“Son of the Deceiver”. Leah Porter, Acrylic on Canvas

Character creation was the first priority when we got it in our heads that we wanted to make our own game system. We wanted to capture the excitement and imagination of tabletop RPG battles while eliminating the “grind”: battles that drag on with no true risk to the players. We realized that looking back, the most exciting battles and stories we had had in other RPG systems was when there was real risk of character death, and that our favorite characters were the “Glass Cannon” type that could create that kind of risk and excitement. The first design decision we made for the entire system (that shaped almost every decision after) was found in the Krakumal, the dying ode of Ragnar Lodbrok:

‘Tis with joy I cease. The goddesses of destiny are come to fetch me. Odin hath sent them from the habitation of the gods. I mail be joyfully received into the highest seat; I mall quaff full goblets among the gods. The hours of my life are past away. I die laughing.

–Krakumal v.29

We decided to give every character a starting ability called With Joy I Cease, allowing him to pass into Valhalla and enter the Sagas as a hero.

With Joy I Cease: In your darkest hour, you call upon the Gods to give you strength for one final act of glory. Advancing toward your enemy, you strike him with a death-blow; with his dying breath he strikes you down as well. Any healing, magical effects, rune effects, or damage reduction effects are ended upon you. Your hit-points are then immediately brought to zero and you die. Any other Heroes within bow range gain 5 Favor. This ability must be used on your turn.

Additionally, the party will receive a death boon: a bonus, based upon your surname (we’ll get into that below)  that will trigger and help the party make the most of your sacrifice. See the surname section for more details

This ability has been central to the theme of Sagas of Midgard: that for a Viking, death in battle is glorious rather than something to be feared. Our playtesters have loved this ability; we’ve seen characters use With Joy I Cease to save their party, elect not to and live through the encounter with 1 HP, and elect not to and get run through and thrown off a high mountain before their next turn.

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House Rule: Give your dead characters a proper Viking funeral.

With death being common (0 HP is dead, and characters only start with 15), we knew character creation would have to be relatively easy, so we broke it into five easy steps that we’ll discuss next while making Asmund, a stalwart, impetuous Hero:

  1. Pick Prophecies (Surname/Title)
  2. Spend starting Skill Points (15)
  3. Roll for Random Runes
  4. Choose Starting Weapons/Armor
  5. Develop Character’s Personality and Temperament

1. Pick Prophecies
Your character’s surname and title serve two purposes. Drawn from the Sagas and Eddas, they act as a means of informing the circumstances of your character’s birth and upbringing, and also give your character unique traits and abilities. With 13 Surnames and 15 Titles to choose from, there are a lot of ways to make your character stand out. We’ll give Asmund the Surname Ironback:

Ironback: Like Badimur, the Fallen King of Legend, you are exceptionally strong. You easily handle weapons that normal men can barely lift.
You may use a 2-Handed weapon in one hand.
Death Boon: The rage of the Fallen King fills your allies. All allies may immediately make a basic attack with their equipped weapon at a +10.

Since damage is fixed in Sagas of Midgard (3 damage for a one-handed weapon and five  damage for two-handed weapons), this isn’t as big a buff as it sounds, but it creates an       exciting image of a Viking warrior wielding an impossibly sized weapon, especially when paired with the title Hand of Tyr:

Hand of Tyr: You either lost one hand in battle, or sacrificed invoking images of the god Tyr. You may wear a metal covering over your stump with the name of the One-Armed God on its end.

You are unable to wield two-handed weapons (unless you have the surname Ironback) or do anything that requires two hands.

You permanently gain a bonus as though you had a shield (Article note: this grants a +10 to dodge, our version of “Armor Class”). You may purchase and use shield abilities.

You gain a +10 to Sword.
You gain a -10 to Light Hands. Since, you know… you only have one.

So before we’ve even picked any abilities, Asmund Ironback, Hand of Tyr has defining characteristics that help flesh out his character both in-combat and out; a Viking warrior with one hand who wields a man-sized sword with incredible ease.

2. Spend Starting Skill Points
This is the “meat” of the character creation system of Sagas of Midgard. There are no concrete levels or classes in Sagas of Midgard. Progression is earned via completion of adventures, which will earn you Skill Points (SP). These SP are used to buy abilities into five distinct Domains, each corresponding to a Norse God. Each of these Domains have a number of subdomains, The number of SP you’ve spent into a certain subdomain (plus any bonuses from surname/title, settlement, etc) determine the bonus to your roll. The

Domains and Subdomains are listed below:

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Thor:
Axes
Martial Prowess
Lightning Magic
Hammers

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Tyr:
Swords
Justice of the Gods
Leadership
Shields

Odin:
Blood-Magic
Rage-Magic (Editor’s Note: Berserkerrrrrrrrrs!!!!)
Rune-Magic
Spear and Javelin

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Loki:
Chaos Magic
Deception Magic
Daggers and Dodge

Freyja:
Saga-Weaving
Growth and Fertility
Fortune-Telling
Bow

Asmund, as a Hand of Tyr, has chosen to place his 15 starting skill points exclusively in the Tyr Domain, though he would be welcome to buy any skills he could afford from any domain. While Tyr has many of the “tanky” abilities, Asmund chooses a more valorous, if foolhardy route by selecting the abilities Come and Get Me from the Leadership subdomain and Mighty Blow from the Sword subdomain.

  • Mighty Blow (10 SP, 3 Favor): You seek to drive your opponent’s head from his shoulders and swing down wildly. If you are holding a shield, you drop it. On a hit, you deal an additional 4 damage but leave yourself vulnerable to counterattack. You suffer a +10 rollover to Dodge checks until the start of your next turn.
  • Come and Get Me (5 SP, 1 Favor, Interrupt): Choose an enemy attacking another ally before they make their Dodge Check. Allow them to succeed on that attack against you with no roll. You and an ally may immediately make an attack against him.

So when Asmund strikes at an enemy with his sword, he would do so at a +20 (10 SP spent into the Sword subdomain, and a +10 bonus to all sword abilities from his Hand of Tyr surname).

As a means of streamlining things, your Spent SP in a Domain also determine your Divine Abilities. What are divine abilities, you ask? Read on!

Divine Abilities:

Might of the Storm (Thor): Might of the Storm is used for any actions that require brute strength; climbing a windy mountain, kicking down a door, or, perhaps in rare circumstances, making a show of your strength to intimidate an opponent.

Natural Leader (Tyr): Natural Leader refers to your Hero’s ability to inspire your allies and strike fear into your foes.

One-Eyed Wisdom (Odin): One-Eyed Wisdom is used to intuit and perceive the world around you.

Light Hands (Loki): Used for stealing, sneaking, and other sleight-of-hand dextrous trickery.

Force of Nature (Freyja): Used for survival in the wild, tracking, and other tests of heartiness and endurance.

Out of Combat: These take the place of “attribute checks”. For instance, a character trying to lift something heavy, jump, or climb would make a Might of the Storm check, while a character trying to curry favor with a local warlord may use a Natural Leader check.
In Combat: Most of the time, you’ll be utilizing attack rolls and dodge checks in combat. However, you may wish to try something crazy from time to time (and we hope that you do). In that event, your GM will tell you which Divine Ability to test, and at what rollover. Additionally, certain monsters may use attacks that test not just your armor, but your resolve or your ability to keep fighting; in that event, rather than Dodge, your Skald may ask you to make a Divine Ability check in lieu of a Dodge check.
Raiding: Each Divine Ability also correlates directly to a facet of raiding.. You will utilize your Divine Abilities to help you overcome the challenges your warband will face while raiding. For ease of use, which raiding roll corresponds to which Divine Ability is also listed on the character sheet. More information about raiding (which is one of our favorite mechanics in Sagas of Midgard) will come in next week’s column, Raiding.

3. Roll for Random Runes
Runes are one of two forms of magic items players can find in Sagas of Midgard (the other being artifacts). While they’ll be discussed extensively in a later article, in short summation Runes are a one-use magic item that, with proper skill buy in from the Rune-Magic Subdomain, can potentially be chained together to allow up to three effects to take place within the same action. Each Character begins his Saga with two runes, rolled randomly.

4. Choose Starting Weapons and Armor
Unless otherwise stated, it is assumed that all starting would-be Heroes have access to basic weapons, shields, and light armor of their choosing. One handed weapons do a base of three damage, while two handed weapons do a base of five damage. This can be modified by Spent SP in a subdomain and situational bonuses from using abilities.

Armor works a little differently in Sagas of Midgard than in many other systems. Where “armor class” is determined by your dodge bonus, once you’ve been hit armor gives you a chance to mitigate damage. We’ll go over this in greater detail in the Combat article, due out in a few weeks!

5. Determine Character’s Personality and Temperament
If you’re new to Tabletop RPGs, the concept of character development may seem foreign or daunting. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be, because characters will develop naturally over the course of a Saga. Long sessions played out over weeks and months will allow your Hero to change the world, but it will also allow the world to change your Hero. We’ve found that character’s personalities grow and develop naturally as the player plays them more and they become more comfortable remaining in character. Additionally, in a world where Hero death is not uncommon, there may not be need to write a novella about your character’s backstory if they don’t survive their first Raiding Season.

However, to start you can utilize what we’ve already chosen. For instance:
Asmund Ironback, Hand of Tyr is a courageous Drengr (Viking warrior) who prefers to be on the frontlines. Well liked by his friends and feared by his enemies, he lost his hand as a teenager defending his family from an invading warband. This served only to strengthen his resolve (as well as his remaining hand), and he charges into battle with sometimes foolhardy zeal, throwing himself into harm’s way and then punishing his foes with his four-foot family greatsword.

The Fallen King
“The Fallen King”. Leah Porter, Watercolor with digital effects