Nordland: Returning Home
A vow. A promise. It is time to meet the
ghosts of the past. You recognise places, recall events. It is getting back.
With every turn of the road, with every step you take. You will be there soon.
You will see them again. You are expected.
A story game for 5 players in 1 - 2 hours by Frederik J. Jensen.
Returning Home is a story game where you
collaboratively tell a story about five people who meet again after many years
out in the world. A story about seeing people again who once meant something
for you. About the expectations, the excitement, the uncertainty, the doubt,
that are present up to the reunion. And the thoughts, the change, the mood,
that are present after the reunion.
All players participate on equal terms –
there is no game master who controls and decides the story. Instructions will
help you build the story with your own thoughts, emotions, and experiences and
create and share a story about returning home.
To be played at a gentle pace with a
touch of sadness and melancholy.
Nordland. The northernmost province of
the Empire. Covered with deep, unpenetrable forests where fearful travellers
are lost and devoured. Dotted with scattered settlements made by hardened
people who from soil and sea wrest meager spoils. To the north, the treacherous
sea who swallows mans hope of fortune and fame. To the south, civilisation in
all its wealth and splendour and corruption. To the east, the endless wasteland
where rocky plains, scattered lakes and sleeping forests hides battlefield upon
battlefield. To the west, the low marshes where wide rivers bring prosperity to
1. The town
Place a blank sheet of paper on the
table between you.
Draw a compass rose and write the name
of the town in one end: Schwarzbrügge.
Draw four roads into the town, one from
each of the four corners of the world.
Each player now draws a place in the
town. E.g. the well, the lake, the burial grounds, the clearing, the wind mill,
the quary, the river, the old barn, the council place.
Stop when each player has drawn at least
Schwarzbrügge is a small town who had
grown around a ford across the Schwarzwasser river. Here, the four corners of
the world joined up in a crossroad, and weary travellers sought out each
others' company. In times of peace for sharing gossip and a meal; in times of
war for safety and protection on the roads further on to the north, south, east
or west. Some few had settled and never moved on.
2. Your character
Every player grabs a blank sheet of
paper and writes down one of the following names on their sheet such that all
names are taken: Godfred, Gorm, Gudrun, Sigrid, and Stark.
Close your eyes and picture the
character. Write down a few cues, e.g. drunk, scarred, wealthy, weary,
pregnant, having a cold, black haired, ragged.
Each player now describes the appearance of their character.
Choose a position on the map – one of
the four roads into the town or a place within the town. Exactly one character
arrives on each of the four roads into the town. Exactly one character is the
one, who never left the town.
The character is alone and on the way to
the meeting. Describe the weather, the sounds, the smells, what the person is
doing, and the appearance of the character.
Conclude by stating the name of the character.
The weather is moist. Mud from the road
is sprayed on the belly of the horse and on the legs of the traveller. The
heavy breathing of the horse is steaming white in the air. The steady snorting
and a rythmic chinking from the many metallic rings on the riders' armour
accompany the journey through the dark green coniferous forest. The smells of
fir and resin are shortly suppressed by a gust of wind from the river who
carries with it impressions of smoke, faeces, and many people.
The traveller lets down his hood, wipes
drops of sweat from his forehead, moisture from his beard, and swallows down a
greedy drink from a grey brown bottle. The blue eyes go distant for a short
The rider's name is Gorm.
3. Someone to see again
Every player in turn now tells about one
of the others, they are about to see again. Tell an inner monologue, where the
character recalls the past – perhaps triggered by something he or she
encounters on the road. Is it someone, you truly want to see again? Is it
someone, who hurt you?
Every player tells twice, first about
someone, they truly want to see again, then about someone they are anxious to
Sigrid works the dark brown wood in
strong, hard strokes. Sweat drips on the wooden floor and mixes with the cold
river water. Locks of blond hair hangs down in her face, but she sees it not.
Work feels good, it keeps the memories away. Postpones the inevitable which
cannot be postponed much longer.
Pain! A splinter plunges itself under a
nail and blood spills on the newly washed floor. Sigrid cries out in pain and
then breaks down in tears.
Play the first intense moments of the
The player, whoose character never left
the town, sets the scene. Describe the time, the place, where the character is
and what he or she is doing.
Next each player describes the arrival
of their character into the scene.
Every character has exactly one line.
When everyone has said one line, the scene ends.
The old stone ring is crumbling. Moss
cover the inscrutable carvings on the black rocks. Gudrun carefully removes the
moss and lets her fingers feel the cold rock. So long ago. But she still
remembers the ritual.
Stark steps into the circle.
"It is time."
5. What has changed?
Every player in turn tells an epilogue
for their character. It is after the meeting. The character is alone once
again, recollecting the meeting. Did you say, what you wanted? Did you achieve,
what you hoped for? Did you leave the town or did you stay? Will you ever
I have her blood on my hands. It is warm
and dark. It is getting sticky. In front of me, I can see her lifeless body.
The empty, staring eyes, the wispy hair, the wry mouth with libs somewhat too
large. The blood running from her chest. Behind her, the others stand. Staring
at me. Fearful. But also grateful. Grateful that it was I and not them. Now I
carry the curse. It is quiet now in me - sleeping. For a time. Until the black
moon once again appears and calls it. At that time we will gather again. Those
of us that still lives. And a new will take my place. Until one day where one
of us will be the last, and the curse no longer can be stopped but will devour
Questions and answers
What is a storytelling game?
A storytelling game is a variant of
roleplaying games, where the participants in turn bring the story forward by
talking with narrative voice. You also can act out scenes, speak out what your
character says, and describe or act the actions of your character. But where it
is usually a single player acting as a game master that interprets the outcomes
of events in the fiction, it is now a task for the narrator. Where you as a
player would say: "I swing my sword at the troll," you now say:
"My sword penetrates the troll's chest and the gore spills out."
Who decides if we disagree?
The current narrator decides in case of
uncertainty or disagreement about what has been established in the fiction.
What another player has created in the fiction cannot be undone. You can add,
but not undo.
Can you kill the character of another player?
Yes, but only with the consent of the
Why do they return home?
This is for you to decide during the
game. Is it a pagan ritual that must be completed? Is it a wedding that are
planned? Has someone died?
What about chaos, mutants, skavens, wood elves and all the other elements
of the Warhammer setting?
The focus of the game is the mood and
the emotions about the reunion. The fantastic, epic, and mythological aspects
are down graded. The characters can of course have experienced the fantastic in
the outside world and bring back memories of this.
Hints for storytelling games
Use all five senses to make a scene feel
present and alive. Describe details. How are the smells of the forest? How does
the wood work feel? How does the river sound?
Add to the ideas of the other players
and weave your stories together. If another player has mentioned a woodland
lord in the first scene then let him appear in the last scene.
Play against each other
Challenge each other and create
opposition for each other. If someone has hurt you, then it is the character of
another player. If someone is the father of your child, then it is the
character of another player.
Thanks to Jonathan Walton for making me
draw a story with Geiger Counter. Thanks to Tobias B. Bindslet for fruitful
discussions about stories seen from the outside and from the inside and about
starting and stopping scenes. Thanks to Johannes Busted Larsen for bringing the
Empire together and letting me join.
This game is part of the anthology The
Empire, which won the Jury's Special Prize at Fastaval 2009.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
3.0 Unported License.