Local knights in shining armour

Activity: James Klein, James Freeman, Peter Fawcett, David Moulton, Cara Gilbert bring fantasy to life. Photographs: Ben McArthur



EVERY now and then a beat-up car on a Saturday afternoon will drive past Breed Street, Traralgon and observe the scenes at Agnes Brereton Reserve.

The car will watch up to 100 armoured knights, witches, sorceresses and barbarians fight on a sports oval with toy arrows, foam swords and lots of makeup.

The car will stop, honk its horn, shout “nerds!” then drive off.

Veteran player Michael Campbell looks on. He is used to this.

“People go by and they’re like ‘Oh you losers. Look at the nerds playing dress ups and fighting each other’, it’s just like we are only having fun,” he said.

Every now and then, a group of teenagers walk by. Campbell believes he knows what they are thinking too.

“They’re thinkin’ ‘God, he’s a weirdo. Look at these middle-aged people wearing costumes and hitting each other with foam bats. Go do somethin’ with your lives.’ That’s the general vibe I think we give out.”

But to players like Anfernee Mason, these events are battles of epic proportions.

“Once you’re playing, you forget that it’s not real, especially when there’s 20 people in metal armour running at you with great big weapons. If someone comes at you with an axe they’re coming at you with an axe,” he said.

“It’s a huge cross between sport, theatre and fun.”

Mason is the president of the Gippsland Chapter of Swordcraft, an organisation that does Live Action Role Play (LARP).

These are events where people fight with fake weapons and win battles inspired by the video game Warhammer.

Mason plays as part of a 25-person viking group that worships animal spirits.

He wears construction boots, chain armour, a medieval helmet and a blue gown he bought from Russia.

He fights with a wooden shield that has a spiral pattern in his left hand, and a foam sword in his right.

“Our group is called ‘The Pelt’ and there’s five main animals that are the most sacred: they are the bear, the boar, the raven, the ram and the wolf,” he explained.

LARP battles lasts about three hours.

Mason says participants often engage in light-hearted teasing.

“Our players split up into war bands and some have issues with other warbands like our dwarf players often insult the owls because they don’t get along, so there’s lots of playful sledging,” he said.

“The weapons are foam, but they’ve got a fiberglass core, so they can still hurt if you give someone a decent whack.”

Occasionally, playful competition results in injuries and so Swordcraft appoints a volunteer medical officer with first aid training like Peter Fawcett.

“The worst it ever gets is a few decent bruises, nothing too bad. We have a lot of safety precautions. No head hits, no groin, no extremities,” he said.

“Our biggest worry is actually heat stroke because we’re all mad and run around in 35-plus degree heat in heavy armour.”

To avoid injuries, Swordcraft does a ‘mandatory new player’ training session.

Campbell said training was an important requirement that begins well before a game starts.

“If you do this untrained, you will hurt someone or yourself. A lot of it is just teaching how to swing safely. Like, not swinging as hard as you can and not aiming for people’s necks,” he said.

“Even though the weapons are made of foam, if I swing hard enough, it’s going to leave a mark and I’ve gone home with bruises before.”

Leader of the Sisters of the Sage warband, James Freeman, is proud that Swordcraft considers all aspects of safety, but says heat stroke is a concern due to the amount of activity.

“It’s a sport in its own right. There’s a lot of energy spent. You’re not going to be running across the entire field for 10 minutes nonstop like other sports, but you’re gonna be always starting and stopping. Its quite intense,” he said.

Freeman believes the event looks strange to passers-by. “I think there’s a bit of a social taboo on something like this and for most people it will never be their hobby, with something this far out of the mainstream, there’s no real pressure to join,” he said.

“This change of the real world for them, something they didn’t expect to see is confusing.”

But Swordcraft – and LARP-related activities have grown extensively over the years.

Since Swordcraft began in 2011, it has been extended to seven locations across Victoria with new chapters being created right before COVID.

It has a small, but very dedicated player base.

Most players agree that when they first saw the matches, they all thought it was something they would never be a part of.

Freeman said he was very reluctant when he heard about Swordcraft 13 years ago.

“A mate of mine played it once and thought it would be my cup of tea and wanted to drag me down. But it sounded too nerdy so I said no,” he said.

“After two months of pestering me, I went to a game and since then I’ve played weekly.”

One of the most impressive players is James Klein, who has played for seven years without missing a single weekend (unless it was cancelled).

He plays as a high elf called Katia, a wizard that can cast fire spells.

After playing 100 games, every player receives a Braylong Centenary Dagger that was made by LARP equipment manufacturer Ateliers Nemesis Workshops as a reward.

Entry costs $10 per player with the first game being free.

The money goes towards buying new equipment and holding events.

New players are given a uniform, but Klein said experienced players usually bring their own home-made clothes or pay potentially thousands in the store.

“A lot of it is made by community members, like my nice red robe is made by one of our local players. But in the past I’ve made my own robes and dabbled with my own weapons,” he said.

“It can get expensive, but knowing local makers makes it a lot cheaper, buying it online would probably cost me two or three times more.”

LARP weapon equipment is also purchased, and Mason said the global demand for LARPing manufacturers is substantial.

“Most of the weapons we use are professionally made in Canada, strangely enough,” he said.

“There’s actually quite a big market out there, I guess; that’s because it’s easier to ship things anywhere around the world.”

Lifelike: Weapons and shields used in Live Action Role Play. The weapons are made of foam, but can still leave bruises.
Wizardry: James Freeman reading his book.
Full on: President Anfernee Mason holds a meeting.
Battleplan: James Freeman speaks to his group.
Game on: Gippsland has its own chapter of Swordcraft, an organisation that takes part in Live Action Role Play.