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On Foreign Shores and in Darker Times

June 15, 2017

“This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, Lindisfarne, by rapine and slaughter.”

– Entry for Year 793 of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

 

As the light of the Roman Empire faded into the East, Western Europe entered a time of relative deterioration. These so called Dark Ages were fraught with wars, plague, famine, and political upheaval. Barbarian empires burst forth phoenix-like from the ashes of Rome, only to gutter out in their own dramatic conflagrations. The gulf between classes was not as wide as in later medieval ages, and deeds were more powerful than birth. It was a time of heathens before the Church had full control of the continent or the wherewithal to do anything silly like launching crusades towards the holy land. There were still wild unconquered corners of Europe…

It is in this tumultuous Europe that I choose to base my project. I weighed my project options from the many nations, empires, and regions from the Dark Ages. I considered wild Pictish warriors, ordered ranks of late Rome, the cultural patchwork of the Kievan Rus, the wily and versatile Welsh raiders, the mounted might of the Carolingian Franks, and the famed Fyrd of the Anglo-Saxons. In the end, I settled on the big bad of the Dark Ages: Vikings.

Before this year, I actually looked down on Vikings. I viewed them only as an overrated, uncultured, and uninspiring band of murderers, slavers, rapists, and ne’er-do-wells hell bent on destroying everything they could get their hands on. While they were certainly that, there was much more to them as well. Through a great deal of reading and research, I uncovered much more about early medieval Scandinavian culture. I’ve since studied their art, music, literature, trade, religion, history, and folklore. The more I read, the more they grew on me. I eventually realized that they were not just simple brutes, but a hard bitten group of survivors carving a life out of a harsh and unforgiving land. They were people first and raiders second. It also put their raids into context, and if there is anything I can get behind, it’s context. More on that in future posts, but for now let’s get down to hobby.

With my setting and faction chosen, I set out to gather a Viking warband under my banner. Normally, I tend to pick out model sets as they strike my interest, but I’ve established how well that’s worked out for me in the past. This time I set some ground rules for myself…

 

  1. Court Narrative, not Mechanics: In many cases, models are made, built, or based for specific rules systems. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it definitely restricts the sorts of games that you can play with them. Most historical models don’t have to deal with those pesky constraints since most of the armament and formations are based on documented fact rather than publisher whim. Still, I intend to avoid committing to any one rules system, and will build and base accordingly.

 

  1. Gather a Host of Heroes: The cornerstone of good stories are good characters; one can’t exist without the other. Norse myths and stories are famous for their larger than life characters, and this warband will be no different. Each unit will have a “named man” leading it, with their own personalities, histories, and rivalries. Some units will be composed entirely of such heroes. I won’t name every model, nobody has time for that, but every commander, unit champion, and band of warriors will have one or more titles or monikers.

 

  1. Compose a Saga: As I’ve mentioned previously, for me the main draw of the hobby is the stories that spring up around models as I collect, build, paint, and play games with them. I want to approach this with intentionality, purposefully building tales from my unit’s exploits. I’ll scrawl them down, keep them consistent, and track the glories and defeats over time. It’s worth noting that unless it’s specifically stated before a game, I’m not going to fret over which characters died or didn’t in any given individual game. Unless the Norns decree otherwise, they were protected from death by the runes of destiny.

 

  1. Be a Student of History, not a Slave to it: This point is probably the most important of the lot. When playing a historical game, attention to detail is certainly important, but can also destroy creativity and fun. While I’m going to adhere to technological and geographical limitations of the time, I will sometimes play a little fast and loose with the rules. The caveat is the same that I use for anything; if I can provide a concrete and believable explanation for the unit, tactic, or situation, I’ll roll with it. After all, sometimes history is stranger than fiction, and stranger things have happened.

 

Those are my guidelines for the project, and I’ll try to keep them close as I collect, build, paint, and play games. If it works out like I want it to the end result will be a well painted, vibrant, and characterful Viking warband that would make the All-Father proud.

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