Ultima Thule: Mythic Scandinavia is the sourcebook of Norway, Sweden,
Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland in a mythic version 13th century for the ARS
MAGICA game. The ad copy for the game states, "Any roleplayer with an
interest in Mythic Scandinavia should have Ultima Thule!", which begs the
question, "Am I interested in Scandanavia?"
Frankly, I'm not. That's just the honest truth. When THE DRAGON AND THE
BEAR, detailing the Novgorod (Russian) tribunal came out earlier this year,
it caught my attention by finally filling in lost facts on the Order of Odin
and other long-held mysteries of ARS MAGICA. With the game still lacking an
English or French sourcebooks, the decision to go again to the north for two
sourcebooks in a row seemed strange--do you really need to know that much
about the area?
Well, yes and no. Historically the northern lands are very important for
the people we know as Vikings--their attacks on the rest of western Europe
during the Dark Ages played a pivotal role in the development of feudalism
and the spread of red hair throughout Europe. By 1220 (the year this
supplement is set in) their time and power is waning as Christianity has
begun to change the fundamental forces at work in their societies. This
part of the book is quite fascinating, and useful as text and for game
What keeps the book from excelling is tense. Unlike all other Ars Magica
sourcebooks to date, ULTIMA THULE is written entirely in the past
tense...which makes all of the material in it feel fixed and unchangeable.
It also takes away the great strength of ARS MAGICA, which is leveraging the
use of real history against a possibly changing future--using 13th century
history, told as current events, to provide excellent plot hooks from which
GMs can create their own sagas. By placing all of the book in the past
tense it comes off as a too-brief, too-shallow history book...an effect to
be avoided in historical supplements at all costs.
The additional magical systems are nice, with the Finnish wind wizards being
a particularly sharp touch-- they show off the versatillity of the Ars
Magica system to accomodate new traditions without stretching or breaking
rules. The vitkir (Norse rune masters) have some great thought behind them,
and so I would certainly recommend the book...if you are already campaigning
in the distant North now.
A mild dissapointment, though ULTIMA THULE is still an order of
magnitude better than comparable sourcebooks from White Wolf or Palladium.
If you're a completist, or you have ideas for a saga that will take you up
past the Arctic Circle you'll want to buy it.