As humans are the only intelligent race on Midgard, characters in this campaign are differentiated by social class instead of race.

These social classes are called “backgrounds,” not just to avoid confusion with character classes but also to emphasize that these refer to the social class in which your character was raised, which may not match the character’s current social status. See Social Hierarchy, below, for further details.

Each background gives the following benefits:

  • Access to two of the three skill groups associated with the background, of the player’s choice.
  • Two free proficiencies of the player’s choice in each of the proficiency categories associated with the background.
  • An additional benefit, which is different for each background.

The Backgrounds

The jarls, or “lords,” are the nobles, leaders, and particularly wealthy men of Norse society.
Skill Groups: Deception, Empathy, Interaction
Proficiency Categories: Armor, Knowledge
Additional Benefit: Lands and Thralls: A jarl begins play with triple the normal starting wealth, as well as increased wealth during play: he receives a stipend of 7 sp per full week of working at an occupation or 3 sp per week otherwise, either paid weekly if he is in clan lands or back-paid in one lump payment when contact is reestablished with clan lands (via messenger ships or the like).

The huskarls, or “house soldiers”, are the retainers, administrators, and militia of Norse society.
Skill Groups: Acrobatics, Discipline, Perception
Proficiency Categories: Armor, Weapons
Additional Benefit: Heroic Tradition: A huskarl begins play with higher Wyrd scores than normal, and gains increased Wyrd bonuses during play.

The karls, or “free men,” are the farmers, craftsmen, and other laborers of Norse society.
Skill Groups: Athletics, Discipline, Handicrafts
Proficiency Categories: Occupations, Weapons
Additional Benefit: Harsh World, Hearty Folk: A karl begins play with maximum hit points per hit die at 1st level, and gains a minimum of half the hit points per hit die at each level thereafter.

The stigandrs, or “wanderers,” are the explorers, woodsmen, and traders of Norse society.
Skill Groups: Acrobatics, Deception, Herbalism
Proficiency Categories: Regions, Occupations,
Additional Benefit: Everyone’s Second-Best Friend: NPC attitudes towards a stigandr (or group of people for a stigandr represents) are always one step better than they otherwise would be, and monsters deciding which members of a group to attack will choose the stigandr last (if prioritizing targets) or will weight the stigandr less heavily (if randomly choosing targets).

The þulrs, or “wise ones,” are the judges, scholars, and advisors of Norse society.
Skill Groups: Empathy, Herbalism, Perception
Proficiency Categories: Knowledge, Regions
Additional Benefit: Mystical Instruction: A þulr gains additional skill points at 1st level equal to his highest mental ability score bonus, and gains +1 skill point at each level thereafter.

The utlendrs, or “foreigners,” are those who originate from other cultures and do not have a particular place in Norse society.
Skill Groups: Athletics, Handicrafts, Interaction
Proficiency Categories: Pick any one. Regardless of his choice, an utlendr gains basic Norse proficiency.
Additional Benefit: Foreigner’s Ways: An utlendr’s background benefit depends on the culture from which he hails; see the list of cultures for further details.

Social Hierarchy

Norse society is not as stratified as many others with defined social classes, but there is still a distinct social ranking among the different classes. Jarls are the most respected and influential, whether a particular jarl is a clan leader, a renowned warrior, a wealthy trader, or the like. Next are the huskarls, who are usually vassals of (and representatives for) the jarls in the same way that lesser nobles like dukes and barons are vassals to kings and princes in some other cultures. Below the huskarls are the karls, the “middle class” of Norse society and the class to which the majority of Norsemen belong. While each Norseman is expected to respect and honor those above him in the social hierarchy, they are also expected to provide for and protect those below him; karls and huskarls are expected to obey the commands of their jarls unless they have very good reasons not to, but in return a jarl is expected to feed his people in hard times, supply and lead them in battle, and so forth.

Þulrs and stigandrs occupy a more fluid position in the hierarchy. Different þulrs have different areas of responsibility, from being a truth-teller, orator, or judge in a jarl’s court, to being a teacher, record-keeper, or scribe for a small village. A þulr’s social standing is dependent on his exact duties and the regard in which his patron is held: a þulr who teaches the children of three villages, who records the sacrifices and rites at a large and wealthy temple, or who serves a great warrior in a clan that has seen much success in battle of late will be highly regarded, on the same level as the huskarls or even the jarls in some cases, while a þulr who neglects his duties, whose predecessor was out of favor, or whose jarl patron is viewed as an unlucky or incompetent leader will be held in contempt below the karls, at least until he redeems himself.

Stigandrs are in a similar position. Some stigandrs maintain normal houses, family, and property and merely travel a lot to trade, hunt, explore, and the like, and are regarded as well as (or perhaps a bit better than) another jarl, huskarl, or karl of similar class. Some stigandrs, however, lack a residence and/or a clan allegiance and are instead vagabonds, bandits, loners, hermits, and others who wander ceaselessly without a place to call home, and these are ranked among the þralls.

Social Mobility

The þralls mentioned above are another social class in Norse society, but unlike the others being a Þrall is always a temporary position. Captives taken in raids become þralls and must slave away for their masters, but can be later freed and become karls like any other. Jarls who spend their wealth frivolously and fall into debt must work as þralls until their debts are discharged. Houseless stigandrs are treated as þralls until and unless they become a normal member of society. Þralls are to be treated well (fed and clothed, respected as a clan-mate, not beaten or whipped, etc.), but are definitely subservient to all non-þralls. A Norseman’s former status as a Þrall will certainly be remembered (and possibly held against him for some time) when his þralldom is concluded, but serving time as a þrall is viewed similarly to being a profilgate merchant, an unlucky and unskilled warrior, a lazy worker, and similar: a character flaw and black mark against him, but not the kind of subhuman stature held by slaves and servants in some societies.

Utlendrs run the gamut of social classes from þrall to jarl, and their respect varies widely as well. An utlendr might be captured as a child, work as a þrall for a few years, be raised alongside the other Norse children, make a name for himself in battle, and eventually become a jarl, the entire time being viewed as a clan member like any other; another utlendr might be a respected trader with strong ties to the clan and might be treated highly whenever he visits, but never be considered a part of the clan.

Mechanically, the background chosen for a character represents the class in which they were raised, not necessarily the position they hold currently. The son of a disgraced clan leader might have the Jarl background despite now working the fields as a karl or a þrall, and a wealthy merchant might be counted among the jarls, but have the Stigandr background due to making his wealth through extensive trading in his youth. A foreigner who has been accepted among the Norse should choose a background other than utlendr, as that background represents the fact that he identifies with (and is identified with) his original culture more so than the Norse.


Saga of the Northlands PsychicTheurge