Monday, February 10, 2014

Vikings: The Complete First Season

I haven't had cable television in years. It's one of the reasons I'm always behind on television series. I heard good things about Vikings. I was a little surprised to learn that it was a History Chanel program, but I've since learned that their programming is winning all sorts of awards.  and when it first came out, for some reason Best Buy of all places, was selling the bluray version for something like $19.95. So I picked it up.

And time passed.

And finally I managed to watch the nine episodes that comprise season one.

If you're looking from a grim and gritty take on the start of the viking invasion of England, this is right up your alley. The costumes, soundtracks, and landscapes, ranging from mountains and hills and rolling fields, to the ever present sea, provide a possible look at what life would have been like all those long years ago.

Make no mistake, while there are protagonists and antagonists, this is a time of savagery and barbarism. Having said that, it interested me enough that when season two hits blu ray, I'll be looking forward to picking that up as well.

I haven't dug into the special features yet as my LG bluray player for the computer has decided at the last minute that hey, why would I want to work and allow you to actually enjoy your purchase? Go watch that on the tv and leave the computer alone.

Below I'll be discussing some of the things I enjoyed and how they may or may not fit your own role playing games.

1. Family. Strangely enough, Ragnar, who claims to be a son of Odin, the all father of the Nose deities, is a family man with a shield maiden wife and two children and a farm. These lands bond him to his Earl and insure that he has servants and animals of his own. His relationship with his family is one that the authors of the show use multiple times in order to draw him into conflict with others. Not only does he have this family, but he also has an ambitious brother Rollo.

Rollo is a great character to have in this show and would be tricky to do in a role playing game. For you see, Rollo is all about his own interests and rise. When he first joins with his brother Ragnar, they are supposed to do so as equals but Ragnar, perhaps due to his vision of wanting to raid the west in the first place, or having an ally capable enough to make a ship to survive the voyage, is the one hailed and whose renown grows. This sits ill with Rollo.

So Rollo is always being tempted to be against his brother. Initially this is 'merely' being a witness against Ragnar during a trial but when Ragnar's wife, Lagertha also stands to be killed, Rollo decides against it. His loyalty is tested later on as well and we'll see how that plays out in season two! The good thing though about Rollo, is you never quite know if he's actually against Ragnar.

And that's the problem for a role playing prospective. How often would you let someone seemingly betray you before you distanced yourself from them either by not travelling with them anymore or by attempting to kill them?

Family can have many functions in a campaign. They can be a place to rest when returning from adventure. In Lagertha's case, they can be direct assistance to the characters when they are low on resources because of her shield maid skills for example. They can also act as complications as when Ragnar is cheating on his wife and his son is infuriated with him over it.

2. Exploration. While the raids and the desire for new wealth is a huge part of why the vikings sail to the west, Ragnar at least, is seen as an explorer. He wants to visit new lands and learn new things. The desire to see what's over the next horizon fits perfectly in most role playing games where the state of roads and technology in general are low at best.

3. Tactics: Bernard Cornwell describes the shield wall in several of his viking and Arthurian sagas. The writers of Vikings do not shy away from it. I suppose my point is that as well loved as 'Tucker's Kobolds' are, don't punish the players when they use superior tactics and outflank the enemy or should be outflanking the enemy. Not every encounter should be one with enemies who fight just as intelligently as the players, especially if the foes the characters face are arrogant and cocksure of themselves. Who expects a night raid after all? Who expects extra traps to be set? Who expects a force to keep fighting when its members are wounded?

4. The Gods One of the things about The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett is that it played off of Middle East assumptions that it's better to die against the enemy than grow old. Vikings had similar attitudes and did not wish to die old women. This is showcased as one elder viking swears allegiance to Ragnar and wishes to raid and fight and die in combat so that he may enter the halls of valhalla. The willingness to die, the preference to die in such a cause, stands against that of those they face who'd rather live to fight another day.

5.Mind altering substances: In his first raid, Ragnar captures a priest who was wide traveled and can speak Ragnar's native tongue. Learning about the people who have made him a slave occurs gradually over the course of time, but also happens in ceremonies where in one instance, special leaves are burned that enhance the story telling about ragnarok and later on, mushrooms devoured and perceptions altered of events at a religious gathering. With the leaves burned, it shows that directly putting some mind altering substances don't have to be something that characters have to be 'hit' by or drunk down.

5. Distinctive Features: I've mentioned distinctive features as being useful tools to distinguish one character from another before. Ragnar's hair style and the tattoos on the side of his head for example, are very much distinctive from others. Scars, large body wide scars, are often visible on those who fight alongside Ragnar. Rollo, during one of his times of loyalty to Ragnar, or simply because he didn't actually know, is scared across both sides of his face by the Earl. Taking this to an extreme level, there is the Seer who serves the northmen. This seer is almost an albino and whose face is like melted wax with blackened lips. Truly distinctive!

Vikings has a lot going for it. Season one is available to stream for free from Amazon Prime right now, and on blu ray it runs $39.98.