Thursday, January 5, 2012

Isgerd's Fury: A Sample Ship for the Black City

Spoken by Heidrek Palson, captain of the Isgerd's Fury:

Welcome to Thule!  We've made it across the whale-road, but before you run off half-aimed into the ruins, we'll set up a camp up the beach and unload the ship.  I'll give you some quick pointers about life on Thule so you don't end up feeding the ravens.

There to the north, where you see the rock wall and the weak smoke coming from a cluster of huts and wood halls - that's Trade Town.  It's run by a Jarl named Bergfinn, and his honor guard keeps the law.  Here on the beach, everyone is subject to Bergfinn's laws - and they're mainly in place to limit the feuds.  There's not much to the town, a mead hall and a smithy, and a place to barter and trade.  Bergfinn's crew arrives at the beginning of summer, same as us.  In return for safety and use of the beach, we give Bergfinn a cut of what we find.  There's a dusk-skinned wizard from the sun-scorched lands that lives in a tower up the cleft from Trade Town, and the wizard pays good silver for artifacts from the city.  They say he returns to his home in the hot lands each night, carried on the wind by a genie.

Look down the beach - you see another half dozen ships pulled ashore like us, making camps?  Most of them are Norwegians from Trondelag, but a few are from the south - Bergen, or the Vik.  From time to time you'll see some Swedes or Danes.  More ships may come as the summer waxes, and they'll start to leave as the captains lose people to the ruins, or run out of supplies.  Bergfinn's laws keep the peace out here on the beach, but it's different in the ruins.  Watch your backs or you'll feed the ravens.

The ruins are a few miles up the shore from Trade Town.  There aren't good places to beach the sea-steeds near the city, it's always misty, and there's always ice in the water, so we make camp down here.  Many folks head to the ruins with picks and shovels and try to excavate treasures right on the surface.  If you're brave, you might use the hole at the Well of Woe to climb down to the tunnels beneath the city, where the treasure is better.

Men that are clever and lucky are able to find sparkling gemstones, triangles of gold and platinum, and things with strange eldritch writings favored by the wizard of the tower.  Find stuff like that, and we'll all go home wealthier men.  But there are snow beasts in the ruins, and they say the dead come back to life in the tunnels under the city and hunt the living.  You'll have plenty of chances to prove you belong in Valhalla.  It's not any safer out here on the shore; the island is infested with the white bears, and they're not afraid of attacking a man.  Don't go anywhere without a good spear.

But first, we need to get camp set up, so we don't freeze to death and feed the ravens ourselves.  Pull the hide tents and wood off the boat, we'll build a covered shelter in one of these dugouts and start a fire.  It doesn't get much warmer all summer, so we bring enough wood and peat to keep a low fire burning the entire time we're on land.  We'll use the ship's hull as a wind-break.  Get a move on, you coal-chewers!

This is the type of background information that will show up in the player's guide for first time visitors to the Black City.  Isgerd's Fury is a default ship usable for one-shots, and Captain Palson makes for a good starter patron.  Either Palson or his first mate, Dag the Proud, are a sources of knowledge and rumors, as this is their second summer guiding a crew to the ruined city.

Below is a list of supplies brought along for a two-month stay on the island.  There's enough food for 16 weeks - 3-4 weeks there and back, and another 8-10 weeks for the summer exploration season.  For groups that are just interested in kicking open doors and bashing monsters, the DM can ignore the logistics and assume it's managed by the NPC's.  For groups that enjoy resource challenges, I'd take things a step further - it's necessary for someone to forage for local food at least once a week to stave off scurvy, as months of preserved rations are insufficient to stay healthy.  Foraging for fresh food includes fishing, hunting seals, walruses, whales, reindeer, and bears, and gathering sea bird eggs - eating fresh meats wards off scurvy.

Here's an inventory on what a Knarr might bring on a journey to Thule, to provision a crew of 16 for a summer-long stay on the islands:

Standard rations, 112 days
Preserved rations, 1680 days
Dry goods barrels, 36 barrels
Beverages - water, mead, beer, 1792 days
Fluid barrels, 36 barrels
Trade goods, 1 quarter ton
Lumber for ship repairs, 1 cord of ship lumber
Extra mast, 1 mast
Extra sail, 1 sail
Spears, 16 items
Axes, 10 items
Knives, 16 items
Blankets and bedrolls, 16 items
Wooden shields, 32 of them
Personal Armor (leather), 16 suits
Personal Gear, 16 backpacks
Winter Clothing, 16 sets
Sea Trunks, 16 trunks
Oars, 8 units
Rope, 10 50' lengths
Tents, 16-man capacity
Cooking Gear, 4 kits
Carpentry tools, 1 kit
Picks and Shovels, 16 tools
Block and Tackle, 1 unit
Wood/peat for fuel, 3 cords
Wooden dinghy, 1 boat

Excluding personal gear in the backpacks and sea trunks, a summer-long expedition would cost around 5,500 sp to outfit, using the silver standard, not counting the cost of the ship.  Once players are 3rd or 4th level, they're in a position to buy and outfit their own ship.  The cargo (including player gear) accounts for around 19 tons - a knarr could carry 25 tons, so there's even a little room to spare.

Isgerd's Fury is sponsored by a local lord back home, Hirsir Thorgeir Sigmundson, and he'll expect the ship's expenses to be paid, plus a share of the profits.  If the summer exploration of the ruins goes poorly, it's not unheard of to leave early and raid the coast of England for cattle and thralls to recoup some costs and build a reputation.

The crew consists of 14 sailors (player characters included), plus the captain and mate.  A knarr only needs a few rowers at any time to help the tiller keep the ship tacking properly, so most of the crew act as marines.  NPC sailors could also be mercenaries and hirelings.  The ship needs at least 4 sailors and a captain to survive to make it home; it's not unheard of for crews to band together late in the summer if their original ships have suffered heavy losses on the island.

One of the strategies the captain likes to use each year is to follow the Norwegian coast to Lappland, trading with the Lapps for fresh food, and then sailing for Bear Island (once again foraging for fresh food).  The stops along the Norwegian coast and at Bear Island allow for sleeping on land each night.  However, while the coastal route minimizes the amount of time on the open sea, it is fraught with pirates amongst the numerous fjords.

For campaign play, the trip along the coast to Lappland would take 10-15 days, depending on weather.  The captain's course to Bear Island takes 3-5 days, and then from Bear Island to Thule is another 4-6 days.


  1. That's a good way of introducing players to the setting. And I like that you're keeping it in the 'real world'. Makes the fantastic stand out more.

  2. Dude! This is awesome! I want to play in this game.

  3. Can't wait for this to come out. It's really given me some great ideas for my own campaign setting. Also I am getting Dwarf Fortress flash-backs. Did I pack enough Plump Helmets? Will Urist survive after being mauled by a Honey Badger?