The Folklore of Burly Men at Sea

Brooke Condolora
Sep 29, 2017 · 6 min read

Note: If you haven’t yet played our folktale adventure, know that there be spoilers here.

The summer of 2008 was a strange one. It began when the carcass of an unidentified creature washed up on a New Jersey beach, followed by police dashcam footage of a fleeing chupacabra in Texas. By the time two good old boys in Georgia announced they had a Bigfoot in their freezer, press had christened it the “Summer of Monsters” — and I was unabashedly glued to the headlines.

It was a good summer. Yes, the experts weighed in with their “hairless raccoon/coyote” explanations, and the Georgia boys skipped town with a Sasquatch costume thawing in their garage. And really, I knew. But for just a little while, there was a chance it could all be real.


I love this stuff. As a kid, I devoured folklore and cryptid stories, and I still can’t resist a good headline of the unexplained variety. Let there be mystery, I say.

Last year, we released a game called Burly Men at Sea, an adventure set in Scandinavian waters. To someone of my background, it seemed clear that a story in that setting should incorporate creatures from folklore, in some capacity. So we called it a “folktale adventure,” both for tone and theme, and I filled it with my own lighthearted version of lore from the far north.

In the game, we don’t identify most of the creatures encountered. That was an intentional choice: both to signify our characters’ inexperience and to keep the writing uncomplicated. But every creature in the game is drawn from actual folklore, primarily Scandinavian in origin. We did put our own twist on each, and avoided a few clichés skewed by pop culture, but we did our best to keep their mystery intact.

Here they are, in order of appearance.


Giant Whale

For our story, I imagined a milder, nobler giant: more Jabu-Jabu than Monstro. He acts as a sort of bus driver, carrying pilgrims on his daily route to a mystical land. And if, at times, he collects a few unintentional pilgrims, at least he means well.

Thus benevolently swallowed, our men find themselves in a second mystical encounter.


Sea Nymphs

Our nymphs appear to have transcended their wayward past and are now pilgrims of a sort, traveling by whale to the “Place of Promise.” They speak in New Agey non-sequiturs and are generally unhelpful, though it’s unclear whether the entire act is a practical joke.


Draug

Our draug is not particularly good at his job, and tends to be rather gloomy on the subject. He has yet to win a race and so remains an apprentice, hoping to chance upon some soul willing to let him win.


Kraken

As the kraken is one of the most popularly known of the creatures in our story, we tried to steer away from modern depictions for something closer to the folklore version — with, of course, our own twist.

Our kraken has the misfortune of being cute when he’s angry.


Troll

Our men encounter a lonely rock troll, emerging from sleep to find “small beings” at his feet. He’s a simple soul and alarmingly eager for company, but — to their good fortune — also easily fooled.


Will-o’-the-Wisps

Our wisps take on a similar role inside a glittering cavern.


Maelstrom

Our maelstrom stays true to the hyperbolic nature of folklore, unfortunately for the men. You may even notice a nod to Poe in their choice of vessel.


Udröst and Fossegrim

On our Udröst lives the similarly mystical and bearded fossegrim. Found playing fiddle behind waterfalls, the fossegrim is said to offer musical skill in exchange for a gift from the finder.

Our worthy adventurers, however, prove difficult to impress.


Selkies

In our story, the men are nearly drowned themselves when they encounter selkies — whose aid is timely, if a bit uncomfortable.


Leviathan


Mermaids

Our mermaids are a bit shy, but they’re lovely singers on a stormy evening.


Sjøorm

We could think of no more majestic creature for the close of a journey and no better symbol of mystery itself. And so it is that the men meet her.


Burly Men at Sea is a story about curiosity, about chasing after mystery in all its forms. And when all is told, there’s always more to tell. Adventure is only the chase itself, after all.

“What’s left unwritten in one story can fill others, if ye’ve the inclination to sail again.”

Brain&Brain Design Notes

A look at our game design process.

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