Nord (Backgrounds for 5th Edition D&D/Mythic North)

Michael O. Varhola

Following is a D&D 5E background for the Nord, which represents a quintessential inhabitant of the Mythic North — a fantastic region corresponding largely to what we now know as Norway and Iceland, and to a lesser extent to Sweden and Denmark — and which can be applied to many of the people living there. Other 5th Edition backgrounds at d-Infinity Online include the Aigyptian,  the Koan, and the Combat Engineer


Background: Nord
You are an inhabitant of the Mythic North, the northernmost area where significant numbers of people are known to live, and might dwell in a small farm isolated farm steading in a remote region, a fortified holding along the banks of a rugged fjord, or anything in between.

          You are probably a farmer, growing things like barley, winter wheat, turnips, and apples, and caring for animals like horses, sheep, and cattle; a fisher, casting your nets in the inlets around where you live or venturing out onto the sea itself; or an artisan of some sort, creating goods that can be used within your community or traded beyond it (e.g., horseshoes, boats, mead, shields, cloth). You are, in any event, probably not overly specialized, and may engage in more than one of the afore-mentioned occupations, as well as hunting, gathering, and serving as a member of the local defense force (especially if you have combat training). Whatever the case, you probably have to work harder to survive than do most people in more forgiving parts of the world and have less of a margin for error during the long, dark, brutal winters.

          You are very likely a carl, a common subject of the jarl, or aristocratic strongman, who probably rules over the area in which you live. If you have ability as a warrior or other sort of adventurer, however, then you might be a thegn, one of the oath-bound members of the chieftain’s retinue (and, if you are not, this might very well be something you aspire to).

          You have seen and probably handled coinage of various sorts up to an extent — particularly silver coins generally referred to as marks — but most low-level commerce is conducted via barter and by trading what you can produce or acquire for things you need that others have.

          You are part of a religious tradition that venerates a composite pantheon of often grim or elemental deities from a variety of worlds and to one extent or another might worship these gods yourself. Whatever the case, you almost certainly have an appreciation, and possibly even an apprehension, for the force of fate known as wyrd, which can influence and even dictate the events of a person’s life.


Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival.

Tool Proficiencies: Two of vehicles (water), a type of artisan’s tools, fishing equipment, or outdoor gear.

Equipment: A sea chest, a set of artisan’s tool, fishing equipment, or a set of outdoor gear (e.g., skis); a saex and scabbard; a set of traveler’s clothes suitable for cold weather; a belt; a pouch or haversack; and a unique personal item (e.g., a hneftafl game set, a small idol, a cloak pin, a set of combs).


Nord Equipment

Nord clothing is generally made of wool, flax cloth, furs, and leather, and accessories like buttons are frequently crafted from materials like bone, horn, and antler. Tools, weapons, and armor components are typically forged from locally-available iron. Jewelry and embellishments to weapons, armor, shields, helmets, and other items are often made with silver and to a lesser extent gold, and with precious materials that include amber.

          Seax. A heavy fighting knife midway in size between a dagger and a shortsword that is also used a tool, known as a seax, is an almost universal implement carried by people of the Mythic North. Any Nord proficient with dagger should also be considered to be skilled with the use of this martial melee weapon (seax, 6 gp, 1d5 piercing, 1½ lb., finesse, light).

          Shield Wall. In a region that is often violent but where heavy armor is less prolific than in many other areas, warriors have learned to help protect each other in battle by forming up into what is known as a shield wall. Any Nord character proficient with shields has been trained in how to do this.

          As a bonus action, a Nord proficient with a shield who has one can form a shield wall with anyone else capable of and interested in doing so that is within 5 feet of her. She will then gain +2 to her armor class if she has an ally with a shield to each side of her and +1 if she has an ally with a shield to just one side of her. She can, furthermore, add that numerical bonus to Dexterity saving throws.

          Creatures entirely behind the shield wall gain +5 to AC and Dexterity saving throws for three-quarters cover and those partially blocked by it receive +2 to AC and Dexterity saving throws for half cover (e.g., if they are behind one of its far ends).

          Outdoor Gear. People of the Mythic North have developed many sorts of equipment to help them deal with and move through the rugged environment in which they live, including skis, ice skates, sleds, and mountain climbing gear like boot spikes and ice axes. A Nord who takes tool proficiency with outdoor gear is skilled at using such equipment and can add its proficiency bonus to ability checks that involve using it.


Feature: Local Knowledge

You have in-depth knowledge about the Mythic North and its communities, history, inhabitants, religion, lore, laws, mores, and traditions. For each point of your proficiency bonus, you know one secret or obscure fact about a specific area of the Mythic North equal in size to a village, probably your own community but possibly a locale like a fjord, mountain, or island. Work with your storyteller to determine the information you know and how it might tie in with past, present, and future adventures. Examples might include the location of some forgotten barrows from an earlier era, a cave where a dragon dwells, or a hidden valley that contains a grove of particularly abundant apple trees.

When you make an ability check that would be affected by your knowledge of the Mythic North, you may add your proficiency bonus to it (e.g., to determine the properties of indigenous plants, to know a pertinent fact about the history of a particular holding).


Suggested Characteristics

Natives of the Mythic North are often rugged and hardworking and, because they must maintain focus and seriousness much of time, frequently present as dour and humorless to outsiders (although among their fellows or those who get to know them their actual individual natures are more readily apparent). Nords tend to understand both the critical roles their communities can play in their survival on the one hand, and the importance of self-reliance on the other. People from this hostile and unpredictable region are also often somewhat superstitious and believe not just in their gods but also in the powerful effects of fate and the lurking presence of evil spirits and monsters (all with some justification).


d8                Personality Trait

1                  I enjoy the day-to-day routines of my community and never feel more at home than when I am engaged in the tasks associated with it.

2                  There is nothing I enjoy as much as the festivals and seasonal holidays associated with the gods and their deeds.

3                  I have an abiding horror of the frozen wastes that exist just beyond the lands of men and which seem to stretch off to the very ends of the world.

4                  I understand the importance of toil and effort, but what I really appreciate are the fun things that follow it, such as games, sports, performances, feasting, and drinking.

5                  I so want to see what lies beyond the horizon and to venture as far and wide throughout the world, even beyond the lands of the north, as I can.

6                  I love both telling and hearing stories about the gods and feel edified as a result of doing so.

7                  There are few things I like as much as working with my hands and enjoying the fruits of my labors.

8                  I know that my homeland hides many secrets and feel that my life is a journey to discover what they are.


d6                Ideal

1                  Piety. The gods have given us everything that we have, little though it sometimes may be, and I am committed to revering them and upholding the traditions associated with them. (Lawful)

2                  Balance. Everything happens for a reason, even if we do not understand what it is, and good and evil, law and chaos, must be accepted as part of the natural order. (Neutral)

3                  Avarice. There really is not enough food, wealth, or other resources in the world to satisfy everyone, so there is no reason why I should worry about others when obtaining things I need and want for myself. (Evil)

4                  Justice. Everyone, even carls, slaves, and common people, deserves the right to be treated well and fairly. (Good)

5                  Proficiency. There is nothing more key to success and happiness than to work or train hard and to be good at something. (Any)

6                  Fatalistic. Wyrd determines what a person’s fate will be so there is no point in planning overly much or pretending that people can really affect what will come of them. (Chaotic)


d6                Bond

1                  The north is my home and, even though I may travel to other places, I will never live anywhere else and will ultimately strive to return to spend my final days here.

2                  I will never worship any gods other than those of my homeland and will always support the values and ideals they stand for.

3                  I am utterly loyal and obedient to my jarl and trust that whatever he decides is right.

4                  The welfare of the holding of which I am a member is more important to me than anything else.

5                  I will always render aid to a fellow Nord if possible.

6                  My first loyalty is to my companions, upon whom I depend, and I will always put their wellbeing ahead of everything else.


d6                Flaw

1                  All those old barrows filled with dead warriors and chieftains are supposed to be sacred, but the weapons, armor, and other goods some of them contain would be put to better use by the living (like me).

2                  Wolves, bears, and other wild animals need to eat, too, and I can’t get too upset about them periodically grabbing a person, even someone like a child.

3                  I’m not sure if the jarl who rules over the area I live in is really the best person to be in his position and could very easily get behind someone who seems like a better bet.

4                  People from other lands are detestable to me and I will do what I can to make them feel unwelcome in my homeland and to not prolong their visits to it.

5                  I love competitive events so much that I will do just about anything to win at them and be unhappy if I do not.

6                  If the gods aren’t real then there is certainly no reason to waste time and resources worshipping and sacrificing to them, and if they are real then they have provided us with little enough that they are not due much reverence.