-Automatic Bonus Progression (PF Unchained): All PCs use the table for ABP, at two levels higher than their character level due to the scarcity of magical items in this game.
--Some rare items do have innate enhancement bonuses. Attunement in ABP overlaps (i.e. does not stack with) the natural enhancement bonuses on items, but you can attune to weapons and armor anyway to take a higher bonus.
-Automatic Feat Progression: If a feat has an Improved and/or Greater version (above its entry one), you automatically acquire the higher-level versions once you meet their prerequisites. Style Feats likewise advance. Other feat trees may be considered - ask the GM. Some feats will have level limits (to prevent getting a whole tree at once), but later parts can be acquired earlier by actually spending feats on them.
-Background Skills: In-use.
-Combat Maneuvers: Attempting one of these does not provoke an attack of opportunity.
-Combat Options: The following options are automatically available for all characters that meet their prerequisites.
-Combat Stamina: Automatic for Hakon. Accessible through feats for other characters.
-Downtime: During downtime, characters can either work on crafting or spend their time working. If working, characters can earn money or Goods/Influence/Labor once per week (not once per day), usually through Profession (Farmer) or a Perform skill. Most other skills cannot be used for earning money in the Northlands (a rare few, like Fisherman, can - but the place really is limited in terms of what people spend their time doing).
-Skill Unlocks: Automatic for Hakon. Accessible through feats for other characters.
Some classes, such as Witch, offer bonus spells as you level up. If you have levels in one of these classes, you have two options.
-First, keep the bonus spells. You can cast each of them once a day (assuming you meet all other requirements, like material components). This is one of the few ways to have access to Vancian spells.
-Second, trade in the bonus spells for an extra benefit based on your class (typically pool points or extra talents).
Death Speech and Fate:
Heroes in the sagas do not merely die; they die with courage, gusto, and eloquence. If a PC or important NPC dies, they may as a free action regain consciousness to do one of the following things. First, they may take one standard action in order to complete a task interrupted by their demise or make an attack, after which they slip the mortal coil and go to meet their ultimate fate. Second, they may make a death speech, a long and usually poetic summation of their lives. If the dead man is a PC, the GM should award a bonus to that player’s next character based on the quality of the speech, usually an XP award or a story-appropriate magic item.
Alternately, instead of the death speech or final action, the dying hero may choose one of the following: he may lay a curse upon his foes, as the spell bestow curse, or lay a geas on a willing ally, as the spell lesser geas at a caster level equal to the dying character’s level.
To the Northlanders, fate (sometimes called wyrd) is an all-consuming force. The Norns measure and cut the thread of a man’s life, and destiny often plays games with heroes. Once per campaign, the player may decide that his character has reached the point where he is fated to die. It is recommended that the player consult with the GM before proceeding, but if the GM agrees that this is a good time for a heroic end, the player declares his character a victim of fate.
First, the player must give a death speech in character (this does not permit the laying of a curse, as in death speech above). After this, the character gains a +20 fate bonus to attack rolls and skills used in the scene and automatically inflicts double damage with every hit or spell (treat like a critical hit for purposes of determining stacking). However, the character also suffers –10 penalty to AC, saving throws, and may not be the beneficiary of magical healing. When the battle is over, if the character still stands, he may utter one short sentence before dying. Nothing can prevent the character from dying at this point; the Norns have measured and cut his thread and his life is over at the fated time. Just to clarify, not even resurrection or the actions of the gods can save the PC, for even the gods must obey fate.
To the eyes of outsiders, the Northlanders live in absolute anarchy. Unlike the peoples of the Southlands, no governmental institutions are capable of enforcing laws beyond the reach of a ruler’s own household, nor is there a layered bureaucracy like in the Caliphate. Instead, the Northlands are governed by a combination of tradition, democratic assemblies, and charismatic personalities. Northlanders view themselves as free men and women, differing from their thralls and the enthralled peoples of other lands. Every person has the right to self-determination, and if the local Thing or jarl seeks to encroach on this freedom, they better have a convincing case or be ready for a fight. In short, the Northlands are governed by consent of the governed, at least in theory.
Tradition is the main force keeping the Northlanders together, and even a weak jarl can rely on the force of tradition to maintain some semblance of order in his lands. It is because of the traditional obedience to jarls that most Northlanders treat the commands of the local jarl as words to be obeyed. A person could decide, at least in theory, that his jarl is unworthy of their allegiance and swear oaths to a different jarl. This is rare, for the first action in such an event is that a person must break his oath to his current jarl, something that flies in the face of tradition. To keep one’s word is the cornerstone of Northlander tradition, and oath-breakers are despised, even when they have just cause. Likewise, lying is seen as an abomination, especially to one’s companions, jarl, or during a Thing.
Other traditions govern Northlander society, but most especially the traditions of hospitality, community, and courage. Both a guest and a host are bound by the traditions of hospitality, sometimes called the laws of hosting. A guest is bound to obey his host, to defend his host’s house in the event of attack, to graciously receive whatever food and lodging is available, and to behave in an honorable and sober manner. He is not to abuse his position and overindulge in the best of the host’s food, drink, shelter, gifts, and thralls. The host also has several rights and responsibilities, for he is to provide for the guest the best of his house and, if lacking in anything, to make good the discrepancy even at great personal loss or risk. He is to defend and protect his guest, treat his guest as an honored member of the household, and provide for the guest’s entertainment. Guests are allowed to stay for at most six weeks or the length of one winter, after which the guest overstaying his welcome negates the traditions of hospitality.
Community is of grave importance to the Northlanders, and it is a general assumption that neighbors will help neighbors in need, though this should never be exploited or abused. The people of a community, be it a jarl’s hall, a family clan, a village or town, a farming district, or the crew of a longship (or even a band of adventurers), form one body. Share and share alike is the key motto, for those who share hardships and joys must also share food and shelter as needed. A great deal of property in the Northlands is communal land. Most longships, for example, are owned by a jarl and his huscarls or by the crew as a whole. A community commonly owns even valuable items such as ploughs, livestock, and mills.
Finally, of the cornerstone traditions of the Northlands, the one that seem to impress Outlanders the most is that of courage. Every Northlander is subject to this tradition, and men, women, and children are expected to be courageous in the face of danger or even simple embarrassment. To show fear is to show oneself to be less than human, and thus risk being excluded from the community. This is not just courage in battle, but stoic resolve against sickness, injury, accident, or misfortune.
The traditions of the Northlanders are not written down; instead, they are commonly held beliefs that have been passed down through the generations. Because of this, and because of their love of freedom, the Northlanders have developed the Thing, a democratic body that serves as arbiters of tradition, as well as makers of laws and passers of judgment. The exact composition of a Thing depends on local tradition, but in general, it is made up of either all adults in a given locality or all adult landholders. Everyone in the Thing has an equal vote and an equal right to speak before the assembled body. Most Things assemble monthly or seasonally, though the Things of Halfstead and other larger towns meet on a weekly basis. The Thing is empowered to pass rulings on any crime brought before it and to pass laws declaring actions that should or should not be taken. It has no power to enforce these laws, though for large public works projects, a Thing may take up a collection to see that a wall, canal, or such be built. Because of this, justice is often in the hands of those who wish to seek it, but the ruling of the Thing as to the legality of taking that justice is of paramount importance in avoiding a feud of revenge.
Family and clan are more important to the Northlanders than Things or jarls and form the basis of the nations Gatland and Hrolfland. These are part of the tradition of community, for family or clan is seen as one community that often cuts across other communities. A family has a head, and this person has many of the same duties and rights as a jarl. Above the family is the extended clan, and the leader of a clan has great influence and prestige, the right to command others of his clan, but the duty to protect the clan as a whole and see to its prosperity.
Finally, there are the jarls, charismatic rulers who govern through a combination of influence, prestige, bribery, and force. Technically, outside of his or her household, the jarl has no true authority. Individuals take oaths to obey a jarl and serve his needs, and it is up to the individual to fulfill this oath. A jarl attracts followers through the power of his own personality and through deeds. Simply being the heir of the previous jarl does not mean that anyone will follow you; however, tradition leads most people to make oaths of allegiance to their jarl’s heirs, though there are always those who prefer to wait and see how the new jarl behaves before making these oaths.
In return for an oath of service, a person expects that his jarl will protect him and reward him with gifts. It is of utmost importance that a jarl be known as a ring-giver, one who frequently gifts his followers with hacksilver, goods, and land. If a jarl fails to fulfill his responsibilities to his followers, he is assumed to have broken his word to them, and thus his own oaths are no longer binding. In the most extreme cases of rebellion and banditry, a jarl may be forgiven for using force against his own people. In all other cases, unless so empowered by a Thing, a jarl that uses force to back his commands is considered a tyrant, an oath-breaker, and an enemy of the people.
One other layer of governance exists in the Northlands, though it is so closely tied to tradition that it forms a subset of the traditions of community. In some areas such as Hordaland, there is a tradition of a køenig. This ruler can be best seen as a higher jarl, one whose sphere includes the entire region. Like a jarl, the køenig must rule with the consent of the governed, but unlike a jarl, a køenig has far broader powers. A køenig need only obey the Althing of his region, lesser Things have no binding power over him. Furthermore, a køenig may call all of his followers to war without their consent, and they are honor-bound to obey. Finally, a køenig may exact a tax on all within his domain, though this may not exceed one piece of hacksilver per person per season.
Hacksilver is the currency of the Northlands, inasmuch as there is a currency of the Northlands. The only other universal commodity that could even come close would be cattle, and it is difficult to make change with them. Coins do exist in the North, but none are minted there, so any extant are extremely rare and unlikely to be in normal circulation. The result, therefore, is the use of hacksilver.
Simply put, hacksilver is jewelry made of precious metals (usually silver, but not always) that has been hacked apart and is used as the standard “currency” in the Northlands. Hacksilver also includes coins and other objects of value that are made of a precious metal. A handful of hacksilver might contain fragments of arm-rings and neckbands, bits of coins, and other assorted pieces of silver and gold, or more rarely copper, electrum, or platinum. For purposes of converting this to an easy-to-use game rule, assume that one piece of hacksilver (hs) is a standardized unit.
Then use the following conversion: 1 HS = 1 GP
The simple beauty of hacksilver is that when change needs to be made or exchange needs to be made in a smaller denomination, the owner can simple draw a knife and hack off a smaller sliver. Obviously, this is a rough estimation of value, and most merchants and vendors keep scales on hand to better evaluate the hacksilver’s worth, but in the rough-and-tumble economy of the Northlanders, the system works fine. The other coinage exists and still retains its normal value, but is found much more rarely. Therefore, the base assumption is that the PCs are dealing in hacksilver, and any SP or CP they accumulate through receiving change from purchases is actually just smaller pieces of hacksilver.
It should be noted that most of the economy of the Northlands is based around barter and gifting, and thus the PCs may not be spending their money on shopping excursions, save for in large towns such as Halfstead or Trotheim (or when dealing with the Hrolfs, who favor Southlander ways).
Kennings are descriptive phrases used in the North. You will often hear NPCs use these, and this is a guide to the most common phrases.
Alfar dwimmer: magic
Baldr’s bane: mistletoe
breaker of rings: Køenig or jarl
Corpse-ripper: the dragon Nídhöggr, who chews upon the corpses of murderers, adulterers, and oath-breakers
easer of raven’s hunger: generous leader
feeder of ravens: warrior
Freyja’s tears: amber
Hanged God: Wotan
Frigg’s thread: gold
icicle of blood: Sword or spear
Loptr’s favor: fire
Loptr’s mead: lies/deception
mind’s worth: courage/honor
moon distaff’s thread: silver
Rán’s hammer: waves
raven harvest: corpse
ring-giver: Køenig or jarl
shame of swords: shield
Sif’s hair: gold
sky-candle: the sun
Slayer of Giants: Donar
swan of blood: raven
wave thread: sea serpent
Wotan’s children: raven
weather of weapons: war
whale road: sea
wolf-hearted: coward, oath-breaker, one without mind’s worth
Contrary to the belief among the Southlanders that the Northlanders are born warriors who spend their days and nights raiding or preparing to raid, most Northlanders are farmers. Wheat, rye, vegetable, and dairy farming make up a large proportion of the Northlander agricultural production. Growing seasons are short in the North, and many areas struggle to produce enough to last from one harvest to the next. Animal husbandry is common, and in addition to cattle (considered a marker of wealth), one finds swine, geese, goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks. Horses are rare and more likely used as draft animals than for riding, and never for war (aside as a means of transport). Hunting and fishing, as well as sealing and whaling, makes up the balance, leading to a greater amount of animal proteins consumed than in other lands.
Other economic activities include logging and some mining, though aside from iron, few readily available metals are in the Northlands. Trade is a major affair, as is raiding, and brings in goods and commodities scarce in the North. The emphasis on farming is so high that, just as with craftsmen, even those who engage in other trades do so as part-time endeavors to supplement their income.
Towns are few, and even villages are somewhat sparsely distributed. Most Northlanders live in scattered communities composed of several farmsteads grouped around a central area that serves as a marketplace and meeting site for the local Thing. This helps to reinforce the independent nature of the Northlanders and encourages tight family bonds. In most ways, each farmstead is self-sufficient, and one can find the same farm raising a variety of crops and livestock.
The family is the basis of Northlander society, though a Northlander family tends to be large. The eldest members, be they male or female, govern the families, which are often composed of two or more generations plus servants, thralls, and guests. It is not unusual for a Northlander to spend a season with a cousin, uncle, aunt, or even grandparents, and some go so far as to move in and make permanent residence in a relative’s household, especially when times are tough.
Women enjoy far more rights in the North than in other lands, and are generally considered the equal of men. Female jarls are not uncommon, as well as with godi, warriors, and nearly every other profession. However, there is not total equality, for it is assumed that shortly after marriage a woman will focus much of her attention on the household and any children produced from the marriage. Still, Northlander women are allowed to own land, vote in most Things and Althings, hold the title of jarl, and if they are so inclined, fight in the shieldwall. In fact, when it comes to women warriors, the North produces more than its fair share. It is considered quite normal in many regions for young unmarried women to participate in raids and other martial endeavors, and all women receive at least a minimum of training to be able to defend their homes while the menfolk are off a-viking or trading during the summer.
Buildings in the Northlands are almost entirely made of wood; even the defensive walls of towns are wooden palisades. Roofs are generally thatch, though slate and wooden shingle roofs can be found in mountainous areas or on the homes of the wealthy. Most houses, even in towns, are long, rectangular affairs known as longhouses. These are built of a wooden double frame, often with tightly laid boards that abut each other, with the area between the frames filled with sod, rocks, sand, or other material. In the northernmost regions, sod is cut and piled against the outer walls for additional insulation. Farmsteads tend to be fenced or walled with enough room for outbuildings, sheds, and some grazing area. Nearly every home has its own well, save in towns were communal water supplies are the norm. Since Northlander society tends to be rather egalitarian, even the jarls have halls much like the common longhouse, only larger and more ornately carved.
Northlanders have a well-deserved reputation as superb warriors and are skilled and cunning combatants. Cavalry is unheard of in the Northlands, and all Northlanders fight on foot save for a few degenerate Hrolf who have adopted Southlander ways. When battle is imminent, Northlanders form up into a shieldwall with the best-armed and armored warriors in front, and the rest of the formation grading down to the freemen who can afford only a shield and spear in the back. Archers, usually youths or old men, form up on the flanks and attempt to send their projectiles into the midst of the enemy shieldwall. If either side has Bearsarkers or Ulfhanders, these stand before their shieldwall and initiate the battle by throwing themselves against the enemy formations.
Spears thrust over the shields, with the front rank either keeping two hands on their shields or otherwise wielding short, stabbing blades. The two formations advance on each other. The main goal of shieldwall battle is to overlap the other formation’s wall and attack it from the flanks. Another option is to break the enemy’s front, though this is very difficult to achieve. The front ranks attempt to stab each other over, under, and between the shields, while the back ranks push on those in front of them, shove spears over the shield wall into the foe, or fling axes, daggers, rocks, and spears. A shieldwall battle may take hours to resolve as each formation attempts to exhaust the other and execute a flanking maneuver or breach. During this entire time, both sides are busy flinging insults and jibes at each other, and individuals are looking for not just the opportunity to gain personal glory, but are seeking out particular foes in order to resolve vendettas or blood feuds.
These same tactics are used when raiding or in battle against non-Northlanders. In a raid, the Northlanders swarm ashore and attempt to overwhelm their targets through surprise. If this fails, the raiders fall back toward their ship and set up a shieldwall, beckoning their foes to come and try it. This works especially well against the Seagestrelanders, who seem to have never tired of their own mad rush tactics in the vain hope they may overcome a shieldwall through sheer numbers.
One other tactic not often used due to the difficulty of pulling it off, is the schweine-kopf, or swine’s head. Unlike the shieldwall, this formation is highly mobile and very aggressive. The warriors form up in a tight wedge with the best-armed warriors along the outside and the most skilled, usually a jarl and his huscarls, at the point. In this formation, there is less protection for everyone, but that is not the purpose of the swine’s head. Instead of meeting the foe’s shieldwall in line, the purpose is to hit hard and fast, gambling all that a breach can be made in the first moments of battle. Failure leaves the warriors at a disadvantage, as they must quickly unfold into a normal shieldwall to avoid being overlapped and flanked by their foes.
At sea, Northlanders attempt to turn the fight into a land battle by ramming enemy ships, linking ships together with boards and chains, or otherwise counteract the unstable nature of the sea and the general lack of effective ranged weapons in Northlander forces. More often than not, sea battles devolve into fierce single combats as warriors board each other’s vessels and attempt to slaughter all on board.
Much like the rest of their society, the Northlanders do not follow an organized or hierarchical religion. They have their gods and heroes, and the worship of them is up to the individual. There are priests, but these are part-time positions that do not produce wealth in any appreciable amount. Instead, priests, called godi, are afforded a great deal of respect, but are also expected to see to their own affairs as any other freeman. Because of this, all godi have a regular occupation, often farmer, which provides a more profitable means of support. Also, godi tends to be an inherited position that passes from father to son or mother to daughter depending on the family. Godi are required to maintain their temples, called godi houses, that are normally simple affairs of wood and thatch. Those that avail themselves of a godi’s services are expected to gift the godi a reward of some sort. However, aside from funerals, births, and deaths, most people are content to worship in their own ways and in private, thus limiting the need for the godi’s skills.
Godi do not dedicate themselves to one deity, except for a few rare individuals who have felt a specific calling. These specialized godi are normally the only ones who gain access to spells; other godi may be of the cleric or druid class, but would consider the granting of a spell from their deity to be a momentous event. Likewise, only those dedicated to one deity ever gain supernatural powers from their god.
The heroes of the sagas were not greedy men who hoarded their hard-won fortunes. The act of giving, and especially giving to one’s inferiors, is considered a central tenet of Northlanders society. To represent this, PCs who give gifts to their followers receive XP equal to one-tenth of the gold piece value of the gift within the discretion of the GM. It is recommended that rewards for gift giving be limited to once a lunar month.
Although on the surface the Northlands appears to be a setting that favors brawny heroes willing to brave the elements and fight savage beasts, it should be remembered that most Northlanders are simple farmers who maybe went on a raid when they were younger, but probably not. This is especially true in Hordaland and Storstrøm Vale. Most may not have even seen a giant or other threat greater than a bad harvest or the machinations of rival clans. For many Northlanders, the greatest battle in their lives is at the Thing, when they must go to court.
The Thing is a combination of democratic assembly, court of law, and market day that occurs with varying frequency depending on the local needs. More settled areas have more regular Things, while those that have fewer or more dispersed populations assemble for the Thing only a few times a year. Also, there is some variation in determining who may speak or vote at a Thing, but in general all adult free men and women may do so.
PCs may be required to appear at a Thing for a variety of reasons, such as to urge action by the people of a community, to bring lawsuits against their foes, defend themselves in lawsuits, or simply for the carnival atmosphere and the debating. Most often, PCs being what they are, their fate may hang in the balance and be determined by the vote of a Thing. To run a Thing, the GM must first determine the number of votes in total, and then how many are being held by what factions. Northlanders are a fractious bunch, and it is likely that the Thing will not break down into simple for and against factions. At the very least, there should be a faction that is undecided, and quite likely each clan, and in the case of an Althing, each region will have a faction. It should also be considered that jarls tend to vote with other jarls in issues that affect them as a whole, as do fishermen, ship owners, godi, etc.
A Thing occurs in half-day increments, with 1d6–1 half-days before a vote must be taken. Each half-day gives all parties a chance to speak before the Thing and attempt to sway the vote. There are three ways to sway the vote: through debate, through heroic actions, or through challenging the leaders of the opposing factions. To sway the vote using debate, a PC has to stand before the Thing and speak at length as to the benefits of their point of view. The speaking PC must target one faction at a time during the speech, and must succeed on a DC 15 Perform (oratory) check, swaying one vote per point by which they make the roll from that faction to his own. The GM should reward bonus votes based on how well the player roleplays the speech, or take away votes if the roleplaying is poorly performed or insulting to the Thing. Heroic deeds completed during the proceedings or in the past few months can help sway the vote toward the PCs’ faction.
Finally, the leaders of the others factions may be challenged to a duel called a holmgang. Holmgangs in the Northlands — often referred to as “stepping between the hazel posts” — are highly formal affairs and follow a set procedure. First, the challenge is issued in public, preferably in front of the entire Thing. If the challenge is accepted (and it almost always is since to refuse a challenge is to lose all honor), then the duel takes place at the next sunset or sunrise. The rules are strict, and no deviation is to be allowed (yet, like anything undertaken under the auspices of Northlander law, it is up to the aggrieved party to see that justice is served). The participants are not allowed to make use of magic or magical abilities, save those inherent in their weapons and armor. Each duelist must arrive armed with a melee weapon and three shields, and must use both in the duel; no ranged weapons are allowed, nor is fighting without a shield. The duel takes place inside a square area 15 feet on a side, bounded by rowan staves or hazel rods. The winner is the one who either kills his opponent, breaks all three of his opponent’s shields, or drives his opponent out of the dueling area. Killing the leader of a faction in a duel splits that faction, giving half the votes over to the faction that won the duel, while the other half will not support the party in any way and will seek to oppose the Thing’s decision if the opposing faction is victorious in the debates.
Ability Checks: In addition to the skill checks below, the publisher of the Northlands Saga - Frog God Games - often includes ability checks in challenges. Accordingly, any negative modifiers might be even more of a problem than usual - dipping below 10 in any ability is not recommended.
Acrobatics: Many areas of the Northlands have a lot of ice and snow. Acrobatics will often help you navigate treacherous areas, and perhaps even avoid a (deadly) fall.
Climb: Similarly, not everywhere you can explore is flat and easy to walk around on. The Climb skill will help you move up and reach places otherwise inaccessible to you.
Diplomacy: The people of the North do not react well to lies or threats. While you may still attempt those, failure might have repercussions more severe than usual, making Diplomacy the best social skill. This can also help you avoid being rude to others (a major consideration).
Handle Animal: Many Northlanders ride to their destinations, and at least a basic training in handling animals can help avert trouble.
Knowledge (Local): At many points in the campaign, having some local knowledge will make things drastically easier.
Linguistics: Other peoples have inhabited the Northlands, and their ruins still dot the area. Some ability to translate their messages might help.
Perception: This is the most-used skill in the game. It is literally never a bad idea to be trained in it.
Perform: Storytellers and musicians are popular in the North because they make it much easier to pass the time. Good performers tend to be popular guests, and this would definitely be a valuable skill for someone in the party to have. Singing and Oratory are especially useful - the former for performances, the latter for influencing people at a Thing.
Profession (Farmer): The primary income-earning skill for Downtime.
Profession (Sailor): As a Norse-themed campaign, you can expect to go on boats and sail to some of your destinations. Training in this Profession will help you avoid damage to your ship, stop the loss of supplies, and generally succeed in getting where you want to go.
Ride: Goes hand-in-hand with Handle Animal. While you may not need to max either, having at least moderate training can help.
Survival: It's not uncommon for the people of the North to need to track down their foes, or navigate through the untamed wilderness.
Swim: There's a lot of water during some parts of the campaign...