Monday, January 17, 2011

My Mind Wanders to the Frozen North

I'm in a very Nordic mood when I think of fantasy games these days.

I blame it on Beowulf. At the beginning of each new semester, I teach a very annotated version to my seniors. We first read each section, then I use a projector to show them that section as depicted in the excellent graphic novel adaptation by Gareth Hinds. (Loook it up...seriously. it has my favorite depiction of Grendel ever.) After that, we watch a very small part of the CG Beowulf movie (yes, the one with Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mom.) The opening scene in Herot is really well done, with bawdy atmosphere, drunken boasting, roaring fires, and busty wenches... it really gets my D&D motor running. (This is, of course, prior to the arrival of Grendel, who is depicted as a giant Smeagol-looking bastard with Down Syndrome, but that's another rant for another time...) I actually can't really stand the rest of the movie, but that first bit at Herot... yes.

I kind of want my next fantasy outing (likely to be some form of D&D, but who knows...) to be somewhat Celtic/Nordic/Viking-ish. By no means do I want to do anything historical, but I want mead-halls and boasting and scops. I want trolls and giants. I want frosty mountains and perilous sea-voyages.

I like the idea of treasure and glory, which, if you see treasure as spoils won from battle, that really clicks with the old D&D experience system. Yeah, you killed the giant, and the scops will be singing your praises all the way to Iceland, but where are the spoils of war?!

Incidentally, I have seen two film versions of the tale of Beowulf, and both of them are equally atrocious, though both of them had some promise. (One had Gerard Butler as Beowulf, for chrissakes) I'm aware of a third version, a sci-fi adaptation from the 90's starring Christopher Lambert, but today Josh from my gaming group informed me that it is ill-advised to watch it without alcohol nearby.

Ah, but I digress... this is a blog about gaming, not my amateur movie reviews. I'm thinking Trollsmith's infamous "Shields Will Be Splintered" will need to be in full effect, as might some of the materials from Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderness. (In particular the Berserker class) Horned Helmets. Ships with curved prows. Funeral pyres.

I have tomorrow off from work...perhaps I should scribble a few notes on paper. damn, an entry that isn't entirely about Traveller and/or Shadowrun!


  1. You might also want to check out the Pendragon supplement Land of Giants. It deals specifically with Beowulf-era Germanic culture, mythology, and campaigns:

  2. I am working on a fantasy setting for use with old school games that will fall into that very style. I posted my Appendix N a while back. I'm very much influenced by Beowuld, the Kalevalla, the Eddas, the Mabinogion, the early Arthurin tales, etc. Having said that, it'll take me a bit to get to completion as it is an ongoing labor of love. I might be getting too into the weeds with constructing languages, cultures, migration patterns, myths and legends, etc. At any rate, I'm actually actively working on it so that's something.

    I thought the Beowulf and Grendel movie with Gerard Butler was a little more tollerable than the CGI movie (I cringed throughout). I seem to recall a SciFi channel adaptation of Beowulf and I only watched the first five minutes as it was so absolutely rediculous that I couldn't follow through with watching the whole thing. And yes, the graphic novel by Gareth Hinds is pretty good.

  3. Larkins- I've always had a back-burner curiosity about Pendragon. I might have to check that out.

    Johnathan- Ye gods, I remember that. It was called "Grendel," and it was on five or so years ago. I also only made it about ten minutes in before I could stomach no more. I had actually forgotten about it entirely until just now.

  4. "...a giant Smeagol-looking bastard with Down Syndrome..."

    Man, that is so freaking funny. I appreciate fellow educators with dark senses of humor.

  5. Avoid the Christopher Lambert Beowulf like the plague. Even vast amounts of alcohol won't make it worth watching. Take it from one who knows.

  6. I demur slightly on the Christopher Lambert job - I remember it was so awful it was good.

    But a better idea is to watch the 80s TV show Robin of Sherwood, which has Beowulf from the CGI version as Will Scarlet. It's the definitive Robin Hood, better (even!) than Errol Flynn, and copied atrociously ever since. Plus Will Scarlet is awesome. I only watched the CGI beowulf to see him in action.

  7. You should know that I am a HUGE fan of Nordic myth and role-playing and feel your love for Beowulf. Of the three films you cite I definitely prefer the Butler fact I identify him more with that particular role than any other ("oh...this movie has Beowulf in it? Ok...").

    The Lambert one isn't as bad as the CGI from a's just a weird bit of post-apoc style setting that makes it over the top. At least Beowulf doesn't morph into a total chump as does in the CGI version.