Ian Sharpe has been one of my guests on Spells & Spaceships before – you can read our Q&A from Norsevember 2020 here.
Sharpe has written extensively about his alternate Vikingverse, a parallel timeline where the Norse rule seas and stars with restless fleets and Christianity has been put to the Viking sword. His titles include the All Father Paradox and Loki’s Wager, as well as the humorous phrasebook Old Norse for Modern Times and the Jötunn War comic series.
Ian is about to Kickstart another project, a new tabletop RPG titled When the Wolf Comes. I sat down to ask him a few questions:
Hi Ian and welcome back to Spells and Spaceships! I gather you have something new to talk about that covers, well – Spells and Spaceships!
That’s right. We’re about to launch a new RPG that brings the Vikings into the modern age, with a unique sci-fi twist. One of the things I am most excited about in the game is the “magic” system. Not to mention, what self-respecting Viking wouldn’t want to showcase the latest advances in Norse navigation?
Stepping back a little, what inspired you to launch an RPG? Surely that’s a little different from writing novels?
It’s not necessarily a case of what, so much as who. I’ve partnered with an industry legend named Rob Schwalb. Rob has been a game designer and developer of role-playing games for nearly 20 years. His design can be found in three editions of Dungeons & Dragons, along with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG. He launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for Shadow of the Demon Lord, a horror-fantasy roleplaying game set in the last days of a dying world, in 2015, that has won rave reviews for its simplicity and style. We’ve taken this rule set and given it a thorough Norse Sci-fi makeover. It’s an amazing foundation, it seemed to fit our reimagined Ragnarok like a velvet glove.
And you have spells in your sci-fi setting? Is it some kind of technomancy?
In the sagas, Norse magical tradition is marked by sacrifice and ritual, etched in secrets, and blooded in war. Spells can shape the future, weave webs of battle or spin charms that harness primal forces. But the path of the Wise is not simply one of mystery, dependent on divine power or the tides of fate. It is a path of discovery and learning. In fact, the most common word for “magical” in the Norse lexicon is fjölkyngi, which means great knowledge.
One of the jokes in the novels was “Any sufficiently advanced galdar is indistinguishable from technology”, the Third law of Arnþórr C. Klakkr (if it isn’t obvious the Vikingverse, being a parallel timeline, “norsifies” a lot of luminaries, Arthur C. Clarke included.
The various classes in the game have different approaches to their spells, but they are all rooted in the sagas. The Urðr are focused on spinning seiðr and the weave of fate. Their rituals date back millennia, (allegedly) taught by the gods themselves. The Verðandi try to fathom the endless, tangled mind of the Worlds Tree, and the transformative power of galdar. The Skuld utilize the spirits of the earth, marshaling matter and forging new suns. They use complex runes and the code of machines to unlock their marvels.
But wasn’t sorcery somewhat frowned on in the Viking Age, even pre-Christianity?
That’s true. Most legendary heroes – at least the male ones – were suspicious of magic, yet they often possessed “magical” abilities. Sigurd, for example, accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fafnir. This gave him the ability to understand the language of birds. To capture that Eddic flavour, we created Gifts.
A Gift is the term used for a supernatural virtue, linked to the manipulation of a character’s essence or inner self: Shape (hamr), Thought (hugr), Follower (fylgja), Luck (hamingja) or Memory (minni). Any character able can learn to harness the aspects of this composite “soul” although typically, gifts are reserved for the greatest of heroes and seers.
So is it technology or magic that powers the spaceships you mentioned?
Well, a little of both. I’d suggest there is nothing so cherished among Norsemen as the ancient tradition of shipbuilding. As readers of the novels will know, Skuld shipwrights turned established craftsmanship into holy discipline, solemnly passed down from master to apprentice. Norse orbital ships are named drakkar, just like the dragon ships of old. They look a little like a tree growing in reverse – a living vessel designed to withstand impacts, solar storms, and the extremes of the Ginnungagap.
I felt these bio-ships were important to get right, so as to be scientifically plausible and suitably Norse. I didn’t want them to come off as Klingon or Imperial. So they have a full design theory: the heartwood is sculpted into bulkheads, decks, and compartments, and then a layer of sapwood is grown to carry air, water, and nutrients. Systems are stored in the stern along with anchoring, cargo, and energy cells. Propulsion comes from the crown, via the exchange of gases, and a solar sail, when extended.
That said, the real innovation is Thought/Memory Drive, an integral part of most Vikingverse ships. Forget hyperdrive or warp, or a hopeful mishmash of quantum physics. T/M Drive allows the near instantaneous crossing of the Gap using entangled histories. After all, what is history but thought and memory? Plug in a pilot, and they can walk between realities, skipping between the here-and-now and the been-and-gone. It’s the same way the Wise use their consciousness to engage the Worlds Tree, Yggdrasil. I hope it comes across as definitively pagan yet deeply sci-fi.
Thought and Memory. Of course – Huginn and Muninn. Odin may wonder where his ravens have gone?
Won’t he just!? The Jötunn War – depicted in the comics – inspired many military advances for my future Viking Empire, necessity being the mother of invention. Let’s just say repercussions of the war are exactly what the players of When the Wolf Comes will have to face. That said, you don’t have to read the comics and novels, they simply act as background, explaining why the ordure is hitting the proverbial fan.
So what does the Kickstarter involve?
We’re delivering a complete tabletop role playing game in one 250 page, 8.5″ x 11″ hardcover book – everything you need to create and play characters, form warbands in pursuit of fame and plunder, and tell sci-fi sagas with your friends. The book also gives Game Masters all the tools they need to create adventures, a bestiary full of deadly creatures, a detailed history of the Níu Heimar, and extensive advice to help run the game. Frankly, the sheer volume of content is why I couldn’t make Norsevember last time around. I was snowed under!
The Kickstarter launches on or around July 12th 2022. Potential backers can find more information at