Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Retrospective: Ivinia

I feel about Hârn the same way many feel about Tékumel or Glorantha: it's a great setting to read about but I don't think I could ever run a campaign there. 

I don't mean that as a criticism of Hârn – far from it, in fact. Rather, it's simply a statement that, for the kind of fantasy roleplaying gaming I enjoy, Hârn isn't now nor has it ever been a particularly good fit. What I mean by that is that, as much as I admire and appreciate the work of its creator, the late N. Robin Crossby, it's a bit too grounded a setting for my tastes. I prefer my fantasy worlds a little weirder and, well, fantastical. (Yes, I am aware of the Gargun and, yes, they are weird, but that's simply not enough for me.)

Nevertheless, the overwhelming quality of the materials produced for Hârn has ensured I've bought a number of them over the years, a few of which I think very highly. One of these is the Ivinia regional module, which was originally released as a boxed set in 1985. Ivinia is the name of an area to the northeast of the island of Hârn, one that's home to a collection of petty kingdoms that bear some similarity to those of early medieval Scandinavia.

If there's one thing fantasy roleplayers like, it's Vikings and Ivinia definitely scratches that itch. The book included with the boxed set gives this northerly region the same treatment as Hârn. There's an overview of Ivinia's history and culture, including religion, law, and military capabilities. There are also descriptions of the numerous Ivinian kingdoms and their rulers. What strikes me about this material is the way that Crossby presents something that feels very much like one's imaginings of Viking era Scandinavia without simply copying it. This was the same approach he took with Hârn itself, which feels like Anglo-Saxon England without duplicating its specific details. 

That might not seem like an impressive feat but it is. Too often, in my experience, fantasy settings are little more than copy-and-paste reproductions of medieval Europe with elves, dwarves, and magic added to them (and, to be fair, even Hárn suffers from this to an extent). Ivinia tries to avoid by varying the details of the local cultures from the real world ones that inspired them. For example, the Ivinians practice formal polygamy, which has far-reaching consequences for the way their society is structured. Changes like this, along with unique Ivinian names and words, go a long way toward making the region feel unique and distinctive.

Like Hârn, Ivinia includes an absolutely beautiful map of the region. Maps are one of those aspects of Hârn products that has always set it apart from most other fantasy settings. The map style reminds me a bit of those from National Geographic or a historical atlas. 

I'm a sucker for maps of all kinds. That probably explains why I've bought as many Hârn products as I have. Whatever else one can say about them, the maps are gorgeous and almost worth the price of admission alone.

I really like Ivinia and wish I could say that I've made extensive use of it over the years. Of course, that's true of all of the Hârn products I own. It's very well made, filled with lots of interesting details and artwork. I've enjoyed reading it many times, but I've never quite felt inspired enough by it to make use of it in a campaign. That probably says more about me and my own preferences than it does about Ivinia and thank goodness for that. 


  1. I too have always had I strange, 'I wish I liked this more' feeling in regards to Harn.

    I tend to prefer my Fantasy much more folkloric - more Pendragon and Ars Magica - and Harn isn't those kinds of games and settings either.

    Still, I've always been impressed by it.

  2. One of those settings that always impresses with its level of detail and worldbuilding, but somehow fails to resonate with me - and I'd describe myself as a history buff and a fantasy fan, so I should be their target audience. Says something about the sheer quality of the range and the enthusiasm of its fan base that I feel like my inability to "grok" its appeal is my fault, not Harn's.

  3. The detail, the fan community that adds to this setting, the quality of the products, is top shelf. That said, as a lover of conlangs, it was pretty obvious there is no nomenclature standard, save for the Ivinians. With all the obvious real world analogues(geography, ethnic placement), it was puzzling as to why the rest of harn and the world did not have naming conventions.

    Now inre to the ruleset, after playing DnD in various incarnations since 1979, we never looked back when we made the switch. My 2d.

    1. Wasn't the entire world was mapped and keyed out by Crossby?

    2. Yes, a really well done CC2 project. One can take the place names and use one's own. The Harn Mapping Project added palette and templates.

  4. Have no idea how but a copy of Ivinia ended up here in Hungary 30 years ago. I also had that uncanny "realistic" fantasy feeling about it, almost like an artifact from a parallel world. And I also have daydreams of running a campaign in it since decades - a serious setback is the lack of any other Harn stuff, what's a Viking campaign without other lands to plunder?