2400 Dark Sun Campaign Setting Review




The original Dark Sun Campaign Setting was released in October, 1991. Its design team of Troy Denning and Timothy B. Brown, along with Mary Kirchoff and artist Gerald Brom took what was assumed to be the dull task of creating what was ultimately an elaborate ad campaign to boost sales of TSR's BATTLESYSTEM and The Complete Psionics Handbook, and transformed it into one of the deepest and artistic products that ever came out of the 90’s.

This product defies corporate ideas about what a RPG should be, and in doing so, became very important, not just to the users who love this setting, but it pushed RPG design into a new direction. Dark Sun breaks many of the traditional rules and ideas that governed RPG design at the time: it ignored the formula for achieving game balance, it perfected and applied the meta-game in a functional way that favored the user over the company, it . . . well, it broke a lot of new ground. This game is important on so many levels that it makes talking about it in a cohesive way very difficult.

The exact product that we’ll be looking at today is 2400. It is the original boxed set, and it contained so many rules changes, that it worried TSR Executives so much that they had to go back and increase the influence of AD&D; which they ended up doing, but twisting the traditional concepts in very creative ways that still made Dark Sun unique. 

Most of TSR's titles are full of things that, honestly, you can  do yourself. You are paying to have lots of work done for you, but the tropes and elements within the setting are all things that follow a default setting. If we create a map, and just apply the principles of the Core Rules, we still end up with Forgotten Realms. Dark Sun is not Forgotten Realms. The designers actually earned their money with this product, creating new design and achieving something that we folks at home couldn't really come up with by ourselves; not on this level anyway! They got paid for their efforts, and thought deeply about ways to take a dumb concept like “War World” and make into a professional quality game with its own identity and design. The concepts introduced are elegant and unique, they not only allow the game to function differently, but they push the users in a direction that, up to that point, TSR had been pushing them away from.

This is not a game for new users. Dark Sun was designed for very advanced tables that have almost become jaded with traditional fantasy tropes. It has been well documented on the Web that this is a very difficult game, but what hasn’t been discussed is what makes it so hard to play. It isn’t just the mechanics, it isn’t just the combat, nor that PCs will die, it isn’t even the imbalanced nature of the game; what makes Dark Sun so challenging is that it attacks you on a psychological level. Unlike most games where the players are limited in what they can do by their characters, in this game, the characters are limited and held back by us.

All that stuff that players are used to doing: saving little villages against bullies, defending lawful kingdoms from evil enemies. All of that clear cut Good vs. Evil stuff goes right out the window. By the time that you start playing Dark Sun, those wars and struggles had ended centuries ago, and the good guys lost.

Dark Sun isn’t a war game, it is a survival game. The players who are used to being in control of their own destinies, and like to feel important to the story, aren’t. The characters that they will be playing are strong enough to take over typical AD&D settings, but here, they aren’t worth the salt in their own tears. This world is brutal, and it affects the people playing in it. Many clubs who start playing Dark Sun quit, they make up excuses that the setting is too preachy, or complain because they don’t seem to be getting anywhere; these are cop-outs. Dark Sun is difficult because it forces us to think and play differently than we had to before. All of the weak and helpless are gone, going murder hoboing isn’t just a PC strategy that they share with the villain, this is a way of life. Characters in Dark Sun aren’t nice, there is a moral ambiguity to everything, and always a feeling of isolated repression that most players of RPGs just aren’t ready for.

The fact that whatever you think that you earned yesterday, you have to defend today; makes  any victory or a sense of gain far and in between. We are talking about a world where finding a weapon made out of copper is a huge deal! There just aren’t enough resources to go around, and that leads to some very very dark sessions. Even the DM is not exempt from the cruelty of Dark Sun, as we’ve got to enforce the rules and amp up our capacity to concoct evil acts that go way beyond the standards of the typical game. This isn’t a horror game (the ideas behind horror are almost romantic in nature and execution), Dark Sun is a metaphor for much darker lines of thinking that cause emotional and psychological discomfort because, unlike other settings, we really wouldn't want to go to this place, but we fear that one day we might just be forced to.

The Rules book within the box will be used by both Players and the Dungeon Master regularly. All of the classic races have been twisted to fit the setting, and new, more powerful playable races have been added. Players are able to exceed the standard ability scores, and are encouraged to create super characters, as they will be very hard to keep alive. At all times the players must have at least 3 characters ready to go, they can choose one of them to play for that session. Characters are also started at a higher level than normal; because of the conditions on Athas, there are no low level characters. The world is more dangerous than normal, but honestly, a really good player can keep a character alive, especially if you’ve been playing 2nd Edition for a long time, but it does let the DM be more aggressive then he typically would be. The level of risks that one must take to get by here are high. The enemy is typically desperate, so fights to the death are typically the rule, not the exception.


Classes have also been introduced which would normally only be associated with villains, if you want to play a Templar, for instance, and serve under a Sorcerer King, you can, and you’ll get the same benefits as the NPCs do. How this translates into a cooperative game is left to the party to figure out.

I’m sure that everyone who is reading this knows all of these changes already, so I won’t go into it to much. This is a basic introduction to a very large world which is supported by modules and novels, however since everything has been completed, the DM has even more options than he did at the time that this product was currently being circulated. If the DM wants to run this according to core, or just build upon the basic concepts Dark Sun supports either/or.

The second booklet is the Wanderer’s Journal, which presents the setting to the Dungeon Master. It helps the user understand the culture and gives adventure ideas. They also added a short story called “A Little Knowledge”, as this is meant to be a literary style game. The module included with the Setting is a bit odd, it included two flip books, one for the Dungeon Master, and one for the Player Characters. Art is very important to this setting, not just for the users, the dedicated artist of Dark Sun, Gerald Brom, was instrumental in the games overall design. He would draw characters, places,  and items, and the writers would come up with ways to introduce them into the game. Historically, this was the first TSR product that incorporated a dedicated professional artist which was responsible for capturing the unique look and feel of a setting. It is up to the DM if they want to use the flip books or not,there is enough potential material here to play the game without the published adventure.

A SUCCESSFUL META-GAME


Typically the meta-gaming concept always benefits the company as it allows a product to be re-marketed and repackaged again and again and again. It involves reworking the map, dramatically altering the setting, and enforcing DM PCs disguised as NPCs. Typically the DM’s first task of prepping a new setting is finding these elements, and minimizing or eliminating their impact upon the game itself. Forgotten Realms didn’t need the Spell Plague, it didn’t benefit the users at all. The Lords of Ravenloft are simplified and pointless characters that anybody could create themselves and a successful game is achieved by completely ignoring them during play. Dark Sun is a meta-game, but the meta-game has been properly incorporated into the system, and allowed to function where it belongs, in the background.

There are major NPCs; however they are actually functional, it is up to the players to identify them and decide if the character should be eliminated or not. How a character being removed from the board will impact the game according to the needs and the creative whims of the DM. What these major players are doing impacts the game, but it does so in a way which frees up the DM to run the game better. The challenge in running these scenarios comes in micromanaging the party; the primary and daily goals for the PCs is always satisfying basic needs first, gathering resources enough to risk practicing higher ideals is where the true heroics of this game come through. To have predictable characters in the background is a blessing for the DM, not a curse.

THE DARK SUN SOAPBOX

This game is very different than any other setting published by TSR, this rises above just a game where people sit around the table and play pretend: the design, the function, the story, all of it combined with the imaginations and development through individual play results in something that is art. Dark Sun is social commentary, it uses metaphors and deals with very adult and complex issues which are directly mirrored by real life. That results in something that, while uncomfortable to play, provides a fascinating experience that is unique to it.

All of the people who started playing Dark Sun and quit because it was disturbing never got to the true heart of the setting itself; it is easy to be blinded by the violence, the wickedness, the unfathomable odds stacked against you, but you also get to experience an element here that isn’t as pure in other settings: Hope.

This game is amazing and fun, but very different from anything that you will play. It will be a very trying and grueling experience, but a very rewarding one as well. It has the potential to take a great player and make them even better. If you want to escape from the Tolkien influence and discover brand new challenges this is the product for you.

I think that many of us want to play evil characters to exercise demons or just to cut loose. This game allows users to do that, and continue to learn from the experience. Evil consumes itself, and that is exactly what is going on in Dark Sun. While in the short term it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere; that there are no real rewards to what you are doing, in the long term game Dark Sun, unlike standard D&D, allows you to actually feel a huge sense of accomplishment, especially if you are able to answer the challenge of this miserable dying world in a meaningful way.

I give this product an A+. This is perhaps the greatest thing that TSR accidentally released. It wasn’t directed at their target audience of novice consumers, but at experienced users who desperately needed a challenge, and were hungry for new ways to play without sacrificing design. For a hard to hit demographic, it exceeded my expectations. As far as the relevance to modern gaming; the days of living under the threat of The Bomb have returned, so yes. The ideas and fears which inspired this game are not out of date.

Now, this specific product is the introduction to Dark Sun; it will get you started. Two other boxsets fleshed out the system, and in 1995 Dark Sun was revised, and while that set is more complete and better written than this one, I feel that in order to have the greatest potential at the table, it is this original box set that you should get. This is Athas in its purest form, warts and all, and not to sound like an elitist, but if the DM can’t tailor the original to fit his club’s needs, then they probably aren’t ready to run it yet.

In the last 10 years the desire for this product has increased the price. While I always prefer to have hard-copies, the PDF is definitely an option. The ideas behind Dark Sun is what matters, one can print off the material that is required to run the game, and leave the rest on your PC and do just fine.  

The legacy of Dark Sun was as epic as the game itself, users updated it to 3e, unfortunately it was softened in the process. 4e also took a crack at it, but the 2nd Edition Setting is the one that offers the greatest amount of potential and challenge. It is this specific timeline that will shape the game into a unique experience, and it really is a shame when people skip it.

System Neutral 1d100 Non-Encounters Table



I, like many of you, enjoy crafting my own Random Encounters lists, but since I don’t really enjoy Hack & Slash games, I alter them so that they are open to interpretation.  I detest having back to back combat encounters, especially random ones; so, say on game day, the party is out in the wilderness looking for a dungeon to loot, and I find that a Random Encounter happens, and the result is a bandit attack, I’ll run it, and once the combat ate a half an hour of my life, I still have to check Random Encounters 2 more times, and one of them rolls positive, and now the party is supposed to be attacked by a stray war party of orcs! Well, I won’t run it; instead I say that they come across an empty camp where the orcs had recently been, or something else to avoid the combat.

I like to keep my lists fresh, limit what monsters appear on it, and have plot points present in the R.E. Tables as well, but I have developed a Table that can be used along with your own Random Encounter Tables which I have found helps with creating that Simulation feel.

This table is best used with a dedicated playmap where the point is to explore the wilderness for the hidden lair, dungeon, or main objective of the game. It assumes that a base of some kind is also on the map which the party has to return to to replenish expendables and make preparations to explore different sections of the map.

1d100 Non-Encounters Table



01-11 Water
67-70 Edible (10% pois.)
87-88 Occup. Cabin
98-99 DM’s Choice*
12-22 Cave
71-74 minor injury
89-90 Dead wild.
00 DM’s Choice*
23-33 wild. Sign
75-78 Hazard
91-92 Wonder

34-44 Shack
79-82 Landmark
93-95 Mine

45-55 Camp
83-86 Trap
96-97 ruins
*treasure
56-66 Anim. annoy




I place a reference to this table in a Common Wilderness entry in my Random Encounter Table, so it gets used, and as you can see, it just generates quick ideas which are all open to interpretation. It simulates that X factor of luck in the wilderness.

WATER
It is typically assumed that the party has drinkable water, or that they will find it while out in the wilderness. This can mean that they find some, or it can mean that they lost theirs. It can be a canteen that is found on the road, a lake too small to appear on the map, a chance to catch fish, or bath or whatever they want to do. It is designed to simulate travel, and make it memorable. This is something that stands out when the characters think back to their journey.

CAVE
If you want, many of these things can easily be converted into quick combat scenerios, but they don’t have to be. This may be a cave, or it may be something else. It represents shelter, something to get the party out of the elements, heal their wounds, or maybe cause some new ones. It can be something that is easily investigated, a place for food or water, whatever you want to do with it.

WILD. SIGN
This is typically a hint for what is on the Wilderness Random Encounter Table, you can either roll against it, or just pick something. It can be poop, an old camp, a dead one, signs of a previous attack, it should be a hint of some kind. If the party wants to follow a trail, they can. I don’t know about you but I do put some dangerous stuff in the Very Rare sections of my Random Encounters lists, this result can set off some alarmbells and give some much needed Intel to the players. If you want to, you can even have this lead to the enemy, or to an ambush because the enemy put this trail here on purpose.

SHACK
Hunters, trappers, and whoevers build and abandon these things all the time. They can be emergency cabins, or contain some supplies. They can be places to rest for the night, or to fortify so that the party can move deeper into the wilderness. They can even be rotten and ready to cave in or infested with lice, whatever you want.

CAMP
This can be a safe camp where the party meets other explorers, or finds a lost party. It can be signs of a camp where something was left behind. Something or somebody was once here, maybe a whole lot of somethings?

ANIM. ANNOY
For the most part, we ignore the normal animals of the area, thinking of them as none issues. This entry brings these ignored nuisances to life, from mice eating the food, to a raccoon taking off with the warriors lucky dagger. This stuff isn’t nice, we can have something chew a hole in a backpack, a snake finding a nice warm nest in a PCs boot, bugs infesting everything, the point isn’t to harm the player characters, but annoy the crap out of them. Maybe a bird won’t shut up when the characters are trying to sleep, keeping them up all night so they are exhausted in the morning and suffer movement restrictions the next day? As long as it doesn’t take more than 1 hp it’s all fair game.

EDIBLE (10% Pois.)
It is assumed that the spell casters are picking up spell components, this can be quickly established, or it can be edible plants that save the party from having to eat dry rations . . . again. I’m sure that those wild mushrooms are safe! You can use the Poison percentage or ignore it. It can also be annoying like nettle or poison oak. We don’t want our Players feeling too awesome out there!

MINOR INJURY
This probably requires a Savingthrow, failure could either mean an injury or just a minor injury. This works best as an annoyance as well, maybe a simple cut gets infected, a sprained ankle, or the warrior not paying attention cuts himself while sharpening his sword. The sufferer is vulnerable, and has penalties. The best course of action is to return to the safety of base, unless a healer is present to do something about it.

HAZARD
In its purest form, this simply means that the it forces a decision, the current way is either totally blocked, or is obviously very dangerous. Maybe it is a very long, and very dubious bridge of questionable integrity? Maybe it automatically costs the party 1d4 days just to traverse this one hex? Quicksand, thin ice, something obvious which can be avoided if the party go back or change directions; it’s all up to you. While the hazard can cause death or injury, it can also cost time as well.

LANDMARK
When driving across country we always see things that stand out, but this can really work in the players favor, especially if they are lost or hopelessly lost, this can instantly change that status, or at least reveal to them that they are actually walking in circles. Players may update this on their map and travel directly their without encounters if you want to be really nice. This should typically be something that works in their favor. Perhaps even allowing them to double their movement rate for that day is enough?

TRAP
This isn’t necessarily a trap in the literal sense, it could be! But I usually use it as a hazard that is bumbled into and treat it exactly like I do a trap in a dungeon setting, however this one is natural. Maybe it results in a minor injury, maybe death? Something like quicksand can be marked on the map and used against an enemy if the players think about doing that, so update the map.

OCCUP. CABIN
Again, interpret this how you will. If your party is in trouble, maybe a Ranger lives here? Somebody or something lives here, it can be good or bad. It may not even be an actual cabin, just a glen. It is up to the party if they want to make an ally or an enemy.

DEAD WILD.
Just like we did with wild. Sign, this definitely implies something off our your list that is dead. If you have an unusual monster that is only hit by specific things, you can use this to give them a clue as to what it is. I also like to refer my wilderness chart back to my civilized chart and vice versa, this could be interpreted as a lost patrol or missing explorer. The body may be looted already, or it can have treasure. Maybe the person isn’t quite dead yet and can be saved? Or the monsters methods of killing can be exposed. This can be really really good Intel for the party.

WONDER
Just like a landmark, only better. Describe a scene of beauty and awe that is native to the terrain. This is something that will stay with the character for the rest of his days, maybe it is even divine in nature? Maybe it is something that will always be there and you can put on your map? A fairy spring where all wounds are healed? A mysterious Dwarf who sings strange songs and can permanently enchant a blade? Maybe it is just something that doesn’t involve any mechanics at all, but just stands out as special? Whatever it is, present it with a sense of mystery and wonder. This should always be positive.

MINE
Not always a mine, just a place of work within the wilderness. It could be monstrous industry, demihuman, or even human, who knows? Maybe it is a lost and abandoned mine? Maybe it is a lumber camp that was abandoned because of monsters? This once was civilized but taken back . . . or not. It can be a place for the players to trade, get information, or get themselves killed in. It could just be a trail which allows the party to move faster for a little while, it simulates finding some kind of habitat in the wilderness. It could also be something that is used by the enemy and if the players are able to take it away and shut it down then the enemy will be that much weaker for it.

RUINS
I like leaving remnants of distant and more powerful days being left behind. Be it elven, dwarvish, or some even older creature that is no more. This can be mystical in nature or it can be mundane. Perhaps it gives the players a view for miles, allowing them to fill out all of the hexs surrounding the area? Or maybe it has some spell effect going on? Maybe it turns spells wild, or magically dead? Something is here, something old and of a lost technology. Maybe it is occupied by monsters, maybe it isn’t? Maybe the great sword of yore was placed here years ago, but it is gone because the main badguy found it and that is the secret to his power? It’s your world, you tell me.

DM’S CHOICE
I use these two slots for very specific things. Perhaps there are rumors about a lost castle, but you don’t know where it is either, the only way to find it is to roll it up. This can be a map that you recycled from a published adventure, or one of your own that you rekey. It can be something weird, like an ancient ship found in a forest and the players will never know how in the world it got there. These are definite X-Factors, that are very lucky finds. I always have something with Treasure in these spots, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. I always fill these spots in prior to play, and look forward to rolling them, but I rarely do.

You can scrap this whole thing and make it your own, but I have found that the less precise you get, the more you actually get out of it. Nothing is stopping you from turning a combat encounter into a none combat encounter. While this list was designed with Hex exploration in mind, it can be altered to do whatever you want it to. It should break up combat, and maybe even utilize some of those fancy skills or noneweapon proficiencies that the PCs paid slots for?

You can even use this during prep, identifying some of those hexs in advance. Do whatever you want with it, it’s yours and it is system neutral.

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.

OVERVIEW


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.

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