9322 Viking Campaign Sourcebook Review

History has always been popular in intellectual circles; be it in the form of reenactments, board games, or never-ending debates taking place at the shops of old book dealers; we are infatuated with our past, and many of us seek to get as close as we can too it.

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy game, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to make things more accurate. As soon as it got into the hands of the consumers, we started to change things. We wanted to see if it could support a more realistic setting, and it could (as well as a historical game really can). While the masses were cool with imaginary worlds, those who had (or would have) sought out historical gaming began to tinker; their goal was to envision what it would be like to be soldiers in the age of Rome, or perhaps a knight in a French Court; not only could the system support it, but it actually provided an even greater challenge to play. Not only can you run an entire campaign in medieval worlds, but with enough know how and tinkering, anything was possible. From the prehistoric dawn of men, to the imagined dusk of our planet, our AD&D books allowed unlimited potential.

There have always been those guys who were experts of a time period, and could easily twist and shape the settings to fit a specific mold, but what about the rest of us? Those that don’t have the time to completely overhaul and customize the basic rules into something useful, or have the knowledge base to get a decent enough grasp on the world in question; can they still experience it? Well, one can always buy in. From the earliest days of the hobby other people started to publish their changes, to the irritation and chagrin of the games founders. I’m sure that you all know what resulted from that! So, I won’t go into it.

The first OFFICIAL book to support historical play was the title, Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, which would become Legends& Lore. It had just enough info to get the common man started, and considering the fact that this book, which wasn’t associated with any other product in the TSR arsenal, has always done so well, why not do some expanding?

The idea was to create an inexpensive gateway to historical ideas, and the first cultural entry into the 2e arena was a big one, Vikings! Of course this has been done before, Chaosism’s game, RuneQuest provided an excellent world; but that didn’t put any coins into TSR’s pockets, besides, since the Federal Government said that they couldn’t shut them down, clearly the only thing that they could do was undercut them, right?

In May of 1991, Product 9322, Viking Campaign Sourcebook kicked off the Historical Reference Series, it was written by none other than Dave Cook, the biggest name in TSR at the time, and it would had been really interesting to see what he could had come up with, however as much as people love this book, it has some serious issues. The point behind HR1 wasn’t to provide a new setting. By this time TSR had lots of them to choose from! The purpose of this book was to be a cheap digest which expanded upon the ideas found in Legends & Lore; that is it. TSR was making a ton of money not selling settings, or campaign ideas, but ADVENTURES! That was the primary focus, and we consumers at the time were totally enabling this behavior; I remember standing at the D&D shelf and debating if I should buy this book or a totally forgettable module that I would probably never end up running anyway . . . unfortunately, I, like many of my compatriots, bought the module instead, but I don’t think that that really would had mattered. The Green HR series wasn’t meant to be anything other than a small print run and move on to the next project as fast as you can. Unfortunately, the small print run has translated into the collectors market, and as a user of these games I’m not paying the collectors prices to get $15 of information. It was designed cheap and it sold for cheap. I never did own it, but I was able to borrow a copy of it to do this review, so let’s look at what this title has to offer, shall we?

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Right off the bat a glaring problem is exposed. Cook wrote this introduction before the editor got done with making the cuts to create exactly 15 dollars of content. How do I know this? Well, it is simple: Cook tells us that he’ll show us how to incorporate this book into other commercial settings, but he never does; that chapter or paragraph was cut, and instead of correcting this error, it went right to the printer and nobody ever looked back.

One can say that it was just a simple typo, but I don’t think there should be any typos in this chapter. If the writer says that it provides something that it doesn’t, even something as pointless as how to incorporate it into Forgotten Realms, it is sloppy and disrespects the readers who forked over their money for this thing. I know that at the time that this book was published, it took me almost 3 hours of work at my crummy job to earn the $15 necessary to buy this book.

The chapter does start the process of telling you about the real Vikings by addressing misconceptions that many people have, and another oddity of this book is that it isn’t all that historically accurate; it says that it is, but what it really is is a chance to play in the fantasy world of Vikings, which is cool! But one is not going to get a very good grasp on the real world of the Vikings from a gaming digest, no matter what the author implies, but it is cheaper than RuneQuest and faster to read, right?
Moving on.

CHAPTER 2: A Mini-Course of Viking History

This is a very helpful chapter, it is full of specifics, and it gives laymen a very fast history lesson that is fun to read. It also points out that this is a game, not a historical reference, regardless of what was written on the cover (Sorry, I’m being grouchy, but it is irritating). The timeline takes you from 800-1100, and crams as much material in as they could possibly get. It at least allows you to have a fun game with a historic feel, and provides research points to expand on your knowledge base, which is cool! Starting something like this from the small entry found in the Legends & Lore book would be extremely difficult, so this chapter functions.

CHAPTER 3: Of Characters & Combat

I’m not totally on board with this chapter, but I understand it being included. I think that it is easier to allow the Viking age to provide its own very high level of challenge, but we can always do this by cutting back, if the user wants more information than he is just out of luck. I see this chapter as catering to power-gamers, but that is just me. I can always ignore things.

In this book, players can get their human characters gifts by rolling against a table that is full of weirdness, some of it providing good roleplaying opportunities, and others being either pointless, ruins the character, or gives the DM even more paperwork to do.

One of the oddities of the book is the race restrictions, they say you can’t play an elf (okay), nor a dwarf (huh?), but you can play something called a Trollborn, which is totally historically accurate and not aimed at power-gaming at all. I don’t get it, but then again I’m no fun.

There were many unnecessary cuts done to available classes, and the inclusion of a Berserker class which they say is exciting and totally unique to this book, makes me wonder how long this thing sat on the shelf. Well, I suppose that since the rules for this class allow the player to shapeshift into wolves and bears, and have followers that make no moral checks; this is somewhat different than the previous versions that had actually been play-tested.

There is some good stuff in this chapter too, I like the lists of names that it provides, this is something that I always do myself because I suck at coming up with names on the fly. I also like how they included a list of Languages that the player can know, or can be used during play. Little things like that impress me more than Trollborn Sorcerers. It also gives some suggestions for the DM on how to settle in on a specific location and time period which is helpful too.

CHAPTER 4: Rune Magic

This is an interesting chapter; it suggests ignoring the 2nd Edition spells and replacing the system with this one. I do like me some alternative magic systems! My concern is that this hasn’t been play-tested, but considering that we like to fiddle anyway, this probably isn’t that big of a deal. This is a really good idea for the original cover price! Not all that historically accurate, but considering that there are some really good books and webpages on the subject of runes, it forms a decent base for the DM to create his own system.

CHAPTER 5: . . . And Monsters

This chapter is actually pretty good, sure most of it is modified monsters from the MM, but sometimes this book goes the extra mile and gives you a good list of Giant Names, or points out how Dwarfs and Elves differ from those that we are used to running. Not a bad chapter! They even hid a nice map of the area in this section, not sure why, but thanks!

CHAPTER 6: Equipment & Treasure

This is cool, it gives us the ability to eliminate coin completely, and easily convert it over to the PHB gaming terms. There is something cool about changing the name of the coins, I’ll do it for a little bit, and then typically the novelty wears off and we are back to using GP again. I do like the novelty though!

As far as the equipment is concerned,   they copied most of the PHB equipment and just wrote N/A for the cost; which totally makes more sense than just offering its own equipment lists specifically written for this book. Many players enjoy having things dangled in front of their faces and being told that they can’t have it, it helps with the illusion by drawing attention to the weaknesses of this specific system which I’m sure that you will find very helpful when you are trying to convince your friends to play it.

Now, to be fair, it does give you brand new items which you can buy: 10 of them. And one of them is a comb. Excuse my French, but WHAT? Is the comb considered the greatest technological invention of the Viking era?

“Comb: Combs were valuable trade items
and gifts, simply because they were hard to
make. The teeth were carved from a thin piece
of wood, whalebone or other material. This
sheet was then mounted between two other
pieces of wood, ivory, amber, antler, or other
ornamental material to make the handle.
Combs were often elaborately decorated with
silver or gold fittims. These were treasures in
their own right.”

Right! Moving on: Not only do you get this fascinating piece of equipment, but there is a list of Art Objects, which must had been written later, or the writer of the book thought that perhaps that comb didn’t belonged here; after all, how can a Viking fight when he’s got hair in his eyes?

As far as magical treasure is concerned, once again it lists everything that the player CAN’T have, instead of focusing on what they can. It does add some decent magical items that are unique to this title, and are really cool. Why you can find a Ring of Money, but not a Helm of Underwater Action is beyond me.

CHAPTER 7: The Viking Culture

This is one of those classic 2e chapters that you either love or you hate. It follows a year in the life of a guy named Ivan, and through his eyes you learn something about the Culture, which probably was the real reason that you bought this book. Once you see how he lived, it goes into explaining the Social Ranking system, the way of the warrior, addressing female characters (a true bonus to playing a Viking type character), houses and farms, little maps of typical buildings, and much more: this chapter is the true workhorse! And was a tremendous value at the time that it was published! Ignore everything else, and just read this chapter and you’ll probably be happier.

CHAPTER 8: A Brief Gazetteer

Another good chapter, this one describes the world as the Viking knew it to be. This is the actual setting of the game, and is wonderfully done. It is easy to reference and allows a layman with no previous knowledge to run the illusion of an authentic campaign.

Also included were full color maps which increased the value of this title considerably, even by today’s standards this is nice.


The last two chapters, while valuable, still don’t justify the current market price for this title. As a product of its time it was very valuable, but you have to remember that it came out before the internet, owning this book saved you a trip to the library! It still provides something that is easy to reference. As a stand-alone item, this simple book did the work of an entire box set, it is just too bad that it was poorly designed, and terribly edited.

The biggest failure of this title, believe it or not, is one that I haven’t even gotten to yet, as it isn’t something that was put in, but something that was clearly left out. You see a boat on the cover; the boat was essential to life for these people, and you get a cute little drawing of some Viking ships, but guess what. You are still expected to use the horrible rules found in the DMG which do not function. Wouldn’t this have been a great place to put some easy to use mechanics which allows better ship travel? Clearly this was a lost opportunity which I feel that this book must be held accountable for.

At the time of its publishing, I would had given it a B, and I know that people still really love it, but today I give it a D+ . The mechanics that it does offer suck, as a gaming book this is terrible, as a setting book there is just so much wasted space. A lot of detail went into the maps, I enjoy them, but that doesn’t change the fact that much of this book is filler. If you want to play a game of Viking style adventure, I would recommend that you skip this title, and find a copy of RuneQuest.


Jonathan Linneman said...

Very comprehensive review; thanks! I've often looked into picking up some of this series but have never pulled the trigger.

RipperX said...

Thanks Linneman, I've always enjoyed the idea of it. It could had been something special, but they dropped the ball on this one, which is a shame.

David Baymiller said...

Good review.

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