The dust of battle choked the air and thickened it with the smell of sweat and the sounds of the wounded screaming. His ruined left arm cut off at the elbow, Tiberius Eaghra clutched his cumbersome eight-foot spear with his good hand and accepted that the enemies had broken through the castle gate, and that with them would come quick death.
Hundreds of similar true stories could be told about the War of the Iron Fist, held last September in Kansas City. But even though the castle walls were plywood, Tiberius’ spear made of foam and his amputation imaginary, the realism of a Dagorhir battle is undeniable for everyone involved.
“You can feel it pulsing in your veins as arrows are whizzing past your head and warriors are screaming as they fall to the ground,” said Tiberius, known to his Edmond North High School classmates as seventeen-year-old Ryan O’Haro.
“If you are there, you’re feeling it. There’s no way that you can’t be,” said Szabo Erinach, a.k.a. Cody Nichols, also seventeen.
Dagorhir is a warfare simulation that combines elements of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Middle Earth” books (which includes the Lord of the Rings trilogy) with historical accounts of the Dark Ages of Europe. It started in Maryland thirty years ago, and now there are approximately 5,000 members worldwide, with ages ranging from early teens to old men with gray hair.
“We have a wide variety of people who play. Not just stereotypes like geeks and jocks. And there are a lot of girls who play,” O’Haro said.
Each participant is encouraged to use a pseudonym to help maintain realism, and authentic period clothing is a must. Members typically make their own weapons and battle garb, and the community often collaborates to share their specific skills.
Instead of a class ring, O’Haro received full chain mail armor and shoulder guards called pauldrins, but they’re not extremely picky about what members wear.
“It’s more about having fun than being completely crazy,” O’Haro said, stressing that Dagorhir focuses on entertainment rather than the stringent rules of similar organizations. It’s also easier to do cheaply—yearly dues are just $5.
The word “Dagorhir” comes from one of Tolkein’s made-up Elvish languages, and it translates to “Battle Lords.”
Each year, in the final week of June, Dagorhir chapters from across the globe meet in Cambridge, Ohio for Ragnarok, a highly anticipated festival named after the apocalyptic final battle of Nordic mythology. In 2007, more than 1,000 participants showed up for large-scale combat simulations with up to 500 people on each team.
Dagorhir came to Oklahoma when Nichols and O’Haro became next-door neighbors in ninth grade. O’Haro moved to Edmond from St. Louis, and Nichols from Maryland, bringing with him stories about Dagorhir that immediately started the wheels turning.
It wasn’t long before the two became best friends, but it took nearly two years for them to build a Dagorhir chapter from the ground up.
“It’s basically a small country,” Nichols said. “It has its own economy, its own governmental system. It’s interesting to see how the political system plays out—almost as fun as the battle aspect. It’s like running a business.”
They received a letter of authenticity in April 2007, making the Alterra chapter official. Since then, they’ve grown to about 80 members.
“Alterra” is derived from the Latin words “alter,” meaning “other or “new,” and “terra,” meaning “earth.”
Since Alterra is the only Dagorhir chapter in the state, people drive from as far away as Moore or Norman to participate in weekly practices held Saturdays at Hafer Park, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. This year, Ragnarok will be June 22-29.
If skeptical about making a commitment to join, the Alterra chapter offers a three-week grace period where potential members can come to practice, borrow weapons and just hang out.
“You occasionally get someone who walks by and laughs,” O’Haro said. “But if you give them a sword and say, ‘Here, beat your friend,’ after that, they say, ‘Hey, that’s really fun.’”
“It’s really very intense, realistic and very chaotic,” Nichols said. “Try running three miles in chain mail [armor].”
“It’s great exercise. Heck with yoga, come train with us,” O’Haro said.
Log onto www.ave-alterra.net for more information.