Tuesday 12 December 2017

Thorfinn's Saga

“… but when Loki, Mischief-Maker, the cause of all the troubles of the gods, admitted that it was he who cut Sif’s golden hair, Sif’s husband, Thor the Thunderer, threatened great revenge unless Loki replace every thread.

“Of course, you all know the story of Loki’s descent into Nidavellir, how the sons of Ivaldi crafted new hair for Sif, and how the Mischief-Maker then tricked the dwarves into crafting other gifts for the gods.

“But I have heard tell that Loki first past the way of the Western Lands, and while thinking up new ways to trick the gods, he carelessly allowed one of Sif’s hairs to become snagged in a branch.

“That hair was found many years later by a skilled smith, who worked the golden strand into a magical ring. It is said that whoever wears the ring will be never be without food or ale or mead, that their every meal will be like feasting in Valhalla, and that their stores will overflow with grain and their livestock will be ever fruitful…”

Before the skald had even finished his tale – the bit where he revealed that the ring was now possessed by some trolls – Jarl Thorfinn Hardluck was decided on his quest. It was true, sure enough, that he was a great man, a leader of his people. But his people were poor; scratching their meagre existence out of rock-strewn fields, sustaining themselves on the odd boar, deer or seal, and whatever else they could hunt. The possession of the magic ring would bring his people prosperity, and his name would live on forever in the sagas of the Norsemen.

Gathering together a dozen of his closest followers, Thorfinn fitted out a small knarr and set sail for the Western Lands. Although the journey started well with a stiff breeze and a gentle swell, the little trading vessel was not destined to return to Thorfinn’s farm. Within sight of their destination, the Great Eagle that flew high above the world-tree, Yggdrasil, beat its wings with merciless fury, causing storms the likes Thorfinn had never experienced in all his years. After many hours being tossed about like a giant’s plaything, the knarr’s mast prostrated itself to the wind’s power and broke. In the ensuing chaos, the knarr, turned side-on to the crashing waves, capsized below the weight of the water pushing down upon it, and was lost to the depths.

Those few who could, swam towards the grey smudge of land on the horizon until, weary and with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the tools in their hands, they were washed up on the rocky shore.

Thorfinn’s Saga was designed as a mini-campaign for Palaeo Diet: Eat or be Eaten. Although written for prehistoric hunting expeditions, Palaeo Diet is suitable for any situations that might pit solo or co-operative players against the natural world and savage beasts controlled by the games mechanics. This campaign follows the adventures of Thorfinn Hardluck and his companions as they embark on their quest to recover the magic ring.

Throughout the campaign, the player/s have access to only three characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses:

Jarl Thorfinn Hardluck
Equipment: As appropriate for a man of his standing Thorfinn wields a well-wrought sword. The sword is treated as a Club (PDEE p.5). It can only be used against beasts or foes in base contact, but confers a +1 modifier to Thorfinn’s attack rolls.
Traits: Thorfinn is the ruler of his people and insists on leading from the front, an attitude that has made him Crotchety (PDEE p.13). Nevertheless, his experience (and the fortune of having inherited some armour) has forged Thorfinn into a formidable warrior, rendering him a Brute (PDEE p.13).

Thorvald the Touched
Equipment: Thorvald carries multiple axes which he throws at foes and wields in combat with equal skill. Axes are treated as Spears (PDEE p.5). They can be used against beasts or foes up to 1x Short distance away.
Traits: Touched by the gods and a little weird, Thorvald has knowledge of many natural and supernatural things. He is both a Healer (PDEE p.14) and a Thinker (PDEE p.14).

Thorbjørn Bjarnason
Equipment: Thorbjørn carries a bow. He may pelt beasts and foes up to 1x Long distance, but always suffers a -1 modifier to his pelting and attack rolls.
Traits: The youngest surviving member of Thorfinn’s household, Thorbjørn eager to prove his worth; he is therefore Excited (PDEE p.14). However, his skill with a bow is already spoken of highly, and Thorbjørn is known as a skilled Hunter (PDEE p.14).

Scenario 1 – A contested feast
Thorfinn started to raised his beaten body from where he lay, stared around him through salt encrusted eyes, and then let his head fall with a painful thump, back to the stony beach. From what he could make out, the beach was littered with debris from his broken knarr. A few of his crew sat hunched in a little circle further up the beach. Thorfinn could see two or three bobbing, face down, just beyond the break line, their arms or legs entangled in flotsam.

Gathering his strength, and muttering under his breath - cursing and entreating to the gods with equal measure, the jarl rose and strode as manfully as possible up the beach to the survivors. If they see the despair in his eyes, it was because they were blinded by their own.

Thorfinn licked his cracked lips and spat. In his most commanding voice, he gestured to the two most … ‘reliable’ wasn’t the best word … likeable men in the group. “Thorvald, Thorbjørn, we have a ring to find. The rest of you, do what you can with this.” Thorfinn gestured vaguely around the beach, at the remains of his vessel, at the bodies of his drowned crew, and the mess of their outward journey.

“Right lads” said the jarl quietly to his two companions, “if we can manage to find this thing, then we can work out a way to get home. If we can’t, then we won’t have to worry about it. First things first though, lets get something to eat eh!?”

As he said it, a pack of wolves started howling in the near distance. Thorvald gave a crooked grin, clicked his tongue and whistled. Thorfinn smiled, shook his head and walked inland, followed by a wide-eyed Thorbjørn.

The Norsemen have been washed up in a strange and unforgiving land. With nothing but the clothes on their backs and the weapons on their hands, their first challenge is to collect provisions for their onward journey.

Set up the table with the three Norsemen standing in the centre. Place five landscape features (any combination of hills, thickets or tricky ground, but at least one of each) around the table, leaving 1x Long distance between each piece. No beasts are placed on the table at the start of the game.

Roll 1d6 every time a character moves into, or within, a hill, thicket or tricky ground terrain piece and consult the table below to find out what the character has spotted.

Die roll
Hunter on a hill
Hunter in a thicket
Hunter in tricky ground
A single angry critter has been flushed out of hiding. Place it at the centremost point of the hill ground.
The gods have blessed us with a Boar! Place a pack preadator at the centremost point of the thicket.
A single angry critter has been flushed out of hiding. Place it at the centremost point of the tricky ground.
Nothing is found
A single angry critter has been flushed out of hiding. Place it at the centremost point of the thicket.
A single angry critter has been flushed out of hiding. Place it at the centremost point of the tricky ground.
Nothing is found
Character discovers fungus worth ½ bulk.
Character discovers fungus worth ½ bulk.
Character discovers fungus worth ½ bulk.
Character discovers nuts or berries worth ½ bulk.
Character discovers fungus worth ½ bulk.
Character discovers nuts or berries worth ½ bulk.
Character has flushed out a critter.
Character discovers nuts or berries worth ½ bulk.
Character has flushed out a critter.
Character has flushed out a critter.
Character has flushed out a critter.

Gathering fungus, nuts or berries costs one action. During the process, characters will naturally pop fungus, nuts and berries in their mouths. However, whenever a Thorfinn or Thorbjørn gather fungus, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1-2, they have chosen poorly and collected poisonous fungus and immediately suffer one wound as it beings to sour their bellies. Being more experienced with such things, Thorvald is not affected by eating strange berries.

The Norsemen only have a limited time to gather provisions. At the end of turn 8, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1-3, a large pack of savage looking wolves appear on the table and the Norsemen make an immediate withdraw. On a roll of 4+, the Norsemen have another turn to complete their mission. Roll again at the end of turn 9 and every subsequent turn until the Norsemen are successful or the wolves appear.

In order to progress on their quest, all three Norsemen must survive and 6 bulk worth of provisions must be collected.

New beast type: Angry critters (details to come!)

Starting at the center of the table, our brave heroes set off for the woods and immediately found a boar.

Thinking this was going to be a foregone conclusion, Thorfinn and Thorvald take down the boar, securing the first two bulk worth of provisions.

Thorfinn headed off to some tricky ground and flushed out an angry critter which attacked, but failed to wound the jarl.

In a separate tricky patch, Thorvald also flushed out an angry critter who attacked and bit him on the knee.

Unfortunately, Thorbjørn then messed up an activation roll. The angry critter reacted and again bit Thorvald, bringing him down in a crumpled heap and losing us the scenario.

Still, playing on, just to test things out, Thorbjørn continued with his turn, found some fungus, ate it, and felt immediately sick. It was clear that the game could be played to completion and a win, but we weren't going to do it! Sure, we thought, lets ay we did. And we moved on to the next scenario.

Scenario 2 – The washer at the ford
Thorbjørn slowly raised his head above the tussocks of wiry grass, his body prone to the cold, damp crest of the little hillock. From his vantage point he could see a slow winding river making its way through the valley. The still-looking water obviously ran deep, except for one point, where it crashed and danced joyfully across a natural causeway of well-worn stones.

Other creatures obviously knew these shallows to be a crossing point too. The gentle slopes down to the ford were well trodden, meandering paths leaving patterns through the tall grasses. The real object of his attention though, was the figure standing ankle deep in the middle of the crossing. From a distance, and with the dusk sun so low on the horizon, it had looked like some sort of stooped crone, swaying this way and that as she washed her threads in the cool waters.

Now that he was closer, however, the young Norseman knew that his eyes had deceived him. What he had taken to be abundant shawls and cowls, defence against the cold north wind, he saw now was nothing less than a thick shaggy coat. No more a stooped washer at the ford, the figure’s ursine bulk was now obvious.

Behind him, somewhere off in the distance, the pack of wolves who had been following them for days could be heard baying in the wind. Somewhat closer, at the foot of the hillock, Thorbjørn’s companions sat impatiently waiting his report. He shifted his body so that the earth’s bulk protected him from the bear’s view and scurried down the hillside. “Well,” he said, “There is a crossing. But also a bear. What do you want us to do Jarl Thorfinn?”

Thorfinn scratched at the base of his chin – there was something caught in his beard which prickled his skin. He was not sure if it was a thorn or if it was something biting him. Either way, it made him irritable. “Well, we can’t go back” he said gruffly, waving a thumb in the direction of the wolves. “So I suppose we have a talk with your bear. After all, there are three of us … perhaps we can persuade it to bugger off.”

The Norsemen must cross the river and escape off the table on the far side.

Set up the table so that a river crosses between to opposite sides with a crossing point at the centre of the table. Treat the river as impassable and the crossing point as rough terrain. Place at least one hill on either side of the river, and three other terrain features. Place a single apex predator at the river’s crossing point.

The Norsemen must start the scenario within 1x Medium distance of any one corner. They must escape the river valley via any board edge on the far side of the river within six turns, at which point the sun sets and they risk losing their way.

Thorfinn Hardluck and at least one of the other characters must survive and make it off the table in order to progress to the next scenario.

Having not really succeeded in the first game, we penalised out heroes at the start of scenario two by giving both Thorfinn and Thorbjørn wounds at the start of the game. Thorfinn started by hurling himself down the hill towards the ford.

The bear initially moved away from him, but then, smelling the blood, turned back and had a sniff of the Norseman.

Thorvald used his healing ability to patch up Thorbjørn, and the two sidekicks set off in support of their jarl.

Thorfinn slipped away past the bear, and in the confusion, so too did Thorvald. The bear followed him, and Thorbjørn was able to head off in the other direction. All characters survived, but we only just finished the scenario within the turn limit.

Scenario 3 – Into Jötunheimr
The skald had been right about one thing. There were certainly trolls around. Thorfinn wrinkled his nose in disgust as he scraped the jötunn dung from the sole of his boot. On crossing the river, he had managed to leave wolf pack far behind him, but the incident with the bear had also left his separated from his men. They had all been in the hall when the skald spoke. They had all heard tell of the two jötnar, brothers, who now laid claim to the ring and the bountiful powers imbued by the single strand of Sif’s golden hair. If they still lived, the companions would be making their way to the rocky plateau before him.

As he carefully made his way through the tumble of rocky outcrops, Thorfinn was able to smell them first; a potent musky scent mixed with the rich odour of decay, and the faintest hint of wood smoke. He clambered up one last shelf of barren rock as the rosy fingers of Sól illuminated this surrounds with the day’s first light. He was again stuck by the hopelessness of the barren landscape. Nothing but bare rocky hills, stagnant gullies and the ever present north wind, still wafting the jötnar’s powerful perfume towards him.

Ahead of Thorfinn was the troll-hall, a shadowed cave delving deep under a low rise. The jötnar obvious had a fire burning at the entrance of the cavern. Although the fire itself was hidden from view, it cast a fading glow through the dawn light, flinging lethargic shadows against the surrounding stones around it as the trolls moved languidly around their hearth. So, though Thorfinn, he would not be catching them at slumber. He was confident that if he could separate the beasts, he stood an even chance to bring one down. If Thorvald or Thorbjørn had survived, it would make it all the easier. The trouble would come if he spent what energy he had left to slay one jötunn, only to find that it was the other who held custody of the ring.

And then, he reflected, if he was successful in this quest, he would still need to make his way back to the beach somehow. Gods’ willing, his surviving crew might even have thought up a means to get home.

The Norsemen must recover the magic ring from the corpse of a jötunn and escape of the table. If a character manages to kill a jötunn and moved into base contact with it’s body, they may spend one action to search for the ring. Roll 1d6; on a 5+, they have discovered the magic ring and pick it up automatically. On a roll of 1-4, the ring is being carried by the second jötunn.

Set up the table with a selection of hills and tricky ground, two or three of each terrain type. Place a single small impassable feature at the very centre of the table to indicate the hearth. The two jötnar (great bipeds) should be placed within 1x Short of the hearth.

Thorfinn can be placed within 1x Medium of one table corner. If they survived the encounter with the bear, Thorvald and Thorbjørn must each be placed within 1x Medium of any other table corners – none of the Norsemen may start in the same corner.

The complete the campaign, At least one character must survive the game and carry the ring off the table edge.

New beast type: Great bipeds (details to come!)

The two jötnar are in the centre of the table. Our three heroes come in from different corners.

Thorfinn (in ambush) and Thorvald attack one of the trolls, while Thorbjørn's shooting drives the other off into some tricky terrain.

... but only for a moment. Continued archery enrages the beast which spins around and launches itself on the surprised Thorbjørn who succumbs to a series of vicious attacks.

Over with the other troll, Thorvald too was eviscerated before Thorfinn managed to slay the beast. Unfortunately, the jarl too suffered a number of wounds in the process. Searching the dead jötunn, Thorfinn failed to find the magic ring and so had to move on to jötunn no.2 (Thorbjørn's-bane). The struggle was fierce, and close, but in the end, too much for the Norsemen. Thorfinn too collapsed from his wounds, and the saga was at an end.

I actually replayed this last scenario the next day with my wee lad, and though we lost Thorbjørn and Thorvald yet again, Thorfinn managed to kill both trolls and get home again with the ring. So, you know, it can be done...


On an unrelated note. Here is a shot at the end of one of the other games we played over the weekend. Herc slain by a bunny. Oh the shame!

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