Sunday, September 6, 2015

The New Fighter Primer

I plan for this post to be an annual thing I post during recruitment season.  I'll try to keep it up to date with anything I miss or questions that seem to always come up.

Welcome to Numenor, new fighters! I've been compiling a FAQ of sorts for new fighters.  If you have a question that I've missed here, or an answer doesn't quite hit the nail on the head, let me know.  There is also a list of handy links at the bottom for a variety of sword fighting related topics.

Q: How do I join the club?
A: If you've joined the Facebook group, that's about it.  Show up and hit people during the scheduled practice times.  We'll have extra gear to loan out.  We do have a mailing list you can sign up for, but most of the info you'll want will be posted on the Facebook page. Come and go as you please, and stay as long as you like.

Q: Do I need to bring anything?
A: We have plenty of gear for you to use, but a few essentials like kneepads or padded gloves are a great investments.  Most sporting good stores sell both items.  Many of us use volleyball kneepads and padded lifting or MMA gloves.  As always, bringing water and wearing clothes you don't mind dirtying up is probably a good idea.  Bring your friends, they are even more fun to hit with foam covered sticks.

Q: I have a question or problem, who should I talk to?
A: The local realm has a great group of veteran fighters that can help you out.  Knights (the ones with the fancy garb and heater shield that's shaped like home base) take charge of the local group and have lots of experience with fighting.  Don't be intimidated by all the armor or angry face on the field, we're here to help.  Our squires (knights in training) all are seasoned fighters and usually wear a white tabard.  Any of them should be able to help you out, or direct you to one of us knights if they aren't sure.

At bigger events or other groups, the first stop should be finding a herald (the ones with a yellow tabard).  They are the game's version of a referee and can help you figure out rules problems or point you in the direction of someone who can help you.  If you see anything unsafe on the field, bring it to their attention immediately.

Q: The rules seemed a little too simple, is there anything else I should know?
A: We use the simplest, abbreviated version of the rules for events like Quad Day, so you can come out and get into the fighting quickly.  The full version of the rules can be found on the Belegarth Wiki page,  It isn't an easy read, I'll put together a more comprehensive list of common rules questions this week. Also, take a peek at this blog post that explains a few things that aren't in the rulebook.

Q: Should I buy/build my own gear?
A: Eventually, yes.  Use a variety of loaner gear and talk to veterans to get a feel for what your options are before you buy.  Luckily, the guys from Forged Foam usually offer a steep discount to new fighters and bring some gear to practice to sell.  Their usual prices for new people make buying a sword about as cheap as making it yourself.

Building your own is something you can consider.  However, I highly recommend having a veteran help you rather than following some of the online tutorials available.  Many are outdated and recommend materials that may not be as optimal compared to other options.  Forged Foam, and other vendors, do generally sell materials that are better than some of the off-the-shelf options, and at a reasonable price.

Q: Can new fighters use polearms/red weapons/bows?
A: We usually prefer that new fighters wait to pick up more than one handed swords and shields.  Many other weapons add a degree of danger to other fighters, and we'd like to get you some training on the more dangerous weapons before we send you out of the field with them.  Safety is our number one priority.  If you are interested in learning/practicing more advanced weapons, talk to one of us that you see using them at practice.  We'll do some one on one training and then help you get ready to use them on the field.

Q: What is a realm, unit?
A: Realms are geographic locations within the sport.  UIUC is the Realm of Numenor.  ISU has one called Wolfpack just 45 minutes from town.  There are realms spread out all across the country (and internationally), but not all are connected to universities or colleges.  Units are groups of fighters that train, fight, and hang out together. Local units include the Dunedain and Dark Guard.  Some units, like Brotherhood of the Falcon (BOF) and the Urak-hai span the nation, grouping up at major events. If you are interested in joining a unit, ask around and get a feel for each one.  If you can make it to Oktoberfest, it is a great place to get to know units and spend some time hanging out with them around a campfire.

Q: I keep losing, how do I get better?
A: For one, don't get discouraged.  Between learning the rules and getting your body used to swinging a sword, the game can be quite hard.  Remember, some of our veterans have a decade or more of fighting under their belts--they aren't going to be easy to kill.  We'll do more structured training this fall to get people ready for the first major event of the season.  More on that later.

Q: Do you have tournaments, rankings, levels, events?
A: There is a large number of events, some of which are major, weeklong camping events.  Sometimes they have individual and team tournaments at these events.  While there are definitely different levels of skill, there is no official ranking system or levels of combat.  This coming Saturday is our local group's first mini-event of the season.  We'll have food, games, and lots of company.  In October, our group hosts one of the largest events in the Midwest, Oktoberfest, a weeklong event with camping, feasts, tournaments and plenty of nightlife.  Imagine 500+ fighters on a field, pretty epic.

Q: Why do you guys wear that clothing/do I have to dress that way?
A: Garb isn't specifically required for fighting at practice.  The local group usually just asks that you get/wear garb before moving on to using weapons beyond basic swords and shields.  Nationally, garb is required for events.  The minimum garb is outlined in the rules, and we will definitely work with you to get geared up for the first major event.

Q: That guy is definitely cheating, what do I do?
A: There is a long rant here about this.  TL;DR: focus on doing your best to take hits you receive quickly and accurately.  If you suspect someone has missed a hit or cheated, ask them about it after the fight.  Worst case, ask a herald about it.

Q: What is Oktoberfest?
A: Oktoberfest 2015: Sept. 30 - October 4

Oktoberfest (Okfest) is one of the largest Belegarth events of the year.  I believe it was THE largest event in Belegarth for 2014 in terms of attendance.  It is a multi-day camping event with three full days of swordfighting.  Even if you can't get away for the full three days, making it to Friday and/or Saturday is definitely worth it.  Coincidentally, the local realm plans and runs this event each year, and it is only 45 minutes from town.  We'll coordinate to make sure anyone that needs a ride can get to and from the event. There is almost always a group or two heading to/from the event each day.  More details will be posted on the facebook group as the time approaches.

Here are a few other links you might want to follow:

From Oktoberfest 2013 Realm Battles (each realm for themselves):

From a nearby event, Wolfpack Opener, a couple years ago: This is the home of the national organization.  The forums have a large amount of information, and links to training videos and guides. The Belegarth wiki. Lots of info on units, realms, and people. It is in the process of being made a little more user friendly, but there is basic information buried on there. This is the most readable version of the rulebook we use. There are a few rules that aren't clearly spelled out, but definitely a must read.  I'll post up some common rules that aren't really defined in the book later this week. Locally operated foamsmith. They made a large portion of our loaner gear and personal equipment.  The guys will be around selling gear at future practices.  Lady Armstrong is a (formerly) local seamstress that has made some of the fine looking garb you'll see around.  We don't expect new fighters to look that amazing, but it should give you an idea of how cool garb can be.

Spear Formations

Whoo, it sure is dusty in here.  Been a while since I put out a post.  So, of course, why not put out a nice, wordy bit that was supposed to be published months ago.

Last time we looked at Sotahuuto, which was a good sample of spear formations we can see on a larger fighting field.  For Belegarth, a few of these are highly ineffective, due to the limitations on one-handed stabs versus armor and the rules for sufficient force.  However, I'd like to go ahead and include those types of formations here for the sake of completeness.  Hopefully people that fight in other sports can find some value in my evaluation of those formations that don't really make sense for Belegarth.

For starters, what do I mean by "formation"?  While one spear often forms up with a shield man, this isn't necessarily a formation.  This is meant to be more of a big picture perspective, what a whole group of spears and shields working as a unit might attempt.  Learning to combat these well-organized teams of spears will make fighting against the sort of ad-hoc groupings we see on a typical Belegarth field a little easier.  Below you'll find my analysis of strengths and weaknesses of each type.  I've given each one a name of my own design, roughly based on historical terms.

Types of Spear Formations:


The ad-hoc formation is your typical mismatched group of fighters with the occasional spear or support weapon.

  • Spears can operate independently and adjust position easily
  • Easy for spears to deploy after fighting starts, boosting their effectiveness
  • The line isn't dependent on the spears and can move freely
  • Less coordination between spearmen
  • Spearmen often have to rely on random shieldmen
  • Spearmen must look after their own safety, because the formation isn't geared to protect them
How to Kill It:
  • Avoid the spears and push elsewhere
  • Kill pocket--try to force individual spears into a bad position and counter them with spears from the flanks

A phalanx is a unit consisting of nothing but spears, preferably very long spears (15' or so).  By arranging themselves in tightly packed ranks and files, they are able to concentrate their offense.  These are exceptionally rare in Belegarth (maybe almost never), but we did see one group in the video from Sotahuuto attempt it.

  • Very concentrated offense
  • Long range versus most other fighters
  • Overlapping spears help defend against rushers
  • No/limited defense against missile weapons
  • Cumbersome--many people tightly packed make it difficult to maneuver
  • Manpower intensive--it takes many people to fill in the formation compared to other solutions
  • Very limited attack and defense at "point blank" range
How to Kill It:
  • With Arrows!--even blindly firing a volley will get kills
  • Out-maneuver it--the formation can't hold together well on the move or while turning
  • Flank it--use part of the group as a distraction while the rest attack from the sides/rear
  • Kill Pocket--let the spears push into the center and fold in on their flanks, this forces the spears to spread their offense as the frontage expands in the curve.
  • Overrun it--a well timed, full line charge where everyone pushes forward can succeed.  This is very risky.
  • The wedge--a small group of well armored fighters concentrate a charge up the middle.  Their goal is to force the spears to fight at point blank.  This is risky, but less so than a full overrun.

Shielded Phalanx

Like a phalanx, but with the front rank equipped with swords and shields. Still not likely to see it in Bele.

  • Better missile defense than a pure phalanx
  • Strong defense against rushers
  • Still cumbersome
  • Loses some offense/range from first row of spears vs. a pure phalanx
  • Shields can cut off some lanes of attack for the spears
How to Kill It:
  • Out-maneuver it--the formation can't hold together well on the move or while turning
  • Flank it--use part of the group as a distraction while the rest attack from the sides/rear
  • Kill Pocket--let the spears push into the center and fold in on their flanks, this forces the spears to spread their offense as the frontage expands in the curve.

Something you won't see in a Belegarth field today, an entire group of shield/spear wielding fighters.

  • Greater range than a sword/shield formation
  • Solid defense against missiles
  • Very maneuverable (for a spear formation)
  • Much better at closer ranges than a phalanx against unarmored foes
  • Can't effectively fight armored opponents (in Bele)
  • Still has difficulty fighting at point blank
  • Outranged by longer spears/glaives
How to Kill It:
  • Tank out--shove armored fighters down their throats (in Bele)
  • Range--Use longer support weapons and fight defensively
  • Charge--They aren't good at fighting super close, get in there all together and fight them at point blank. 

In between every shield is a spear.  Every other person in the line is a support weapon.

  • Strong defense/offense mix
  • Every spear has someone to hide behind against missiles
  • More maneuverable than a shielded phalanx
  • Spears are very cooperative and have overlapping ranges
  • Efficient use of manpower to cover an area. (for a spear formation)
  • Often has uneven skill distribution--there is likely a weak spot at a spear or two
  • Relies on spears cooperating to be effective
  • Rarely has a backfield/reserves--vulnerable to minor breakthroughs
How to Kill It:
  • Vision gaps--a wavy line can cause vision gaps that allow a small group (or one fighter) to get behind the formation.
  • Wedge/Rush--a practiced fighter can rush a spear with a little support or distractions.  A group can force their way through.
  • Coordinated Missiles/Spears--a shieldman can't cover themselves and a spear from multiple angles of attack. Have archers and spears coordinate against a pair at a time.
One spear, two shieldmen. The main difference between interlaced and triples is that the triples act with much more independence than a typical line. Usually, the spear is on charge of their triple.


  • Strong at close range
  • Resistant to missile attack
  • Usually has most experienced fighters using the support weapon and leading the triples
  • Harder to rush against
  • Can exploit gaps and be used to flank
  • Less coordination between support weapons
  • Easier to cause gaps between triples
  • Support weapon doubling as a command element makes it a priority target for missile weapons
How to Kill It:
  • Kill Pocket--try to pull one triple into the pocket
  • Flank It--have 1-2 shieldmen engage each triple from the front, keeping the spear's attention. The rest need to maneuver around and between the triples.
  • Rush Them--assassinate the triple's commander/support weapon.  A skilled fighter can make it through the middle well enough to kill them.  Gets riskier as their shieldmen improve in skill.
  • Out Support Them--triples have less support weapons than other spear formations, if you can get a few extra spears to help out against them, it drastically reduces their effectiveness.