Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/10/tabletop-review-mythic-iceland-chaosium-basic-roleplayingcthulhu-dark-ages/
Let me start off this review with one statement: Mythic Iceland is perhaps the most intense supplement I have ever encountered in my life. It’s less a supplement than a mammoth text of information with enough of the core Basic Roleplaying rules system included that you can almost use this book on its own. I went into this thinking it would be like Cubicle 7′s Shadows Over Scotland where it’s mainly flavor text about the location coupled with a few adventures. Well, Mythic Iceland is like that but a whole lot more. It took me forever to wade through text. Not because it was dry or dull, but because there was so much information that it was almost sensory overload. It’s like the old Enclycopedia Britannica commercial where the kid gets a B+ for putting in too much information. So know what you are in for when you pick up this mammoth text. You’re not just getting a little history on Iceland – you’re getting character creation rules, a massive history, a set of new monsters, story seeds, a full adventure, information about other lands and even a Cthulhu Dark Ages supplement and adventure. Holy crap. Now, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at what all you get.
I should stress that Mythic Iceland is a blend of true Icelandic history, folklore and stuff the author made up to fill in the blanks. The book starts with an Introduction covering just this fact, along with the time period being covered (930-1050) and an Icelandic Alphabet guide. I thought this last bit was very cool and was the first indication that Mythic Iceland was going to be more a college textbook for gaming than your usual campaign setting book.
The next section is “History of Mythic Iceland,” which covers several creation myths (The world, the Norse Gods, Iceland itself and mankind)which is then followed up by a list of the various cultures that discovered, explored and eventually settled Iceland. I loved this section as I’m a big history buff and I found the blending of folklore and actual Icelandic history to be quite a fun read. I realize it won’t be for everyone, but each page gave me new ideas for adventures – not just for the BRP setting, but any game that uses real world settings. I had thoughts of Hidden World zombies for All Flesh Must Be Eaten to recovering artifacts with my Shadowrun chummers.
“Character Creation” is just what you think it’s about. When I first saw this I was surprised a chapter was devoted to the concept because hey, I already have several BRP books. Why would I need this? Well, it’s because Mythic Iceland has several new things that it brings to the table in regards to character creation ranging from Runic Magic to religious affiliation. Now you will still need both books in order to create a character, which is a bit of a downer because of the cost (almost $80 for physical copies!) involved. However because I love this book so much I’m going to help you out. Just get this and then download the free Basic Roleplaying Quick Start Rules directly from Chaosium. Problem solved. I also found it interesting how important status and family were in character creation. These are two things you don’t see brought up in the process by most RPGs. Finally, this chapter ends with some new skills, lists of Icelandic names and a two page character sheet.
“Life in Saga-Age Iceland” is another chapter devoted to historical flavor in a level of detail I’ve never really seen from a campaign setting before. Sure this chapter covers geography, climate, flora, fauna, cost of items and the other things you’ll find in most high quality campaign supplements, but Mythic Iceland continues to take things farther than I’ve ever seen before. You get essays on family life, social status, burial rights and so much more.
The following chapter is even MORE in-depth as you get fifteen pages of just “Law and Government.” Do you want to know how to probably engage in a duel with someone that has wronged you? It’s in here. Do you want to know all the districts of Iceland in the 10th and 11th Century? It doesn’t matter as the book will tell you anyway! You are given a systematic look at the courts, crimes, punishments, inheritance laws, and even how to run a full court proceeding within the BRP system mechanics. This is both awesome and crazy – I’m just not sure which it’s leaning to more. There is so much here, this will either become one of your favorite RPG books or all time to read…or you’ll burn out before you’re even a fraction of the way done with it!
The next twenty or so pages comprise the chapter on Religion. Here you are given a look at the major Norse gods and goddesses and how worshiping one can affect your character. Basically you are given a stat that measures your faith towards a particular Norse God with is directly contrasted by your stat towards Loki. As your ties towards a particular god strengthens, you’ll find your character is blessed with new abilities. The key, of course, is to make sure your deity of choice continues to look upon your4 character favorably. You’re also given a large section of Christianity and what this religion did to Iceland for both good and ill.
“Magic in Mythic Ireland” is the chapter you may want to pay the most attention to if you’re only into game mechanics. The magic section here is vastly different from every other Chaosium setting I’ve ever read or played. It’s the magic that also helps to truly make this setting come to alive in regards to hucking dice and scribbling on character sheets. Of course, few characters will be able to use magic due to the POW requirements, but it’s still as intricate as it is important to the setting.
Like with any good Norse based game, magic is primarily done through runes. Mythic Iceland gives you not only a “history” of Norse magic, but also a list of each rune, how many you start with, rules for how to actually cast magic, how to gain new spells and increase the power of ones your character already knows. The rules for runic magic are thirty-three pages long, which probably shocks you to read that. The good news is that most of those pages are the detailed description of each rune and what you can do with them, similar to a list of spells in a D&D Player’s Handbook. Basically, a runecaster just needs to combine three runes to form a spell. It’s a pretty open ended system with no specifics on what to combine to make a spell. It’s pretty much common sense. You wouldn’t have a rune for Ice (Iss) to create a rainbow coloured beaver for example. You could however take the runes Sol (sun), Elgur (defensive protection) and Dagur (Day & unexpected joy) to create a ray of sunlight to do damage to an undead creature though. The book gives examples of various combinations for certain effects, but otherwise it’s wide open for the player and Keeper, which I like.
“A Traveller’s Guide to Mythic Iceland” lists thirty-five different major locations on the island, complete with a bit of history behind the area, some mythology to compliment it and an adventure seed based on the previous myth for you to flesh out and then unleash on your players. You can pretty much have several campaigns worth of adventures just from this chapter. Whether it’s accidentally killing a troll’s beloved pet sheep in Skafti’s Mountains or being haunted by ghosts in Goose Sands, there’s so much stuff to throw at PCs, you’ll never have to worry about coming up with your own adventures.
“Elves and the Hidden People” is a chapter you’ll really want to read as Norse elves are not the tall thin pale pointy ear elves we see in most fantasy. No, these elves look just like humans; it’s just they reside on another plane of existence. You get details on why the average person can’t see the Hidden People and why even exceptional people can only see them for a limited amount of time. You’re given information on their culture, family life, what happens if a Hidden Person mates with a human and so on. You’re even given NPC stats. The one thing missing is that the book neither dissuades or promoted the idea of Hidden People as player characters. Obviously someone is going to try to do this, and it really doesn’t work. I wish there had been a sidebar or something that was to the effect of “Don’t allow this race as PCs because…”"Alfheimur” is another chapter, albeit a short one about elves. Unlike the previous chapter which were about elves that left their homeland to settle in Iceland, this chapter is about the actual land elves come from.
“The Lands to the West” was my favorite chapter in Mythic Iceland. This chapter alone is one of the best resource materials I’ve seen in a very long time. This very long and extensive chapter gives you a look at other countries/lands/regions that you can use. Maybe your characters get exiled from Iceland or just get restless. The two areas that can be found in this chapter are Greenland and Wine-Land, the latter being made up of eastern Canada and the United States. You’re given a specific breakdown of each country, such as locations, creatures and travelling by vessel to reach them. You’re even given information about the White-Fur and Dark Fur Skraelingar AKA Native Americans. Again the book is neutral on whether you can or even should make a PC Skraelingar, but as they are just humans, it might be a fun idea to have one as a guide if the other players are exploring say, the Slab-Land region of Wine-Land for reasons of riches and glory. Special note goes out to the awesome monsters you’ll find in what we know as North America like the race known as the One-Legged. I also loved the Thunderbird and how much the art looks like the Pokémon Zapdos. Although I’m sure it’s totally unintentional, it’s very telling as Zapdos is based on Thunderbird. Nice to see the unconscious collective at work here. Honestly, “The Lands to the West” is the best chapter in the book and it’s the one I know I’ll get the most use out of.
“The Wide World” is a chapter that simply talks about what is going on in the rest of the world during the time frame Mythic Iceland is set in. You get timelines and several paragraphs on each nation or island and although it’s nowhere in depth as “The Lands to the West,” it’s still a very fun read. “Going Viking” is about well…going Viking. It gives you information on Viking vessels, how to pilot them, the preferred weaponry one would carry and how to properly run a raid on a village or monastery. Very fun. “Running a Game of Mythic Iceland” is the all GM chapter in the book. It’s basically advice on how to run a game, ways to properly dole out various rewards such as experience, status, luck, magical items and religious allegiance points. I really liked the part on how to us a PCs prophecy power (if one has this ability) to keep the adventure flowing in the way you want it to go. Yeah for a built-in sidetracking prevention. This chapter also contains tables for inclement weather and alcohol effects.
“Creatures of Mythic Iceland” is just what you suppose. I do think Gms will get a bit lost looking for monsters since they are spread between this chapter and “Lands to the West.” People will probably look for wendigo or trolls in the wrong chapter. It might have been better layout wise had the book just had a pure chapter on monsters, but this is a minor nitpick on my part.
The final chapter in Mythic Iceland is an adventure entitled, “The Trouble With Neighbors.” It’s a long convoluted affair which has PCs being tricked by their neighbor into doing battle with trolls and then being railroaded by the ancient Icelandic legal system, forcing them to do battle not with sword and shield, but lawyers. Of course, every lawyer the party can pick from wants something in return for their services… The adventure is well written and laid out, but it felt like it was more Mythic Phoenix Wright than an adventure about stalwart Norse warriors. I actually felt most of the adventure seeds earlier in the book were more interesting than this one. While not a bad adventure, it did feel like a mediocre one and it isn’t one I’d ever run myself.
Mythic Iceland has three appendices – two of which are related to the Call of CthulhuL spin off: Cthulhu Dark Ages. Each of these appendices are quite long – more so that even some of the chapters in the main book. I was pleasantly surprised to see over twenty pages devoted to a different (but far more popular) Chaosium setting than Basic Roleplayingh; if only because of the differences in the two. That said, the inclusion of Cthulhu Dark Ages material was the original impetus for my picking up Mythic Iceland and I’m happy to say that the CoC bits are no less impressive than the rest of the book.
“Cthulhu Dark Ages Iceland” is the primary chapter CoC players will want to read. It gives you a more fantastical history of Iceland that the rest of the book in order to keep things in tone with the Lovecraftian history of the world. Elves and trolls are slightly different in appearance and demeanor, and you are given stats for both. You’re told about various cults, given sanity loss information about the monsters that appeared earlier in the book and quite a few new tomes and spells native to Iceland. Interestingly enough this section includes information on magic staves, which isn’t mentioned in the core Mythic Iceland book.
The second appendix is “Cthulhu Dark Ages Scenario,” which pretty much tells you what it is. Like the BRP adventure, this one is a little lacking and dull for my tastes. It’s your run of the mill, “Oh no! Relative of upstanding citizen X is actually Kai En Tai style EEEEEVIL (Indeed!). ” The adventure does highlight a special monster and spell from the book, but other than that, it’s a pretty cookie cutter affair. Again, it’s not bad, and it definitely works as a first ever adventure for people new to CoC, but for veterans of the system it’s a little week.
The third and final appendix is a wonderful bibliography by the way.
So there you go. 2,500+ words on why Mythic Iceland is one of the most in-depth and detailed roleplaying books I’ve ever read. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use it as it was designed as I don’t know anyone that plays BRP and I only own a few pieces from the system/ That said, I’ll definitely be adapting the book to everything from Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: Dark Ages to things like Shadowrun and even a D&D or Pathfinder game. There is SO MUCH information and material in Mythic Iceland that it might be a little too overwhelming for some gamers. It can be hard to remember where something was the first few times you go through it and there’s so much here it’ll take you a few days (or even weeks) to get through it the first time. For gamers that love to just read RPG related books or who love flavor text and background info rather than hard system mechanics, you’ll probably devour Mythic Iceland the same way I did. I will be shocked if this doesn’t win some sort of award at the end of the year from us here at Diehard GameFAN. Chaosium has been releasing some truly amazing stuff this year and Mythic Iceland is no exception.