THE FOAM AND THE FURY: A GUIDE TO SWORDCRAFT
By Seth Ananda and Marianne McDade
Do you reminisce about your younger days of brandishing makeshift swords to defend the kingdom? Or maybe you still fantasise of being an archer in a band of fleet-footed elves, or a ruthless mercenary fighting for gold and glory?
If you can answer yes to any of the above, we have found what you are looking for, and it is a lot closer to home than you’d think.
You may have passed Princes Park around 8pm on Friday night, and been surprised to find hundreds of weapon brandishing knights, orcs, elves and other fantasy characters, embroiled in what could best be compared to Gandalf’s five armies battling the seven kingdoms for the iron throne. If rumours are to be believed there is one Swedish dragon character that – literally – breathes fire.
Our Northsider team went down to dispel the rumours and check out the northside’s very own Swordcraft event extravaganza.
WHAT IS SWORDCRAFT
“Swordcraft is a bunch of nice guys hitting each other with soft weapons,” said Tor from Sweden, who is most recently known as the Demon King but is best known for his elaborate costumes and on-field fire breathing.
Swordcraft or LARPing (Live Action Role Play) is a medieval live action battle game where players don costumes, and use foam weapons to compete against each other. The Parkville event was started by brothers Jeff and Phill Krins who were inspired to take the action from computer games into the real world.
“I wanted to create an activity where I could immerse myself, swing a sword for real and experience combat live and not through a computer screen,” said key organiser and Organisational Development Consultant, Phil Krins, 37.
Three years on, the event is attended by roughly 300 participants each week who turn up in elaborate dress and compete to achieve varying battle objectives. These could be a ‘capture the flag’ scenario, or a chess-style assassination of key participants, or ‘Total Annihilation’ which, as it sounds, is the indiscriminate slaughter of every member of the other team.
Kills are determined by a hit point system, which is in turn determined by armour and weapon style. Your aim is to eliminate your opponent’s points before they kill yours. Sounds simple enough, and it is. Except for when it isn’t. Once you hit the oval, it becomes apparent that you are not in Kansas anymore and that you have only just begun to scratch the surface of what it means to be a Swordcrafter.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Whatever you read or hear about Swordcraft, the only sure thing you can expect is surprise. The extent of detail that goes into to this event is truly extraordinary.
Each player has their unique character, and that character forms part of their group’s warband. Each warband has their own incredibly detailed identity, complete with a complex history that defines the ‘culture’ of their group, including social and political hierarchy. These identities often interact with each other to influence the outcome of the game.
“There is a geo-political game in the background, where warbands compete for resources and territory, but not every warband takes part. There are requirements,” said Daan, the 6ft axe-wielding leader of the Orcs, complete with full armour and prosthetic mask.
Currently there are 20+ warbands registered,, most with identities derived from folklore and actual historical eras.
“It’s a mash up of history and fantasy,” said Riyanna one participant from The Order warband.
The players that make up the warbands will often have a particular role in their group and their outfits reflect this position.
Hannah Gridley, 21, who is second command of the Briar Wolves, wears bone, beads, and feathers trinkets, as well as war paint. “Face paint tells a story for each warrior. Each mark means something…my face paint shows I am second in command, [that] I am a healer, and that I follow the guidance of the spirits.”
Swordcraft is one sport that is more about the players and the stories they create during the match, than about the result of the match itself. It’s about your presence on the field and how well you interact with the other players.
Luca David Mazon, 30, a forklift driver from Sunshine and elf from the Van Warren band, describes a good player as someone who is both a fierce and theatrical fighter.
“The more dramatic your death, or when you get shot in the leg with an arrow [the better]. It’s about being theatrical and fun and honest.”
What ever you do, don’t let the dress up fool you into trivialising this sport. We had a go – as if we wouldn’t – and it is a lot harder than it looks. Although the weapons may be made of foam, they are not flimsy. The hits do hurt, and it takes some serious skill and strength to be able to wield them properly.
WHERE TO START
The first thing that participants do when they arrive at the oval is to change into their character. They then sign up at the counter where they pay a small participant fee. First-timers are given a long sword and shield and escorted to a training area where they get some basic info for fun and safety.
The trainers do a fantastic job of explaining the rules and the point system, helping you to understand what to do throughout the event, and generally how not to be a “d**k on the field”. Integrity and honour are essential for the game to work, as players are responsible for counting their own hits and playing fair by not “swinging like a Muppet” and causing unnecessary injury. ‘Muppets’ are quickly found out and corrected with a taste of their own medicine. While a good hit might not lose you an arm, I don’t suggest motivating a more experienced player to ‘re-educate’ you on fair play.
After training, the nubes are taken onto the battleground to join the fight, and that is where the Swordcraft experience really begins.
One of the first things you’ll realise is there are many ways to battle. The equipment and weapons you use will dictate your personal style. If you decide to go with heavy armour, your play will probably entail a lot less running around. If you decide to be an archer, you’ll be keeping your distance so you can successfully sniper unwary opponents. If fighting is not your thing, you could decide to be a healer who hangs back and brings teammates back to life.
Once you figure out your preferred fighting style, it will be much easier choosing a warband that suits. The Bretons focus on heavily defended shield wall combat. The Elves focus on high mobility and archery. The North spends a lot of time skirmishing and mobbing the enemy en masse. Free Company – who is Swordcraft’s answer to sell swords – is a very ordered mobile infantry unit that specialises in different line fighting formations. The Undead manage the gore factor by fighting with severed limbs and leaving far-too-life-like amputated hands around the field.
Warbands are always angling for new recruits, but it is recommended that you ‘run’ with a few before choosing your permanent fit.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY SWORDCRAFT
If you still need reason to give Swordcraft a go, besides it being ridiculously awesome, it’s an event with a strong emphasis on fun, sociability, and community – and it’s great exercise! There is a wide variety of people who attend – from forklift drivers to English teachers to neuroscientists – each have their own motivations, but the intention to have fun is the same.
“As a history nerd, I’ve always wanted to re-enact and role-play different cultures throughout history. I’ve found a place where I can explore more of my favourite period of history,” said Acacia, a 22 year old from Hallam.
Stewie Carey, who introduces himself as “The Great Khan of The Empire of the Eastern Star – the highest rank,” said he would “prefer to spend 10 bucks and walk away with a night of fun” than waste the night getting drunk in a bar.
“It can be a good escape from reality without watching a movie,” said Tor, the friendly Demon King. ”We are a bunch of really happy, open-minded, friendly people. Don’t be afraid that you don’t know how it works or if you can’t swing a sword. Everyone is willing to teach you all they know, we all started out knowing nothing.”
Before your first night, it’s a good idea to go to the website where you can sign up and read the FAQ sheets and rules. We’ve included a list of helpful links on our online version. But don’t stress too much. Just turning up is enough!
Sword craft location:
Southern Pavilion of Princes Park, Parkville
Sign-in and armour up – 6.30-7.30pm
Training and warband drills – 7.30-8pm
Game 8-10 pm
Seth Ananda is a practicing animist, a witch, and a full time Dad. His passions are sorcery, social justice, parenting, and nature. Marianne McDade is Managing Editor of the Northsider and a new fan of Swordcraft.