"From the wrath of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us..."
Now you can take your campaign and player characters into the realms of the Northmen. This is no mere fantasy world - this sourcebook is set in the historical world of Viking legend. Included in this sourcebook are new character classes, new magic, new spells, new monsters, new treasures, and the necessary background information on the life and times of the Vikings. Numerous floorplans and full-color map of the Viking world give you a complete roleplaying package.
HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1992), by David "Zeb" Cook, is the first book in TSR's ine of Historical Reference books, which describe new, real-world settings for AD&D campaign play. It was released in May 1992.
Creating the Historicals. TSR's desire to mix gaming with real-world history dates all the way back to the early 80s, when James M. Ward and Rose Estes created an Educational Department. One of their many plans was to create World War II wargames that also deeply detailed the era's history. The Educational Department ultimately failed (as did many of TSR's expansions of the early 80s), but a decade later the idea of mixing history and gaming returned.
That's because a new factor entered the equation in the early 90s. TSR now had two successful leatherette lines: the brown Player's Handbook Rules Supplements (1989-95) and the blue Dungeon Master's Guide Rules Supplements (1990-97). The company was interested in creating more of these books because they were cheap to produce (compared to hardcovers and boxes) and they sold well. Further, the R&D department at TSR contained many wargamers who were also interested in history; they believed that historical books would be of interest to AD&D players as well. The green Historical References (1992-94) were the result.
AD&D Creative Director Steve Winter and Senior Designer Zeb cook were particular big proponents of the line - Winter says because they wanted to write some books themselves (which they did).
Tight Historical Integration. The most surprising element of the Historical References is that they varied the rules for D&D in a way that almost none of TSR's major settings had. Vikings did so best, forbidding almost half of the 2e character classes: clerics, druids, paladins, and wizards. In turn it offered up two totally new character classes - berserkers and runecasters - the latter of which also got a totally new magic system. The later Historical References didn't go as far, but they still tended in the same direction.
The idea of integrating systems deeply with settings dates back at least to Chaosium's King Arthur Pendragon (1985), but it wouldn't become a large trend in the RPG industry until the late 90s and (moreso) until the indie revolution of the 2000s. The Historical References were thus ahead of their time and also somewhat different from the rest of 2e in their focus on system-setting linkage.
Paired Releases. TSR very cleverly (and purposefully) paired its first two Historical releases, so that the vikings of the first book could be antagonists for the characters of HR2: Charlemagne's Paladins Campaign Sourcebook (1992).
HR3 and HR5 (covering Celts and Romans, respectively) were similarly paired, though they appeared over a year apart from one another. It's seems possible that Historical References 1, 2, 3, and 5 were all commissioned at the same time, which would have matched how the PHBR series was launched, with simultaneous work on its first four books.
Vikings in D&D. Overall, Vikings was a somewhat new experience for D&D players, with its heavy emphasis on humans, its move away from monsters, and its magic-light atmosphere. The other Historical References would follow on most of these same trends. With that said, it wasn't totally innovative for TSR, because there was one campaign setting that already introduced a lot of these features: Lankhmar: City of Adventure (1985, 1993).
Viking-like cultures had previously appeared in a few TSR campaign worlds, most notably in GAZ7: The Northern Reaches (1988) for the Known World of D&D. Viking lords had also assaulted the Forgotten Realms' Moonshae Islands in FA1: Halls of the High King (1990). Viking gods had, of course, previously appeared in Deities & Demigods (1980) and in a few Viking-related articles from Dragon - including a superb article on "Runes" in Dragon #69 (January 1983) - but none of these provided the immersive experience that Vikings did.
Vikings in Other Gaming. Vikings had long been a popular subject in RPGs, with some of HR1's predecessors including Vikings (1985) for RuneQuest; also Vikings (1989) for Fantasy Hero and Rolemaster; and finally, GURPS Vikings (1991).
And Vikings continue to appear in modern games too, of course. During the d20 boom, Avalanche Press released several Viking-related books (2001-2003) for d20. More recently, some quite varied Norse-related books have been published, including the Yggdrasill: The Lands of the North RPG (2012), the pulpy Day After Ragnarok (2009) setting, and the Midgard Campaign Setting (2012).
Future History. Jean Rabe wrote a pair of articles about The Vikings' Dragons in Dragon #182 and #183 (June - July 1992) to supplement this book. Much later, "Seeds of Evil" in Dragon #249 (July 1998) described how to use the Masques of the Red Death (1994) campaign with all seven of the Historical Reference campaigns.
About the Creators. Zeb Cook had previously written one of the earliest pseudo-real-world setting books for AD&D, Oriental Adventures (1985).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.