Fate of the Norns

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 8:25 am 
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I had a great comment pop up on Facebook this morning and of course Facebook's format is limiting for a protracted discussion. But it was a great statement, which we had to address back in 1992 when first creating the FOTN cosmology, and that is, are "dark" elves the same as Dwarves?

The FB post started with:
Dvergar/dwarves and Svartalfar/dark elves are the same thing in Norse mythology.

And I replied with:

Now that's a can of worms. You're not wrong, but that's different than being right. Academia is split on equating both. According to Snorri and later Jacob Grimm's assessment, there are 3 types of Alfar that appear in Scandinavian eddas/sagas: Lios, Dokr and Svart. It's pretty evident the Dvergar are associated with one of those, but there are issues wrt their homesteads: Svartalfheim vs Nidavellir. Contemporary academic H.R.E Davidson goes as far as equating the Lios to the Vanir. Is he wrong? The understanding of Old Norse words is weak, most nuance has been lost. For example in the eddas there are 4 very different words used for giant-kin, but who is to say which one means ogre, or troll, or ettin, or giant? Is it right to use them interchangeably?... Perhaps one of these Old Norse words doesn't have a modern English equivalent. The use of kennings muddles the language even further. We're making a game universe so we need to make a call, we could go either way, but which interpretation opens the door to a richer game world experience? This would be a great topic to open up on the forums for a deeper discussion.

So I throw the ball out there, discuss :)

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 9:44 am 
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For purposes of a game world I think it useful to have light and dark elves as well as dwarves.
As Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Nidavellir are separate realms to Midgard it seems likely, if not definite, that our sources do not reveal all that could be known about those realms and their inhabitants.

Similarly for etins, trolls, ogres, Giants and that ilk. We know of those creatures which were significant enough to be included in the stories and songs that have come down to us, and I am certain have only a fraction of all the tales there were.

To modern gamers Elves and Dwarves are distinctly different. Elves are usually expected to come in a wide variety including at least High, Wood, and Dark Elves. Dwarves are less varied. Both have been almost indelibly stamped by Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons.

One aspect of FotN that I really enjoy is the fresh take it offers on fantasy RPG tropes. Elves, Dwarves, Giants, Trolls, Undead all exist in the setting but with a distinctly Viking cast. This has made it easier for me to explain why things are not just like D&D. If I say "this is based on Norse myth" people immediately grasp that as the reason for any difference, even when they don't know the myths.

I think it is a fool's errand to try to make everything in the game exactly fit Norse mythology. For one thing there is no single definitive source. Like any folklore there can be found contradictions and inconsistencies. Also this is a role playing game not a scholarly reference. Games need to be fun to play, have consistent mechanics and offer room for creativity.

Getting back to the Alfar, Svartalfar, Dvergar question, I think that having these three makes for a better game. I would not be surprised to see some subgroups within these broad categories,much as there are many peoples on Midgard. A brief author's note regarding sources and how the game has chosen to resolve the question might not go amiss.

Just please don't make the Svartalfar into Drow. I haven't read the D&D fiction books about Drow, but matriarchal, subterranian, black-skinned, white-haired, spider worshippers doesn't sound very Norse to me.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 12:44 pm 
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One of our social media gurus answered you right away on that last point- No way are Svartalfar going to have any D&D tropes. That first Alfar art piece by Kevin was as a test for a reversible composition I'd like to see moving forward. We tried a few things, and the composition I requested is not an easy ask, but the first one was going to be easier with them more or less symmetrical.

The Svart Alfar of the Fate of the Norns world are the embodiment of nightmare... the shade beneath your bed. The Core Rulebook renditions on page 55 are a lot closer to what the Svartalfar will look like in the upcoming works.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 7:18 pm 
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I liked Kevin's piece a lot. It didn't look like D&D, but did capture dark and light. I would buy a print of that piece.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:23 pm 
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Regarding the dwarves etc. Having dark elves-ish makes me feel like you need dark dwarves as well.

I'll try to take a closer look on what are exactly the Svartalfar in the norse mythology and maybe something would explain where they come from and all but for what I recall they had basically the same descriptions as the dwarves/Dvergar. The only difference was that there is no reference to the Svartalfar being good builders.
Yet they:
Both leave underground
Both are hated by and hate alves

Some other similarities on which I have big doubts (both greedy, both kinda evil etc.) so I won't be mentioning them too loud but as stated by Andrew: depending on the expert, they are/are not the same so ... hard to tell.

I feel like adding drow-ish characters would be too much like "Hey, those are evil, those are some we HAVE TO fight" and it's something which is kind of out of the norse philophy's which basically is for me "everything depends on your point of view". For instance : in the sagas pre-Ragnarok : Loki is not a bad guy exactly : he helps the gods or not but it's not systematic. I like that philosophy and that's what makes it interesting I guess.

PS: even right before the ragnarok and all : Loki is acting badly because he is jealous, not evil. After Ragnarok, he wants vengeance. Even Wodin acts by vengeance.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:41 pm 
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I agree very much that few things are clearly "good" or "evil". Odin quite frequently acts like a "bad guy". The Jotuns have become the "bad" or "evil" side mostly because they are opposed to the Aesir who are the "good guys", at least in many modern tellings.

I have always thought of the Dvergar as being a neutral faction, but grumpy when not down right hostile to both sides. They offer only grudging help when pushed to it. I am not sure if the same Lios/Svart divide as among teh Alfar fits for me.

FotN excells at giving motivations beyond simple good/evil. Family feuds, past injustices, thirst for power, wyrd, all can see evil do good and good do evil.

So looking forward to War of Shadows to get all the details.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 11:44 am 
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I'm pretty sure Svartalfheim is the same place as Nidavellir ("black fields").


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