You probably didn’t know this, but Grove City, and all of Central Ohio, falls in the Realm Of Rivendell.
This is Dagorhir, a foam fighting game that takes place across the country. To the Southwest is Corvalin, and Galladorn, which cover Dayton and Cincinnati, respectively. The Ohio River marks the border to Vanaheimr, much in the same way it does Covington, Kentucky. East of Rivendell you find Lothlorien and Arthedain. A trip north will bring you to the vast territory of Eryndor, which spreads from Toledo across the lower portion of eastern Michigan, covering the shores of both Lake Erie and Lake Huron. The Cleveland area belongs to the realm of Einherjar, which borders Angaron in Eastern Pennsylvania, the location of Badon Hill.
If these names sound familiar to any Lord of the Rings fans out there, it is no coincidence. The name Dagorhir itself is derived from Tolkein’s Sindarin Elven language, and translates to “Battle Lords.” However, the game is not limited to elves, orcs, and hobbits. Fighters are welcome from any time period or fantasy setting. Within The Realm of Rivendell is Wargar, a unit which operates alongside Pandeamonium and a handful of others. Not all fighters within Rivendell claim a unit, and those who do not are known simply as citizens of Rivendell.
The weapons check of a stockpile of foam swords, arrows, and javelins is thorough, taking the better part of an hour. New weapons are shown off, discussed, and thrown onto the pile. All weapons must be padded correctly and constructed in accordance with over 10 pages of guidelines that many of these fighters know by heart. While inspecting a new weapon, one fighter asks if it is a “Sheridan build.” Yep, replies the owner with a proud smile. It is the same smile you see when a man shows off a shotgun passed down through three generations. There is a slow, deliberate pace, and little urgency this early on. It is a Sunday, after all. People mill about discussing last week’s battle in Pittsburgh (Badon Hill), and there is more than one mention of a particularly fierce fighter named Loki, who is supposed to be arriving shortly.
Assisting with the checks is Jake Bova, a handsome guy in his early-20s, whose perfectly groomed, contemporary hair style is the only betrayal of his medieval persona…Bova’s girlfriend, who goes by Nadya, is leading a spirited discussion on the Emberverse books, a novel series focusing on a post-apocalyptic alternate history in which electricity, guns, combustion, and steam engines cease to operate. Dressed in clothes closely resembling Bova’s, she is holding a bow, a shield is slung across her left shoulder, and a pile of arrows lies at her feet. One of the fighters is making his second trip from the parking lot, unloading an armory’s worth of weapons onto the ground. Everyone greets him as Sheridan. As he is unpacking his gear, he tells a newer member that this isn’t even half of his personal arsenal. From this moment on, all questions regarding construction and checking of weapons are directed towards him. With golf bags and duffel bags slung across their backs, a steady stream of fighters in various states of dress walk from a parking lot down a short path across the creek and over to a large oak tree at the western edge of what will soon become a battlefield in Grove City.
I need a back! shouts Sheridan. A volunteer rushes across the field to assist in the ongoing weapons check. He stands with his back to Sheridan, one arm bracing his neck and the other bent back behind him. Light! Sheridan calls out as he hits the man’s back with a long sword. Medium! another hit, harder this time. Hard! he yells as he winds up for a surprisingly forceful hit. This is repeated with a dozen other swords, until the worn-out volunteer is replaced. Loki, the fighter everyone has been talking about, has finally arrived. He strolls by and asks if all swords have been checked, which Sheridan confirms. Across the field, two men stand with their backs turned about 40 feet in front of Bova and a stocky man wearing a belted green tunic, known as Sir Mauruk. They begin firing arrows relentlessly at the human targets. After the arrows have all been loosed, Bova tells another fighter that he has come up with a name for him.
“I want you to go by it, and I want you to see how everybody reacts to it,” Bova says, in a tone that sounds more like an order than a request. “Artos?” repeats the newly named fighter. “That’s a cool name.”
There are hints of well-defined positions and titles within this group. It becomes clear that beyond Sheridan, a weapons expert, others have roles to fill. Sir Mauruk, whose civilian name is Timothy, is well-versed in the history of the realm, and there is talk of him being elected king soon. Loki is feared by many on the battlefield, and after viewing a video of the Badon Hill battle captured by Bova, who moonlights as a cinematography student at CCAD, it is clear why: his movements are calculated, his strikes tactile. Every fighter seems preoccupied with his location on the battlefield, the linebacker/quarterback/alpha role of the realm.
There is also evidence of a social structure within Wargar, and Rivendell as a whole. Some stand to the side, quietly dressing themselves, while others congregate in a circle socializing. Charismatic figures within the group are quick to take charge and give direction. Were the Realm of Rivendell a film, Bova would no doubt be a leading man. While others impatiently wait on the battlefield, he is making adjustments to his flawless armor and ensuring his weapons are in order. He is also one of two fighters on this day whose girlfriends are in attendance. Those two girlfriends make up the entirety of today’s female fighting population, at a ratio of at least 10-to-one.
In a quiet moment, Soma, a shy member of the group, reveals that today is his first time attending a Dagorhir event. Lanky, he wears a black T-shirt and shorts, his head shaved, a mustache covering his upper lip, tattoos adorning his arms and legs. He speaks softly but claims that he was attracted to Dagorhir because he views it as “an aggressive nerd’s paradise.” Bant, also a newer member, makes comparisons to his days playing football in high school.
“You probably won’t get to see it today, but there’s something called a column charge,” he said of a particular battle strategy used for breaking shield formation.
“A lot of the techniques are similar to when I was a lineman: lowering your center of balance, short choppy steps, pushing into the person in front of you. It all helps you get a lot more force to break their formation.”
As today’s practice battle begins, it seems like chaos to the outsider. Fighters call out their team names to identify themselves as they fragment into smaller groups, dodging arrows and “stones” – small squares of foam covered in tape – that fly from all directions. Blue and red weapons are used for hacking and slashing, green weapons for stabbing, and projectile weapons are the only weapons that can hit the head. Armor, which is optional, can save you from one swung hit, unless of course that hit comes from a red weapon. Some fighters kneel on the field with a hand raised to signify they are out, or in the world of Dagorhir, dead. Others have lost use of their sword arm, but continue to charge on, blocking blows with their shield. A shirtless fighter with dyed crimson hair and cargo sweatpants spins through the air and brings his sword down squarely on the shoulder of a helpless victim. People on the bike path that borders today’s battlefield stop to stare. One older woman walks a small dog, which eventually has to be retrieved by her husband who doesn’t seem to share her interest, and is tired of waiting for her.
Further on down the sidelines, Soma is holding a loaner sword – kept on-hand for first timers – and learning techniques from Sir Mauruk. While the goal is to get people on the field as quickly as possible, there are definitely certain things that must be taught. “We try to pair people up at first,” Mauruk said. “It not only helps them to understand the rules and how to take shots, but it kind of gives things a more personal level, so they feel more comfortable asking any questions, or bringing up any issues they have.”
Later that night, on the Facebook group for Rivendell, a post appears from someone named Christopher. It is Soma. He thanks the group for welcoming him that day. Throughout the next week, more posts appear from him, asking where to buy leather armor. Others ask about constructing a sword for the first time. Questions concerning the use of strapping tape over duct tape and yoga mat foam are quickly answered by the community, including Sheridan, the weapons expert. Bova links the group to a constantly updating Google map that illustrates the territories of realms throughout the country. Over the next two weeks, at least three new members are added to the group, joining nearly 200 current inhabitants of Rivendell.
Two weeks later, the fighters are again assembling on the front lines of the Grove City park. There are familiar faces scattered throughout the field, including Sir Mauruk and Soma, who now wears a simple brown tunic and belt along with the same shorts from last week. He has also donned what appear to be hockey gloves, and explains that he forgot them last week and ended up with some minor hand injuries. There are new faces as well: Norwen and Squire Feyne, a couple in their early-20s, have driven from Canton, Ohio. They appear eager to get out on the field, but for now they are assisting Sir Mauruk with weapons check. Norwen, originally from Michigan, has been fighting for over 10 years, and it shows. The muscles on her forearm are well defined; no doubt the result of swinging a sword every week for a decade.
“I clawed my way to be recognized in the game,” Norwen said. “Every guy has the thought that they have to take it easy on girls. Some guys fight it, but it’s always there.” Norwen is still young at 24, but she has sustained multiple injuries over the years. “You can definitely break things in this game, and it does happen. I’ve broken both my wrists, three ribs, my ankle.”
“That’s the reason we sign waivers,” adds Sir Mauruk.
In addition to the intensity on the battlefield, there are other conflicts happening behind the scenes. Rivendell is in a seemingly endless state of flux, and Sir Mauruk has seen his fair share of changes. A number of years ago, the realm decided to do away with a role of “king.” Since then, Sir Mauruk has acted as the keeper of the crown until, or if, it is decided that a new king shall be crowned. With new units forming and disbanding every year, and some leaving to join other realms, there is very little that remains constant.
“Right now we have a quarter of [the participants] we were seeing three years ago,” Sir Mauruk said. “We used to see 50 or 60 people every week for practice, but that was right after Lord of the Rings came out. Every time a new movie comes out, you get a lot more people.”
Additionally, not everyone wants to fight. According to Norwen, there are more and more groups around the country who aren’t in it for what she sees as the right reasons.
She is concerned with the number of so-called Viking groups that have entered the game in recent years. “They’re ruining our game – all they obsess over is their garb, and how they look,” she said, fuming. “We’re not a reenactment.”
Whether motivated by the vanity found in the fashion shows that take place at national events, or the barbarous fights they train for year-round, those who enter this game do not take it lightly. Many of the members live together, and in some cases, sleep together. It is rare that they are referred to by the names their parents gave them, instead choosing to address each other as the characters they’ve created. Some choose to squire under knights for years, absorbing as much information as they can, while others spend equal time creating their own unique identities, styles, and mythologies. The hundreds of miles they travel to attend battles, and the thousands of dollars they spend, add up to much more than simple weekend recreation.
Bova sums it up thusly:
“I love this,” he said. “This is more than a hobby for guys like me. If this paid well, I’d be living it.”
The fighters of Rivendell practice every Thursday in the southeast corner of Goodale Park at 6 p.m. and every second and fourth Sunday at Gantz Park in Grove City at noon. For more information, find The Land of Rivendell on Facebook.