THE shield maiden stands poised, sword held high, the plate armour she borrowed from a fellow warrior weighing more heavily than the corset which normally serves as her only body protection.
Luckily the enemy’s swords, and her own, are made of fibreglass covered in soft polyurethane or latex foam.
“I’ve always had an interest in fantasy world stuff,” says ANU student Erica Moy, 22, a member of The Hundred Swords, a relatively new “battle gaming” group that gets together for regular combat in parks and open spaces around Canberra. Apparently, one outside the National Library recently attracted more than 60 participants, and there are already “warbands” forming as groups within the group.
“I don’t know, it’s just a nice opportunity to dress up – you don’t normally get to dress up in costumes – and it’s a lot of fun,” says Erica. “It’s also my recreational sport and it’s a good social thing. It’s nice to get together every couple of weeks as a group, have a bit of a biff and then have a barbeque.”
The Hundred Swords started up halfway through last year and Erica got involved around February.
“It’s not really in the confines of a particular era or setting,” she says, explaining the group’s unique style of play.
“Some of the matches have a storyline or a scenario that goes along with them, but everyone can use whatever weapons they like, obviously within the rules, and dress how they want, so they can be an elf or a human or an orc or whatever.”
The Hundred Swords was started by Neil Stork-Brett and theatre prop designer Chris Wolfe, and fellow members of another group that has staged massive outdoor NERF gun battles for about three years. According to Neil, “everybody knows Canberra and Southern NSW Dart Tag” in the national and international NERF scene.
“We’re the only NERF group in Australia that has any kind of relationship with Hasbro Australia, the makers of NERF; just last week I went and picked up some of the new blasters to try out, review online and give away,” he says proudly.
“We started to mix things up a bit and decided we were going to have a game based around NERF guns and foam melee weapons together. That sort of took off on its own and a month later we had a straight up hand-to-hand combat event with just the weapons.”
Neil says it’s only since they started that he and Chris have found out more about similar pastimes out there, like the immersive, in-character drama of live action role-playing (LARPing) and a serious sport called jugger, which is based on a game depicted by a 1989 post-apocalyptic movie shot near Coober Pedy, “The Salute of the Jugger”.
“While you may dress in an old fashioned way,” at the group’s battles, “the whole point is to get together and hit each other,” he says. “The weapons look great and they’re really soft. It gets really addictive.”
Players all start with three health points, and get more for items of clothing that count as some kind of armour. Points are lost for hits to legal striking areas and for fouls such as accidental hits to the head, the whole thing done on the honour system.
It’s all free of charge and there’s plenty of high-quality soft weapons for new players to try out, as well as a secondhand market, where the shield maiden Erica armed herself.
“I’m not sure whether I’m a mythical creature at this point, but we’ll see,” she jokes. “I’ve got some elf ears at home, but I’m a bit worried about them getting knocked off.”
The next Hundred Swords battle is at Weston Park on September 7. More information from The Hundred Swords page on Facebook.