On January 17, a horde of over 400 foam fighters and battle gamers will descend on Prado Regional Park near the San Gabriel Mountains of Chino, California for three days of camping, combat, and camaraderie at Battle for the Ring VI. While Battle for the Ring founder and coordinator Anastasia Nagel says that all signs point to the event surpassing 450 in attendance, for Nagel the magic number to beat is 407, which was the attendance at last year’s Chaos Wars in Idaho. By comparison, the fifth Battle for the Ring in 2013 drew 378. When not dishing it out in massive field battles, Belegarth and Dagorhir fighters will compete in tournaments, attend classes ranging from Great Weapons to Brewing to Embroidery, and party like it’s 1099. In 2013 Nagel took Battle for the Ring VI to Kickstarter and was successful in crowdfunding $3,685 for the event, which may soon be the largest Belegarth event west of the Mississippi. For anyone who missed the boat on the special Kickstarter admittance, $40 will cover the three days and four nights of camping and fighting.
Battle for the Ring VI Activities
Where: Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA
When: January 17-20, 2014
How Much: $40 Admission
At the heart of Battle for the Ring are the field battles and much like at SCA Wars, the prime fighting is reserved for the weekend. This year’s climactic, final battle is called the Siege of Barad’dur and will be fought on Sunday. It may feature a castle objective constructed out of patio posts and tarps to represent the Dark Tower of Mordor. Nagel, who fights under the game name of Anastasia of Chamonix, was a little hush-hush in describing the scenario, wishing to keep it a surprise for those attending, but elaborated that the final battle is a derivative of a bridge battle. The scenarios are the creations of Field Marshal Salvador Solis, or as he’s known in Belegarth circles, Darth Cheeseheart. To coincide with the fifth Battle of the Ring last year, Cheeseheart created a Battle of Five Armies scenario with forces fighting over Smaug’s treasure. Similarly the second Battle for the Ring featured a battle based on the Two Towers.
Even if they lack a thematic name or purpose, Darth Cheeseheart has been hard at work in planning all of the other unit battles that will unfold at BftR. He plans on staging other “castle-siege type games” as well as Capture the Flag with anywhere from two to eight teams. In another battlefield scenario, teams will work to transport an item across the field. With the short winter daylight hours and the limited time frame of only three days, for Nagel it’s important to get everyone out onto the field fighting at the same time, as opposed to Chaos Wars which is a week-long event that takes advantage of lingering summertime sunlight. Another highlight of Saturday will be the feast in the evening, which is included in the $40 admission. Catered by Porto’s Bakery, the feast will be a festive time to trade war stories over meat pies and chicken pies, not to mention stuffed potato balls, salad, fruit, and bread.
Bel Bowl and Aztec Football
While he’s not the creator of Aztec Football, Cheeseheart is particularly proud of his Bel Bowl Aztec Football tournament, describing it as his “baby”. Aztec Football features teams of 8-10 players taking turns on offense and defense, with the offense using a designated player as the “ball”. If the “ball” manages to make it through the goal markers (set approximately 15-20 feet apart), the team on offense scores a point. If he or she is thwarted, the teams switch sides, playing through three rotations of offense and defense. Fighters do not respawn when killed each turn, so careful tactical play is a necessity in the special battle game which allows armor, but not archery. And the Bel Bowl is popular! Salvador Solis expects 100-120 participants this year and describes Bel Bowl as “the most competitive fighting aspect of the entire event, with top-tier teams and fighters joining.” Part of the thrill of Bel Bowl is the pageantry of the parade that precedes the actual fighting with judges awarding points to teams in the parade based on costuming, intimidation factor, evocation of the Aztec/tribal theme, and originality. In keeping with its Aztec theme, the figurehead captains of the losing teams will be ceremonially “beheaded” at the end of each match. For the winning Bel Bowl team there is eternal glory… and belt favors. The belt favors will feature an Aztec design as well as the words “Bel Bowl 2014” to commemorate what will be a hard-fought victory.
The Dominance of Catalyst at Bel Bowl
The team to beat in 2014 already has Bel Bowl 2012 and Bel Bowl 2013 belt favors. With most members hailing from Oregon, Team Catalyst has won Bel Bowl two years in a row. In explaining their dominance Solis credited the unit’s leader Bhakdar as being “perhaps the best fighter in our entire region.” At 6’5” Bhakdar certainly looks the part of the ogre persona he plays in game. Teammate Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire elaborated on Catalyst’s past successes, “I guess our ‘secret’ is that the vast majority of us have been fighting together since high school or from the heyday of Babylon [in Bend, Oregon] where all of us lived or fought, sometimes two to three times a week. We know each other, our individual strengths and weaknesses and we know how to survive; it’s how we won every field battle at Chaos Wars XV, when we won the banner.” Staying true to their name, Catalyst has also catalyzed Aztec Football at the Bel Bowl through their heavy use of javelins, allowing them to strike at range.
Classes and Tournaments
Nagel is also proud of Battle for the Ring’s expanded class offerings. Now attending fighters from the rest of California, as well as Montana, Washington, Nevada, and Wyoming can take classes in Embroidery, Brewing, Belly Dancing, English Dancing, and Traditional Hand Drumming. Combat classes include Amtgard 101, Imbalanced Skirmish Tactics, Introduction to Reds (which are great weapons capable of “breaking” shields), Offensive Shield-Work, and Fundamentals of Archery, all taught by volunteers. Ever since Battle for the Ring grew out of being a day event at the UC Irvine campus, Nagel has turned to a growing team of volunteers to assist in pulling off the event. Nagel estimates that she has about 25 volunteers in charge of particular areas, whether they be Arts & Sciences classes or Security. These 25 in turn will have over a hundred volunteers toiling under them.
One such department volunteer is Aizen of the San Diego realm of Andor. Aizen will be overseeing all of Battle for the Ring’s daily tournaments which have a very narrow time frame, running from 12:00 to 1:00 on Friday and Saturday and beginning at 11:30 AM on Sunday. Besides the aforementioned Bel Bowl, the tournaments will cover Florentine (two weapons), Polearms, a Newbie Tournament for fighters of no more than a year’s experience, an armored melee-weapon Champions tournament, a 4 Man team tournament, and an Alpha/Omega tournament which forces veteran fighters to pair up with newbies.
Camp Open Houses
Another innovation for 2014 that Anastasia Nagel eagerly anticipates are the Camp Open Houses, which will begin at 6 PM on Friday night. Established camps have been invited to host an activity or to provide food for visitors and will be denoted by lanterns hanging outside their camp entrances. As the Empress of the Anduril Empire of Southern California, Nagel will be hosting an Alice in Wonderland-themed bash within BftR’s castle, taking the roll of the Mad Queen. Visitors will be made to switch chairs, much like musical chairs, except in this case, when the music stops, there will be a symbolic execution for the slow and chairless. Not to worry, the “dead” will also receive a consolation bag of candy.
Char of Blackwater needs no consolation. Instead he’s excited about the Blackwater camp as well as Bel Bowl, which he calls “a great scrap every year!” The Blackwater household will be hosting a Resurrection of Disco party for its Open House and includes members from several different units throughout Belegarth. Members bear a Blackwater house sash adorned with the group’s device, the rook. But there’s a group within the group: the fighting unit of House Blackwater is the Cult of Blackwater. Cultists are further denoted by their voodoo doll sashes. Somehow disco does figure into all of this as the Cult of Blackwater will be performing a sacred reincarnation ritual and drawing a spirit into a host body who will perform something akin to the “Indonesian Sanghyang trance dance. But with disco.” As if that weren’t enough, Blackwater also promises to add Voodoo zombis and loads of Kool-Aid to the mix.
For those who prefer earthier and heartier entertainment, the Germania camp will feature traditional medieval German food at their Open House and drew praise from Nagel for their “entirely period camp” that the nationwide group sets up. Rather than sleeping in mundane nylon tents from REI, Germanians sleep in shelters fashioned out of canvas and cook all of their food in cast iron pots. The group has been rehearsing its version of the popular Viking drinking song “Life Blood” to teach to camp visitors, as well as the board game hnefttafl.
The Dragon’s Inn: Tabletop Gaming
Speaking of board games, from 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM every evening there will be tabletop gaming indoors at the Dragon’s Inn. Gamers can level up in Munchkin or play other board and card games like Settlers of Catan, chess, Bang! or Cards Against Humanity. This year there will be a Magic: The Gathering draft tournament called The Wizard’s Duel which will span the length of Battle for the Ring with players drafting cards for $7 on Friday evening and culminating final battles on Sunday night. The tournament and game room are the domains of Anastasia Nagel’s real life husband, Brian Marion, who fights in Belegarth under the name of Golem. As for Nagel, she’s not a big tabletop gamer and describes herself as “the brutal combat one in the family”, fighting with her preferred sword and shield or “sword and board” as it is known in battle gaming and LARPing. The Prado Regional Park holds a special place in the couple’s hearts because they were married there in 2011 with their wedding even being a Belegarth game event.
Battle for the Ring VI “Celebrities” and BeyondGeek Documentary
In the real world he’s Dane Johns and a graduate student studying Medieval History, but in Belegarth his name is Sir Par. He’s also the president of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society and has been playing Belegarth since 2003 and he’s very, very excited about attending Battle for the Ring VI. As a knight, Sir Par has five squires under his tutelage including Salvador “Cheeseheart” Solis and is especially looking forward to his Squires’ Trial which he will run on Sunday morning, “testing their teamwork, leadership, and adaptability against some of the best fighters in the sport.” Sir Par will be coming down from his home realm of Rath in Boise, Idaho. Besides overseeing the overall corporate welfare of Belegarth, chairing its legislative War Council, and setting the national standards for qualified marshals, Sir Par also does a good bit of fighting as well and pointed out that he is always a “tournament win possibility” himself. Sir Par confirmed that should Battle for the Ring reach Anastasia Nagel’s estimation of 450 people, that it will be the second largest Belegarth event in the world, trailing behind Octoberfest which draws between 800-1000 Belegrim annually.
Thomas Hegstrom Oakey shares Sir Par’s enthusiasm for Battle for the Ring. More famously known as Elwrath, Hegstrom Oakey hails from Provo, Utah where he is a member of Ered Duath and said of Battle for the Ring, “I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it each year; it’s a infusion of new life after a dreary winter. I will go every year if possible.” In 2013, Elwrath was a critical member of the winning four-man team in the Four Horsemen tournament at the War of Reckoning in Southern Utah. His Elite Blood Falcons unit has won the first unit battle at Battle for the Ring for the last two years running as well, but Bel Bowl victory has eluded Elwrath at Battle for the Ring thus far. The Elite Blood Falcons Bel Bowl team has come in second place behind Catalyst for the last two years, so he will come to this year’s Battle for the Ring with a score to settle. The Elite Blood Falcons tend to live up to the first part of their name and are composed of individuals who pride themselves on being or trying to be, in Elwrath’s words, “top-tier fighters. We have had (and still do to some extent) a policy of only approaching and recruiting ‘elite’ fighters.” Founded 21 years ago in Tennessee by Ivan Darkspear, the Elite Blood Falcons have members throughout the country with pockets in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, and Idaho. As for the Elite Blood Falcons’ chances in the Bel Bowl this year – and especially against Catalyst – Elwrath admitted that Team Catalyst’s members “will make for a challenge no matter what kind of team I can muster to fight them. I do think we’ll have a better chance than ever before though.” A part of that better chance will be the right gear for the fight; Elite Blood Falcons’ opponents can expect a lot more armor from the team this year as well as javelins being thrown at them.
Peter the Quick is another visiting fighter who is famous within Belegarth circles and will be traveling all the way from the Numenor realm in the Champaign/Urbana area of Illinois. He will reunite with Catalyst’s Bhakdar, who was his former roommate in college. Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire of Catalyst estimates that Bhakdar and Peter the Quick are “in the top 2%” of fighters in the three most popular battle games of Dagorhir, Belegarth, and Amtgard. Peter the Quick has certainly had time to improve his fighting style; he began fighting in August, 2001 at Tir Asleen in Ames, Iowa. Peter the Quick looks forward to seeing old friends at BftR as well as meeting a whole new host of fighters with whom he has yet to cross blades. As for Peter the Quick’s legendary reputation, his Numenorian ally (and Forged Foam owner) Sir Galin attributes it to both his unparalleled skill in one-on-one combat within Numenor and his social skills. As Sir Galin says, Peter the Quick “takes the time to teach and build relationships with so many younger fighters.” Sir Par also did not take long in vetting Peter the Quick’s skill at arms, pointing out that Peter the Quick, Bhakdar, Elwrath, and a fighter named Shy who will be attending Battle for the Ring “are four of the top ten fighters in Bel.” What makes Peter the Quick so good? It turns out that “the Quick” part of his name isn’t ironic; “Peter the Quick is very fast,” said Sir Par, who then added “But his overall approach really revolutionized two weapon fighting” as well.
BeyondGeek Battle Gaming Episode
A documentary film crew from BeyondGeek will be following the Mallenorod Dagorhir group from the San Francisco Bay Area over the course of the weekend for an episode dedicated to the emerging sport of battle gaming. The episode’s host, Sage Michael, has been training with the Mallenorod chapter where he learned how to create his own foam boffer, as well as the basics of Dagorhir combat. According to series producer Joe Gillis, BeyondGeek is intended to air on PBS and may eventually be available via DVD. Gillis’ credits include Yard Crashers and Turf War on the DIY Network, as well as a stint on America’s Heartland on PBS. Each of BeyondGeek’s first season’s six episodes will focus on a single geeky topic for 30 minutes from JP Aerospace to World War II reenactors to the battle gamers represented by Mallenorod. Gillis and his seven man crew will be capturing a lot of the action on all three days of Battle for the Ring.
Belegarth and Dagorhir? Battle Gaming? Jump right in!
Though heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings, in both Belegarth and Dagorhir the focus is on martial prowess and skill at wielding foam boffer swords and shields, instead of cries of “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” The closest either battle game comes to magic is the seldom-used Healing Poem of Dagorhir, which Belegarth realms abandoned when they split off from Dagorhir in 2001. That’s not to say that there won’t be fantasy elements at Battle for the Ring. There will undoubtedly be players at Battle for the Ring who identify as goblins, trolls, and dwarves and though not every Dagorhim or Belegrim plays tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, almost every battle gamer has acted out an interest in fantasy by playing those games or World of Warcraft, League of Legends, or other fantasy video games.
The rules of Belegarth and Dagorhir have remained similar despite the Belegarth-Dagorhir split; in both rule sets, most battle games are over in 3-15 minutes and typically involve “killing” opponents by strikes to the torso. The head is an invalid target for melee strikes, while arms and legs count as limbs, lose two of them and it counts as a death. The rules of Belegarth are collected together to form the Belegarth Book of War, which is only seven pages long when viewed as a PDF. If seven pages are too much for any prospective fighters, Battle for the Ring will be offering three Intro to Belegarth combat classes throughout the weekend, providing ample opportunity for any new fighters to test their mettle and dive into battle gaming.