Here’s the complete backstory to the characters of Olaus Bloodhammer (Odin) and Rurik (me). Here I attempt to explain how Olaus was exiled and how I the Asian became a member of the Viking ranks, and how you as Ragnar met both of us. I used a combination of real factual history, a little bit from the TV show, and my imagination to create hopefully a workable story with endless possibilities for our larp.
Ragnar Lothbrok is an ordinary farmer who craves adventure, exploration and bringing back treasures from distant destinations. The raid on Lindisfarne in 793 AD that started the Viking Era occurred over fifty years ago, and Ragnar is determined to continue the Viking tradition of exploration and raiding. Rising to the position of king of what is now the country of Denmark, he has already led expeditions to England, Scotland, Iceland and various points south and east. He is now making plans for his biggest, farthest and most ambitious expedition to date: an expedition to the eastern Mediterranean.
In the early 800’s the kings of Scandinavia began to centralize control and consolidate their powers, thus wiping out the smaller earldoms. Many of the local chieftains and earls were then stripped of their titles and powers, and now they wanted revenge, to take action and do something, to explore and raid. One such earl is Olaus “Bloodhammer” Eyvindsson, earl of Granby, an inland village in Gotaland (Sweden).
Olaus had been exiled from his position as earl not only from political restructuring, but also as a result of his drinking habits and squandering his village’s financial resources. Olaus spends most of his days drinking ale and hitting on shieldmaidens (female warriors), earning him the nickname “The Drunk Lord”.
When Ragnar sent out word that he is looking for crews and warriors for his Mediterranean raid, Olaus Bloodhammer responded with interest and brought a compliment of warriors with him to Kattegat to met Ragnar. Olaus showed up dressed in a flowing fur overcoat and fur covered boots but the most imposing characteristic of his person is his Thor-like mallet. A few other earls and their men arrived in Kattegat to take part in this ambitious journey. All warriors knew of the risks of participating in raids. They knew they could die from disease or in battle, but their code of honor and Valhalla superseded all risks and made them take the step forward. The townsfolk prepared a lavish feast for the newcomers in the Grand Hall.
Formerly the eastern end of the Roman Empire, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) is now the Byzantine Empire. Its capitol, Constantinople, is said to contain a bounty of wealth and riches and for the Vikings that was simply irresistible. There was also a rumor of a silver rush as silver coins were coming in from China. Ragnar and Olaus and their crews departed in the Spring of 860 AD. Sailing across the Baltic Sea, they entered modern day Poland. There they traveled along the Varangian Trade Route that connects northern Europe to the Black Sea and the Byzantine Empire. The route then takes them to the Dnieper river system that drains into the northwest corner of the Black Sea.
En route, Ragnar’s party stopped at a region on the northern border of the Black Sea called the Rus Khaganate, a region populated by a melting pot of ethnicities including Baltic, Slavic, Finnic, Turkic, Hungarian, and Norse. Here he joined forces with other adventurers, treasure seekers and pirates. The Rus were angry that the Byzantines had constructed a new fortress that restricted one of their trade routes, and so wanted revenge. They were all too happy to partake in Ragnar’s raid. Now his massive raiding party numbered nearly 5000 women and men warriors.
Constantinople (Istanbul) is an important trading center. It is incredibly rich with goods and wares brought in by traders and merchants from China, India, Persia, Europe and North Africa. It was also Europe’s largest city. The Vikings even had a name for it – “Miklagard” (The Great City). Unbeknown to Ragnar, his arrival at Constantinople came at an opportune time. The capitol city was undefended as 20-year-old Emperor Micheal III and his armies were preoccupied with a war with the Arabs.
At sunset on the evening of June 18, 860, the first of 200 longships and vessels landed ashore. They descended upon the city like a swarm of wasps. The Vikings and their new allies, the Rus, pillaged and plundered the churches, monasteries, palaces, emporiums, harbors and the city’s suburbs. They trashed the city. Debris, food items and mutilated bodies littered the streets. Once again, the Men from the North had proven their ferocity, ruthlessness and merciless vengeance on an unsuspecting populace. As always, while the Vikings slaughtered many captives, they took others as slaves. One of these captives is a dark hair guy named Rurik (my character).
When Ragnar came across Rurik, Ragnar was impressed by Rurik’s ability to understand and speak the Vikings’ language. Ragnar ordered that Rurik’s life be spared and be taken in as a slave.
As a multi-ethnic Asian orphan from the Far East, Rurik doesn’t have a home, and has no allegiance to any country, ethnicity or nationality. He doesn’t know what his last name is, where he’s from, or who his family is. Could he be a bastard offspring from rural peasants? He is a drifter, a wanderer, a nomad, a traveler. His long flowing locks often attracted onlookers as it was rare to see non-Caucasian men with such long tresses, but that didn’t bother him. At the time of the Vikings’ raid, he was in town hoping to find employment in the Byzantine Army, or to find passage to the west where he hopes to find work as a siege weapons builder. As a traveler, he has been exposed to a number of languages and customs, and this somehow interested Ragnar.
Ragnar wanted to seek out all the information Rurik had about other cultures, perhaps to be used for future raids. During the return trip to Scandinavia, Ragnar had long and interesting talks with Rurik. In time, Ragnar discovered that Rurik has an interest in siege tactics and weapons designing. Back at Kattegat, Ragnar released Rurik from slave status, and turned him into a sort of personal warfare advisor. Rurik began explaining his ideas for a giant armored catapult mounted on a pair of longships, a siege tower where the top level is a shielded lookout room where archers could pick off enemy soldiers as Viking warriors entered the city, where Greek fire could be launched or incendiary grenades thrown from, and a wrecking ball that could knock down enemy walls. Ragnar said we will use all of those in his next campaign – a raid on Paris.
The backstory of our larp seems like it could be a movie! Historically, Ragnar never went to the Black Sea, but the city of Constantinople was besieged in 860 AD. by the Rus Khaganate, which is contemporary with Ragnar’s life. Maybe a few Vikings were in that raid, we’ll never know because no one ever recorded it. When I researched the emperor at the time of the raid, I learned that he was 20 yo, a drinker, slept with married women and mocked religious ceremonies. I think he can easily hang with 21st century snowboarders. I haven’t gotten as far as the blood brothers thing yet, that will be in some future installment.