89 Colorful Kennings

89 Colorful Kennings

Rackham, The Giants Seize Freya

What is a Kenning? 

A kenning is a play on words that replaces a concept, usually a single word, with more figurative language. Often associated with the Norse skalds, kennings draw on cultural and mythical knowledge. That being said, they are immensely useful and imaginative ways to add flavor and a unique cultural feeling to your 5e game!

Barbarians, bards, druids, and rangers from a Northlands tradition might all use kennings.

Kennings Related to Weather and Places

  • “Ancestor’s watch”—a stone circle.
  • “Boreas’s burning”—snow blindness.
  • “Elf-glory”—the sun.
  • “Feather’s fall”—falling snow.
  • “Frozen road”—ice-covered river.
  • “Green clearing”—shaman’s gathering place.
  • “Northern kiss”—cold wind.
  • “River-bone”—rock.
  • “Ship of night”—the moon.
  • “Sky’s black cloak”—nightfall.
  • “Swan-road”—the sea.
  • “Thor’s laughter”—thunder.
  • “Whale-way”—the sea.
  • “Weather of wolves”—harsh winter (can also allude to the end times, or “Fenris’s rising”).
  • “Winter’s blade”—cold wind.
  • “Winter’s blanket”—snow.
  • “Winter spear”—icicle.
  • “Ægir’s daughters”—waves…

Kennings Related to People and Professions

  • “Bear shirt”—berserker.
  • “Children of battle”—soldiers or raiders.
  • “Fire beater”—smith.
  • “Feller of the life-webs”—slayer.
  • “Feeder of eagles/ravens”—warrior.
  • “Forseti’s favored”—diplomat.
  • “Lord of laughter”—skald, or possibly Loki.
  • “Naglfar’s favorite”—person who does not burn their dead/cut their nails, thus furthering the completion of Naglfar and consequently, Ragnarok (could also be applied to necromancers).
  • “Ring giver”—jarl.
  • “Rune caller”—wizard.
  • “Shield-gnawer”—berserker.

Kennings Related to Battle and Death

  • “Battle metal”—weapons.
  • “Bed shame”—dying of disease or old age.
  • “Black song”—reaver’s war cry.
  • “Bright way”—burning of a dead reaver with his ship.
  • “Bone-beak”—axe.
  • “Dew of slaughter,” “toast of ravens”—blood.
  • “Feeding the eagle”—killing enemies.
  • “Giant’s back scratcher”—Danish ax or greataxe.
  • “Head of Heimdallr”—sword.
  • “Loki’s shackles”—entrails.
  • “Shield-biting hawk”—hatchet or throwing axe.
  • “Straw death”—death by disease or old age.
  • “Surtr’s blaze”—sword (in good condition).
  • “Traveling the Hel road”—dying.
  • “Tyrfingr’s kin”—cursed weapon.
  • “Un-blooded”—man not yet tested in battle.
  • “War needles”—arrows.
  • “Weather of weapons”—large-scale battle.
  • “White death”—killed by an avalanche.

Kennings Related to Gods and Giants

  • “Choker of man”—Nidhöggr (could be used for any powerful linnorm).
  • “Doom of Heimdallr,” “father of the sea’s thread”—Loki.
  • “Cloud scraper, shadow on the sky candle”—jotun.
  • “Kin of Loki”—Fenris.
  • “King of skalds”—Óðinn.
  • “Pus-spewer”—Jörmungandr (Midgard-Snake).
Artist Depiction of Valkyrie – which can be also be known as “Bow-Lady”

Kennings Related to Animals and Mythological Creatures

  • “Bow-lady”—valkyrie.
  • “Cattle tripper, red jowl, lolling jaws, hounds of ravening”—wolves and worgs.
  • “Eagle’s herald”—squirrel (reference to communication between dragon Nidhöggr and the eagle).
  • “Eater of runes”—tupilak.
  • “Eye of Óðinn”—raven.
  • “Fenris’ thirst”—nightgarm.
  • “Fjord branch of nails”—Naglfar.
  • “Grasping gold curler”—linnorm.
  • “Honey hawk”—owlbear.
  • “Horse of the hanged”—Yggdrassil.
  • “Howling mother”—nightgarm.
  • “Icicle woman, leman of the snows”—ice maiden.
  • “Light elf”—liosalfar.
  • “Skitter in the ice, termite of the sea”—kraken spawn.
  • “Sons of the thurs rune”—thursir.
  • “White jaws”—winter wolf.
  • “Wound starling”—raven.
Dragon’s Bile – A kenning used to replace “Poison”

Other Kennings

  • “Balder’s gift”—mistletoe.
  • “Branches of fjord”—ship.
  • “Cattle-kin”—derogatory term for people who can’t defend themselves.
  • “Dragon’s bile”—poison.
  • “Draught of giants”—skald’s mead/sudden (poetic) realization.
  • “Forseti’s failure”—unjust decisions.
  • “Frigg’s lapse”—mistletoe.
  • “Igniter of waves”—bile of Jörmungandr/poison.
  • “Lindworm claws”—skates.
  • “Mimir’s warning”—prophecy (of doom).
  • “Óðinn’s furrows”—runes.
  • “Ribs of Ull”—skis.
  • “Ring-rich”—generous person.
  • “Sindri’s gift”—wealth/affluence.
  • “Strong brew”—mistletoe as an ingredient.
  • “Uncut thread”—destiny to be fulfilled/life.
  • “Wind racers”—horses.
  • “Wolf’s joint”—wrist.

8 thoughts on “89 Colorful Kennings”

  1. I’d love to see a similar list that isn’t so Norse-oriented. You can pluck a lot of great ideas from this for fantasy that’s themed a bit differently, but I’d love to see a hundred or so ideas that translate more easily into more generic fantasy settings.

  2. I’d be willing to write kenning-like lists for just about everything if there is a demand. Thank everybody for the kind comments. :)

  3. “Honey Hawk”=owlbear
    In my campaign world I’ve had a vague concept of a gnome-halfling conclave living in a symbiotic relationship with owlbears. That simple phrase has gotten my inspirational juices flowing; I scribbled half a page of ideas before I posted this.
    Thank you Thilo!

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