Text: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.
Artwork: Rythbjörn, Nate Marcel, created for Grim Portents, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.
By Matthew Gagan
Illustrations by Nate Marcel
There is more to the Nordemark of Dungeon World than the twisted draugr, its giants and its trolls. There is also its native Rythbjörn, the animistic nomads that came before the frontier people that now settle the northern lands.
With mysterious but resolute purpose, the Rythbjörn patrol their territories in the Trullspar Hills of the Nordemark. In obscuring snows they watch those who encroach upon their circuit and their presence will not be known unless they wish it. Alone or in pairs they ride the great snjórbjörn they have bonded to themselves with sacred and secret rite.
This article presents a people of the Nordemark and their pledged mounts. It may be that little is known about the Rythbjörn by the players at the outset of your Dungeon World game beyond the illustrations that accompany this piece and the words written above. Some additional details are offered below but you should treat them as you would those from a narrator you know to be unreliable. The rest of what is certain will be determined by the answers given by the players in response to the questions you ask and by your own invention.
Here are questions you might ask characters in the Nordemark about the Rythbjörn. These are necessarily leading because whatever else is true, these people were here from long before. Well before you stumbled along.
Though you know little of them, you know one among the Rythbjörn and they call you friend. Is it Ketil or Sædís and why does the current leader of the Rythbjörn have misgivings about them? (Ranger/Druid/Barbarian)
While it is certain they do not share your faith, you know the Rythbjörn have no fondness for the unliving and some believe they are spoken of in the texts of your deity. What do those texts say, and what do you? (Cleric/Paladin)
Those who’ve traveled with them and returned to civilized lands say the Rythbjörn speak in hushed tones of an artifact they know as “The Heart of Winter”. What have you heard about this wondrous item? (Bard/Wizard)
It is said it is a challenge to surprise or to gain the upper hand on the Rythbjörn in combat. What have you heard about why this is so? (Fighter/Thief)
“Gods help you if you’re in the Trullspars and the Rythbjörn decide your purpose isn’t right. Worst is they have an uncanny sense of coming along when you’re already not at your best. Course, that’s almost always if you’re tramping about in the Nordemark. At least they don’t come at night. Some kind of honor thing.”
Rythbjörn Group, Intelligent, Organized
Spear (d8 damage) 6 HP 1 Armor
“Bear Riders we call them. To be sure that’s the first thing you notice and most don’t know much else. No ordinary bears though judging by their size. They talk to them with whispers like a boreal wind and the bears seem to understand too. Their faces are hidden and they wear those salt-bleached wolf furs and leathers. Evil? No, I wouldn’t say so, but they’ve got this thing about paths and whether you’re meant to travel them. They decide you’re on the wrong one in their territory and you’ve got trouble. May decide to end your wanderlust with a spear to the chest and then just as quickly end any hostilities if you can prove your worth. Some say its up to the bear. You’ve slain trullkin, giants or undead recently then maybe they’ll let you be. Or maybe the bear decides you don’t smell right…” Instinct: To understand outlanders.
Ambush and bloody any trespassers
Ask a cryptic question
Vanish into the snow
Snjórbjörn Group, Large, Organized
Claws (d8+3 damage) 10 HP 1 Armor
Special Qualities: Camouflage
“A ‘bear’ is not a fit word for any creature three time bigger and twice as smart than any bear I’ve seen in more southern climes, but that’s what they look like. Their fur is a dirty white and they blend into the Trullspar snowbanks in a manner that isn’t natural. They’re quiet too. If you hear one growl it’s probably too late for you unless they’ve decided you’ve got something in you that merits staying in one piece. Got no fear like a regular bear neither. If they break from the fray it’s because they have somewhere else to be or their rider told them to. There’s some kind of link between the snjórbjörn and their riders. It must be something special. How else would such a proud creature allow itself to be harnessed?” Instinct: To serve their bond.
Names: Blindside, Finder, Greyclaw, Wander
Pin a foe beneath its bulk
Scatter its enemies like twigs
Judge someone’s worthiness
“Ancient crypts … trullkin … treacherous weather … The Trullspars are hostile territory
and a golden opportunity … for hard luck.”
Here are some moves a GM might make in the perilous uplands the Rythbjörn have made their home.
A passel of white hares equal to the number of characters in the party hang from a small rowan tree, their necks broken and their eyes put out. They are still warm but no tracks can be found nearby. An offering or a warning? Perhaps both.
A fierce snowstorm sets in. Without precautions the party risks the danger of being separated from one another. This is the most likely time for the group to encounter the Rythbjörn for the first time.
The parley is going poorly and the characters sense the Rythbjörn will attack them unless they offer something precious to them as an act of respect. Coins will not do.
When you are judged by a snjórbjörn, roll +WIS. ✴ On a 10+, there is something you seek which the snjórbjörn finds worthy. What is it? ✴ On a 7-9, the snjórbjörn is intrigued by you but you sense must do some substantial service for the Rythbjörn before you will be considered welcome in their lands.
The current leader of the Rythbjörn is Fjóla, known as “Bonebreaker” (interesting).
Fjóla has directed her people to find the remains of her great-grandfather, Grímur, who was a scourge of the undead. Ghouls have delivered his bones to their master Hákonar for dark purpose and his ghost haunts her to deliver justice (interesting and useful).
The Rythbjörn choose valleys to ambush trespassers in their lands. These valleys are strangely quiet and still. The wind does not sweep them as it does other valleys (interesting).
If an ambush is going poorly for the Rythbjörn, that is the most dangerous time for their foes. Almost as though commanded, an avalanche of snow will soon fall from the valley slopes nearby, burying their foes and allowing them to escape into the drifts (interesting and useful).
“Sometimes a snjórbjörn will decide your purposes and its are of a kind for a time. You won’t know why unless you’re one of those spirit-tongued druid-types of the north or maybe a ranger.”
Costs: Uncovered Knowledge
Skills: Protector 2, Warrior 3
When you gain a level from 6–10 and either a snjórbjörn or one of the Rythbjörn calls you friend you may choose this move:
You are Bearfriend and a Child of the North. Gain both the ranger’s camouflage move as long as you are in the Towering Mountains or the Frozen North and the druid’s eyes of the tiger move with snjórbjörn. You and those you travel with are welcome among the Rythbjörn and you often have the opportunity to gain a snjórbjörn as a hireling with a starting Loyalty of 1.