Friday, February 7, 2014

Notes on the Norse Classes: Overview, creative urges, and so forth.

Just over a year ago, John Stater posted an article on his Land of Nod blog translating several members of the Norse pantheon into individual races: the freyling, lokai, thunor, and wotani. It was an exercise in using the pantheons as the basis for demi-human races, and I thought it worked quite well.

But.

Everyone's creativity is different. Some people excel at creation ex nihilo: from nothing. I do not. I springboard off of existing ideas, turning them around, rearranging parts, looking for gaps, disassembling them to find the logic, building them up again, and then springboarding off of that.

I can honestly say I would never have thought of turning the deities into races, but the instant I saw the article, I had to turn it around and ask: What if you turned the gods into classes? What would a 4th-level thor be like? A 1st-level odin? A 9th-level loki?

Other projects took my attention for awhile, but the concept was stuck in my head. I did some occasional research, made some decisions, and finally decided to go for it. The results will be posted over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy them.

Guiding Principles
The classes must read as something new, not just an old class with a new name.
The classes must be compatible with existing classes and rules.
The classes are translations of the gods themselves, not devotees or servants of the gods. (These are not "just" skalds or valkyries or berserkers.)
Draw inspiration from, not slavish devotion to, the mythos. Be flexible.
Ideally one could create a party composed of nothing but the norse classes, and have it be an effective mixture of abilities.

The classes and their concepts can be separated into several groups:

The Big Three.
These were obvious.
  • Gondlir ("Wand-bearers") - The Odin-class. Preeminent in magical lore, capable warriors, but morally grey.
  • Rymr ("Noise") - The Thor-class.  Warrior-Champions.
  • Slaegi ("Sly") - The Loki-class. Trickster-magicians with elemental affinities.
Well-Known Gods
These were trickier. People are very familiar with the Norse mythos, but there's a fair amount of overlap in the capabilities and roles of the gods. It's extremely likely that many of the personalities we identify today were merged in some manner in the past - Tyr's name, for instance, literally means "god". Frey means "lord". Freyja's ("Lady") husband Odr is virtually unknown in the sagas, except that he disappeared for a time and Freyja went in search of him, having adventures of his own. It's speculated that Odr may be a variation of Odin, which would make Freyja a version of Frigga. I chose which gods to translate based on the clarity of their concept and how well it applied to an adventuring party.
  • Skade (unclear) - Skadi. Ranger/Scout. Skadi isn't particularly well known anymore, but she's one of the most unique Norse goddesses and has some pretty rockin' adventures. She doesn't take shit.
  • Vallir ("Bearer of the Slain") - Freyja. Witch-warriors. Stronger emphasis on protective and healing magics than the gondlir.
  • Vindler ("One Protecting Against The Wind") - Heimdallr. Martial guardian/protectors.
Niche Concepts
I might write some or all of these up, but they're more niche concepts, less suited to adventure, or fall outside of the immediate project scope.
  • Helreggin ("Ruler of Hel") - The Hel-class. Not a niche, actually. Necromancer-priest type. In the mythology, Odin & Freyja split the valiant dead, and Hel gets the rest.
  • Idunn - The guardian goddess of the apples of youth. One of the few goddesses that is notably not Freyja/Frigga. I've had a few thoughts about translating her into a class.
  • Tyr - A god of justice and kingship screams "paladin", and I haven't worked out how to do this without a) paladin, and b) having too many fighter-types.
  • Frey - A god of fertility and nobility screams "druidic paladin". See Tyr, above.
  • Frigga - Mostly appears as a wife and mother. Strong leadership material, but difficult to make work in an adventuring setting without turning her into a generic healer.
  • Uller - A lot of overlap with Skadi, unfortunately. He's the proto-typical ranger.
  • Baldr - Pretty boy. And he dies. Frey is a pretty boy too, and he ain't dead.
  • Dvergr - Dwarfs. Not a god, but makes sense. A quasi-magical thief/fighter class.
  • Alfar - Elves. Less defined in the mythos than the dvergr, aside from associations with light. Would be considerably toned down from the fighter/magic-users of D&D, but otherwise conceptually unclear right now.
A Note On Language
I do not speak any Scandinavian languages. I didn't even talk to someone who did while I was writing this. Rather than using the names of the gods as the names of the classes (it seemed weird, have a 3rd-level odin and a 4th-level loki), I pulled from lists of variant names each god was known by. This is a little tricky with the goddesses, as many of the variations end with "dis", which means "Lady", and I wanted to avoid really overt gender references*. I'm not sure if -lir/ler is masculine or neuter; most translations treat it as neuter, so I've used Vallir in place of Valdis for the Freyja-class.

*The -ess ending in English stems from the Latin -issa, but the scandinavian "god-dis" and "godd-ess" both translate as "female deity". Indo-European roots, I'll bet.

8 comments:

  1. This sounds very interesting, but please please keep the fire away from anything Loki related, that is a medieval misconception based on the look-alike word loge (flame) and a wish of identify Loke as the devil.
    He is rather associated with spiders (Locke is probably the correct way of pronunciation of Loke, Loki, a word still used for spiders) and fate. He has a sword named Lie-wand (lögnspö) where as the old scandinavians equlised lying with poison weapons...

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    1. I'm sympathetic to your position, but the fact is I'm making up classes for a fantasy role-playing game, not writing a scholarly article. Dogmatic adherence to what we think the beliefs were 1300 years ago does not make for great role-playing material.

      That said, I wasn't particularly planning on emphasizing fire. Slaegi will have access to fire spells, but they'll have access to other elemental-type spells as well, particularly cold, since those two speak to an affinity with the giants. I've only got 3-4 spellcasting classes intended, and the slaegi having the most damaging spells makes for interesting dynamics.

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    2. Looking through my illustration archive, I really like John Elmer Smith's depictions of Loki. Rather than the slender "sprite" of Rackham et at, Loki is a bearded, middle-aged dude with a receding hairline.

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  2. Nathan, to paraphrase Captain Nemo, you definitely "walk a different path." LOL

    Interesting stuff, looking forward to reading more.

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  3. I hope you still plan on developing this further! I would particularly enjoy seeing the write-up of the Slaegi class!

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    1. Yes, it's definitely still on my radar. :)

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