While the vast swaths of the tabletop gaming community spend post after post wringing their hands over the fate of Dwimmermount, Shortymonster and I seem to be the only members of RPG Blog Alliance community who have taken up the bizarre, once in a life-time opportunity to be play-testers for MYFAROG (Mythical Fantasy Roleplaying Game), a game developed by the infamous Varg Vikernes of Burzum fame. Mr Vikernes, who has already stated he would be using his own money rather that Kickstarter to fund his project, recently announced that the core book that he’d hinted at a few times over the year was complete and ready for playtesting. For that alone, he towers above much of the gaming development community as a gentleman and a scholar.
Pretend I spent this paragraph explaining who Varg is and how I disavow him. These posts are going to be a review of his game and the adventure he supplied with it.
First, let me say that I guess my head has been so wrapped around the purely academic question of which OSR ruleset would be the best to play with, I was briefly under the illusion that maybe Varg had the answer. Maybe I was hoping for Dungeons & Vikings? Instead, what he has given us is “Norseman: the (Hunting and) Gathering”.
In many ways, MYFAROG reminds me of a White Wolf game, in that the system is inextricable from its setting. While all White Wolf games (the last time I looked at them, which was back in 2004) had a common character sheet and dice-rolling mechanic (Stat 1-5 + Skill 1-5, then whatever crazy system/character/class related stuff added to it), Races, Classes, “Charms” or whatever their Masquerade equivalent was, were all highly specific to the setting. With something like Exalted or Vampire, rather than buying a game that could be plugged into settings, you were buying a setting that came with game mechanics.
MYFAROG is an astoundingly detailed setting for which mechanics have been lovingly created. Yet herein lies some of the difficulties of bringing MYFAROG to your gaming table. Varg’s world is a vibrant and complex fantasy realm set in a far northern pre-medieval pseudo-Europe called Thule; the cultures of Thule are coming to grips with the growing pains of transitioning from Hunting/Gathering to settled society, transition from ‘The Old ways’ and ‘Tradition’ to ‘The New Ways’ and ‘Religion’, all while the mysterious realms of the Ettin grows and threatens human life. The game’s mechanics account for the sub-races of men, all of which have names which are both difficult to spell and/or pronounce unless you have some background in Scandanavian language, culture and grammar (consider that your default race is ‘Jarlaaett’/'Jarnmaðr’; I am looking forward to seeing the additional rules on the ‘Alfaborinar’ or ‘Elfborn’, which are gonna be the half-elves, I think). Worldview is divided into a 2×2 of “Veiðr”(old) and “Byggjandi”(New), “Seiðr”(Tradition) and “Asatru”(Religion), which respectively represent chaos (entropic & natural, not evil) and law (order and structure to society), and bestows mechanical benefits as part of a characters ‘upbringing’, as it means that, as a part of that culture, the character was raised with certain skills and values. Note that this is on top of an alignment system, which I’ll go into in a future post, perhaps.
There’s the old saying “A truly great (whatever) must wear many hats.” In MYFAROG, think not of classes but roles, and these roles are the many ‘hats’ that the character wears. Everyone starts out as either a ‘Hunter/Gatherer’ or a ‘Peasant’ (of course MYFAROG uses the more appropriate terms “Veiðimaðr” and “Striðsmaðr”), but gains new roles throughout their adventures, such as “Striðsmaðr”(warrior), gaining points to allocate and develop skills and antributes along the way.Thule has a complex pantheon and system of high festivals.
Further adding depth and complexity, your character’s birthday is important in determining which gods influence their life, bonuses to divine interaction, and other attributes.There are tables for ways of currying favor with deities (I’ll have to read more on how Favour Points work, cuz it seems that even a moderately devout character can rack them up extremely fast). Needless to say, if you want to get the full experience, you’re going to need to use a campaign calendar (Varg has provided a sample 28 day lunar calendar).
As you can imagine, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the amount of detail, to the point where I’m still not ready to roll up a sample character yet. If and when I do get a chance to run the sample adventure, I think I’ll use some of the pre-generated characters that Varg provided, and instead just give the players a chance to read up on the world and what their character’s stats all mean, rather than send them headlong into things saying “here’s a book, you’re all playing Jarlaaett with the
Veiðimaðr and Striðsmaðr roles and Byggjandi/Asatru worldview, good luck!” Well, I guess that’s the same thing, only they won’t have to fill out the stat sheets…
Varg himself recommends starting with a stripped down version of the ruleset and slowly adding rules to add complexity to the campaign. A lot of your enjoyment of MYFAROG will be determined by how invested you become in the setting, which should not be hard if you give it a chance. So far, most of what I’ve gotten through is ‘fluff’ rather than mechanic, but by golly, what amazing fluff it is! (Even if MYFAROG ends up on your shelf more than your table, it’s a great fantasy read, so I highly
I’d also like to mention that it was a ballsy move to make the playtest scenario a wilderness adventure. I won’t give away any details, but “The Demise of Watchmen Island” embodies all of the best moments of Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion. It also sets a number of expectations, in my mind, for what MYFAROG should be. Norsemen wage war bravely and heroically, go on mighty hunts, fight giants and monsters who threaten their homes, etc. etc., but don’t spend a lot of time in dark caves and dungeons looking for treasure. There should be some opportunities for dungeon crawling, but looking for treasure in a hole should take a back seat to going forth against incredible odds to outsmart the Ettin and possibly die a heroes death on the field of battle. While Varg mentioned that he didn’t make MYFAROG with minis in mind, this is a perfect game for setting up a wilderness hex map.
As I get through more of the book, I’ll try to review the content, and I DO hope that I get the opportunity to run “The Demise of Watchmen Island” with some folks. When I do, I’ll relay the experience here.