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Live action role play group calls Van Cleve Park home

Local Dagorhir realm Frozen North finds comradery in foam swords, wooden shields and sparring.
Deforis Nash, left, spars with Chris Polys on Friday at Van Cleve Park.
Image by Chris Dang
Deforis Nash, left, spars with Chris Polys on Friday at Van Cleve Park.

Water breaks are an important part of any active sport, from basketball to tennis.

They’re even more important when the players wear long cotton tunics, leather armor and boots.

That’s the uniform of a handful of men and women who play Dagorhir, a type of live action role play. The group, Frozen North, practices sparring in Van Cleve Park.

“We show up, we hit each other, we go home,” Ryan Toppin, who has played for 15 years, said with a laugh.

Translating to “battle lords” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sindarin Elven language, Dagorhir is played with foam weapons that range from swords and shields to arrows and spears. But injury isn’t the point of the sport.

“It’s a lot of different things for different people,” Toppin said. “Some people just show up for practices, while others focus on training, weightlifting and practicing at home.”

The sport may seem simple to play at its most basic level, but there are plenty of rules, classifications and techniques to perfect.

Rules of the field

While some say it only takes 10 minutes to understand the rules of Dagorhir, it helps to see play on the field.

Organized in free-for-all, pair and team style battles, weapons are used to hit parts of the other players’ bodies.

A successful shot to a limb removes that limb. Another hit to the body, and you’ve died. A single shot to the torso? You’re dead in one hit.

While the sport seems gruesome, Adalhaide Stanley said it’s a great way to work out and make friends doing it.

“It’s really fun to fight and be physical and be friends after,” Stanley said.

Local realms

After seeing a practice while living in Chicago in 2013, Stanley was instantly interested and found her place within the sport.

“It really transformed my life,” Stanley said. “There’s room for finding your own place in this.”

For Frozen North, however, this element of community and comradery is relatively small. Compared to realms around the country, that is.

Without a sponsored club or team at the University of Minnesota, there is a smaller population of people the group can reach out to and connect with.

Can anyone go out and do this? Members of Frozen North all say yes. Teaching their own players during practices, they help build the sport from within.

“There’s really nothing stopping anyone from playing,” Toppin said.

Social stigma

While accessible to everyone, there’s still an element of social stigma that comes with Dagorhir.

Some may consider the fantasy sport “nerdy” and something they wouldn’t want to do in their spare time. To that thought, those who play say the first step is just trying it out.

“I just want people to pick up a sword,” Stanley said. “It would change their perspective, rather than just being a passive observer.”

Toppin agreed.

“Those people really wish they could be doing what we’re doing,” Toppin said. “They wish they had the courage to go out.”

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