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Foam Wars

By Magda Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #68, 2005.

Dagorhir is great fun. Go out on a Saturday morning and beat on your friends with foam swords.
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Magda Pride


Bash! Bam! Pow! Here's a fun group activity that's REALLY hands-on!

The day was balmy and bright. Birds were singing, butterflies were fluttering about, and the two small groups of fighters were circling around warily. A burst of activity, and two people fell to the ground. The remainder of their group held their ground bravely, but they were quickly dispatched. The "dead" players quickly got to their feet, shuffled, and lined up again to do battle.

This may sound like a skirmish out of a book about knights and fair damsels, but it's not quite that. This is Dagorhir. Some battles are obvious re-enactments; others are just games for fun.

So why would anybody want to spend a beautiful day smiting and, in turn, being smitten? Why does the mere sight of a Dagorhir battle invariably make visitors want to smith their own weapons and join in?

There are three answers to that question. There is the guy's answer, the girl's answer, and the mom's answer.

The guy's answer is that it is more fun to participate in battles such as these in real life versus sitting in front of the computer fighting in a distant virtual way. Another reason mentioned was that it is a lot of fun to knock a person off their feet in a safe sort of way. It is a safe way of experiencing what warriors in medieval times did, only without the blood and dangers associated with real battles. It is also fun to make weapons and armor and compare methods of making new or old weapons and armor.

The girl's answer is that it is fun to participate and not necessarily be treated like a snowflake. There is something very liberating about not always having to be the damsel in distress. One of the first battles I participated in was a four versus four melee. I faced off against a guy who obviously didn't believe I could do any serious damage to him, and he was just blocking with his sword. I got his leg, then noticed that another member of the opposing side was within my reach and had his back to me. I got him straight across the back and jumped back towards my first sparring opponent, and got him on the upper arm to finish him off. The other members of my team had finished our other opponents, and one of my teammates said "She's one of us now!" Fighting doesn't have to be extremely macho. The guys appreciate good strategy and skill with weapons. The other great thing about being a girl in this sport is that girls can be pretty much anything they want, from bard to damsel to warrior.

What, however, do the moms say about this? Some might say that they like it because it toughens up the guys and girls alike and teaches them some self-defense skills. Some might say that it's a good addition or even an alternative to traditional martial arts because it can be a safer activity. Probably all would agree that it is much less expensive than martial arts or other sports. Properly made swords can last forever, and most garb is very easily repaired. Working out new games, putting together weapons, and inventing names and garb is also a great prompt for the imagination in all ages. Participants learn important skills like repairing clothing, sewing, and some basic woodworking. The biggest argument in Dagorhir's favor is that it gets kids who would normally be sitting around playing on computers or doing nothing in general outside and moving. It's a healthy activity that builds muscles, coordination, and good reflexes.

Together these three answers come together to give the ultimate answer to the question "Why would anyone want to participate?" Dagorhir is fun, safe, inexpensive, and anyone is welcome to try it. Participants can wield any legal weapon and wear any legal armor they wish. There is a plethora of different things one can do in and out of battles.

How Dagorhir Started

Bryan Weise originally dreamed up Dagorhir in 1977. It started with fighting Hobbit Wars with padded weapons. Bryan became Aratar Anfinhir the Stormbringer, and many who followed took up their own Elvish or simply made-up monikers. Dagorhir expanded, and the Council of Seven was formed in 1979. The Council organized events, checked weapons, and notified people of the events as they happened. During this time, the number of fighters swelled.

In 1986 the first semi-national event, Ragnorak, was held in Ohio and boasted members from five states. Ragnorak is now a national event and members from almost every state participate, and there are events set up in states all over the country. Members dress up in period or fantasy appropriate costumes and armor and fight in giant melees.

Where Do You Get Your Gear?

How, one may ask, do these people get weapons and armor or even period clothing for these battles?

The answer is easy enough. Members, for the most part, make their own weapons, armor, and clothing.

Dagorhir weapon making is commonly called "foamsmithing" because the primary component of any weapon is the foam that covers the core (usually a PVC or fiberglass pipe). Most members are experienced with these methods of making weapons, and use all different sorts of padding for their weapons. Some common materials are packing foam, foam sleeping mats, and thick fabric.

All sorts of weapons are constructed. Dagorhir allows for all different weapons to be constructed as long as they pass the safety inspections necessary before battles. Weapons include bows and arrows, short swords, broad swords, daggers, hammers, single-head axes, double-head axes, flails, threshing flails, pikes, spears, rocks (padded, of course), long swords, double-handed swords, and any other manner of items that could, in some way, shape, or form, inflict damage upon someone. Some members go to the opposite extreme by making chain mail, studded leather armor, bucklers, large shields, greaves, gauntlets, helmets, and any other body protection you can think of.

Rules and Restrictions

Before you can initially fight in a Dagorhir battle, you need your "garb," an authentic looking outfit. During all official events, garb is required before members are allowed on the field to keep the historical feel of the event consistent. Many realms have a central theme such as the Roman Army, the Elvin archers, ogres, Scotland, or just the knights of old. Many times a theme is created at a unit level and then adopted by one or more other units.

Another restriction placed upon members is that any participant needs to turn in a legal waiver and to be over sixteen before they are allowed to fight. Members under sixteen are allowed to fight one-on-one, but are not allowed to join in melee, games, or events at official meetings. Many younger members don't consider this a deterrent and simply use the time until they "come of age" to train themselves in the handling and making of the weapons.

Types of Dagorhir Games

Games vary from unit to unit. Some common games are Capture the Castle, Bridge Battles, Defeat the Ogre, Gold Battle, and Cutthroat. Capture the Castle is like Capture the Flag, except members that are "tagged" in this game can be injured and after they are "killed" (two blows on arms or legs or a single body shot will kill someone) they cannot rejoin the game. The winning team either captures the enemy castle by standing in the castle area for a period of time or by killing all the members of the other team. Cutthroat is just as it sounds: an every-man-for-himself melee. Defeat the Ogre starts with the ogre possessing all the weapons in a cache of his or her own choosing and trying to kill all those who try to recover their weapons. Bridge Battles is just like Sharks and Minnows. One person starts at one end of a bridge and that person has to kill the people as they try to rush past. People who are killed join the bridge defender until one member is left against all the others. After that person is killed, he or she either chooses the next defender or become the next defender. Gold Battle is the rags to riches game. Each person gets a single piece of "gold" and the idea is to collect them all, or as many pieces of gold as you can, by the time the game has ended.

One game invented by our unit was Dagorhir Tag. One person gets a sword, and they are "it." They have to kill a person for that person to become "it." Once when playing this game, I was in possession of the sword (and therefore was "it"). I was running after my brother at top speed holding the sword aloft and there came from a passing car the shouted encouragement, "GO GET HIM!" These are priceless moments from Dagorhir. We resumed our game after stopping and laughing for a couple of minutes.

Making Your First Sword

When making a basic sword, you only need a few materials. The essential materials are fabric of some sort, padding of some sort (I prefer flexible packing foam), duct tape, something to use for a counterbalance (clay or coins work well), and a core of some sort (one-inch PVC pipe works well). Depending on the shape the weapon is to assume, you do different things. The easiest sword to make is a cylindrical sword with a two- and-a-half foot blade. The size of the sword generally depends upon the size of the blade because there has to be enough room for the balance on the hilt of the sword and at least a six-inch grip. Once the pipe has been cut down to size, the foam should be secured to the pipe in some manner (I used duct tape, but some people prefer glue) and several layers of foam should be placed over the first.

One of the Dagorhir safety rules is that someone should be able to take a full-fledged blow to the upper back from a finished sword and not be hurt by it. Generally an inch or an inch and a half of foam will pad the pipe enough so it will be safe.

After the final layer of foam has been secured, a cloth cover needs to be made for the weapon. The covers can be made out of any sort of cloth, but many people prefer spandex-like cloth because it is stretchy and will fit snugly over the foam and not catch on things. After the cover is made and put over the foam, the hilt needs to be covered (generally duct tape works well for this too) and a counter balance needs to be made. The counter balance will depend entirely upon the weight of the blade. A good rule of thumb is to make the balance more or less even on the hilt or slightly above the hilt so the sword will be easy to swing.

For more information about Dagorhir rules, events, units, and foamsmithing, go to www.dagorhir.com.

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