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I am about to start running a Norse themed Pathfinder campaign set around 800 AD, most likely in Norway. I am looking for ways to make the characters feel as though they are part of the culture of the period without boring them to tears.

I am hoping to have a mix of classic Norse monsters and myth, as well as interactions with other cultures through trade and war.

Has anyone had any luck running a semi-historical campaign before? What worked for you and what would you have changed?

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3 Answers

You might want to take a look at the various, already extant adaptations of the Norse theme. Examples include Midgard, Midgard, and, to mention a non-D20 product as well, Yggdrasill.

You might also want to check out the various online threads dealing with the topic along with some great free resource sites (like this, or this, for example, but google is your friend if you want more. :))

I know my answer would be way better if I presented personal experience. Sorry, but this being the last day of the year I'm in a kind of hurry (but wanted to provide quick help :)), and I don't think I'd be able to write up better info and tips quickly than those I've linked above.

Mind you, we ran a short Norse campaign years ago (truth be told, it was DnD3.0), for which we used similar resources (along with some non-rpg books on Norse mythology and history.) It was a rather bloody (in-game bloody, of course) story with a classic revenge theme (mostly inspired by Njal's Saga), with minimal, though rather significant magic usage.

So, my best advice is: read a lot in preparation (and, if possible, have your players read as well), and base your stories on Viking legends and myths. :)

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I've run several games based in medieval Europe, with varying degrees of historical fidelity (gotta use that history major for something, right?), ranging from low magic "simulationist" campaigns to epic fantasy. Out of this experience, I'd recommend keeping a couple of things in mind as you design the setting.

First, I would say unless your group is filled with history buffs equally enthused about the granular detail and accuracy of your setting, don't be TOO married to the history books. If at all possible, try to tailor your players' character concepts into the tone of the setting. If one player desperately and absolutely wants to play a Merlin archtype magic-user, try to meet him/her halfway rather than rather reject the idea as ahistorical - perhaps s/he is a former court astrologer, exiled from Byzantium. After all, the medieval popular imagination was highly syncretic - people rarely had difficulty synthesizing beliefs about the world which seem contradictory.

Second, make sure your party agrees with the maturity level of the content you want to present. The tone of a Viking setting might be entirely accurate in focusing on the brutality of warrior culture, but this is something you should ask each of your players about individually - ESPECIALLY if you plan to touch on things like rape or violence toward children. I would do this privately, as people may be reluctant to admit to the group that they are uncomfortable with these themes. There was much more to Norse culture than raping and pillaging: the Vikings were great traders and mariners as much as warriors.

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A great place to start is to get a copy of Age of Mythology which features the kind of inter-faith interactions you want. It will help you put together ways to consolidate the different mythologies. It is also a great game.

With or without that. Consider the fact that these kinds of gods tend to be very different from the D&D/Pathfinder gods. The kind of magics they use, where they live, the kinds of boundaries that they have are more restrictive than what D&D gods enjoy. That means they are better choices as direct or indirect opponents. They can be bested, and much of mythology and post-mythological works are about exactly that. Often with the god having the last laugh.

I believe it will be important to feature these gods in addition to mythological creatures if you want to capture the flavor of the myths. It is also probably best to feature them sparingly. Bonus points for offering them up in ways that can be explained scientifically if the players chose to.

For example, communion with a god might involve getting totally hammered and sitting in a room clouded with incense fumes. Who knows what the character really saw. Dig into the source of mythological creatures and try to be true to them. Classic examples from other faiths are things like mammoth skulls inspiring cyclopes, manatees inspiring mermaids, and so on.

Norse mythology is once again an active faith. Read up on Asatru and if there are groups located near you, consider meeting with them.

Game considerations

Once you've done your research, you can begin to wrap the game in a thin or thick layer of mythology. My advice is to focus on the core of what being a Viking attacking Ireland would be like. Keep the low levels very common in scope. No magic creatures, no communion with gods, straight historical seafaring combat and downtime. Ideally, your crew of PCs aren't even the leaders of the raids. They are taking orders, they are doing glorious battle with timid Irish folk, and they get a glimpse of normalcy before being tossed into the mythology.

That will firmly ground the PCs into the roles and sell the history. It will be very hard to sell the history if they players are casting spells and fighting dragons.

I'd strongly suggest you make the players start as martial classes. They can be fighters, rogues or ideally berserkers. Maybe you can give them the option to multiclass later on as the mythological aspects transition from being explainable in science to being true and unjustifiable magic.

I've done similar with other mythologies to good effect. But not with Norse mythology. It is a great idea, however.

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