In their wake, man and giant
survived through a tenuous
alliance, driving black
destroyers called dredge deep
into the northern wastes.
Now is an era of growth
and trade. Life goes on.
Only one thing has stopped.
The Banner Saga is a tactical RPG developed by Stoic Studios. It is a series of tales set in a fantasy north, where humans struggle to coexist with the varl, a race of horned giants. They live in the shadow of a race of armored beings known as the Dredge, forcing them into an uneasy alliance. One day, the Dredge attack again, threatening all of mortal civilization.
The game can be described as a mixture of Western RPGs, tactical RPGs and The Oregon Trail. Although the focus is on RPG elements, the choices the player makes (including difficult moral ones) can have a large effect on the story.
There is also a free-to-play spinoff named The Banner Saga: Factions focused entirely on player-versus-player combat.
A sequel, The Banner Saga 2 has been released as of April 19, 2016. The final game in the trilogy, The Banner Saga 3 was Kickstarted and was later released on July 26, 2018. Stoic has also said that if the trilogy is successful, they might make more games in the setting.
This video game provides examples of the following tropes:
- Action Girl: All of the female characters, of course.
- Alien Gender Confusion: The stone-like Dredge have such incomprehensible biology compared to the setting's other, mammalian races that they initially assume every combatant they encounter is male. It's only when they realize some of them have children strapped to them that they realize the Dredge army comprises both sexes and are actually Invading Refugees.
- All There in the Manual: There's a lot of lore and worldbuilding on the in-game map, and characters' pages on the roster contain their backgrounds. There's also a lot of information only accessible at the godstones.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Dredge, silent and alien. They murdered thousands during the second Great War; third one put Varl on the brink of extinction and reduced human civilization to a single desperate holdout in Arberrang. However, it is revealed that Dredge weren't invading the kingdoms of Varl and men - they were running, trying to save themselves from the Darkness.
- And then utterly subverted in 3, when it's revealed by Juno that the Valka are indirectly responsible for their angry suicide rage against the other races: At the climax of the second Great War, when the Varka learned that the Dredge's homeworld was powered by a miniature black sun that supercharged weaving, they went behind the alliance's back and forged a peace treaty with the Dredge, teaching them weaving and creating females for their race to reproduce in exchange for access to the black sun. Unfortunately, one of their number went rogue and attempted an unstable experiment with the black sun. It caused the mutant apocalypse, and the Dredge homeworld was ground zero. They think it was a genocidal first strike and are hellbent on getting revenge.
- Ambidextrous Sprite: Played with candidly throughout the series. The most noteworthy example is Iver/Yngvar, after he loses an arm in the battle with Bellower. It's his left arm according to canon and cutscenes, though it switches depending on where he's facing in battle/conversations.
- Anti-Armor: Characters have a health and armor stat. You can attack armor instead of health, making it easier to damage their health. As pretty much all Dredge have heavy armor, this is essentially a requirement to do significant damage.
- Anyone Can Die: The majority of the cast can be killed in some way or other, depending on the player's choices. There is at least one occasion where the player is forced to choose which main character(s) live and which die.
- An Axe to Grind: Rook has one as his melee weapon, with a bow for ranged attacks. Many other characters have a one-handed version.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Sure enough, glory in battle is important for Varl society.
- Badass Beard: It's a game about fantasy vikings. So, of course, a lot of them will have epic beards to go with their battle prowess.
- Big Damn Heroes: Hakon's caravan arrives at Boersgard just when it looks like the city is about to fall to the forces of Bellower.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Dredge army was routed with the defeat of Bellower, at the cost of either Alette or Rook, not to mention all who died along the way. And while we're at it, Bellower's not really dead - he's just tricked into thinking he is.
- BFS: Varl naturally have weapons appropriate to their size, which includes swords as long as a man is tall.
- The Cavalry: Hakon's army arrives at Boersgard just before Bellower finally crushes its defenses.
- Competitive Balance: The following classes could be divided into these categories:
- Glass Cannon / Squishy Wizard: Archers and Menders; have the lowest strength and armor but the highest willpower, mostly skilled with range combat.
- Fragile Speedster / Jack-of-All-Stats: Raiders, Landsmen and Spearmen; possess average strength, armor and willpower, and mostly skilled with melee combat.
- Mighty Glacier: Varl Warriors; possess the highest strength and average armor, but very low willpower.
- Stone Wall: Varl Shieldbangers; possesses the highest armor and average strength, but have the lowest willpower in the game.
- Crapsack World: The copious amounts of ilore paint a picture of a joyless world that is downright hostile to life in most places, and merely survivable at best. And now that world seems to be coming to an end, as the sun freezes in place in the sky and kingdoms of humans and Varl are being overrun by Dredge who, it transpires, were driven out of their own lands by some yet-to-be-explained creeping shadow called "The Darkness" by those few in the know. Oh, and what appears to be the World Serpent is roaming about, casually destroying entire mountains and complaining it was supposed to destroy the world instead.
- Critical Existence Failure: Averted for once, as the unit's strength, whether allied or hostile, is equal to their health. The more wounded they get, the less damage they'll be able to deal, generally making them nigh-useless at low health (barring special abilities and armor breaking).
- Dark Is Evil: There is a vague "Darkness" consuming/corrupting the land from the north, so dark that it even scares the Dredge and the world-eating serpent.
- Decapitated Army: Once Bellower falls, the Dredge following him immediately rout. Same thing happens if Eyeless is killed at Old Ford in the second game.
- Disneyesque: The style of the series, overall.
- Divine Assistance: If you play your cards right, you can get an item from every single Godstone, including some unique high-tier items.
- Doomed Hometown: Skogr, which is abandoned when it's attacked by the dredge.
- Dying Race: Unlike the humans, Varls were individually made by the god Hadrborg without their female counterparts that resulted in their inability to reproduce once the gods were dead. This meant that their numbers are constantly depleting despite their strength, immortality, and resilience. The destruction of Grofheim—their major population and political center—along with the apocalypse meant that the Varls in your party would most likely be the last of their race.
- Elite Mook: Any enemy Varl, and all large-sized dredge.
- End of the World as We Know It: If what the serpent says is true, the creeping darkness that's driving the dredge south will cause this. The serpent doesn't want this because he is the one that's supposed to destroy the world.
- Eureka Moment: If Rook attempts to solve the puzzle box, then decides to take a rest, he has a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night and manages to solve it.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In second game, Dredge slingers can be seen carrying their children in the background.
- Evil Counterpart Race: The Dredge are supposedly the result of a jealous god twisting men and Varl into monsters, specifically to oppose the two races. Downplayed since the Dredge aren't exactly evil, but they do have a history of clashing bloodily with everybody else.
- Evil Twin: Dredge are one to the Varl and humanity, having been "created" by another god that was jealous of the Loom-mother. The dredge also have one to the menders, in the form of their stonesingers, which seem to also be part of some kind of priesthood.
- Fiery Redhead: Averted in the case of Alette, one of the few redheads in the game. She refuses to Stay in the Kitchen like other girls in her village, but she is not Hot-Blooded and has a very sweet and caring personality. Ludin, on the other hand...
- Foreshadowing: The game will often subtly hint at the long-term consequences of any given major decision. For instance, Onef will invariably betray the player if recruited. This is hinted at both by his class name — "Backbiter" — and by pre-order exclusive Tryggvi near the start of the game, who will tell the player, "do not trust a man, just because they have faces and use their mouths. A man will look at your (sic) right through his helmet and lie."
- Giant Mook: Not only any large dredge, but also any Varl as well.
- God Is Dead: All of the pantheon has died somehow (they apparently all killed each other), and now the sun has stopped in the sky.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Hogun and Mogun, the twins, can be distinguished because Mogun has a scar across his face. Yrsa , and in some cases Oddleif, also has a scar across her face, though it isn't as pronounced as Mogun's.
- Gory Discretion Shot: When the time comes, Bellower will grab the person who shot the arrow towards him, they will dangle in the air... and a sickening crunch can be heard but the crushing motion itself is not shown on-screen.
- Götterdämmerung: The sun is stuck in the sky, robbing the world of all concept of time. The gods themselves are dead, and the Serpent lurks, plotting to devour the whole world. This is before the apocalyptic army of the Dredge arrived.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: There are no easy choices. Men and Varl do what they can to survive, and sometimes this appears to conflict with your own needs, but there are no completely right answers.
- Great Offscreen War: Two of them. The first was between humans and varl and ended in a stalemate at what would become the Red River, the second was between humans, varl and dredge when the dredge appeared in the north. The humans and varl made peace and turned on the dredge, and the war eventually ended with the dredge being driven north.
- Grim Up North: Not only is the entire land grim, but north is said to be where the dredge make their homes after the second great war.
- Guide Dang It!:
- Certain characters can only be recruited by following a very specific chain of events.
- Egil, one of the most sturdy characters the player has access to in battles, can die permanently on at least four different occasions throughout the game, usually as a random casualty from a poor judgement made much earlier. Keeping him alive is as much luck as anything — there is even an Achievement in the Steam version for keeping him alive throughout the entire game, and it is one of the rarest unlocked.
- Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: With the exception of Rook (who also uses an axe), all archers are female. Likewise, the Dredge slingers (whom the Varl veterans have never encountered before) are eventually revealed to be females, many with children bundled on their backs.
- Half-Human Hybrid: The Varl were made as a combination of man and beast, possibly Yox. There are also the horseborn, which appear in this game as only rough sketches on the world map.
- Handicapped Badass: Iver barely even seems to notice it when he loses an arm to Bellower. After a few days unconscious, he returns in full force, both as a party member and as an important member of the cast.
- Heroic Sacrifice: It's possible for Egil to run in front of a dredge's mace, sacrificing himself to save Alette.
- Hold the Line: There are many moments where you may choose to hold the line, rather than attack or retreat. Also, fighting endlessly on the bridge at Einartoft, and surviving the final siege at Boersgard.
- Hollywood Healing: Averted Trope on higher difficulties, where heroes that go down in battle will have their strength penalized over some days...mostly averted that is, since heroes will still fully recover from apparent injuries that incapacitated them in five days (probably on the march) at most.
- Hopeless Boss Fight: Iver vs Bellower at the bridge to Einhartoft, where you control Iver by himself. The game even uses different stats for Iver for this part.
- Horned Humanoid: The Varl all have horns.
- Improbable Accessory Effect: Magic items and superstitious charms could reasonably provide combat bonuses, as well as items with actual tangible and practical effects like the padded undercoat. But how does a narwhal horn provide break damage, especially when some characters seem incapable of using it alongside a regular weapon? And how exactly does a studded pommel provide knockback for archers? The sequel takes it further. The barter shade is described as being wielded in the fist, which once again makes little sense for archers, and Yox Nauts, a pair of regular cow testicles, is inexplicably a higher level and more powerful than arcane and divine artifacts, and once again it doesn't make sense for its buffs to effect archers.
- Interspecies Adoption: At Godstone Ingrid, you find a dead female dredge and her baby. You can argue to take the baby with you, and though it isn't popular the rest of the caravan will defer to your judgement.
- Invading Refugees: The Dredge are being driven out of their homeland by something only known as "Darkness" and have no other choice than attacking settlements and caravans if they dont want to starve.
- It Can Think: Dredge seem to just be mindless monsters at first, and you learn that about their complex society as the game progresses.
- Law of Chromatic Superiority: Bellower, a giant in blood-red armor and one of the Sundr, that is also apparently immortal. There are also red slag slingers, who are more powerful than their other variants.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: As a SRPG with multiple parties, naturally the game has a lot of characters.
- Long-Lived: Varl live for hundreds of years, and nobody knows exactly what their natural lifespan is, mostly because they're more likely to fall in battle before they die of old age.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: In general, units who have shields will have high Armor (blue number), and therefore excellent survivability. They also have higher chances of deflecting attacks outright.
- Ludicrous Precision: War sequences start describing the enemy with the words "You take a quick head count. There must be at least 515 of them." Apparently, Varl possess not only great size, near-agelessness and extreme strength, they also have superhuman counting skills.
- The Man Behind the Man: Onef, not Ekkil, is the actual leader of the bandits who ran Frostvellr.
- Noodle Incident: Krumr promises to one day tell you of the time his men filled a dead yox with whale teeth and the reason they did it.
- Mythopoeia: The world has a vast mythology and two unseen great wars before the beginning of the main game.
- Oh, Crap!: The caravan flying the Banner of the Prince has a collective one when they crest a hill to see that Grofheim, capital of the Varl, has been besieged and destroyed by the Dredge.
- Old Save Bonus: Saves from the first Banner Saga can be imported into The Banner Saga 2.
- One-Gender Race: The varl, since each of them are made individually by Hadrborg, the god that created them. Now that Hadrborg is dead, no more varl will be made. Averted with the Dredge - everyone only sees the males, which are normally the only ones that go to war.
- Only Mostly Dead: The plan to take down Bellower in the end is to injure him with a special arrow made of silver that Juno can use to influence his mind into thinking he's dying. He'll be like that for a period of time before he realizes he isn't dead.
- Our Hero Is Dead: Whoever you choose to shoot the arrow to wound Bellower in the finale, whether it be Rook or Alette, the chosen one will die.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: All of the Varl, who love battle a lot.
- Pyromaniac: How the Varl view Ludin's bodyguard Yrsa, given her slightly unsettling presence and preferred method of battle. Her conversation with Hakon suggests she might be playing it up a bit just to mess with them, though.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Banner of Skogr (i.e. Rook's party), since it is a caravan of starving refugees and whoever is crazy enough to join them.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The massive serpent that slithers around the land, and speaks to Juno later in the story.
- Robot War: The Dredge don't even seem to be organic, and are referred to as "Stone Men". They also summon help by using their weapons as tuning forks. Subverted - they have women and children among their species. Flesh can clearly be seen under Bellower's armour, and in the release trailer for the sequel their breath can be seen misting.
- Sadistic Choice: You'll be given many, such as during the escape from Skogr. The dredge are attacking the caravan and things are falling apart: do you save as many supplies as you can, try and keep people together, or help the chieftain and other warriors fight off a group of dredge?
- Scenery Gorn: Various scenes of destruction, such as the Serpent bringing down mountains and the view of the burning ruins of Grofheim.
- Scenery Porn: The backdrops to the traveling montages are beautiful.
- The Siege: The siege of Einhartoft. Even if you destroy its giant bridge to delay the Dredge, they'll just flank the city several days later and annihilate everybody in it. The town of Boersgard is also put under siege, but here, unlike then, you have no way out.
- Shield Bash: The special ability of many a shield-bearing unit. Dredge Stoneguards have a particularly nasty area-of-effect one.
- Shield-Bearing Mook: Dredge Stoneguards, whocarry giant tower shields in addition to their maces.
- Ship Tease: Rook's wife died some time ago, and Oddleif becomes a widow with no children, so naturally people start assuming things about them.
- Shout-Out: There is a section where you must cross a big lake, taken straight from Oregon Trail.
- The character Eyvind is named after Eyvind Earle, a famous animator.
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear: A party member who dies or otherwise leaves the caravan will take any item they had equipped with them and all the renown spent ranking them up.
- Splash Damage Abuse:
- Archers with the Slag and Burn ability can attack enemies out of their normal range by laying down flaming coals which blow up when deployed. The damage from the explosion also ignores armour and will always hit, making it a better option than going for a scratch damage hit when your target has more armour than you do strength.
- Varl using two-handed weapons do bonus damage to enemies adjacent to their targets on a strength attack, which also ignores armour. The Sundering Impact ability is all about this trope, specifically designed to do greater and greater splash damage at higher levels to punish grouped enemies.
- Humans of Raider class can get the Grudge ability, doing strength damage and knockback to all enemies around them, and 1 point of damage for each tile they are knocked back. Naturally, the damage per tile ignores armour making the move viable even if the initial attack doesn't do much.
- The sequel introduces enemies and allies who can cloak themselves, making them invisible and unable to be targeted - however, the cloak is broken if they either attack or take any sort of damage.
- Stout Strength: It's pretty clear the Varl are towering giants much stronger than any human being, but they also tend to have a paunch.
- Survivor's Guilt: Rook or Alette develops this for each other, depending on who shoots Bellower. Alette has a more standard reaction, while Rook is too emotionally shattered to express almost anything.
- The Backwards Я: A mix of fake and real runes are used on the map to make it look Norse. The real runes are often misused, however, such as Ur (ᚢ) being used as an N and Lögr (ᛚ) being reversed. This makes the text more readable without knowledge of Germanic runes than with it.
- Timed Mission: Food and caravan members are finite, so you must hurry along.
- Title Drop: A "banner saga" is a story woven into a banner. There's also the Menders, the Tapestry of the World, the Loom-mother god, etc.
- Unbreakable Weapons: In spite of characters explicitly talking about breaking off Dredges' armor in combat to fight them, all of their axes, swords and occasional spear don't seem to have any problems with edges being worn down.
- Video Game Caring Potential: Several achievements reward you for this: Quartermaster (not letting anyone starve), High Spirits (never letting morale drop below normal), and Innocent (never forcing Alette to harm humans or varl). More honorable choices may also reward you with Renown bonuses.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: On the other hand, the game has no Karma Meter, allowing you to act like a total dick to everyone around you with relatively few repercussions. Perhaps things have gotten so desperate that almost any action can be explained with "I Did What I Had to Do"...
- Viking Funeral: The game ends with one.
- Violation of Common Sense: Base damage is equal to hit points, in an aversion of Critical Existence Failure. The turn system has each side alternate moving one unit at a time, in a fixed order, regardless of the difference in team size (so long as both have more than one alive). Consequently, the best combat strategy is wounding all enemy troops before killing any of them (except the ones with powerful ability not based on strength, which should be killed immediately) and suicidally throwing your injured into the fray.
- Wizard Needs Food Badly: Your party needs food, or else morale will suffer and people will start dying.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Dredge and Varl alike are afraid of fire. This gives it a tenuous tactical use, as fire can be used to drive or divert Dredge forces, but it may also incapacitate Varl allies.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: This is the real reason why Onef tells Rook's caravan where his bandits stash their supplies - Onef was done with Frostvellr and figured that his chances of survival were better with Rook. He later pulls this on Rook when Onef starts to believe that Rook's new allies will put him in danger.