Northlands Saga I – III

 

You might know that I’m a sucker for all things Scandinavian and that vikings have a special place in my heart from my involvement in Open Design’s Northlands. I’m happy to introduce you to 3 nice modules today that take place in the frozen North, Frog God Games’

 

Northlands Saga I – Vengeance of the Long Serpent

 

This adventure is 24 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 3 pages of advertisements, leaving 17 pages of adventure, so let’s check it out, shall we?

I’ve been quite involved in OD’s “Northlands” and have, I confess, an infatuation with sagas, Scandinavian culture and customs and have studied Scandinavian Literature and Culture – I’m not the most unbiased reviewer for the subject matter, but my knowledge of said topics also means that I went into this adventure expecting to be continuously face-palming due to inconsistencies and “not getting” the mindset and mentality.

That being said, this is an adventure review and thus contains a lot of
SPOILERS.

Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion of my review.

Still here?

All right! After a short introduction to climate, culture and mentality of the North, the PCs are contacted by one Hallbjorn, a survivor of Jarl Olaf Henrikson’s failed expedition to the far North -he has returned with the “Long Serpent” (loosely based on Olav Tryggvason’s legendary Ormurin Langi) to recruit brave souls to a mission of both sealing and ivory gathering as well as vengeance against a strange and savage winter-cult devoted to an entity called Althunak that seems to have sprung up among the Inuit-like Ulnat. It is here, in the extensive boxed texts provided for the recruitment that my heart was pounding with glee – author Kenneth Spencer not only gets the mentality, but is also versed in Kennings, the skaldic metaphors. While he uses rather simple ones like “weather of weapons” and “spear-din”, which are readily apparent in their meaning, it is his mirroring of staves (alliterative speech) in the boxed texts that really had me smile.

After recruiting ( and getting drunk with the PCs), the voyage North continues and provides 11 possible random encounters as well as 3 non-random events, among which whale hunting and the obligatory dread storm (Without covered decks, storms get scary and cold. And wet.) not only will provide fluff galore, but also provides opportunity for the PCs to not only make money and assemble (or lose) rations and become leaders of the expedition. It should be noted that anyone with Profession (Sailor) will have a blast here! Finally, the expedition will find Yilthi, an Ulnat adrift on the sea and possibly save him. If the PCs can overcome the language barrier, he makes for an interesting guide and a good reason for the PCs to visit Laquirv, the one Ulnat village in the coastal region that has not yet been subdued by the cultists of Althunak. Also, survival in the rough climate, rations and a preferable return prior to the deadly polar winter are detailed and play key parts in this adventure.

Once the PCs have finally arrived, the truly sandboxy part of the adventure begins: The PCs get a map of the Tundra of Ulanatland and are essentially free to do as they please – hunting, whaling, liberating villages. Apart fromLaquirv, we get short write-ups for the armed forces of 6 small villages the PCs probably should clear in order to gain support and weaken the cult of Althunak. If they play their cards right, the spirit of the murdered Jarl and his fellows might even bequeath their items to the PCs…or curse the grave-robbers! 2 statblocks for the warriors of the cult and 1 for the shamans and their ice-mephits are provided and once the PCs deem the opposing forces to be weakened enough (or if they just want to get back home and wrap things up- the timer for the polar winter is ticking), they’ll want to tackle the adventure’s climax, the battle at the second temple of Althunak. By the way: If you’re a mean DM, you could always freeze the ship with “Althunak’s wrath”, thus forcing the PCs to tackle said attack.

The final battle features Althunak’s high-priest, a dread werebear adept along a significant fore – hopefully the PCs have gathered some allies and thinned the enemy lines… It should be noted that the area around this temple also gets a map. Once the foes are defeated, the PCs can return to their port of origin, where they can sell their gains as well as gain access to the Long Serpent.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed 2 minor punctuation errors. Layout adheres to the b/w-FGG-two-column standard and the pieces of original b/w-artwork not only rock, but belong to the finest I’ve seen in 3pp adventures. Mechanically, we get a nice wilderness journey by sea with some nifty encounters and a cool sandboxy war of attrition against the children of Althunak. As a DM, you should beware that this adventure really expects the PCs to do what they please – no handholding with regards to the approach and if PCs act stupid and rush headlong into the Tundra towards the climax, they’ll receive quite a beating. This is an adventure for smart players who don’t have to be railroaded into action – this adventure has no need to do so: It OOZES flavor, it’s writing is stellar and there are only two minor blemishes in this adventure: One is that the death of a certain individual is, as written, predestined. While easily written out of the adventure, said death is a minor problem. The second point of criticism I have is that there’s no map of the ship included. Due to these minor blemishes I’ll have to rate this 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. For me and everyone into saga literature, kennings etc., this adventure is also full of Easter-eggs and will be remembered for quite some time. Highly recommended, especially in snyergy with Northlands.

 

Northlands Saga II – Beyond the Wailing Mountains

 

This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisement and 2 pages of SRD, leaving a total of 20 pages for the direct sequel to the first Northlands-saga-adventure, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? All right! After having rallied the Ulnat and delivered them from the yoke of the second temple of Althunak, the PCs are enjoying a victory feats only to have one of the Ulnat being drifted ashore, encased in a solid block of impregnable block of ice – a dire omen indeed and Althunak’s revenge won’t be late. After surviving the vengeance of Althunak’s servants for the destruction of his second temple, the mood will no longer be festive, but rather one of dire need – in order to truly be free of the dread influence of the elder deity, the PCs will have to defeat the chosen of Althunak in his very first temple.

Situated in the white fields of death lies the abandoned city of the lord of winter at the shore of the lake of frozen dreams. In order to get there, the PCs will have to trek across the wailing mountains on the legendary trail of ravens and thus, we’re in for a wilderness adventure in the truest sense – avalanches, blizzards and servants of Althunak like frost giants, remorhazes and the fauna like mammoths and dire animals will make for deadly challenges along the way. Massive random encounter tables provide details and tracking food etc. should make the journey a challenge for the PCs in the barren lands of the Far North.

Worse, once in the fields of death, the legendary half-fiend dire bear Blue Fang will hunt them (he also comes with an awesome b/w-artwork) and making the way through the city will also provide a challenge, as Althunak’s servants await the PCs. If they manage to brave these dangers, the PCs will still have to deal with Althunak’s faithful and defeat Elvanti, the chosen of Althunak in his very temple – a daunting task indeed!

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and provides some neat pieces of original b/w-artwork. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks, which is always a plus. This adventure is a very straight-forward sequel to the first part of the saga and should be run as a sequel – it almost requires the first pdf to make sense and lend a personal interest and edge to what makes the PCs venture forth. The wilderness trek is challenging and feels truly old-school – this part of the world is hostile, ancient and unique while providing trademark iconic locations. However, a DM should be familiar with environmental rules, as the pdf provides not a lot of hand-holding. That being said, the sense of walking on a legendary trail into a part of the world that has been abandoned due to hostile terrain and an ancient, disturbing evil feels almost like traversing the gates to a white hell itself. It’s hard to convey the feeling of exploring hostile, mythic terrain in a module, but the excellent writing by Kenneth Spencer does the trick. If you’re longing for the sense of vulnerability, of an ancient world and a challenge in an Inuit-style-themed adventure, this will most definitely feel awesome. If you add some content from OD’s Northlands, even better! Personally, I loved this adventure, its unique feeling and iconic locations and thus I’ll settle for a final verdict of 5 stars – If you already have the first one. If you don’t…well. Get the first one. I can’t see this one work well as a stand-alone module.

 

Northland Saga III – The Death-Curse of Sven Oakenfist 

 

This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, leaving 23 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This is an adventure-review and thus, SPOILERS abound- Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All right! After returning from their stay with the Ulnat in the Far North, the PCs are back in the lands that are more reminiscent of Scandinavia during the time of Vikings. To weather the winter, the PCs have been invited to stay at the hall of Jarl Arnuld Cursespear, who once slew the legendary reaver and direct descendant of Odin, the blight upon the world called Sven Oakenfist. Unfortunately, he came to his success and riches by the death-curse of said hero and now, as an old man, the wight of the legend returns and barges into the hall of the Jarl  to pronounce a final deadline – on the Feast of Freyja, Sven will kill and destroy everything and everyone who swears fealty to Jarl Arnuld. In order to vanquish the wight, the PCs will have to find a way to unravel his mighty death-curse.

 

Unfortunately, with essentially a divine bloodline, said death-curse will prove to be rather difficult to find even a HINT to unravel. Thankfully, the three utterly mad daughters of one of the norns might provide the answers – if the PCs manage to best their trials. From defeating a unique dragon to save a beautiful maid, to doing (rather dangerous)chores for a matronly lady and defeating an evil crone in a game (when she’s cheating, nonetheless!), the trials are worthy of the legendary daughters – hopefully the PCs don’t think they can best the mad demi-goddesses in battle…

 

If they play along with their mad delusions, they are rewarded with cryptic clues that add up to provide the information to kill the legendary wight – each successful trial also decreases the power of the final boss, unraveling some part of his wyrd, thus providing more than one way of finishing this adventure and rewarding PCs who manage to succeed in all tasks. The final showdown in Sven’s cairn sees a furious finale, including a potentially fatal collapse and the heroes receive treasures befitting their actions during the adventure.

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a b/w-2-column standard and some pieces of neat original b/w-artworks are provided. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks.  Where the first two adventures felt more like journeys to the Inuit-myths, this one is a straight Viking-adventure that could have indeed been one of the early sagas – the iconic trials, the theme of moral ambiguity and keeping your word, the theme of destiny and its threads – this adventure GETS the themes and delivers them in a concise, awesome way while providing some truly iconic scenes that feel slightly larger-than-life without breaking the suspense-of-disbelief of even a low-magic campaign. Thus, my final verdict for this stellar module will be 5 stars plus the Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

 

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings!

 

 Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

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Reviewer without a cause