Skalds and the Hólmgang
Skalds are the main source of oral and traditional Norse history and occupy some of the most important social positions in Norse society. The approval or disapproval of a skald could make or break a Viking, regardless of his or her personal exploits.
The D&D class “Bard” is based in part on the Norse skald and, as such, most skalds are bards. However, the new fighter archetype Runecaster is also known for its skaldic skill in storytelling, and there is a Norse background that reflects some skill as a skald as well.
Skalds who are bards are usually of the college of Valor, but all other types of bard colleges are also available, save for the college of whispers.
Norse Skalds have the following special rules:
- When you grant a Bardic Inspiration die, you may make a Performance check. If you do not roll a natural one on the check, you may add an additional d4 to the die when it is rolled.
- You have advantage on any checks to recall facts about Norse History or Religion (but not creature information or statistics).
- You may compose a Saga about any character once in their lives. This requires a minimum expenditure of 30 Downtime days. You will be required to make a Performance check and describe what specific actions of that character you are writing about. Depending on the description and the results of the roll, the DM will create a certificate granting the character in question an appropriate in-game benefit. Some examples of possible benefits include: advantage on social checks in entire countries; increases in Heroism; fear effects against certain enemies; the ability to rally others against fear; advantage against charm or mental effects; and other similar things.
With the decline of the Norse population combined with its warlike nature, a means other than simply killing one another in brawls to settle disputes (known as einvigi) had to come about or the number of warriors would decrease even further due to the normal friction amongst the people. Combined with the lack of a strong government or codified set of laws, the people have, over time, developed their own means of settling disputes without killing too many of their own: the Hólmgang.
—Svarfdæla saga, chapter 9
Any Norse character may challenge (or be challenged) by any other character who in their opinion “…is not a warrior’s equal and not a warrior at heart.” to a hólmgang. This formal duel has a few fixed rules:
1. A challenge must be “righteous”. It can’t be over a minor slight or something trivial; it must be over something that has caused the challenger direct and material harm, or caused harm to someone on whose behalf the challenger is speaking.
2. It is fought on the space of two cloaks, usually those of those involved—roughly a 10′×10′ square. A fighter who willfully steps out of the square (as opposed to being forced out) loses.
3. There is always a wager involved. In Dark Earth, this is usually measured in Downtime days—the winner receives the services of the loser for a period of time.
4. The fight is never to the death. For some reason, likely related to a blessing of Ullr, no wounds dealt in a Hólmgang are ever fatal, regardless of the source (magical, ranged or otherwise).
5. Choosing a champion is allowed. Summoning a magical one is not.
Refusing a hólmgang has serious social consequences in the Norse lands (for all characters) and for Norse characters (pretty much everywhere). You receive disadvantage on all social rolls made in the Norselands for one month, or until you can convince a skald to compose a Saga about you.