When the Wolf Comes: An Interview with Ian Stuart Sharpe

When the Wolf Comes is an new RPG written by Ian Stuart Sharpe, creator of the Vikingverse. His RPG uses the Shadow of the Demon Lord rules and mixes Norse myth and magic with technology. Ian was kind enough to talk to me about his new RPG.

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Charles Dunwoody (CD): Thanks for talking with me, Ian. If you had one paragraph to explain the setting of the Vikingverse, how would you describe it?
Ian Stuart Sharpe (ISS):
The Vikingverse is a parallel timeline where the Norse rule seas and stars with restless fleets, a pagan present that results when Odin escapes his fate at Ragnarök and throws history to the wolves. It forms the setting for When the Wolf Comes RPG and involves a retelling of our own past with a twist—what if the Vikings never lost a single battle? Imagine a world Christianity itself was put to the Viking sword and where the All Father gifted his people gunpowder to thwart the Mongol horde!

CD: Cultural detail including spelling of Norse names permeates the Vikingverse. How can players and GMs use this rich information to increase the enjoyment of playing a campaign in the setting?
ISS:
I was keen to build on the success of my Old Norse for Modern Times phrasebook. We had great fun translating phrases like “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” (Eigi ero þetta velmennin er leitar þú at) or “Roll for initiative!” (Kasta þú fyrir frumkvæði!) into the original Viking tongue. As you read through the When the Wolf Comes rulebook, you will stumble upon many words that are unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce. Now, because this is a roleplaying game and not a language course, we don’t expect gamers to wrestle with ð and þ and roll their rrrrrr’s at the ends of every word. But if you are going to unleash your inner Norseman or woman, I think it helps to make the setting as authentic as possible. Besides, after all those waves of Norse invaders into the British Isles, the language isn’t too far removed: make no mistaka about it—from byrðr (birth) until we deyja (die), the raw energy of the Norse shapes many of our words. Just look at a Viking the rangr way, and he might þrysta a knifr into your skulle!

CD: The tech level mixes low tech and high tech. What is are some examples of high tech and how do Vikings use the greenways to traverse a myriad of different exoplanets?
ISS:
Because everything in the Vikingverse is seen through a Norse lens, I like to have fun with familiar phrases and people. For instance, you might be familiar the Third law of Arnþórr C. Klakkr: any sufficiently advanced galdar is indistinguishable from technology. There are some related visual gags in the book, such as translating E=MC2 into runes. Norse magical tradition is marked by sacrifice and ritual, etched in secrets and blooded in war. Spells can shape the future, weave webs of battle or spin charms that harness primal forces. But the path of the Wise is not simply one of mystery, dependent on divine power or the tides of fate: it is a path of discovery and learning. In fact, the most common word for “magical” in the Norse lexicon is fjölkyngi, which means great knowledge. Take the Gand craft by way of example, a branch of spells that require an understanding of the primal forces from which the worlds were formed. Practitioners can control the elements, manipulating root-particles and sister-particles to hurl projectiles or seize the wind. The craft was once the preserve of Finnar sorcerers in their mountain retreats—gandrekr who shot spell-arrows and curses over vast distances—but is increasingly dominated by purpose-built machines who are able to handle its intricacy and complexity. Modern gand is a matter of atmospherics, sonic weaponry and gravity manipulation. Another facet of the Vikingverse is that Yggdrasil of myth is a literal worlds-spanning tree, and the most ancient groves carry her signal like antenna. They allow the transfer and reassembly of the spirit and shape, much like a teleporter. They exist only in heartwoods, the oldest of groves made of yew trees that were gnarled and twisted when Sumeria was young, or pines as old as the Pyramids. A traveller must either know the correct keysong or be accompanied by someone who does, but then they might step between the Niu Heimar and discover other mythical worlds recast as exoplanets.

CD: What types of characters can players look forward to playing in your RPG?
ISS:
All of the player origins and paths are drawn from the sagas, eddas and ancient mythology, but have those blueprints brought bang up to date. There is a lot that should be familiar to RPG fans, but hopefully plenty that is unique. In making the game an authentically Norse as possible, I have gone back to the earliest sources. The “elves” of the Vikingverse are not Tolkien’s pointy eared archers or Victorian faerie folk. They are spirits, pattern-welded into weapons - and for all their dazzling brilliance, they harbor hearts as cold as stone. The resulting álfar are something much closer to their original mythic form—demons of the dead. Similarly, I have recast dwarves to suit the setting: it is startling that, in the early Norse sources, there is no mention of their being short! The literal smallness of the dwarves was a product of Christianization, earlier texts like the Völuspá mention only that they were the product of the primordial blood of Brimir and the bones of Bláinn. So, my dvergar are sentient machines, raised from the bones of worlds and forged into crafty and cunning thralls. Their earthy nature and short lifespans make them volatile and unpredictable, much like fantasy dwarves, but they can some in all shapes and sizes. And if those origins don’t appeal, you might try the monstrous Children of the Ironwood, the genetically enhanced jötnar, the cybernetic Sons of Ivaldi, or the ravenous orcneas.

CD: What types of adventures do Viking adventurers go on?
ISS:
The core rulebook comes with an adventure for beginner players that hopefully sets the stage. The players begin in a remote backwater on a ruined Midgard, charged with escorting a dying man on his last journey, only to find themselves drawn into a bitter blood feud. It is a tale of sacrifice and sorrow, involving the twilight of gods and menn, that builds on my novel The All Father Paradox. The adventure starts with classic Norse set pieces, like a ritual holmgang, and the, over the course of the full campaign, deals with undead draugr, house burnings, dökkálfar incursions, ice bears, and eventually classic Viking ship battles. In space of course! A key concept in the game is honor. A Norse hero was ultimately defined by his or her social position and deeds. The range of behaviors in Norse society ran the gamut from drengskapr to níðr, and to reflect that in the game, player characters have Honour and Shame scores that track the deeds they commit. A virtuous character will earn fame and admiration that will ensure his name will live on. Conversely, the more shameful a character becomes, the more of a social pariah they become, until they are beyond redemption.

CD: What tools will GMs get to help in creating adventures and building worlds?
ISS:
The rulebook includes a few things to help get players started. First, the full alternate timeline, shown in parallel to real word history. I think it helps to understand how in-universe events like the Jötunn War (itself a subject of a series of 4 comics) mirror our own World War 2. Second, there is a whole list of Norse Nicknames such as Manvitsbrekka (Wit Breaker) to Meinfretr (Harm Fart) to help set the scene. Ultimately, if you are a fan of Norse mythology, the Vikings TV show, or the Icelandic sagas, you will have plenty of material to inspire you. In game, I use a concept called Threads of Fate or ørlögþættir to help drive stories. Threads of Fate are designed to be implemented during character creation to help integrate player character backstories into the upcoming adventure. Each player character gets a thread, either terrible or seemingly benign, but usually an event of lasting consequence. It is up to the Games Master to weave them into the adventure ahead, but the story hooks are either inspired by legendary sagas or drawn from the novels in the Vikingverse. My favorite example is “You own a sooty-red cockerel that crows so loudly it can wake the dead.” That comes with all kinds of consequences!

CD: Ragnarök is an optional element that presents the end of the world as a variety of dooms on a d20 table. This option really ratchets up the tension and horror of the setting. Which of the prophesied events is your favorite and why?
ISS:
Much like the rule system for Shadow of the Demon Lord, the Vikingverse faces a cascade of catastrophe. The desperate struggle of the Jötunn War, the scream of the Worlds Tree Yggdrasil, the throngs of the dead on the Hel-ways—all this and more was long foretold. Bursting his fetters, the Wolf runs free: Ragnarök has finally arrived, and the players have ringside seats. All of the events are, as usual, drawn from Norse texts, in this case the Völuspá. I am a big fan of the Jötnar Rebellion: “From the east drives Hrym, a new jötnar Messiah. Overnight, refugee camps descend into an orgy of violence. Chaos and upheaval spread as the jötnar gather into bands to renew their struggle.” Obviously, this kind of prophesy was what inspired the Jötunn War comics, and by extension, When the Wolf Comes.

CD: What other support is there beyond the core book, in print or upcoming?
ISS:
I’ve started releasing the Thought & Memory Saga, a full campaign that helps showcase the mythic, Norsepunk nature of the setting. The first six adventures are live of DriveThruRPG now. Coming up soon, we’ll be publishing the first expansions, focusing on warships, battle in the Ginnugagap, paths of honor and new traditions like Star Magic. Equally important, there are form fillable character sheets and Old Norse pronunciation guides on Vikingverse.com.

CD: Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
ISS:
We kickstarted the game back in summer 2022. This May, I switched publisher to Schwalb Entertainment, owned by Robert Schwalb. I’ll let the Demon Lord himself speak directly to the project (this from the foreword):

This isn’t just some haphazard marriage of Norse mythology and science fiction. Sharpe knows just about everything there is to know about the Norse. This means language, culture, religion, and beliefs, and he has the imagination to realize these elements in a parallel timeline. Sharpe guides you through everything, from history to pronunciation, to help you immerse yourself in this imaginary universe...and he does it splendidly.

Editor: You might also want to have a look at this handy crib sheet to the game!

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Charlie Dunwoody participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and the Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Noble Knight Games.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

It is ever fascinating how widely varied interpretations of the Norse myths can get, especially if one is seeking to avoid the Christian influence.

I also enjoy that Im not the only one who saw fit when examining Dwarfs as a trope to simply ignore the whole "short" stereotype.
 


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