Nordic D&D without rails

This game is not going to happen right now, but I am recording it for later use. Compare and contrast:

What should a player know

Vikings, a bit after the raid on Lindisfarne. There is magic and the mythical. Rules are D&D 5, but with various adjustments.

  • The purpose of play is to play a character embedded in a potentially violent situation and see what they make of it; what kind of person they are and whether they succeed or not.
  • Character options are restricted: humans, no feats, no multiclassing, some character options are also taken away.
  • Many character options have particular implications on who the character is and how they are seen in the world. They are not mere fluff.
  • Your character is not promised a good end or a pleasant career as an adventurer. It is not off limits, either. Death, permanent wounding and losing one’s faith and powers are on the table, but so is success.
  • A character stable is welcome and to some extent advised. This means that you have several characters available and choose which one is most motivated or relevant for the current adventure or situation.
  • Group experience from success at adventures. Personal experience from being inspired. Advancement is not guaranteed or necessarily fast. Feats and multiclassing may be possible through mentors and training, but you, as the player, will need to take the trouble to arrange them.
  • Stats and maximum hit points are more fluid than you are used to, and can fluctuate from one adventure to the next.
  • At start the characters are expected to be loosely allied, or at least tolerate each other. We do not guarantee that this situation continues; it might, and is likely to, but also personal differences and player character versus player character action is explicitly on the table, though we do not intentionally aim for realizing it.
  • Niche protection and party composition are not terribly important. You have freedom to choose your battles and which side you are on. Unbalanced parties are completely fine.

If this all sounds exciting and maybe a bit risky, welcome!

Example situation

This draws from the Brennande vikingar – BW game that I ran, but only vaguely.

A few villages, a handful of longhouses each, near each other. Someone hunted a few reindeers, the Sápmi retaliated by killing some shepherd-thrall and taking the sheep, and now there are a few dead on both sides, with some prisoners, too. And some magics ready to curse or call monsters on the enemies. Enter the player characters. Solving the conflict is maybe a third level challenge.

Some details about character options

You play a human. Some other options may become available through play.

For your stats, you can use the default array, arranged as you wish, or if (and only if) you do not yet have a character concept, roll 4d6, drop lowest, arrange in order: first roll to strength, last to charisma. No rerolls, no rearranging. Only do this if you are fine with terrible or extreme stats, as well as a strange distribution of them.

Choose your character’s ethnicity. The default is a North(wo)man, but consider also Sápmi, Finns, mainland Europe and British isles and even more exotic choices: vikings travelled from Vinland to Greenland to Novgorod to Constantinople.

Below are some notes about different character classes. Note that if you want to play something exotic, the burden is on you: give us a literary precedent about someone with similar powers. I am, in general, not going in detail through all the possible subclasses or archetypes.

  • Barbarian: berserker, usually a fotloose troublemaker, but maybe part of a wealthy jarl’s hirð. Your background is also berserker. You are a North(wo)man.
  • Bard: College of lore could be a Finnic tietäjä, martial colleges skalds.
  • Cleric: The default is a Christian crusader from South. Some options might be consistent with being a völva. A cleric’s powers are conditional on worship and relations to their god(s).
  • Druid: A Finnic or Sápmi shaman is likely.
  • Fighter: pretty much anything for the champion and battlemaster archetypes. Others are rare.
  • Monk: exceedingly rare.
  • Paladin: The default is a holy Christian warrior. Consider Jean d’Arc. Powers are conditional on personal devotion and belief in it.
  • Ranger: available for most ethnicities. Some archetypes are rare.
  • Rogue: available for most ethnicities. Some archetypes are rare.
  • Sorcerer: some might be consistent with a völva or a witch, but an exotic choice.
  • Warlock: The fiend patron implies a Christian character with a deal with the devil. Consider this very carefully: it is not fluff. Cthulhu and some others are not appropriate. Many others are exotic choices.
  • Wizard: a natural philosopher, probably Islamic or Christian.

In any case, name a background, select two skills and other stuff appropriate to it. The special abilities of the ones in the book are not in use; we’ll take these case by case in play. The characters knowing a native language. Many backgrounds should give additional ones. Knowing Old Norse can make the game go smoother, but if you want a character that can not speak with the others, go ahead.

Some details about rules changes

Most of the resolution mechanics and other such rules cruft remains unchanged.

  • Experience for goals: come to an agreement with the game master about the level of a goal. Experience, should the goal succeed, is divided evenly among the characters who participated. There are some details if a single player has several characters or if there are non-player characters who take an active role, etc. In any case, the total amount of experience equals the amount a character needs to get that particular level, so a third level challenge nets 900 experience, divided among the characters.
  • Experience for dangers or threats: overcoming a danger gives only a tenth of the experience that achieving a goal does.
  • Inspiration and experience: When character faces a decision point with many possible ways to go, and at least one of their personality traits, flaws, bonds, etc. are involved, and they give a short inner monologue about why they choose what, gain inspiration and 100 experience. The second time during a session, 10 experience. Further: 1 experience, no monologue.
  • Wounds: after a combat or other stressful situation, any character reduced to zero hit points has to make a constitution save. Failure means an actual wound, with all that implies.
  • After an adventure or lengthier downtime we can check if some attributes of the character have had an opportunity to increase or decrease. To check for increase: roll 3d6, and if it exceeds the current score, +1 attribute. A decrease similarly, but a result below the attribute decreases it. Particularly significant circumstances might offer bonus or penalty dice to these rolls.
  • Before player chooses which character to play, they roll their total hit points by rolling all their hit dice. (A character on their first adventures has full hit points from the first hit die.) This is typically not rerolled before the next adventure starts. A poor roll makes it advisable to take another character from the stable into use. Favourable or poor life circumstances, such as being a jarl or a thrall, can give a bonus or a penalty die to the hit point roll.
  • Adventure ends when the players have their characters relax for an extended period of time. This allows the game master to move any open situations onward.
  • Short rest: takes an hour, some snacking and first aid. As per core book.
  • Medium rest: A night’s sleep, fairly uninterrupted (no fighting, though boring guard duty is okay if there is sufficient sleep, too), give a short rest, plus one of the following: one hit die back, one spell slot back, one ability back that otherwise returns only with a long rest.
  • Long rest: at the end of an adventure.
  • Some skill alterations: nature and survival combined, society as a new skill, probably something should be done with arcana and religion.

Game master side

Set up the situation with actors and threats. Then just play the non-player characters. Cut in time to interesting stuff. Normal game mastering, and, as always, no railroading, fudging, or other stupidity.


The idea behind this is simple: what if I take D&D 5 as just a fantasy adventure roleplaying game, and use it like any other? Take a compelling setting and situation, restrict character options to those relevant to it and then simply play, with no D&D baggage about GM story via pearls of encounters, or for that matters sandbox wargaming with fantasy Vietnam.

Nordic D&D without rails


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