My 2018 was all about Vikings. We were fortunate to have a very experienced GM who home-brewed an awesome Viking campaign for us. Playing a viking campaign was a long time wish of mine, however, little did I know that by the end of the campaign my GM would have blown up my mind. But first things first. The campaign was built on DnD 5e. Our group consisted of five PCs which are depicted below in an amazing commission made by Yannis ‘Rubus’ Rubulias. Before I explain how our glorious GM blew up my mind, I need to give you a brief introduction of our PCs and campaign.
Thorod, a human half Druid, half Barbarian (druids are known in Midgard as Witchers). Thorod was played by our GM. Although he seems like a freaking badass in this commission, he was by far the goofiest character in the group, always getting into trouble and misunderstanding our suggestions/commands. Thorod also had an unhealthy obsession with consuming hallucinating mushrooms. We met Thorod after investigating a report of a shepherd whose sheep were slaughtered by a wolf. You guessed correctly: As it turned out, this wolf was in fact our friendly druid high on mushrooms.
Eira, a human Cavalier Fighter. Eira was the daughter of an Earl and was supposed to marry the King’s brother. Instead of doing that however she decided to flee and this is how our group met her. Eira was a freak of nature due to her superhuman strength (+5 at level 9). Eira also had an obsession with weapons, carrying on her as many as physically possible, reminding everyone of Danny Trejo’s Machete.
Trygve, a High Elf Skald (bard). If our campaign had a main protagonist, that would have been him. Trygve was a resident of Alfheim, the region in Asgard occupied by elves. His father was a famous historian who stumbled upon a disturbing truth. This unveiling was in fact so dangerous that he decided to send his children to Midgard without any explanation other than a cryptic ciphered message to save their lives. Trygve was the stereotypical high elf: disgusted by the decadence of Midgard and expecting others to treat him like royalty.
On the right is Son, a half-orc Ranger. Half-orcs in Midgard usually end up being slaves, that’s why Son spent his life trying to convince people that he is in fact a human, albeit a very ugly one. Son was not the brightest lad, but a damn good ranger and everything started when he had a vision of a mysterious figure called Loptar Ekkolsson who instructed him to visit a place called Mogilsa.
30 Years of Death
Finally, second from the right is my character. Även was a goði of Hel, the goddess of death (technically speaking he was a Cleric of the Grave domain). Även heard Hel’s voice for the first time when he was 14. “You have been chosen Även. You are my child. My Herald of Death.” Her voice was as soft as it was terrifying. For the following 16 years Även was traveling around Midgard adhering Hel’s commands. Hel had great plans for him, or so she was telling him.
“I give you permission to create whatever twist you want, regardless of how fucked up it may be.” This right there my friends was the best role-playing decision I’ve made in my life yet.
Most of the times he was hunting down practitioners of necromancy and putting them to rest. Occasionally, he was commanded to kill seemingly innocent people. Their time had come according to Hel. And Även never questioned her. Indeed, most targets looked outright dangerous, or even pure evil. The few who did not, must have been. Hel surely knew better. However, killing wasn’t the only part of a goði’s job. He had saved people’s lives as well. Sometimes by simply interfering in combat, other times by using Hel’s powers to revive or stabilize them. Their time had not come. They were not welcome in Helheim (the underworld) yet.
Then he met Hildr. And for the first time, Även realized that there is more in life than death. He forsake Hel and Hel forsake him. He married Hildr and had two beautiful daughters with her. Until one day when Hel returned asking him to do the unthinkable. Kill his wife and children. “Their time has come, Även”, Hel said, sounding almost amused. “No, no, this can’t be…”. But her command was law. Besides, Även never had a choice. Hel was clear: If he disobeyed her he would never see them again. Her wife and children would spend an eternity being tortured and he would be banished from Helheim. But if he obeyed, then he would spend an eternity with them in the afterlife. And so, he did what needed to be done.
The unthinkable happened 10 years ago. After the deed, Hel told him she was satisfied. “Your time will soon come my child. Until then, survive. I will need of you again. For one last time…”. And just like that she was gone. Även moved to the mountains and lived in seclusion. He built a house, and became a shepherd. He put his trusted scale mail, spear and shield in a box and buried them. And he waited.
After I presented Även’s backstory to my GM, he asked me: “Why would Hel ask Även to kill his family? Do you have any ideas?”, to which I replied: “I give you permission to create whatever twist you want, regardless of how fucked up it may be.” This right there my friends was the best role-playing decision I’ve made in my life yet.
A Friendship Is Forged
This is where our campaign started. After 10 years of silence Hel instructed Även to visit Eyrafel to attend the King’s wedding. As expected, Även met the rest of the group, and due to a series of (un)fortunate events the five of them formed a band. Unfortunately, killing your family because you hear voices and then spending 10 years in isolation is not the best mental stimulant. As a result, Även was often treated by the rest of the group as a crazy old man who occasionally experienced glimpses of sanity.
In spite of Även’s eccentricity and even though every character in our motley crew carried a fair amount of (dark) secrets, our group managed to survive an amazing amount adventures, including:
- Killing a sacred griffon which we then threw off a hill to cover our crime, only for the griffon to land a few meters below us and slowly rot in plain sight.
- Getting brutally decimated by an ettin which almost cost the lives of Trygve and Eira. This was a turning point in our campaign because it made us think twice before making a move. As expected, our second attempt was so elaborate that the poor ettin did not manage to inflict a single hit point of damage to any of us.
- Surviving The Wild Hunt led by Odin himself (mostly by shitting our pants and standing still in Trygve’s Leomund’s Tiny Hut)
- Raiding a nearby landmass in an almost identical style to the TV series Vikings‘ first two episodes. We focused our attack on the local temple in which we fought exotic monks and paladins (concepts unknown in Midgard). Trygve returned home with 10 personal slaves.
- Crowning a new king in Eyrafel whose life we saved at the very same night by an insidious Earl commonly called as ‘The Blight‘.
- Meeting Thor and Týr 200 meter above the ground (Thor and Týr were riding a winged horse, Även was flying thanks to Trygve’s spell) and for lack of something better to say, simply asking them “Is this the right way to Yggdrasil?”
- Traveling to Asgard and back using the ancient tree Yggdrasil, and
- Killing a king (not the one we saved by the The Blight) and his brother (the one Eira was supposed to marry) while besieged by an exotic army.
These adventures (and many more) forged our group’s friendship. In fact, this friendship grew so strong that we made a blood pact to help each other achieve their goals, be they insignificant or arduous. One of Även’s goals was to atone for his sins. A part of this process was to forge a weapon that would act as a symbol for his new way of life. Även wanted a spear that would bring not death but balance. There was a mini quest to gather the necessary materials, a few favors to our drow smith, and a roll by Trygve (who was a competent carpenter) to make the shaft. Trygve rolled a one. “Is it broken then?” I asked my GM. He smiled and said: “No, it looks completely fine.” Well, fuck. Nevertheless, the Spear of Equilibrium was born.
A Dark Secret
Through our numerous adventures we started assembling piece by piece the great mystery of our campaign. As it turned out, our stories were intertwined. It was not clear how at first, but the devastating secret Trygve’s father had unveiled, Loptar Ekkolsson (the mysterious figure from Son’s visions), and Hel were somehow connected.
For the first time in our illustrious role-playing careers we did exactly as we were told.
Remember how Hel instructed Även to assassinate specific individuals? One of Även’s goals was to learn more about these murders, these people who he blindly murdered in cold blood. It took us some time to realize but it turned out that these murders were strategically planned to incite the greatest war Midgard had seen. Why would Hel do that? Surely, the goddess of death does not need to incite any wars, death is the only constant in this vain world. This was our first clue that something was off.
The breakthrough however happened when we managed to break the cipher Trygve’s father had given to him. Unless you are accustomed to Nordic Mythology you would probably not know that it consists of two pantheons, the Æsir and the Vanir. The Æsir include Odin, Thor, Týr, and others, while the Vanir include Freya, Loki, Hel, and others (in truth, there are debates on whether several gods were Æsir or Vanir, but this is out of the scope of this campaign). What is common knowledge however is that Odin and co were the indisputable rulers of Asgard. But the cipher, along with a set of pictograms found in Mogilsa (the place Loptar Ekkolsson instructed Son to go) revealed an outrageous truth: The Æsir were in fact not gods but mere mortals who through trickery managed to obtain godly powers and usurp Asgard.
We also learned that Odin, in the process of usurping Asgard, had imprisoned Skuld, one the Norns, the three sisters who control the fate of all beings. Furthermore, it turned out that Orcs, the blight of Midgard, were one of Odin’s failed experiments to create a warrior-like species. Finally, we learned that Odin, after his ascension, instructed the residents of Midgard to burn their dead instead of burying them. He did so that Valkyries can carry the spirits of the dead into Valhalla, which wasn’t the everlasting feast hall we were promised, but an eternal prison. Suddenly Odin, the father figure who everyone in Midgard respected and feared, was not who we thought.
But how could we, a group of five mortals, clash with the devastating power of the Æsir? Thankfully, Hel and this mysterious figure, Loptar Ekkolsson seemed to be on our side.
Five Mortals Against The Gods
Indeed, after a fateful night that started with Eira taking her long-awaited revenge, Hel revealed herself to the whole group for the very first time. “It is time”, she said, and proceeded to giving us very specific instructions. “Deep below Helheim, in a dungeon severely guarded, lies a prison. I will show you the way into Helheim and to the prison itself. Do not stray from the path I will show you. Do not call my name while traveling in Helheim. Those who enter Helheim must not exit it. Thus, if I find you in there I will have no choice but to not let you leave.”
We noted every single detail down and we entered Helheim. For the first time in our illustrious role-playing careers we did exactly as we were told. We followed the paths as instructed, avoided Hel inside Helheim, and finally reached our destination. The prison was guarded by Hræsvelgr, a mythical eagle-like creature which we fought valiantly. After its inevitable demise we were faced with an object that looked like an iron maiden. We spent several minutes trying to understand how to open it. After several unsuccessful attempts, Eira casually picked up the Spear of Equilibrium which Även had placed on the floor and used it as a leverage to open the iron maiden. Remember Trygve’s critical failure? The Spear of Equilibrium, the item that symbolized redemption and balance, shattered into a thousand pieces.
While Även was trying to pick up his shattered pieces the rest of the group managed to open the iron maiden. From within emerged an old woman. It was Skuld, the Norn which Odin had imprisoned. Hah! Finally, we did something right. We proudly looked at each other thinking: “Retribution and justice are coming for you, Odin.” Skuld did not lose time. After emerging from within the prison she calmly declared that there is much to be done. Unsurprisingly, we pressed her for more details. Why was she imprisoned? What needs to be done? Why is the earth shaking as we speak? Her voice was serene: “Ragnarök is the answer to all three questions. I dictate the fate of all beings. Alas, not while imprisoned. Odin banished me to this prison to instill chaos. Without me the future is not written in stone. Now the final battle has begun. Vanir against Æsir. Ragnarök.”
So, Odin imprisoned Skuld to abolish fate from the world and to stop Ragnarök from happening. Without fate dictating the lives of people, any achievement is possible. This is (partly) how the Æsir became gods. And then we realized that Odin gathers the souls of the dead into Valhalla, not to satisfy his sadistic needs but to prepare for Ragnarök. Suddenly, Odin was not the evil god we thought he was. And we, by doing exactly what we were told, unleashed Ragnarök! But so many questions remained. Why did Hel made Även murder those people? And who is this Loptar Ekkolsson?
30 Years of Trickery
We did not stay in Helheim to find out. We had to leave that place at once. Thankfully, we did not face any obstacles. At the surface Hel awaited. Only, there was something different about her. She seemed like a different person. Until Son realized the truth. “Loptar, is that you?”. Hel smiled and revealed her truth form. Loki. The group was in shock. “How? Why? What is going on?” “I will explain everything, you have earned that much at least”, he said joyfully.
Loki started from the very beginning. The Vanir used to rule the realm as gods until Odin and his merry band managed to trick them into a deal. You see, all Vanir share one fatal flaw: Once their word is given, it can never be taken back. And part of Odin’s deal was that the Vanir can never reveal the truth about the Æsir. Even Loki was bound to his word. But while revealing this secret was forbidden, nudging people towards the truth was not. Thus, Loki initiated several elaborate plans with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Æsir. Loki (in the form of a trusted friend) nudged Trygve’s father into researching the history of the Æsir. Loki (in the form of Loptar Ekkolsson) told Son to visit Mogilsa, where we found ancient pictograms depicting the Æsir as mortals. And Loki (in the form of Hel) instructed Även to murder the people whose death initiated the greatest war Midgard had seen (yet). Why? Because people would die much faster than the Valkyries could carry them off to Valhalla. However, Även meeting Hildr partly ruined Loki’s elaborate plan, who later, simply out of pure spite, instructed Även to kill his family to punish him for his disobedience.
Just like the destruction of his weapon foreshadowed moments earlier, Även’s spirit was shattered to pieces. He spent his life thinking he was a goði of Hel, only to find out he was a goði of Loki. He murdered his wife and two daughters because he thought he had no choice, only to find out that he did it to satisfy the petty feelings of a god.
The following moments are hazy in Även’s memories. He was told that he lashed out to Loki holding the tip of his once mighty spear as a knife. Loki gracefully evaded every single strike and then disappeared. Then, Även collapsed. As the earth shook, the four remaining individuals stared at Midgard’s tallest mountain standing hundreds of kilometers behind Även’s broken body. The mountain had erupted spitting lava and ash unto a doomed realm.