The norn can be hard to understand. We want them to be giant, animist, shape-shifting Vikings, but that’s too simple. That’s not depth; that’s just a bunch of cliches rammed together in some fashion where a lesser fantasy game would conclude a new race has been made. ArenaNet didn’t stop there. They gave them life and purpose. I find too often in many fantasy games (MMOs, solo, or even table top), we just handwave some of the most important questions on a new race. It’s when there are actions by the race that make us stop and think because it feels wrong, it feels not human, that we find depth.
The first time I saw this was when I read Lord of the Rings. Elves never made sense to me. They are leaving? They are sad at Man? Buck up, you point eared snobs! I thought they were just full of themselves, except for Legolas. He’s a pretty cool guy. Finally I realized in playing Lord of the Rings Online watching Glorfindel’s face get painted by the sun in the shadow of leaves that Tolkien had given them depth. A depth I could only realize if I thought like an immortal elf that had seen all this before. They wouldn’t make sense in human motivations, and I feel ArenaNet has given the norn the same treatment.
Going back to norn week, the ArenaNet blog post released on Friday had a fantastic story of revenge. It is the story of two opposing norn, and it alone provides such incredible depth for the race. There are so many moving parts to the short story like the vengeful youngster, the cheating wrongdoer, and the dispassionate elders. Yet, they have a very strong common ground that is easily missed: acceptance. No one’s choice of action was wrong. Each norn made a decision for him or herself, and it was accepted as a correct path by the other norn. For me, that is why the norn can be so hard to understand.
It would be easier if they were some pacifist monks harbored from all of creation on their mountaintop. Instead this race drinks, brawls, fights, kills, adventures, ruins beds with intensive activity, etc. It’s hard, as a human, to be so accepting when we are so active because the more active we are the more diverging opinions we face. Being on an exclusive mountaintop temple where no one speaks would let us have this peace. Yet, the norn interface hard.
I set up a few movies to watch in preparation for norn week, and there is one more series I want to add: Spartacus, Blood and Sand or Gods of the Arena. Likely the whole series is more apt for a charr week, but there is one crucial part that can help in understanding norn. The gladiators belong to a brotherhood of fellow gladiators at each house (ludus), yet they know that once they face each other in the arena they must be ready to kill each other. It’s disturbing. How can these men live, train, and bond with one another only to be ready to end each other’s life in gladiatorial contest? I think a norn would have no problem understanding.
The joke of this post’s title of course ends with a norn saying “what do you mean how deep is a norn? We are norn.” And, this community meme has deeper resonance than I think most people realize. Could you watch 5 o’clock news and instead of pontificating on how your deity could allow such tragedy, just say “well it happened because we are human?” If you can, you probably understand the norn better than I do.