I don’t own any of their boardgames nor did I back this RPG on KS (alas). Rather I brought this from RPGNow based on the expected great artwork (expectations met) and pre-gen character sheets (that you can download from the games KS page – the 27th Sep update) that left me wanting to know more. In an initial flip through I wasn’t sure if this game was for me but now that I have read the rules properly (1st pass) I quite like what I see. Mind I have not read the campaign and only skimed through one adventure at this stage.
We are told it is a narrative game but given it uses a d20 I thought it would be closer to the RPGs I am used to (D&D, AD&D, 3e, 4E, 5E, and Starfinder). It is indeed a narrative game but one that I think I would enjoy playing. The rules (including a page of typical male/female Viking Names) is less than forty pages. The rest of the book is a campaign and 16 adventure modules! If each module takes one (two to four hour) session I think I got my monies worth. Oh, and when it says it’s not the final print version, it looks pretty complete to me.
It starts with one page on introducing RPGs and this games game flow. Next two page sets the scene – briefly introducing the Viking world. One page covers questions the GM/Players should answer to create their clan. The next ten pages cover Hero creation. Players assign points to the four attributes (Mind, Will, Body, and Combat), assign points to the twenty skills (five per attribute), pick a Quality from a suggested list of eleven (reduce Difficulty Level (DL) of relevant challenges), write some traits/flaws (be creative), choose one specialised skill (grants advantage to skill roll), and choose one of ten Viking Themed paths (e.g. The Skald). Each path has a one paragraph description of the path (what they typically do), something particular (special) to the path, the starting gear for that path, and a list of questions to help flesh out the character.
An example scenario can be downloaded (again from the KS page) which gives a good overview of what a GM needs to do when writing an adventure, provide: a summary, an opening, a description of the setting the heroes are in, list some questions for the heroes, another list of likely scenes, a series of challenges, a list of complications, some hooks, and some paragraphs describing “Other Considerations”. Now if you look at an example character sheet it has the Game Flow depicted on it: the GM presents the situation, the player states their Goal and their Approach, the GM sets the DL and Target Number (described later), adjustments are made (traits, situation, etc.), the player rolls a d20 and the outcome is determined. All of this, adventure creation, setting challenges, and game flow are described very well in only a few pages. These days I like games that are brief and NSE nails it.
I was reminded of Apocalypse World (which I have not played) in that rather than Pass/Fail, there are degrees of success/failure. The GM summarises the result but (the part I like) it is the player who describes exactly what happens. A challenge may be a simple one roll affair, but complicated tasks may take several rolls. This is where the Target Number comes in. TN three means three successes are required (but a player may gain three successes in single roll if they roll high enough). If they roll badly they take Strain (which again the player describes the form of strain) and once enough strain is accumulated an injury results (making skill checks with the related stat harder, or even impossible).
So whilst a d20 is used, this is not D&D. There are no turns, grids, movement speed, hit points, magic or monsters (no kick down the door so you can then kill them and take their stuff). Foes in this game are challenges with DLs and TNs assigned by the GM. Other additional stuff are some rules on reputation (heroes’ and clans’), economy and gear (equipment, plunder, expenses). All these are briefly described over half a dozen pages (some might say slightly hand wavy, but that would be a harsh statement). For this sort of game you don’t need anything more. The rules get the job done and do it well.
I am used to playing “save the world” epic campaigns so I am not sure how I would go about coming up with my own adventures initially, but with a campaign and sixteen adventures in the book I have plenty to feed my imagination. Initially I wasn’t sure if I had spent wisely adding this game to my vast collection, but after reading the rules I am pretty sure it was money well spent. If it does see the table it will be a nice change of pace from our usual affair.
Finally, the game fits the theme very well Vikings, longships, and reputations but there would be no reason you couldn’t take the rules and use in another setting. The rules are simple enough you could add/take as you see fit. If you think a narrative game that uses the fickle d20 is up you alley, I think you could do much worse. I will give it an unplayed five stars. It is one of very few narrative games I think could work at our old school table.
[5 of 5 Stars!]