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FROM READERS: Dagorhir: The closest you can get to medieval combat

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Columbia resident Stephen Rawlings, right, prepares for battle at a Dagorhir event. Dagorhir is a medieval combat simulation.

Stephen "Fayne" Rawlings is the Dagorhir Columbia chapter owner.

The flag stood a mere 30 yards away, the primary target of my unit as we emerged from the brush with weapons at the ready. The nearest Green Team defenders turned at the noise of our arrival, noting our Red Team colors and alerting their teammates to the incoming assault. My allies consisted of my combat partner, Ixous, the both of us wielding greatswords, and two of our friends who were armed with sword and shield. 

Tension broke as Blue Team began a bigger assault on Green Team's forward defensive positions, and suddenly Green Team was fighting a two-front war. Many of them chose to focus on the much larger Blue Team assault force while a few stalwart warriors turned to face us. A pity then, when they fell so quickly to our skilled swordplay.

To our dismay, Blue Team reached the flag first among the intense melee, and their runner was hot on his heels back toward his teammates for safety. We lost him in the crush, assuming the flag had been stolen and resigned ourselves to simply fighting our way out of Green Team's fort. Our small Red Team unit fought on to a standstill, and we took two casualties. Both of our shield brothers had perished. But a ray of hope lied on the woodland floor: Green Team's flag. 

It was just lying there amid the chaos and turmoil of medieval combat. Our prize was unguarded and apparently unnoticed. 

"Ixous! Take the flag!" I shouted fending off two combatants at once but losing, "Run! Go now!"

Ixous grabbed Green Team's flag and tore dirt running for the small trail we used to backdoor Green Team, with a trio of Green Defenders in pursuit. I broke from my fight, and ran after him, parrying wildly at the passing swipes from enemies I ran by. Catching up to the Green Team pursuers, I killed one with a back stab and crippled the other. More Green Team surrounded me, taking my legs from me as I shouted for Ixous to keep running. Soon the defenders overtook me, though my martyred sacrifice allowed Ixous to capture Green's flag. 

Death's grip enveloped me, and the only attendees to my impromptu funeral wore apathetic Green headbands. 

This is Dagorhir.

Dagorhir is a Medieval Combat Sport many confuse with LARPing, or Live Action Roleplay. Medieval Combat Sports are different in that they are strictly skill based. You live or die entirely because of your skill with a blade, rather than a magic spell or arbitrary hit points. Dagorhir to me is a chance to experience warfare from a medieval perspective, within the safety of modern training gear. I've been playing the game for 7 years now and own the chapter contract for Columbia. 

Dagorhir is a national organization, and the voting council, of which I am a part, meets once a year at our biggest event, Ragnarok, to decide the rules of play, the dimensions of safety and the aspect of realism. In every facet of the sport, safety, playability and realism are key. The rules are simple: all weapons and shields are padded to prevent serious injury, and whenever you're hit, something happens. If you're hit in the arm; you lose an arm. If you're hit in the leg; you kneel and fight on your knee. Any hit to the torso or lose two limbs and you're dead. Depending on what scenario we're playing, you might be dead until you touch a revive spot, or you might be dead until someone kills your killer, or you might even be dead until the game is over. 

The sport is extremely easy to get into but difficult to master. To start, you simply meet with the local chapter at a weekly practice and ask to join. In Columbia's chapter, Stonewater Marches, we have plenty of loaner weapons to get you started, and we greatly enjoy teaching people how their ancestors properly wielded a sword (Hint: It was  frequently paired with a shield). Once you come to at least one practice a week for three weeks, you'll want to make your own weapon in order to become an official member. The cost is minimal, but like all hobbies worth devoting disposable resources to, you get out of it what you put in, whether that be time, money or effort. 

To me, Dagorhir is a chance to excel in a competition of combat, wear medieval clothing and armor, and develop an entire warrior outlook and personality, if I so choose. Many people in the game, myself included, put serious time and effort into their costuming and characterization. I wear wax hardened leather armor (leather armor isn't entirely historical unless it's been treated with some form of chemical or physical hardening, such as wax or acrylic), a linen tunic and pants and knee-high leather boots. I also wear modern protective gear like knee pads and light sparring Mixed Martial Arts gloves to protect my knuckles. Dagorhir is an extremely safe sport compared to most, but like all full contact sports, there is a possibility of injury. 

In Dagorhir you can see quite a range of character. You'll see what the game colloquially calls "stick jocks," or those players who only wear a simple tunic and pants and devote much of their time to technique. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you'll see orcs and goblins, Romans and Spartans, rangers and rogues, nymphs and pixies, elves and dwarves. If it exists in a pre-gunpowder medieval setting or exists in a Tolkien-style fantasy realm, you can costume it and play the character on the field. Though it is worthy to note, that on the battlefield, all players are equal. A player dressed as and fighting in a Roman Legion has the same status as an elven archer. 

Dagorhir was invented back in 1979 by a college-aged guy named Bryan Weise, who finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and wanted to re-enact the combat contained therein. He'd never played Dungeons and Dragons, never played any Live Action Roleplay Games. He simply wanted to swing a sword at his friends for fun and continued to build a foundation of simple combat. After several years he had amassed a small following of a couple hundred, copyrighted the name Dagorhir and ratified a rulebook for it. Over the next 30 years, Dagorhir grew into a national organization with chapters all over the country, even up into Canada and across the pond into Europe. Nowadays, Dagorhir's culture and fighting spirit is every bit as rich and diverse as Tolkien's universe and continuing to grow. 

If you're interested in giving Dagorhir a try, contact me at 355-8082 or srawlings316@gmail.com to find out when the next weekly practice will be. We're all inclusive and very open, so don't be shy! I promise, if you're even a little bit nerdy and interested in being more active, you'll take to the game like a fish to water. 

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how.

Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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