Belegarth’s Battle for the Ring VI Set to Rule Them All January 17-20

Belegarth foam fighters clash in dusty Battle Game at Battle for the Ring V in Chino CA

Battle for the Ring Brings out the Best of Belegarth

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

What: Battle for the Ring VI
Where: Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA
When: January 17-20, 2014
How Much: $40 Admission
Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/603470826342638/

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

Combat Class schedule and tournaments from Battle for the Ring VI

BftR VI Has Many Combat Classes and Tournaments to Offer

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 Feasting Fighting Schedule

A Portion of Battle for the Ring VI’s Extensive Schedule

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

Still shot showing foam fighters from Dagorhir's Mallenorod chapter in a fighting line with female in front

From BeyondGeek: The Camera Follows Dagorhir’s Mallenorod

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.

The Incredibly Useful Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Clear rolls of Hugo's Amazing Tape with words Patent ApprovedWhile Hugo’s Amazing Tape bills itself as “the most VERSATILE, DURABLE and STRONGEST HOLDING tape in the WORLD!“, I have found that it at least lives up to its name and is really quite amazing and incredibly useful. Packaging for it shows the tape wrapped around a wrist “to help relieve arthritis pain”, keeping pipes held together, wrapped around luggage, and keeping a book opened to a specific page, but it is the tape’s organizational use (and not these “miraculous” uses) that has most impressed me. The patented secret to the tape is that it lacks adhesive and only adheres to itself.


The tape is amazing for any application where rubber bands (or string) might normally be used, namely keeping cards and game components together. Unlike string, yarn, ribbons, or rubber bands, Hugo’s Amazing Tape shouldn’t bite into your bundled material, because it has a larger surface area. In the case of rubber bands, which become brittle over time and are sensitive to the cold, the tape is again a winner. Hugo’s Amazing Tape is transparent and comes in Clear, Blue, and Purple varieties. It is sold in 2 inch, 1 inch, and 0.5 inch width rolls measuring 50 yards long, but for most gamer purposes I strongly suggest the moderate 1 inch roll. Getting the tape is a little tricky, because despite its many craft uses, I have not seen the tape sold locally at Joann’s or Wal-Mart. Instead, you can buy a roll directly from Hugo’s, or find it in stock at boardsandbits.com or at Amazon.com, of course.

A few pieces of advice for when you get your own: Do write on the tape with a Permanent Marker if you want to. Sometimes finding the end can be hard and a dot, arrow, or star can help you find it. The company advises that items should be wrapped “at least twice” in the tape, but for playing cards, 1.5 to 2 inches of excess tape snugly wraps most decks in my experience. When I dropped a 45-card Game of Thrones LCG Lannister deck from a height of over 25 feet, it didn’t split the deck open (or harm any Joffreys) with only two extra inches. For owners of Summoner Wars or Omen and for further insight into Hugo’s Amazing Tape from boardgamegeek.com users, please read this warning about potential damage to cards from the tape. In my own limited experience with the tape, I have yet to see any hazards.

Card, Board, RPGs, and Miniature Games


Gamers caught between using rubber bands and dedicated card boxes to keep cards organized, should take a long look at Hugo’s Amazing Tape. Because the tape is broad and does not contract or constrict like elastic, it lacks the bite of a rubber band which can mar card edges. Thus the tape is useful for managing small and moderately-sized collections of cards. The choice for the CCG/LCG player then becomes whether to use Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep a group of cards together or whether to store them in a cardboard or plastic deck box. Admittedly simply having cards taped together won’t protect them from a soda leak or other environmental hazards like a deck box might, but the tape has the advantage of not being confined to a set amount of cards, provided you were generous when you cut the tape the first time.

Board Gaming Uses

It’s this versatility of the tape that has seen it pressed into use by many board gamers who may only have sets of 5-10 cards to keep organized. Tired of your Guillotine decks getting mixed up? Do you hate how the Game of Thrones LCG Core Set has a tendency to spill the top cards of its four decks around? Hugo’s Amazing Tape is for you!

Almost invisible Hugo's Amazing Tape has been wrapped around Guillotine card deck to keep it organized. Colored arrow marks where tape ends

The Noble Deck and Action Deck for Guillotine Stay Separate with Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Games like Smash Up have dedicated card trays for their decks and Hugo’s Amazing Tape would be overkill on them, but even classics like Risk or Monopoly would benefit by having neat stacks of money, deeds, or army cards in the case of Risk. If you know any obsessive-compulsive types or anal-retentive neat freaks, you can probably get on their good side with a gift of the tape.

Stack of Game of Thrones LCG cards held together with Hugo's Amazing Tape

Game of Thrones LCG Cards Stay Neatly in Place Thanks to Hugo’s Amazing Tape

RPGs and Miniature Games

Of course, any other type of tabletop game that uses cards can benefit from the amazing tape. RPGs that use Fate decks like the TORG System or modern games like Pathfinder which has issued item decks can benefit from the use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep cards organized. Likewise, you can keep your Warmachine and Hordes cards together and grouped into individual faction-specific bundles with the tape. While many prefer nine-card plastic binder sleeves for storage and to review unit capabilities, making a travel “deck” using Hugo’s Tape may be the way to go, especially for older systems like Confrontation or AT-43 that actually use the cards to determine unit activation order. Lastly Hugo’s Amazing Tape is invaluable if you’re a gamer with a broad collection of miniatures which came with ability cards. Now Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures (and Chainmail), Star Wars Miniatures, Heroclix, and Pirates of the Spanish Main Crew and Ship cards can all be easily separated for storage.

LARPing

Spools of thread with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around them keeping threads confined

Thread is Neatly Wrapped Under a Layer of Hugo’s Amazing Tape

The most advertised use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape, as the back of the packing says, is “to prevent raveling and to keep dust and dirt off of” spools of embroidery thread. While I’ve not had too much experience with dirt and dust in my own brief attempts at stitching and sewing, I have had many spools unwind and get caught in or on something, which is always annoying, but never quite as bad as old audio cassettes. With this amazing tape however, I can easily put an end to any runaway threads. The tape could also be of use when assembling and gluing foam weapons to get an accurate dry fit without the possible tears to the foam from trying to temporarily use duct tape or any other adhesive tape. However for dry fitting weapons, I would probably just use rubber bands.

Most LARPs wouldn’t be complete without food and Hugo’s Amazing Tape could have a few culinary applications. I tested the claim that the tape is “Heat and Cold Resistant” by putting Guillotine cards wrapped in the tape in the freezer and several hours later the tape still functioned normally. To test its heat capacities, I wrapped some spaghetti in the tape and boiled it. Failing my Wisdom check, I ate a few bites of the spaghetti which came out perfectly. It was undercooked though closer to the center, where the stands had been forced together by the tape. Despite initially having a whitish residue from the whole wheat pasta, the tape retained its self-adhering properties and regained most of its clarity.

Leftmost picture of spaghetti with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around, next picture raw spaghetti where tape was used, then Game of Thrones cards held together by the tape

The Tape Survived Boiling and Is Still Usable But Left Covered Areas of Spaghetti Raw

Modeling Uses

Hugo’s Amazing Tape may also be of minor use for some miniature modeling purposes. If a project requires extreme delicacy, involves broad surfaces, and the need for keeping multiple parts pressed together while glue or epoxy sets, Hugo’s Amazing Tape may be the perfect solution. For certain soft modeling materials like balsa wood, bass wood, or foam, Hugo’s Amazing Tape could be used to prevent telltale rubber band impressions.

Summary of Hugo’s Amazing Tape for Gamers

Obviously I have become a huge fan of this amazing product. To recap, Hugo’s Amazing Tape is reusable, non-adhesive, and offers great utility and has a strong grip with little to no bite. While I would always prefer a lower cost, 50 yards for around $11.99 won’t break any banks. Now to test some of those bolder packaging claims!

Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages: Photography in the SCA

As a recent immigrant to the Knowne World of the Society for Creative Anachronism and a fairly new convert to LARPing one of the potential issues I’ve encountered is taking pictures at costumed events. While many can disregard a camera pointing at them (and in fact, want their pictures taken), some participants at LARPs and SCA events find the mere presence of a camera to be jarring and a disruption. If Alexandre Franchi and Mark Krupa had to disguise their movie camera at the Bicolline site in Canada for The Wild Hunt, what might be expected of me at an SCA war? Fortunately there is an eBook on the subject, Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages: A Quick Guide to Photography within the Society of Creative Anachronism, available for Kindle readers on Amazon.com

That is, once the reader successfully makes it through the number of glaring spelling errors and typos that riddle Soul Stealing. Perhaps author Carl Trinkle, or as he is known in the SCA, William “Cookie” Barfoot, will be able to edit the multitude of errors out. One early sentence reads, “There are probably thousands deferent types, models and formats of cameras out there.” Another reads, “That lens has limited zoom capabilities and you there is no option for you if you want to improve your lens.” There is the misspelling of the birthplace of the SCA as “Berkley” instead of Berkeley, and then “out” for “our”, “cleaver” for “clever”, “grantee” for “guarantee”, and so on. Not to belabor the point, but, “There is hundreds of photo sharing website out there.” is just one of the many dozens of errors that permeate this 44-page work and speak to the lack of editing. Even the title differs from the Amazon store to within the eBook: Soul Stealing in the Current Middle Ages versus Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages.

Getting past the myriad typos and grammatical errors, Trinkle has a breezy, conversational tone with the occasional humorous aside. For the most part it works, but in reality, the “book” could really better be considered several in-depth blog posts or the sort of how-to that tends to appear pinned to the top of a board in online forums. From what I can see in the 22 photographs accompanying the text, Carl Trinkle is a talented SCA photographer, but the pictures are too tiny (generally around 320 by 200 pixels) and too few in number. The digital medium of Kindle would seem to be perfect for reproducing full color pictures that might be costly to print in a traditional book. There are also no comparisons between two similar pictures diagramming what is good about one picture’s lighting or composition and what is wrong with another. Even at only $2.99 for its 44 pages, this is just too little.

Small SCA pictures of children fighting and text from eBook Soul Stealing

Relative Size of Tiny Pictures to Text in Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages

Sections in Soul Stealing

What Trinkle does include are sections on cameras, light/aperture/ISO, equipment, and etiquette. Trinkle admits to being an anachronism himself because despite owning an iPad and advocating having a smart phone, he still shoots in 35mm and 120mm film. After going over his own cameras (including plastic disposable cameras which Trinkle employs for their ability to occasionally get surprisingly great shots), Trinkle leaps into exposure, f-stops, aperture, and ISO. Here he uses a truly SCAdian analogy to explain “how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together” that goes on for pages using terms like “ISO War Band”, “House of Aperture’s shield wall”, and “Autocrat Meter”. I found it bewildering, but his love of the SCA is always apparent.

The Kit: Equipment

Linen three-buttoned Jas Townsend and Sons haversack from 1800s

The Jas Townsend and Sons Linen Haversack

Trinkle’s section on equipment is where he really shines, though he worries aloud about advertising specific products, writing that he does not “mean to sound like a commercial”. He shoots with a 28mm-75mm zoom lens and a 75mm-300mm telephoto lens. He keeps these lenses, his film, iPad, and snacks in a “natural linen harvest sack” from Jas Townsend and Sons “that passes for a pilgrim’s bag or whatever you want to call it. Yes, it is strictly not period for the SCA timeline, but it is close enough for most people besides Laurels to not take notice.”


He also suggests a note pad to record subjects’ contact information and photographic settings, an 18% grey card to find the right exposure setting, and UV filters to protect the expensive lens in the event of a camera fall. There is the humorous suggestion of a dagger (“What if you are attacked by barbarians or corsairs or a bear or something?”) as well as many other mundane objects like Ziploc bags, duct tape, and a flashlight. He covers the basics, but then suggests possibly bringing the intriguingly-named “slave lights” without explaining just what slave lights are. Trinkle does wax poetic though about the flexible JOBY GorillaPod and points out that “the knock offs of the GorillaPod are not worth wasting your money on.”

Etiquette, Camera Disguises, and More

Trinkle next weighs the merits of the perfect photo versus ruining the moment for others at a event by the use of flash photography. Curiously he doesn’t touch upon blocking other photographers’ shots or the views of the attending populace, but he does point out possible legal issues for some members’ photos being taken including professional performers and those in law enforcement. Trinkle advises, “if you have to take that picture because every photographic fiber in your body says this is the picture of all pictures, I say take it. Then learn how to grovel really fast.”

Picture divided into nine sections to illustrate rule of thirds

Trinkle’s Example of the Rule of Thirds

Trinkle briefly mentions that other photographers use disguises for their cameras, but eschews the practice himself. Detailing that some people dress up their cameras and tripod as very skinny women is entertaining, but there is no photographic evidence of the practice and besides suggesting hollowing out a book to use as camouflage, Trinkle disappointingly has little to offer in this area. He moves on to actually taking pictures, making the most of early light near dawn, and gives an example of the Rule of Thirds using some household banners or personal devices. If Soul Stealing stuck closer to such examples, it would be much more useful.

Trinkle rounds out the book with an admonition to practice and experiment, as well as the suggestion that would-be photographers learn the rules of Heavy Combat to be able to take the best pictures (and avoid danger). Rapier combat should not be neglected though, Trinkle warns, as well as Arts and Sciences projects. Night time photography and portrait photography are also touched upon as well as photo-editing software. His parting advice is worth repeating: “Take pictures of all your events, we love to see them. Just remember not to ruin the dream for anyone by your picture taking. Sometimes it is better to miss the picture, but keep the memory.”

Final Thoughts on Soul Stealing

As it stands, Soul Stealing is an incomplete and error-laden work. Actual members of the SCA will benefit more from collegium classes on photography if available or by joining a photographers’ guild than by purchasing Trinkle’s work. Even an experienced photographer with a detachable lens spotted at an event will probably yield just as much valuable information. This is, after all, the SCA; members are generally friendly, courteous, and love to help others. However if none of those resources are available or you are the photographer in a LARP group struggling with how to take better pictures, Soul Stealing may prove to be helpful. At only $2.99, it will be one of the lowest costs you will incur in the SCA (or in LARPing for that matter).

Ultimately the most important question for any informational book or video has to be asked: has Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages increased my understanding or knowledge of photography in the SCA? No, not significantly. It is a $2.99 reminder of what I learned in an hour-long SCA photography class, but it did point me towards several useful pieces of equipment that I might soon acquire.

Photographs and text from Soul Stealing in the Modern Middle Ages are copyright Carl Trinkle and used without permission under Fair Use doctrines of criticism and commentary.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Book cover with medieval illumination for TIme Traveller's Guide to Medieval EnglandI’d like to think that I’ve gotten a lot out of my world travels, but in my visit to Japan, Shinto shrine blended into Shinto shrine. European castles vary, but only so much. Is one walled town so different from the next? Don’t get me started on Baroque and Rococo palaces. There is always a sense of place, but not necessarily of those who lived and died there. How did these people actually live? In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer provides a captivating answer for the English living from 1300 to 1400. Mortimer writes of Geoffrey Chaucer, that “he can make the people come alive, with all their desires, fears, deceitfulness, lustfulness, and cheating.” But Mortimer’s description is just as apt for his own writing and because he does breathe life into 14th century England, I recommend his guide to any English teacher aiming for a better understanding of Chaucer, student of history, or fan of Braveheart, as well as to any tabletop gamer or LARPer.

Beginning with his description of Shitbrook, the refuse-laden stream on the outskirts of Exeter, Mortimer unlocks the door to a treasure trove of medieval body functions. How one goes to the bathroom in a different place or time is really one of the most common questions we all have. In the case of medieval lords, Mortimer remarks, “wherever you go, a neat pile of wool or linen will be provided for you to “wipe your nether end.” Some great lords insist on cotton but it is not always available.” Life is different aboard a ship with Mortimer outlining diversions at sea, but he returns to the subject of relieving oneself and concludes that below decks on a ship, “Every storm has seen men and women emptying their stomachs, souls, and bowels down here in darkness and fear.” Occasionally Mortimer gets a little dry, such as when cataloguing merchants’ town house goods, but he gets juicy when describing surgeons, such as John of Alberne who pioneered surgical cleanliness as well as a method of “curing anal fistula, a nasty affliction following abscesses in the colon which particularly affects men who have spent too long riding in wet saddles…” Another medical highlight is provided in a quote from the physician John Mirfield on a remedy for tuberculosis: “take blind puppies, remove the viscera and cut off the extremities, then boil them in water, and bathe the patient in this water…” On the whole, Mortimer’s writing retains a conversational and informative flow with some occasional humor. In his chapter on medieval medicine he writes:

So, as long as you can get enough to eat, and can avoid all the various lethal infections, the dangers of childbirth, lead poisoning, and the extreme violence you should live a long time.
All you have to worry about are the doctors.

Role-Playing and Gaming Connections

Besides a brief mention of popular medieval games, Mortimer’s book has little to do directly with gaming itself. But since medieval Europe – England in particular – is the basis for most of Western fantasy, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is a great study in improving the earthiness and sense of reality for role-playing games. Even within the first paragraph of Ian Mortimer’s introduction he poses questions familiar to any role-player after first setting the scene of a dusty London street:

The wooden beams of houses project out over the street. Painted signs above the doors show what is on sale in the shops beneath. Suddenly a thief grabs a merchant’s purse near the traders’ stalls, and the merchant runs after him, shouting. Everyone turns to watch. And you, in the middle of all this, where are you going to stay tonight? What are you wearing? What are you going to eat?

As for those medieval games and pastimes Mortimer details campball (football/soccer), tennis, archery, and wrestling. More intriguingly he categorizes cockfighting as an interest of boys and girls and describes cockbaiting as “throwing sticks and stones at a tethered chicken.” This is the child’s version of bearbaiting and bullbaiting, in which adults attack those animals with sticks and sic dogs on them. As for dice games, Mortimer states that they, “are are enormously popular”, which is also indicative of his present-tense style used throughout the guide to present the facts of medieval England to the reader as if he or she were really present. The last games described are board games including an early form of backgammon called tables, nine men’s morris, and checkers. Mortimer points out to his modern audience that the rules of chess differ between then and now with queens only moving one square and bishops moving only two squares at a time. These pieces were also known by different names, prime ministers and elephants respectively.

World Building for Fantasy Authors and GMs

Back in 1989 TSR released Cities of Mystery for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, featuring several dozen card stock buildings and double-sided city street maps. The box also came with a great city guide written by Jean Rabe for GMs to design their own fantasy towns and cities. How did the town come to be? How has it grown? Who guards it? The Time Traveller’s Guide is a great compliment to Rabe’s hard work. Both cover much of the same ground, but in different veins with Rabe quantifying and randomizing a town’s dimensions and occupants in true D&D percentile fashion. Mortimer is much more personal and personable, putting a human face on many medieval problems. Rabe’s prohibition on the smellier occupations, like tanning, are best explained by Mortimer. His Borough Ordinances of Worcester list includes “The entrails of butchered beasts and pails of blood are not to be carried away by day but only by night.” and “No saddler, butcher, baker, or glover, nor any other person, may cast entrails, “filth of beasts’ dung”, or dust over Severn Bridge. Also no one may shave flesh, skins, or hides but above the bridge…” In our sanitized world it is easy to forget how leather gets created or how steak gets to the plate, but in medieval society neighbors affected by the processes of tanning and butchering had to deal with their side effects on a daily basis. That the medieval English were concerned about hygiene, sanitation, and cleanliness despite ignorance of germ theory is shown by their laws and ordinances. It’s also one of Mortimer’s few reoccurring themes: the similarities between past and present and withholding judgement on our ancestors. As he puts it, “Of course they are not all filthy. Many are proud of the clean state of their houses – like their modern counterparts – regardless of the judgments of people in six hundred years’ time.” After reading through Mortimer, a GM will probably question and improve on many of the basic realities of his fantasy setting. To put it more bluntly, he or she will have to decide where the high elves crap. Do prostitutes denote themselves with a special color (yellow hoods, in the case of the historical English)? Fantasy rules for peace-bound weapons abound, but what about gate and bridge tolls?

The Time Traveller’s Guide has a more specific use for GMs as well. Those dry tables of 14th century values collected from tax reports listing folding tables, brass pots, and basins are reminiscent of the equipment sections of any Player’s Handbook. While there are only a handful of weapons and armor priced out, Mortimer has the appraised values covering many other areas. A GM (or even a fantasy author) could compile the values in a spreadsheet and compare the prices to arrive at a ratio-based understanding of how a sword’s price (1-2 shillings) compares to a roast goose (7 pennies) compared to a packhorse’s price (5-10 shillings). Mortimer also details wages, inn stays, and quite importantly, fines. Don’t worry, the odd monetary system of the English is covered in Mortimer’s chapter on measurement so you can convert between pounds, shillings, pennies, and stranger denominations with a little effort. Keeping in mind the economic turmoil created by the Black Plague and many other factors, an industrious Game Master can create a table of ratios for use in any fantasy RPG with a setting like medieval England.

Food and Clothing: Medieval England for LARPs, the SCA, and Re-Enactors

While tabletop GMs will reward their players with close attention to Mortimer’s chapters on clothing and food, the two chapters are essential reading for Society of Creative Anachronism members and LARPers. Besides the costuming, most good SCA/LARP events feature food. Great events feature drink of the alcoholic variety! Throughout his guide, Mortimer presents information on the three estates of England, the peasantry, townsfolk and gentry, and the nobility. The nobility are further divided into the clergy and the secular, with occasional special mention of royalty. Just like your clothing or domicile, what you would eat or drink in 14th century England is based on your estate. Wine and spirits were limited to the well-off while the prices of ale and bread, as staples of townsfolk, were heavily regulated. Rural peasants made their own. Mortimer focuses a lot of attention on the rarity of meat, which was normally limited to four days a week due to church edicts, and the corresponding association of meat as a status symbol. While his descriptions might make a chef drool at the variety of spices and fruits on offer, what was actually included in the category of fish caught my attention. Besides whales, “seals, porpoises, dolphins, barnacle geese, puffins, and beavers are all classed as fish as their lives begin in the sea or in a river.” The prohibition on eating meat was taken quite seriously, Mortimer notes, so these sources of protein were “eaten gleefully” on the 194 or 195 days of the year when only fish were allowed.

Mortimer’s 19 pages on medieval clothing are the most engaging that I’ve read on the subject, having thumbed through a dozen or so costume books. Using the same structure of the three estates, Mortimer notes the contrasts between the dress of paupers, yeomen, and noblemen. More importantly, he lists the clothing regulations established by the Sumptuary Laws of 1363 which actually restricted the lowly-born from dressing above their station. Mortimer also traces the considerable changes in both men’s and women’s fashions in 14th century England. Ever wondered about those odd pointy shoes so similar to those worn by court jesters? Read The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England and Mortimer will satisfy your curiosity and introduce you to the ridiculous twenty-inch Crackow, which was the footwear equivalent of a Humvee in its day.

DVD: The Dungeon Masters (2008)

Blue skinned cartoon drow on cover of 2008 DVD Jacket of The Dungeon MastersThe Dungeon Masters is a depressing documentary from 2008 about the depressing lives of three gamers. In form and style, The Dungeon Masters is everything a documentary should be. The visuals are excellent, with good establishing shots, steady camerawork, and zero confusion in transitions. As far as content and its subject matter, The Dungeon Masters is deceptively titled, especially for existing gamers who would imagine that the movie might actually capture what the role of being a Dungeon Master or Game Master is all about. The movie doesn’t go there. There aren’t topics like “Dealing with Problem Players” or “How I Became a DM”. Even if “Dungeon Master” is taken to be about being a master of Dungeons & Dragons, the title is way off and sure to arouse the ire of even casual D&D players.

The only parts of The Dungeon Masters I can recommend are the opening Gen Con sequence and the filming at a LARP in Mississippi for four minutes. Otherwise the movie has little to do with gaming and too much to do with the dysfunctional lives of its three subjects. Even though it is only an hour and 27 minutes, The Dungeon Masters has the emotional impact of Sam and Frodo’s trek through Mordor and seems like a much longer film. At the same time, director Keven McAlester and editor Christine Khalafian vary the shots and cut between the subjects enough that the despair and loneliness never get tedious. Just when you think that you have a handle on each GM’s life and problems, there’s another horrible revelation or another misfortune waiting in the wings. Having seen it multiple times now, I would rather watch Precious or The Human Centipede again before I shoulder the burden of another viewing of The Dungeon Masters. Comic relief is sparse, unless you are laughing at gamers’ expense. By comic relief, I mean that I chuckled when I saw that some school children were following the costumed Scott Corum along outside his son’s school, obviously fascinated by his strange outfit.

Keven McAlester’s film is so unflattering to its subjects and gaming as a whole that I give credence to claims that McAlester may have approached and edited the film with an agenda other than portraying the truth, but that is a subject for another day.

Gen Con

The first 13 minutes of Dungeon Masters is a captivating look at the three GMs in the context of the 2006 Gen Con and manages to capture as much of Gen Con in that brief time as Hobocon does in its entirety. The gloom of the rest of the movie is also absent in the Shangri-La that is Gen Con. Besides introducing the three DMs, there are interviews with many other gamers, gamers who do not appear later in the movie. For the most part, it’s also the most colorful and action-packed part of The Dungeon Masters, as the camera focuses on costumed attendee after costumed attendee, Gen Con’s opening balloons, and Cardhalla in an accurate encapsulation of the Best 4 Days of Gaming.

The LARP Segment

“When you played Cops and Robbers, you were LARPing. When you were playing dress up with your mom’s clothes, you were LARPing. When you were hiding them from your mom after you were done, you were LARPing and learning how to lie, which is a great LARP skill.”

– Jeffrey Ingram

The LARP segment is much briefer at only four minutes or so, but also embodies the sights and sounds of a LARP. Based on the reference to a Celestial column of magic and the called damage, the Live Action Role-Playing sequence seemed like a NERO LARP or an offshoot, which in fact it is. The LARP is Cerroneth, which is part of the SOLAR rules system. LARPer Jeffrey Ingram describes LARPing inclusively: “When you played Cops and Robbers, you were LARPing. When you were playing dress up with your mom’s clothes, you were LARPing. When you were hiding them from your mom after you were done, you were LARPing and learning how to lie, which is a great LARP skill.” In particular, I love how the camera captures the PCs spilling out of the tavern, surging forward as they do battle with the four undead who have come to harass the town. The drow of The Dungeon Masters, Elizabeth Reesman abandons playing her character to serve as a Monster Marshall; it would have been great if she had been asked to compare GMing tabletop games with GMing a LARP, but the closest the movie comes is Reesman’s love interest Jack Penton’s praise for her devotion as a DM.

The Dungeon Masters Themselves

GMing and role-playing are deeply personal and criticisms of one’s RP can be devastating. Players’ creative and intellectual reputations can be on the line. With that said, I have to imagine that any tabletop gamer watching The Dungeon Masters has had more meaningful and entertaining roleplay than the scant bit the film portrays. These are not masters of their craft. I think they would say as much themselves, despite their vanity. Role-playing is ultimately about FUN. D&D didn’t sell millions of copies without being fun, yet none of that is apparent watching the film’s three GMs at work.

Richard Meeks

Seattle-based Richard Meeks has what appears to be the most stable home life, working a 9 to 5 in the King County Waste Water Treatment Division and serving as a US Air Force reservist one weekend a month. His second wife doesn’t share his interest in gaming, much less seem interested by it. Meeks ranges from eccentricity to downright villainy. What will viewers remember him for? His nudist lifestyle, the emotional abandonment of his stepchildren from his first marriage, or for being a self-important party-killing DM? Meeks describes his party’s encounter with a Sphere of Annihilation as, “somebody got stupid and just decided to run through a door.” This is punishment from the DM though because Meeks “was just really mad that they were being so greedy” and therefore put an end to 7 real life years of adventuring for his Florida players. The camera catches Meeks’ journey out to Florida years later as he makes amends with a final game, letting his former players save the world of Greyhawk. Later though he sends a pissy email to his Washington players ending his campaign with them.

“You do not play Dungeons & Dragons to win or lose it in the Monopoly sense… You play the game for the experiences that you’re going to go through, not where it’s going to end up.”

– Scott Corum

I have only encountered Meeks’ brand of GMing once and it came as a shock. For most role-players, Scott Corum’s description of RPGs is accurate: “You do not play Dungeons & Dragons to win or lose it in the Monopoly sense… You play the game for the experiences that you’re going to go through, not where it’s going to end up.” Despite what Meeks says to the contrary about a GM not flaunting his power, for Meeks it is about winning or losing. His gamer friend questions whether he’s going to kill the party as Meeks reviews a Greyhawk module on public transit; he smirks in response. “Because If I don’t kill you by midnight then I haven’t done my job,” Meeks threatens his Washington players. While player death is a great motivator, for Meeks it seems to go much deeper psychologically. “But if I really wanted to, I could kill any of you and I know that,” he has to point out to his players, who admittedly seemed to be enjoying themselves. One of his Florida players finds this style to be fun, saying “Richard is a very entertaining Game Master. He has a real knack for making the player characters feel that they’ve accomplished something in some way.” In character taunts are one thing, but most players I know would have nothing to do with a GM who taunts them out of character.

Scott Corum

Scott Corum overlaps with Richard Meeks in his own grandiosity. The creative and charming Corum is shown working on his modern day fantasy adventure book manuscript throughout the film. He also pursues his own program on the local cable access show in Torrance, CA. Besides a Strategicon DM t-shirt, Corum also has plenty of stories, divulging his teenage nickname “Sherlock”, his $50,000 in educational loan debt, and a background in puppetry. McAlester captures moments of domestic strife between Scott Corum and his more down-to-earth wife. When they’re not disagreeing with each other on camera, Corum has to ask whether the family can afford $20 so he can get new shoes at Payless. This trouble is compounded by his close attachment to one of his player’s wives, which comes to a head on camera when the player confronts his wife about something involving her “best friend” Corum. Corum is vague about what the exact trouble is. These unflattering moments could be studied in a psychology or sociology class and the term “emotional affair” might be used.

Corum is full of hopes and literary dreams, shedding tears when literary agent Denise Dumars telling him that she fell out of her chair after her professional reader read seven page’s of Corum’s book and told her “Buy it! The people who love The Da Vinci Code will love it.” Dumas continues to blow smoke up Corum’s ass, praising the first hundred pages of With a Single Wish Forever as “really, really good.” She goes on to relate a meeting she’s supposedly had with a Del Rey acquisitions editor who is looking for a series of books to buy and how she was thinking “Three book deal!” Consequently Corum praises her as the best agent in the world. In true Dungeon Masters fashion though, she calls and informs Corum that she hates his book. How she couldn’t have realized that from the first 100 pages, if she’d actually read them, is beyond me.

Elizabeth Reesman

It’s easy to forget that Elizabeth Reesman is a Dungeon Master, since only two minutes of her DMing are ever shown in the documentary. Instead McAlester focuses on her drow alter ego and her pillows stained with her black makeup. Living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Reesman is recovering from Hurricane Katrina and there’s many shots of her environment to remind us of how far from cleaned up the region was in 2006. Why does Reesman play World of Warcraft in her full drow makeup in a motel room, the viewer may wonder as she does just that on screen. It’s one of the more puzzling scenes in the movie that hints at a fuller untold story. Almost every segment featuring Reesman, in fact, seems to center around her costuming and her putting her makeup on. Despite two boyfriends’ praise of Reesman’s gaming skills, she is never treated as Meeks’ or Corum’s gaming equal, though she shares in their cup of misery. Reesman’s ex-husband was violently abusive and she had a miscarriage the day after her wedding. She also fends off her employer’s sexual harassment and has trouble finding new employment.

The Mirror of The Dungeon Masters

Don’t we all know some fellow gamers like the three in The Dungeon Masters? If your pool of acquaintances is large enough, Meeks, Corum, and Reesman should be vaguely familiar. These are all people I would game with, even PK-happy Meeks. I have questioned when exactly it is that some gamer friends see their wives or children or have been startled to learn that they actually have them in the first place. I’m open to the idea that one of the reasons I might dislike The Dungeon Masters and find it so disheartening is that it hits fairly close to home. Meeks and Corum are both self-important and vain; I share in their egotism. I have ended a D&D campaign angrily, frustrated by competing distractions and I have to admit that in his aspirations, Scott Corum is a kindred spirit. Hell, I love UHF and have even dreamed of my own horrible public access TV shows over the years. Fortunately I just don’t have a documentary film crew capturing me at my worst (I leave that to my own writing).

In the end, I would rather escape and laugh along as fictional characters’ lives fall to pieces in movies like Observe and Report, Super, and Foot Fist Way than watch reality play out on screen as it does in McAlester’s film. The Dungeon Masters is worth visiting once, but then belongs safely below ground, locked away like the Tomb of Horrors that it is.

Cosplay at Combat Con 2012

While there were many armored and costumed warriors and Western martial artists at Combat Con in Las Vegas, some of the attendees were dressed up purely for their own enjoyment and not for practical reasons such as absorbing longsword blows. Indeed one of the target audiences for Combat Con besides WMA traditionalists and gamers are cosplayers, with a healthy number of vendors catering to steampunk and fantasy costume play. There were also several panels offered involving costume play at the convention; I attended “Weapons of Cosplay” and “Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper”. Whether used to improve one’s garb for LARPing or battle gaming or even to enhance a regular tabletop RPG session, the cosplay community has a lot of knowledge to offer the gaming community.

Three scantily-clad women cosplaying as barbarians in furs and leather in the Combat Con Vendors' Hall

Cosplay Panelists, Connettes, and Barbarians!: (L to R) Sami Miller, Sara Warner, and Jillian Saint

Weapons of Cosplay

Both of the cosplay panels I attended had mostly the same panelists and were somewhat sparsely attended. The “Weapons of Cosplay” panel ended up spilling out past the topic of weapons exclusively to encompass all cosplay costume considerations with prop master David Baker from Deadliest Warrior and the Hollywood Combat Center lending his considerable cinematic experience and expertise, joined by cosplayers Sara Warner, Sami Miller, and cosplay newcomer Jillian Saint who comprised the cosplay group The Connettes.

David Baker holding a metal spear with sharp edges at a 2012 Combat Con cosplay panel

Propmaster David Baker with Spear

A self-proclaimed “lover of metal”, David Baker makes real working weapons, but also a number of props or fakes. “Harbor Freight is your friend,” he advised, citing an investment at the store of $600 as a good, strong start into making your own weapons and props, including getting a scroll saw. For Baker copper and brass are easy to work with and dedicated cosplayers should learn how to solder. The bottoms can be cut out of 5 gallon plastic buckets and an $8 heat gun from Harbor Freight can be used to shape the plastic to the desired effect for armor or plastic components. Baker is fond of Bondo, an all-purpose bonding adhesive and proclaimed that, “God made Bondo. It’s proof that there is a god.”

Baker also pointed out how useful styrofoam, paper mache, foamcore, and PVC pipe can be in making prop weapons and that cosplayers shouldn’t look down their noses at these more pedestrian materials. Besides the expense of getting glue or Bondo which can end up being more expensive than the materials they are adhering to, for Baker the real expense is time. He explained that if he sells a weapon that it took him 20 hours to make for $200 that he would be back to making $10 an hour. His steampunk pistol, seen below, was entirely hand-crafted out of common, everyday parts, the crystal included.

David Baker showing a crystal-powered steampunk pistol at the 2012 Combat Con

Deadliest Warrior Prop Master and Weaponsmith David Baker Showing His Steampunk Pistol

Copyright Issues

The question of copyrights and copyright infringement came up with members of the audience contributing examples of cases they had heard prosecuted. David Baker expressed that he doesn’t make exact duplicates for clients, but instead makes weapons in the style or fashion of an existing weapon, such as Loki’s staff in the The Avengers and Thor. Though it’s not a cosplay weapon, the example of a modeler selling kits of the Doombuggies from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride was brought up; in short order Disney had sent letters and lawyers were calling the man, ending his venture.

Practical and Safety Considerations

Someone pointed out that an important consideration for conventions is lightweight weaponry, because the cosplayer will have to cart the weapon around, in which case real steel or iron would be a detriment. Cosplayers must also be prepared to stop for pictures. Smart costumes, especially for women, will have pockets or another means of storage. Utility belts are excellent if the costume allows one. More importantly, cosplayers should ask themselves “Can I take a poop in it?” J.P. Dostal from Duel at Dusk Productions brought up the recent Labyrinth of Jareth and the need to consider the footprint for any outfit (or weapon). Apparently many women in elaborate ball gowns with hoops have the annoying habit of eating up doorways, if they can even squeeze through. Many costumes, such as Duel at Dusk’s four-legged Egress which resembles a landstrider from Dark Crystal, aren’t suitable for some convention floors (such as Comic-Con’s) and crowded vendor halls.

The talk then moved to the more important topic of safety for weapons. Cosplayers should consider how they will secure their weapons because not every convention or gathering will have a weapons check. Combat Con did; for a nominal fee of $1 or $2, Combat Con attendees could leave their weapons at the weapons check in the Vendors’ Hall, much as one might check a coat at a museum or theater. For those with an Airsoft without an orange or red tip, there could still be municipal laws resulting in fines (if not being actually mistakenly shot by law enforcement). Overall cosplayers should know their own gear and ensure that they have no ammunition for missile weapons to avoid any problems. For those with melee weapons, a great suggestion was to simply use a sheath with a handle since there is typically no reason to draw a blade.

There were further admonitions on safety, particularly pointing guns in faces or even putting one’s finger on the trigger of a fake gun is a big faux pas in the world of cosplay. Safety considerations even extend to corsetry, which can deprive the wearer of oxygen and blood flow. More humorously, they can lead to heavy flatulence once removed, we were informed. Keeping on the topic of gasses, especially when gluing together a respirator or gas mask for a costume, cosplayers should allow 72 hours for any glues to set, so they aren’t breathing in dangerous fumes.

Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper

I caught the tail end of “Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper” on Sunday, finding out that Sara Warner had spent $3500 on her Jack Sparrow costume including $700 for the deerskin coat alone. However the effects of her costume and her transformation into the Pirates of the Carribean character were so convincing that Sara was repeatedly mistaken for a man when in costume. One day during a grueling convention she kicked her boots off to give her feet a break, eliciting a comment from another convention attendee, “Wow, you have beautiful toes. If you weren’t a dude, I would totally suck those toes.” While this anecdote had us all laughing, the subject of costume authorship came up. Not surprisingly taking credit for a costume that others made for you is a big no-no in the world of cosplay. At the very least the tailor or seamstress is unlikely to work with you in the future. Warner is always quick to attribute her costume to its actual maker and suggests it as a rule of ettiquette.

Three attractive female cosplayers sitting at a table at the Cosplay panel at Combat  Con

The Connettes at One of Combat Con’s Cosplay Panels

Another surprising way cosplayers can shell out the big bucks is by politely approaching Hollywood professionals for bleeding edge makeup and prosthetics. While Halloween is a busy season for professional makeup artists, many will take on commissions during their off-seasons in between movie shoots for those willing to pay for the ultimate in costuming. For those without the money, Zappos.com was pointed to as a good source for inexpensive footwear and Hollywood Wig Outfitters for those in Southern California is “always a hit” according to Sami Miller. David Baker also suggested the Rose Bowl Swap Meet, for those in Southern California. William Wilson who runs the Tattershall School of Self Defense and is a steampunk aficionado pointed out another penny saver: skimping on the brocade for waistcoats by having false backs and even false bottoms. Not only is the practice historically accurate, but according to Wilson, “a true gentleman never removes his jacket” and therefore will never expose the cost-saving deception.

The Connettes Themselves

The Connettes were led by Sara Warner. When not dressing up in her velour Star Trek uniform, Warner is an LA-based actor, works on her next costumes, and does the occasional bit of gaming. Though she’s never done a Vampire LARP, she did play some Vampire: The Masquerade in her teenage years as well as D&D. The Connettes do not have their own website or Facebook page yet, but are looking for new female members serious about costuming. Anyone interested in joining up to cosplay with the Connettes can email Sara at sara.a.warner at gmail.com. For Warner, cosplay comes naturally as she likes “to slip into the garb of someone else, assume the role, and play the part”. Hence her vocational interest in acting as well. While she does enjoy the costume-making, Warner is all about the performance as an entertainer and performer. Warner cited the relatively low cost of Combat Con as one of its main draws: “Anyone who is interested in historical Western Martial Arts, weapons training, re-enacting, Renaissance festivals, LARPing, costuming with weapons (for poses and other things of course!) and acting in any kind of action productions would be out of their mind to miss such a comparatively cheap way to kickstart and/or hone skills at this fantastic event.”

With Warner was Sami Miller who was also a veteran cosplayer and a former Dagorhir player. Along with them they had brought Jillian Saint, pointing out that “she’s very new to it.” Saint had gamely joined in the cosplaying for Combat Con with a when in Rome attitude preferring barbarian garb to jeans and a T-shirt for the convention. Saint wears many hats in everyday life working 9-5 as an accountant/administrator for a law firm and doing freelance marketing in her off time. Though Saint’s not into role-playing games or LARPing, she does enjoy a game of League of Legends from time to time. Cosplay, on the other hand, she finds addictive, but so far she has tended to wear the designs of other costumers. Saint would like to play Chell from Portal 2 if she could. She enjoyed the demonstrations and performances, panels, and social events at Combat Con the most, acknowledging that she did like the workshops, but that she was unprepared for them, as many were geared towards trained combatants.

Like the members of Duel at Dusk Productions (and myself), Sara Warner and Sami Miller are already at work on their costumes for Wasteland Weekend in the California desert in September. Warner is currently working on all-leather gladiatrix outfit for the Mad Max-themed postapocalpyptic event.