I just finished this fantastic book by Jeff Janoda who took one of the Icelandic Sagas (specifically the Eyrbyggja Saga) and fleshed out the characters and plot to make it more palatable for us 21st century types. The story reminded me a great deal of a tragedy in the Shakesperean tradition where you have people of power to think they can shape their own destiny yet find that fate takes them down paths they could never have imagined (usually to terrible consequences).
He tackles the difficult problem of explaining the numerous traditions and beliefs that ruled 10th century Iceland without drowning the reader in exposition or watering down the concepts to the point where the setting becomes generic. Most of the concepts are placed in a glossary in the back with the list of the dramatis personae in the front. In no time even the most unfamiliar names and similar sounding characters distinguish themselves as separate entities (not easy when you’ve got characters named Thorfinn, Thorgils, Thorleif, Thormod, Thorodd, and Thorolf).
Usually, books I finish either are given away because I know I’ll never crack them open again or they might go back on the shelf with the intention to enjoy them again after the passage of time erases all but the general flow of the story. Rarely, I’ll finish one and want to start right back at the beginning because I enjoyed the story so much and Saga easily fell into that category.
I’m not sure what (if anything) the author is working on next (his website is maddeningly out of date) but a sequel or retelling of another one of the stories would certainly worth while. Unfortunately, too many examples of literature that are cornerstones of our (or other) civilizations are being lost because they just aren’t accessible to the general population (the Iliad, Odessey, Aeneid, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, etc., etc. etc.) but work like this can really help to make such works relevant to new audiences.
Being married to a Swede I’m always excited at the possibility of my fellow Americans being exposed to the rich and fascinating culture of Sweden. So, I was thrilled to see this report of a new reality show coming to America called ‘Swedish Mansion’. The jist of the show is:
A group of six “Scandinavian Supermodels,” including a Miss Norway finalist, will soon start living together and have their daily lives recorded in what is being termed the “Swedish Mansion.”
My wife was less than thrilled at the news of the show and I was a bit perplexed. So, after thinking about it a bit I decided to allow her to apply to be in the second season of the show. She was even less enthusiastic about that idea. These Swedes sure are an enigmatic lot.
I’m just can’t wait to see some of those great Swedish folk traditions recorded on camera for the first time. Like naked tickle fights and foxy boxing…
And what’s with the Norwegian getting into the ‘Swedish Mansion’. These Norwegians are getting a bit too big for their britches if you ask me. They’ve got tons of oil, celebrate their national day in Stockholm, and apparently they eat a lot of frozen pizza there…they’re like the Texans of Scandinavia!
Congratulations seem to be in order for Iceland which has been rated as the best place to live. Props also go out to Sweden and Finland (although my mother-in-law would say this was clearly a bogus list since it’s obvious to everyone that Finland is the best place in the world to live).
The U.S. got bumped out of the top 10 but is in a still respectable 12th place. Hey, at least we beat Denmark.
I got to visit Iceland for a week in the late ’90s and had a great time. It was a beautiful place with a tourist industry still too new to get ‘Disneyfied‘ (hopefully it’s resisted that temptation).
Brian, over at Gamecrafter’s Guild just had an interesting post about a way to look at gaming universes. In order (I assume) to make a gamemaster’s task of creating a whole world from scratch:
(T)he world is a dark place. Civilization is comprised of tiny settlements and the occasional large city, mostly isolated from each other and separated by vast expanses of wilderness. They are, effectively, points of light in a sea of darkness. This philosophy is present, they say, to provide more opportunities for adventure, and to make creating your own setting, one point at a time, easier.
As he wrote this, I thought about an audio lecture I was listening to by The Teaching Company about the Vikings. Scandinavia during the Viking Age resembled the world of darkness Brian described. I began to think of how what is known about Scandinavia during that time might be reflected in world made up of “points of light in a sea of darkness”. So, here are my thoughts…
The area didn’t benefit from Roman roads so there was no system for moving overland (with the exception of walking/skiing over frozen rivers/lakes in the winter). Most of the interior was thick forest so attempts to travel overland took a great deal of time and were seen as pretty dangerous. Sea travel, by contrast, was seen as quick (a journey by sea that took 3-4 days could takes several weeks over land) and relatively safe.
The geography of the area manifested itself in the viking culture in several ways that could add some interesting twists to an RPG game:
- Sea captains (those who had a boat(s) and could command men) became the wielders of power. The kingdoms that eventually formed in Scandinavia had their origins in powerful ‘Sea Kings’ who consolidated power.
Possibilities for gameplay:
- Area is witnessing the rise of skyship/caravan captains and the decline of traditional rulers (clergy?)
- PCs become ‘apprentices’ of powerful captain
- An outside power comes in (a new religion like Christianity? An expanding empire?) and PCs must decide to assimilate or resist and to what degree.
- Viking captains not only engaged in the familiar pillaging and plunder but were also expert traders. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of for vikings to conduct a raid on a town and then set up a market a short distance away to sell back captives and goods. For vikings, trade and raiding were seen as equally important. They were one of the only ways to get goods to and from the outside world.
Possibilities for gameplay:
- Competition between captains for trade/plunder routes
- Raiding missions
- New captain (players?) trying to establish new trade routes and win their fortune
- The geography of the area wasn’t favorable for stone excavation. The area didn’t have the limestone and marble deposits that were present in the Mediterranean so they became expert at woodwork instead. Also the isolation and climatic extremes resulted in people who were much more in tune and connected with nature.
Possibilities for gameplay:
- Increase in magical/sacred items with a nature connection
- Increased abilities in natural/sea settings (hunting, fishing, sailing, tracking) among PCs and NPCs
- Power/magical ability tied to sacred spots
- Isolation also meant that it was difficult for invaders to attack viking settlements. Therefore, much of the male population could leave on raiding/trading expeditions, confident that outside armies couldn’t reach their homes.
- A warrior ethos pervaded the society. This meant that virtually every free male in society was expected to be able to fight. In Western Europe at the same time, military service was seen as a distinct skill and therefore, with the exception of temporary peasant levies, the domain of knights and men-at-arms.
- Since settlements were isolated and fairly small, there was a need to get rid of excess population. This was accomplished through colonization. England, Ireland, Iceland and parts of Western Europe all served as places for viking populations to move and establish new settlements.
Possibilities for gameplay:
- PCs are members of new settlement, struggling to explore their new land and survive
- PCs are sent to find out what happened to a ‘lost’ colony (like Greenland)
- PCs sent out to ‘scout’ the location of new colony
What’s the relationship between the humans (?) and the folk? Perhaps at the edges of both civilizations there’s more interaction than would normally be assumed or tolerated at the centers of power. During the viking age, while the Frankish kingdoms were being plundered mercilessly, Frankish traders were selling/trading high quality swords to the vikings (that would then be used on Frankish victims). This sort of trade was outlawed by Frankish rulers but didn’t stop anyone from making a quick buck. On this topic there’s also some pretty interesting parallels with colonial Americans living on the frontier and their interactions with Native Americans (which may be the subject of a whole new post).
That’s all that comes to mind right now. Although, I’m only half way through the lectures so perhaps more will present itself…
Denmark announced today that they’re going to give asylum to about 200 Iraqis who were employed by the Danish military contingent in Iraq.
The U.S. has been absolutely disgraceful in the way it handles Iraqis it employs. We ask these people to risk their lives and then throw them to the wolves when we’re done with them.
Ah…hearts and minds at its best.
60 Minutes had a great story about the Iraqis that we employ. When Iraqis we employ come to us asking for help because they and their families are threatened with death the official response has frequently been: “Hey, you knew the risks. You got paid. You deal with it.”
Check out this article by the New Yorker as well.
So, let’s review…Sweden and Denmark give asylum to Iraqi who are most at risk while the U.S. (who started this whole mess) takes 4 years to ‘pledge’ to begin accepting Iraqi refugees (which is quite different from actually letting any of those ‘dirty foreigners’ into the country).
I can’t wait for the torrent of accusations when all this is over about who’s to blame for losing the war in Iraq. I’m sure the right will blame everyone (the media, Democrates, soldiers -just wait, Coulter, Malkin, et al will start blaming us once they have new books to promote-, Iran, etc.) except themselves for making such a mess of this.
Those Scandinavians apparently aren’t happy with what they’ve got…IKEA, North Sea oil, and the Swedish Bikini team should be enough to satisfy any region.
This story, however, describes a ‘research effort’ to sail a replica viking ship from Denmark to Dublin.
Well, all I’ve got to say is: Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.
Seems to me that the Scandinavians are fed up with their increasing zombie problem and have decided to relive their glory days of pillaging and plundering.
I always thought that those Scandinavians would turn wild again. They’re probably already in contact with their brethren in Minnesota and Wisconsin to prepare the way.