[GW2] The Depth of a Norn

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.


16 thoughts on “[GW2] The Depth of a Norn”

  1. This is why I find the norn so fascinating (I also plan to play one in gw2). Unlike other races, who maintain a racial bond based most likely on survival, the bond between the norn as a race is not for this reason, it is based on how individualistic a person is and how heroic they are. The norn generally respect other norn because of this. They expect heroism and strength (whether for “good” or for “evil”) to be inherent in that individual because its expected from a norn inherently.

    This allows norn to live their lives and form their legends without any socio-political or (mostly) religious ties muddying up the Epic of that norn’s life.

  2. How can one’s value that wrap around the idea of acceptance and yet harbor prejudice towards others? How can the bear people think snow leopard’s stealth is an act of cowardice when they are all about upholding acceptance? If one is about accepting others, he/she should accept how different qualities emanate from different totem works differently according to their belief, and not cast a judgement upon it.

    From A Spirit of Legend – “Followers of Wolf scorn Snow Leopard’s stealth as “cowardice,” and the shamans of Bear have been known to mistrust Raven’s adherents, calling their deceptions dishonorable and weak.”

    1. I don’t see the problem. Acceptance and judgment are not polar opposites. Clearly Old Fiach thinks Grimhilde is cruel and possibly wrong, but he also still accepts her.

      1. Okay I get you. But how does the element of being heroic comes in? How can a norn be considered a hero if he thinks something/someone is wrong and cruel but do nothing about it?

        It is like saying, superman will not help you fight against the villain, unless that villain directly crosses his path.

        1. Because their judgements are not based on human morality, but of norn morality. immoral to norn is basically at the very least not trying to live up to your highest potential, if not also to push those boundaries. Right and wrong does not always matter to the norn,thus their lack of any true government outside of keeping a lodge in order and functionable. I think they see that the ability to choose is more important, and you can only choose if you are the more heroic. From my reading of Ghosts of Ascalon, I think its similar to the charr idea of an “arguement” which consists of two charr battling to the death (or possibly at least near death) and who ever wins is “right.” For the norn, this means that who ever contains a heroic nature is allowed to go about their business, granted it does not disrupt lodge life. They respect each other’s right as “heroes” to help, aid, hunt, worship, cheat, and in some cases murder. Although, this means that the right to avenge or reciprocate ones own view of justice is also respected. Heroism for the norn does not involve morality but strength of character. (sorry this was a bit wordy and perhaps redundant)

          1. Thank you for taking time to write all these, I need as much help as I can. I understood now. Hopefully these will dispel some of the grey that others might have towards norn too. =D

            1. No problem! Thanks to Nicholas Deathguard too. I was thinking maybe you are applying too much black and white to the term “hero.” Maybe replace a norn hero with a norn celebrity based on amazing feats…

              Of course, amazing feats that better all norn, like Aesgir’s taking of Jormag’s tooth will hopefully be the ones most sung about by the skaalds, while the tale of Ravson’s drinking an entire city of humans under the table might only be told at suppertime. ;)

            2. no problem C and Ravious. Also, I agree with Ravious’ point that hopefully there is a Hierarchy of Legends of a sort, and I do think there are. There seems to be a theme or maybe even formula that could be derived from how highly they hold a legend.

              Perhaps (Challenge Level X Number of obstacles)* amount of affected people(s) – Aid accepted = Esteem of Legend

              …but this is just a rough view of it :)

  3. Eh, I have to disagree. I think zen ‘acceptance’ is not intrinsic to a norn, that’s just wishful thinking and mixing up of an eastern belief (which isn’t found in the kodan either – they seem like balance with nature with a potential to become control freaks judging younger races.) Or a western belief that we shouldn’t be prejudicial and accept diversity.

    The norn acknowledge that different viewpoints exist in the world, true. But their strong individualism means they judge each individual by their own actions. And by the Spirits, their own viewpoint/deeds are the best, of course! You would be wise to follow my thought, or in the footsteps of the path I am forging for my own great Legend to be told by storytellers for a thousand generations!

    Except of course, another norn (if he has any self-respect at all) will be forging his own unique path and striving for his own tales to outshine others. Which then yields a grudging respect from the first norn for being so… norn.

    That’s not to say that they won’t judge that path as wrong or incorrect or contest it in a battle of arms or will. True strength will prevail and history will rewrite itself on the side of the victors.

    Perhaps it’s sort of a general acceptance of fate, the Spirits, and the forces of narrative legend, rather than an acceptance of people as being people and thus different and that’s okay.

    1. I see what you are saying, and I think the point is that the norn don’t have any collective society with which to effectively “judge” those to have done wrong. Each individual norn makes their mind up about every other norn’s business – they don’t necessarily “live and let live” but if a norn has a problem with another’s actions, its up to them to sort it out.

      Thats why the Sons of Sanvir are generally accepted. The whole society doesn’t reject them, just individuals within it. They can’t say “we’ve made this decision, and all of you guys aren’t allowed in”.

  4. This article, and all of the comments attached to it, have simply made my day!

    The intelligent, and philosophical approach to the subject of what it means to be Norn is something that all of the A-Net DEVs should be extremely proud of imo.

    Thank-you for the thought provoking article, and the even more thought provoking “discussion” that followed in the comments.

  5. “How can one’s value that wrap around the idea of acceptance and yet harbor prejudice towards others?”

    Another take might be.

    Tolerance isn’t the virtue. Being true to oneself is the virtue so you can respect someone who has a stated code and is true to that code even if you disagree with it.

    1. agreed. i think this exactly encapsulates the attitude of the norn at large.

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