Advanced Discrimination & Dragons: A Critical Look at Varg Vikernes’ Myfarog RPG
Does Varg Vikernes even need an introduction at this point? Murderer, arsonist, white supremacist — and, I guess, musician — it’s not hyperbole to call the Burzum mastermind black metal’s most infamous figure. The bogeyman, if you will. Turns out the bogeyman is also a huge nerd – as if the photos of him prancing around the woods in medieval armor didn’t already prove that – with a deep and sincere love for tabletop role-playing games. So sincere, in fact, that he designed one of his own (ostensibly as a teaching tool for his son, a statement that’s worrisome on multiple levels). It’s called Myfarog: MYthic FAntasy Role-playing Game.
Look, I’m not stupid. I know why you clicked on this link. You want to know just how racist this RPG is. Well, spoiler: it’s really fucking racist. And I’ll get to that later. But first, since I actually read through this Lovecraftian descent into the very depths of one man’s insanity, I’m going to talk about why it’s a bad game.
PART I: THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED
First, some background: I, someone who writes about metal music professionally, am also a nerd. I’ve been playing tabletop role-playing games in one form or another since the mid ’90s, both in person and over Internet forums and chat rooms. I prefer games like World of Darkness or FATE, where the focus is more on telling a collaborative story between the game master/storyteller and the various players.
Vikernes, on the other hand, prefers old school RPGs. What my friend calls “grognard-ass RPGs.” Like, the stuff from the ’80s where the books consisted of page after page of tables and charts cataloging every minute detail and possible roll modifier (some of you have no idea what I’m talking about; I envy you). Games like GURPS, Shadowrun, and Mechwarrior, where you spend two-thirds of the session flipping through the book to find some arcane mechanic. Even if it’s not my thing as much, the best systems can make that just as enjoyable as playing your character.
Myfarog is not one of the best systems.
Set in the antediluvian land of Thule, a repository for a bunch of generic fantasy tropes filtered through Vikernes’ own Norse-centric historical revisionism, this isn’t that far off from Dungeons & Dragons or Conan the Barbarian – only so racist it would make Conan creator Robert E Howard himself seem enlightened. Basically, you’re trying to survive in a barbaric, Iron Age land governed by the philosophy of a man who happens to be a big fan of Hitler, Nietzsche, and Social Darwinism. Varg has done a lot of research into the culture and lifestyle of prehistoric Europeans, but even the most historically accurate material has been so colored by his toxic worldview that it feels made up. Life in Thule seems to be nasty, brutish, and short, and it’s governed by a whole lot of rules. Fascists tend to like rules.
Vikernes wants the game to be realistic but he goes for the most pedantic version of realism, down to a chart that tracks your character’s aging practically minute by minute. Dude even has his own system of measurement. You can fight, go on quests, attend festivals, get married, create a home, have kids (although the mother might die in childbirth; women are frail things in the world of Thule), then have your character’s child replace him as your player character. Why you would want to play this disaster for that long, I don’t know, but you need a pretty hefty rule set for a world as complex as that.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty damn hard to look up any information on the fly. Between Vikernes’ game design inexperience and shaky grasp of the English language, poorly organized tables, and the total absence of an index to tell you where things even are, the book becomes nigh unusable. The BattleTech core book has a three page table of contents PLUS an index at the end. This book has a one page table of contents and no index. Considering how complicated the game is, some guidance would be helpful. I mean, just look at the rules for swimming:
What sort of OCD maniac needs to differentiate between a light breeze and a gentle breeze? There’s a difference between providing players with the tools they need to create an imaginary world and the kind of anal-retentive nonsense going on here. On the one hand, it says at the beginning that players don’t need to use all the rules; on the other hand, I read the book and I’m not sure where one would start. It’s so myopic and detail-oriented that the book does a poor job of painting what a game set in this world would even look like.
Still, Vikernes doesn’t totally abandon the player – instead of providing a coherent rule system or index, he instead chooses to inspire the reader with quotes like this:
And yes, the whole thing is written in Papyrus.
PART II: THE AESTHETICS OF HATE
It’s hopelessly complicated, sure, but that’s not (entirely) what makes Myfarog bad. After all, the mechanics are in the service of the overall game; it’s not like the World of Darkness books are well-indexed, and Shadowrun has such a cool setting that one can forgive the endless lists of numbers. And hey, maybe you’ll think this has a great world to play in. But if you do, guess what? You’re a Nazi. A literal Nazi.
It’s hard to know where to start – actually, no, it isn’t. Let’s talk about race. There are a wide variety of races available for the player to choose from, as long as that race is Scandinavian. The lighter the hair and the fairer the skin, the more blessed by the gods your character is. And, of course, the higher born the better. Nobles are naturally superior to the peasantry in this world. It’s the natural order of things. In fact, it’s even historically accurate (according to Varg):
Don’t worry, though. People of Middle Eastern and African descent are represented. They are the “filthy”, “vulgar”, “poorly educated”, “animalistic” Koparmenn (“Copper Men”). You can’t play them; they are intended to be cannon fodder. There are two varieties of Copper Men: the Skrælingr (“Weaklings”) and the Myrklingr (“Darklings”). I’m pretty sure that the Weaklings are supposed to be Semitic people, as they receive a bonus to trickery. The Darklings, meanwhile, receive a bonus to spear throwing. You can guess who they’re supposed to represent.
He’s not subtle about his distaste for people that aren’t exactly him. There is an entire page with his versions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – you know what? I’m not even religious and I can’t even bring myself to write a summary of it. Here’s the page in all its glory:
It may as well be illustrated with a hook-nosed Shylock murdering a baby. But, hey! The players can actually do something about these menaces. In fact, one of the suggested quest ideas is literally ethnic cleansing:
The Copper Men’s lack of “sunshine vitamins” makes them more vulnerable to poison and disease, so keep that in mind while trying to exterminate the subhumans.
To his credit, Varg does consider women to be human. He allows them to be as good at hunting rabbits as men (although they have to leave the bigger game to their stronger male counterparts). Women can even go to war! In fact, there’s an entire race where the men see women as equals and allow them to fight alongside them in battle. Unfortunately, that means that the race has fewer females because, and I quote, “the women die sooner than the men, because they are physically weaker than the men.” So, you know.
There’s certainly funny stuff to be found in the book. Redheads, for example, have a greater resistance against electricity and poison but are less resistant to heat. Also, apparently vaccinations are responsible for modern people having bad teeth? I’ve read through this thing and outlined most of it here to save you the effort, though. Past the stupidity above, it’s just page after page of useless charts, different types of helmets and in-depth descriptions of religious festivals that will never be reenacted because nobody’s going to play this game.
So yeah, you can get angry at how racist/sexist/fascist this is. On the other hand, it’s pretty sad just how banal his version of bigotry turns out to be. It’s like looking at footage of a minstrel show. It’s out of date and out of touch with reality, just like Varg himself. As long as he doesn’t kill anyone (else), he’s welcome to live in his little fantasy land where primitive people have perfect teeth, sneaky Jews keep trying to pollute his pure heathen bloodline, and some esoteric notion of “honor” is more important than compassion or love or any of the things that make life satisfying. He’s a pathetic man who made a bad game and will probably blame his failure on the Zionist conspiracy or something.
Obviously, you shouldn’t buy this book. But if you really want to kick this clown in the balls, go make a donation in his name to a worthy charity like the Shoah Foundation or the Southern Poverty Law Center.