Sunday, April 5, 2015

Gods and Magic

I think,” he ventured tentatively, “I have a handle on this magic thing.”

Today, I'm gonna discuss the magic system for my Norse setting, as it applies to the available classes. With the wise council of both my commenter, I've modified my previous views concerning the use of magic in the setting and will detail, in brief, what I'm currently thinking.

(A disclaimer: I'm not attempting to pass off this magic system as in any way 100% historically or culturally accurate. I'm merely inspired by the aesthetics and mythology I've researched – much more thoroughly, I might add – in the past few days.)

The world is infused with seidhr, the Norse conception of sorcery. Not native to Midgard, seidhr is the tool and function of the gods and the denizens of the other eight realms. Through the many portals that infuse Midgard, seidhr leaks forward, infusing the land with its raw power.

There are three ways a player character in this setting can wield seidhr:
  • Godi (Cleric): As a direct worshipper of one god in the pantheon, a character can attain a small portion of that deity's seidhr. Working as their earthly vessel, the godi speaks on behalf of their heavenly patron and wields their seidhr at their suffrage.
  • Druid: By tapping into the seidhr that's infused the land, a character can bring potent magical effects to bear. Rather than learning to wield the secrets themselves, a druid simply channels the seidhr of the land, typically staying near and protecting a particularly area.
  • Völva (Wizard): To gain a measure of seidhr power for themselves, völva trap magical potency within runes. Serving only their own selfish desires, the völva can entrapped seidhr power for use later and in personal goals. Not bound to service of a god or a location, völva wander the countryside and have a particularly foul reputation among the common people.
(Note: I'm currently toying with the idea of imposing some manner of drawback on certain – possibly all – magical heroes, to display the dangerous aftereffects that come when mortals tamper with seidhr.)

What do you think? Does that magical breakdown make sense? Again, keeping in mind that I'm attempting to marry a role-playing system's flexibility with a need for both a cohesive narrative for the world. I'm aware seidhr was more concerned with prophecy and illusion but any scan across the 5th edition spell list would see that, were I to limit the spells to simply those from the schools of “divination” and “illusion,” I'd be severely limiting the viability of my comparatively few casting classes remaining.

Plus, I like the idea of a fireball spell becoming more powerful or easier to cast the closer to a portal to Muspelheim the caster is. That's just cool to me.

Also, somewhat unrelatedly, I narrowed down the list of gods, from the laundry list of contradictory and relatively minor deities that fringe the Norse pantheon, into a core eight that I'll probably use for the setting. Whether I change names or shift their domains a little remains to be seen but, in essence, this is the pantheon I'm working from:
  • Odin – god of knowledge and war
  • Freya – goddess of fertility and love
  • Thor – god of storms and thunder
  • Rán – goddess of the ocean
  • Tyr – god of battle
  • Skadi – goddess of the hunt
  • Loki – god of tricksters and fire
  • Hel – goddess of death
As to which parts of the mythology (Loki being Hel's father, whether Loki is a jotunn or a god, the Freya/Frigga debate) I'm keeping, I'm not yet sure. I wanted to keep the genders pretty evenly distributed and had to mine a little deeper – specifically Skadi and Rán – to find evocative choices that could round out the number, rather than relying on Njord or Baldr or someone.

Baldr's one of those few I wouldn't mind including, but I feel like I'd want a decent counterpart. Maybe Sif or a giantess or something could do.

It does make me look at
Banner Saga, who simply invented their own pantheon, and wonder, but I think the traditional Norse gods are integral to the setting that any poor imitation of mine would have to work twice as hard to feel even half as rich and textured.

That's all I've got for today. Next time, I'll maybe start looking at politics? Who knows.


  1. ... I have to weigh in on the side of original deities, actually. Cutting out the interplay between Aesir & Vanir leaves the pantheon pretty gutted as it is, and the mythic richness that could be drawn from would have to be re-cast to involve only the above gods as major players. of course, you gotta do what works best for you, but my inner mythologist is gnashing his teeth.

    1. I hear what you're saying.

      What irks me, when I look across the original pantheon, is the Aegir, Rán and Njödr shit. The last thing a functioning campaign world needs are three simultaneous deities of the ocean. This is far from an isolated incident – Hodr, Skadi and Ullr are all gods of winter, there's a distinct god for both sun (Sol) and day (Dagur) and for moon (Manni) and night (Nótt) and plenty of gods, like Sif, Borr or Mimir, are simply relations to the primary deities, like no clear domain or purpose. Obviously, they factor into certain myths but, as viable options for player characters to worship and gain seidhr from, they seem kinda like dry wells.

      I'm absolutely amenable to those less iconic gods and jotun existing in the world, but they're probably not viable options for godi to follow, from a sheer mechanical level. I'm on the fence about the Aesir/Vanir distinction (mostly from ignorance) but I think, for the simplicity of the setting, there's gotta be some narrowing down, at the very least. There are a few (Heimdall, Forseti, Baldr and Bragi) I'd like to include, but would maybe wanna re-flavor or adjust their portfolios a little. Bragi or Foresti seem to fill nichés, but Heimdalr or Baldr, for example, feel like side-characters, there to round out the myths, but pretty inconsequential to the everyday life of an adventuring Viking.

  2. ... Actually, I have an idea that might scratch both our itches on this subject.

    Is this world pre- or post-Raganarok? If the gods have already had their Gotterdammerung, then MOST of the superfluous deities will be dead - this would be their "New World" and fitting with a maritime colonial theme.

    Of course, the Norse did have a set idea of who would & wouldn't make it through Ragnarok, but there are things we could do about that.

    Or, I mean, this is your gameworld, and at this distance I am not likely to play in it - so by all means feel free to do things your way. All i am saying is that my way would be different.

    1. ...that seems a solid idea, actually.

      I'd need to do more research into actual Ragnarök and stuff before I'd commit to the notion, (like you say, I'm pretty sure both Thor and Odin are toast following that) but it's a novel take that I think the world's been kinda missing, since it's mostly been vanilla Norse-ness up to this point.

      (off to research Ragnarök)

  3. It's true that the two most-recognizable deities are both toast, but what is it that a modern audience knows best about Thor?

    "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

    Pure Marvel comics invention, of course, but it would actually resonate well with players and modern audiences. And in fact, Thor's sons survive ragnarok and recover his hammer, and Baldr returns from the dead - Baldr could easily be, like Odin, a god who has mastered death.