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Viking age style fighting

by Niels Just Rasmussen

The thing that made viking warriors quite unique was their preference of of the axe which had largely been abandoned in the rest of western Europe..
Swords were very much an elite weapons and expensive while a less rich warrior could have an equally efficient weapon.

2-handed axe [for elite warriors]. Demands a lot of strength and stamina, but in the hands of a 2 meters guy it give enormous reach and power. Wrote more about it here
The 2-handed axe needs space and would be for elite warriors able to dominate their surroundings.

Fighting Spear (not normally used as javelin), either 1-handed in close formation, or 2-handed in solo combat.
The spear is best in formation fighting in close quarters with very little lateral movement, though you have spears with huge long blades that basically are swords on a long stick, that probably was used with more room and dual fighting. When alone you would flip the shield on your back and go for 2-handed shield combat, which gives you are great reach as with the battleaxe.

Danish 1-handed axe and viking roundshield & Broadsword and viking roundshield.

Often misunderstood the viking round shield is not a defensive weapon - it is actually the offensive weapons, but you use the edges of the shield, whereas the shield boss is defensive when covering a side. The 1-handed axe and the sword is more for counterattacks when you have seen or created an opening with use of the shield. True viking age heroes were reported to swing their swords rarely but with his power, and a lot of the swords have names like "legbiter"/leg-chopper showing which was the preferred attack spot.

This video from a showing at the Moesgård Museum in Århus, Denmark with Roland Warzecha from the German historical swordfighting group Hammaborg gives a very good introduction to biomechanical rules of combat and how likely the vikings used their shields in combat as the primary offensive weapon creating openings for sword (in this video) or the 1-handed axe that also is good for reaching knees and legs. I can really hugely recommend this if you can spare little over ½ an hour, you will look at viking combat in a totally different way!

Viking Round Shield:
Used in a 2-weapon combination - shield first, axe & sword secondarily in most cases, but can off course also be reversed.
The viking shield is offensive and not defensive (being quite thin and easily smashed it doesn't give any -1 AC bonus). It's the reinforced leather or metal edge of the shield that is used, not the shield boss. Probably not used passively for body smash either, but can be used offensively on the charge or used in close quarters for pushing.

So maybe something like
Basic Skill level: Damage: 1d2, Defense: Deflect (1) - [never understood why shield don't deflect, that is actually what you use them for instead of this measly -1 to AC] Special Effect (None)
Skilled Skill Level: Damage: 1d4, Defense: Deflect (1), Special Effect: "Combination: (1): If the first shield attack hits the secondary weapon attack can be performed the same round without offhand penalty.
Expert Skill Level: Damage: 1d6, Defense: Deflect (2), Combination (1) + Delay
Master Skill Level: Damage: 2d4, Defense: Deflect (2), Combination (2): Shield as primary weapon for characters over 12'level can make two shield attacks followed by two secondary attacks without off hand penalty + Delay
Grand Master Skill Level: Damage: 3d4, Defense: Deflect (3), Combination (2) + Stun

The ultimate weapon!
The most sought after Viking weapon of prestige - the Ulfberth (strangely enough the first part Ulf- is Scandinavian meaning Wolf, but the suffix -berth is Westgermanic meaning "bright" - so Brightwolf is the name of the weapon/manufactor).

In Northen Reaches you could have one or more Norse smith creating perfect pure steel swords (almost no slag) like the "Ulfberth" from 800-1000AD for the elite warriors, not equaled in Europe until late 1700's in purity.

So Katana have been pushed down to second best, or actually third best after the special Damascus Swords that needed special imported Indian steel ingots. Since how to make Damascene is lost it is not know whether the technique used was like the Ulfberth or pattern-welding that was the usual method of making viking swords. Probably Scandinavian traders got hold of Indian ingots using their trade network (Volga) and made the swords back home in Scandinavia.

Some people speculate that human ash was added to the sword - which imbues the sword with the personality and qualities of the person whose ash is added. According to Norse Mythology the owners and sword ended up blending qualities into the sword. The more famous owners the more qualities the sword would achieve. To be presented the sword of a famous king would mean that the king gave you some part of his "soul" to the warrior - a huge honour.

That is why stealing personal items and heirlooms is not just stealing an item but soul-theft - and was harshly punished accordingly.

Here is a recent documentary on the Ulfberth sword.

So Ulfberth +5 magical sword and 1 power from the owner of the ash added at creation.
Each owner (should be over name level) will imbue the sword with a special power according to their personality. So more owners more powers the sword would get. It will increase in power and prestige with time.
Special power should be for instance their max level feat or max level spell level for spellcaster + the dominant character trait that will start to influence the user of the sword blending with his own.
It is unbreakable.

Pattern-welded Viking Swords:
Beside the unique Ulfberth's (Hammered Crucible Steel) the normal way to produce viking swords were the technique of "pattern welding". Rods of twisted bars and put together and welded. It makes extremely nice patterns in the swords. We hear about swords glistening like dragons in the sources.

It is from archaeological finds that we can see that it apparently was a very risky and uncertain method (or huge difference in quality among smiths). You can create truly great swords but at other times the result is rubbish. A good honest smith would off course discard the bad one after testing, but off course some would sell their swords to naive costumers.

This video show the pattern welding techniques
And close ups how a pattern-welded blade looks like

So for a role playing setting creating a magical pattern-welded sword is risky:
The smith will role a dice after creation!
01-10: Total Failure: Brittle blade that will shatter on first impact. If a smith actually sold such a blade it could end up with vengeance being in the air if the warrior actually survived in combat being blade-less.
10-25: Failure: Sword can break when hitting a tough object. If this sword is successfully deflected in combat it will break,
26-75: Success: Normal Sword quality. Will generally not break in combat.
76-90: Great Success: Excellent Sword - This sword will have a "soul" and can take on 1 power and 1 personality trait from each of it's owners through time.
91-00: Legendary Sword: This Sword also have a "soul" (just as above), but even if created as a normal sword it will come out with a +1 magical bonus and have the power of "Glistening like Dragon Scales" in sunlight (immediately "despair" as RC p. 77 for enemy viewers that doesn't own a similar or better quality blade).
Pattern Welded swords can be made with magic bonus +1 to +3.
A legendary pattern welded sword could be at best +3 (+1) = +4 sword.
+5 swords are reserved for Ulfberths (as explain earlier on this thread).

Unskilled Smith: -50% on roles.
Basic Smith: -10% on roles.
Skilled Smith: +0%
Expert Smith: +10%
Master Smith: +25%
Grand Master Smith [Völund/Wayland]: +50%

A role of 01 always gives a total failure and 00 always gives a legendary sword, since their is a bit of luck in the process!

New Weapon Mastery for Battle Axe (either general of specific for Northern Reaches style):
Since the weapon is basically an improved staff that will eventually be supplanted by the pole axe I sought to combine these two. [I think that staff, poleaxe and battleaxe all should have the same kind of defense].
Also I don't think stun should be a factor of a save, but a factor on how good the hit was from the attacker!

Basic: 1d8
Skilled: 1d8+2; Defense A: -1AC/1 Special Effect: Deflect (1) + Stun (on a rolled 20)
Expert: 1d8+4; Defense A: -2AC/2 Special Effect: Deflect (2) + Stun (on rolled 19-20)
Master P=1d8+8 (S=1d8+6); Defense A: -3AC/3; Special Effect: Deflect (3) + Stun (on rolled 18-20)
Grand Master P=1d10+10 (S=1d8+8); Defense A: -4AC/4; Special Effect. Deflect (4) + Stun (on rolled 17-20).