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Tuesday 1 October 2013

A Norse Trilogy

Since 2003, the Miskatonic University Library Association series of monographs has been Chaosium, Inc.’s way of making other works available to players of both Call of Cthulhu and Basic RolePlay. Bar the printing, each monograph’s author is responsible for the writing, the editing, and the layout, so far the quality of entries in the series have varied widely and has led to some dreadful releases. Fortunately, The Ravenar Sagas: Three Viking Adventures for Cthulhu Dark Ages is far from dreadful in terms of both editing and layout, and far from dreadful in terms of storytelling and writing.

The Ravenar Sagas is the second campaign from Oscar Rios, a Call of Cthulhu author best known for The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, the Cthulhu Invictus campaign published by the late lamented Miskatonic River Press. His previous campaign, also a Monograph, was Ripples from Carcosa, a trilogy of connected scenarios set in the periods of Cthulhu Invictus, Cthulhu Dark Ages, and the near future of the End Times, but separated by millennia. The Ravenar Sagas marks his second return to the period of Cthulhu Dark Ages, the setting when the dread Necronomicon was freely distributed and the forces of the Mythos all but ran wild… Where Cthulhu Dark Ages focused primarily on mainland Europe as a setting, The Ravenar Sagas takes its adventurers to the edge of Europe and beyond…

Although the subtitle of the campaign suggests that The Ravenar Sagas consists of “Three Viking Adventures”, the Monograph actually contains three adventures for six Northmen who as friends crew the newly built small knorr, the Ravenar. Together, the six are men of action, well-armed, fearless, and eager to carve out legends for themselves, and over the course of three adventures and thirteen years, their heroic deeds will lend themselves to a great saga, one of love, betrayal, and horrors from beyond. In the course of the adventure the characters will age thirteen years, so versions are provided for each of the three scenarios that in turn will take the investigators to and from Norway to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland.

The saga begins in 989 AD with ‘The Unsung Saga’, an action orientated scenario originally used as a demonstration adventure for Cthulhu Dark Ages. The six adventurers are tasked by their chieftain to go in search of his son, Svengar who has not returned from a hunting expedition to the Faeroes Islands. What the adventurers learn is that Svengar had other things on his mind than hunting and if they are to mount a rescue, they must strike a curious bargain and venture into the lair of some wholly wild creatures.

If ‘The Unsung Saga’ was a fairly straight forward affair, ‘The Second Saga’ is more complex and detailed, and thus a more interesting scenario. It is set three years later and Svengar has prospered, turning the failing settlement of Neskasyla into a welcoming and friendly place that looks to succeed for years to come. In the process, Svengar has made himself a popular leader as well as a growing family. Invited to spend Yuletide with Svengar and his wife in Neskasyla, the adventurers find themselves, along with the inhabitants of the settlement, besieged by the unnatural, both in terms of the weather and things that no man should have dealings with. 

The adventurers will have much more to do in ‘The Second Saga’. There is work to be done in Neskasyla as well as play, fellow visitors to rescue, and an enveloping storm to pierce if the adventurers are to thwart the ‘real’ danger to the settlement. Long-time devotees of Call of Cthulhu will recognise the entities used in this scenario, but they are appropriately used and challenging foes given the setting and what the player characters must face them with. Overall, this is an engaging and enjoyable affair with much for the player characters to do.

The trilogy comes to a close with ‘The Vinland Saga’, which takes place a decade after those of ‘The Second Saga’ in 1002 AD. The adventurers are ten years older and experienced ship captains who are called to war following the news that Svengar is dead! He had gone to the aid of his steward, Ozgar, who had established a colony of his own in Vinland that was attacked by an alliance of dark native tribes and rival Northmen. In their defence of the colony Svengar was struck down and killed and now his wife wants revenge!

Whilst ‘The Vinland Saga’ brings The Ravenar Sagas to a rousing climax, it suffers from being too combat-orientated. It consists of one combat encounter after another and the problem is that Call of Cthulhu is not very forgiving when it comes to combat. Nevertheless, some of them are nicely staged and are unlike any the players will encounter in a normal game of Call of Cthulhu.

The Ravenar Sagas is rounded out with the ‘actual’ history of the Sagas and how they came to be uncovered from a burial mound in Iceland in 1884. Here they are also presented as a Mythos Tome so that a group of investigators could read them in the Gaslight, Jazz, or Modern Age and actually learn from them by playing out the events they are said to portray…

Physically, The Ravenar Sagas is decently presented for a Monograph. It needs another edit, but the layout is light enough to counter the lack of illustrations. If there is an issue with the book it is that the maps are indistinct. In hindsight, it probably would have been better had they been done by hand.

As a trilogy, The Ravenar Sagas does a good job of presenting a ‘Viking’ Saga. As a set of scenarios, it is an uneven affair in terms of investigation over combat, and of the three, the middle one, ‘The Second Saga’ is the most balanced and the best written. In fact, it would actually make a reasonable addition to any collection. It consisting of three scenarios, each several years apart, means that a Keeper could easily slot other scenarios in between the three included here. The Ravenar Sagas continues Oscar Rios’ penchant for untraditional Call of Cthulhu scenarios in terms of the investigative process and the action.

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