For the last couple of months, I’ve been increasingly obsessed with vikings. Vikings have become a bit of a hobby interest of mine (alongside geology), which is why I chose to make a Neverwinter Nights 2 module based on the Icelandic sagas.
Obviously I’m extra motivated to take an interest in vikings because I’m Scandinavian, but I’m not a great fan of romanticism and nationalism, so I try not to get too proud of the whole viking thing – after all there’s about as much viking in me as there probably is in you (which is to say I’m blonde and that’s about it). For the longest time, I’ve felt that there are too few vikings in popular culture – not enough viking games or films – and I’ve been a little frustrated that when something does deal with the vikings, it’s always obsessed with Norse mythology rather than the actual historical facts.
Granted, I definitely see the reason why games like Battle for Asgard would focus on the mythological side, because like the Greek ditto, Norse mythology provides an endless well of over-the-top legends, epic magic, and the hands down most ass-kicking gods ever conceived. Not to mention loads of really really good names. I’d just really like something more low-magic and more down-to-earth – I feel that vikings were awesome enough in real life to merit a story or two without having to bring in Thor or Nidhogg.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I would beat NWN2 into submission and turn its high fantasy towards a viking game. To this end, I was aided by content from the first expansion pack, Mask of the Betrayer, which takes place in the viking-inspired barbarian lands of Rashemen. One of the great joys of modding is stretching the limits of your creativity in order to work around the limitations placed upon your project by whatever game you’re modding, but it helps to have somewhere to start, and MotB gave me that.
My module, called Virdingholm Feud, is made up of 3 exterior areas. This doesn’t sound like much, but terrain in NWN2 is a relatively expensive resource, the editor’s terrain tools are very powerful, flexible, and feature-rich, but that also makes them very time-consuming to use compared to the first game’s tile-based editor. The player will be cast as the chief of Virdingholm, a small coastal community on Iceland.
The story starts in 978 AD as the player returns from a journey across the European seas. The purpose of the journey is for the player to choose through the initial dialogue as he is greeted at the pier by his son Ask and his brother Arinbjorn. Of course a conflict is quickly introduced in the form of the latest development in an old family feud with another chieftain, but I won’t give that away here – hopefully you’ll be able to play through the brief storyline yourself some time in January.
For inspiration, I’ve been consuming a lot of viking-ish entertainments lately, including reading through a really long and awesome viking manga called The Vinland Saga that somebody was brilliant enough to link me to some months ago. I haven’t finished it yet because I savour it like a rare wine, but though it’s far more exaggerated and dramatic than I aim for my own module to be, every time I read some of it, I immediately feel like working some more on my project, which is a feeling I desperately need.
I also recently found the Swedish folk rock band Garmarna, featuring a female vocalist with a voice like an ancient Norse spell and harmonies like a long, dark fimbulwinter. I’ve really taken a fancy to the Swedish language, which has many of the best qualities of Danish without most of the worst. It can be a very lyrical language with many melodic vocals and fetching rhythms.
I’ve been listening to their 1999 album Vedergällningen (Vengeance) on repeat since I started the project, and I like to loop it while I work on the module – it’s a source of pure inspiration, directly injecting images of Scandinavia ca. 1000 AD into my mind (though admittedly I think the songs are actually from somewhere in the middle ages). Tragically, I can’t find a free sample of my favourite song on the album, Herr Holkin, but I implore you to listen to Gamen as an example of some brilliant staccato rhythms and Euchari as an example of the general aethereal quality of their music.
Last of all, I watched The 13th Warrior again yesterday, and it remains a consistently awesome film. It’s not exactly high brow, but it offers a wealth of convincingly dark viking humour, some really beautiful landscapes, and a storyline that successfully blends the mystical with the authentic without losing (much) realism. Not to mention really brutal and no-nonsense melees. It also features Maria Bonnevie.
There is litterally nothing to dislike.