The Northland Saga Part 1 – Vengeance of the Long Serpent
By Thilo Graf
This adventure from Frog God Games is 24 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 3 pages of advertisements, leaving 17 pages of adventure, so let’s check it out, shall we?
I’ve been quite involved in OD’s “Northlands” and have, I confess, an infatuation with sagas, Scandinavian culture and customs and have studied Scandinavian Literature and Culture – I’m not the most unbiased reviewer for the subject matter, but my knowledge of said topics also means that I went into this adventure expecting to be continuously face-palming due to inconsistencies and “not getting” the mindset and mentality.
That being said, this is an adventure review and thus contains a lot of
Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion of my review.
All right! After a short introduction to climate, culture and mentality of the North, the PCs are contacted by one Hallbjorn, a survivor of Jarl Olaf Henrikson’s failed expedition to the far North -he has returned with the “Long Serpent” (loosely based on Olav Tryggvason’s legendary Ormurin Langi) to recruit brave souls to a mission of both sealing and ivory gathering as well as vengeance against a strange and savage winter-cult devoted to an entity called Althunak that seems to have sprung up among the Inuit-like Ulnat. It is here, in the extensive boxed texts provided for the recruitment that my heart was pounding with glee – author Kenneth Spencer not only gets the mentality, but is also versed in Kennings, the skaldic metaphors. While he uses rather simple ones like “weather of weapons” and “spear-din”, which are readily apparent in their meaning, it is his mirroring of staves (alliterative speech) in the boxed texts that really had me smile.
After recruiting ( and getting drunk with the PCs), the voyage North continues and provides 11 possible random encounters as well as 3 non-random events, among which whale hunting and the obligatory dread storm (Without covered decks, storms get scary and cold. And wet.) not only will provide fluff galore, but also provides opportunity for the PCs to not only make money and assemble (or lose) rations and become leaders of the expedition. It should be noted that anyone with Profession (Sailor) will have a blast here! Finally, the expedition will find Yilthi, an Ulnat adrift on the sea and possibly save him. If the PCs can overcome the language barrier, he makes for an interesting guide and a good reason for the PCs to visit Laquirv, the one Ulnat village in the coastal region that has not yet been subdued by the cultists of Althunak. Also, survival in the rough climate, rations and a preferable return prior to the deadly polar winter are detailed and play key parts in this adventure.
Once the PCs have finally arrived, the truly sandboxy part of the adventure begins: The PCs get a map of the Tundra of Ulanatland and are essentially free to do as they please – hunting, whaling, liberating villages. Apart fromLaquirv, we get short write-ups for the armed forces of 6 small villages the PCs probably should clear in order to gain support and weaken the cult of Althunak. If they play their cards right, the spirit of the murdered Jarl and his fellows might even bequeath their items to the PCs…or curse the grave-robbers! 2 statblocks for the warriors of the cult and 1 for the shamans and their ice-mephits are provided and once the PCs deem the opposing forces to be weakened enough (or if they just want to get back home and wrap things up- the timer for the polar winter is ticking), they’ll want to tackle the adventure’s climax, the battle at the second temple of Althunak. By the way: If you’re a mean DM, you could always freeze the ship with “Althunak’s wrath”, thus forcing the PCs to tackle said attack.
The final battle features Althunak’s high-priest, a dread werebear adept along a significant fore – hopefully the PCs have gathered some allies and thinned the enemy lines… It should be noted that the area around this temple also gets a map. Once the foes are defeated, the PCs can return to their port of origin, where they can sell their gains as well as gain access to the Long Serpent.
Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed 2 minor punctuation errors. Layout adheres to the b/w-FGG-two-column standard and the pieces of original b/w-artwork not only rock, but belong to the finest I’ve seen in 3pp adventures. Mechanically, we get a nice wilderness journey by sea with some nifty encounters and a cool sandboxy war of attrition against the children of Althunak. As a DM, you should beware that this adventure really expects the PCs to do what they please – no handholding with regards to the approach and if PCs act stupid and rush headlong into the Tundra towards the climax, they’ll receive quite a beating. This is an adventure for smart players who don’t have to be railroaded into action – this adventure has no need to do so: It OOZES flavour, it’s writing is stellar and there are only two minor blemishes in this adventure: One is that the death of a certain individual is, as written, predestined. While easily written out of the adventure, said death is a minor problem. The second point of criticism I have is that there’s no map of the ship included. Due to these minor blemishes I’ll have to rate this 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. For me and everyone into saga literature, kennings etc., this adventure is also full of Easter-eggs and will be remembered for quite some time. Highly recommended, especially in snyergy with Northlands. I’m looking forward to part 2.