My friend Clint picked up a copy of Yggdrasill at GenCon this past summer. He held off as long as he could, but last week he broke down and ran the first session of the introductory adventure in the rulebook. I got to play, and I had a lot of fun.

Now, I’ve only skimmed the rulebook – work has been pretty crazy this past fall – but the first session has given me some initial impressions that I want to talk about. I’m going to try and avoid spoiling the scenario, so this should not ruin things if you plan on playing the adventure.

Yggdrasill is a fantasy RPG set in a mythical Norse-flavoured world, where the tales of the sagas and the legends of the Aesir and Vanir are true. Players take the role of warriors ((Okay, let’s be clear. When you’re playing a pre-viking Norse character, you play a warrior. Everyone has some ability to fight.)) doing their best to protect their clans, deal with the surprisingly complex politics of the period, and create their own sagas that will live on after them.

In other words, they go on adventures.

As I said, we ran through the first part of the introductory adventure. Here are my observations and thought.

  • As mentioned above, all the characters are warriors of one type or another. Everyone has some pretty good combat skills, though of course those who specialize in such things are better than those who don’t focus exclusively on fighting.
  • There are three different flavours of magic, based on the Norse legends: Seidr (sorcery), Galdr (invocations), and Runes. The differences between the different kinds of magic are simple, yet interesting, and there are cultural connotations to the different kinds of magic. For example, Seidr is considered to be women’s magic, and thus few men practice it.
  • We saw two of the different magic systems in play – Galdr and Seidr. Both were quite powerful and reliable, right up until the swords were out and blood was flowing ((That is, while the caster was not under any sort of stress or time pressure.)), at which time the system made magic far less effective than a good sword.
  • Those who don’t have magic, but have instead focused on combat, have a number of interesting options available to them, especially the savage warriors ((Like berserkers.)). And a specialized warrior is truly terrifying on the battlefield.
  • The system is an interesting cross between World of Darkness dice pools based on stats and skills and Cortex Plus dice choice to come up with a total – that is, you roll a mittful of dice based on your stat and your skill, and pick the two highest to add together for the outcome total.
  • I was worried about the combat system – specifically, about the initiative system, which has a rather convoluted procedure that cycles through the initiative sequence multiple times each round, imposing a penalty for each action ((Or reaction. You spend your actions dodging or parrying, as well.)) after the first. I think I see where they’re going with this, but have some reservations as to whether the coolness pays off the complexity. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the fighting portion of the evening, it was pretty late, and we were tired, and therefor the we didn’t give the system a really fair trial. We’ll have to see how it works next session.
  • Speaking of fighting, combat proved pretty deadly, at least the little bit we did of it. It also isn’t as big a part of the game as one might expect when one plays Norse heroes. A lot more of the game revolved around interaction, politicking, and travel. Now, some of that may be the influence of Clint, the GM, but as I understand it, he’s sticking mostly ((Because that’s as close as he can to running anything right out of the box. Unlike, say, me. 😉 )) to the scenario as written. This is a good thing, in my opinion. The balance of combat vs. non-combat, that is. Not necessarily sticking to the scenario. Just to be clear.
  • We are spoiled to have Clint running this game for us. He says, and I agree, that this was the game he was born to run. He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of history in general, but this time-period, and this subject matter, is his special love. That means that he makes the game world come alive with a wealth of little details about the setting and the culture, and that’s awesome.

My overall assessment of the game after a single session using pregenerated characters is that it is fun, flavourful, and engaging. The rules are translated from French, I believe, so the writing is a little awkward and unclear from time to time, but not enough to be more than a nuisance.

So, if playing in the world of Norse sagas and legends sounds appealing, I suggest you check the game out. It’s fun.