Posts in Norumbega
The Heroes of Norumbega (Rough Notes)

When we as a culture say that we have begun a “settlement”, we rarely mean that we are settled. Settling new land is violent, trudging, and painful. The people... most people are not built for such work. We have brought them with us to be useful in small ways– to build houses and raise livestock and raise young ones– but they cannot flatten the mountains that stand in our way, or blaze the trail that we seek. Many of them don’t hear the call of the land that we seek, they cannot see the green fields of Vinland when they sleep. They need Icons, Others... they need Heroes to lead them.

Heroes are not like the others, they do not belong with the People. They are outcast, set apart, forced by destiny and expectation to go out and forge a new trail for the People to follow. They do not know this new land any more than we do, but they are not afraid of it, and will not be deterred.

Below are those that we need to lead us. Each comes around only once per generation, if we’re lucky.


Attributes

Every hero has within them what we will refer to as the five basic Attributes. These are the elements of a heroic soul, the building blocks of the spirit, and are what are channeled into each action of consequence in a hero’s life.

Flame

While it burns, the Flame represents many things. While, yes, it is often associated with destruction and pain inflicted, it can also be cleansing. A hero’s flame represents the physical effect they have on the outside world-- clearing paths, piercing obstacles, and creating a new beginning.

Stream

The Stream represents a swiftness towards a point on the horizon. Though it may encounter many things in its path, it does not slow. A stream is also a continuum, and cannot be defined to any one of its individual parts. Is a raindrop a stream before it has joined the flow? A hero’s Stream represents their own swiftness in the world, and their ability to flow around objects, attuning with nature as a raindrop to the stream.

Root

Imagine an apple tree that has produce more apples than you’ve ever seen in your life. This magical tree that has sprung up suddenly to feed all of the villages for miles around, and still has apples left over to bake and to save. Imagine, however, that this tree does not have roots. When the autumn winds blow, the weight of the tree’s bounty topple quickly, as there is nothing in the ground to hold it aloft. A hero’s root acts the same way, it keeps them planted, and ensures their safety as the cold winds blow.

Hearth

While a hero’s calling may be to the wilds, there is no replacement for the hearth in their lives. This is where their family is, where their hearts find strength, where their minds find rest. Hearth for a hero is about reviving spirits, and making connections with the spirits of others.

Mist

In the hills, there is a silence that falls in the mist; an isolating, impenetrable silence. In the low-lying clouds, even the slightest sound rings out like a bell. This mist resides in the heart of each hero-- it is the force that sets them apart from normal folk. In the mist await mysterious things, just waiting to be discovered.


The Heroes

The Wolf

It is said that the Ulfhednar, the wolf-coats, of certain clans can forsake all notion of pain or hesitation in battle. Forsaking shields and all but the necessary clothing, they carry their spears into battle with a deafening howl. In my youth, I saw an Ulfhednar recruit perform the sacred trials in a village nearby. The young hopeful, eager to join the ranks of their forefathers, faced a feral bear in unarmed combat. Before the combat ended, I had to leave the village, on the first day after Summer Solstice. When I returned just past Yule, that same combat was still underway.

Treat your Flame and Root runes as 6 for ten minutes, or the remainder of a conflict. After the conflict ends, treat them as 1 until a period of rest.

When taking damage, reduce the amount of damage taken by one level of severity.

When using force to clear a path, increase the damage dealt by one level of severity.

Like the Barbarian, all moves revolve around improving the Berserk move, or lessening the after-effects of it.
 

The Fox

I have had enough of foxes. Each night, I check that my chickens are put away in their hutch, that the door is locked tight. Each year I’ve made a new lock for the door– more complex, more expensive. This year, I’ve hired young Stenos to guard the door. I gave him my bow, a few arrows. Each night, without fail, I hear the whistle of an arrow in the air, as Stenos chases the Fox away. Each morning, I have one fewer chicken.

Uses Root and Stream to evade detection, slip in and out unnoticed, and disappear in nature.

Like the Killer in The Sprawl, focused on getting into and out of dangerous situations, and reading situations.

More combat-focused than the Rabbit.

Move that lets you survey ahead, and hold for +1 bonuses when acting on the information. Maybe spend one hold to instantly escape back to a selected point within a range (like Sombre’s teleport ability in Overwatch).

 

The Rabbit

When Loki was a child, he built a trap to catch rabbits at the edge of the woods, using vegetables and breadcrumbs as bait. He checked the trap each day, and found it had sprung, but was empty. Not only had no rabbit been caught, but the bait had gone as well. After nine days, the god-child decided to make camp and watch the trap for a full day. At dusk, the rabbit came. From his hiding place, Loki witnessed the hare step willingly into the trap, which instantly trapped and slew the animal. Then, in a blink, the hare was eating the food beside the sprung trap, as if nothing had happened. That was the day that Loki learned what Magic really was.

Uses Hearth to escape impossible situations, regain health, trick death.

Like a non-lethal Rogue. Moves are all geared towards rewarding getting yourself into a bad situation, then bonuses for getting out of those situations.

More magic focused than the Fox.

Move that moves health from one creature to another.

 

The Raven

As the messengers of Odin, the Raven comes before the east wind, after which nothing good can follow. Against the star-lit skies, their black wings swallow whole all that man holds dear. Even in the warm Summer nights, the wind beneath them chills to the bone. When they land, it is only to speak ill, to give warning, or to lure the innocent to their doom. Few amongst the People can say with honesty that they have witnessed the Raven– and those who have knew that it was already too late.

Uses Mist to shape elements, create shadow, see signs and portents.

Similar to Dungeon World's Druid.

Don’t want long list of spells, maybe a way to create one or two general use spells like the Spellslinger in Monster of the Week.

Spell casting could involve selecting a couple element-focused bases, and a couple action-focused effects. Then when you cast a spell, you select one of each.

 

The Serpent

Uses Mist and Hearth to see the unseen, speak many languages, convince others of the rightness of their ways.

Similar to Dungeon World Paladin in that they use their other-worldly nature to affect others in a non-physical way.

Move that lets one other player’s Rune match the Serpent’s corresponding Rune while they are within earshot of each other.

 

The Sparrow

Uses Stream and Flame to hunt from a distance.

Like the traditional RPG ranger classes, should come with an animal companion.

Best at distances, learning about one target at a time, and utilizing ranged force where necessary.

Bonuses to scouting ahead when moving the settlement.

Dice Mechanics in Norumbega

One of the big thoughts that I’ve been bouncing around during the production of Norumbega is that I want the central dice mechanic to mirror the thoughts, feelings, and belief structures of the characters. 

I’ve written briefly in the past about my thoughts on dice mechanics matching the character actions, and I’m a big believer in the idea that the mechanics should serve the setting. In a setting that’s emphasizing harsh environments, trudging through snow, negotiating with hostile nations, contrasted by peaceful interludes, a standard D20 feels inappropriate. 

I’ve already decided that I’d like for it to be a variant on the Powered by the Apocalypse system, as that’s a system that I’m really enjoying lately. And I say “variant on” in that there are two six-sided dice, role-specific moves, and a fixed set of results (6 or less is a failure, 7-9 is a mixed result, 10+ is a success). The latter of which is the most interesting to me, as I feel that it’s important for season explorers to know approximately how difficult any giving action will be. I feel like it’s more interesting for characters to have to weigh the pros and cons of an action while knowing all of the variables, rather than fearing that I’ve kept something secret. This also allows me to set up one of the main mechanics for the game:  

In Norumbega, the way you roll the dice varies based on your beliefs. 

The Viking Age was a really tumultuous time religiously for Scandinavia, and I feel hard pressed to try and make a game about any portion of that time that doesn’t at least touch on it. Especially if you focus in on the 10th and 11th centuries, you see a sharp turn from wide-spread paganism and polytheism to a hybrid monotheism, to devout Catholicism. This kind of change in a society would impact a person over the course of their life, especially if that life is spent ensuring the safety of that society. I want this game to represent that impact mechanically.


Attributes

Throughout the game, all characters will have the same set of attributes, which help dictate their effectiveness at certain actions. While I haven't nailed down the names of them, here is the gist:

  • Flame: Ferocity, physical action, brutality. 
  • River: Speed, dexterity, agility. 
  • Root: Defense, self-preservation, healing. 
  • Hearth: Inter-personal aptitude, self-confidence, charisma.
  • Mist: The unknowable, the weird, the mysterious.

Characters will be able to assign bonuses to these attributes between -1 and +2 at the start of play, based on the Roles that they choose, which I'll discuss in a later post. While the attributes themselves will not change, the way that players roll the dice and add them will.


The Old Ways

Every character will start with the belief in The Old Ways. This is a purposefully vague stand-in for early pagan rituals, and the players are invited to interpret what it means specifically on an individual basis (each role with have a description of what each faith means to them). When a follower of The Old Ways starts a new day, they Cast Runes.

Cast Runes:
For each attribute, roll 1d6. Keep a note of that roll, or keep the die next to the attribute on your sheet (if you have enough dice). These are your runes. For the remainder of the day, any time that the Narrator asks for a roll, only roll 1d6. Add that roll to the rune of the appropriate attribute, as well as any inherent bonuses your character may have for that attribute, to get your final result. 

The Old Ways are all about looking ahead-- while the results may be tumultuous, and often not what the player wants, it gives them a unique glimpse into the future to play off of. For example, if a strength-focused character rolls a 1 on Flame and a 6 on Mist at the start of the day, they may cater their actions to fit their fortunes, rather than the usual strengths of their role. 

The unknowable quality of The Old Ways also primes them for being affected by moves that the characters make, as their actions affect the fortunes that guide them. 


Advancement

When a character fails a roll or completes one of their personal missions, they mark one point of experience. After six points, the player may advance their character. There will be a lot of options for advancement, such as improving an attribute or gaining a new move, however one of the options will be to Change Your Belief. This represents a major change in the way the character approaches the world, and the way they operate mechanically within the game. When changing your belief, the character progresses to the next form of faith. Once a character has changed to a belief system, they cannot select that faith again later on. 

If a character advances through each faith, their next advancement option must be retirement, which is a separate feature that I'll write about eventually. As the theme of this game requires the passage of time, I want there to be a mechanic for easily moving to a new character, and potentially passing on some of the aspects of the previous one, if desired. 

The following will be a rough outline of the remaining faiths available. The names aren't finalized, and there may be more down the road, but this represents the mechanical shift that can be undergone by each character throughout the game.


Ancestral

On taking this belief, roll for each attribute as per The Old Ways, but these numbers do not change daily, and cannot be changed by moves. Once per long period of rest within the settlement, a character may select one attribute to re-roll, and keep either the new or old result. 

Monotheism

Rather than rolling runes for attributes, assign 3 to each, representing faith. These numbers can be modified by any move that would modify runes. 

Atheism

You have abandoned the gods, and so too have they abandoned you. Erase all rune numbers from your sheet, leaving only your character's innate attribute bonuses. Continue to only roll 1d6 when asked for a roll. 

The Narrow Path

As with Monotheism, assign 3 to each attribute. When you make a roll, after calculating and acting on the result of the roll, add one to the rolled attribute, and subtract one from another attribute. 


I feel as though I may add more, or potentially take one away. In addition to beliefs, characters will have other important choices available at advancement. This will include things like their place in society, or acceptance of new technology and discoveries in the world. My hope is that there will be many opportunities for rules to interact in unique ways because of this. 

What do you think? Is this interesting, or too mechanically heavy?

What is Norumbega?

When you look at early maps of the American north-east, right up until we started calling them colonies, there is a tiny marking along the coast called "Norumbega". To this day, nobody knows for certain what it is, but the rumor is that when the vikings first came to Newfoundland, they found the harsh environment of Baffin Island ("Helluland") untenable, and traveled south through deep woods ("Markland"), until they reached the promised "Vinland". There, they established Norumbega, a great city with halls of gold and fertile earth and an overwhelming sense of peace. It's a city that vanished after colonisation, either through war, or natural disaster, or (more likely) cultural assimilation.

The idea of Norumbega was an understandably enticing one towards the middle and end of the Viking Age. In Vinland, they could work the soil more easily, catch fish from the shore without danger. The hills and valleys formed natural fortresses, and there could be long stretches of time without the need for violence. Like all pilgrimages, those who sought out Vinland were truly hoping to make a change. Around this time in the 11th and 12th centuries, Christianity was spreading through Norse culture, and the old guard found themselves dying out, traditions kept on only in little bits and pieces. The search for Vinland, for Norumbega, represented a chance to start fresh for some, and to bring the old way to a place where it would not be touched. 

Norumbega is also a tabletop role-playing game that I'm writing about that search, and I'll be keeping track of what I'm writing right here.  

In the game, players will take on the role of the leaders of a settlement, trekking from the icy Helluland towards the promise of Vinland in the south. They act as scouts, trailblazers, and protectors as they find a path towards their new home. This journey may take years, but the knowledge that finding this land will keep their families safe is what makes it worth taking.

As players progress through the lands in Norumbega, from the icy Helluland, to the wooded Markland, to the open fields of green in Vinland, the world around them will change dramatically. They'll have to make choices about how they react to it. As they head south, the needs of the settlers will change, religions will take rise, they'll meet colonisers and the native skraeling, and each of the characters will be forced to grapple with question: is hanging onto the old ways really worth it?