By Brent Knowles
When I was invited to write a book for Arcanum Worlds, I was both delighted and wary. After all, their first major venture, Odyssey of the Dragonlords, was so popular and well-received that I worried about being able to build a worthy successor. Though I had written numerous personal campaigns throughout the years, this needed to be different. It took several weeks before I found an approach I thought suitable.
The idea of a destroyed world started to resonate. I wanted to build something fun from the concept of a glorious & majestic land from the long ago being overrun by evil, where the few that survived were forced to flee to other lands. I already had created a fantasy world where several of the stories I had sold over the years had been set (and which I had used in a personal roleplaying campaign). I decided that the setting for my new campaign book would be built from the most interesting elements of that original fantasy world, with new concepts layered in and with room for players to contribute through their own adventures. But I didn't have a solid hook yet, and explaining the world to others was difficult without going into far too much detail.
At this point, I was running a fun, multiyear campaign using Odyssey of the Dragonlords, and I spent more time thinking about what was working well in that. It had created something special and did so, in part, by building upon a solid foundation of tragic tales, heroic exploits, and the flawed gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. With guidance from others at Arcanum Worlds, I decided to use Norse mythology as the backdrop to my new world. I had read the sagas and several versions of the myths over the years and was a fan of the Vikings and The Last Kingdom television series.
But I didn't entirely want to let go of my original idea, and it didn't take long for me to realize that I didn't have to. Ragnarök is one of the more fascinating elements of Norse mythology, marking an end to those-that-were but not in a fully fatalistic and dystopian way. Instead, it is an ending that provides hope.
I realized that my world, Grimnir, was what comes after Ragnarök. And if the heroes fail to save it, Grimnir, too, shall fall. I began mapping out both the details for the world and the campaign's central story moments. I would pull pieces from three sources: Norse mythology, Vikings in popular culture, and the destroyed world (the "Lost Lands").
Building Upon Myths
I started with the creation myth for the world itself. Grimnir spawns as the magician Mirgal dies; his body and soul are used to create the land and seas, much like Norse mythology's Ymir, whose flesh created the earth, his blood the sea, and so on. Other examples include similarities between the heroes (known as Vanir) from the Lost Lands and Norse gods. While not exact parallels, I did attempt to weave in similar patterns. The Vanir, for example, must deal with one of their own becoming evil, not unlike the difficulties spawned for the Norse gods by Loki's mischief. I also worked to develop strife among the Vanir, primarily between parents, their children, and the expectations that always create conflict between them. There are also a couple of places where I've turned a concept upside down--an event or character seems familiar, but I've taken the concept in a very different direction from the myth that inspired it.
Initially, the heroes are not overly powerful and, indeed, serve relatively minor roles within raider society. At this stage of the campaign, Raiders is more realistic and less fantastic. Raiding and gaining wealth and power over other clans is most important. The myths of the Lost Lands are just that… myths. Heroes begin play by building their capabilities, acquiring ships and crews, and earning glory. (Glory is similar to fame from Odyssey of the Dragonlords, except it is a currency that can be gambled at moments to enhance the heroes' likelihood of overcoming obstacles.) Much of the gameplay at these lower levels should be familiar to readers or viewers of series such as the Vikings and The Last Kingdom.
But even at these levels, the heroes are starting to make their mark and define what Grimnir looks like to them. They explore uncharted islands, make discoveries, and raid to acquire their own territory. Tools are provided in the Raiders of the Serpent Sea Campaign Guide to expand upon these elements. Likewise, the accessory book, the GM Reference (included in the physical map pack and as a free download), provides tools to help a game master keep the campaign more realistic and Viking-like. Other tools exist to support a game master in crafting a world with more myth-like qualities manifesting earlier.
The Lost Lands
The raiders believe that their current way of life was their ancestor's way. But this is not entirely true. There are subtle glimpses into the customs of the Lost Lands throughout Grimnir, yet it is not a world ever fully defined. As the heroes travel the world, they slowly realize something was lost when the Lost Lands fell.
However, I never fully define what the Lost Lands were, and this is intentional to allow game masters--and the players--to construct something uniquely their own. Their Lost Lands can be different from my Lost Lands. For me, that world refers to a specific place that is very much detailed, drawing as it does upon my campaign worlds and many fantasy stories I've written over the years. But it is more important that the game master and their players cocreate a setting that resonates for them (though obviously they are free to use mine!) They might want to use an old campaign world that resonates emotionally with their group, for example. The Lost Lands can be whatever a particular group needs.
But no matter how we define it, the Lost Lands are… lost.
Grimnir is, therefore, defined by that loss, that absence of what once was and can never be again. Ragnarök is a cycle of renewal, but not everything--and everyone--survives the process. Grimnir is a world that was created in haste and in desperation and by unleashing unfamiliar magic tainted by the very power of the enemy that was consuming the Lost Lands. So it is that Grimnir offered a new beginning to the lucky few able to escape into it, but it is a world where most of the accomplishments of a prior civilization were abandoned in that chaotic escape. All that survived were the people from that world, each of them suffering loss, each of them leaving something (or someone) important behind.
The descendants of those survivors became the Raiders of the Serpent Sea.
Check out the Raiders of the Serpent Sea collection at the following:
Other titles from Arcanum Worlds:
* Chains of Asmodeus https://www.dmsguild.com/product/457996/Chains-of-Asmodeus
* Minsc and Boo's Journal of Villainy https://www.dmsguild.com/product/365114/Minsc-and-Boos-Journal-of-Villainy-5e
* Odyssey of the Dragonlords https://www.modiphius.net/collections/odyssey-of-the-dragonlords
* Heroes of Baldur's Gate https://www.dmsguild.com/product/269398/Heroes-of-Baldurs-Gate-5e