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Notes towards The Ring Cycle as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

This is, perhaps, my greatest (only) contribution to the field of Wagner studies. The essential question of:


Could you run a D&D campaign set in the world of The Ring Cycle?


Naturally, this offers us as usual a framework for understanding the characters as any attempt to model them on (for example) Jungian archetypes, and how individual performers might express their agency through playful engagement with the text as co-creators, and is not merely a thinly-veiled attempt to fantasise about a D&D campaign set in the world of The Ring Cycle.


I’m going to presume you know The Ring Cycle already, or can follow that link to Wikipedia, which explains its winding plot better than I ever could.


For the TTRPG nerds among you, yes, obviously the correct system for this is Mörk Borg or something similarly flexible and light, but let’s use D&D for now.*


And skip to the end for the bit where I stat up the characters of The Ring Cycle for fun. It’s probably the most entertaining bit.


Ground Rules


First off, The Ring Cycle is vast, and evidently many of the players aren’t present at all sessions. Looking at Rhinegold, for example, an entirely different group turn up for Scene 1 to Scene 2. This is a West Marches-type campaign, where players can drop in and out to suit their schedules and interests.


So characters level up based on gaining XP and gaining magic gear. Wotan levels up between Rhinegold and Walküre in part because he goes on a side-quest to meet Erda. Siegfried mostly just gathers magic items. XP should also be given for social encounters.


Other thematic things from the Ring:


Player-versus-player violence is absolutely on the table. Whether it’s Siegmund and Hunding coming to blows, or Wotan and Fricka threatening each other with force if needed, PvP happens.


Short rests take a day. Long rests take place after an ‘opera’.


No death saving throws. When a character in The Ring dies, they don’t come back.


On a Critical Failure, weapons break, spells misfire, and curses happen. Big swings are needed.


The World; The Gods’ Game


There are two games in The Ring Cycle; the game of mortals and the game of gods (which mostly consists of interfering in the former).


The game of mortals looks much like a normal D&D campaign.


The gods’ game begins with setting up the world for the rest of the Cycle. So we’ll need:


  • A pantheon of mythic beings: a pantheon of gods and anti-gods with contrary goals. This is character creation, of which more below. All gods start at at least level 10.


  • Prophecies for player characters to either claim as their destiny, or fulfil on their travels. For example, A fearless hero can pass this flame might encourage a player to try and succeed on any check to avoid becoming frightened. A player accepting a curse-like prophecy might be granted an automatic success on a check.


  • Places in the world. Gods can choose to make locations for others to explore. For example, they might decide to stick a magic sword, a relative, and a driving storm in a particular spot.


Between the ‘normal’ campaign’s sessions, gods play their own game. They decide what move they want to make offstage, whether that’s building a relationship with an NPC, setting up a scheme, or making a prophecy or magic item. They get to make a few rolls in a skill challenge, and that leads to the evolving world. Anyone over Level 15 gets to make one move in this game; someone at Level 20 gets to make two.


Gods also need special rules for levelling up. From Level 10, they get given an area of divine specialism and a rule they have to uphold. For example, Your specialism is war; you must bring great heroes from battle. They are bound by this obligation, and cannot act outside it without losing their powers.


For each level after that, they gain another rule to add further clarity. For example, which heroes do you consider great? How else do you serve war? For members of the anti-pantheon, it might be expressed as a need: I need to get the Ring back.


Gods in normal games


A player might decide to have their god join in the mortal game-sessions.


They might stay offstage, saying “if someone’s character prays to my god during the session, and pledges to honour my rules, I’ve put aside a Level 5 spell slot to help them.” The player who prays gives an appropriate amount of XP to the god from whatever reward they’d usually get from the encounter.


They might also use flashbacks, like in Blades in the Dark. A god might say ‘this is actually part of my plan’ and, even if they’re not at the session, declare that the spell slot they didn’t use last session was actually used here, to set up an everlasting flame.


Or they might appear alongside the players, like the Wanderer. In which case they may not reveal their true nature to mortals; any use of magic or similar can only take place after a deception check (DC = 10 + their level) to hide their divinity.


Rules & Obligations


The Ring Cycle is a world of contracts, oaths, and prophecies, upheld by the universe and the other gods. Breaking one ought to mean losing a number of levels. For example, a god who breaks the rules of their divine specialism ought to lose enough levels to reduce them to the level where they made that promise.


This also gives people leverage over gods. When a god is approached to uphold their rule, it might be that they’re obliged to.


Prophecies


Prophecies ought to have a clear outcome (e.g. ‘you can draw the sword’) and an achievable condition (e.g. ‘if you are the greatest [highest-level] hero in the world’).


Anyone should be able to call on a prophecy as a source of power and glory, unless it is made about a specific character. If it is about a specific character, be thoughtful about how it might have multiple ways to come about.


Fate & Oaths


All PCs should have a fate. For example, arrogance, woe, or overreach.


If a PC is taking an action in line with their fate, then they can get advantage on a roll, but also give a token to the dungeon master. The dungeon master can spend these tokens at any time to impose disadvantage on a future roll; the world of The Ring is not kind.


For mortals, their fate might even be enforced by the gods. For gods, they’ll lose at least one level each time they break their fate.


Oaths are made purposefully, and people should keep their ears out. Does someone saying “I will help you” truly want to make an oath? If yes, then it works like their fate. At level 5, heroes should make at least one oath. On making an oath, the consequences ought to be clear (such as being stabbed by a spear).


Magic Items


Obviously, the Ring is full of magic items.


By level 10, characters get one signature magic item - a spear that records their contracts of power, a sword that cannot break, a goat-pulled chariot… They can make it themselves or get someone else to.


They get an additional such item at levels 15 and 20. Usually, magic items do two things. Big, epic things like ‘help find gold’ and ‘bind others to your will’.


In addition, characters can try to make magic items to serve their purposes, though that might be a quest in and of itself.




The Ring Cycle characters as D&D classes


Obviously, in an actual campaign, players could create whichever characters they wanted. But for this rather silly blog, and as examples:


What D&D character class would each character in The Ring Cycle be?


Rules:


  • The closest thing D&D has to the long-lived gods/Aesir-Vanir is elves, and I’m inclined to stat them up accordingly.

  • Broadly, Level 5 is when a hero gets some renown, level 10 is when they start to be a bit godlike, and level 15 is when they become a really notable divine power in their own right. Level 20 is incredibly rare, and reserved for the mightiest beings.

  • Characters change during the Ring, and I will not bother with nonsense like “Wotan in Walküre feels like he’s gained a few levels since Rhinegold…”



Rhinegold


Rhinemaidens. Merfolk sorcerers (Wild magic), level 10. All whimsical and strange (there’s a temptation to cast them as a sea hag coven), with remarkable but ill-controlled power. Chaotic neutral.


Alberich. Dwarfen warlock (Patron - the Ring), level 15. Alberich’s power derives from the Ring and the knowledge he has gained by a pact renouncing love. Neutral evil.


Wotan (a.k.a. wardad, battledad). Aesir wizard (school of enchantment), level 17-20. In contrast to other gods’ innate skills, Wotan’s power comes from study, training, and contracts, but most especially from his ability to talk his way through situations. True neutral.


Fricka. Aesir cleric (Order Domain), level 17. Fricka upholds the order of family and marriage. Most powerful when someone’s broken the rules. Lawful good.


Freia. Aesir cleric (Life domain), level 15. The one with the arts of love, beauty, and apples that grant eternal youth. Willing to go along with the rules. Lawful good.


Froh. Aesir cleric (Nature Domain), level 15. All gentleness and connection with the natural world, though closely bonded to his kin. Neutral Good.


Donner. Aesir cleric (Tempest domain), level 15. All about the thunder and lightning and wrath. Lawful neutral, though from his behaviour you might consider shifting it to Lawful Evil.


Loge. Aesir wizard (school of illusion), level 16. While he has a great many fire-themed tricks up his sleeve, ultimately his arts are in trickery. Perhaps a few levels in rogue? Chaotic neutral.


Fasolt. Cloud Giant. Strong, an excellent builder, and able to create a castle in the sky. Genuinely interested in Freia above riches to an extent that suggests a possible Lawful Good alignment.


Fafner. Cloud Giant/Green Dragon. Strong, an excellent builder, and later transforms self into an acid-spitting dragon. Primarily motivated by riches. Blood grants powers. Neutral Evil.


Mime. Dwarfen artificer (Armourer), level 10. A cunning maker of many things, particularly various defences (rings of power, helmets of invisibility, swords, poisons). Miserable. True Neutral.


Erda. Genasi druid (Circle of Stars), level 20. The iconic earth mother, innately connected with the divine, nature and seeing the past and future spread before her for prophecy. Neutral Good.



Die Walküre


Siegmund. Human barbarian (Berserker), level 5. Aggressively generic hero, with only two interests amid bursts of rage: his magic sword and his sister-bride. Chaotic neutral.


Sieglinde. Human druid (Circle of Stars), level 5. Clear knowledge of poisons and some art of prophecy, while also interested in obeying the call of nature (with her brother). Chaotic good.


Hünding. Human ranger (Hunter Conclave), level 4. Good at tracking Siegmund, a somewhat tricksy fighter, fixed on the ‘correct’ order of things. Lawful neutral.


Brünnhilde. Aesir paladin (Oath of Devotion), level 15. The most paladin paladin to ever paladin, devoted to doing the divine work (even in defiance of Wotan’s word). She’ll lose access to her paladin magic and magic items for breaking her oath, but still be a paladin at heart. Neutral good.


Valkyries. Aesir paladins (Oath of Vengeance), level 10. Psychopomps, all possessed with a magic spear, shield, and flying horse, all devoted to gathering heroes from the battlefield. Lawful neutral.



Siegfried


Siegfried. Human barbarian (Totem Warrior), level 5. Knows no fear of bears or gods, and thus incredibly heroic but a bit of a moron. Occasional bursts of rage, likes animals. True Neutral.


Waldvogel. Bird. No especial skills beyong being a bird. Neutral Good.



Götterdamerung


The Norns. Genasi sorcerers (Divine Soul), level 15. The daughters of Erda, connected with past, present, and future, more focused on time than nature. True neutral.


Gunther. Human fighter, level 2. Gunther’s… there? He has enough knowledge of how to fight and hunt to be a noble, but little more. True neutral.


Gutrune. Human rogue, level 2. Gutrune likewise. She seems to be a bit more cunning than Gunther, so let’s’ call her a rogue. True neutral.


Hagen. Half-dwarf artificer (alchemist) level 5. Mostly expressing his hero-ness via cunningly-delivered potions, Alberich is eager to make him a Ring-warlock. Neutral Evil.



Wrapping Up


So, that being done - does this sound like a good campaign? What would make it fun?


*Probably, the actual right campaign for a Ring Cycle team is a very silly one set in the shadows of the world.


What happens if you’re a group of heroes who have been tasked with dealing with the god whose eternal sadness means he’s going to try and bring about the end of the world? Can you stop him wingeing, for once and for all?


And yes, if you are part of the Longborough Ring team, this is an invitation.




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