Viking
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The Northmen came about our land
A Christless chivalry:
Who knew not of the arch or pen,
Great, beautiful half-witted men
From the sunrise and the sea.

Misshapen ships stood on the deep
Full of strange gold and fire,
And hairy men, as huge as sin
With horned heads1, came wading in
Through the long, low sea-mire.

(from) The ballad of the White Horse
G.K. Chesterton

Basic Information

Viking2 was a form of piracy practiced by the Scandinavians (including Danes for these purposes) in the late first millenium AD and, by synecdoche, to the Scandinavians and Danes themselves.

In some cases, viking raids were the precursor to invasion and settlement (especially in Eastern Scotland and England, Normandy, North-Western Russia, Mann and Eastern Ireland), in others (some of them as far away as the Caspian Sea) the Norsemen simply came, saw and burgled.

Viking was made easier by exceptional shipbuilding and shiphandling techniques (for the period), lack of coordinated opposition and relatively sophisticated force-concentration doctrines. The rise of organised defences made viking less and less cost effective towards the end of the millenium, causing raids to be concentrated into larger forces that became harder and harder to sustain. That, and the widespread adoption of Christianity amongst the Norse, meant that viking petered out after the start of the second millenium.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • For a Dark Ages game, there are worse routes to go down than making a party a Norse hersir and his companions, leading a viking raid (or even make the PCs huscarls, with an NPC hersir handing out missions for them).
    • The Norse really did get everywhere - certainly to the Caspian, Black and Mediterranean seas, and probably to North America as well. Further afield is speculation, but not impossible, so if you want to stick a norse runestone on the second cataract of the Hunga-munga river in darkest Africa, it would not be completely impossible.
  • Resisting vikings is likely to be a larger scoped game - unless you start the campaign in media res when the vikings descend and then send the PCs off after something or someone stolen by the raiders.
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