The Let's Play Archive

The Banner Saga Trilogy

by FairGame

Part 2: 1-1: A Giant Problem

PART II: A Giant Problem
Editor's Note: Hey, I haven't done an LP in forever and I gather I fucked up some of the batch processing here. Images will get better once I'm clear of the initial upload (which is probably 1 update from now). Thanks for your patience. This is a long series of games; we'll all get there together.

When we last left off, Ubin had helped the governor of Strand keep the peace in his town, only to learn it was largely because important guests were due in town any minute. Today, we'll meet the guests.

This is Vognir. He's kendr to the varl--the closest thing to "next in line for kingship" that the giants have.
: Vognir.
: Gods, Ubin, you're looking ancient!
: Comes with being old. And, if there is Vognir there must be Hakon.
A 3rd varl enters the conversation, but he's kind of obscured in the conversation screenshots behind Ubin's shoulder. We'll be seeing a lot of Hakon, so don't worry too much about it.
: Must there?
:: Still bleeding tributes from the poor and stupid, old yox? At what age do you lose a sense of shame?
: Jorundr demands it. I'll take that over lingering to death in Grofheim. Speaking of, I had no sense you were so far from home.
: Just returned from Arberrang, in fact.
: And glad for it.
Hakon motions to the other ships in the bay, sails still fluttering. Golden wolf head emblazoned on red. The king of men, then, or someone on his behalf.
: The king's whelp.
: The king's son, Ludin. Don't you know, scrivener? We visit his capital, he visits ours? It's how you make alliances these days.
: It's a miserable waste of time.
: Yes, Hakon has it. I'd almost forgotten. It's a good thing you're around, Hakon.
: Then you're going to Grofheim? I have the distinct feeling I've finished my business in Strand and was heading there myself. We should caravan.
: We should. Give it a day. In better circumstances I'd drink a week away but, ah...let's just be done. Find me tomorrow at the gates.
: What he's trying to say is the prince is a delight to behold.
: Where is Mogr? Hakon, have him find a place to put up the warriors. I'm heading up to meet the governor.
A host of giants depart in his wake. You recognize a few, others are strangers to you.
: Guess I'm off to find Mogr. See you in the morning, scrivener.
: I'll be along.
The young prince of men ambles from his ship. He brushes off his tunic, scanning the beach with low eyelids. Ludin looks for all the world the sort of boy who grew up pulling the legs from spiders. The road back to Grofheim should be more interesting than most years, you think.

Now would probably be a good time to explain a bit. The governor touched on a bit during his speech last update, but there are 3 major races in this game:
Men: Humans. Easy enough.
Varl: Giants. Half man, half yox. Note that this isn't some Piers Anthony creepy Xanth shit where a yox banged a human and made a giant. Varl in this game were literally created by the gods. Gods decided "hey let's make a half man half yox" and presto, varl. Meaning there are no women varl, nor can varl reproduce. Literally every single varl was created by the gods. And with the gods dead per the first update, well...that's not great news for the varl. They're exceedingly long-lived (none of them has yet died of old age; it's a plot point) at least.
Men and varl warred for a good long time, though--what the varl lacked in number, they made up for in strength. At some point the gods got pissed off at the two sides constantly fighting with one another and created...
Dredge: Stone men who came from underground. The dredge attacked man and giant alike, and only through an alliance (and some other shit we'll get to later) were the dredge defeated. There have been two great wars betweeen dredge and humans/varl. At the end of the second great war, the dredge were driven underground and have not been seen in meaningful numbers since then.

Man and varl apparently have tried to maintain their alliance despite no longer having a common enemy. Enter this diplomatic mission with Vognir and Ludin, both second in line for the throne of their respective race. Worth noting that while human succession is hereditary--Ludin is the son of the king, varl succession is basically just "the king picks a badass warrior and names him kendr, that badass warrior names his own kendr, and so on." After all, since they can't procreate you can't have hereditary anything.

Varl are cool as hell and really got a raw deal.

There's a 4th race, the horseborn (centaurs, basically; created the same way as varl but apparently WITH the ability to procreate) but they fucked off to the far south centuries ago. They got pissed off looking at regular horses, and murdered them all in a fit of pique. Then, ashamed, they fled south.

We will not be seeing any horseborn in this game, but for good measure I figured best to cover them.

On the other hand, if you're going to join Vognir's caravan tomorrow it might not hurt to share a drink with Hakon, or introduce you to the prince they spoke so highly of.

We'll get screens like this a great deal. Click on a portrait to initiate a conversation with a hero. For the most part it's just world and character-building and not on the game's critical path. But given that you should only play this game if you're into world and character-building, it'd be a shame not to.

I'll obviously be talking with people at all times. We'll start with Hakon.

: Scrivener!
You find Hakon in a mead house surrounded by other varl. Strand is no stranger to varl but rarely sees this many. Hakon waves you over.
: Went straight for a flagon?
: Vognir's the one who agreed to pass up a drink. I wasn't invited to the governor's hall anyway.
: You already missed the massacre. Every year I make the rounds collecting taxes. Every year it's the human settlements that give me trouble.
: No surprise. What this time?
: When I got here the great hall was already full of bodies. We added a few more.
: Hah, humans. I guess if I only lived as long as a yox fart I might be desperate to make something of myself, too.
: It's not too late to start trying, Hakon.
Hakon lets slip a low chuckle. Any varl could recount his deeds, known as he is for cutting a swathe through dredge at Vognir's side in the second great war, and regularly since then.
: Down here I'm a glorified bodyguard. You might have a point. Just another reason to get back to Grofheim.
: Soon enough, I imagine.
You drink until the mead house becomes overbearing, then step back into the cool air outside.

We'll go see Ludin next.
: Is this the right place?
You find the prince at an inn. Guards blanket the building, including a sharp-eyed varl who must be working for Ludin. A woman in red eventually waves you over and stands nearby, arms crossed.
: Greetings, Prince Ludin.
: Yes. You're with Vognir? I don't remember you.
: Not exactly. I've known Vognir a long time. I'll be joining you back to Grofheim, with my guards.
Ludin looks up for the first time. The woman doesn't react.
: Why?
: I work for the king, carrying tithes to the capital. We crossed by chance.
: Oh, a tax collector. Fine company. What do you want?

All of these lead to different dialogue, but you can only choose 1. I'll go with option 3 since it seems the most in-character for the world's most literate varl.
: I have a habit of recording history. I thought we might talk about your visit.
: A varl historian? Aha. Dont' you already know? Your king and mine have both been practically trumpeting throughout the cities.
: I've been on the road a while, I'm afraid.
Ludin takes a deep sigh. Whether tired on ungracious you aren't certain. Maybe both.

: A formality, mostly. Vognir came to our capital in Arberrang and now we go to the varl's capital in Grofheim, to cement this grand alliance for the "next age" of men and varl.
: You sound unconvinced.
: There's no need for it. And it's damned cold up here.
You get the sense he's struggling not to complain outright. You take the opportunity to excuse yourself.

With nothing else to do, we'll retire for the night.

...your guards take the treasure wagon down to the gates. Vognir is already here. A while later Ludin and his men appear, groggy and disheveled.

You follow Mogr and join the others.

Usually the smaller doors set into the gates would be enough to enter or leave the city, but the twon guards have been told to push them open entirely. They mutter things under their breath that are best not heard. Perhaps the governor expected you to draw a crowd, but there's nothing of the sort. Just frustrated, tired people. It summarizes strand well as a whole, you think.

And finally, we're on the road. There's not going to be much difficulty in Ubin's caravan, given that he's traveling with a varl and human army combined and that they're well-resourced. Still, best to go over all of this.

That module at the top reports the status of our caravan.
The red 36? That's RENOWN, the resource we will use to level up, buy supplies, and maybe buy items in shops. Items are kinda random and level ups are almost always better than an item. There are a couple items in this game that if they show up I'll be buying immediately, though, as they're so good that they can carry you into BS2 and even BS3 and I'd rather have that than a level 5 Gunnulf or whatever.
The yellow 67? That's DAYS OF SUPPLIES, an all-purpose counter for food/water/medicine/whatever else you need to be out on the road per day and not die of starvation/dehydration/exposure/whatever. It scales to how many people you have in your caravan. We don't have 67 supplies. We have enough supplies for 85 fighters and 366 varl to survive for 67 days. When supplies get low, morale tanks. When supplies hit zero, you have people die every day until you manage to resupply. There is an achievement for not having anyone starve to death in this game.

I have not gotten this achievement. I will likely not be getting it this playthrough either.

The brown 1? That's day of the jouney. Not really much to report there. There's an achievement for reaching the final destination of the game in 120 days. I will 100% not be getting it this playthrough. Or ever.

The smiling green face? That's MORALE, and it has a different face/color combo for each of the morale levels. Remember how health in Oregon Trail was Good/Fair/Poor/Very Poor? It's like that. Great morale gives you bonuses to willpower. Good morale gives you smaller bonuses. Fair gives you nothing. Poor and very poor morale give you equivalent maluses to willpower relative to good. Continued travel without rest with sap morale, as will starvation. As will fucking up certain events. Doing well in certain events can boost morale.

There is an achievement for reaching the final destination without ever going into bad morale. Given what I just said about the starvation achievement, rest assured we will not be getting that achievement either.

Then there are the 3 person-types composing the caravan.
CLANSMEN are human non-combatants. Civilians, if you will. They do nothing useful other than eat your food. They get more useful in later games.
FIGHTERS are human combatants. The 85 here are Ludin's retinue. They will take part in large-scale war battles, which we can worry about when we get to one. Also, if your fighter count dips below certain levels, bad things tend to happen to you (the most obvious of which happens at the very end of the game.)
VARL are, well...varl. All are combatants by definition. They behave the same way as fighters. Despite being strong as an ox, the game counts a fighter and a varl at 1:1 when it comes to determining war strength.

And that's about it! We'll worry about all this stuff later on.

We'll toast to Vognir.
You raise your drink, toasting the alliance between man and varl. The others join in. Ludin's expression is like a stone wall, but the others laugh at your exaggerations. Eventually you sit down beside Vognir. "Thanks for the speech," he slurs.

: Looks like you didn't have to miss out, after all.
: Thanks to Mogr. I thought the damned governor would never shut up. Did he give you the history of his entire family?
: He tried. Then he asked me to clean up his mess. For your benefit, turns out!
: I'd have given the job to you too. Gods, there's no joy in politics.
: Speaking of, what happens after this business with Ludin?
: Hopefully the boy goes back to Arberrang. On his own. And I...can take out some frustration on dredge or something.
: Starting to sound like Hakon. You don't like the life of a diplomat?
: Haha! Don't you miss the fight, Ubin?
You down your mead instead of replying. Vognir slouches and shakes his head.
: There's no great joy in killing dredge. But this...pretty sure this nonsense is some scheme between the two kings to force some kind of lineage. Used to be, warriors would follow you for what you'd done.
: Isn't that why they follow you now?
: Is it? Or is it because I'm the next in line? These lines are getting muddy, old varl.
: They've always been muddy, Vognir.
Vognir stares into the campfire, lost in thought. You leave him to it.

This is the camp screen in the background, but we're still sort of in a tutorial. We'll get to explore a bit later on.

: Ah, it's Ludin. Always a pleasure. You look well rested.
Vognir releases a caged yawn, and receives a hard-eyed stare in return.
: How long to Grofheim?
: Haah. We're only two days out of Strand, you know. Come, I'll show you on a map.

The game's map is interactive. You can click any named area and learn a bit about it. Which is impressive since we'll only ever see like 15-25% of the game world directly. They really did a neat job building up the world and its lore.

Like Dalalond, for example. Allegedly this is where the horseborn are. We'll never see it in any of the games. But it's on the map and you can learn a bit about this lush but empty area.

: We head north, then east, past the forts. Grofheim's far from Strand. Going to be a long march.
: You should have drank last night, Ludin.
: Why not take the ships to Skrymirstead? What's the point of marching?
: The Silverstone bay is called that for a reason. It stays covered in ice all year. It would tear up the longships.
: Too bad, though. We could have shown you all the wonders of Skrymirstead.
: A half-sunken city crawling with dredge, prince. Dredge and glaciers. You like glaciers?
Ludin exhales through the nose, a poor disguise for his contempt. He turns and bats aside the tent flaps as he goes, barking at his company in the distance.
: Don't poke the anthill, Vognir. He seems no happier to be here than you.
: Spend a few more days with the boy, old friend. You'll be looking for a tall cliff to hop off, too. Ludin's got a shorter wick than Hakon.
: Thanks, Vognir. Let's get moving. Another half-day to Vedrfell if we're lucky.

With that, we're taken back to the Camp screen where you can manage your heroes, rest (no thanks), or do training battles (also no thanks). We have 4 heroes at present--Gunnulf, Hakon, Mogr, and Ludin. We'll be seeing a lot of all of them; they're all very good units.

When Varl get injured they take injuries of 6 days (-6 strength). Gunnulf's counter is down to 5 because we technically spent a day in Strand after he got beat up a bit.

His injury notwithstanding, Gunnulf is a good unit. We'll promote him. He needs 2 kills to promote (the 2/2 at the bottom) so no worries there. Varl warhawks will almost always have more kills than you have renown with which to promote them; the ability to attack multiple units in a single turn is unparalleled. We'll worry about "item rank" once we actually get some items.

Apparently I didn't screenshot it, but I gave Gunnulf 2 points (you get 2 points at level up) in armor so that he gets maimed slightly less easily going forward.

As we approach Vedrfell, Ubin narrates some more.
Vedrfell. Even the name means bad weather, where frozen wind sweeps in from the bay. They tend livestock, but most are just men driven from Strand, with nowhere else to go. Why else would anyone stay? We won't stop long.

: By Hadrborg, that's a lot of varl for some missing cattle.
: What?
: Couple days back, sent word to Strand about the cattle. Didn't expect an army!
He looks pleased with himself, until it sinks in that you aren't here on his behalf.
: Where have your cattle gone?
: Wouldn't know. My boys seen men up the hills carrying them away. Don't know many men who can hoist a whole cow by himself.
: Skalfings out here, maybe? Could they have varl working for them?
: Not from what the governor told me. I'm going to tak ea look around and set up camp.
The peasant spits, his eyes anxiously darting about as the caravan sets up tents.

...Were this a different game, we'd go on a cattle rustling sidequest. But that's not The Banner Saga. The Banner Saga is a story where everyone has bad shit happening to them, and most of it is small-potatoes enough that it'd be absurd to get involved. I thought I'd be spending time in Vedrfell hunting down some bandits as a benevolent giant. But no, that's not at all where things are going.
: We'll be here no more than a day. There's silver for any food you've got.
: For hundreds of varl? Are you serious?
: Whatever you're willing to sell.
: You thinking of squatting? Not enough room for a couple hunters here, forget hundreds of...
: Shut up. Hear that? Where's Ludin?
It's faint. Sounds like fighting and...something else. Hakon takes off at a run.

We're immediately taken to a battle screen against 3 Dredge. Ludin will learn how to make waypoints--good for avoiding hazards.

Also in the background, Vognir's down.

Ludin, as a spearmaster, can attack from 2 panels away--which means diagonally. Very useful! But not here, where the tutorial forces a 10 strength character to attack a 15 armor dredge. Ordinarily it's an attack that'd have a 50% chance of doing 1 damage. Pretty useless. But it's hard-coded to deflect here. Essentially a waste of a turn.

The dredge responds by one-shotting Ludin. Now both second-in-lines are down.

Hakon, Gunnulf, and Mogr arrive on the scene too late.

Hakon has the ability "sundering impact" which isn't nearly as useful as Gunnulf's "tempest," but it has its uses. It modifies the "heavy impact" skill most varl warriors have so that adjacent enemies take extra damage. But more imporantly, it does a guaranteed 1 armor, 2 strength MINIMUM damage on attack, wholly independent of your strength vs. the enemy's armor.

Guaranteed strength damage is very useful, especially early on. So that's what he does here.

Gunnulf is gonna be pretty useless here. Note that he has only 10 of 15 strength in this screenshot. That's his 5 day injury rearing its head.

Mogr is a shieldmaster. He's never gonna be big on dealing damage, but he can break armor like a champ and tank reasonably well. His special skill is "return the favor," which modifies his passive.

His passive does 1 armor damage to any adjacent enemy that hits him. It's still not great to get hit. Even with return the favor enabled and that 1 armor damage becoming 2/3/4. Best to not get hit.

Anyway, a bunch of shit happens until I maim all the dredge to the point that I'm willing to kill one and fuck with turn order. Killing something puts 1 star in THE HORN at the top of the screen. It's a good way to spread willpower around late in a battle.

Anyway, I fed 2 kills to Hakon and 1 to Mogr. I want Hakon to be level 2 by the next time I have to use him in battle, since he ALSO has shitty armor by default and I can't have both him AND Gunnulf running around getting maimed at the first opportunity.

: You trying to get yourself killed, Ludin? What are you doing?
(remember what I said about in-combat deaths usually just resulting in injuries rather than death?)
: I was trying...finding a...trying to get a shot in between the plates.
: You never seen a dredge before, boy? What kind of idiot...break their armor first!
(To be fair to Ludin, he probably hasn't seen a dredge before.)
: Where did they come from?
: We didn't even see them...they were just...there.
Hakon goes to where Vognir lies face down. The future varl king lies motionless, aside from a spreading pool of blood.
: Vognir's dead.

And on that cheery note (Vognir didn't fall in combat, he was already fallen by the time we got there), we reach the end of the chapter.