Masters of the sea, traders, explorers, raiders, and conquerors, the Norse people of southern Scandinavia were a force to be reckoned with in the early Middle Ages.
The period marked by their rise to prominence and expansion is often described as the Viking Age and spreads from the 8th to 11th century. Their presence could be felt across Europe, from the great city of Constantinople and the Kievan Rus’ in the East to the coasts of France and the British Isles in the West. They traveled as far as the Middle East and the ice-cold littorals of Greenland and made Christendom tremble at the prospect of their unpredictable raids, aboard their iconic longships.
Often depicted as bloodthirsty pagans and rage-fueled barbarians by Christian contemporaries, the so-called Danes or Norsemen had a profound cultural impact, and their popular depiction changed significantly over history. First demonized as murderous heathens and raiders, they were later romanticized as brave and heroic people, an early European version of the noble savage myth.
Both of these ideas are at best caricatures of the true history of the Norse people but remain very influential in the modern depiction of Vikings. The truth, as discovered over time by historians and archeologists, is much more nuanced. The people known as the Vikings were part of a much more advanced and complex civilization than what is often perceived, their impressive military prowess often overshadowing the importance of their intricate trade network, their art, their rapport to slavery, and other notable features such as greater gender equality.
The complexity of their polytheistic religion and the richness of their myths inspired numerous artists over the centuries, to the point where gods such as Odin, Loki, or Thor are still of common knowledge.
In a LARP setting, Vikings represent an extremely popular and influential theme that can lead to a large array of concepts and characters. Quite distinct from the more brutish barbarian archetype, the Nordic warrior is probably one of the most popular of these classic fantasy characters. Often characterized by a warrior culture that finds spiritual meaning and great honor through death in battle, these characters are often mercenaries, raiders, or conquerors like their historical counterparts used to be. Fighting is as much a lifestyle as means to their ends, may they be motivated by their faith, the quest for land and wealth, or the desire to find respect and glory on the battlefield. Viking warriors can be cunning strategists, ambitious warlords, dutiful shieldmaidens, powerful jarls, battle-hardened kings, or savage berserkers that fight with reckless abandon.
They aren’t constricted by the values and morality of conventional warfare and are used to fight against better equipped or more numerous foes. These characters will take great pride in their origins and their culture, even if they are working for a foreign leader. Of course, since the historical inspiration of these characters comes from a whole culture, Vikings are far from limited to act as warriors in any LARP event. The rich spiritual tradition of Norse culture can easily be adapted to create mystic characters such as ancestral priests, seers, runesmiths, or superstitious shamans, all weaving spells, curses, and blessings for their people and acting as guides and mentors. The bard archetype can also be revisited through the traditional role of the skald, the storyteller that spreads sagas and great tales for all to learn from.
From farmers to traders and craftsmen, any character can find inspiration in the Viking theme if it takes from the Norsemen’s rich history and traditions. Another very important aspect of Norse civilization was its geographical reach, meaning that Viking characters in LARP can take from this idea to add layers and complexity to their backgrounds. Maybe this warrior fought in foreign wars on a faraway continent, or maybe this Norse trader traveled distant kingdoms and has friends all around the world? Vikings can be surprisingly cosmopolitan and knowledgeable from their journeys, despite lacking the scholarly education of more urbanized people.
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The Shieldmaiden armor
This fantasy leather armor set for LARP is a medieval-styled female armor perfectly suited for shieldmaidens and nordic warriors. With a shapely armor corset, a long combat skirt made of supple leather, and a Viking style spectacle helmet, this set inspires combat prowess and martial expertise. Very mobile and comfortable, this armor can be taken on and off without requiring assistance from a squire or sister in arms.
This leather armor set is quite versatile and can be used for a large array of female characters in fantasy or mythological settings. The elegant, feminine, and light design of the torso can easily suit elven scouts, sylvan rangers, forest archers, amazon huntresses, and renowned Viking shieldmaidens.
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This Viking inspired complete armor is designed for all lovers of Nordic culture. The delicately engraved vegetable leather adds a touch of delicacy to the solid lines of this armor. The multiple lamellar type scales made of soft leather allows for mobility and exceptional comfort, guaranteeing a full day of raging battles with minimal soreness. The weight of the belt and tassets are effectively separated between the hips and, thanks to thin leather straps, the torso piece itself. The articulated shoulder reinforces the imposing silhouette of the wearer while leaving an exceptional efficiency of movement. All of the armor pieces are removable and adjustable.
Viking players in LARP can obviously take inspiration from historical sources to dress the part but have more freedom in fantasy settings if they want to add a personal touch to their character’s outfit. The key is often more about avoiding blatant anachronism than nailing the particular details of Norse fashion in the 9th century. Long tunics or dresses decorated with embroideries around the sleeves and collar are probably one of the easiest and most iconic pieces of clothing to get for a Norse character. Wool tunics and coats are also a great addition as well as a perfect callback to the cold climate of ancient Scandinavia. Furs can often be added to be used as scarves or to bring a more primal element to a character’s outfit.
Any accessory decorated with nordic knots and runes can help strengthen the theme. Contrary to some modern depictions, historical Vikings enjoyed wearing bright colors as a display of wealth and success. Don’t hesitate to pick bold colors for your tunic or winingas, such as blue, red, or ocre.
For Norse warriors, round painted shields with a center grip were dominant among the ranks, from modest reavers to famous shieldmaidens and champions. They were used for the very effective shield wall formation often deployed by the Vikings on the battlefields.
The widespread use of these wooden shields meant that most warriors were wielding one-handed weapons. The battleaxe was the most common, but broad viking swords were also often used by wealthier raiders and warriors. Seax, long knives, were often carried as sidearms and tools, while bows were used as much for warfare as for hunting while moving inland. The iconic armor of the Viking warrior was the chainmail, with plate limited to Normand or spectacle helmets. Some Norse mercenaries also wore heavier lamellar armors adopted from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Sometimes, elite fighters such as the huscarls would give up their shield to fight with mighty two-handed Dane axes, relying only on their skill and armor for protection.