Sunday, April 26, 2015

V is For Viking

I've long collected the various series by Osprey Military that include the Warriors Series and the Men-At-Arm series. With the +HISTORY channel just finishing airing Vikings Season Three,  I decided to delve into my Warrior Series Volume 3, Viking Hersir 793-1066 AD: Weapons>Armor.Tactics. Note the cover below is not the current cover, but is is the one I have.

Vikings are a popular. Part of this is the warrior heritage. They are individual who 'do' things. It's easier to involve characters into stories when they are active in that story.

They are also not restricted to their own time. Marvel Comics for some odd forty years has been getting good mileage out of reimagining the adventures of Thor, one of the gods of the Vikings. This has included numerous versions of Thor in both the past and far future, as well as individuals with the power of Thor, thanks to an enchantment placed on Thor's hammer.

Even DC, which has mainly stayed with the Olympian Pantheon via Wonder Woman, has gotten mileage out of names such as Wotan, a mystical super villain who battled Dr. Fate.

In terms of writing, there are numerous tales of the Vikings which come to us, often hundreds of years after the events take place such as the saga of Vinland that I recently blogged about.

But for more modern audiences, writers like Bernard Cornwell are getting their milage out of the era. Bernard currently has eight books in his Saxon Tales, the latest being the Empty Throne, a first person narration and while I'm behind one book in the series, it's another look at the vikings that I've enjoyed.

The viking presence is also felt in role playing games. While I don't have the specific issue of Dragon Magazine in front of me, Dungeons and Dragons has taken it's own look at some of the berserkers from Viking lore.

Later on, during the 2nd edition era of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR started doing 'historical' books. The first one they did was HR 1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook. This was a green faux leather cover book and while no longer available in print, DriveThruRPG is selling it in PDF format for $9.99.

This doesn't count other companies like I.C.E. who had their own historical line that brought different eras to Rolemaster. Their own book Vikings was another look at how to implement the mundane and fantastic mythological elements into MERP and Rolemaster. Makes perfect sense since at the time, I.C.E. was also doing Middle Earth Roleplaying, the aftermentioned MERP, and there are quite a few nods to the Norsemen in Middle Earth.

In short, Vikings were, and still are, a popular subject, especially to write about.

Part of this is their mythology. They have a full cycle. They know what is supposed to happen at the end of the world. They know that if they fight and die, they will go to join the king of the gods Odin.

Part of it is the unique elements they possess. For example, naming weapons and armor. Good weapons and armor will go down in history. Those who do legendary deeds, will do the same.

One thing that Viking Hersir pointed out that I did not know before, was that with the fragility of weapons versus time, especially over an era covering almost three hundred years, that if a sword broke, but it was a good quality sword, it would be reforged into a spearhead. The good metal too important to let sit rusting somewhere.

Other bits that Viking Hersir point out, that perhaps should be obvious, are that that scabbards do not survive. They often becomes melded through time into the weapons themselves. In fantasy campaigns, having a shealth that survived the tides of time would be a sure indicator that there was something not normal about sword and scabbard.

I admit one of the reasons I like the Warrior Series by Osprey, is the art. This volume is no exception. Gerry Embleton. He's a fantastic artist whose work can be found here. Gerry brings us twelve different full color plates.

As someone who also paints miniatures, one of the things I enjoyed was a full page of shields. While there are several 'normal' shields, there are also several patterned shields. While some cultures may have very elaborate and impossible to design by hand shields in 28mm, that's not true of the Vikings who often had one to three bright colors and simple designs.

Outside of Gerry's art, there are numerous photographs of actual items from the era ranging from swords and axe heads to helmets and scans of ancient art that has survived into the modern era. Makes for a great immersion even though the book is relatively short.

If you're a fan of the Vikings show and want to dip your toe into something that's going to provide a little more information and is written easily enough to follow with a ton of material referenced at the end, Viking Hersir is perfect.