I didn't use the GM setup sheet. Once I knew what playbooks were in the mix I thought up two events that would be interesting to everybody, and we started play with a geneology (the Goði is old, has a dead wife and several adult children; the huscarl was fostered as a hostage and his sister is in the same situation with the neighboring Goði of Hofn), so that drives all kinds of action.

    *A one sheet of interesting situations would accomplish this as well.
  • The gender stuff both implied in the structure of moves and supported by the history just makes this game, if that wasn't obvious already. Icelandic women did not and do not take any shit from anybody, and the balance of social power and authority is reflected in the game beautifully.
  • edited March 2012
    Also the playing against type thing? You should totally try that. It has nothing to do with Sagas of the Icelanders but everything to do with awesome.
  • Posted By: Teataine

    @Malcolm, women can do physical stuff just like anyone else. It's the same as describing, I dunno, shooting a defenseless person in the face in AW. You say you do it and it's done.Fiction first. The physical challenge move kicks in in specific circumstances, not every time you do something physical.
    I think you got some attribution mixed up. I didn't say anything regarding this topic, and am not at all confused with how women can do physical stuff.
  • Whooops, that was in response to Mykel, my bad.
  • edited March 2012
    Session two last night, not quite as hot but still fun. We were down our Oddrun, so the whole affair took on a distinctly masculine tone. I moved the action forward to the fall, with the raiders returning home (and the mildly successful raid told in flashback). It was time for the fall festival and quarter court, so all the neighbors were in town, including some dudes from Norway. The main issues were:

    1. Lambi Tonnbrekka, the guy who got killed in a cutting duel last week, turns out to be the well-connected brother of a Norwegian prince, who has arrived and wants justice that he will not get. (this whole thing was a result of Einar choosing to challenge fate last session as an outcome option)
    2. Runa, the Huscarl Einar's sister, is scheming with their father to cement alliances in western Iceland. She wants the Goði of Digranes removed so Einar can take his place. She also wants to turn him into a Christian but he doesn't know that yet.
    3. A land and marriage dispute in Langarfoss, the result of the Goði Snorri's cavalier attitude and judgment last session, escalates to domestic abuse and divorce.

    In the end Snorri, although well intentioned, made a powerful enemy of the Norwegian crown and a local enemy of a now-landless woman who has been mistreated and isn't going away. And, of course, his Huscarl is being groomed to take his high seat. Super fun!

    Some notes...

    1. Two sessions per year seems perfect. One of the end-of-winter moves should be "change your playbook to another". This is going to happen in the fiction, and the roles are pretty specific - you can't realistically just grab random moves from the Man playbook for example, they chain too intimately to one another. The "change" option could be some sort of 12+ conditional super-move, but it needs to be there.

    2. The gender mix is really important - not having a female character caused our session to lag a little, I think. That's worth noting, because it isn't obvious until you really get into using the moves.

    3. The Wanderer is totally cool but also disconnected in a serious way - I checked in with Ian to make sure he was having fun, because the Wanderer is really hard to spotlight - he's got his own thing going on, and until he springs his traps the GM does not have a lot to work with. Something to keep in mind. I love the playbook and it is going to be amazing when Ian finally pulls the trigger.

    4. Our relationship map. Look at the way Christianity is creeping in like dry rot from the edges:

    image
  • edited March 2012
    Our Sagas of the Icelanders game decided to end itself last night and it was epic. It was the sort of gaming that makes up for a lot of mediocre gaming, the sort of session you hope for! We had such a good time - there was a lot of shouting and pleading and Mike has thin walls, so I'm sure the neighbors were wondering what kind of sex cult he is in.

    When we left Digranes last week we knew the Norwegians were coming in the spring to kick the Goða's ass. The session began with Snorri rounding up allies, starting with the drunken lout Sturla up in Akrar. On the way he discovered that Osk, the women he'd humiliated and made homeless, had erected a niðstang (scorn pole) and cursed his children. Awesome! His only grandchild, Kveldulf, was ill.

    Meanwhile Einar was preparing for the invasion from Norway. He figured (correctly) that they'd stop by Hofn on the way, so he took The Ten and camped out nearby, waiting for their sail. Einar's sister and the Goði of Hofn were Christians. When the Norwegians arrived in Hofn, they raided, burning their ship! It was fantastic. Einar was killed in the fracas, but as GM I got to decide where and when, so we had him run through with a short spear and slowly, inevitably, faltering. I would bide my time.

    There was a great scene where Snorri's daughter pleaded with her father to convert to Christianity to save her dying child, since the old Gods had abandoned them and nothing else would work. He refused, Oddrun had picked up a seiðkona move and tried to do some magic on the baby, failed hard, and I just said the baby died in her arms. So that was awesome. Snorri's own son, Sigurd, was starting to feel ill, too, and Oddrun began to re-assess her relationship with the White Christ.

    Giant battle! The Norwegians arrived, with all of Eymundur of Hofn's men as well (and Einar's sister Runa, some kind of Joan of Arc Christian Skjaldmey), and it looked to be an even fight. Then the Wanderer, Randver, who had hinted at his deep hatred of Sturla and goðis in general, announced that Sturla had raped his mother and that he was the product of that evil coupling, and struck Sturla down! Sturla's men fell on him but he heroically held them off. They were not involved in the battle therefore, which went Real Bad for the men of Digranes. The Goði died like an old fool, cursed again by his huscarl, who himself fell after killing his own sister. Njala, crazed with grief and screaming Christian apostasy, was struck down after running into the melee. Oddrun hunkered down, accepted the White Christ, and preserved what she could of her family.

    It was, as I mentioned, epic. Nine named characters died, including 50% of the player characters. We were so stoked! After a break, we're going to move forward to the next generation and continue our saga with Oddrun (re-written with the Crone playbook), maybe Randver (now an outlaw), and probably Snorri's surviving son, Egil. And a new GM most likely, so I get to play!

    image
  • It really doesn't pay to draw too much of the Norns attention to yourself. Like you do when you sneak in and burn your enemy's ship while he's under the hospitality of your neighbor.

    Gregor, do you have this stuff posted somewhere? We've been using Jason's modified versions of your playbooks, but I wasn't sure if you had a draft of the rule changes somewhere as well. This thread needs links, is what I'm saying.
  • edited March 2012
    I just noticed how the Wanderer, who professed a hatred for Goðis and tried to persuade Einar to become "King of Iceland" (as if) personally dispatched two of the three Goðis in the Vesturfjorðr. Nice work, outlaw!

    I love how this is set up for a generational feud. Egil Snorrison becomes Goði of Digranes with a hate-on for the Seiðkona Osk, who killed his child and the Prince of Norway, who killed his dad. That'll end well. Isleif, a fifteen year old orphan, becomes Goði (with a Norwegian regent of course) of Hofn. Akrar's up for grabs, but the whole place is going to be under the boot of Christians and Norwegians as a result of one arrogant cutting duel a generation earlier. I can't wait to play that!
  • edited March 2012
    One final note:

    A level-headed Goði, played by the guy who always fucks shit up. Played totally straight, although as a leader he made poor choices at times, he wasn't doing it to fuck shit up.

    A loyal Huscarl, played by the guy who always ends up the reluctant leader. Played him completely loyal, even when betraying him would have made everything much, much better for himself and less bloody for everybody.

    An enterprising Woman (the Goði's wife and the power behind the high seat), played by the guy who always plays lone wolves. Played as a tightly integrated part of the family - its core, really.

    A Wanderer, played by the guy who always plays weird grandmas and family people.
    Played straight, a man of his time and place with a mission.

    So that worked well.
  • What's Sagas of the Icelanders?

    It sounds like an AW hack from this thread but otherwise I have no idea.

    Where can I read more? Test it? Play it? Buy it?
  • Posted By: jenskotWhat'sSagas of the Icelanders?
    And that's why I was calling for links, people!

    John, yes, it's an AW hack that Gregor has been working on for a while. You can read about it on the AW forums but I'm not sure how current any of that is.
  • Posted By: Jason Morningstar
    A loyal Huscarl, played by the guy who always ends up the reluctant leader.Played him completely loyal, even when betraying him would have made everything much, much better for himself and less bloody for everybody.
    Here's the thing about that- as a player who usually takes on the upstanding leadership roles and pushes for success (in the face of our group's standard failure and treachery routine), I was charged with playing the trouble-maker character. It was my job to cause failure and tragedy in the story, by treachery, poor choices, etc.

    The problem is that doing this when everything is already fractured and tenuous isn't interesting. Stories with tricksters and trouble-makers generally have those characters trying to undermine other stronger, united characters, such as Loki to Thor and Odin, Jane to the Serenity crew, and so on. even with Mike playing the Goði as straight and honestly as possible, he was never in a position of strength because he had few resources and not many allies. I found myself loyal to him despite myself, because trying to undermine the Norwegians and the White Christ was more interesting.

    I guess my point is that spending time in the story building things up before a (possibly inevitable) tragic fall is important.When we run it again, I think I'd like to either start out with our characters more established (more resources, more ties to allies, etc.) or spend a session moving more quickly through a few seasons, playing short scenes and telling vignettes that build up the background of our story.
  • edited March 2012
    !!!LINK!!!

    This is a slightly updated version from what Jason and his group used. Nothing drastic however. It contains just the moves, playbooks and some extra info. If you're an AW veteran, it should be playable like it is.

    Sagas of the Icelanders is an AW hack, yes! It's based on my interpretation of the original sagas as well as other stuff from norse culture (and modern interpretations of it). It started out as a simple reskin, but then I realized I needed to go deeper and it's shaping up to be a full hack, just like Monsterhearts or Dungeon World.

    I'd love to say more but I need to catch a bus. Later!

    (I just commissioned the first piece of art for the game!)
  • yayyy!
    thanks for the latest link, gregor! :) :)
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