[Review] Doom of Odin – Tales of the Norse Gods (3pp d20); Riddle me this Heimdall…

[Campaign setting supplement/Adventure]
Doom of Odin – Tales of the Norse Gods (2002)
John R. Phythyon, Jr. (Avalanche Press LTD)
Level 7 – 9

Ragnarok was a pretty neat concept but only had about 48 pages. In my previous review I griped that it was, in essence, only a seed of a campaign, with neat flavor and some very interesting stripped-down rules but barely enough to make it work. Doom of Odin is a supplement to this campaign seed, consisting of one part crunch, one part fluff and one part adventure, though in reality, the setting and the fluff are there to prop up the adventure (the content in itself is useful outside the context of the adventure but not terribly so, see below).

Let’s get down to business. The first part contains all the crunch that I remarked was pleasantly absent from the first game. Gods, previously raceless, have now been divided into Aesir and Vanir. While I applaud a little mechanical differentiation to go with the fluff, the problem is that both races are too similar. God stats have been altered a little from Ragnarok. Stat bonuses have been reduced to +7 or +5 for lesser gods, depending on the ability scores and the immortality ability has been explained in more detail; gods reduced to negative hit points outside of their homeplane (Asgard or Vanaheim) simply do not die at -10 and continue to heal until they regain consciousness again. Aesir and Vanir differ in stats, with the Aesir having a more pronounced martial focus and the Vanir being overal more cerebral and earth themed, but other then a difference in skill bonuses and a weapon skill feat, there is little to separate the two (the Vanir have higher SR but since this is either 7 or 10 for lesser gods, this is trivial, given the levels at which a game of Ragnarok is likely to take place). Had the differences been more pronounced, it would have been a good differentiation to make, but now it serves as basically page filler. I can explain the difference to you in 2 paragraphs, why do the gods need more?

Valkeries have been added as an ersatz demi-god race, overall a very nice and flavorful addition but only marginally useful since Valkeries serve Odin exclusively. The book does offer the option of running an all Valkerie campaign or allow Valkerie PCs as long as you act upon Odin’s desires. Valkeries are, ironically, the most flavorful of the new races. Along with a charm power that should prove good fun, they can elect a mortal to be Odin’s champion. For a number of rounds equal to his Con score, a warrior gets +10 to all attack rolls. At the end, he dies. WE WILL MEET IN VALHALLA AGAIN. Of course this ability is likely to see most use in Mortal level campaign, so we are going to label the Valkerie as interesting but with limited utility.

The next addition is an obligatory Berserker prestige class. Harmless but not terribly inspired. Berserkers may rage, cause fear in their enemies, get into some other sort of trance where they automatically passes Will saves (redundant, Barbarian Rage already does something similar), heal damage with a Will save a number of times a day (should have been ignore damage with a Will save) and finally enter a trance where they can keep fighting while taking a number of points of damage below 0 hp equal to ten times their constitution. A mostly redundant class, merely an exaggeration of the Barbarian core class, which is already present in the setting. For a better take on the Berserker class see the Frenzied Berserker from Complete Warrior btw.

The last prestige class is an NPC prestige class for Dwarves, the Dwarven artificer, and it is both A) redundant because it feels the 3.5 compulsory urge to statt out things that can be covered by GM Fiat (i.e the ability of the Dwarves to forge magical items that, in order to be mysterious, should ideally stay outside of codified rules systems) B) will only be used by NPCs anyway so many of the abilities to reduce, say, the cost of an item or to increase their craft ranks will almost never see play since the GMs resources are whatever he needs to run his game and C) is mostly a modified artificer class from Twilight of Atlantis. The only good thing about this prestige class is the codification of the Dwarven Curse, giving the GM some mechanical handholds in case the gods double-cross a dwarf. It should be noted these curses vary from debilitation (Con damage), inconvenience (alternating passwords or turning invisible when you want to use it), the item blurting out weaknesses of the wielder or becomes incredibly desirable to anyone who views it. The curses are cool and add a vicious cost to stealing from the dwarves.

Two skills are added in this section. One is marginally useful but described overlong (Knowledge: history and legend) and really just a variant that could have been handled by the old knowledge: history skill and the Solve Riddle (int). While Solve Riddle may only be used at the GM’s discretion, its presence represents one of the worst excesses of the d20 system, and literally boils down what should be an intellectual challenge to a roll of the dice. Terrible.
A single new Feat, allowing gods to summon a weapon to their hand, is pretty good, and allows for that Thor feel that should be present in any Viking godsmacking game.

Shittily enough, the book offers only one new monster, and it sucks. The Lava elemental is neither A) a classic creature of Norse Mythology B) original as it is merely the averaged or fused stats of an earth and a fire elemental and C) fucking boring. It fails to challenge or excite on almost all accounts, and fulfills no place that could not be filled by myriad other creatures from the old monstrous manual. The question then becomes: Why is it the only new monster in the book?

The section ends one a hopeful note: two magic items that at least try to be weird and faerytale-esque. A weird polymorphing amulet that reveals itself in any animal shape the wearer takes and will lock the wearer in animal form if he expends the last charge. An orb of visions that replicates a divination spell 1/day. Not fantastic but at least both are somewhat in line with Norse mythology.

Part II concerns the realms of Jotunheim and Nidavellir. Both are given considerably more detail then the brief overview of previous supplements. Jotunheim is a frost-wreathed land of glaciers, storms and giant everythings. The scale and size of it alone, along with its horrid climate, is an obstacle in and of itself. The game then goes out of control with the random weather tables.
We get some detailed information on Frost Giant culture, and since they are the primary antagonists of the gods, this is extremely welcome. Both their violent nature and their treacherous cunning and duplicity is outlined in full. Jotunheim’s other inhabitants are giant animals (good), the hated and terribly cunning frost giants (check!), Hags (check!), Remorhaz (uh…) Bears (check!), Winter Wolves (fucking Check!) and Trolls (in this game represented by Ogre stats for some vague reason, but fuck it, check!). It also has CryoHydra’s in the random encounter tables but fuck it, we are rolling with it, making anything with the cold subtype technically admissible. In an amusing addition, random encounter tables are presented for both lesser and greater gods, so the realm may be used on both levels of power (i.e 17 HD Polar Bears). Some basic bitch quest ideas are given for Jotunheim, but since all of them are kind of good (negotiate a truce, investigate a disturbance or hunt a magical thing) they are worthy of some merit.

Nidavellir is a giant mountain with noneuclidean tunnels filled with assholish dwarves and other monsters. To even enter Nidavellir you must find the secret entrance, which is typically done by HAVING REALLY HIGH NUMBERS IN THE SPOT SKILL NO BAD D20 BAD. Above its silver gate is written ENTER ALL WHO ARE WELCOME. A mean-spirited trick, for none are truly welcome in Nidavellir, setting the stage for your overall customer experience.
Nidavellir is a realm of smoke-wreathed darkness and no one has any fun. If you are unaided by sorcery expect to either solve shitloads of riddles as they point you to the right direction, sometimes incredibly counter-intuitively (i.e take a right, take the 8th corridor then turn back the way you came). Inhabitants on the random tables are just standard underground monsters, laaazy, although I guess any of the cavern dwelling monstrosities of the DnD monstrous manual would not be terribly out of place in Norse myth (with the Behir and the Basilisk admittedly pushing it). For whatever reason we learn that the world of Ragnarok does have humanoids, but only two races max. While it seems arbitrary, I approve of an evil humanoid cap in any game so I shall let it slide. I’m going to give this one a warning whistle for laziness but no timeout.
Despite all this, the section on Dwarf culture is great (Norse Dwarves are all horribly bitter misanthropes beholden to no god whose only passion is craftsmanship for which they ask a high price) and the adventure ideas for coming to Nidavellir all involve either obtaining an item, finding an item, commissioning an item or rescuing someone (probably a human bride). Nidavellir is interesting enough to pass muster, though not as strong as Jotunheim.

Now to the adventure proper: The Bride of Grivensir. An actual linear adventure with branching pathways that takes place all over creation, for Deities of level 7-9?!? Fucking sign me up.

As the adventure begins the gods are feasting in Valhalla. Prince approves of this. Odin interrupts the festivities by describing a horrid vision he has had of an unknown Giant wearing a flaming ring and going all post-breakup Tommy Wiseau in the Room on Asgard, going so far as to crack Odin’s Throne over his knee and stabbing him in the heart. And even worse, somehow Midgard is connected to it! After that the players have a chance to make a knowledge (History and Legend) check to figure out the obvious, shit is connected to Ragnarok, we got this! The game then provides a long list of reasons for the god’s patrons on wanting to check this out in case your PCs are fucking dense and they don’t pick up on the fact that this is serious shit.

After this, three things can happen. The Player’s either consult with Odin and check out Mimir’s well. Pretty sweet option, drinking from it grants you visions and three riddles that must be solved in order to get to a certain dwarf who might know more about the ring (not having the riddles means trouble). The game pulls a chickenshit option by allowing for the GM to consent to Solve Riddle rolls if the players are too fucking stupid to figure out the (classic but easy) riddles, but why allow for rolls at all? What if they fucking fail? There is a chance the water makes you sick, but there are no enemies near Mimir’s well nor an opportunistic band of Jotun Raiders so this effect is mostly flavor text.

Option number 2 is kind of bizarre and cryptic since only someone well versed in the Norse Pantheon would even consider it, consult with Balder. Balder is a pretty cool guy and just flat out tells you he has been having the visions too, gives you a totally rad magical navigation amulet, and tells you to find the Dwarf since he saw him in a vision and they are connected. Uh…that was easy.

Option number 3 is like a stupid player trap and that is why I love it. It is exactly what Thor would do. Father has had troublesome visions of Giants? SHARPEN YOUR SWORDS. WE SAIL FOR JOTUNHEIM AT DAWN! Once you arrive at Jotunheim with no idea of the Giant’s identity and no clue about what to do, you wander aimlessly until you encounter a Giant in a giant house and his two talking Winter Wolves. I like it that they are not aggressive until proper introductions have been made, after which the Giant Gnord proceeds to hurl threats and insults at the PCs until they either leave or beat the shit out of him. Gnord surrenders at 25% hp (what if he doesn’t? The game has no alternative, but presumably, the PCs could follow some alternative route or interrogate some other giant instead), naming as villain the particularly assholish giant Hrothgar, who may or may not have bragged about finally getting his wish and totally going to break Odin’s throne over his knee. Gnord doesn’t know where he is but does know an evil Hag who knows more. Frieda is a classic witch, dressed in a robe with a crow on her hut that cries visitors and shit. If the Pcs want their info they must slay a FUCKING POLAR WORM for her pet Remorhaz and bring it so it can eat it. After a grueling journey, they had better have read the monstrous manual since fucking Polar Worms EXPLODE UPON DEATH. The Battle proper is interesting, the Polar worm has some nice ambush tactics, and more importantly even after it has been killed (and presumably prevented from exploding somehow), how are you going to transport the Corpse of a Huge Polar Worm across a day’s worth of frigid wasteland? Nice, a thinky part with no fixed solution or as it is called in D20 terms, A CR 7 conundrum. The witch will then answer a single fucking question by gazing into a crystal ball (classic!), but the idea is that it leads you to the dwarf. In a totally bullshit copout move, the witch will not reveal this information under any form of coercion, even to preserve her life. Gay.

Onward it is then, to random corridor land. The section in Nidavellir starts of in the most interesting of fashions by HAVING THE PARTY ROLL A WILDERNESS SKILL TO FIND A PATH IF THAT FAILS THEY MUST ROLL AN INTUIT DIRECTION SKILL TO FIND A PATH. After that they must roll really high to find a door, or if that fails, use some sort of magic spell to find the entrance into Nidavellir, followed by a rune or a magical spell to open the gate. I am alright with the second part since A) The PCs are gods and should have little trouble obtaining said abilities and B) entrance into dwarf-land should feel difficult. After they have entered Nidavellir, the map is essentially a bunch of loosely connected hubs, each with 12 possible means of egress. The adventure presents you with a series of connected hubs that form the path to Svendari the Dwarven artificer (if you know where to go or have the magic amulet), and adds some random extra paths if you don’t (i.e you took the fucking stupid option and went to Jotunheim). Foolishness stacks, although the game throws you a bone by pointing out that anything more then 6 hubs to reach the dwarf is excessive and boring, which feels meta-gamey to me, but also seems like its good GMing so I will let it slide.

The Nidavellir section feels too much like regular DnD, with its share of Magma elementals, an Otyugh, a Purple Worm and Ropers. It is nice that the PCs can unfuck themselves by using Diplomacy, tact and intelligent play on a certain Dwarf they meet. In fact diplomacy and negotiation happens more often in this section then one would think. For a d20 module that’s damn near good design.
There are some nice hints of interesting design and description here, hammering home the mythical feel. A band of trolls that are so dumbfounded that they don’t know how to respond to the party’s intrusion at first. A great shaft without means in or out that can either be scaled (extremely difficult), or navigated via levitating platform. A cursed hoard of treasure, more then the eye can see, that punishes thieves and can only be circumnavigated by solving a puzzle/riddle essentially.
Two nitpicks: The game lists 20 hobgoblins as a CR 10 encounter but if I know my stats correctly 20 hobgoblins would not even be a speedbump to a band of 7-9 level deities. My second gripe is the treasure, which is boring (gold pieces) and kind of useless (what are you going to buy, it seems out of place in Valhalla). When you finally get to the Artificer (which can theoretically lead to what might be a TPK if the PCs are impolite and stupid), you learn that he is brewing a potion to protect Hrothgar from a magical fire so he can rescue a transformed princess and marry her to gain access to a wish so he can destroy Odin. That…is fucking awesome, and the accompanying faery tale used to explain this bizarre instance perfectly nails the weird mythical/faery tale vibe this adventure should be going for. Nice. Svendari needs to be persuaded to part the fuck with the potion he is making which he will do if you get him a wife. The alternative is fighting a level 19 wizard. I hope you are good at grappling. And thus begins part deux of the adventure.

In part II the players must travel to Midgard to persuade a lady named Helga to leave the Jarl she is married too so she can marry an insane and ugly dwarf instead. I like it that the adventure at least mentions that your PCs, being PCs, might decide to do something completely fucking different like waiting for Hrothgar to beat the shit out of him when he comes looking for his potion for example. This one assumes your PCs will kindly do whatever the dwarf tells them. This is a more freeform encounter in an open field, beautiful snow-covered lands forming a very subtle and ironic backdrop to the events that must transpire. The situation is open-ended and allows for multiple solutions, even if some of those solutions are not technically allowed to good-aligned characters. You can opt to just kidnap the lady, an option that involves a considerable amount of opposition even if you scout out the camp at night first. I also like it that there is no map, as though Phythyon, for all his flaws, had actually played DnD before.

The scenario is remarkably complex, with diplomatic solutions being complicated by the bride’s father Bjorn and the Valkerie Siglinde. There is actually a perfect solution to the scenario, but it is subtle. Also points for giving NO DC to this whole endeavour (though the fucking game does give you the option of making a DC 15 wisdom check to come up with the answer, fucking garbage). The negotiations are further complicated with treachery, a giant melee involving female berserkers and honorable single combat (or treacherous Murder-make) with a Valkerie in the chaos of open war. VALHAAAALLAAAAAH. Fucking awesome.
This section is good because it keeps many things into account and offers many different resolutions that give the GM something to work with, while allowing room for individual interpretation. The only bullshit part is that if the players use Stealth to rescue the bride from her cowardly and villainous father they must pass 6 fucking tests total. Bullshit. As they return the bride to the Dwarf the adventure gives you options for the type of deal they made with Svendari, so as to determine what kind of an asshole he is: ( 1) complaining old-woman 2) typical beta-faggot cuck 3) John Tarnowski or post-Patrickocalypse Zak).

The last segment has the heroes travel to the tomb of a cursed princess to rescue her before Hrothgar gets there. Some meta-gamery hints for adjusting Hrothgar’s warband strength are given but fuck that. Amusingly enough, the tomb is not located in Niflheim or some other epic location but simply in a non-descript section of the middle kingdom of Midgard. The tomb proper has another puzzle: A row of letters you must step on in the right order to pass through the room (does anyone know in what adventure that shit first appeared? I swear to god I have seen that puzzle before). Only they are not letters they are runes. If you want to know on what Rune to step you must…you guessed it bitches, solve more fucking riddles. If you allow players to have a description of each rune the riddle is painfully easy to solve. If not…fuck. The idea is neat though. The conclusion is an epic showdown in a room of almost video-gamery proportion, complete with magic fire, a Shield guardian fight and the possibility of Hrothgar and his motley crew already having shown up. A nice detail is that Hrothgar’s warband, as well as the trolls earlier in the adventure, do not fight to the death. The adventure probably concludes with the gods saving Princess Miranda and righting a great wrong. Other then the fact the sorcery of an elf can be used to harm Odin, King of Gods, the premise of this adventure kicks fucking ass.

Pros: Fleshes out two of the Nine realms. Interesting mythical adventure.

Cons: Pointless deity race stats. Pointless berserker class. No new monsters. Pointless skills. Occasionally breaks its mythical feel with bog standard DnD monsters.

So on to brass tax: Is Doom of Odin a good supplement to Ragnarok. Partial success. The inclusion of races, berserker prestige classes and other tomfoolery, while theoretically useful for the adventure, doesn’t really have that much of a purpose. The descriptions of the two realms of Yggdrasil does make writing adventures in them easier. But this is all window dressing for what is basically an adventure with some gameable content bolted to it. The Bride of Grivensir is…fucking weird, in a sort of good way. It can feel a bit too generic and DnDery at times (i.e it feels like you are playing DnD with a viking coat-of-paint as opposed to Viking Deity the Game with DnD rules) and there is virtually no treasure, which does not have to be a problem, also the Challenge Rating system is fucked up if people don’t have the recommended amount of magical shit per adventurer but fuck that noise, but the overal premise is pretty fucking neat. There is a good combination of negotiation, riddling, beating the shit out of people and honest to god TALKING in a d20 adventure. In fact, I think you can do worse then run this wonky, epic and faery-tale esque Norse romp. As far as d20 adventures go, it ain’t too shabby, if a bit linear. I’d give it a solid 7 for effort. Coupled with the rest of the book and the more lackluster elements, that adds up to a 6.5. It’s a good supplement that should enrich any entirely hypothetical people that are running Ragnarok campaigns now. But fuck it this one was an unexpected succes.

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