I know that I hung on a windswept tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run.
With no bread did they refresh me nor
a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered; I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.
The Runes of Power are etchings left by the Gods as markers, warnings, and blessings throughout the Nine Worlds. Originally discovered by Odin following his hanging on Yggdrasil, they were then used throughout Midgard by the Gods. As the Gods left Midgard, the Runes took on different forms, seen in the divination of the vala: a means of casting lots with sacred characters to speak of one’s fortunes. Still, the Runes of Power remained, spoken of in whispers. Now people have begun to find them.
Runes in Sagas of Midgard function as single-use magic items Every Rune has three different “positions”, each of which creates a different effect. With 24 Runes in the Elder Futhark and up to three different effects for each, there is a great deal of customization and variation available in the Runecasting system. Every character begins with the ability to cast Runes in the “First Position.” By buying skills in the Rune Magic subdomain of Odin, they may unlock the second and third positions, allowing them to chain up to three effects together at once with one action!
Every character starts with two random runes, with certain Titles and Surnames granting the ability to start with more and find Runes more easily. The runes are one of the ways that players can “stay afloat” in what is meant to be a brutal system; the right rune in the right situation has saved several lives in our playtesting.
In the spirit of the Runecasting used as divination even today, we’ve randomly thrown three runes whose potential effects we’d like to share with you now. The verses beneath each are from the Old English Rune Poem:
Elk sedge grows in the fen
Waxing in the water, grimly wounding
It burns the blood of those
Who would lay hands on it.
First Position: Choose up to five allies. For the next three rounds, you are warded by the Gods; you cannot take damage. Any character within this ward that attempts a damage-dealing action of any kind will end this effect immediately for themselves as well as their allies.
Second Position: You gain DR (Article Note: Damage Resistance) 2 for the next three rounds. No roll is required.
Third Position: Choose up to two allies. For the next 2 rounds, your hit points cannot be brought below 1.
Yew has rough bark without
But holds the flame within
Deeply rooted, it graces the land.
First Position: Choose one enemy within bow-range to attack. On a hit, fire consumes him from the inside out as his eyes turn to ash; deal 10 (+½ Runecasting SP) fire damage.
Second Position: The fires of Yggdrasil burn within you and your allies, making you stand firm. For the next 2 rounds, any ally within javelin’s range of the runecaster cannot be knocked prone and gains a +20 to Force of Nature. This effect also allows you to walk over hazardous terrain without penalty.
Third Position: Choose up to three allies within range of this rune-cast. The rough bark of Yggdrasil sprouts from their skin; they gain 10 temporary HP. These are the first HP to be lost upon damage and any remaining temporary HP are lost within 5 rounds when this effect ends.
Gaming means play and laughter
Among the high-spirited who sit
Merrily together in the mead hall.
First Position: Choose two allies within bow’s range. They may reroll a single roll they make within the next five rounds.
Second Position: You understand in a moment of clarity that you are not a Drengr at all; you are a character in a game being played by cruel Gods. For the next ten rounds, gain a bonus to With Joy I Cease: If you use this ability to kill an enemy, you may kill up to five enemies instead. After this effect ends, you die and your party gains favor and your Death Boon as normal.
Third Position: You may add 20 to five defense rolls (Dodge or a Divine Ability used to avoid damage) of your choice. This effect may be used after the roll. This effect wears off after ten rounds and any remaining bonuses are lost.
He possesses three valuable treasures. One of them is the hammer Mjolner, which the frost-giants and mountain-giants well know when it is raised; and this is not to be wondered at, for with it he has split many a skull of their fathers or friends. The second treasure he possesses is Megingjarder (belt of strength); when he girds himself with it his strength is doubled. His third treasure that is of so great value is his iron gloves; these he cannot do without when he lays hold of the hammer’s haft.
Prose Edda, Ch. 8, v. 21
Every culture that has a Hero myth also gives its Heroes weapons, armor and tools of equal magnitude to help them accomplish their tasks. Heroes and Gods need weapons worthy of their stature. The Norse were no exception, and the Eddas devote many tales to the forging and creation of various items.
Our focus within Sagas of Midgard was to make these Artifacts feel significant: we’ve played in a lot of systems where magic items were so commonplace and, in all honesty, dull. Where runes are more prevalent and transitory, Artifacts should feel rare and important.
To that end, we suggest in our Corebook to make Artifacts much harder to find or make (recommending one or two per character throughout the entirety of the Saga), but that’s not all. Each Artifact can be attuned only to one person at a time (allowing the bonus only to them), and each Artifact has:
Personality: An artifact, if not outright sentient, is blessed with the powers and shortcomings of the Gods. Artifacts should change the person that wields it and change with them; a “personality” that does not have to be strictly followed but that helps the Hero become closer to the original recipient of the Artifact.
Boon: Oh yes. This is what you’re here for. The boon of an artifact is the bonus it grants you for your trouble.
Bane: Nothing is without its price, especially where it comes to power. Every artifact has a bane, typically commensurate in power to the boon.
While we have Artifacts that assist with everything from raiding (Skidbladnir, Odin’s personal ship) to Social Interaction (Hymir’s Cauldron, granting a bonus to social interactions through the blessings of delicious, delicious mead), let’s look at something a little more straightforward: a sword.
Naegling the Once Broken – A magical sword broken in the battle between Beowulf and the dragon that claimed his life. It has since been reforged by some act of great power and craftsmanship. Studded with gems, it is a blade fit for the greatest of Heroes.
Personality: This blade fills the owner with a sense of unrivaled confidence. There is no challenge in the world that the wielder of this blade cannot overcome….or so he believes.
Boon: This blade is one of the finest that the world has ever known. You are granted +4 damage while using this blade. When fighting any creature with a dragon tag line, you may choose to sacrifice this sword to instantly kill the dragon creature you are fighting.
Bane: You may never flee from a battle or refuse a duel while attuned to this blade.
So you can see that while the blade grants a huge combat bonus to its wielder (+4 damage on every hit is nothing to sneeze at in this system), a crafty Skald can use the Bane and the Personality changes necessitated by the Artifact to put the Hero and his warband into some very difficult situations.