Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mass Effect Hack: Response to Gwathdring

Let's be clear: this would not ordinarily be a blog post, as it is a response to a single person. However, it is also 1800 words long, well overshooting the Story Games character cap.

Let's furnish this post with Big Giant Circles (aka Jimmy Hinson), a musician and remixer (frequently on OCRemix) who worked with Jack Wall on Mass Effect 2, and then again later with Black Ops 2. Some amazing tracks, such as Tali's theme. This was produced after he was not involved in Mass Effect 3 in tribute. A whole album was actually produced, called Legacy, which includes much of his unused work for Mass Effect 2 and draft music. I really love this guy and it's obvious how much he loves this series.

This is a response to Gwathdring's posts HERE ON HIS BLOG (just like this, a posting after having overshot the character limit) and then HERE ON STORY GAMES.

First-off: As for length/harshness, that's no big deal. I'm the same way when I write. So, like, thanks for taking the time to provide such thorough thoughts on the stuff!

Since it's a more fundamental thing, I'll talk about Give Orders as a basic move. On PCs, I see what you mean about it feeling like a Playbook move rather than a Basic move. I actually like the idea of players asserting themselves over each other. Even as a Mass Effect thing. In the series, you don't see it much, but I find that that may have simply been a gameplay concession - no one wants to play a video game where your NPC crew literally refuse to do what you ask them to. Occasionally in cutscenes they express doubt, but even Jack, Javik, and Miranda never outright deny you, because that's kinda rough as a video game thing. Wrex actually DOES deny you, and it's only through orders (whether Paragon or Renegade) that he could be drawn back to a begrudging faith. These are characters with significant flavorful conflicts of interest who rarely, if ever, actually decide on the not-Shepard side of that conflict.
In an RPG though, I'm actually interested in seeing that conflict played out more completely. Every rolebook other than the Veteran comes with a built-in conflict of interest with whoever is the Leader (or just the leader, in a game without that rolebook). The Agent is for their Agency, the Rebel is against a major institution, the Loner is against others in general, the Academic has their own things they're trying to pursue. That sort of pushing your own agenda against the others, despite existing loyalties and relationships, is the sort of thing I think the ApW system is very well-situated to do, and it's possible that this is simply the tone I personally am interested in pursuing. I can absolutely see the
I would also bring up that, just because it's a Basic move doesn't necessarily mean it's actually going to be regularly relevant. I very very rarely roll Seize By Force, or Parley, or many of the basic moves in Sagas of the Icelanders. If I'm distinguishing between Basic and Peripheral moves though, perhaps Give Orders belongs there, despite my own inclinations as to its importance.

Regarding Loyalty, you can give orders to a PC with no Loyalty, and though Loyalty is an easy path to denying Orders, you can totally try denying through Dig In. You've a good point that Dig In feels less appropriately universal though - if it were more like Act Under Fire would that resolve that issue in Give Orders?

I think the important thing to emphasize is that Loyalty isn't just a means to deny orders, but also to issue Orders yourself. It can work in either direction. Loyalty is still a bit of a nebulous system for me. The exact mechanism of denying orders could really use some alteration.
My main goals are to play Loyalty into Give Orders, as I think fictionally those two are very appropriate for each other. Loyalty seems like something you could call upon to push your own agenda, and at the same time like something you can use to support your right to deny being pushed about, but the actual rules for what happens precisely in those situations I am very open to altering.
As for replacing XP with Loyalty is an attempt to draw the Loyalty mechanic further into the game and provide a ready avenue to generate it. Precisely what you can do with Loyalty is still a little up in the air - rather than bringing back XP there, what could I change to make Loyalty a more enticing thing to have?
(I'll mention that I'm drifting away from XP as a mechanic as a whole. Not advancement, that I want to hold on to, but using XP as the means of achieving it isn't looking attractive to me right now).
Loyalty is complicated, and is the main subsystem I am concerned about, so your doubts are certainly understandable.

As for Support Your Team: frankly, the name isn't one of those others in order to avoid the implication that it is a combat-only move. You can cover your allies and take the blame or focus someone's anger on you or distract someone for your team in a non-combat (mainly social) sense as well, and Support Your Team was the best I had at the time.
Definitely with you about the trigger. It's definitely a first draft, and heck, "when you occupy your opponent's complete attention," doesn't sound awful.
I think this move is Draw Aggro. I probably won't call it that, but it's relevant I think.
As for the implication of not-shooting-wildly, you can do your normal, but my clarification is mostly just that SYT-fire isn't strong enough to be considered BA-fire. Your actions (as an individual) aren't about taking down the foe directly or keeping yourself safe, but to allow your team to succeed. If that involves shooting at the enemy a bunch, sure, okay, but it's not like Bold Aggression style dedication to taking down foes.

Bold Aggression's "escalate their threat" still feels okay to me. Many of this style of move incorporate some seemingly odd options: Go Aggro has "barricade themselves securely in", which is totally not a success at all. I like escalation because I find it dramatic, and as long as the MC is thinking about what that NPC would do, oftentimes escalation is actually undesirable - it makes me think of Dogs in the Vineyard, there's a point where escalation is too costly to actually be good for them. And if they don't have any means to escalate, well, they can't pick that option. Maybe I'll add an "If Possible" to the option to make that very explicit.
I agree about the putting yourself in a spot in the process. I think it would be mitigated with as little as a "Potentially" before the clause, giving an out if there's no good fictional reasoning.
As for the basic-shooting stuff, my mind's general position is that, on the whole, it's irrelevant. It's the sort of back-and-forth that just results in momentary weakening of shields. General little gunfights with infantry can often simply be overlooked as just having succeeded. You're pretty awesome. So throwing out basic gun damage isn't really all that important usually I don't think. When it IS relevant, I'd say yes, harm-for-harm, though you get the Shields move to protect you a bit. But, I mean, most fights you play out should require something beyond the just-shooting - if staying generally safe and just shooting away is enough to handle this fight, why do we care that it's even happening?
Also, I'm not all that upset about hesitating about going out and going with Bold Aggression - it IS a scary thing. But it's also very effective.
However, these thoughts regarding lethality are simply from the immediate assumptions I'd been operating under. I haven't yet precisely considered the mechanical implications or fallout of such a decision yet, so we'll see how that actually stays.

Yeah, I'd consider taking shots at people coming around your cover or whatever is totally still a part of the Dig In. I would probably rule that, if logical, they ducked back around the corner or some such (maybe their shield ate the shot, maybe not, who cares) but they can't actually get to you unless you stop focusing on safety. Maybe chasing after that corner guy is enough to be focused on something else! When they're bearing down on you but you're still staying safe, you're fine, but when you finally get up you're gonna have a mountain of trouble on your hands - and you can't win fights if you're staying safe. At that point, the MC probably wants to cut over to what the others are doing. If there's a couple of you Digging In together, it's not inconceivable that you can work up a Crazy Plan. Speaking of that...

I too wasn't satisfied with Crazy Plan. It took the longest to write, and it wasn't quite right, but it was the last thing produced for the first posting and I didn't want to just leave it blank. Manoeuvre is interesting - I haven't read The Sprawl but I get the feeling that my own Move With Intention (from Avatar World) was cut from the same cloth. So I really do like that move, but I have the same misgivings I have with my own MWI: That's a lot of little numerical alterations, without much direct recourse into the fiction. But it's got my mind spinning in a different direction, which is definitely good. Those Soldier playbook moves are also amazing.

Imposing is an awesome third trait, goin' with that (or some synonym). Doesn't do much tomake Turians any more interesting to me personally as a species, but it's definitely a great defining characteristic, and sounds not-crazy to turn into a move of some kind.

With regard to the gaps in the basic moves: In many ways I agree. A formal way to transmit information in order to provide such a sense of what wasn't picked up on is an excellent point I'd totally not thought of. While I don't want such a move to become dominant, I won't rule out building one up as a Peripheral move. For ways of establishing non-hierarchical relationships, well, you can have a position of authority over someone without it being literally a position of organizational dominance; if you can justify how you're dominant in the matter at hand (including, but not limited to, literal organizational station), that's enough. Of ocurse, that's not very hard or mechanical.
Mission? Yeah, I'm covering that, it's just in other places. I'm going back and forth between having several different sorts of Mission moves inside of various playbooks, eg the Leader's mission, the Agency's goal, the Academic's research, etc, or going with a more static Peripheral-type move that would be applied to the Leader, or to whoever is actually in charge if a Leader is absent. It's in flux, but yup, I'm thinking abou tit already.
I definitely agree about Crazy Plan still not doing enough, so hey, I'll make another pass at it.

I DID atually intend to make it clear how open-book it is throuh MC principles, which are still absent. I agree about the potential of how the moves actually allow for greater exposition even when the MC is technically open-book, so I'm gonna think on how I can make that work. There's definitely some bias here: the ApW games I play in use the Read a ___ moves only rarely, and I play a LOT of Monsterhearts which doesn't even have a real version of those moves, so I do a lot of play where Observational moves end up feeling a bit redundant or unnecessary. I understand their power, I just have a hard time writing them since I'm not particularly fond of playing with them generally.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Songs: Aion - Forgotten Sorrow (English Version)

NOTE: if you have contacted me since Thursday, I am taking a break from internet communities due to mental fatigue and a ton of work. I was in a hit & run (I am physically 100% fine), my car was totaled and has been replaced by a car that is almost exactly the same, and in other news I have plans for Avatar World things and Mass Effect things but have critiques I will be working through first. Thank you to Gwathdring for the ME one and  Mad_Mad_Chris for the AvW one, I am excited to go through and respond to them when I get back. I will be returning to the internet at some point between tomorrow and Wednesday afternoon. Thank you for your patience. And now, Sunday Songs.

I know absolutely nothing about Aion beyond that it is a game. Like, literally nothing else. Genre, setting, plot, characters, none of it. Well, I guess I know one thing: its soundtrack is awesome.

Attack the Unison
Blue Forest
Dream of the Shepherd
Flying Dragon
Gods of the Plague
Heaven's Gate
Kingdom of Light
Raging Strings (this one kicks major ass)
Red Land
Step to the Next World (this one's also pretty amazing)
Voices From The Ruins

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mass Effect Hack: Breaking Down the Canonical Squad Members

I didn't even know there was this extra song until Chip showed off the DLC, and I really like it. Of course, the entire MGR:R soundtrack is amazing to me.

Okay, so yesterday someone expressed their interest in how I've split up the official Mass Effect characters into my archetype playbooks. I replied in a comment, but on second thought it was worth a whole post now that I've down my heavy lifting.

Let's start with the division I came up with:
Leaders: Commander Shepard, Miranda, James.
Agents: Ashley, Kaiden, Jacob.
Rebels: Garrus, Jack, Kasumi. As a relevant aside, I've not played Kasumi's DLC so I am unsure of the precise nuances of her character.
Veterans: Wrex, Javik, Za'eed.
Loners: Grunt, Thane, Samara, Legion.
Academics: Liara, Tali, Mordin, EDI.
So the most important thing, more so than anything else, is that this division is built for a balanced split between the archetypes. While I agree that every categorization there is a decent way to interpret the characters, I would also argue that most characters could easily be considered in multiple lights, and that many characters changed over the course of the series. My big example is Liara, who started the series as an Academic, but also became an Agent in ME2. In ME3 you could easily put her into Leader as well, but the Academic side of things takes over again. Some are clear-cut: Garrus is a Rebel, and no other playbook quite fits as well for him. Mordin could be seen as a Veteran; Tali could be seen as a Leader; Javik could be seen as a Loner or a Leader; Samara could be seen as an Agent, and the list goes on. But this particular division puts a decent spin on every character while gaining a 3/3/3/3/4/4 split, if I assume that I've pegged Kasumi right (as I noted, I don't know her well).

The only major problem I have with this split is that all the Leaders and Agents are humans. It has less to do with not being able to understand others as Leaders or as Agents but more that the more generic human characters (Ashley, Jacob, James) are much harder to tilt as anything else. I could be pushed to call Kaiden a Rebel in attitude, or maybe James as a Veteran I guess. But I'm okay with it for now, I just wanted to call out that I'm aware of the quirks of this list.
Well, that's all I wanted to say. Thanks for listenin'!

End Recording,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mass Effect Hack: Loyalty, Shields, Role Move Concepts

I have no idea what Ciel Nosurge is but its soundtrack is pretty fantastic. So, uh, check it out.

Hey, so I'm back with more Mass Effect. This is becoming more of an actual thing I'm doing than I expected. It's a lot of fun to do in my downtime though.
Where we left off last time, I'd written the Stats, Basic Moves, Role Playbook Concepts, and Species Move Concepts. Here's the new shit:


So initial Loyalty is decided by the usual questions late in character creation, same as Hx. No need to futz with what's working well. The main place Loyalty comes into play is in the Give Orders move. I've already established that Loyalty can be spent to automatically get a 7-9 or all of it can be spent to deny a successful order. The change is that I'm generating Loyalty with the move as well, in the place of where it gave XP before.
I'm also considering giving a +1 Loyalty boost to those who Support Their Team, but that's not final yet. I feel like I'm not making enough use of Loyalty, but I think a decent variety of Loyalty or Give Orders-related moves is mitigating that a bit.

Loyalty runs on a 0 to 2 or 3 track - I haven't decided on the maximum yet. Kinda leaning at 2.


Here's an important thing right off the bat: Armor, Biotic Barriers, and Kinetic Shields are all the same mechanically. What it is is flavor. They all function exactly the same, though the fictional differences can alter a situation in narrative ways. I'm calling it Shields regardless.
Shields is a stat, ranked 1 or 2 by default (depending on playbook). Harm is handled as a move.
When you take serious fire, roll + Shields. On a 10+, your defenses weather the danger intact. On a 7-9, choose one:
    * Your defenses are down, your Shields are 0 until you have time to repair them (can't take this option if Shields are already 0).
    * Something important is broken.
    * You're in major trouble if your team doesn't rescue you right away.
That second option should be handled as harshly as the fiction would dictate. Actual damage to characters is narrative, motivated by Hard Moves. Death is something the MC should consult the player about if it seems like a logical conclusion, but save it for dramatic situations.
Oh yeah, and when I say "serious fire" I mean serious. A couple bullets are the assumed damage you're regularly taking as part of the general situation of battle. Just like throwing a couple bullets downrange isn't Bold Aggression, it's not serious harm to take that.

Role Playbook Move Concepts

So here's the deal: every Role Playbook has 4 moves. The standard for these hacks is 6 or 7, but your Species Playbook also brings in 3 of its own for you to play with. At chargen, you get two move choices, split across your two playooks.
Anyway, I have basic concepts, though not hard mechanics yet.

The Leader:
* Inspiring. This is related to Give Orders.
* Misson. This is its own thing.
* Trustworthy. This plays to Loyalty.
* A move about some sort of bonus when Supported, missing a name.

The Agent:
(x) Agency: Not a selectable move, this is an automatic one that doesn't take up one of your move choices. It's basically to establish the details of your Agency (Cerberus, the Alliance Military, the STG, the Shadow Broker, whatever). You pick three of:
    - Influential (holds major political or social power)
    - Wealthy (has many resources)
    - Idealist (is driven by a "noble" motive)
    - Supportive (provides noticeable aid and access to agents)
    - Appreciated (the public is fond of the Agency)
* Official Station. You have a public position recognized by others, and can draw on the hierarchy's assets.
* Believer. You have faith in your agency and are strongly motivated.
* Field Command. This is a Give Orders / Support Your Team thing.
* Senior Agent. An inefficient name for a thing using your Experienced stat.

The Rebel:
* Defiant. This acts against Give Orders.
* Stubborn. This is about Dig In socially.
* Your Own Authority. Also about Give Orders.
* Ruthless. No mechanics decided at all yet.

The Veteran:
* Contacts. This is about having people to contact or friend everywhere and stuff like that.
* Keep Fighting. This relates to the Harm ideas.
* Hold The Line. This is about Dig In.
* Well-Traveled. This is about Survey A New Planet.

The Loner:
* Distrusting. This is related to Loyalty.
* Unpredictable. This is about intentionally busting Crazy Plans.
* Private Concerns. A move about when you go off to handle personal matters when the group is doing something else.
* Solo. I'm not sure what mechanics are happening here.

The Academic:
* Specialist. This is a benefit for Biotics or Tech users.
* Codex. This is basically Spout Lore right now.
* Meticulous. This is about Crazy Plans.
* Student. Again, the mechanic is missing here.

So that's where this is at right now. Seeya again soon.
End Recording,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Schoolwork: The Traits Important To The Viking Identity

rain is a PSN game with an interesting aesthetic / atmosphere. I saw the game a bit at PAX, but mostly I just downloaded the soundtrack since the name was familiar to me. It's quite nice. Very melancholy, but very relaxing. I can easily imagine a light rain sound effect drizzling over the entire thing quite nicely.

Well, it's nearing midterm season, and that means I've got a pair of essays due. One is already done and submitted, which is why I can share it today. It's for my class on The Vikings (same professor are The Middle Ages last semester and Early Modern Europe the semester before - I'm a big fan of his). I'll keep this brief. Here's the prompt:

Primary sources from the era of Viking raids in Western Europe (750-1050) are quite diverse. While some documents describe the Vikings as brutal pagan invaders from the North bent on murder and destruction, other sources describe the Vikings as seasoned travelers who possess more admirable traits, including athletic prowess, musical gifts, literacy (the ability to read runes), spiritual sensitivity, poetic gifts, strength, and diplomatic skill.  Write an essay that engages at least 5-7 assigned readings from The Viking Age that provide evidence of these mixed views on the Viking invaders.  What were the main attributes of Viking warriors—positive and negative—during this period?  As you compare and contrast the different documents, be sure to carefully identify the source and author of each document, and the social, political, or religious context of each opinion.  Is there some way that all of these descriptions somehow contain a grain of truth?  You might also comment on this question: Do you think that the Viking raiders from Scandinavia were really all that different from their medieval neighbors in Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, and the Frankish Kingdoms?
As usual, this is my essay, made available so I can potentially receive feedback and to help others learn what I'm learning myself. I'm no expert, so seriously, none of the would-be paper thieves out there should use or even cite this. Still, I think I learned a lot to be able to write the essay, and hopefully you learn something too!
And if you know something about the subject, let me know if I got something right/wrong, or if you have interesting insights or thoughts about it! Same with folks who know things about writing essays! And I do love hearing when just other regular folks get some education out of my work.

With that, here's the essay!

Max / Ego
The Vikings
Warriors, Poets, Pirates: The Traits Important to the Viking Identity
            In the 9th century, the mighty Frankish king Charlemagne had carved out an enormous swathe of land for himself, known as the Carolingian Empire. Stretching from the neck of the Iberian Peninsula, down into Northern Italy, and through about half of modern Germany, the Carolingian Empire was a dominant force in Europe. However, they were not alone. In addition to the people of the British Isles (referred to by their modern name, including Ireland), another group of people, entirely unlike the Christian empire in behavior and belief, was proving itself a force to be reckoned with. These peoples, the Vikings, actually were a number of smaller cultures, but as they were significantly more alike to each other than to the Christians and seemed to hail from the same area, they were often grouped together under one identity. While none of the individual cultures collectively identified as the Vikings were actually identical, the Scandinavian kingdoms and tribes did share many attributes, which can be categorized as warrior traits, personal traits, and societal traits.
            First though, a distinction should be made between the different groups. There were three main groups throughout the 9th century: the Danes, the Norwegians, and the Swedes. The Swedes were less active in the raiding of the British Isles and European mainland, mentioned with significant infrequency throughout the texts of the Franks.[1][2] It is possible that the Swedes were participating in raiding the British Isles, as unlike the Franks (who often referred to specific kings or nationalities of attacks and recognized the distinctions of the Scandinavian peoples)[3], the Irish and English instead tended to call the vikings by more generic terms such as “heathens,” “foreigners,” and “Norsemen.”[4] However, knowledge of the general raiding patterns of the Norwegians and Danes accounts for many of the incidents the Irish and English reported, so the involvement of the Swedes is still likely to be minimal.[5] Both the Danes and the Norwegians were highly active throughout the 9th and 10th centuries, raiding, conquering, and settling. Most of the strikes against continental Europe, especially on the northern coast, were perpetrated by the Danes, while the north and west coasts of Britain, along with Ireland, were mostly targeted by the Norwegians.[6] These raiding and conquering attacks are the primary topics of Viking literature, and almost the only topic discussed by the Christians that gives any insight into the behavior of the vikings.
            Sheer combat ability, ruthlessness, courage, and ability at sea were all elements of a master warrior that were valued by the Vikings. As evidenced by the regular violence exhibited by the Scandinavians, their cultures prized many traits related to war and combat. They were certainly very effective at war; The Annals of Ulster, an Irish history of events, are rife with references to one town after another being plundered, massacred, or burned,[7] with very few Irish victories (only seven, compared to several dozen victories by the vikings over the 47-year except from the Annals)[8]. The vikings were unrelenting in these attacks, destroying whole populations at a time, with very little discrimination between civilians and combatants. One case in 806 reads that “The community of [Iona],” a town that would become a common raid target,” to the number of sixty-eight, was killed by the heathens.”[9] This sort of ruthlessness was not uncommon for Viking raids. One particular example of Viking disregard for whether their victims were soldiers of not was again at Iona. The Irish warrior-aristocrat Blathmac arrived and joined the monastic community when it seemed likely that the Scandinavians would arrive again. Blathmac became a monk and, when the raiders came, he presented himself before them, “with unarmed hand, and with unshaken purpose of mind.” After a brief speech, which the Danish raiders likely understood almost none of, Blathmac, an unarmed man presenting himself before the Vikings, “was torn limb from limb.”[10] Against their foes, the Vikings treasured this ferocity. The pinnacle of this wild battle fervor can be seen in the berserks. As they were described in the Saga of the Ynglings, they “advanced without coats of mail, as mad as dogs or wolves. They bit their shields and were as strong as bears or bulls. They slaughtered men, but neither fire nor iron harmed them.”[11] In the thick of battle, a berserk was a sight to behold. This wasn't as admirable outside of war, but when harnessed against their foes, the incredible capacity for violence was deeply admired. Even King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway was described as cheerful, generous, sociable, and “when he was angry, he was very savage and tortured many of his enemies. Some he burned; some he had torn to pieces by wild dogs; some he had maimed, or thrown from high cliffs.”[12] Ruthlessness and cruelty was not only considered something done in anger; while emotionally satisfying in some cases, it was also often very practical. A leader renowned for being dangerous to their foes helped keep unruly citizens from causing trouble through fear, and the same dangerous reputation acted as a deterrent, keeping other kings at bay.[13] There was an additional factor that made Vikings terrifying to inland communities: while European armies would be forced to contend with their walls, the Vikings' shallow longships could come up the rivers[14] and strike at the exposed side of the community, bypassing the strongest defenses of the community. This additional fear of being defenseless against a swift-arriving and indiscriminate threat made the Vikings powerful, and thus the ability to fight at sea (a difficult trick when you needed to rely on oarsmen for motion and had no ranged artillery to fight with, necessitating hand-to-hand combat[15]) was highly prized among the Scandinavians.
            If the warrior traits were the values treasured with regard to a viking's relationship with their foes, the personal traits are the valued attributes regarding how they treat themselves. The Vikings were a religious (or perhaps superstitious) group, tempered by a sense of personal honor, and had an unquenchable thirst for wealth. Their greed was evidenced most by the constant plundering and looting of the coasts and river communities across Europe and the British Isles. Ireland was repeatedly victimized. The towns were ravaged and their valuables taken[16], and they stole away people to act as servants or to sell.[17] Wealth was the ultimate goal of many of the raids, rather than simple violent savagery or populating an area. If something else had been the goal, Charles the Bald would have been met with much less success when he handed over “7,000 lb [of silver] as a bribe.”[18] Their hunger for booty coincided with another element of their values when it came to raiding monasteries. The Vikings were pagans, and thus were not often on great terms with Christianity. The tendency of 9th Century Christians to move significant amounts of wealth, both material and spiritual, to the monasteries made them prime targets for the Vikings. Slaughter of monks was a routine occurrence when the Scandinavians were around. Iona's monastery was so frequently targeted that the abbot, Diarmot, fled to Scotland with the relics of the monastery for safe-keeping.[19] Destroying monasteries provided a two-fold victory for the Vikings; they could redistribute the monetary situation in their favor, and could strike a blow against Christianity, which had the additional benefit of demoralizing the Christians. Fighting back against Christianity was valuable to the Vikings, who were mostly very religious (the exception being Iceland, a settlement of Norwegians that became a significantly separate identity, who were markedly less public with their religious activities). A proper Viking was expected to be devout and faithful in their life, and explained many phenomena through divine connection or superstition. One example would be the afore-mentioned berserks. The legend of the berserks told in the Saga of the Ynglings tells that the crazed warriors were the worldly warriors of Odin, the one-eyed god who sat at the top of the hierarchy of the Norse mythology.[20] Another element of the Vikings' superstitious nature was their understanding of great weapons, particularly swords. Swords had names that were passed down through time, and these named blades were considered to be their own entities, with special needs and methods of use. A prime example of a sword being treated as a conscious entity is Skofnung, which a Viking named Kormak once attempted to take from Skeggi, it's owner at the time. Skeggi told Kormak that “Skofnung is slow and deliberate whereas you are rash and impatient,” embodying personality traits in the blade, and later, when being given the sword, there were special requirements, such as never allowing the sun to shine on the pommel, never carrying it unless a fight is imminent, and drawing it in a special way.[21] The story tells that, when used improperly, it lost all power in Kormak's hands and lost him the duel.[22] Another story tells of the sword Gram, and the story perfectly parallels the modern story of King Arthur and the sword in the stone, perhaps even inspiring that tale.[23] While the Vikings were resolute in their religion, it seems that they believed in the potential wrath of the Christian God as well, as after sacking a prominent monastery (and bearing St. Germain's relics) they were “struck down by divine judgment either with blindness or insanity, so severely that only a very few escaped to tell the rest about the might of God.”[24] As the source of that quote is a French document, it would be reasonable to dispute its credibility, but immediately following the “divine judgment” their king Horic immediately opened peace talks with King Louis and returned the stolen treasures, which indicates that the Vikings certainly believed the French at fault for the deaths. This particular incident is interesting in that the symptoms exhibited closely match late-stage syphilis, a sexually-transmitted disease whose presence during the era is highly disputed, but the first reported outbreak of the disease originated in France.
            In additional to the traits a Viking was expected to uphold in their personal lives, the Scandinavians could be distinguished by how they acted in peaceful society. A very important factor of a Viking was that they be multi-talented, skilled in far more than simple combat. Beyond the war-making abilities described above, it was required that they be musically skilled, literate in the rune language used by the Vikings, athletic, and capable of drinking heavily.[25] One of the more unusual traits prized by the Vikings was the ability to create and recite poetry, which was often distinguished by considerable alliteration.[26] One of the great heroes of the Sagas, Egil, was noted for his quick wit with poetry and quicker work with a sword, and the description of his battle against the berserk Ljot included no less than five poems, recited immediately before and during the fight.[27] The sort of focus required to be eloquent and artistic in the middle of a vicious battle made Egil all the more admirable. It was evidence of his discipline, which was a very valuable trait to the Vikings' society. While the crazed power of the berserk was awe-inspiring and destructive in a fight, being a berserk was a negative status, as indicated by Thorgred's scolding of Skallagrim for “raging like a berserk”[28] and by the editor of the anthology, providing the context that in the sagas berserks were “little more than social nuisances.”[29] Power was admirable, but controlled power was even more so as it allowed them to be both members of society and agents of war. Instead of simply leaping to violence to settle disputes, a Viking was expected to behave with honor, which meant upholding the standards of the law and fighting in ways deemed honorable. Duels were the most frequent form of honorable combat. Duels allowed the combatants to fight in a highly ritualized setting[30] and for both parties to come through alive, while still determining the man in the right. For larger disputes on a national scale, whole armies would fight, simply to settle the uncertainty, as the children of King Godofrid did upon his death.[31]
            All of these traits were vital to the identity of Vikings. In war they were ruthless and powerful and courageous, but at peace they were eloquent and well-rounded, behaving with control and honor. Their motivations of religion and greed drove them forward against the other major nations of the time, and even the mighty Carolingians had significant trouble keeping its borders safe from the Vikings. Each of the individual cultures of Scandinavia had its own variations on the priorities of the values (such as Iceland's variant stance on religion), but as a whole, their values made them known, and feared, as Vikings.

[1]“The Royal Frankish Annals” in The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 245-252.
[2]“The Annals of St-Bertin” in Ibid., 252-261.
[3]“The Royal Frankish Annals” in Ibid., 249.
[4]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 239.
[5]    John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings, (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 55.
[6] Ibid., 57.
[7]“The Annals of Ulster” in The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 236-237.
[8]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 236-240.
[9]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 236.
[10]“The Martyrdom of Blathmac” in Ibid., 240-242.
[11]“The Saga of the Ynglings” in Ibid., 162-163.
[12]“The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason” in Ibid., 161-162.
[13]“The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason” in Ibid., 162.
[14] John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings, (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 40.
[15]“Grettis Saga” in The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 202.
[16]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 236.
[17]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 237.
[18]“The Annals of St-Bertin” in Ibid., 253.
[19]“The Annals of Ulster” in Ibid., 238.
[20]“The Saga of the Ynglings” in Ibid., 162.
[21]“Kormak's Saga” in Ibid., 173.
[22]“Kormak's Saga” in Ibid., 175.
[23]“The Saga of the Volsungs” in Ibid., 179-180.
[24]“The Annals of St-Bertin” in Ibid., 253.
[25]“Orkneyinga Saga” in Ibid., 160.
[26]“Egil's Saga” in Ibid., 166-168.
[28]“Egil's Saga” in Ibid., 164.
[29]“Egil's Saga” in Ibid., 165.
[30]“Kormak's Saga” in Ibid., 174.
[31]“The Royal Frankish Annals” in Ibid., 249.

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