Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok (FOTN:R) is one of those roleplaying games I can’t get enough at the moment.
On one side there is this truly epic setting of viking heroes and gods at the end of the world, a straightforward basic game system that uses rune stones instead of dice, enchanting and authentic art and on the other side there are these detailed miniatures combat and magic rules. The „conflict engine“ is for me the only downside of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok.
I know the roots of roleplaying come from tabletop wargaming. Anyway! I think the miniature style is a remnant of times gone by. I prefer roleplaying games without imagination limiting figures on a map. Storytelling and narration over physics … Tastes are different.
Andrew Valkauskas, the very kind and responsive author of FOTN:R, discussed with me about his fantastic and unique viking RPG. Before reading the interview watch the nice evocative teaser to get in the appropriate mood.
„Welcome to the beginning of the end!“
– Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok slogan
obskures.de: Hi Andrew Valkauskas, Please tell us about yourself and your gaming experiences.
Andrew Valkauskas:: I have been an avid gamer since about 1982. I started like most everyone else: with AD&D, and then took the plunge into to some of the other RPGs that broke onto the scene like Warhammer Fantasy, GURPS, Palladium, Cyberpunk, etc…When the early 90’s hit, I had been impressed by some of the RPG’s that went digital (Bard’s Tale, Ultima and Might and Magic), so I created a few simple RPG games for DOS 6.2. One of the most ambitious games I was working on was a Viking based RPG called Fate of the Norns. It had some pretty extensive mechanics and vast content so I decided to test it via table top (using dice) to ensure it would hold up before committing it to code. Well after a few months of testing, the players really wanted FOTN to become a table-top RPG… and the rest is history.
I’d say Magic the Gathering consumed a lot of my gaming bandwidth in the 90’s, and it was bitter sweet. As much as I loved the game for its ingenious design and collectible aspect, I hated it for the exodus it caused among the RPG community. Then roughly around 2005 I discovered the world of board games. I played Stratego and Axis and Allies, but had been missing out on the Eurogame invasion. In the last 5-7 years my collection has grown from 2 board games to near 20. Some of my favourites would be Arkham Horror, Ticket to Ride, Small World and Catan.
obskures.de: You just released a new version of the Fate of the Norns – Ragnarok: Fafnirs Treasure quick-start rules with a gritty sandbox adventure?
How would you briefly describe the background of your Fate of the Norns – Ragnarok RPG? According to what I have seen from the game system and the adventure this is a very special RPG.
Andrew Valkauskas: Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok is the successor to Fate of the Norns. The first edition of Fate of the Norns came out in 1993, and was followed up with a much more historical edition in 2001. Ever since 2002, I was looking at how I could integrate runes as a core mechanic. After many dead-ends, redesigns, tests, a winning formula came about in 2006. It took 4 years as this was uncharted territory. There were no other games to draw on for inspiration. With FOTN:R I also fast forwarded the time period to the Viking apocalypse, taking the mythology into higher fantasy.
All of these editions were underground indie. I didn’t realize how many players we had until the start of 2012 when e-mails from fans started pouring in about the 20th anniversary. People were nostalgic and wanted to get the first edition once more. Well I embarked on a personal project to get the first book into hard cover print. They sold quickly and the appetite from the fans grew for FOTN:R to go into print as well. This would take a significant amount of effort as FOTN:R has props such as play-mats, runes, etc… Thankfully I found Kickstarter! Not only would it help defer the cost, but it would validate if the market was really there. After reaching and exceeding our goals, we are finally in a position to bring FOTN out of the underground and into the mainstream.
obskures.de: What are your major inspirations and what should someone who is interested in your RPG read, watch, listen etc. to get in the „right mood“?
Andrew Valkauskas: In terms of movies, I would recommend: The Vikings (1958), 13th Warrior (1999), Beowulf (2007). In terms of books, my first recommendation is always “The Children of Odin” by Padraic Colum. It’s a very easy read and takes you from creation to Ragnarok. Once you’ve digested that, then the next move is always to the Eddas, both Prose and Poetic (in that order). If you love the history, then pick up “The Vikings” by Jonathan Elements and if you’d like a great cross sections of Sagas, “The Sagas of the Icelanders” by Penguin Classics.
obskures.de: Fate of the Norns uses runes instead of dice or cards. When did you have this idea and what is the reasoning for this system change? As far as I know previous editions used 2d10.
Andrew Valkauskas: That is correct, from 1993 to 2005 we were on a custom 2d10 system, where one % roll would resolve your to-hit, your hit location, your damage and any criticals. Circa 2002 I started brainstorming how I can use runes as a core mechanic. Now in 2012, I have a lot of requests for a lighter version of the rules to accommodate less strategic combat and I have a personal mission to bring in a younger audience. We regularly have 11 or 12 year olds that come and try out the demos and pick up the system after a few minutes, but I’d like to bring the Runic Game System (RGS) down to maybe ages 6+. My son just turned 6, and I also have a Viking board game cooking that could use a VERY simple rune system.
obskures.de: What can we expect from the complete Fate of the Norns – Ragnarok RPG? Do you have a release date? I heard there are rules for the afterlife of dead viking characters. Death will not be the end?
Andrew Valkauskas: As you know our quick-start stand-alone Saga called : Fafnir’s Treasure was released Dec 23rd 2012. Since then we have had some unexpected and unavoidable delays for book #2: the “Core Rulebook”. It’s now outside my hands (final editing, page layout and design) and I hope to have it in PDF before the end of the month (with print 2 coming weeks later). I think last page count estimates has it around 400 pages. Right now I am eye-ball deep in book #3 which is a source book called “Denizens of the North”. There is a lot of end-user content that I am sifting through with the contributors to ensure all content is presented in the same format and tone. The wrap-around cover for it is almost done and looks amazing (like everything that Helena has produced to date).
obskures.de: In my opinion the Fate of the Norns game system is easy and freeform storytelling oriented except for the combat rules. These rules use miniatures and hex fields, the dwellers (heroes) have special powers driven by runes. The whole concept reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition – though your rune-based game is a lot more atmospheric and evocative. Why did you combine these different play styles for your game? Do you plan a „simplified combat engine“?
Andrew Valkauskas: I don’t think DnD 4e is a fair comparison as RGS was designed to accomplish a lot more in 2006, 2 years before DnD 4e came to market. I did try out DnD 4e for 2 game sessions in 2008 and wasn’t impressed. What the RGS combat system brings to the table is a simple narrative system that can accomplish any feat, the RGS system also integrates a crunchy mechanic that allows people to tweak and tinker their combat strategically. Each rune represents a possible action. If a player drew 3 runes at the start of combat, they could use generic actions to state: “I dash forward and tumble between two foes (play 1st rune), I draw both short swords (play 2nd rune), and I reach out and stick both opponents in the ribs with my swords (play 3rd rune). But RGS allows even more for those that want to invest themselves deeper into the mechanics. The initial movement may be a special manoeuver that allows them influence their initiative ranking, the drawing of weapons may be a free action due to a passive power they possess, and the attack may be a whirlwind special manoeuver that strikes even more foes!
The other aspect that RGS provides is a strong investment into the action. Players draw runes at random, so they are never in a position to pre-plan their turns and then disengage from combat. The system also rewards teamwork, making interactions on everyone’s turn a good thing. Damage is also stressful, as taking damage will remove runes from your rune bag, limiting the powers you can draw upon. So every time you are attacked, it’s no longer a superficial question of losing 10hp, instead you need to weigh the risks of reduced capabilities. Damage hurts and RGS makes you feel that pain. For those reasons we label the combat: “Visceral and Tactical”.
FOTN:R follows in the footsteps of the FOTN legacy of being miniature and hex-mat friendly. We have had many game groups introduce some house rules that do away with the hex mat and minis successfully. My motto has always been that to have a great system, you can’t try and achieve everything. You need to pick your target audience and build for them to the best of your ability.
However, with the “RGS Prime” (working title) rules brewing for ultra-simple rune resolution, this may be the answer your game group is looking for.
obskures.de: The Fate of the Norns – Ragnarok: Fafnirs Treasure (PDF) is a absolutely beautiful book. Helena Rosava did an astonishing job illustrating your book.
There are other gorgeous RPG book series like Legend of the 5 Ring, Cthulhutech or the pretty new Shadows of Esteren, but Fate of the Norns – Ragnarok: Fafnirs Treasure is different.
Style, artwork and content are in my opinion highly integrated. This alone is worth seeing. Please tell us about the idea and the design process.
Andrew Valkauskas: When I was looking to build a successful team behind the kickstarter project, one of my criteria was to get folks in all departments that know the subject matter, love the product and can produce the vibe we need. Helena has all three of those talents in spades. We set off on a quest to reproduce the feeling of the sagas so when you play, all aspects of the game transport you back 1000 years to the icy shores of the Vikings…. from the beautiful book, to the stone runes.
obskures.de: Vikings are getting more attention in pop culture, recently. For example there is the Brian Wood comic book Northlanders (DC Vertigo), History Channel will do the TV show Vikings with Gabriel Byrne, Cubicle 7 just released their translation of the French RPG Yggdrasil.
The first edition of Fate of the Norns was published back in the early 90ies. Do you know these new viking interpretations and what do you think about them?
Andrew Valkauskas: Inspiration from Viking mythology is nothing new. If you go back to 1937 when the Hobbit was published, J. R. R. Tolkien drew very heavily on Northern European mythology. Since then you have many people picking and choosing their favourite aspects of the history and mythology which they blend with their own fantasy. This is where FOTN differs from the others. We do our very best to stay true to the history and mythology, and we only take creative liberties when we need to fill in the gaps. For example, Surt plays a pivotal role in Ragnarok, but if you look at all the literary sources, there are probably only 4-5 passages dedicated to this very important denizen. So using the culture and mood of the rest of the myth, we do our best to elaborate on the life, personality and purpose of this pivotal figure.
On a side note, I think another difference FOTN:R brings to the indie RPG market is depth of play. A lot of indie games fit their rules on the back of a cocktail napkin, while not a bad thing, I find that it is the defacto approach. It’s easy to design, easy to learn, but I don’t find it rewarding over a long period. My design motto is “easy to learn, long to master”. RGS is easy to pick up, but the system allows for many levers and pulleys that affect outcomes… and that brings about a joy of discovery that hopefully can last for years.
obskures.de: Crowdfunding (Kickstarter) everywhere, new game companies nearly every day, and the tabletop RPG community is growing older and older.
Electronic tools on PC, tablets and smart phones are coming. What is your perspective on the changing market and community?
Andrew Valkauskas: I think that just like theatre, table-top gaming will not go away. As accessibility to theatre was “facilitated” by television and movies. The social aspect of face to face contact shared via a role-playing-game will never be replaced. However technology will be integrated to facilitate the experience via VTC, virtual desktops, etc…
obskures.de: What can we expect in the near future from you? What do you plan after the Fate of the Norns RPG Core Rules?
Andrew Valkauskas: Well Denizens of the North, and possibly a trilogy of sagas for the new edition. I also have a few different projects brewing on the back burner.
obskures.de: What is your favorite archetype (class)?
Andrew Valkauskas: I’d have to say the Son of Muspel. It is one of those tantalizing bits of lore that teases the reader in the Eddas, but sadly never gets elaborated. I had great fun fleshing out the lore around this advanced Archetype.
obskures.de: You prefer Gamemaster or player?
Andrew Valkauskas: I’m at home on either side of the table, but as a designer, I spend the majority of the time as the GM. Whenever I get an opportunity to be a player in my own games, I’m overjoyed!
obskures.de: A design tip for established or upcoming game developers?
Andrew Valkauskas: 3 Things:
Test your product! It may be the best idea in your head, but the moment other eye balls start to scrutinize, you’ll see things that you missed.
“Easy to learn, long to master”- make sure your game can be easily picked up by your chosen demographic and that your game system has more to offer than just what they discover in the first few play throughs.
“A successful complex system is invariably derived from a simple system that works”- Start with a simple core mechanic that works well, then build on it.
obskures.de: What is your favorite role playing game of all time and in recent years?
What is your favorite game (video, board, etc.) of all time and in recent years?
Andrew Valkauskas: Board games: Ticket to Ride & Small World
RPGs: Fiasco, Burning Wheel
Card Games: Munchkin, Magic
Computer Games: Guild Wars, Borderlands, Witcher
obskures.de: I get the best ideas for my games when … or I am most creative when … ?
Andrew Valkauskas: LOL I’m cursed, my brain never stops! The RGS Prime rules came together while sleeping, now I just need some free time to write them out. ;-) Same goes for some other designs over the years, Maize (Meso-American RPG), Infinitum (complexity grading game system), Somnambulist (collaborative RPG), 2030 (cyberpunk)… need to find a way to clone myself!
obskures.de: Thank you, Andrew Valkauskas. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Andrew Valkauskas: I want to thank the fans that have been with us for the last 20 years, and to say welcome to all the new fans we’ve acquired since the Kickstarter- a lot more great things to come!
Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok is something special – a labour of love. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok Saga: Fafnir’s Treasure, the quick-start rules and sandbox adventure, is already available via drivethrRPG and other sources. I am really looking forward to the complete game. Maybe I will hack the combat system, but apart from this question of taste I already joined the Fate of the Norns. Join also and we might meet at the inevitable Ragnarok!
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