Actual Play – Thora vs. the Ormson Brothers Three (9/28/2014)

sagasoftheicelandersGM: Carl Rigney
Players: Ben Chirlin, Jamil Valis-Walker, Sean Nittner
System: Sagas of the Icelanders

This felt a little nostalgic. Getting a chance to play a new game that I’d been excited about trying out for a while, with Carl, at EndGame. This has happened many times in the past….Dogs in the Vineyard, Don’t Rest Your Head, Apocalypse World, Agon, Monsterhearts, Levearge, Smallville… but as you can tell from the dates of those games, it’s been a while.

The game itself was serendipitous, I didn’t think that I could make it to the EndGame Square One Game Day until just a day or two before the event and by then all the games were booked. I decided to show up anyway and see if there were any openings. Fortune smiled on me. Carl’s game was full but two of the players didn’t show up so not only did I get to play Sagas but I also filled the 3rd player spot that meant there were enough players for the game to run! Huzzah!

Our Icelanders

Thora Sigriddottir – A fierce Shield-Maiden who had gone out Viking once in the past and killed a man with a fine Spanish sword, which she now wielded to the envy of many.

Jorund Bardson – The Man, father of Thora, but now remarried after Sigrid passed. Employer of Ari, the son of his good friend Hrolf. Jorund’s relationships were the ties that kept us all together. Between Jorund’s daughter, huscarl, and greedy neighbors, his life would not be simple.

Ari Hrolfson – Huscarl to Jorund. Ari’s brother Hegg had taken over the homestead and tensions were high between them, and neither felt the distribution of their father’s wealth was fair. Hegg had all the property, Ari had the ship, but he also took his father’s sword, and the last Hegg believed to be his inheritance.

Our History

We built up some backstory to wind up the tension of the game and give us something to spring off of.

Jorund Bardson and Hrolf were good friends who came to Iceland together, founded neighboring homesteads, and traded the fruits of their bounty.  Jorund had one daughter with his wife Sigrid (Thora) but the she passed and he remarried to Helga who already had two sons of her own (Bjorn and Bjarni) from her dead husband Olaf Sigurlson. With her he had two more daughters (Dalla and Osk).

Hrofl had two sons (Hegg and Ari) and a daughter (Ingrid the Seidkona). All of he children Thora, Hegg, Ari, Bjorn, and Bjarni grew up together, fought together, and eventually when a Viking together. Last summer Hrolf was injured while Viking and died during the winter chill. Hegg took the homestead, Ari his father’s boat. Both made claim on their father’s sword (Hegg because he was the oldest, Ari because he fought beside his father last) but in the end Ari just took it and would let the gods sort it out.

Both Hegg and Ari had affections for Thora, but neither had offered a bride price (dowry) yet.

Helga’s first husband (Olaf) had a brother Orm that was always the cheat and vagabond. Together with his three sons Valli the Peacock, Vandrid the Axe, and Vebjorn the Half-Bear, Orm brought hardship to the people and was a know cattle thief.


Our Story

Late at night, just as the sun was setting in early summer, three deep shadows were cast across the homestead of Jorund. In the dim light Ari (who was on the porch watching over the land) recognized the sons of Orm. He advanced to cut them off from Jorund’s cattle, but as it turns out it was he that they wanted.

The three brothers came to him wishing to be taken viking when his ship sailed later in the summer. His father was dead and his brother Hegg would not go, so naturally they should come. Ari began to dispute their claim to a place on his ship when Thora emerged and quickly escalated the confrontation by insulting the brothers by saying they were not brave or swift enough, and not worthy of going viking. Things escalated pretty fast from there. Valli insulted Thora. She challenged him. Valli dismissed her as a foolish girl. Ari boasted that not only could she defeat him, should could defeat all three of them! And a duel was arranged.

When Jorund, despite Helga’s admonitions, came outside it was already too late. The duel had been arranged and his daughter would face three warriors in single combat the next day.

We squeezed in lots of great scenes between the challenge and the duel itself.

Ari and Thora sparred by candle light. At one point Ari fell and Thora was upon him. Violence suddenly turned sexy.

They were interrupted by Jorund, however, who wished to bestow his daughter with words of wisdom.

In the night Ari hatched a plan. He took his mail shirt and oiled it well, wrapped it sound, and brought it to Thora as a gift, which she accepted gladly and the two of them wandered into the night and made tribute to Freyja, goddess of love and sexuality.

In the morning, Thora, who had been admonished by her step-mother Helga asked how she could gain her approval to marry Ari. Helga said that if Thora convinced Ari not to take her sons Bjorn and Bjarni out viking that she would embrace her as a daughter and support her. Thora agreed but soon forgot her promise.

Meanwhile Jorund and Ari talked about the battle to come and Ari asked if he would accept the Ari’s mail shirt as a bride price for Thora. Jorund protested that he would first have to refuse Ari in order to give Hegg the opportunity to propose as Hegg was the older brother. Ari countered that he would only have to allow Hegg to propose if he hadn’t denied three other suitors first. Since a father is only allowed to refuse three offers, after that, he would have to accept Ari’s offer, assuming Thora would take him. Jorund was perplexed but agreed that if three other suitors first approached and he denied them all, he would have no choice but to accept Ari’s proposal.

As people gathered to see the fight, Ari found his sister Ingrid and asked that she do a boon for him. Convince the Ormson brothers to each, in turn, propose to Thora before the duel. Ingrid said she would do this, but the price was that Ari would not draw his fathers sword form it’s scabbard until night had fallen. He agreed and she peace bound his sword with a single hair of hers and a prayer to the gods.

The Duel(s)

The Godi announced the duel, each man would be fought individually upon a small sandbar just a few feet from the shore. Stepping off the small island, having three shields broken, yielding, or dying would all signify losing.

Before the fight Bjorn offered Thora his helmet. Bjarni offered her his shield. They all embraced and boasted of her might.

Ari spoke with Hegg and kept him distracted with discussion of the homestead and sibling rivalry so that he could not approach Thora.

Before the duel was fought, Valli, son of Orm stood and said that their was no need to fight. He had three cattle that he would offer instead, as a bride price to marry Thora. All but Ari and Ingrid (who gave him a subtle and knowing smile) were surprised by this. Jorund, as he had agreed, refused this offer.

Then Vandrid, second son of Orm, stood forward with bags full of coin and offered also proposed. Jorund refused, but by now many were beyond surprise, they were either confounded or outraged. Hegg stood forward and said “This is nonsense, you cannot be hearing these proposals. If everyone is going to propose to Thora, then so will I=”

It wasn’t perfect. Ari had hoped to hold Hegg at bay just a bit longer, but he had to make do. He shouted an interruption “You cannot brother, for I already have. The mail shirt she wears to do battle today is my bride price. Jorund, let me marry your daughter!”

AWKWARD. Hegg protested. He should be the one to be able to propose. Thora called out that he had not gone viking last year, that he was a coward and not a man at all…


As each duel was fought Jorund beseeched Orm to call off his sons but it was to no avail. The old man’s pride was too great.

Hitting Game Mechanics here for a second. Thora had a Youth stat of +3, She was given +1 on all her rolls from Ari’s boasting the night before. She was also given +1 on all her rolls from her father’s counsel and training the night before. When you have +5 on a roll, success is a sure thing, and in this case, Thora never got less than a 10+. Every Ormson brother died and lead Orm alone in the world with no sons to bring firewood to keep his hearth warm. Without a slave to attend to him and with no friends, he would likely not live through the winter.

Oathbreaker or Kinslayer

While this violence occurred Ari spoke to his brother Hegg and ask that he not fight this duel. Ari loved Thora and did not want to see her harmed. But he also loved his brother, despite their differences, and did not want his blood spilled for pride. Hegg thought on this and agreed that he would not Harm Thora if Ari gave him their father’s sword. Ari tried to explain to him the oath he had made to the gods and to Ingrid. He promised the sword and sundown, but Hegg would not hear it. The choice was to let Hegg fight and die, thus loosing his brother, or to give Hegg his sword, pray that he did not draw it from it’s sheath, and put his fate in the hands of the gods. Potential god wrath it was!

When Hegg stepped onto the island to face the now blood soaked Thora he did so ready to die but also ready to speak sense with her if she could here it. The duel was for nothing. She had insulted him but she could simply surrender and thus take back the insult. None would question her prowess with the blade. Hegg held his hand on Hrolf’s sword hilt. Ready to draw should the Valkyrie of death advance on him.

There was this tipping moment where nobody could tell what would happen. Thora would advance and kill Hegg, or one of them would step back into the water and admit defeat. Ari could not see the purpose in his brother eyes and before the sword was drawn he ran through the water to tackle his brother and stop him from fighting Thora. It was moot however, Thora had already stepped back into the water, admitting defeat and restoring Hegg’s honor.

This did not however, stop the two brothers from the wrestling in the water just as they had in their youth.

A Funeral and a Wedding

After the duel the brother were all carried up onto Orms property where they were buried under giant piles of stone (the one thing that was not scarce on the island). Everyone helped carry stones. Many till their own hands were bleeding. Children and the elderly alike. All helped while Orm wept at the loss of his sons.

That night Thora and Ari were married. The walked onto the beach again and consummated the marriage before returning to the feast where Ari boasted that they would go viking this summer and bring back the greatest treasures anyone on Iceland had ever seen. Yay, boasting!

A viking

We were running short on time, so we handled the viking using the Huscarl move of the same name.  Fate was tempted and they stayed out longer than they should but they came back with plunder a plenty. (I supposed two handfuls of silver plus one handful for Thora, Bjorn, and Bjarni each).

Jorund also did well. He expanded and built a new barn for his cattle to keep them safe and protect them from the cold.

A forgotten promise

What about Thora’s promise to Helga that Bjorn and Bjarni wouldn’t go a-viking? Whoops, I guess that is for the gods to sort out.

Thoughts on this game

Ben had never played a roleplaying game before. He was a champ! He took right to being the beleaguered father with mischief making young ones. He did everything he could to keep his house in order and protect his family, but much of that was out of his hands. I think it was a great introduction to gaming for him!

There is a labor & food resources mini game that we got to see a little bit of in play. I didn’t see the moves so I was only getting part of it, but it seemed like a cool way to mechanize at least one “front”. Family disputes, sickness, the dangers of going viking would still come from play, but this ensured a constant challenge of just keeping everyone fed.

I love, love, love, the advancement mechanics. Pick four people to have relationships with. Advance after you’ve made a move involving each of them. I think at this moment this is my favorite advancement system. It forces the game to focus inward, which is exactly the direction you want it to go anyway. Fucking brilliant.

I don’t often feel clever in games, but in this game I felt more like Br’er Rabbit (or perhaps more aptly in this case Loki) than I ever have. Ari first made something of a blunder by challenging all three of the Ormson brothers to fight Thora, but later turned that to his advantage by giving her his mail shirt as a bridal gift and convincing the brothers to each propose to her before they fought, so once Jorund refused them all, he could not refuse Ari, and thus wouldn’t lose face by allowing Ari to marry her instead of Hegg. It didn’t work out that way, but it was close enough, I still was pretty tickled.

Deciding between breaking a vow to the god and being a kinslayer was pretty god damn awesome.

I think it would have been a stronger choice if Thora and Ari weren’t smitten with each other from the start. Yes, Hegg posed an obstacle, but as an NPC there was only so much interference he could run. I think it would have been stronger if Ari was perusing Thora, but she sought Hegg, or that she loved only battle and wanted no man.

The man and woman moves really gave me food for thought. It reminded me a lot of the Day/Night moves from Night Witches. If you weren’t in a certain circumstance (in this case being of one gender or the other) there were some things you just couldn’t do. It’s a very different vibe from Apocalypse World where the basic moves cover everything one might try to do and the playbook moves just create more potent effects or shortcuts to simplify things. An AW character is fundamentally never at a loss for something to try. A woman’s honor was never in question. A man could not goad a man into action.

The shield-maiden was the one character that could break this rule (she got one male move) and I was really glad that in our game, the woman being the kick ass hero that can sleep with whoever she pleases, gets the glory, and is all kinds of bad ass was totally normal. None of the characters, except the small-minded and churlish Ormson brothers thought anything of it.

I super loved the currency as well. A few bits copper, a handfull of silver. Fucking awesome.

There was a great tender moment when it was clear though his look that Hegg was not angry at Ari for their father’s death, he was angry with himself. It was the kind of thing they couldn’t communicate to each other with words, but when the wrestled in the water, both half drowning, I like to think they understood one another and forgave one another.

Carl, after the game, shared this little snippet about arraignment from

All of the family sagas agree that courtship “was the single
most deadly pastime for the young Icelandic male”.
The most important, unwritten rule of courtship was that
the less a hopeful groom saw of his intended bride before
entering into formal marriage negotiations with her family,
the better his chances were of staying alive.

Also, love poetry was punishable by outlawry or death!