One of the oldest recorded stories in Western Europe, Beowulf is the ultimate tale of hero vs. monster – and now a dramatic, 5e setting. BEOWULF Age of Heroes has been crafted for one player and one GM.
Discover a fierce setting of wild seas and savage monsters, of meadhalls and of heirloom swords that bear legendary names. Gain Followers, take Inspiration from unique Portents, and use our specially crafted tokens to guide your voyage along the Whale Road.
Play the ‘Hero’ class, and choose from six sub-classes based on your ability scores. You can be the mighty Bench-Breaker, the wily Riddle-Reaver, or the sturdy Ox-Blooded. And you can come from a range of setting-specific backgrounds: you might be the Chosen One, or Adrift and seeking answers. You may be an Avenger, or of Noble Blood.
Written and illustrated by a team of industry veterans, led by Jon Hodgson, (The One Ring, D&D, Warhammer Historical) BEOWULF: Age of Heroes features 272 pages of beautifully illustrated mythic setting, and evokes a legendary age of tales, poems and song.
Described by fans as the ‘best hack of 5e ever made’, and by games designer Will Hindmarch as something ‘really magical’, BEOWULF Age of Heroes is uniquely designed for duet play: one Hero and one GM (though it can still be played by a group). This means it’s very easy to get a game going and to keep it going, and it’s especially ideal for play over the internet.
With its feet firmly in the world’s favourite role-playing game, BEOWULF has been very carefully forged to follow the folklore, flow and feel of the original poem.
“BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is a vast treasure-hoard that shows how you can hone the rules for 5e to make them cut like the edge of a long-seax and sing like a Scop.” – Francesco Nepitello, designer of The One Ring Roleplaying Game
Featuring a foreword by Maria Dahvana Headley, author of Beowulf: A New Translation, BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is offered in both .pdf and traditional print book formats. You can also download the free introductory scenario The Hermit’s Sanctuary from Drivethru RPG.
“I audibly, genuinely gasped when I turned the digital pages of this book. It’s a beautiful work. You’ve done something really magical here. I cannot wait to play it.” – Will Hindmarch
More detail? Click a topic to learn more:
What is "Beowulf"? Why is it good? Why are we making a game about it?
About a thousand years ago, the epic story of Beowulf was written down and it has been a source of wonder and inspiration for hundreds of years.
It tells a story of the Migration Period (or “Dark Ages”)— between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Middle Ages.
In it, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, travels to Denmark and fights the terrible monster Grendel in King Hrothgar’s hall, tearing off its arm. He must then hunt its mother after she attacks the hall in retribution for Beowulf’s mortal wounding of her son. The poem then tells of Beowulf’s successful turn as a king before he is forced to fight a dragon at the end of his life.
The poem is one of the finest epic poems of its kind, the northern equivalent to the Iliad or The Odyssey.
Beowulf himself is an epic hero, larger than life, with the strength of thirty men and the ability to fight monsters on land and sea with scant weapons or even his bare hands. He sails his ship to wherever there is trouble, leads his band of followers in pursuit of what is right, and busies himself fighting monsters.
Through the poem, we learn of the customs of the Anglo-Saxons, of hospitality and honour, of wide-gabled mead halls and heirloom swords, pattern-welded, bearing ancient names. We learn of the wisdom of kings as gift-givers, and queens as peace-weavers, and how loyalty and bravery are highly prized. It's amazingly atmospheric stuff, and a genuine glimpse into another world.
In Beowulf's adventures, we see many elements of the heroic story that can be represented in a roleplaying game to fantastic ends.
After being provided some setting background by the storyteller, we and Beowulf learn that a king and his hall are under threat by a Monster. But Beowulf does not blindly charge forth: he gathers omens and advice from the wise, collects a crew and then asks his own king for permission to fight the Monster.
Given leave, he sails the ocean (and while successful, we learn soon enough about its dangers when Beowulf relates one of his previous adventures). He then presents himself to the king, learns the history of the hall and its people and faces down the Monster, having guessed correctly its only weakness.
This is the perfect material for a one-GM, one-Player RPG.
Aside from the exciting adventure story, a fascinating part of how the tale is written is the clear struggle between two contemporary forces: the doomed 'pagan' hero who dies a glorious, song-worthy death fighting monsters, speaks to the melancholy Northern pagan tradition of inevitable doom. Meanwhile numerous passages in the poem, clearly additions to an older tale, promise hope, and rewards after death for those faithful to the new, in-coming ways of the church. That monsters can be overcome by the righteous, and death is not inevitable.
The poem Beowulf evokes an incredibly atmospheric and rich period in history, when the world of Northern Europe was subject to great change. The language of the poem tells us as much of the mindset of the people it was written for as do the events described. It’s an incredible work, which we see reflected in so many other works that came after.
For uncounted years, Beowulf has thrilled readers and inspired authors of fantastic fiction. There are numerous versions available — from the array of public domain versions we are fond of Grummere’s version as well as the translation by William Morris and A. J. Wyatt. But more recent translations have their own features to recommend them, especially the lyrical beauty of Seamus Heaney’s work and the scholarly thoroughness of Tolkien’s translation.
You can check out the system of BEOWULF: Age of Heroes by downloading our free preview, the Hermit’s Sanctuary at drivethrurpg.com
BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is a roleplaying game inspired by the ancient epic poem Beowulf.
As gamers and designers reading and enjoying the poem, we quickly realised it focused on Beowulf’s struggles against the various Monsters he faced and his relationships with the folk that he met, such as Unferth, who was at first critical of the hero but then gave him his magical sword to hunt Grendel’s mother, and Wiglaf, his loyal follower.
So we decided that the game should focus on a single hero, with a gamemaster providing the challenges and details of the world. This style of game is often known as duet and can be an excellent way to introduce new players, still be able to play when a larger group can’t get together or have a home game with a significant other, sibling or other family member. We made the decision long before the current pandemic threatened the world, but we’re glad to offer another tool to help combat the isolation and stress of these times.
The game BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is built on the foundation of the fifth edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, commonly called 5e. The strength and balance of this game engine allows us to make some very precise tweaks to produce epic adventures for a singular Hero. The development team are 5e experts, with prior projects such as the award-winning Adventures in Middle-earth™ to their names. We’re very comfortable in adapting a literary world to a game setting.
When Beowulf goes to Denmark in search of Grendel, he takes with him his Followers to aid him. These Followers only occasionally make an appearance within the story, but we can assume they’re always there, helping Beowulf out. Similarly, we have created rules for Followers so that the Player’s Hero character can have much needed support, while still enjoying the spotlight.
A Hero’s followers are always there in the background, ready to enter an encounter when an appropriate gift is called for. They also provide a useful, friendly conduit for when the GM might need to deliver a hint about the next course of action to the player.
When you’re playing a duet game, there is a singular focus on one player character, meaning that you can engage with them in a deeper way than you can with bigger games. The nature of the Hero sets the tone for the whole campaign. This makes it easy to explore choices like the Hero’s alignment (whether with the Church, the Old Ways or carefully Neutral) in a changing world, the way they choose to enact the role of the hero, and their relationships with NPCs.
Since the singular Player and their Followers are always the star of the show, we also provide rules for journaling the ‘off-screen’ activities of the Followers and Hero and reward the Player for investing into the game world. While the GM creates adventures for the next session, the Player can use our new rules and guidelines to invest in their character and followers between sessions.
With one player, there’s less pressure to “take your turn” so that other player’s can take theirs. You can spend a little bit longer on your choices, and we’ve capitalised on this for duet play, adding engaging choices and options for the single player. We love 5e’s inspiration economy, and we’ve built on that for BEOWULF, with duet play in mind.
Using 5e also means that the Monsters and other enemies that the Hero faces can use the regular 5e challenge scale, meaning you can use them in other games and settings if you like. And if you’re a confident 5e player, you can easily bring in things from other 5e settings
If you’re excited about BEOWULF but have a larger group ready to hand, we also offer rules and suggestions for playing the game with more than one Hero.
You can check out the system by downloading our free preview, the Hermit’s Sanctuary at drivethrurpg.com
A portion of each sale of BEOWULF: Age of Heroes has been donated to anti-racist causes.
BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is designed primarily as a duet game, with one gamemaster and one player. When it came time to design the classes, we quickly resolved that the idea of class roles was something that wouldn’t quite work. It was okay for a player to choose a focus for their Hero’s class, because Followers (non-player characters that accompany the character and are able to temporarily aid them) can help support the player in weak areas. But every character needed to have a certain measure of toughness and some ability at combat. We decided to create just a single class, the Hero class, and use 5e’s subclasses to allow a player to choose a focus for their Hero. We ended up with six different subclasses. Each based around an Ability score.
We want every kind of player to have options in BEOWULF. Some folks will be excited to hunt dangerous Monsters and try their Hero against them in direct physical confrontation. So some subclasses like the Bench-breaker and the Ox-spirited are all about direct confrontation and giving the Hero tools to dish out damage and take it in turn. However, in most BEOWULF adventures there is some secret weakness of the Monster that can be found to weaken them. Subclasses like the Riddle-reaver and the Council-caller can use their own wits or knowledge or confer with others in order to learn those secrets and surprise the Monster. Other heroes like the Honey-tongued can recruit many assistants to help with the fight, while those like the Swift-blessed avoid the Monster until the time to strike is right.
But the customisation options do not end there. As you fill in your class at first level, the Hero has many choices to make, from saving throws to skills to weapons and armour. As a foremost exemplar of those brave enough to face the Monsters of the world, you’re able to select from almost every option. Heroes also start with many more hit points (10 plus your Constitution score, not modifier) at first level. However, as you advance your standard d8 Hit Dice will help bring you in line so that the gamemaster can draw on traditional 5e resources for inspiration. But with a party of one, we just don’t want a TPK at those vulnerable lower levels. It’s just not any fun, especially when you’re the only player.
One of the last components for class advancement is Feats. We’ve provided an extensive and thematic list appropriate to the mythic setting — some of them provide options for your Hero that just didn’t fit into one of the subclasses to further tailor your character, others tie into our setting-specific alignment system and some of them allow a bit of ‘spooky action at a distance’ — your Hero is not a spellcaster, but can sometimes benefit from their faith and lore. But also, almost every Feat comes with an upgrade (+1) to one of your Hero’s ability scores. So you don’t miss out on getting numerical boosts for your character along with more options.
You can check out the system by downloading our free preview, the Hermit’s Sanctuary at drivethrurpg.com
Find out more about BEOWULF: Age of Heroes here.
Every Hero in BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is human, from somewhere among the many lands that surround the Whale Road. They may be from nearby, Baltic-born and stern as the sea. They may be from strange lands to the south, with strange speech and tales no one has ever heard before. Each Hero comes to a life of adventure by a different path. Their background represents both their lineage and their life experience.
First and foremost, every Hero has access to the same Ability bonuses as any other. Adding such modifiers allows you to customise your character but is not dependent on where they were born or what they look like. Similarly, you can roll on a table (or pick) a special quirk (benefit) that is personal to you. You make some other choices, such as your age, alignment and languages and every Hero gets to start with a Feat. You then choose a background, and start building a story of how your Hero came to be. We posit the existence of a Trader’s Tongue that the folk of the North Sea and Baltic use when making deals that has loan words from a variety of languages, so that everyone can understand one another.
For example, you might be Adrift, having lost your memory due to a head wound or other trauma. You might be an Avenger, seeking vengeance against a Monster that harmed your loved ones. You might be the subject of a prophecy, known as the Chosen One. Or you might be Noble’s Blood with the attendant responsibilities and expectations. Some are Foundlings, adopted by others but now searching for their true home. Others are Believers, spreading their faith whether new or old. Others are Exiles, sent from their homes for reasons good or bad. And a few were once Sidekicks, the Followers of another Hero who either met an untimely end or sent forth their friend, proclaiming them ready for a life of adventure themselves.
Like 5e, a background provides some skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies and equipment. Each background also provides a character feature that is tied into that story. And, of course, it also provides a list of suggestions for the character’s personality traits, ideal, bond and flaw. As we’ll learn about in a future article, using personality traits is just one way to gain inspiration in BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, but it is one that is always available. And what Hero doesn’t want inspiration?
You can check out the system by downloading our free preview, the Hermit’s Sanctuary at drivethrurpg.com
Beowulf! A story as old as literature itself! Monsters! A hoard of dragon-guarded gold! Ancient magic swords! The very roots of fantasy adventure!
Beowulf! A lone hero leads their band to do battle against an ancient evil. In the game Beowulf: Age of Heroes YOU are the hero.
In this series of articles we're taking a look at how we've adapted Beowulf to a 5e adventure setting with unique new rules, classes, and backgrounds. In this article we check out "The Portent".
In the poem, before Beowulf goes to face Grendel, he asks permission of his own king Hygelac and seeks out omens of the road ahead before setting sail for Denmark. This leave-taking process is represented in the game by the portent system and sets the stage for the voyage and the entire adventure.
To generate a portent, you first roll to determine its structure. All portents resemble a fragment of Anglo Saxon poetry, and we have different variations in order to keep things fresh. You then dice for each of the components, producing something like:
grim spell, red-gold deathmonger
But this is more than just a piece of forbidding verse. Each of the 4 components (‘grim’, ‘spell’, ‘red-gold’, 'deathmonger') also provides a token in one of three inspiration pools, as well as a possible challenge to be faced during the voyage (more on that below). These tokens go into one of three different categories: Hero, Followers and Monsters and then can be used to refresh inspiration for a member of that category.
And, yes, that means that even the Monster can be inspired and gain new strength when facing down your Hero. The portent may therefore favour the hero - with a joyous portent providing three easy chances of inspiration. Or it may favour the Monsters, with no tokens in Player-friendly pools at all, and 3 in the Monster pool!
You will need four tokens to populate the pool (and one for regular inspiration) - coins or buttons work well if you can’t get your hands on some of our amazing BEOWULF metal coins (included in the upcoming Kickstarter campaign!). We also provide ‘print and stick’ tokens that you can apply to a card circle or metal washer.
Whenever you or the GM draw from the inspiration pool, it should be tied to the portent. In our above example, the Hero might learn of the sorcerous protection surrounding the Monster and tie that into ‘grim spell’ and receive inspiration. Whereas, after the Monster has slain one of the Followers, the GM can invoke ‘death-monger’, and grab a token for it.
The regular 5e rules for inspiration still apply, you can either be inspired or not, and you can’t stack inspiration ‘points’. The Hero can still become inspired by using their background and personality traits. But having the tokens in the pool allows you another source for inspiration and encourages you to integrate the portent into the story, in order to make use of the tokens. In this way, the prophecy of the portent becomes almost self-fulfilling, as you find some connection between the ancient words and the current situation.
As mentioned above, the Hero will face one or more challenges on their voyage to face the Monster, depending on how far they are travelling. Each time you roll to produce a component of the portent, you also produce two numbers. These numbers correspond to a specific challenge, which the GM will present during the voyage. We’ll talk more about voyages and challenges in a future article.
Beowulf the poem is a study in contrasts when it comes to religion. Its visions of meadhalls, monsters, sea creatures and dragons remind us of pagan legends and make us think of great adventure novels. But Beowulf is given to thanking the Christian God for his good fortune and the poet tells us that Grendel (and his mother) are the kindred of Cain. So the poem blends both the Church and the Old Ways into a seamless whole.
This is not too unusual for the time, however. In the days remembered in the tale, the Church was new to Northern Europe and, while popular with many, we have evidence that many people took a practical approach: combining the new ways with the old. We have chosen to represent the changing beliefs of the time with our alignment system. A Hero can have one of three different alignments: the Old Ways, the Church, or Neutral.
A Hero of the Old Ways believes in the Northern traditions that are still familiar today: there are many gods, and they feud with each other incessantly, that the mundane world is but part of the greater tree of life and there are other realms where the giants, elves, dwarves and others dwell. A final reckoning is coming, and a warrior must be brave in battle and in death in order to earn their place in the army of the gods. Prophecy says that such a battle is doomed to failure and the cycle will begin anew with the death of the gods.
A Hero of the Church believes in the offer inherent in the Book, that while no one is perfect, that God has enough love and patience to accept anyone willing into his heart and into the afterlife. The Church believes in education, literacy, kindness and forgiveness. They work against slavery and counsel words over weapons for feuds among people. But the Church also knows that the North is a dark place and there are evil Monsters beyond redemption waiting in the shadows. But there is a promise of peace for those who have faith in the Church.
A Neutral Hero has taken a practical approach to life. The Church might be right, and a neutral character will listen to a priest and consider their advice carefully. But the Old Ways still have power and there may yet come a reckoning, even the Book of the Church says something about that. So they are careful to stay on everyone’s good side so that they are not on anyone’s bad side. And who knows what is to come?
BEOWULF is a single player game, and the player's choice of alignment also sets some of the tone for their adventures: the Hero is truly at the heart of the story.
In addition to informing roleplaying opportunities between Followers and the Hero, plus roleplaying between the Hero and the various characters they meet, alignment also has a practical input in the alignment die. At certain points over the course of the game, the Hero can roll an extra d20 and earn inspiration tokens, depending on the results of the roll.
An important part of any RPG character’s life is their equipment, and in BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, this is a place where we can really show off some important aspects of the setting.
At a first glance, the list of weapons and armour for BEOWULF is slightly shorter than you might be used to. It is very much derived from the historical period of Beowulf. Because it’s a mythic, story-based world - meaning that the action is meant to take place in a half-remembered fireside tale about heroic ancestors, rather than any kind of “real” Europe - we can include things from a span of about 500 years while keeping the right feel. But the kinds of equipment used in those times also gives combat a real focus.
At the heart of Anglo-Saxon warfare is the shield. And we’ve given the shield a bit more love than it gets in standard 5e. Most shields will give a bigger boost to AC than you might be used to.
Which in turn means it’s possible to forego the time it would take to pull on your mail, and enter the fray with just a shield. Indeed, poorer warriors who lack armour are still challenging foes if they own a shield. And let’s be honest - anyone planning to fight owns a shield.
It also means that some weapons are favourable because they are designed to either circumvent shields - like the winged spear, with its lugs designed to pull down a foe’s shield, or an axe that can smash its way through a warboard, or an iron-hafted Angon, the javelin designed to piece a shield, then bend, rendering that shield impossible to use.
Break your opponent’s shield and you stand a good chance of breaking them. Indeed, using some of the special new rules found in BEOWULF: Age of Heroes many an opponent will gain the defeated condition when their shield is broken.
In a regular 5e game, it’d be awfully boring if everyone was using weapons with special rules for these things, and combat would be painfully slowed down. But this is where BEOWULF can capitalise on duet play. With just one player, having a few more tactical options derived from a limited set of weaponry and armour makes for a lot of fun!
Combine your era-specific weapons with the thematic abilities of your Followers, and you can start to create some marvellous “saga combat” moments as your Followers come to your aid in the heat of battle! Such steadfastness deserves rewards from the Hero.
The lands around the Whale Road, where BEOWULF: Age of Heroes takes place, is largely a gift-giving economy. Remain loyal to the local ruler, and he or she will provide for you. And a good host will provide ample hospitality. Day to day expenses we might recognise in our modern world are not of concern to a Hero!
And yet money still exists. In BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, wealth is measured in pounds of silver - a measurement of wealth that might be obliquely familiar to the Brits reading this: Pounds of sterling silver, Shillings and Pence all date back to the Anglo-Saxon world!
The upkeep of a ship, and maintaining the loyalty and good humour of one’s warband of followers is where a Hero’s money goes! And any Hero will frequently have need to set out in search of further “adventure” (silver) after all of one’s Followers are rewarded for their loyalty, and everything is mended aboard ship. Did we mention every Hero has a ship? Every Hero has a ship!
We have also released four new characters for The Hermit's Sanctuary.
Each new character comes with full-figure character art, a unique background, a 5e character sheet, and a choice of starting points for The Hermit's Sanctuary adventure.
Blaedswith, the Karelian Amulet Witch
Ham Ansfeald, the Hero-Sailor
Waelwulf, the Doomed Monster-fighter
The Wolf Child
There are also new follower cards for Ham Anfeald, who is always accompanied by his hand-fasted best friend, Bald Haeri, and The Wolf Child's family of wolves.
This new pack also includes VTT tokens, and is Pay What you Want, with a suggested price of £1.60/$1.99.
You can grab the Hermit's Sanctuary here.
We’re delighted to be worked with the super-talented Richard Dickens of Cold War Miniatures to bring you a range of really gorgeous miniatures for BEOWULF: Age of Heroes. They're available now.
Our miniatures are 28mm scale, cast in white metal, and sized to work well with historical miniatures lines already available. There are some awesome ‘dark ages’ miniatures out there from the likes of Footsore, Bad Squiddo, Victrix and many others, that make for awesome Followers and Heroes for BEOWULF games.
BEOWULF: Age of Heroes boasts some marvellous accessories.
These both level up your BEOWULF game, and will prove useful in other games. None of these are essential to play the game, (we don't believe in that kind of thing!) but we think they're things you'll find useful and beautiful to own. Keep an eye on our store, as we’re always adding more things.
Three mighty alignment dice for Heroes made by Q-Workshop.
Grab them here.
One of the very first products we made at Handiwork Games was dice trays! Partnering with our friends at All Rolled Up, we’ve brought a wide range of different dice trays to market.
All Rolled Up make fantastic trays that simply clip together at the corners. When unclipped you can fold or roll them very easily for transportation.
For the Kickstarter we offered an exclusive new design! They are now all sold out, but you can grab some other BEOWULF designs here.
These are GORGEOUS. We went to town on these, with our friends at Campaign Coins. A set of 5 weighty metal coins, in an antique gold finish featuring beautiful BEOWULF designs by Paul Bourne, inset with gems. Ok the gems aren’t real gems. But they look amazing!
These token can of course be used for any 5e game, or indeed any game at all that requires meaty, gorgeous, knot-whorled coins worthy of HEROES!
And you can play BEOWULF: Age of Heroes without any kind of special token. Just use coins, beads, the skulls of the giant worms you slew before you dove into the mere. But for the special BEOWULF game nights we’ve played? It was worth going the extra mile.
The tokens are 39mm across, and 4mm deep. They each weigh 25 grams. They come in a set of 5. Which gives you 4 for the Inspiration Pool and 1 spare in case your character wins Inspiration separately.
Grab yours here.
Beowulf Compass Rose
Every journey needs a way-finder. Keep your battle maps pinned down, and North at the top with this absolutely STUNNING, unique Compass Rose.
Designed by Paul Bourne, and made by the geniuses at Campaign Coins, this is something to truly treasure. Measuring 50mm in diameter, and weighing in at 40g, this is a beautiful chunk of metal.
It is finely worked with interlaced hounds, the central rondel features a dragon, and the outer rim reads: “Sea cliffs shining/Steep high hills/Heathlands broad/Their haven was found”, taken from the Beowulf poem, where Beowulf and his crew arrive safely in Denmark having made the crossing from their home in Geatland.
The same design appears on both sides. There is no flat, boring side.
Grab yours here.
Inspiration Pool Mat
This is a bit of a luxury. As part of the BEOWULF: Age of Heroes ruleset, each Hero has access to a pool of Inspiration. These are divided into tokens they can use for their Followers, Tokens they can use any way they like, and there is also a deadly pool of dread GM tokens.
How the pool is divided up is determined by the Portent at the outset of the adventure.
To track the Pool you can use chits of any kind - coins, beads, ancient Dirrams from old Baghdad you found buried in an Anglo-Saxon pot in your garden… and three bowls, or three spaces drawn on a piece of paper.
OR, since you’ll be able to run the same scenario for everyone you know, one on one, you can indulge yourselves and get this Inspiration Pool Mat. With graphics by Paul Bourne, expertly printed by Patriot Games on 3mm neoprene, with whipstitched edges, this is the perfect setting for your Inspiration Tokens. Trust us, it’s worth it!
Grab yours here.
If these have whetted your appetite for BEOWULF, then make sure you download the free sample adventure, The Hermit's Sanctuary!
Supplements and Additional Material
So you have your copy of BEOWULF Age of Heroes. What’s next? Check out more info: