Viking Sword
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Basic Information

The typical sword of the viking warrior is a double-edged single-handed weapon with a blade of up to 35 inches (90 cm). Maybe "typical" isn't the right word, as swords were expensive in that era, taking up to a month to forge, and the typical viking wouldn't be able to afford one until he'd taken part in several successful raids. An Icelandic saga from the era mentions the price of a good sword, and it's equivalent to the value of 16 cows. Swords weren't peasant equipment, they were weapons of VIPs and great warriors. Part of the expense was because most viking swords were actually Frankish swords, produced in the Carolingian Empire and purchased by Norse traders. Local steel production in Scandinavia at the time was generally not as high of quality. Of course, Norse traders were also sometimes Norse pillagers, so in some years, the Frankish government made it illegal to sell to the Norsemen on punishment of death. Rather than cutting off the supply of swords to the Norse, it had the unintended consequence of increasing the frequency of Viking raids for the express purpose of plundering better weapons.

Due to the difficulty of making decent steel with the technology base available, the majority of swords were pattern welded - that is, welded together from rods of iron with different qualities: softer iron for the core and harder, high carbon metal for the edges.

The best swords of this culture and era were Ulfberht Swords, signed by the master swordsmith. As befits the poetry-loving Norse peoples, valuable swords were often given names, like "leg-biter" or "goldhilt", and passed down from one generation to the next. If a warrior didn't have an heir believed deserving of the sword, their weapon might be buried with them instead. In many such burials, the sword blades were intentionally badly bent and ruined, so as to discourage grave robbing. (An alternative explanation for the intentional destruction of swords and other weapons used as grave goods was that they were being ritually "killed" to ensure that they followed the owner into the afterlife. That, possibly, and making sure they stayed buried and didn't get stolen by grave robbers.)

A viking sword was usually paired with a viking shield. The fighting technique employed involved holding your shield out far from your body and using it to leverage your opponent into creating an opening where a quick thrust of your sword could finish them off. See viking shield for more information.



Game and Story Use

  • The grave goods of a Norse burial is sure to include at least one of these, but most of them intentionally ruined.
    • Which would be a great visual for draugr or other undead to be wielding bent and deformed blades. It might be a way to tone-down the difficulty of a fight against elite undead types. An off-balance weapon would probably have penalties to both attack and damage.
      • And if the bent sword were magical, that'd be a way to include a cool specialty type of magic blade (like one that lights on fire, or has a specific magic effect on the victim) without it permanently boosting the power-level of the party's fighter after the adventure.
      • Also cuts back on the treasure on hand for them to steal.
    • Figuring out how to reforge or restore a ruined sword could be a quest in and of itself.
      • Or it could be a way to put a "toll-gate" on a magic item, and give the PCs a goal. It's not the Shards of Narsil, but it's totally the Twisted Unwieldy Blade of it. If the PCs can accumulate enough wealth to hire Ulfberht or Hatori Hanzo, they can have the weapon reforged. Just be careful not to annoy the players by giving them a better weapon too soon after they finally pay to fix this one… or by making the cool sword they saved up for not be sufficiently epic.
  • A viking sword could be a clue. The PCs come across a massacre with no survivors, where the attackers carried off their own dead so you wouldn't know who the raiders were. Perhaps its the second such massacre in the area, with the first incident being a total mystery. Examining the scene of the latest crime, you find signs that one of the invaders was indeed killed or at least wounded badly enough that they needed to be hauled away… but they were disarmed first, and the raiders didn't notice where the cast off blade had landed (under a wagon or a body or something). So now you've got a sword that reveals it was either vikings or franks. If you're nowhere near the border of the Carolingian Empire, that means vikings. The sword being there means either a veteran member of the raiding company was felled (leaving a power vacuum), or that these raiders are abnormally well provisioned (possibly suggesting they're supported by the financial backing of a big bad who's using the vikings to destabilize the government.
  • The pattern of politics/economics/invasion could be translated to other settings. Group A stops arming Group B in an effort to limit their bad behavior, and this actually increases the militant practices of Group B.
    • An example: If you were running D&D, it could be that the Halflings used to purchase all their weapons from the Dwarves. Sometimes, these weapons would end up in the hands of Goblins that had raided the Halflings, and the Dwarves, not wanting their weapons in Goblin hands, stopped selling to the Halflings. This left the Halflings in a hard spot, so they either turned to raiding themselves (a surprise attack on a Dwarf armory or smithy), or they struck a deal providing pipeweed to the Goblins as a bribe for them not attack the Halflings. Then you've either got Halfling bandits using plundered Dwarven steel, or aggressive drugged-out Goblins now exclusively attacking the Dwarves (and plundering the steel). Either way, the Dwarves choice towards isolationism/protectionism backfired and made their borders less safe, and some non-Dwarven group is now known for carrying Dwarven blades. After enough years of this dynamic, that style of weapons start getting called "Halfling Swords" or "Goblin Swords", which is arguably a worse harm to the Dwarves (burning their collective ego and reputation) than the actual raids themselves.
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