Do you like to make use of folklore in your RPGs? Are you tired of the same D&D tropes that have been used over and over again? I do. I love using folklore in my Castles & Crusades campaigns. Folklore and mythology are forming an ever-growing core foundation of my world. Initially when I switched from D&D 5E over to C&C I fell back upon older versions of AD&D monsters, undead, and spirits. But I’ve been gaming since 1983 and even switching to different editions of D&D didn’t really help, since I had seen and experienced it all before. Going back to original D&D sources wasn’t enough, so I began to visit the classical and medieval sources and start fresh. You could say that I wanted my old-school game to be really old-school! I wanted to feel that wonder and uncertainty again and to give my players – whether those new to RPGs, or those who have played for over 40 years – to experience monsters, undead, and nature spirits from a fresh perspective.
The Folklore & RPGs heading will be a new series I will be visiting where I will introduce some sourcebook – whether academic, or artistic – which I have found inspiring for bringing something fresh and new to my C&C games and may be of interest to you as well in your games, or just for enjoyment.
First up, Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandinavian Folklore (I purchased this book from Grimfrost). This book is beautifully illustrated by Johan Egerkrans. Color and black and white illustrations accompany folklore drawn from Scandinavian sources. Most entries cover one or two pages, with a few encompassing four. Each entry is overflowing with flavor to enhance any RPG game you want to run. It will give you plenty of new creatures to bring into your game, and even give you dynamic ways to re-envision old ones (my players may think they know what a will-o-the-wisp is and does, but they will be learning there are many varieties out there!). Let me examine two nature spirits as examples, the Källrå (the “Nymph of the Springs”) and the Näcken.
First, let us look at the Källrå, the “Nymph of the Springs” or “Spring Guardian.” It is said that a nymph guards her own spring and in return for those that make an offering the Källrå will give the water healing powers. Normally this nymph is invisible, but sometimes she takes the form of a frog (that right there could be knowledge a druid in a party might know which could benefit the party after a deadly encounter). Let us look further. It is also wise to address the spring with a short prayer or incantation when you are taking water from it (again, the druid could be useful here). We all know that nature spirits can be quite touchy if you don’t approach them properly and demonstrate enough deference and respect! As it says in the entry (“It was also safest to collect water during the daytime when the invisible forces were at their weakest – at night you never knew what kind of mischievous beings would follow you back into your house.” p. 44).
Finally, consider what exciting possibilities this could open up for an adventure: “The shining reflection of a still pool or lake was thought to be a window into the Other World [and this] could reveal glimpses of the future” (ibid). But if you spend too long gazing into the spring, “the nymph living down in the depths could steal away your reflection and along with it your soul” (ibid). There are some amazing opportunities to have a druidic or nature-based character interact with this spring guardian and bring forth healing powers (if done in the right way!), and moreover, you have a great opportunity to get glimpses of the Other World or the future…but this is not guaranteed and there are consequences for players that are too greedy for knowledge and power! I know that the Källrå is going to become a part of my C&C game!
Next, consider the Näcken (The Neck). This is a mysterious water spirit which lives in rivers, rapids, brooks, and lakes. If you see lilies that are in flower, that could be a sign that the Neck might be nearby. They have long, greenish-black hair with dark eyes. One unique characteristic of the Näcken is that it is an expert musician that can distort the minds of people and spellbind them with the sound of its music (it could be a fiddle, flute, or harp). If the Näcken is seen to be crying “while he is playing, it is a sure sign something unpleasant is about to happen” (p.57).
Consider the following possibilities for a player with a bard. Approaching the Näcken in the correct way could give them access to supernatural musical performances to spellbind their audience. But you must get this right! “The Neck can teach his musical skills to anyone who is brave enough to try” (ibid). They must go to a “fast-flowing river or crossroads for three Thursday nights in a row and sit there playing.” On the third night the Näcken will appear and at that point it is important to have a black cat with you, for the Näcken will demand that as their payment. The bard will want to be on their guard during the entire lesson, for the Näcken will try to lure their pupil into the water source they are at and drown them! But if the bard survives the lesson, they will be able to play such entrancing music that “even chairs and tables would begin to jerk and move about” (ibid). But the Näcken will warn that certain melodies are very dangerous, and they will be warned not to play them.
Once again, think of the possibilities for a character and how this can enrich a campaign! There are some great powers that one could gain, but there is also great risks as well. A player would want to have their character thoroughly research the materials and procedures involved in approaching and interacting with creatures like these (this could end up being an adventure or adventures in themselves), and if they get as far as beginning the rituals and training then there is the risk of losing their mind, their soul, or any number of things.
I have just provided a sneak peek at two of the creatures in Vaesen, there are over 30 in the book. The stories are enjoyable and entertaining. The art is evocative and provides a look and feel that stands out from the familiar gaming art we find in RPG products. Whether for personal enjoyment or gaming, this is a good book to have to fill you with wonder and spur your imagination.