Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Looting "Germanic Warrior AD 236-568" (Warrior #17) by Simon MacDowall or "Who are the Nibelungs?" Part 1

With all this talk about what system I want for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, I totally neglected to define who exactly I'm talking about. The reason for this is that I had only a vague picture myself, which is enough for a start, but it needs to be addressed sooner or later. Research is crucial for this and by now I had some time to read about what life had been around 500 AD.

I'll start with  Germanic Warrior AD 236-568 (Warrior #17) by Simon MacDowall. So far a great read, quoting lots of original sources. Here are my thoughts so far (this is not a review, it's more like a synthesis, of sorts).

The early Dark Ages

They are not calling it the Dark Ages for no reason. The time after the fall of the Roman Empire is not very well documented. There are political maps, of course and if you care to read into the subject, there is a lot to be gathered. But most is a matter of debate and there still are a lot of blanks what exactly went down in what is now called Europe or how people lived there. Mostly that's due to lots and lots of change.

The obvious focus for LSotN is on the Germanic tribes of yore. They had been a culture of warriors, but fractured into families and clans. The Romans appearing at the border forced them together into confederacies against the Roman invasion. Meanwhile mercenaries returned home rich and with ideas about "modern" warfare and education. They became leaders and would form the foundation for noble families to come (which I thought quite interesting).

Around the time the Roman Empire had been already in decline (mid 5th Century) several weird coincidences accumulated to what is now called the Migration Period in history books and it's where all is getting confused again. It is a great setting, with lots of opportunities for adventure and exploration.

For those settlers it was a strange and new land, full with the ruins of the Roman occupation and treasures to be found. And not one of those tribes migrating there arrived as they had started. Strays from all over the places would have joined them: Romans tired of the taxes, slaves, soldiers, you name it. It's also fair to assume that people still lived at those places invaded by those tribes. The result had been a melting pot of opportunities and that's pure gold for a setting.

In many ways tropes of the Western genre apply here, so anyone interested in having a mix of Western and Fantasy tropes could very well start  here. It will definitely be part of LSotN.

What barbarians am I talking about?

If you go a few hundred years back and look at what the Romans wrote about the "barbarians" beyond the border, you encounter as much politics as superstitions and prejudice. What becomes pretty clear, though, is that those Germanic tribes the Romans encountered were strong adversaries in combat, with equipment that was equal to what the Romans had. It was mostly disciplined warfare that got the Romans as far as they got.

That notion about equipment is worth expanding on. For a long time historians assumed that those northern tribes had almost no metal armor like chain shirts or banded mail. Mostly because nothing like that had been found in the graves they had dug out. But a far more reasonable explanation would have been (and that's what's agreed upon right now, as far as I'm aware) that they wouldn't bury something as precious as a chain mail, but bequeathed it instead to the next in line or didn't own it to get buried with, as something like this would often be given to a warrior by a chief, who would get it back as soon as a warrior leaves his service.

The book features fantastic art by Angus McBride* (p. 40)
Which means, in turn, that those tribes had been sophisticated enough to carry out all the craft necessary to produce something like that to begin with (miners, smiths, you name it). And not just for those of high birth, but available for many of them (as in, an army). I won't go much into detail here. The simple notion that the Germanic tribes could manufacture what the Romans could (and learned a lot more from them, too) is enough to indicate what they were able to do after the Romans were all but gone.

More art by A. McBride featured in the Germanic Warrior (p. 35)
We are not talking "knights" just yet, but (much more appropriate) bands of honor-bound warriors, alleged to some chief or another, fighting and exploring to come back as heroes. Beowulf comes to mind, but also does Siegfried von Xanthen.

So who are the Nibelungs (Part 1)?

Historically speaking it would be the children of those desperate and armed refugees that settled among the ruins left by the Romans. They are to explore the deep forests and dark valleys, following whispered rumors of treasure, secrets and sorcery. They will leave their mark on the world, as it is their time.

The game is about their lost songs.

*For those wondering (or not knowing), the guy did some illustration work for Iron Crown Enterprises.


  1. It just sounds amazing.
    "bands of honor-bound warriors, alleged to some chief or another, fighting and exploring to come back as heroes."
    I want to play that!

    1. Exactly the reaction I wanted to see, Mark :) I'm not kidding, it's so nice to get a comment like this every now and then. Thank you very much!

  2. Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376 to 578, by Guy Halsall, is a good book to reference for this period--especially the sections and chapters dealing exactly with people living in lands once occupied by Rome but now are under the influence of the Germanic tribes.

    1. Cool, I will look into it. Thanks for the tip!


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