Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nationally Certified Marshal Test - Study Guide

Over the years, it's become clear that we need more experts on the Book of War, weapons checking, and heralding to help Belegarth run smoothly at events. To obtain that, Sir Par, currently president of Belegarth, created an exam that Belegrim can take to prove their skills and become certified.

The basics of what the exam is, who has passed, and who can administer it can be seen here:

The next chance for people to take the test will be at Armageddon this year, which is why I've taken the time to create some study materials for any readers who want to give it a shot. They are online flash cards which cover the Book of War that you can modify, print, and share. There's even a smartphone app for it.

Even if you aren't planning to take the exam just yet, these cards are also great for just learning the rules you may be a little fuzzy on. If you want to contribute by adding cards or other materials, please message me - I'd love to add to the list!

Study Materials

Latest Book of War
Flash Cards for entire Book of War
Flash Cards for the core rules
Flash Cards for weapons check rules
Flash Cards for garb rules

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sewing for Belegrim: How to Applique

Short of owning an embroidery machine, applique is one of the easiest ways to add more professional-looking interest to any part of your kit. If you don't know anything about it, it's the process of tacking down an attractive design made of fabric to other fabric to create intricate and beautiful things.

The master of applique in Belegarth right now is definitely Ellie Apland (who also supplies many wonderful pictures for this blog) of Lady Armstrong Designs. If you've never seen it, this is an example her work:
Lotus Tree Tunic for Sit Peter the Quick. Photo © Lady Armstrong Designs.
This short tutorial doesn't cover that level of sophistication, so I highly recommend commissioning her if you're looking for truly impressive garb. We're just going to be applying a bit of heraldry to a squire's tabard.

First off, get the piece you want to applique ready. Thin, non-slippery fabrics like cotton are great for this. In this case, we've done a little quilting to make Sir Torrence's heraldry (author of A Knight's View), and just turned the corners of the crest under to make sure it is the exact size we want. This will also make it easier to avoid stray threads during the applique process.

This isn't completely necessary, but double-sided fusible web like Steam-A-Seam makes applique much easier. It will stiffen the fabric you are appliqueing and help tack it down, so there's less room for air bubbles or slippage.

Trace and cut the fusible web, making it just slightly smaller than whatever you're appliqueing. You want to be sure the sticky web doesn't bleed out onto your iron later.

We'll be applying the web to the back side of the crest. Peel off one of the protective paper layers...

And iron the webbing in place, sticky side down, per the package instructions. Make sure everything is as flat and neat as possible.

Flip your applique piece over, remove the other protective paper from the sticky web, and place it where you'd like it to be tacked down. Iron per the package instructions - it should be attached fairly firmly by the time you're done.

Even though the web should keep the crest in place, I will often add a few pins just to be safe, especially if there are corners that didn't fuse well.

Now, just sew around the edges and you're done! A "satin stitch" is the most traditional method to finishing applique, but you can use almost anything depending on the look you're going for. My machine doesn't have a good satin stitch, so I just tightened up my zig-zag stitch until it looked about right. It isn't as perfect as it would be if my machine was designed for this, but that's hard to tell out on the field.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Roleplaying in Belegarth

The following article is my personal opinion about roleplaying. It is not intended to attack any persons or groups currently in Belegarth who enjoy the practice.

The eternal struggle of "LARP vs. Sport" comes down to one thing for many people: roleplaying. In sports, you don't pretend to be someone else. If you've been around Belegarth for any length of time, you know that it has its share of roleplayers among its fighters, and there are just as many who'd happily see it gone from the field.
Our multicolored monsters are the easiest roleplayers to spot. Photo © Ellie Apland.
I admit, I'm mostly on the side of stick jocks when it comes to roleplaying. I'd like to see Belegarth more accessible to the general public, and I think that kind of pretending gets in the way. No matter how many times we say "well, we don't have magic and actually hit each other instead of rolling dice", you're going to be hard pressed to prove this is a serious sport to someone if you're dressed like a ninja but can barely swing a sword. I think there are already plenty of LARPs for the hardcore geeks who care more about characterization than fighting. I'd like to see one for the geek-jocks and the person who likes 300 or the battles in the Lord of the Rings but would never consider themselves a "hardcore" geek.

That said, I can't completely disregard what roleplaying brings to Belegarth, especially off the field. When someone fits their character really well, it's incredibly entertaining to be around them and listen to their lore. One of my fondest memories from an event was when someone playing a monster (a gnoll, I think) wandered into our camp and told tales of his race's creation in exchange for the warmth of our fire. He was a brilliant storyteller. Even more interesting, he didn't wear anything too over the top to show his monstrous nature - just a simple collar and torn clothing. It was understated enough to feel like he wasn't really playing at being some magical creature, and I think that's what makes all the difference.

That's really where the line is for me between "this is pretty fun" and "ugh, roleplayers". If you play a character that is basically yourself with a couple exaggerations, it can be incredibly entertaining for everyone, without becoming a ridiculous sideshow. Good actors and brilliant costumers can pull off something more elaborate, but let's face it, most of us aren't that. If you're going to choose a race or persona, make sure it fits you, and more importantly your fighting skill, well. With monsters, that often isn't too hard, but when it comes to races like elves, there are only a few who can do it without looking absurd. The more of your true personality that your Belegarth persona reflects, the easier it is for people to suspend their disbelief, and the less silly you look.

For my part, that's why I enjoy our great roleplayers, but I don't do it myself. I don't have the personality to cut it as a monster, nor the presence to pull off any of my favorite types of characters. I would rather just be myself than make the poor roleplayer problem worse.

So I think the overall message is this: if you've got a good character going, enjoy it and share it. If you struggle with it, don't force it. If you want to be a badass ninja, learn to become one on the field first. Not only will you get more respect from other Belegrim, but you'll suddenly become someone who draws people to Belegarth instead of writing it off as kid's stuff. Personally, I'd rather see a handful of great roleplayers on the field surrounded by dozens of generic fighters, than scores of Belegrim with mediocre characterization and awful fighting.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fight to the last man

It happens all too often - your team is overrun by the enemy causing you to flee the chaotic scene of slaughter. When you turn around to regroup and face your attackers you realize, too late, that there is no one left to aid you. It is just you against the world. What do you do?

For some, they simply cut their losses, calling themselves dead or pushing for a quick mercy killing. They give up in the face of uneven combat and resign themselves to their fate. They would rather die quickly and start over again than drag out the inevitable.

Others might try to game the system as best they can, demanding honor battles left and right to even the odds. If they are skilled one-on-one, the fight will drag on as they churn their way through the enemy on more level ground. It is a slow process, but it gives them the best chance to win the day.

There is a third type of fighter, though, and they are unabashedly my favorite. As a spectator, Belegarth is entertainment, and nothing is quite as entertaining as watching a lone fighter make a final stand against impossible odds. They will fight tooth and nail to survive as they are being overwhelmed from every angle, becoming a viscous whirlwind of foam and death. On rare occasion, they might even defeat the opposing team through a combination of skill, speed, and a huge helping of luck.
He wasn't quite that lucky. 
This is one of the reasons I've always loved watching my husband, Matthias, fight, even though I make fun of him quite a bit, too. In all my years, even though I've never known him to game the system for a victory, I've never seen him give up in the face of an overwhelming enemy either. If he's the last one standing, you can bet he'll face you down and fight you with all he has. He may not win the battle, but he'll have a blast tackling the challenge.

My favorite example of this was at a little event not too long ago. Matthias had picked up a bow during a bridge battle, and when his team fell on the bridge he found himself alone, surrounded by enemy archers. It would have been easy to give up at that point (he honestly had no chance of winning) but instead he dropped his bow, drew his sidearm, and started to run. It may have been a while since he had taken off like that, but he still knew how to turn it up to overdrive when he had to. Dodging arrows every few yards, he tore across the field, trying to gain enough space to formulate some sort of attack plan.

It was then the enemy realized he wasn't an archer anymore because he dropped his bow. "We can grapple him!" one of them shouted as he rushed to tackle Matthias to the ground. But the sprinter was determined not to go down that easy and sidestepped the charge, killing his attacker with a firm strike to the back. Unfortunately, that momentary distraction gave one of the archers a chance to peg him in the leg, putting an end to his running.

Do you think that stopped him? Not a chance. Even stuck on his knees, he continued to dodge arrows. It took more effort now, violent lunges and drastic bends, but he refused to just let them kill him from a distance.  It was only when the other melee fighters finally caught up that he fell, unable to avoid the arrows and their blades at the same time.

Obviously, the battle was an memorable, exciting, and even hilarious display of tenacity. Matthias choosing to give his all in those last moments not only provided entertainment for me, but many others who happened to see it as well. Even some of the opposing team came up to him after the fight, impressed by his arrow-dodging skills, and shared a laugh.

It's those moments that make me love Belegarth. The unexpected warrior bursting forth brilliantly in a series of otherwise unremarkable battles. So thank you to all who put yourselves out there to overcome adversity in impressive and amusing ways. You are the reason people like me keep coming back to Belegarth. May your numerous exploits spawn many a war story worth telling.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sewing for Belegrim: Double-Sided Tabards

Probably the most versatile and useful piece of garb I know of, the double-sided tabard is something always in my bag. It serves as emergency garb for newbies - just add a belt - and means I will always have marshal yellow on me. Everybody should own one.

That's all good, you think, but I hate working with bias tape on regular tabards and don't want to deal with that weird curve around the neck. Making one will take forever.

Not so! Here's a quick way to get a clean neckline with minimal effort. It looks great and means you'll only have to bias tape the straight outer edges, not the curvy neckline. The example uses a keyhole neckline, one that looks complicated but becomes simple with this method.

First, figure out the shape and length you'd like your tabard to be. We happened to have an old one that fit quite well, so we decided to trace it onto our duck cloth. The size you cut will be the actual size of the tabard. There are NO seam allowances with this method.

Cut out one layer of fabric along your lines. We each layer separately to make the lines more accurate.

Pin down the cut tabard to the other fabric, being sure to line up the fold, and cut the second layer.

If your pattern has shoulders to sew, do so with each type of fabric before this next step. If you don't care about a tapered shoulder, just use the natural fold in the fabric to make the process easier.

Now it's time to draw your neckline on the "wrong" side of your fabric. Like when we were drawing the tabard, there is no seam allowance, so make it true to size. Be sure you draw both the front and back.

Layer the two fabrics together and pin in place around the neckline you drew. If you have any seams, such as for the shoulders, make sure you're putting right sides together as shown above.

Sew along the line you drew, following the entire neckline. In the picture above, we've already begin cutting back the neckhole a little - normally it would be solid white.

Cut out your neckhole close to the seam. As you can see here, our front and back of the neckline are very different, but they're connected by a continuous seam. You'll also want to trim any particularly long loose threads.

If you have any corners in your neckline, be sure to clip them. Basically, cut in close to the corners (be careful not to cut the stitching) so you can turn it inside out more easily. If you need more help, here's a guide with photos.

Pull one layer of fabric through the neckhole. This is how we're going to get the nice clean edges on the outside.

Take your time to push out any corners you have, creating a clean neckline as shown above. Once you are happy with it, you can press the seams.

Check the other side as well. Now all you need to do is add a quick line of bias tape around the edge and you're done!

It doesn't fit! What now?

Don't fret if you find your neckhole is too small on your first attempt. Just flip the tabard so the side with the stitching is out again, and sew a bigger neckhole outside the first. You can even just cut out the first line of stitching, no seam ripping required.

Anatomy of a non-modular passing arrow

Arrows can be immensely dangerous if they are not built properly.  Unfortunately, they are also one of the most complicated weapons to make for the first time. You'll probably want to get someone to teach you the first time you do it, or at least follow a tutorial.

I've make this handy graphic as a quick guide to show the most important rules you'll need to know if you are making basic arrows. It also gives you an inside view of the construction, so you have a better idea of what those layers of foam protecting you from the shaft really look like.

Click image to see full size

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sewing for Belegrim: Basic Bias Tape Techniques

One of the most basic things you can do to make your garb look better in Belegarth is bind it with bias tape. It's an easy way to create color combos and finish raw edges without turning them under. You can even make it match your colors perfectly by making it from left over fabric instead of buying it.

Although the basic concept of "wrap and sew" is very simple, many Belegrim don't know enough about bias tape to make sharp corners or finish their piece without having an unfinished bit of bias tape at the end. To make your bias tape experiences a little better, here are a couple of the most important techniques you'll need for a clean, polished look.

 Choosing the right bias tape

Extra wide, double fold is the right stuff. This is what I usually get at my local sewing store. You'll probably see a lot of single fold while you're at the store - don't get it for finishing edges or you'll be in for a huge headache!

Clean Corners 

When I get close to a corner, I like to put a pin in about an inch from the end.  This helps me maneuver through the next steps without the bias tape falling away from the fabric edge.

Note that I've turned the bias tape inside out here because I'm going to be folding down that corner. There are two straight lines you'll want to see: the tacked end of the bias tape should extend straight out as far as it will go, and the free end should lie flush with the edge of the fabric.

When I fold it down, it makes a nice sharp point. You'll probably need to play with the corner a little to get it to lie exactly how you want it, but it should be close.

Make sure you catch the corner when you pin or it will come undone.

After you pin, check the other side to make sure its point looks nice, too. You may need to remove the pin and adjust.

When you sew, try to keep at least 1/8"-1/4" from the unfolded edge of the bias tape to make sure you sew all three layers: the front bias tape, the fabric, and the back bias tape. When you reach the corner, carefully remove the pin and stitch until you just catch the crease in the corner. 

Leave your needle down in the fabric. Most modern machines have a button for this, but you can also crank the needle manually.

Raise your presser foot and rotate your sewing 90 degrees with the needle still down. Once you've realigned, lower the presser foot and finish sewing.

The finished corner, front and back.

Finishing off a bias taped edge

You MUST leave a tail of unstitched bias tape when you start sewing it down to use this technique. I usually try to leave a long-ish tail of a few inches to make things easier.

We're going to pretend I just finished wrapping around an entire tabard and have finally met up with my original tail. I don't want it to be obvious where I started and stopped stitching, so I'm going to use a little trick so there's no excess hanging out.

Unfold the outer layer of bias tape, leaving the center line against the fabric.

Fold the upper corner under, until the raw edge of bias tape is flush with the lower side. It should make a 45 degree angle as shown above. You may want to crease this hard - we're going to be sewing along this line.

Gently slide your hand under where you just folded and grab that corner you along with the lower piece of bias tape (the tail you left at the beginning). You'll be pinching the raw edge of the upper piece of bias tape and the side of the lower piece of bias tape.

Very gently, pull. It will look kind of weird at this stage, but that's okay.  Make sure that you're pinching tightly so neither end of bias tape is able to slip. If it does move, you'll want to go back a few steps and try again. It's very important the bias tape doesn't move too much, so it lays flush in the end.

Lay flat. You'll notice the two pieces of bias tape now sit perpendicular to one another with their folded sides together. You may not be able to see it here, but that top piece still has the crease at a 45 degree angle on it that we're going to stitch along.

Stitching along the line. You can use pins to hold it in place or mark it if you aren't confident you can stitch corner to corner freehand.

Trimming off the excess. You'd normally want to clip the dangling threads here as well.

Flattening it out, we can see that angle we just sewed, now combining the two pieces of bias tape.

A perfect fit and a clean edge.  Just clean up your threads, sew it down, and no one will ever know where you started and stopped your bias tape.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hurt them, don't break them

With any full-contact game, there's some element of machismo that pervades the culture. In Belegarth, it tends to rear its head in the form of acts that are technically legal but painful or dangerous. Examples might include purposefully shield edging someone in the head or kidneys, taking full red swings on an archer, or attempting to seriously hurt someone to teach them a lesson about headboxing or sloughing.

These actions are often applauded because it's seen as getting some sort of "justice" or proving that you're tougher than your opponent. It's an example of using fear of injury to get an advantage in lieu of skill. Instead of proving you are better than the guy across from you, you just prove that you can make them stop enjoying the fight. This story typically ends with the other guy refusing to fight the person who was out to purposefully cause them pain, and the "tough guy" celebrates it as a victory. Sometimes, the one getting beaten up may stop fighting entirely, especially if they're new.

Now, don't think that I'm anti-contact or I'm afraid of a little pain. Belegarth should hurt, it is in the nature of the game. It's part of what makes fighting not right for everyone. It's also what many of us enjoy about it.
The occasional good-natured beat down is a natural part of Belegarth. Photo © Ellie Apland.
But there's a difference between hurting someone because you're hitting each other with padded weapons, and hurting them because you care more about being seen as tough than good fighting. There's also a difference between hurting someone with control, and hurting someone because you are reckless. It's important to always aim for the former, even though adrenaline, testosterone, and culture can make that difficult.

What's the big deal? Well, it creates a recruitment and retention problem when you cause people to fear for their health through reckless combat. Many fighting groups have a saying that goes something like this:

"If you break your toys, you'll have none to play with."

Basically, when anyone in your realm starts getting reckless or vindictive, it disincentivizes others to play with you. Even if in the short term it may seem funny, harmless, or even good if it "fixes" a cheater, it's the sort of thing that scares away members and potentials you may not have realized were interested in Belegarth. It only takes a couple incidents that make a person fear for their safety to turn them away from fighting forever.

At the end of the day, Belegarth is a game that can only be played with other people. There's no need for a culture of bullying and mock toughness; the game has plenty of potential to be hardcore without the sideshow. So the next time you find yourself celebrating because a guy calls themselves dead rather than fighting you, take some time to reflect on whether that's really a good thing. What are you enjoying if they refuse to even play with you?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Approaching Sideline Sitters

I've now gotten this question a few times from fighters who want to be more inclusive to their Belegrim brethren who don't take to the field: What should I do to make them feel more welcome? I see them on the sidelines, but I don't know what to say.

There is no easy or correct answer to that question, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

First of all, be aware that plenty of sideline-sitters are introverts. The extroverts may sit on the sidelines, but they more easily engage in conversations with fighters who flow on and off the field. The introverts, on the other hand, are unlikely to talk much unless they need something. That doesn't mean they don't enjoy fighting or the presence of other Belegrim, but they're much less likely to seek out the conversation and company of others.

I'm the perfect example of this. Though I'm quite mouthy online, I'm dead silent at practices and events unless I have a reason to be loud. I'm content to sit, listen, and watch, rarely approaching other Belegrim of any sort for small talk. However, if you decide to stop by and engage me in a purposeful conversation, I will chat along quite happily. If you start talking about fighting theory in a friendly manner, you'll never get me to shut up.

Also know that when you sit on the sidelines, you see and hear a lot more than the average fighter. If you interact with others in a negative or intimidating way, you can bet that the person on the sidelines won't be interested in talking with you. It may feel a little cruel to be pre-judged like that, but it's just the truth: your first impression will not be based on how you talk to them, but how you talk to others around them.

With this in mind, know that you will probably need to reach out to your typical, quiet sideline sitter. Small talk will likely not get you far, so be prepared to have a more meaningful conversation if you want to build a better relationship. You can still open with the typical "would you like to fight?", but you'll need to be prepared based on their answer.

I'd like to fight, but...

If the person you're talking to seems to want to fight but isn't confident enough to do it, the next things you say are crucial. This happens most often with new people checking out Belegarth for the first time. I've screwed up this conversation plenty of times myself, so don't be discouraged if you aren't successful at your first attempts.

First, be aware that peer pressure may backfire. For some people, like me, being nagged to do something makes them dig their heels in. Saying "Come on, just fight, it'll be fun!" on repeat isn't like to win you many favors after the first refusal. Occasionally, people will give in, but that isn't very common.

More effective is figuring out why they're hesitant to fight. If they're afraid of the field or making a fool of themselves, accept that and give them another place to learn. You may even want to offer to train them yourself.

IMPORTANT - Guys, be careful how you word your offer to teach someone to fight if they are female. Anything about "Private training" or "I'd be happy to help you one-on-one" comes across as seriously creepy regardless of your intentions.

A better alternative is to ask "Would you like to learn how to fight? I can go through some of the basics with you before you take the field." If you think you're just too scary or socially inept for that, try to have another female fighter on hand that can help teach newbies. No female fighters? Ask the least-threatening guy you have who's also a decent teacher to help out. I use my husband for this all the time.

Non-threatening level : MASTER. Photo © Rinwilya Rose
In the end, the your goal is to be friendly and welcoming. Even if it turns out the sideline sitter doesn't want to fight, having that small conversation means they have one more person they're connected to at Belegarth. The more people they know and like, the more likely they will stick around.

Fighting's really not my thing

This response is far more common from the seasoned Belegrim who has consciously chosen to be a non-com. Although you may ask why they've decided not to fight, do not pressure them into joining you. Respect their wishes to remain on the sidelines.

IMPORTANT- Be careful not to imply that they're only there because of their fighter friends, unless you want the conversation to end prematurely. They may just be following someone else to Belegarth events, but you'll want to let them tell you that explicitly before you assume.

Instead, you may want to dsicuss why they enjoy Belegarth. In general, this conversation is about finding common ground, even if it ends up being shorter than you would like. Remember, you both are Belegrim and both have chosen to spend time and money with Belegarth, even if you don't both stand on the field. You might be surprised at how much you share. Don't be afraid to ask questions if they aren't busy - just like fighters, most non-coms love to talk shop!

One last bit of advice

I hope this has been somewhat helpful to you. At the very least, it should give you an idea of where to start a conversation on the sidelines. Before I close this article, I have one last thing you should do your best to attempt.

If anyone you approach has been doing event service, be sure to thank them, even in passing. Although they may be uncomfortable accepting praise, they will not forget it. Setting an example of respect and decent manners is important for the culture of Belegarth to continue to evolve positively and encourage sideline sitters to become more involved.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I don't need to be good at fighting, just better than you

Sometimes you don't need to be a great fighter out there to win, you just need to make less mistakes than the other guy. Today, I’d like to explore a few very important unwritten rules of Belegarth in the form of a war story. Now, when I say “unwritten rules” I don’t mean etiquette, so much as “things to pay attention to if you don't want to be laughed at later”.

My particular tale takes place during a small unit battle, with Heidoran and the Uruk-hai squaring off first against one another. For those who are unfamiliar with these units, let me provide a little background:

Heidoran was a larger unit in Numenor several years ago, brought together by a sense of camaraderie rather than great fighting. They usually fought in a tight formation with shieldmen and a few polearms since they could not rely on any member’s individual skill. Once their shield wall cracked, they were often slaughtered quickly and completely. You can think of them as the lovable underdogs.
A smiling family portrait of a few Heidoran members. Photo from
The Uruk-hai, on the other hand, are almost all large, armored guys with a fair amount of skill, often called "orks" for short. They only had a few men at this practice, but knew how to break through a shield wall effortlessly. Each one could easily stand on his own, and he was even more dangerous with his unit-mates around him.
The Uruk-Hai en masse, ready for war. Photo from
Okay, so it’s probably pretty clear what happened at the beginning of the battle. After all, underdogs are called that for a reason. The Uruk-hai simply smashed through Heidoran’s shield wall, though the less-skilled unit was still able to whittle them down to just one man by using their superior numbers. Many Heidoran fighters tried to stand their ground, which ended in their quick demise. And here comes lesson the first:

Rule 1: When faced with overwhelming odds, don’t be afraid to run.

As it turned out, one Heidoran archer did follow this rule and snuck through the Uruk-hai's assault with his bow and arrows. Unfortunately, his shield men did not follow, leaving him alone and them to die. As he was readying his arrows, the one remaining Uruk-hai single-handledly demolished the remainder of Heidoran. This brings us to the second lesson:

Rule 2: Make sure there are no survivors.

It turned out he hadn’t noticed the archer sneaking out in the chaos, now poised across the battlefield with a clear look at the ork’s back. While the Uruk celebrated his triumph over Heidoran’s superior numbers, the archer nocked an arrow and raised it to the ready.

The rest of the field was already snickering. A rampage that wiped almost an entire unit being was about to be ended by a single arrow to the back during the ork's victorious roar. It would be heckling material for years.

But there is one more lesson in this story.

Releasing what should have been an arrow of glorious vengeance for his team and enormously hilarity for the realm, the archer watched on as the ork turned, too late, to face the last member of Heidoran. Unfortunately for the archer, in his eagerness to take the shot, the arrow misfired and plopped down only a couple feet from where he was standing. Whoops. 

After that, well, no amount of running could save him.

Rule 3: When you have the element of surprise, don’t miss!

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