Sunday, January 19, 2014

In Retrospect: HR1--Vikings Campaign Sourcebook

Thanks to +Todd Rokely for reminding me to start reviewing the Historical Reference series published for AD&D 2e.

The first up is the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, by David "Zeb" Cook. (Cook also was the lead designer of the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook).

If want to run a Viking historical-fantasy campaign for AD&D Second Edition (or any other 
"old school" D&D system), this sourcebook is great place to start. It covers the general historical background of the Viking Age, from around the year 800 to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. You get a general overview of Viking. culture, starting by dispelling some misconceptions: they weren't bloodthirsty pagan savages who wore horned helms. Cook makes the correct distinction that the term "Viking" describes those Norsemen who went abroad.

The book also describe creatures and magic to be used in the game.

While the Viking Campaign Sourcebook isn't meant to be an academic work, it does have short bibliography at the end of Chapter One. This includes both history and literature--especially the sagas. Some of the history sources might be a bit dated now, given that the book was published in 1991. Still, the historian in me appreciates getting gamers to go beyond the rulebooks for inspiration.

So what exactly do we have here?

is broken down into eight chapters: 
Chapter 1: Introduction (which includes "Suggested Reading)
Chapter 2: A Mini-Course of Viking History
Chapter 3: Of Characters and Combat.
Chapter 4: ...And Monsters.
Chapter 5: Equipment and Treasure.
Chapter 6: Viking Culture.
Chapter 8: A Brief Gazetteer. 

Interspersed throughout are examples of Viking fortresses, cities, and longships, including a map of Denmark, Zealand, and Hedeby (Scandinavia). The book itself comes with a poster-sized map of Europe. 

There's fluff abound--Chapter One gives an overview of the Viking period. Chapter 7 follows the story of Ivar, who spends a year abroad. We learn out how Ivar is both a trader and a raider, as he sails with his men from one place to another. After finding slim opportunities for trade in Hedeby (Scandinavia) and to overcome his reputation as a "coal-chewer" (a lazy person), he raids a village in England. Its an interesting tale highlighting different aspects of Norse culture. Chapter 8 covers lands that have experienced Viking influence--England, Russia, Byzantium, and so on. There's also a section about "imaginary" lands like Alfheim and Jotunheim.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 give players and DMs plenty of options to pick and choose from for their game. Characters can roll up gifts like a Blood Feud (automatic hostility with another family) or Good Luck (+1 bonus to specific die type). Characters may also be trollborn--have human, half troll.

But the trolls aren't like those in regular AD&D. The monster section, makes this all too clear. Trolls are more like ogres and can cast magic ("50% are highly intelligent wizards of 5th to 13th level"). In fact, a lot of the "standard races" from the Monstrous Compendium behave more like fey--dwarves are spellcasters, too. All Goblins (pukje) cast spells like 4th level wizards. Even giants are taller and more intelligent.

Players who prefer warriors can role up Berserker--the prototye of the D&D 3e Barbarian--who gains bonuses for going into a rage. At higher levels, the Berserker can shapechange into a wolf or a bear, like Beorn in The Hobbit.

A "standard" Viking campaign limits the amount of "flashy" magic in the game. Paladins, Clerics, Druids, and Wizards aren't normally allowed. Those wanting to play a spellcaster may choose a bard, a specialist wizard (Conjurer, Diviner, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer), or a Runecaster. The Runecaster is just that, a maker of runes etched into objects to give them special powers.

Paladins and the standard cleric might just be Christian foreigners, for example. Bards are called "skalds."

There's also two pages of Viking names for their characters to choose from.

Chapter 6 has prices of equipment from the PHB into Viking currency. Those wishing for a more "authentic" Viking can calculate weights and measures of Pennigars, Otrogars, Ores, and Mark with Half-pennies, Silver Pennies, and Arab Dirhams. I'll just stick with copper, silver, and gold. (There's also about a page and a half list of equipment, most of which is "not available"--especially weapons and armor from later era).

The DM, of course, can pick and choose what they want. 

There's only a brief section on Viking religion. You won't find details of Norse gods and goddess here. The book itself recommends looking them up in the AD&D 2e Legends and Lore. There is, however, a list of all of the names of Odin.

Cook gives fair treatment to the subject of women in Viking society. "Female warriors characters are going to cause two reactions in male NPCs. The first is surprise and scorn... [The second] is a certain amount of superstitious awe." (Pages 80-1) Sure, medieval sociey was male-dominated, but Cook notes that women in Norse culture had more rights than elsewhere, and women of power in both reality and legend (like the Valkyries) weren't unknown. The section on women is short, however. Those who want to investigate further should do their own research.

The Viking Campaign Campaign Sourcebook is a starting point for running your own fantasy-historical games in the Viking era for AD&D. Even if you don't run a Viking campaign, there's ideas  you can use for your own games.

Get this if:  you want to run a Viking campaign, need options or ideas for your own low-magic setting, or like to collect AD&D 2e books.

Don't get this if: you're not interested in running historical fantasy campaigns at all.

The pdf version is available at (Which is good thing, because my old "leatherette" copy is starting to fall apart).


  1. Somewhere in an early issue of KOTD, there was a mini adventure for this encompassing a fairly large naval battle between the Geats & Frisians, written as a sort of prologue adventure to anyone wanting to run a Beowulf campaign.

  2. My favorite HR book by a country mile. I devoured every page when I picked this up back when it first came out, and I still return to it from time to time just for the fun of reading it. I think I ventured a brief campaign with it back in high school; it would be interesting to return to it today to see if I could run a historical Viking campaign with D&D.


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