The 2-Minute Safety Spiel
(aka The Oofficial Rules of the FDA)
Disclaimer: These are unofficial rules, written to help people remember everything. The actual rules are a mixture of oral tradition and whatever the Weaponsmaster says. Taking advantage of an error, deficiency, or loophole in the following set of rules will get you nowhere (however, pointing out things that need fixing will get you brownie points :) ).
The most important thing is Safety. If, at any time, you do not feel completely safe, you should immediately stop whatever you're doing and fix the problem. This includes physical problems with the swords, people swinging too hard, having the sun in your eyes, etc. Anything at all that makes you feel like you're not perfectly safe.
How do you stop? We have two "magic words", 'HOLD' and 'FREEZE'. When you have a problem and are engaged in combat with a large number of people, or you see that there's a problem about to happen on the other side of the field (someone about to back off of a cliff, for example (don't laugh - this has happened before)), or someone gets hit in the head, you should yell "Hold!", stop whatever you are doing, and drop to your knees. Everyone in hearing distance who is engaged in combat, or even just standing around with a sword, will stop whatever they are doing, drop to their knees, and if they see anyone still fighting, yell "Hold!" as well. This'll continue until everyone has stopped, at which time you fix the problem. Then the person who originally called the Hold will say "All rise who can rise... Lay on." The first bit is the signal for everyone to stand up and resume their posture, the second is the signal to continue what they were doing. (The meaning of "all rise who can rise" will be more clear after you learn the combat system.)
A Freeze is a local version of a Hold. It's used if the problem only affects you and a few people near you. If you're fighting someone and you notice that they're about to back into a tree, you should say "Freeze". Some other times to call a Freeze are if you notice your sword's sock is coming off, or if you're getting too close to some non-combatants. One of the most common uses for a Freeze is for "translations" - if the fight is getting onto unsafe ground (mud, ice) a Freeze may be called and the combatants all move X number of steps in the same direction. A Freeze affects everyone near the speaker (usually just the speaker and anyone engaging them), and is usually spoken rather than yelled. In a Freeze, you do not go down on your knees, and thus there's no need to say "All rise who can rise" at the end - "Lay on" is sufficient.
The combat system is fairly simple. There are three types of normal blows (hits with a weapon): light, good, and too hard. A light hit does no damage - period. You can take 5 million light hits and never be hurt. A good hit instantly does damage, though. And if you get hit too hard, or if your opponent seems to be swinging too hard, call a Freeze and tell them to lower their calibration.
Light hits come in several subcategories (this isn't really important). Some are hits that would have been good if they had hit harder ("light"). Some are more of a grazing blow that would merely damage your clothes and produce a scratch or two ("graze"). And some are of a particularly annoying type where the weapon catches in clothing, and so feels like a good hit ("the Trenchcoat Effect"). Most people take light hits if they were clean (no skimming, bouncing, or half-blocking) and they had not defended against them. This does not mean that good, non-clean shots should be ignored, however.
You are the judge of whether or not a shot that hit you was "good". We run on an honor system, and you're expected to call all blows fairly. (It's considered a courtesy to verbally inform your opponent whether their shot was "good", "light", a "skim", etc.) To tell the difference between a good hit and a light hit, we give you a calibration, which consists of you being hit with good and light shots, and you hitting the calibrator with good and light shots.
To keep the strength of our hits down, we try to restrict our swings to a 180 degree arc in front of us (twirling the sword in your hand doesn't count). Swinging past this arc is known as "baseball-batting" (because it looks like a batter's wind-up), and we avoid it because it's too easy to hurt someone that way.
If at any time you feel that someone is hitting too hard, call a Freeze and tell them to lower their calibration. If they don't do so, speak to the Weaponsmaster. As a reference, "over-calibration" refers to hitting too hard, and "rhino-hiding" refers to not accepting good shots because they "felt too light" (it's not a very polite term, though).
Draw cuts are rarely used, and then mainly for dramatic effect. If you've somehow pressed your sword's cutting surface against your opponent without killing them (from a light hit, for example), then you may cause a draw cut by swiftly pulling your sword along their body while applying pressure, as if cutting them. Sawing the blade back and forth does not count.
If there was enough pressure applied, the victim will usually take the draw cut. Draw cuts are non-standard attacks, and no one is ever required to accept one. Most of us do anyway, though, because they look so cool.
Most of our swords have black socks on them. This means that they are considered safe for slashing attacks, but not for stabbing, as there is only an inch of closed-cell foam between the tip and the fiberglass core. Some of our swords have white socks on them. These swords have an additional 2 to 3 inches of open-cell foam (mattress padding) attached to the tip. It's safe to stab with these swords, provided a few basic safety rules are followed.
First, when stabbing, never lock your elbow joint. This allows your arm to flex and keeps the sword from being pushed with all of your body weight. Second, never do a full fencing-style lunge. If these rules aren't followed, a rather unpleasant situation could occur. Your entire body weight is firmly attached to your shoulder. If you lock your elbow, your arm becomes rigid and transfers this force straight to your hand. Your hand is firmly grasping the hilt of the sword, which is in turn firmly attached to the fiberglass core of the sword. The first weak spot in this line of force is the closed-cell foam at the tip of the sword. The second weak spot is the open-cell foam. And the third weak spot is your opponent's body. We've designed the swords so that the chances of this happening are minimal, but we don't want to risk even that small chance. Which is why we have these safety rules - to prevent it from ever occurring. And it (almost) goes without saying that you should never stab at someone's head.
Because of the softer nature of the foam used, stabbing hits will feel lighter than hits with a closed-cell foam blade. Thus, you should count a stab as a good hit if a) you felt it, and b) it did not slide off to one side, but remained firmly pressed against you (a good way to tell is if you felt the stabbing-tip foam compress when it hit you). There are other weapons besides swords that use open-cell foam for their striking surfaces - these are normally marked with a white sock, and you should treat hits from them in the same manner as hits from a stabbing-tip sword.
Head: Do not aim for the head. Do not try to hit the head. Head shots do not count as death. If you get hit in the head, feel free to call a Hold until you feel ready to continue the fight or decide to sit out for a while. No blows count in a fight after one of the participants gets hit in the head (it's as though a Hold was instantly called). A certain number of head shots are inevitable, but we try to keep the numbers as low as possible. The responsibility for avoiding head shots rests on both combatants, but mostly on the person swinging the sword. Certain postures are far more likely to generate a head shot than others - for example, ducking, crouching, and charging all tend to produce a large number of head shots. Try to avoid these when possible, and defend yourself carefully when using them.
If you take wounds in two separate limbs, you are considered to be bleeding enough that you will die in 2 minutes. This doesn't come into effect often, as fights tend to last less than 2 minutes. If you take wounds in three separate limbs, you are considered to be dead through shock, blood loss, etc.
This is an alternate rule which is a hold-over from the Quest LARP system, on which the FDA rules are based. Protection allows you to absorb a good hit without taking damage. The person with protection must say "Protection" or "Hit" after ignoring a good hit which was absorbed by the protection. Protection is measured in hits. For example, someone might be given 3 hits of protection, which would allow them to ignore 3 good hits before starting to take damage normally. Protection is usually given as part of one of our games.
Armor functions similarly to Protection. The difference is that Armor only protects what it covers, and the person wearing armor must say "Armor" instead of "Protection" (saying "Hit" is still OK). Real or fake leather armor and fake chain mail armor are the equivalent of one hit of protection, while real chain mail and real or fake plate armor are the equivalent of 2 hits of protection. Armor is not normally worn, although it can be.
Do not maneuver your opponent so that the sun gets in their eyes. This prevents them from seeing clearly, and they might accidentally do something unsafe.
When you encounter an opponent who is defenseless or who doesn't realize that you're there (ie, attacking from behind), do not hit them with a full force blow. Instead, give them a light tap with your weapon and say "Courtesy Strike". They will take this as a good hit. (When attacking from behind, saying "Death from Behind" will accomplish the same thing.) For this to work, you must have been able to have actually hit them with a good blow (for example, reaching out as far as you can and scratching them with the tip of your sword does not count).
No more than 4 people may attack one person at one time. Any more than this and it gets too cramped and confusing and someone might get hurt.
In QUEST, a person kneels when they have lost their legs. Since we do not want to maintaing a stock of kneepads and wish to encourage drop-ins, we onyl shuffle when our legs are hit. Therefore this section of the QUEST rules doe not apply to FDA.
Because archery is complicated and rare, archery rules are not included here. If an archer is at a weapons practice, it is their responsibility to know the rules and make sure everyone else does too. If you want to see a complete write-up of the archery rules, you should read the section in the Quest Game rule book.
These are some games we play, explained very briefly. There are two rules common to all of these games:
This is fairly simple. It's a free-for-all, with the last one alive being the winner. It starts when someone yells "CHAOS! IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE! LAY ON!" As soon as this cry starts, everyone normally scatters, and when it finishes, we all start attacking each other.
In this game, we pick one or two people and give them a number of hits of protection, based on how good they are, how good the rest of us are, how many of us there are, etc. They then run around and try to kill us, and we try to kill them. Once they're dead, it turns into a standard chaos.
In this game, everyone gathers together in a circle, with shoulders touching. Then, they each take one or two big steps backwards. Then, the game starts.
You are allowed to attack anyone, except the two people on either side of you. You may walk into the middle and fight someone else, or you may fight around your neighbors. There is one other rule. You should imagine that every player is connected to the center of the circle with large elastic bands. If, at any time, two of the bands cross (in other words, if two of the players get out of order), the circle is broken and the game devolves into Chaos. Normally, the player who broke the circle is hunted down and killed immediately. :)
This is like a Chaos, with a few important differences. Everyone gets one hit of protection. If you're wounded, you'll get recover in 30 seconds; but you don't count time spent fighting someone or running away from someone. If you're killed, you'll recover in 30 seconds, unless someone comes up to you, gives you a courtesy strike on the neck, and says "There can be only one!". If you chop off someone's head in the aforementioned manner, you gain one hit of protection (cumulative).
It's considered perfectly good form to kill someone when they are in the process of chopping off someone else's head; however, you only gain the hit of protection for those people you personally behead.
Melees are team battles. We decide on captains, who do rock-paper scissors to figure out who has first pick. They divide us into teams, and we go to opposite ends of the field. We come up with a strategy and a battle-cry, and once we're all ready, we attack. The team with the last surviving member(s) is the winning team.
This is a version of a melee with a restricted area to fight in. We draw a line to simulate the boundaries of a bridge, and then fight as normal, with the provision that we can't step outside the bridge.
This is a version of a bridge battle with uneven sides. It's usually four or five of the better fighters (Spartans) against everyone else (Persians). The Spartans each get one or two hits, and have the restriction that they can't retreat too far. The Persians are able to come back from the dead by running to the far end of the field and back, so that in effect there are an unlimited number of them. Each of the Persians keeps track of how many times they died, so we can figure out how well the Spartans did.
FDA combat has a few differences from combat in the Quest LARP system. Here they are: