I’ve been watching the show Vikings on Hulu recently, which is awesome by the way, and in a recent episode a blade with the engraved name of Ulfberht showed up. My wife Brittany started squeeing about how awesome those swords are and we immediately had to go to Netflix and watch a documentary shed watched called “Secrets of the Viking Sword.” It’s available for streaming now, so go check it out if you have a subscription because it’s worth your time. The documentary speaks to a special class of swords that were made and used by Vikings that were made of an incredibly high quality steel that mirrors technology from centuries after their origin. All these blades bore an inscription that read +ULFBERH+T. These inlaid blades had a fascinating story behind them that tells a story I think many games could use today.
There are three laments that come together to make these blades so intriguing. The steel technology, the raw material for the blades, comes from the near east as far as India, which the Vikings had a trade relationship with. The swords are carried by Vikings and were very specifically designed to pierce the chainmail of their time. The really interesting thing is the name that is etched into the blade. The name is Frankish (the kingdom stretching from France and Germany at the time), but what really stands out is the use of the cross in the inscription. The cross was used to denote an abbot or bishop or perhaps even a specific monastery, but why would the pagan Vikings be wielding a sword with made by the Christians they raided? The answer is lost to time and we may never know where they got these impressive weapons, but the idea of various materials and technologies coming from around the known world to produce a powerful and game changing weapon is a really cool inspiration.
Maybe a special material is being imported that in the hands of a special order is being forged into weapons that dramatically shift a war effort or power struggle. Maybe the order is a holy rule that is specially crafting weapons with a blessing or enchantment (which the vikings may have believed was true) and they are the only ones who can produce such fine weaponry. How far would you go to claim a unique weapon like this? Who would be trying to pass cheap replicas off to make quick profit? Would you allow this superior weaponry to circulate or shut it down permanently? Lots of fun angles to approach this real world example of weapon forging and craftsmanship.