Some thoughts about the curse of the rhine gorge

Hey, Torben, Julia, Simone, Reiner, Bodo, Carsten, Sven and Philipp, potential future participants of the new Ars Magica group in Frankfurt: don´t read this stuff: it´s your saga!

I´m planning a new saga in the Rhine Tribunal. I´ll start with the "Curse of the rhine gorge" setting as written in "Guardians of the forest". The Nibelungenlied (GotF, p. 10) will be the historical background (happened in the 5th century).

First, my thoughts circled the "curse". GotF states, all powers at the rhine gorge, be it covenants of the order of hermes, mundane rulers or whatever are able to develop their power, but will fail inevitably after 77 years. Because of that, at the beginning of my planning I had to answer 2 questions:

  1. What is the reason for the cyclic loss of power?
  2. Is it possible to prevent this? (such a rupture of the curse could be the overall goal of the saga).

My first step was to read the story of the Nibelungen and the rhinegold as written by Wagner in his opera-cycle "The ring of the Nibelung" (Der Ring des Nibelungen). I was amazed about the fact, that Wagner´s story has some similarities to the Nibelungenlied, but contains significant differences, too. Particularly the fact, that Wagners opera-cycle contains more myth and magic than the Nibelungenlied was inviting for me. So I took the foundation myth from Wagner, used the Nibelungenlied as primal historical event that caused the curse and supposed many repeating-history-scenarios of broken down powers at the rhine (as indicated in GotF). The last of these scenarios could be the saga of the players: they should experience the story similar to the story-line of Wagners "The ring of the Nibelung". Thus the players will have possibilities to draw comparisons between their story and the past, but there will be sufficient surprise-moments, too.

Wagners answer of question 1 is: There are different forces fighting for the rhinegold. Their combat leads to the destruction of the most powerful forces at the end. Only the mundanes remain. This explanation generates a new question: Why does the process last 77 years and why does he repeat many times? GotF contains an answer I like: it´s a game of faeries. To be precise: the intrigues and the battles for the rhinegold give the faeries vitality. After 77 years, the combatants are reduced to impotence, so sometimes later, the faeries have to start the events again to gain new vitality. (The question: "Why exactly 77 years every time?" I´m answering: "Because this is the story of the faeries", for now... perhaps I´ll find a better reason in the future). One of the powerful forces in Wagner´s opera-cycle are the nordic gods. In Ars Magica they are faeries (RoP:F even contains some of their servants: The Valkyries). I connected the facts and developed the conception, that Wagner´s nordic gods (especially Wotan (aka Odin)) need the dramatic furor of fighting for the rhinegold to receive vitality. This is the reason, why they periodically enable other forces (humans or the magical folk of the Nibelungen for example) to gain possession of the treasure. In Wagners opera-cycle at the beginning the rhinegold lies at the bottom of the rhine, guarded by the rhinedaughters. The rhinedaughters are a kind of watersprites, but they are not interested in dealing with humans. In my eyes, in the Ars Magica context they could be magical creatures, perhaps Theoi. Wagner´s story line contains four mighty forces: the nordic gods (~ faeries), the Nibelungen (~ dwarves, connected to a magical regio) and giants (living in the same magical regio as the Nibelungen). The last force are the humans (living in Mythic Europe, of course). At the end of Wagners opera-cycle, after a lot of struggle, the rhinegold returns to the rhinedaughters. So it seems to me, that the rhine is the recurrent resting place for the treasure, if one of the story cycles is ended. Perhaps there - at the bottom of the rhine - is another regio, that contains the rhinegold in this times.

In my saga, I´m planning to deploy Wagner´s character "Siegmund" as player character. "Siegmund" is the father of "Siegfried" and his fatherhood connects the central character of Wagner´s story line with the covenant. If the story unfolds as in Wagner´s "The ring of the Nibelung" the giants will be beaten to death, the Nibelungen will be powerless and got robbed of the rhinegold they possessed for a while. This two story events are easy to integrate in my saga. More difficult is the integration of the nordic faerie-gods. At the end of the story her leader Wotan burns down Valhalla because all his efforts to win the rhinegold back (or at least give it back to the rhinedaughters) proved fruitless. He is ensnared in different treaties and not able to act without breaking one of them. So he commits a kind of suicide and destroys the place where he and his fellow-faerie-gods are dwelling. The end of Wagner´s opera-cycle shows a burning section of the sky and the remaining humans can see, that the events and their actions caused "Götterdämmerung", the twilight of the gods, the end of the civilisation as the characters know it.

This leads to my question: I have to consider where the faerie gods reside (or maybe better: where you can find Valhalla). What do you think about this ideas: The story the characters of my saga are participating in (the curse of the rhine gorge), is about to change: Maybe Wotan will never be able to take the rhinegold from the rhinedaughters and to give it someone else. This source of vitality could be dried up for the nordic faerie-gods. It is possible that at the end Valhalla is burning and the faerie gods are destroying themselves. In this case the curse of the rhine gorge will be ended and the story has changed dramatically. This is a case for the "path of chance", so our Valhalla could be in Arcadia.

At the moment I´m thinking about possible endings of the saga in the view of the PC´s. I like the option, that the characters are able to witness the fall of the nordic faerie-gods. Of course, a burning Valhalla in Arcadia can´t be seen at the sky of Mythic Europe. But maybe something else is possible: If the nordic faerie-gods are vanquished, their story in Arcadia is ended once and for all. The events take the quality of a faerie tale or myth told again and yet again basically alike. The story of the nordic faerie-gods isn´t open any more. That could mean, that you cannot reach Valhalla per "path of chance" anymore. But Instead maybe you can reach it per "road of destiny". The story of the nordic faerie gods became a pagan legend. If this is true, Valhalla burned in Arcadia, only to appear in Elysium. The characters could visit both parts of the faerie realm and realize, that the events, they took part in, lead to an ending and created a legend. Do you think, something like that is possible in the World view of the Ars Magica Background?


I would add another twist: the rhinegold is a really big bunch of vis. If you use it up, it returns to the rhinedaughters. If you don't it does not return to the rhinedaughters. Make sure the characters get the gold early on when they need it. Make sure also that they know that using it makes their destruction in the medium term more likely unless they recover most of it. They may learn this once they have spent most of the gold in rituals and the like. So, it becomes a race to get the gold and the need to use it: the gods will create the situations that ensure that the characters need to use vis.

If they end the process with say 60% of the gold in their hands they break the curse since the gods get too weak. In that case the gods need to burn down valhalla to die and be reborn.... and the gold disappears, but they break the curse.

How does that sound? A permanent battle to get the gold and spend it, with other forces wanting it, and the gods both wanting the conflict to unfold and the gold to be spent (to defeat them).

Great outline, BTW :slight_smile: Sounds like a fun story arc.


Thanks for your inspiration!

This is no problem, I already thought about defining it as Dedicated Vis, suitable especially to use it for enchantments,that lend power over others (the ring is made of the rhinegold)... but the more I think about it, maybe it will be better to let it be plain vis.

This is possible, too. The action could occur as follows: Brünnhilde is a Valkyrie. She was disobedient compared to Wotan and therefore stripped off her powers. Wotan puts her to sleep. Every passerby is able to wake her and take her for his wife. The last punishment is too much for Brünnhilde. She persuades Wotan to cast a ring of fire around her. Now only a hero can cross the ring and wake her up. At the beginning of my saga, Fafner, a giant, is in possession of the gold. With help of a magic hood he has changed his shape to a dragon (the hood can make you invisible and change your shape, too). In this form he guards his hoard. Then Siegfried comes along, kills him and takes the gold. Guided by a magical bird, Siegfried and the hoard reaches Brünnhildes fire-ring. He wakes her and they fall in love with each other. The couple lives together for a while, then Siegfried leaves her (searching new adventures). Siegfried donates the gold and the ring to Brünnhilde, Brünnhilde donates her horse to Siegfried.

Your idea created a change of my plan: The place, where Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep will be... the covenant of the players. As a result, the characters will be in possession of the gold very soon!

That is not too difficult. Someone has to tell them! Brünnhilde seems to be a good choice. She was Wotans servant and now she is a kind of renegate.

Well, the scene is fleshed out in Wagners opera: At the end of the story line, Siegfried gets murdered and Brünnhilde raises a stake. She burns Siegfrieds body, her magical horse and herself in the fire. She also puts the rhinegold and the magic artefacts made of it on the stake and wants to burn it, too. Then the rhine bursts its banks and washes the rhinegold back to the rhinedaughters. I love the dramatic atmosphere of that scene and would like to save it. I´m thinking to connect the bursting river with Schwall of Bjornaer (GotF, p. 40). He is able to cause this kind of catastrophe. If the covenant of the characters lies at the river, this natural (?) disaster could destroy it, too. In my eyes this is a good end for the saga: If the characters are successful, they end poor but happy and respected for their dispelling of the curse. They have to start again, but this time the outlook is promising... and with a mild smile I can close the story.

Your idea sounds good to me: you can escape the vicious cycle of the curse if you (or others) don´t use too much of the gold. I only think, I will tell the saga without the return-to-the-rhinedaughters-mechanism.


You will need to use a nmechanism that encourages them to spend the vis. Otherwise they can just go "oh, I will store it and cope with whatever the SG throws at us with the rest of our stuff". That is exactly the opposite of what you want here, I guess, so something to encourage them to take hard decisions would be great.

Maybe you can make it dedicated vis to anything regarding the old norse gods and their servants. Extra penetration, extra warding power and even using it as an AC (which also consumes vis in this version; it is faerie vis after all). So it makes defeating your foes much easier, but also gets you in a dire position since you need to keep it. This is why I considered the option of recovering bits of it. So that they do not go nuts if they need to use it. I have no clear answers to the mechanics or how to make it work, so take this with a grain of salt.

Oh, and make sure some thurd parties steals the rhinegold from them from time to time to spend it all in a ritual and stuff like that. :slight_smile:


There's a greed theme to play there.

The gold is cursed, it brings ill, and yet everyone desires it...

I'd say hoarding the gold is as bad, if not badder, than using it, yet it is tempting.

So... Yes, make it vis. It may tempt grogs into stealing it, and its possession may provoke dissent in the covenant. Use the loyalty rule here: the more gold they have for a long time, the lower it sinks. Yet its possession may bring in more gold and riches, making the covenant wealthier and wealthier.
It may also generate a faerie aura over the covenant (the more gold you have, the higher it is), but, unknown to the PCs, give of warping as per a constant magical effect: at 1WP per year, 77 years is just enough for a warping score of 5. That enough may explain the fall, if the flaws gained by mundanes are suitable personnality ones.

So, I'd say:

  • The gold brings in more gold. Count it as a secondary source of income.
  • The gold is vis, and a vis source: Each year, a few coins will countain appropriate vis. Say, each 10% of the hoard gives one pawn.
  • The gold generates a faerie aura and warping. The aura is suitably aspected.
  • The gold creates dissent and theft. Murders, given enough time
  • Any item fashionned using the gold uses the rules for Imminis curses, handing a suitable flaw or (at best) personnality trait: Greed, Anger, Ennemies... are all good here.

So using it is bad, hoarding it is bad... They must relinquish it to the rhinemaydens, yet they gain nothing by doing that. And that's difficult, too, since once they figure this and try, they discover that the gold just keeps coming back. They shouldn't have taken it in the first place.

Don't forget there's no reason why faeries can't be places, too, if the story is suitable enough. Since asgard burning in the sky is so much a part of that story, what's to say that this isn't a bunch of faeries playing this role?

By medieval standards, it certainly is :smiley:

Thanks to the Fixer for more input. Some of your ideas sound interesting for me. With the others I´m unsure, if they would bring more fun for me and my players.

Your idea raises the doomlevel of the scenario (=good!), but on the other hand, it looks to me that the players can do what they want, they will lose (=not so good).

The Grogloyalty is an interesting point for me. I think, I´ll introduce the problem, but not per mechanism. I´ll simply look for the kind of Grogs the players are creating. I think,there will be some of them, that can be lead into temptation. Other criminals will pop up on and off, for sure.

What do you mean? The rhinegold should be treated as a magical cash-cow? Or does the covenant have to invest the gold to get more gold?

I like the idea, that the gold is replenishing, when it is back on the bottom of the rhine. For me this is the reason why the rhinegold returns on and off to the river. So it seems to be not very plausible, that the vis comes back as a continous procedure, too. In the end, that means, as long as the characters have the gold, the hoard is an amount of gold, that remains constant or diminishes. That´s o.k. for me.

Well, the gold will be stored in the covenant of the players for a long time. I´m not sure, if the players would like to play an extended period in a covenant with a faerie aura. Nevertheless, the warping is possible: There is a curse afflicted with the gold, that influences the covenant and his residents permanently.

The connection betwen a genius locus and the burning asgard I don´t understand. The last sentence is true, nonetheless: Of course faeries are playing the role of Wotan and the other goodies of norse mythology... as they ever did.

Saga is forming continually... in 2 weeks I´m meeting the players, then I´ll make characters with them. End of octobre, will should be able to start. Thanks for your assistance.


Secondary Income is a covenant boon introduced in the main rulebook or the Covenants supplement (I think it is the former, but I am not sure). He basically means that the gold generates more gold magically. You have X rhinegold; you look at the gold one year later and you have X+Y rhinegold. :slight_smile:

One of the main themes of the saga will be to find ways to get rid of the rhinegold without triggering the destruction of the World. For me this ends up being the theme once they figure out what is afoot. :slight_smile: A very cool one, I would say.


Yes. But it should be difficult, not impossible.
I'd say some combination of genuine penance to the rhinemaidens + reclaiming all gold that was ever used + everything thay was created by it could work.

So, first, they must seek out the rhine maydens and make penance, which may include doing some task for them. Then, they have to take back any magical item they created with it, track down every coin they used, bring down any construction that was built with it, and bring it all en masse to the rhinemaidens.

That, or making a pilgrinage and taking a vow of poverty :laughing:

My first thought was among the lines of "While they own the gold, their ressources flow much more than normal", but having a good ROI is probaly a better idea.

Anyway, treating this as a secondary income is, IMO, a good way to handwave the thing.

I’m not sure I’m following you. What genius loci? The Rhine Spirit?

Maybe you can tie this with the line’s idea of a conflict between magic and faerie, then, with the faeries playing the role of the Northern Gods having imprisoned the Rhine Spirit, while other faeries, playing their roles, are tied to the story of burning asgard. Something like that.
The rhinegold then becomes a symbol of that, the magic power taken over and captured by faeries. Maybe: I’m not familiar enough with the tales.

I think The Fixer refered to Asgard being a faerie. Asgard burning is Asgard playing its own role in the story. As would a faerie dragon dying in front of a hero or Odin giving you a magical sword to fight Grendel: it is part of its role. Asgard is a faerie, like a pixie, just larger. :slight_smile:

Yes, exactly.
One, or more faeries, in fact, but that's the geist.

Ah, I didn´t remember that. I´ll look after it!

Something like this, yes. I´ll sum up the actual state of affairs:

The characters want to stop the curse of the rhine gorge, so they shouldn´t use up the hoard for their own interests. If they spend it, the curse destroys the covenant. If they don´t spend it, the Faeriegods are defeated and Wotan burns Walhalla. That causes the bursting of the rhine (Maybe Schwall of Bjornaer triggers this because he is something like a servant of the rhinemaidens and wants the river to wash the gold back to them. In former times Wotan brought the gold back to the rhinemaidens after the destruction of the cursed hoard-owners. Now he is not able to do this anymore, so Schwall has to flood the rhine). If the characters are very successful, they can prevent this desaster, too. Maybe as a result of bringing back the whole hoard to the rhinemaidens (as proposed by the Fixer).

Asgard as a faerie - well, that´s another problem. In Wagner´s opera Wotan appointed the giants to build Walhalla. The prize was his daughter Freia (norse goddess of love). (Yes, sometimes Wotan is a stupid bonehead, listening to the advice of Loki, the god of lie and deceit). The giants built Walhalla but Wotan wasn´t very willing to pay the prize anymore. In this regard I already made a decision: Wotan has the "Restricted Might" Farieflaw: He has his full strength only when his whole family is in the safety of his home. Otherwise he can´t regenerate his Might. So, he had to find a way to prevent the payment of Freia. His resolution: He used a trick to steal the gold from the Nibelungs and offered it to the giants as replacement for Freia. That was very clever: the paying creates vitality for him and saves his daughter. The giants accepted. This is the reason, why the gold is in possession of the giant Fafner at the beginning of my saga. So, now you can understand, why it is not so easy to claim that Asgard is a faerie. It is a building creative Non-Faeries built for the Faeriegods (probably not able to do it for their own).

Very productive for me, this debate!


Make surte they learn about NOT having to spend the gold when they have spent LOTS of it! :mrgreen: That creates a problem to be solved instead of them just going "oh, ok, for the whole saga we do not use the gold at all and that is it. Done". :slight_smile:

Nice spin of the story. I like it. Remember that in Faerie everything can be a Faerie if you want it to. :slight_smile: