The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
Snorri is unhappy about your bar tab - VERY unhappy...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"VIKINGS" tv series, season 1: A brief review

I'm titling this a brief review as I'm certain this has been beaten to death in other places.  But it is part of the "inspiration" theme of this site, so I felt obliged to say something about it.
  1. Style, artistry.  Very good, I'll give it a 9/10 on this.  The music is great and the opening credits memorable.  Overall the acting is solid and restrained as much of the culture was.  In other words, it has "good feel".
  2. Viking Culture.  I'll give it a 6/10 on this.  It is a bit anachronistic in ways.  Jarl / Earl Harald [nicely played by Gabriel Byrne] is too much like a medieval lord / thug.  Viking society was not hierarchical until the late middle ages.  The earl engages in numerous plots to jealously kill off the hero, which are as silly and nonsensical as they are anachronistic to the period.  Also, the Thing was a place where all freemen participated in judgment, and where lawyers [of the style to the time] held a lot of power.  Earl or not, aside from fighting in single combat and gathering threatening numbers of supporters, earls / jarls had no more power than anyone else before the law.  Enforcing the law...well, that's another story.
  3. Nordic Religion.  I'll give it a 6/10.  The barbarity and violence of their religious beliefs is presented well, and Christianity isn't abused too much.  Their paganism is ugly including human sacrifice.  Still, despite capturing a Christian monk, they fail to present a balanced account of the blessings of Christianity.  The monk Athelstan isn't a very good bearer of the Word considering his claims to being a missionary.  He also indulges in 'shrooms and sex thrills.  But hey, what the hell, right?
  4. Viking combat.  Aside from the usual hollywood tricks of "all enemies of the hero are dundering stormtroopers trained by the Stooges, it's not toooo bad [except for the shieldmaidens, there's a second unnamed one towards the end of the season].  The fights are small, which is as it should be.  Most raids were small affairs.
  5. Viking Women.  They're sluts, they fight, and they get to act like earls when the earl isn't at home.  They also stand up for women and children and fight like men.  They do 'shrooms and participate in threesomes and orgies with abandon.  Basically, they're a combo of heavy metal and hippie chicks.  They're probably the most anachronistic aspect of the series, as Nordic women were held in high honor as valuable parts of society, too valuable to be wasted in battle [where they'd do a lousy job anyway] and essential to homestead management and the creation / raising of children in a pre-daycare time.  In fact, they don't even make sense with a shallow knowledge of history and anthropology.  But there it is. 
  6. Viking Shieldmaidens.  Total BS.  Norse women were kept at home safe where they ruled the roost, engaged in power struggles with their husbands and extended family, and had children [lest there be no one to carry the family forward and care for the elders].  Also, women don't have the upper body strength to fight in melee with men on average.  Sorry to put the science forward, but the new hollywood commitment to "warrior babes" is ludicrous.  The fact that women still have to be segregated in the Olympics says it all: still physically weaker / slower than comparable men".  Of course, guns and technology equal some of this out, but that's for another gaming period!
  7. Viking Threesomes.  More total BS.  The idea of a procreating Norse couple, including a warrior aspiring to earldom, sharing his woman with a slave / priest is ludicrous.  In an era where progeny was an economic determinant, sex was closely monitored and controlled.  This is anachronistic idiocy.
  8. Viking Historicity overall.  a 5/10, which is good for Hollywood or Bollywood.  But the overall feel is pretty good on such a small budget.
  9. Final Recommendation.  Watch if you aren't too particular or knowledgeable, but it may annoy you in any event.  I got DVDs at the library, so I can muddle thru with the occasional guffaw.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


This book is very useful for anyone who wants to game in the Viking world, especially at the smaller, plot-driven skirmish level.  Even large-battle game scenarios will benefit from the background of Norse life, both historical and mythical, all of which provide motivations for battles and skirmishes.

It was suggested by several people as the best resource for the Viking era for gaming at TMP, and I have to agree with them.  It gives broad information in well-organized sections and is easy to understand and work with, but is even an interesting read straight through.  It admits that as it covers a large era of Norse culture and life, some parts are anachronistic in certain times and places.  But it is certainly a great place to start out.

It also has a great section on Norse mythology and magic, which is helpful to understand their motivations, and would help with a "fantastic campaign" where the gods intervene in the lives of mortals.  The author puts clear limits on historical and archaeological information and is very credible compared to other sources I've read like Page's "RUNES: Reading the Past".  Great stuff with lots of applications.

Whether for "SAGA", "Battletroll", "Warrior Heroes - Armies and Adventures", or "Song of Blades and Heroes", or the venerable "Pig Wars", this will prove and interesting and valuable resource for more authentic scenarios and campaigns, as well as great background information brought together for the more serious scholar of the period.  The cost  is - I'm not kidding - $1 at as a download, so the price can't be beat either!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Know any related blogs?

If you've any suggestions related blogs that I should check out and perhaps link up to, please let me know of them!  I can't seem to figure out how to search myself, altho I'll work on it.

"The Hammer of the Gods, will lead our ships to new blogs..."

Painting Guide: Vikings

Below is a painting guide for Vikings.  It collects information from the Osprey Elite and Warrior books, as well as Heath's "Armies of the Dark Ages".  If you're short on cash, this will get you started.  It is organized by body location for painting convenience:

Vikings dressed their best for war to express their wealth and pride, wearing their finest and most conspicuous clothing, including trademark items that were meant to distinguish them from a distance to observers. 

Headeye makeup (youth, berserkers?), hair blonde, red, brown, black with Danes tending darker, hairband bright colors / patterns,

Trunk: cloak richly embroidered, grey popular, held at shoulder with broach or pin.  Tunics red, red/brown, brown, blue, green, white, black, grey (red, leaf green, blue favorites), with colored braid or embroidery around neck, cuffs and hems.  Hem might be lengthened with contrasting colored cloth.  Belts narrow, copper decorations.  Might have Thor’s hammer around neck, or placket at neck.

Legs: garters brown (not scarlet), white/blue (fancy ones), decorated (king Cnut), trousers were of linen or woven wool, could be striped (baggy ones?  Eastern influence).  Tighter trousers / hose more popular in 10th-11th C.

Feet: cowhide or sealskin boots with hair out in cold (mottled cow / seal patterns),  shoes were hide or leather and could be in other than natural colors, ie black.

Metals / Sword: richly decorate w’gold/silver, arm bands, purse trim,

Shield: 2’-3’, light, limewood, might paint boss / rim, leather rim most common, some iron/bronze on rim.  Could be stained wood, or painted, red most popular by far, then black, yellow & white, less used are blue and green.  Iron reinforcing bands on front and back.

Spear / Axe: 1-2 light javelins ‘longer than arrows’ held in shield hand.

Other notes:  bows and some slings used (thrall?  Saxon fig?)

Standards: (Heath p.94) black ravens, white silk “Landwaster”, white with serpent / dragon

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Painting System: Variety for Dark Ages

The easiest way I've found to systematize variety and also hold the figures more easily is to glue them on popsicle sticks.  I also mount them by similarity of pose and figure so that it gets easier to paint them as I go along since I get to know the nooks, crannies and sculpting of the figures.  For the initial batch of Vikings, the bag of 20 "40DAR4 Vikings w' sword-spear -- no armor" conveniently came in five sets of four bodies with a variety of weapons and heads.  After cleaning, assembly and priming, I mounted them along with the five berserkers, Harald Hardrada, a standard/horn blower and another warlord.  The final results are pictured below:
 Harald Hardrada [w'Old Glory 25mm fig for comparison]

 Combo Standard-bearer and Horn Blower

Command Pack Warlord and a Berserker

Two more berserkers - one on right looks especially berserk!

These guys are really ulfhednar, wolf-pelt wearers

 The rest of the crew p.1

  The rest of the crew p.2 - note the fellows in shaggy pelts 3rd row back, a nice touch.

Shield variety in the packs

There's two major types of variation I try to represent on my dark ages figures.  The first is the general variety of colors and items that research reveals.  So for Vikings the most popular tunic colors are supposed to be red, blue, and "leaf green".  Four to five other colors are mentioned.  The second is what I think of as individuality.  These are the little changes in skin tones, personal items and such that mark these people as individuals who dress with what they have for war and not in some sort of "Viking uniform".   

With the row of figures laid out on the sticks, I use the columns to plan and track variations.  In the below example, I've four different base coats for flesh, one to each row.
I'll do similar things with each stage of the painting, so 1/4 of the group will have red, blue, or "leaf green", while the last 1/4 will each have a unique colored tunic.  Organizing this way helps me to plan variety quickly.  Using diagonal and other patterns to paint belts, shoes, etc, will give lots of variations and when the figures are on the table they'll look varied yet similar enough in the painting tones to all be from the same area / tribe / etc.

After I've painted all the basics, I hit the little touches of individuality.  I try to characterize anyone who's interesting in pose or weapon, and give even the shieldwall types at least one thing to mark them; ornament, hair, shield color, something unique.  This reminds us that they're all individuals gathered to fight, not highly trained uniform types like today.  This stage can take the longest but is usually the most fun for me.  Special characters like generals and warlords will get a bunch of time spend on them.

I've done this with all sorts of dark age figures, from Goths to Saxons to Welsh, and it's worked very well for me.

More Viking inspiration: "Sword Song" by Rosemary Sutcliff

This is a very fine book.  It is readily available thru Amazon or your local library where it may dwell in the young adult section.  It is nearly 300 pages and a masterpiece of understatement, authentic voice and authentic characters, and quite adult in its subtleties.  Perhaps teens and young adults won't get all of it, but most adult readers will.  

The limited third-person narrative is from the viewpoint of the main character, a young man who commits manslaughter and is banished from his home into the greater Viking world for five years.  There is growth and purpose in the tale, and the dignity of the characters is respected.

Some of the best things about it are what is NOT included.  There is no clever juvenile humor at the expense of the characters, nor is there nod'n a wink laughs with our knowledge of history being greater than theirs.  There are no anachronistic remarks by the characters or the narrative voice, or judgmental remarks upon people who live in a different time and place and with different limitations than we have.  There's no re-writing of history attempted, and no perceivable modern bias by the author.  All these faults are very prevalent in modern authors like Bernard Cornwell who epitomizes all that is bad in modern historical writing.

In short, you feel like you're hearing a Norse saga  or a story told by a Viking fire, and that's often the best inspiration of all.  Plenty more commentary and reviews at Amazon, but certainly get it from the library as you've nothing to lose!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Viking Inspiration? Led Zeppelin, of course!

Well, there's not going to be any conclusive proof, but I truly feel that Vikings would enjoy Led Zeppelin if they were ever able to hear it [Bill & Ted's next adventure?].  It has most of the things they like - violent tumultuous rhythms like a storm at sea or the concussive clash of spears and axes upon the shield wall, with plenty of yelling as well.  Also, Vikings like songs of battles and the stringed harp, so the more laid-back acoustic pieces would do them nicely as they while away the cold winters thinking about the summer to come.  

Zeppelin also has the only Viking rock'n roll song I know, "Immigrant Song"!  I've put together the most likely lyrics from the 'net and listening carefully to the song as well:

Immigrant Song lyrics
Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.

The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, sing and cry: Valhalla, I am coming!
On we sweep with threshing oar, 

     our only goal will be the western shore.
Ah, ah, etc...

How soft your fields - so green - whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords…
On we sweep with threshing oar, 

     our only goal will be the western shore.
Ah, ah, etc...
So now you'd better stop!  And rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.

"The Battle of Evermore" has plenty of dark age imagery as well as Tolkein references, and even "Over the Hills and Far Away" seems to catch the wandering spirit of the Viking.  I like to listen to some of the compilations as well as the original albums while I'm painting the little guys.

I'll put some more "serious" inspiration in future posts!

Start of the 40mm Project... Sash & Saber here we go!

RULE #1:  When starting a new project, especially a new period or scale, always get two opposed sides.  This insures that you aren't depending on others fleeting hobby interests, limited time, energy or money.  You can also demo the scale / period with a set of rules you like and bring others into it on the terms you're following rather than scattering energy and resources.

With this in mind, I started a new scale by going with what was available, inexpensive and local.  I went with the Sash and Saber Dark Ages line which is Viking and Saxons [Anglo-Dane, really] with some Normans.  So Stamford Bridge and Hastings is the time frame that sculptor and owner Chris Hughes has in mind.
Note that many of the bags are suitable for Vikings, Saxons, or Normans, really.

RULE #2: Buy a small, historical force for both sides, based upon a famous event people know.  This means that it will be easy to bring others in, showing them something that they're familiar with already but may not know a lot about - most gamers are avid historians.

I picked the Battle of Maldon.  As one of the few surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry works, it has a lot of support on the net and numerous books, including one from Tolkein!  Does anyone NOT know who he is thanks to Peter Jackson?  This is an excellent site:  
It includes a free translation, a map and lots of useful information.

For the forces, I didn't know what rules I'd be using, but I did know that it'd be a skirmish level battle between raiders and local Anglo-Dane defenders.  With that in mind, I picked the following forces that I felt were likely opponents at Maldon:

VIKINGS [the "sea raiders" of the poem]:
  • 40DAR4 Vikings with sword-spear -- no armor [20].  These represent the common rowers who are out to get wealth and loot, perhaps they are still young or just can't seem to get ahead of their dice!  They aren't as wealthy but have all the essentials, including spears, shields, and axe/sword/knife, usually a helmet.  Note that this basic panoply would protect a warrior from the front and enable him to participate in the shieldwall, while still letting him move fast if needed - essential for raiders.
  • 40DAR102 Vikings bowmen [5] x2 for ten altogether.  Same as above, but they've brought bows along.  Essential for raiders to have some sort of ranged weapon in a force and many laws required a bow to be available for each rowing bench.  Vikings also took pride in their accuracy with a bow or thrown spear.  These fellows can also provide a few archers for the defending Saxons if needed.
  • 40DAR4 Vikings with sword-spear -- mail [20].  These are the seasoned warriors who've managed to loot or purchase a coat of mail over the years.  Many would be full-time soldiers of a famous lord or landholder, providing policing and protection when not raiding themselves.  The mailed men with axes will be provided out of a Saxon bag.
  • 40DAR101 Viking Berserkers [5].  Three are actually wolf-pelt wearing ulfhednar [one gnawing on his shield], and two are big violent animated guys.  None have armor and all could also just be battle-enraged fellows of any kind.  Their adornment and tattoos will make them more berserker-like, but the shield-gnawing guy definitely ain't normal!
  • 40DAR202 Viking Command [5].  This provides two standards [one with a horn], a horn blower, and a couple of mail-wearing fellows urging the men to follow them.
  • 40DAR403 Harald Sigurdson [Hardrada] [1].  Same, but a more dynamic and very nicely armed leader figures.  Could be the famous Hardrada, or just another professional warlord.

SAXONS [the local defenders of the poem]:
  • 40DAR11 Anglo-Saxon Peasants [assorted weapons] [20].  My thinking is that the defenders are always going to be any men around who're ready to defend their homes and families, plus the nearest local lord's hearth soldiers, and of course the better-armed levy, known as the "select fyrd" since they've been selected from the available pool of those who owe military service.  Also, with the wide variety of heads and extra weapons in all of these bags, I figure these figs will add useful variety for any figures without mail.  Stick a "Viking" head and give the guy a sword and shield, hey, he's a viking!
  • 40DAR7 Saxon Fyrdmen [unarmored] with spear  [20].  Speaking of the Fyrd, here they are.  Again, these figures bodies can be mixed with the Viking ones to bring plenty of variety.
  • 40DAR7 Saxon House-Carles with 2-handed ax [20]. They are of course wearing mail armor also, and will provide axe-bodies for both sides. One will be the local warlord in this case the hero of Maldon, the earl Brithnoth.  And some of the Vikings with mail and sword, spear, will be huscarls, too.
The total is about 60 Vikings and 60 Saxons.  With the similarity in gear and dress, I can easily swing a 2-1 encounter with the defenders behind barricades and such., or even outnumbering the raiders who're trying to make a quick in-and-out raid with their booty before the defenders get organized.  I think that the force with 40 mail armored and 80 unarmored is about right for this sort of small battle of selected raiders and defenders.  In a big battle, the % of armored men would drastically decline.  But my thinking is that anyone who DOES have armor is someone who's ready and expected to fight on one side or the other.

Friday, March 7, 2014

First post - WHY?? Why fight in the dark, and why in two scales?

Well, that's always a first question for any gaming project.  Why?

Part of the fun is that it is a bit "darker" than other typical ancient / medieval projects in terms of knowledge, facts and information - leaves a bit more breathing room for imagination.  Yet, new artifacts, new research, new archaeology, and most importantly - new figures and games are being published all the time.

My initial foray into the period was 25mm using Terry Gore's great traditional wargame, "Medieval Warfare" which at the time checked a lot of boxes for me.  Plus the guys that play it and 'con it are a great bunch.  Terry himself has passed to that great game table in the sky, but a very positive legacy lives on.  For that set of rules I purchased hundreds of Feudal English, Anglo-Dane and Welsh figures.  I ran them at many MW tournies including Cold Wars, Historicon and Fall-In! in Pennsylvania.  The Feudal English were often winners, and the Welsh so dangerous that they started to change the rules to try and stop them!

Part of the fun of the period is that it is such a free-for-all in post "Fall of the West" Rome.  The Barbarians are on the move, and they want your land and your loot!  Also, they're a colorful bunch with a lot of expertise in small-scale fighting.  In the large battles against organized opponents like East and West Roman field armies, they had poor results unless the Romans made a major fubar.  But in raids and encroachment, they were experts - or at least the ones who survived were experts.  This makes them less fun to play in big-battle games like WRG7th / Warrior, Field of Glory, DBx, etc.  But in characterful small-scale games, they're perfect to play.

Lots of medieval war and rules favor cavalry - often quite unrealistically.  It's sometimes more fun to play an all-infantry encounter, especially in a skirmish.  The ideal set of rules for fun skirmish games at present is SAGA, far as I can tell.  It has plenty of space for both solid tacticians and those who comprehend the rules of their faction on the battleboard.  And they don't overpower the cavalry armies!

Honestly, my interest in the period was flagging until I started to investigate more of the writing around the period, especially the real sagas and better fiction writers like Sutcliff.  Then I stumbled upon Sash and Saber's extensive Dark Ages line of 40mm Vikings and Saxons [Anglo-Danes].  After that I was just trying to find an excuse to buy them.  Eventually I sold off enough other game projects that I felt like I could buy them without remorse.  I enjoyed choosing the poses and prepping the first 28 for paint.  Then real life intervened for a long while and now with a bunch of SAGA games under my belt, and no 25mm Vikings ready for the table, I'm ready to push this 40mm Dark Ages project forward.

While the details of the first purchase and selections are passed, I'll post a bit about how to get started in a reasonable fashion with the 40mm, especially with SAGA in mind.