Posted on March 4, 2009 by GRIM
Ragnarok is an expansion and adventure book by White Wolf for Scion. The book deals with the apocalypse myth, specifically of the Norse gods and, being apocalyptic, returns to many of the tropes of the oWoD. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it makes almost as bad a hash of it as the end times books of the old World of Darkness did, though it has many redeeming qualities as a publication.
Ragnarok is a hefty book at some 244 pages, not a bad size for a core book, let alone a supplement, continuing a tradition of ‘fat splats’ which has overtaken whole swathes of the gaming industry. The book is divided into two key sections and these are further subdivided into their own segments.
Book One – Player
* Courage and Doom – The book opens with a primer on Nordic and Germanic myths and legends which is extremely useful for those who’ve gotten their education on these pagan traditions from The Mighty Thor. This is really, mostly an expansion on data skimmed over in earlier books, much as the rest of this book is and, while it goes into greater detail one could get this much information – and more – from any accessible book on Norse myths, legends and religion of which there are many.
* Runes of Wisdom – This section is where you’ll find all your rules. New knacks, new interpretations and spins on powers, new boons, new magic and a lot of it with idiom appropriate spins such as gaining power by drinking. There two new purviews, Frost and Illusion with Illusion being long, long overdue for inclusion in Scion, perfect for being co-opted into any number of trickster gods. There are also the usual new uses for magic and a good pile of new relics for characters to use.
* The Aesir – This section gives players a good primer on the values, culture and traditions of the Norse pantheon but, given that players have likely already been playing a while this may be a little too late. It also includes a much more in depth section on the major gods of the pantheon and includes a few additions to the original set as well as information on influential heroes and demigods, such as Beowulf.
Book Two – Storyteller
* Strange Ports of Call – This is expanded information from other books in the series again, giving more detailed explanations and descriptions of the various places, real and metaphysical, that are important to the Aesir and their enemies. Both real and otherworldly places are covered and the inclusion of an oil-rig is a stroke of genius given the importance of the sea to Nordic culture and myths. Asgard is also covered in considerable detail with expanded information on the halls and their denizens, allowing you to move a campaign up into Asgard much more effectively and consistently.
* Creatures of the Nine Worlds – Here we find our friends and enemies, the Vanir – the old gods who existed before the Aesir, monstrous serpents and wolves, spirits, undead, giants, demons, dwarves and trolls. Most of the creatures and peoples of Scandinavian myth are found here in one form or another, whether allies or enemies of the scions.
* The Ragnarok Saga/HIghway to Hel/Twilight of the Gods – A significant chunk of the book is given up to an apocalyptic, end of the world scenario that brings on, passes through and concludes the doom of the gods. Despite the flow chart diagrams this is extremely linear and despite best efforts to the contrary the players – while important – are sidelined by all the main events. While this is an improvement in scale, scope and consistency over the old World of Darkness end times it is still disappointing and the set pieces mostly occur out of sight or in the otherworlds. Most Games Master, in my opinion, could come up with a better, more grandiose and more player-involving end of the world than is presented here. Apocalyptic ideas seem to run through many White Wolf products but it seems, still, it’s better left as tension and motivation rather than being explicitly spelled out because it always falls short of people’s own ideas and demands from the end of the world.
An area of massive improvement in this Scion product the artwork and graphic design are much, much better. I hemmed and hawed about whether to give it a 4 or a 5 in style but with this much improvement I settled on the 5. It just feels like, unlike other Scion books, this book knows what it is and what it’s about and more effort seems to have been made in the overall presentation.
The informational and rules chapters are well written and accessible but the adventure still falls flat, despite being about the end of the world, somehow the writing fails to convey that sense of urgency and excitement that should accompany such an event. The adventure itself is very linear and not particularly well crafted. I recognise the problems with publishing adventures but despite the conceits of flow charts and the helpful little hints in the margin about what to do if the whole thing goes pear shaped the adventure is still just too railroaded for true enjoyment.
The few rules are largely limited to expansions and additions, standard fare and all perfectly usable. Some of these thematic powers would also suit other pantheons and scions and so I can see the potential for a great deal of re-use, particularly of the purviews.
While a huge improvement on the style side and including a few useful elements Ragnarok is largely wasted on an apocalyptic adventure that fails to deliver and a primer to Nordic myth that one could get from Wikipedia. Even though the primer is a good introduction and quite well written it’s largely unnecessary and the adventure feels almost like wasted space where, instead, could have been placed a primer and tools for crafting one’s own apocalypse and set piece battles and events. Something that I feel would have been a much better use of the pages.
* Massive stylistic improvement.
* Illusion purview was much needed.
* Thematic powers for the Aesir Scions are spot on.
* Rubbish adventure.
* First chapter Unnecessary and too late.
* PCs sidelined – not really escapable when talking about gods though.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough