Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok - Session 0

Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok is a new game for the group, so Session 0 was part character creation and part explanation of the rules and world.  We have two copies of the rules [both purchased at PAX South by one of the players] and one copy was left with me to read before Session 0.  This allowed me to have some familiarity with the rules and where things are in the book.  I should note we are using the Second Edition of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok.

Some notes about the book design.  It is covered with artwork that is evocative of the sagas and the feel of Norse artwork from the 900's, at least to my eye.  One of the players doesn't care for folk art and was a bit put off by the artwork.  He later came around and is excited to play after we [mostly] finished character creation.

The organization of the book makes it a useful reference document, but a bit awkward to learn the rules from.  Concepts like rune chains [groups of runes played together as one action] are used pages before they are fully explained.  I was able to get the gist of what was meant, but was scratching my head as to implications.  Having read the rules entirely and then gone through character creation, I think I might need to read through them again to get a fuller understanding of the rules.  This is a barrier to entry for new players and new gamers might be inclined to return the game at this point, especially considering the hefty price tag [$70 for the paperback, $90 for the hardcover].

That said, the rules seem interesting and I'm very interested in seeing how things play out.  The game uses Futhark Runes as randomizers.  I made my own using some wooden disks I had plus Sharpie markers in Red, Blue, and Black [should have been green to match the colors used in the game, but I didn't have a green Sharpie].  The runes are divided into three sets of eight and color coded to align with the three primary Traits: Physical (red), Mental (blue), and Spiritual (green).  I could order a set of wooden runes from the publishers, Pendelhaven, but at $24.95 for what might be a one-shot, creating my own seemed a better bet.  I might change my mind later after we play for a while - we'll see.

Unlike other games, the Norn [FOTNR's term for the GM] decides what level the players start at.  Low level characters seem to be from level 5 to 10, but there is nothing in the rule book that actually says that.  Our Norn started us at Level 10 as the adventure he's running, The Treasure of Fafnir, recommends that.

[Sidebar 1: The Treasure of Fafnir is an intro adventure for the game and seems to be written for first time players and GMs.  It might be the "other book" containing the rules and guidelines for GMs I feel are missing from the main rule book.  As it is the adventure we are going to play, I can't read it yet, so we'll see.]

Levels are used as build points to purchase Essence and Destiny.  Essence is how many runes of the total 24 runes are attached to your character.  Destiny is how many runes you draw when you need to draw runes [which happens for several different reasons].  Each point of Essence costs 1 level and each point of Destiny costs 2 levels.  With 10 levels to spend, I bought 6 Essence and 2 Destiny, which most of the group did.  This gave us a lot of options, but very few will be available at any one time.  Two players chose 4 Essence and 3 Destiny, which means they have a smaller pool of options to pull from, but pull most of the pool each time they need to draw.  This is a critical choice when making your character and going in blind we agonized a bit over it.  Once we start playing, we'll see who chose wisely.

The runes that make up your Essence are used to select Active Powers, Passive Powers, and Skills off of what we called "bingo cards" that are unique to each character archetype [class equivalent].  There is a bingo card each for Active Powers, Passive Powers, and Skills that list everything available to that archetype.  You place your Essence runes on the card adjacent to each other, starting from the center square (no diagonals).  Each rune you place "unlocks" adjacent squares and allows you to place runes on them, unlocking further squares.  The upshot of this method is that each character of the archetype will have a different selection of powers and skills, differentiating them from each other.

The rune used to select a power of skill is also tied to that power or skill.  This matters a lot for Active Powers, but doesn't seem to matter as much for Passive Powers or Skills.  If it does, the rules don't explain how.  The rules also do explain that you can double up runes on squares, but the sample characters in the downloadable PDF for Treasure of Fafnir clearly have for their Skills.  It would have been nice if the rule book explicitly said this was an option and when as opposed to me having to infer it from the sample characters.

[Sidebar 2: There are two PDFs with sample characters that you can download from the website for the game.  The file labeled Pregenerated Dwellers provides characters of archetypes that are NOT in the main rule book.  I have no idea where they come from.  Without the bingo boards they are not very useful.  The PDF labeled Saga: Fafnirs Treasure printable materials has sample characters of the archetypes in the main rule book, but with some differences.  I suspect they were made using the First Edition rules and never updated for the Second Edition changes.  This is speculation on my part, but it fits the evidence.]

There is an option for using the first four runes each player draws to randomly determine some personality traits and starting profession/social standing.  I recommend doing this the first time to help establish the appropriate atmosphere/flavor for the player characters, especially if you do not have a lot of knowledge about things viking.  The downside is starting gear/money is likely to be uneven.  We had a range starting money from 100 to 700.  [Warning: the money is called skatt.  It may be historically accurate, but means something else in English - so be aware of that when introducing others.]

Our group ended up with 3 Galdr, 2 Maidens of Ratatosk, and 1 Ulfhednar.  Galdr use runes to cast magic, either inscribing the runes into things or tracing them in the air.  Maidens of Ratatosk are devil-may-care women living life to the fullest, taunting their foes before cutting them down, making them warriors of finesse.  Ulfhednar are shape-shifters who are all about the hunt and the kill, making them warriors of fury and power.  No one selected to play a Seithkona (wielders of spirit magic) or a Skald (casters of spell-songs).

That's about how far we got in Session 0.  With the wide variety of powers and skills and more players than rule books, we had to do a lot of sharing, which slowed things down.  We were supposed to play our first session this past Monday, but the Norn was unable to attend due to school things, one player had a work meeting, and one was ill.  The few who showed up finished building our characters and buying our starting gear.  Due to the high cost of weapons and armor and low starting money, I suspect the game designers do not expect the players to buy much.  Some players only had enough to buy a single small weapon or shield.  I had enough (after bargaining using my Negotiation skill) to buy medium graceful armor, a longsword, a short bow, a ceremonial knife, and a reinforced shield.  I based my choices on generating a high Parry as a defensive action to avoid being hit.  I'll post information about my character in a later post.  I am likely the party healer.


  1. Very interesting. The bit on runes reminds a little of a homebrew campaign setting developed and currently being run by a character in the web comic "Table Titans". The comic doesn't mention any specific RPG rules set by name - remaining "rules neutral" means the comic can appeal to many readers I suspect. Magic in the character's setting mostly works by runes as only a few races can perform magic naturally. I haven't seen any rune "stacking" or "linking" yet, but PCs need to learn various runes before they can draw, paint, carve, etc. them. IIRC, the way you form a rune is important too.

  2. That aspect of the rules is very intriguing. I'm looking forward to fully testing it out.