Larger than life. No race in Guild Wars 2 epitomizes this phrase more than the Norn. They grow big, they fight big, drink big, tell big stories, and ideally to them, leave big legends behind. Hailing from the northern Shiverpeaks, the Norn have been driven south by the awakening of one of the Elder Dragons, Jormag. Despite telling big stories, much of the history of this nomadic race is a mystery.
First there was a man…er maybe he was a man-bear…or maybe he was just a bear..
Looking at that image above, we actually have two races: Norn and Kodan. All Norn have the ability to transform into a bestial humanoid based on one of their four totem spirits: Bear, Wolf, Raven and Snow Leopard. When a Norn shifts into the Bear Form, they bear a striking resemblance to the Kodan. However, the Kodan do not shape shift at all.
The Kodan live together and share a common religion. Their religion codifies each race and ranks them. Of course the Kodan are the pinnacle of existence within their religion. They believe in endless re-incarnation and everyone normally re-incarnates into their same race; Humans come back as Humans, Charr as Charr, Kodan as Kodan. Only when a person becomes enlightened enough do they “advance” into a new race when they come back into the world.
It is also impossible to not see a visual connection between the Norn and the Humans. In fact, in certain dialogues in GW1 it is indicated that Norn and Human could viably create offspring. If so that would certainly indicate a common ancestry. So which is it? Did some Humans go north and freeze their butts off and evolve into crazed viking-indians? Did they then gain the ability to change shapes, and some of them stayed in a Bear Form and form the beginning of the Kodan? Or are the Kodan correct in their belief that Norn are simply Kodan who have lost their way and their true form, making Humans even further down the chain of de-evolution?
Army of one
Regardless of where their biology was derived, the Norn are a powerful and proud race. They can withstand immense physical burdens and injuries, live for over 100 years and seem to be able to completely ignore the freezing cold of the Shiverpeaks. When transformed they have extraordinary strength, and their giant stature helps as well. Due to these great strengths, the Norn are quite capable of being loners. In fact, most Norn tend to live very isolated or solitary lives as they try to expand their legend. Nothing is more important to a Norn than the story of their life.
Perfectly content and able to wander alone, Norn have almost no form of organization or government. Given their great power, most have never needed to seek out others for help, and if they did need to, a paltry few Norn would be required to do the job. In Guild Wars 1, the Norn you meet pledge you an army to fight the Great Destroyer, a lieutenant of Primordus. They sent 4. In their minds, 4 Norn was enough to accomplish anything. Given such attitudes, it is easy to see why they never bothered to form large communities; having a party or a riot would likely level mountains.
All of that however changed with the awakening of Jormag. Never before had the Norn faced such a foe. There was a time where they banded together to fight the Elder Dragon, but for all their efforts the best that could be done was breaking one of Jormag’s teeth. That tooth now sits in the center of Hoelbrak, the largest Norn settlement. After their failure, the Norn were driven south into areas much closer to Kryta. While the Hoelbrak is the largest Norn settlement and the closest thing they have to a capitol, it is still far less populous than any of the other major cities.
I’m pretty middle-of the road with the Norn. As I mentioned in my Human article, I worry that they will look like they are in slow-motion when running due to their size. Aesthetically speaking I am not fond of the giant top-heavy look of the males, and the females look a lot like regular human females, just taller. I don’t really know how you would go about making a race of giant human-looking dudes without making them look too human, but I suppose that could be a feature for many. On the other hand, I love the starting zone. Some of the videos of that forest covered in mist are just so cool and gorgeous.
At first I thought of them as pretty one-dimensional in terms of personality. “Get drunk, go fight, tell stories” was pretty much all I would have said about them. However, after reading Edge of Destiny, I actually really liked Eir, Knut and Magnus. All of them really showed some of the depth among the more noteworthy Norn. Hopefully the Personal Story segments really focus more on those kinds of characters and less on the generic image most people see in the Norn.