The Northern seas eat men by the boatload … at the end of the first millennium AD the world is a dangerous place, particularly at sea, and even the Norsemen, who fear the sea - the "Whale Road" - less than most, know that whole ships and the crews and warbands aboard them can vanish without trace into the icy water.
According to the myths of Scandinavia and the other lands around the Northern seas, those drowned men sometimes come back.
Sometimes a ship can be travelling the Whale Road, often at night or in bad weather, but not always, when they find another vessel rising from the waves beside them - usually a dragon ship, still crewed by the viking band that were aboard her when she went down, but the ship is rotten now and the men blue and drowned with rust on their mail and seaweed in their beards.
They know not lord nor kinfolk now - all that held them in life is gone and now they only seek to revenge themselves on those who are still warm and alive and still possess everything they have now lost. No skilled sailing nor strong rowing can escape this ghastly ship, which keeps pace with its victim and soon draws close enough that the dead men will be able to board, at which point the chief of the dead men comes to the gunwhale and calls out a challenge to those he is about to attack.
The challenge traditionally comes in the form of a rhyming couplet, framed in the style of the heroic verse that all warriors love so well - and if there is a skald, or well versed warrior aboard the victim ship then a well phrased retort can draw the dead man into a rhyming duel.
If the living poet can win the duel, then the dead men have been known to abandon their prize and sink back beneath the waves. If not, the ships crash together and the dead come swarming aboard to kill the living.
- Draugr - another, possibly related form of Norse undead
Game and Story Use
- This should liven up your PCs sea voyages - a rhyming duel and/or a boarding action with a ship full of competent undead (wights, perhaps?).
- Presumably, if counterboarded the Blue Men just dive their ship again and take the boarders down with them into the sea.
- Feel free to develop other monsters that can be (more effectively) defeated by means that don't involve violence to give non-combat specialist PCs a turn in the limelight.
- Imagine the PCs have to find a specific crew of Blue Men … perhaps because their chieftain was the last man known to know a certain fact.
- Perhaps this is why northerners covered their bodies with woad and went naked into battle - to scare the other side into thinking they were undead warriors.
- Rap-battling undead with submarines? Is this the work of a time-traveling wizard?
- Could there be a connection between these blue men and the modern Blue Man Group?
- Potentially, a practitioner of seidr or someone with the dubious honour of having Hel as a patron1 might be able to summon a shipload of Blue Men, perhaps as transport or perhaps for some act of viking.