Tag Archives: LARP

On Fighting Small Creatures – Lessons Learned From My Son

When I was in college, Nerf™ released their first swords and bow and I quickly had a makeshift armory hanging in my dorm room. A few years ago, they started their N-Force™ line, which includes swords, a mace, a battle axe, and other goodies. I have most everything in this line and my son and I go outside and play with them. As he has grown, Nerf™ weapons proved to be a bad choice for our style of play – the foam on the swords are not thick or dense enough to protect against the plastic core. I’d rather let him swing as hard as he can, so we have moved to full contact swords like those found at Forged Foam . I hope to make some swords of my own (he wants an axe) and share those projects here.

During our battles, I made some observations about fighting smaller opponents. Before my experience, I thought that the primary factors in a combat like this would be reach and target size. What I hadn’t considered is the effect of angle. Your opponent is not just small, but is also low, and that changes a lot. If you are using a long weapon, like a spear, the angle isn’t so bad; but most of my observations are based on using a sword. Before continuing, please understand that I’m just some random guy with no particular authority on historical combat – take my ideas with many grains of salt and feel free to add your own observations and ideas.

The Head is Almost the Only Target

Obviously, I’m not trying to club my son on the head, but it takes a lot of effort to swing at any other part of the body.  You have to swing very low in order to hit any part of the body other than the head or maybe the shoulders. In real combat, this isn’t a bad thing, the head and neck are excellent targets. However, it does mean that any helmet worn by the small opponent matters alot. A kettle helm would act similar to a buckler, providing a cone of protection against downward swings. Your swings are also easier to block, since many will be coming downward.

Your Reach Isn’t as Good as You Think It Is . . .

Your sword is at maximum reach when you are holding it straight out from your shoulder. As you aim downward, you are effectively shortening your reach. You may still have the advantage over your opponent, especially if he has a proportionately shorter blade, but it’s just not nearly what you think it is.

. . . Unless You Take Advantage of Footwork

You can cover a lot more distance in a single step than your opponent. You can engage and disengage your opponent easily. You can use your stride to your advantage to control the combat.

Your Shield Might Be Useless

I like shields. There is a reason why they are so prevalent throughout history – they work. Your shield design matters. Most shields are designed to primary protect the upper body and the upper legs. If the shield is strapped to the arm, instead of using a boss grip, then it is very difficult to drop your shield enough. This makes it very difficult to block a low, horizontal swing – which is exactly the way you are being attacked.

This requires a longer shield, but you don’t want anything that hampers your ability to maneuver (see above). I just built a boss-grip long shield with the grip up towards the top. We haven’t tried it out yet, but I am hopeful. Until then, I have found that an off-handed sword, carried in a low guard, seems to work the best.

 So what are the best tools and approaches?

For the larger combatant: You need to protect your lower body. Note that most plate and scale armor overlaps top-over-bottom. Against a small opponent, this creates gaps that a small opponent can exploit unless you have additional armor underneath, like mail under a suit of plate. For weapons, I’d go with bashing weapon that is likely to dent an opponent’s helmet.

For the smaller combatant. The helmet is the most important line of defense, a kettle helm will really help. A long weapon is useful, but I’d use a slashing weapon, like a glaive, instead of a thrusting weapon like a spear.

These are just my thoughts on the subject. Let me know what you think. The way my son is growing, my size advantage won’t last for long 🙂

The Crystal Anvil Review, part 2

Corsair Armor Photo
The Corsair Armor is one of the patterns available.

This is a continuation of my review of The Crystal Anvil, a book on costuming, larp craft, and especially leatherwork. In part one of my review, I discussed the overviews and tutorials.  However, if you are interested in this book, it is probably because you are interested in the leathercraft patterns. So, what do I think? The patterns are a “must have” for anybody who is interested in leather armor or making leather pouches and accessories.

The book contains 50 leathercraft patterns. The patterns are in PDF format, sized for printing on A1 paper. You can either print it out across multiple sheets of paper or send it to a print shop. The files are not locked and are in vector format (not rasterized). This means that you can (and are encouraged to) edit the PDF in a vector image editor (I use Adobe Illustrator). This is a welcome change from either scanned images that are hard to manipulate or copy protections that make the product practically useless.

The patterns cover a pretty good variety of costume pieces and accessories. For costume pieces, it has:

  • Cuirasses (Chest) – Mostly for men, but one piece for women.
  • Paldrons (Shoulders)
  • Belts and tassets
  • Vambraces (Forearms)
  • Greeves (Calves)
  • Helms and headbands

And for accessories, it has quivers, bags and pouches

There are only a few areas that weren’t covered: gauntlets, footwear, and articulated pieces such as full arm pieces with an articulated elbow. They are all advanced projects and beyond the scope of this book, but I mention it only in case you want to buy the book specifically for one of those pieces.

All of the patterns are gorgeous. None of the patterns appear to be that challenging, but precision is required to get the rivet and stitching marks properly aligned otherwise the pieces will buckle when assembled. The instructions are straightfoward, the assembly isn’t that complex so you don’t need complicated instructions. Many of the pieces are made of overlapping pieces. These add dimension and interest to the finish piece, but require patience and precision to assemble correctly. Where needed, the instructions include a diagram of how the pieces all overlap. One advantage to the layered design is that you don’t need large areas of perfect leather. You can lay out the pieces to cut around imperfections in your leather.

The challenge in these patterns is fitting. Most of the costume patterns are made for men 5’10” tall. There is some discussion on how to size the pattern, but expect to make a couple of mock-ups with cardstock before cutting expensive leather. I think it would benefit a beginner to have some of the patterns provided in standard sizes, but a little courage and a lot of prototyping will take you far. I will talk more about fitting in a later post when I talk about my own armor construction. There is one set of women’s armor fitted to a female measuring 37-28-38. Altering female clothing, especially something as fitted as this, is very difficult. I believe future volumes of The Crystal Anvil will discuss this in more detail. Until then, I wouldn’t try the female cuirass unless you have experience in pattern alteration.

Although these patterns are made for leather, you could use craft foam instead. As I write this, it occurs to me that you could make some really cool sci-fi armor with these patterns and different colored foam . . . I may have to try that.

Patterns for armor are incredibly rare. Just studying these patterns taught me a lot about armor design and assembly. Having this book is like having access to a leatherworkers shop and being able to take apart finished pieces to see how they were made. It is a very welcome insider view for those of us who have no other access to a professional costumer. If you are interested in making your own armor, even if it is out of a different material, add The Crystal Anvil to your library. Even if you never plan on making one of its designs, the patterns can easily form a starting point for your own creation.

The Crystal Anvil Review, part 1

The Crystal Anvil CoverI collect a lot of books relating to my hobbies. It is hard to find good books that fit your needs. I plan on reviewing some of my favorites so you can see if they’ll work for you. I wanted to do a review of this book quickly since the author is starting to take pre-orders for the second volume and this is a book that I have found very helpful.

Early this year, a leathercrafting company, Lederkraft, offered the patterns for two of their leather cuirasses for free. Once I snagged the first pattern, I studied it to figure out how to build my armor. I’ll have more discussion on the building of my armor in later posts. The owner of Lederkraft, Alex Agricola, decided to close shop on Lederkraft and publish a collection of patterns, with other LARP crafting tips, in The Crystal Anvil series. While it is available in print, I own the ebook version, so that is going to be the basis of my review.

The book starts with an overview of costume, LARP, and cosplay.  These are fairly broad overviews, and you might be tempted to skip it  and jump ahead to the “meat” of the book. However, the author sprinkles bits of insight that he has gathered over his time working in the field and that makes it worth the time.

The next section of the book is dedicated to three fabrication methods: sewing, leathercraft, and 3D printing. Each section is a broad overview. Although he goes into details about specific techniques, do not expect this book to teach you everything you need to know about these methods. However, I do think that an overview like this is useful for a beginner. It provides enough guidance that you can think about the process of costume making which is a very important piece that many books and tutorials don’t cover. If you are new to costume making, reading this book early will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that you can research further.

The third section is dedicated to specific tutorials, they are:

  • Introduction to Cosplay – Mostly this focuses on the technical aspects of costume design, such as patterning and working with toiles.
  • Making Creature Ears
  • Leather Forming
  • Instructions for Making Leather “Weave” Armour
  • Building a LARP Sword
  • Painting and Modifying Nerf Guns

Some of these articles are written by guest authors. All of them are clear, concise, and well-documented with photos and diagrams. The Introduction to Cosplay covers the basics of design and fitting. This is the best description of it that I have seen outside of specialty books on the topic and is a topic that seems to get overlooked in other cosplay tutorials.

The section on leather forming takes you through the process of wet forming leather (fitting a wet piece of leather to a form so that it will maintain that shape when dry). I have a lot of books on leathercraft and I picked up a lot of ideas from here that I hadn’t heard before.

I have been researching LARP swords and this tutorial covers a lot of the same techniques that other tutorials cover. However, they discuss a sealing technique that is easier to work with and does not have the same problems as Isoflex or Tool Dip. I have yet to try it out, but if it works, it is a piece of golden advice. The rest of the tutorials are outside of my immediate interest, so I can’t speak too deeply about them.

Up until this point, The Crystal Anvil is a solid book. The overviews and tutorials are well crafted and are peppered with little pieces of advice that comes from years of experience. It’s those little nuggets of information that make the book so useful to me. There is a subtle difference between “teaching” and “sharing experience” – while many books do the former, few do the latter as well as this book.

However, the reason that I picked up the book was for the leather patterns. I’ll leave that for the second part of this review, because that is where this book really stands out. . .