Ragnarok Development Diary: Magical Tattoos!

Clint Staples

Riffing on the system that I developed for Runequest, based on Chris Nan Deelen’s article detailing the Brute Tattoo, I decided to write up a system for magical Tattoos in Ragnarok! The RPG of the Viking Apocalypse.

Now, in case you don’t know, and contrary to movies and TV shows that feature a lot of inked-up Viking warriors, tattoos are not really a Viking thing. The only piece of evidence of which I am aware that might support tattoos on Vikings is from the Arab chronicler Ibn Fadlan’s 10th century travelogue into the area of the Varangian Rus – Modern day Ukraine and Russia, which at the time was probably (but not necessarily) dominated by a mostly, Swedish elite of nobles, adventurers and merchants (there are a number of other interpretations of what may have been going on). You may be familiar with Ibn Fadlan, because Michael Chrichton used his work as the base for “Eaters of the Dead” which was later retitled, and became the basis of, the film “The 13th Warrior”.

Disregarding the problematic historicity of the film, the novel and the source material, however, we can still create a system for magical  tattoos in Ragnarok! – because Ragnarok! is a game about a mythic Viking apocalypse, and not intended as a “straight” historical RPG.


Tattooing: The Talent and the Skill

Anybody could have the skill, Tattooing. With it, depending on the ranks they have in the skill and their natural aptitude for the work (in this case the Characteristic used would be: Coordination). But to infuse a tattoo with magical power, a tattooist would also need to have a Talent that granted magical ability. In Ragnarok, these are called Eldritch Talents.

There are lots of Eldritch Talents. Like Seidr Magic, which allows you to work that form of magic, or Shapeshifter, which is pretty much as advertised on the tin. In the case of Magical Tattoos, we will create a new Eldritch talent called:

Magical Tattooing (Eldritch): With this talent, and the Skill: Tattooing, you can create decorative and appealing magical tattoos imbued with powers.

The above statement doesn’t really help us define the process or abilities of the Talent. What can these Magical Tattoos do? And what limitations are there on their use? We can add some details to the talent.

Creating a magical tattoo requires one day per Power Rank imbued be spent, during which the tattooist, and the subject, can do little else but the tattoo. The tattooist must expend materials (in the form of ritually crafted needles, inks and similar) equal to 6 Marks per Rank of power Imbued into the tattoo. The tattooist and subject must agree on the nature of the tattoo, which must reflect one of the heroic “Deeds” of the subject, which will now be manifest on her flesh. At the end of the necessary time, the tattooist must make a Skill: Magical Tattooing success (Target Number: Hard [14] + 2 per Power Ranks Imbued). If the result is a success, the tattoo works. If the result is a failure, the tattoo remains, but is flawed and will not function, or with the Sagamaster’s permission, will function only fitfully (a Major Action and a Mental Check: Hard, to work for a scene) and at the expense of a Bonus Die each time. Either way, the tattoo is permanent, cannot be removed, and counts for purposes of the number limitation for tattoos.

A person can have no more than one Magical Tattoo per Fate they possess, and no more than one Magical tattoo on a body location.

       Possible Powers to Imbue:

  • +1 Vigor to a single Body Location (Permanent)
  • +1 Hit
  • +1 bonus to Checks of a Skill (you must possess the skill to benefit from this)
  • Resistance to a particular element or damage type (See the Talent: Resistance)
  • +1 to Mental Checks against Magical attack.
  • +1 to Mental Checks to control a Hindrance
  • Immunity to the effects of Fear

Unless the power is marked as permanent, it must be activated by spending a Minor Action. Thereafter it will function for one Scene or Interlude. Before it can be activated again it must be rededicated by spending one of your Bonus Dice for the purpose.


Now some explanation of some things employed in the system above. Things that are part of the Ragnarok Game Engine:

Heroic “Deeds”: Each hero has Renown, which is the degree to which they are known by others in the setting. Starting Renown is equal to the sum of the two highest Attributes the character possesses. So Bolverk the Berserker, which highest Attributes are Might 3 and Fate 2, would have a starting renown of 5. In Character Creation, players are encouraged to create a short description of their Heroic Deeds, one for each Renown they possess. And of course, as the Saga unfolds, a hero’s Renown will rise along with the new deeds they perform. A Magical Tattoo must reflect a Heroic Deed.

Scene/ Interlude: Ragnarok! Deals with the passage of time cinematically. A scene is a relatively short period of fairly intense activity. It could be a fight, an encounter of another sort, even an appearance in the Jarl’s court, or similar. But it is something that would happen “on camera” in a movie. An Interlude is a period of time, which could be significantly longer than a scene, in which the activity would probably be treated with a montage or “fade-out” in a film. Travel, preparation, extended skill usage, and more can comprise an interlude.

Bonus Die: If you have been reading the other development diary entries, you already know what this is. If not, have a look.

Talent and Skill: In Ragnarok, it is often common to have a Talent for a particular thing, and then require a skill to reflect doing it well. This makes it possible to learn a talent in stages, or with limited ability. When you don’t have a skill in something, you roll one fewer dice than you normally would. SO you are less practiced than someone with the skill. However, you can still spend Bonus Dice, if you have them, to make up for your lack of skill. In this case Bonus Dice represent those moments when you get lucky, when you make a breakthrough, or when everything just “feels RIGHT!”


The image at the top of this article is from the 2016 film, Viking, and is free to use.