Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Beowulfs Saga

Beowulfs Saga, CoverI would be really interested in the history of this gem. Like this I only can describe it from what it says in the book itself, and that is not much. It still is fascinating. This one was the one of the three books I got via the Troll-Welt storage clearance thingy which impressed me the most. The other two were more or less decent adventures, but very simplistic. Which might have had something to do with the fact that they were written 5-7 years before they were published in Germany, and were from a very different school of roleplaying (Gygaxian dungeon crawl?)

This one was clearly influenced by Ulrich Kiesow and his railroads. It reads more like a script in many cases, and while it does account for a lot of player action variation, some of the things they might do would just throw the whole adventure off the rails. Even when reading it the first time I was impressed with the story, but I noticed that something was amiss if the players just would decide on some completely different action than the one prepared. But a lot of German adventure modules from that time had that problem.

The story already starts with something the players should have done: they are supposed to have done something that warranted them trying to get away as quickly as possible from their home country. While this seems to be a good idea at first (what bunch of heroes never gets into trouble?) this already can throw the adventure if they decide to, well, face the trial or other consequences. Then they are supposed to take the only ship out of town, which coincidentally only goes to the country of Thar Scani, a very thinly veiled medieval Scandinavia. And I mean very thinly. Going there already might be a challenge (what do you mean you are trying to flee into the mountains?!)

Now they are supposed to get bored in the big metropolis of the North, Askeby, which turns out to be a slightly oversized fishing town with delusions of grandeur. Someone they know invites them to his farm to spend the winter there (so you already were bored in Askeby, and you go to spend the winter snowed in in a fjord?) and so they travel there. On the farm they spend some nice weeks until further guests arrive (including the titular Beowulf), make trouble, and now they have to be hunted down by the heroes because they now are honorbound to the family of their hosts. (hmm, completely reasonable for adventurers who just fled their own country as criminals, I guess)

I think the adventure makes much more sense if one does not actually follow the plot and just uses the informations contained in it for whatever scene might come up. The description of Thar Scani is concise and workable, with enough details to have further adventures in this country. There are wonderful descriptions of Askeby (which I could use for any Northern/quasi-Viking city) and a few other locations that can be used for anything else. From what I have seen those actually are even more or less archaeologically correct and based on real life examples. In between there are examples of NPCs, both mundane and magical, which fit in well into the whole setting. The only real problem is that the adventure that binds it together is a railroad and mostly a waste of space (although it is finely written prose and gives a nice feeling for the whole scenario).

In the end we have the stats for this adventure, and there comes the surprise: 5 pages of rule stats for 6 different systems. DSA (of course), (A)D&D, Midgard, Pendragon, and Mers, including a workable rule for berserkers for each system. I am loathe to admit it, but I used those stats in at least half a dozen adventures.

Now, the thing that interests me about this is the way this was developed. It came out in 1989, and with that it should have been one of the first Northern campaign settings coming out in Germany. For DSA Thorwal und die Seefahrt des Schwarzen Auges came out in November 1990, and had only sparse information for it’s Viking expy (half the box was indeed dedicated to ships and sailing for the whole setting), for Midgard the first edition of Waeland came out in 1991. Both had the same or a larger pagecount than Beowulfs saga, but both of them were sparse in the actual depiction of the culture in question. This is were Beowulfs Saga shone. The author, Rick Davis, obviously put some effort into the description of Viking culture, and it contains wonderful tidbits about Viking religion, politics, and jurisprudence. There even is a two page long bibliography listing nonfiction, fiction, as well as other interesting roleplaying supplements about Vikings (it references Gurps Vikings and the D&D Gazeteer 7: The Northern Reaches, but the only German references are Corrinis and Jenseits der Huegel).

I might be wrong with this, but this seems to be the first time that someone presented a campaign settings for a Northern culture in German roleplaying. And funnily enough he did it historically nearly accurate. Something that both the DSA and Midgard settings had problems with (horned helmets! we need horned helmets!!! and winged ones as well! and dragon ships!)

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