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Melee in Nerf

So the topic was bounced around again yesterday at Bristol Blast and it'll keep coming up, I guess. To that end, I'm putting it down here why melee in Nerf is a bad idea from my point of view. Consider the following an assessment of the situation and why I am extremely unlikely to attend a non-LARP event that uses melee rules. This is not a why you shouldn't do it, it's a have a long hard think about this before you proceed.

To start with, let's set out a few things. I've been with Green Cloaks for the last 3 years. I've worked with them as consultant and technical advisor on a number of game mechanics and safety areas. Through that work and work with other systems, I've had the opportunity to talk shop with some of the UK's leading latex weapons manufacturers including Eldritch, Hack and Slash and Irregular Props. They're all fantastic people and have taught me a great deal about foam weapon construction. For the last 2 years I have also been a melee weapons safety checker for Green Cloaks having been trained in full by their team on how to ensure that melee weapons are safe for use and well built. Finally, I'm now the Lieutenant (and most senior player) in the 109th Light Infantry for GC. That means I'm in charge (with in-character ref guidance in the form of my Colonel and Captain) of a dedicated light infantry regiment focused on melee with concentrated fire support from blasters run by a select few gunners that are in the regiment. Between that LARP experience and my over 5 years of organising and playing dozens of different games and systems gives me a pretty holistic idea of melee combat mechanics, game play mechanics and games organisation.

The first and foremost aspect is safety. Essentially, you have to construct a foam covered stick that is safe to use. Usually that means foam wrapped around some sort of rigid core ranging. Nerf swords are rigid cored and have a poor quality foam covering. I shouldn't be able to feel the core through the padding if it's properly made. I can feel the core on every Nerf melee weapon I've ever handled. They are not allowed to be used at any LARP system for that reason alone.

With the construction of melee weapons, you can't safely stab with them. You can reasonably bop someone over the head with them but the core is liable to move if not properly secured and there's a chance you'll end up with plastic in someone rather as a result. LARP weapons use fibreglass or carbon fibre cores so that goes double. There are stab safe weapons out there but they require training and competency to use. Trusting untrained people not to stab with things is difficult. LARP refs (and there are a lot of them in systems) are like hawks on unsafe weapon practices and it's the fastest you'll ever see them move. Very Happy

Monitoring the construction and ageing of melee weapons takes expertise and skill. Even with my 2 years as a GC weapons checker, I still have to regularly refer weapons up to my supervisor because I'm a little uncertain on some aspects and don't feel fully comfortable supervising weapons testing for LARP weapons. Spotting when a weapon is at the end of its service life is critical and people that can do that outside of the LARP community are few and far between.

Speaking of training and competency, in order to effectively use melee weapons unless you're using US style boffers then pulled blows are a must. Instead of a full contact thwack, you're supposed to only tap the weapon home in order to score the point. Even with properly built LARP weapons, you'll get bruises and welts from un-pulled blows. I've seen the damage Nerf swords can do in over enthusiastic hands. With the growth of public wars in the UK, there isn't the same culture there is on a LARP field of respect for the weapons and their proper use. There are LARP systems that do allow under 16s but they are not as combat focused as a specific war and kids get special treatment and rules for that. Public Nerf wars in the UK lack the necessary density of knowledgeable persons in order to be able to train people to safely use melee weapons.

I've eluded to manpower matters above but LARP has a lot of marshals and referees around to ensure safety. The yellow jackets are there to watch and ensure that people don't stab with weapons, don't take the piss and generally don't get hurt. They need training and supervision to make effective decisions and deal with players that are out of line. UK groups that insist on melee are going to need to find an effective way to supervise their games safely.

Then there is cost. This is my LARP weapon arsenal. From top to bottom is my bearded axe (£35), Entrenching Tool (£45), M9 Dagger (£25) and my custom 39" sword (£65 done at discount because I know a guy). As you can see, even the cheapest item there is £25.

Quality and safety cost. If you're not prepared to invest substantial sums on hardware that will do the job then it's not safe to do so. I do not lend out my weapons unless I know the person very well and I've played alongside them enough to trust they will treat my kit with respect. Lending this sort of stuff to kids would be a nightmare in terms of attrition.

There is the alternative of the US style boffer sword. They tend to be cheaper and better for un-pulled blows but they still leave welts and brusies. They look fugly but they're enough to be starting with if you're insisting on starting down this road. However, I don't know any one in the UK that is knowledgeable enough to build these things safely. Nor do I know of any one that would be able to spot when they are reaching the end of their safe service life. The usual stuff about not being able to stab with them applies and in the hands of kids you're going to get un-pulled blows and what not. Un-pulled blows are a nightmare for game organisers and first aiders with them being the most common complaint that will arise from a field battle.

The legal specifics are grey, too. From an insurance perspective, LARPs have their own specially underwritten insurance that exists to cover things like melee combat. They've been doing it for years and years and have a particular insurance company that handles their PLI, risk assessments and other bits and pieces. When I asked our insurer about covering events, they seemed to want something similar if we were running melee. It's not beyond the realms of possibility but again you need the people who are experienced enough in melee weapon safety (and supporting paperwork) to satisfy the insurers that you, as an event organiser, have done everything you can to prevent an injury and in turn a claim.

Finally, we turn to the game play aspects. At a fundamental level, I turn up to a Nerf war to shoot things. Green Cloaks is a LARP that has Nerf (with varying degrees of success) and their rule set reflects that. However, short day games with teams and attendance in flux is a very different kettle of fish.

Balancing melee with ranged fire power is a significant challenge. You have to design game arenas and rule sets to accommodate the fact that darts aren't free while melee weapons functionally are. You have to account for people running dry and it just devolving into a giant melee scrum. GC spectacularly fails this and I've yet to encounter a rule set that doesn't just encourage 'spam and slash' tactics. Limiting game time is one option among others. Melee games, particularly HvZ variants, run the risk of turning into games of whack-a-mole as you tag people over and over.

Furthermore, one-hit-one-kill games also don't allow for much in the way of meaningful melee on melee combat because the first person to land a strike wins. Proper melee sparring involves exchange of blows, blocking and counter-striking. As soon as you land a blow on the guy in single HP systems, you move on. At that point, you might as well just carry the longest spear on the field and twat people with that. The meta-game runs out really fast and it gets dull. Attempts to fix that will then mean you have to start adding layers of complexity in the form of multiple hit points and what nots which begin to cause problems with people taking their hits. That's the second most complained about thing at any LARP system. I don't trust adults to take their hits, let alone if you're playing with 8+.

I think that covers everything I have in mind at the moment. I get asked this question a lot and this covers most of my thinking on the subject. Melee has its place and Nerf wars are not them. There's nothing better than wading into a fight,  blaster in one hand, sword in the other and feeling like a badass. However, doing that safely and effectively in short games with an untrained public audience over a variety of ages is borderline impossible.

I'm happy to take questions and allow this to evolve as a discussion.

Good post. Topic closed as far as I'm concerned....

You've sort of touched on it with the not being trained aspect, but I would imagine 95% of nerfers would suck at an actual melee, and then you would end with a whole load of people waving foam at each other without actually hitting each other.....until someone whacks someone a bit too hard.

Fuck melee, if I wanted to do weapon combat I would be playing a LARP or doing it properly. †This is a foam blaster community and should be focusing on FOAM BLASTER GAMES, there are millions of places you can learn much better sword craft.
Having done both metal sword stunt work and reenactment as well as seeing what can happen when muppets are let loose even with professionally constructed latex kit (try 6" of carbon rod through the arm) I can safely say there's no way to safely allow melee outside if a fully ref covered LARP or a full contact setting where people are PROPERLY TRAINED.

I can't understand why you'd want to run around with a pool noodle sword when I've got a blaster anyway.

You'll get rekt!

Agreed but like the Stampede 50 round drum or herpes, it just keeps coming back and it won't go away. You'll always have someone who thinks it's a good idea so I thought to put my thoughts out here rather than repeating myself until I'm blue in the face. Or worse, as nearly happened yesterday, I tell someone they're stupid without telling them why because I don't have the energy. Very Happy

I've been lucky enough to have avoided any contact with any actual core injuries but yes, 6" of carbon fibre through the arm is possible. I've heard stories of rods through abdomens and the like but safety and construction quality has been tightened up quite a bit making these things fairly rare nowadays.

As I say, there are times when you just need to drive the point home (figuratively) and twat someone with a foam shovel but public Nerf wars aren't the place.

It's less the safety of the weapons, it's the total lack of training on the other end!
Like any good recurring BS, staking it repeatedly will kill it eventually. I have a lot of stakes.

Please do read all the way through before responding!

"I'm happy to take questions and allow this to evolve as a discussion."

I'm not sure many would dare stick their necks out to question any of what's beem said having seen the weight of support your post affords! At least, not on this forum...

"However, doing that safely and effectively in short games with an untrained public audience over a variety of ages is borderline impossible."


An alternative was suggested by a GuNer a few weeks ago (not mentioning who in case they want to remain anonymous in the wake of the above burn-storm build-up!). I thought this was quite a good alternative since the appeal to me isn't so much whacking someone with a foam shovel (although, since reading Boff's suggestion, the idea's growing on me!), as much as being able to tag someone at close range without necessarily using a dart to do it.

Before someone says "but when do you get the opportunity to ever do that in a round of Nerf" I'd like to definitively say that it happens to me, not in my dreams, but at the events we have each month! Sneaking through the back door and walking past opponents facing away from their base tagging them, flanking, generally catching other players off guard... it happens! I even did it at Davidov's Saturday Skirmish when I visited last spring, first game of capture the box! Jumped out of the bushes sideways on to opponent's base, grabbed the objective and shot about three people facing the other way point blank before making my way back to my own base (not that I remmeber it so well because I have to savour every little success in my life or anything Embarassed )

So the suggestion (which I liked) was saying "karate chop" whilst possibly touching them on the shoulder or back.

This instantly seemed like it would accomplish what I wanted, which was the authority to make a tag as a result of out-maneuvering an opponent as well as spamming. Honestly, I thought this was a great suggestion and a superb compromise, allowing me to do what I wanted, whilst not risking running someone through with a £1 foam sword from B&M and being sued as a result.

Of course, this would also rely on the integrity of the tagged to take their hit, as with a regular dart hit.

I don't see a reason why this, even without any physical contact, couldn't be safely used, as it has been in some airsoft and paintball rulesets. Bearing in mind some of our blasters hit quite hard, it could even reduce close range whelting if it's safety we're concerned about ^_^

*metaphorically readies shield for impending storm of exasperation... in the form, of course, of metaphorical foam darts, not strikes from metaphorical foam shovels, perish the very thought...*

Davera wrote:

My sword has worse accuracy than any of my blasters.

As someone who has walked on both sides of the fence, I think melee can be a lot of fun at events, providing it is properly accommodated. Generally speaking though, it's a bad idea. The rules can get convoluted and in the heat of the moment people can get hurt. Quite badly in fact. Not only that but for some reason it brings out the worst in people and seems to cause more arguments. For these reasons I'd likely say no to melee in a public game. But for an organised game with only experienced/mature players who all know each other quite well, it can be a good giggle.

As someone who was once hospitalised after a rough tackle playing 'touch rugby', I know all too well how quickly thes things can get out of hand.

So "karate chop" or "bang bang" is fine in lieu of the physical hitting action? We're all comfortable with that?

Justajolt wrote:
So "karate chop" or "bang bang" is fine in lieu of the physical hitting action? We're all comfortable with that?

We use the 'bang' rule in airsoft at close quarters. It works quite well.

The question of allowing melee was BY FAR the most common question I was asked *every term without fail* during my time as president of my HvZ club at my university. Players love the idea of being able to whale on zombies with Nerf swords. From one perspective, I totally understand the appeal. It hearkens back to the childhood games many of us play with sticks. However, even Nerf melee weapons can and often do hurt, especially when wielded by a 6 foot tall 20-something. Many of the weapons feature narrow edges that, while being designed to bend, may not bend on a direct hit, focusing all the energy of the swing onto that small area. Additionally, the melee weapons aren't really designed to take the abuse that an adult might put into it. This can result in wear and tear on the foam, potentially exposing the inner plastic supports which can definitely hurt someone.

Fuck melee. Shoot people with darts, that's the whole point.

The end.

"Bang" it is, then!

Get yerself up here jolt, every time you get me with a "karate chop" I'll give you a fine Scottish tenner, everytime I hit you with a dart you give me one of your english fivers, deal?


The idea of hand tags is a fair compromise that gets around the need to have melee weapons. As Justajolt says, it''s a good compromise given the choice between actual swords and no melee at all. If you use standard HvZ tag rules (i.e. 1 firm palm to a shoulder) then you're probably get a good scope. After all, the mechanic is already present for zombies in HvZ game variants so provided the rules are clear in HvH games then you can probably strike the balance.

Given it was me who suggested 'karate chop' I'll stick my head above the parapet and say as a dynamic I see it as totally different to wacking someone with a foam weapon.

That axe that bguk had at the last GuN could have caused a mess in some over enthusiastic kids hands and that was all rubber construction (?). Not a chance it's going to touch me or my kids....

If you can get closer enough to tag someone as you do in HvZ then it has to be acceptable to claim it as a 'hit'.

I don't think the Bang/Karate Chop will satisfy those eager for melee. I do agree it is a good alternative to shooting someone point blank, and adds another dynamic to a game.

I don't think you can argue against the experience in this discussion.

If I am close enough to tap you on the shoulder I should have tagged you and any nearby team mates 20ft ago!

If you are hungry for melee PLAY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hmmmmmm, can't argue with that.....

Given the options though, I'd prefer another two or three darts in my blaster to use as needed. Plus, if you see two or three around a corner a few feet away facing away from you, they deserve to be humiliated for not watching their backs!

Rab, I think I'd lose plastic money at your skate park!

Come to one of our corridory, cornery buildings though, and bring that Scots tender!

Regarding satisfying a mele itch, I think the hand tag compromise hit the spot. Thanks OMN ^_^ It does the job for me, even if no other foam object wielder.

And I agree that experience is valuable and should be respected, but as a science teacher I am always an advocate of challenging received wisdom to create something new. A prime example of why this is valuable is that we're able to have this conversation, illuminated by electric light, via a monitor, over the internet about an recreational activity reliant on mass produced plastic products shipped half way around the world and us having enough leisure time due to improved health care, food production techniques etc so our primary concern in life isn't merely survival in the first place, as it would have been if we'd kept burning people who thought different things as witches instead of (eventually) listening to them!

In this case, the wisdom has predominantly stood, but been developed and new avenues have been opened up for exploration.

We may well (after discussing it together as a team[go team GuN {the rest of you WISH you were from Yorkshire}])* trial and feed back after next GuN.

#thatsscience ^_^

~Realises school doesn't start till 0850 tomorrow morning. Shuts up~

*Bracket abuse

Next GuN I'll bring my ducking stool. If you drown melee is safe, if you survive melee is dangerous and we'll burn you at the stake anyway. Does that sound a reasonable way of settling the discussion? Smile

As you can see I have a strong opinion on this topic! I haven't got as much martial arts and foam weapon experience as Davidof, but my views are as much to do with what this forum and it's events are for.
People will say we are "Britnerf" and "Nerf makes (shit) foam weapons so we should discuss them and allow them in our games."
My answer to that is that Nerf makes dog toys, footballs, glowy glasses, kids trainers, skateboards, rubber bricks, frisbees and water pistols.
Do we all desire those added to our games? Should I be thinking about holy water for my super soaker (useful as Drac repellant?) to combat Zombies and change my rules accordingly?
Do we need rules for tennis ball launchers and squeaky toys? Should MY DOG be allowed to play too?

To change the focus of our games to make them into crap boffer combat or "LARP Lite" will dilute our key unique selling point, the accessibility, excitement, utility and safety of DART BLASTERS.

That is not to say there is anything wrong with LARP or LARP/Nerf hybrid games, they do melee far better and safer than we do, we support and promote their communities and events because they have much to recommend them and they share our love of foam flinging.

HOWEVER- We are not, nor should we become a LARP or boffer combat forum. There are other better, more relevant and exciting places that are devoted to that. THERE IS NOT another UK BLASTER FORUM.

Now people will say "but the Aussies do it, so we must be like them." To that I say the Aussies don't †have Big Damn Heroes or Green Cloaks, nor do they have the small, convienient country that is the UK, which allows attendance at several different events and activities within a month over weekends. If Dustybin and his dad can get to all these Nerf wars, you can get to somewhere to hit someone with a rubber (or better still metal) sword.

This is MY PERSONAL VIEW, the a&m team have much more experience in LARP and running an Internet community, so ultimately it will be a community and organisers decision if melee is included. I will however always oppose any formal support for it at a sanctioned event as I believe it is a job best done by the people who know it best.

old_man_nerf wrote:
...burn you at the stake anyway. Does that sound a reasonable way of settling the discussion? Smile

I genuinely "loled" at that! Is there a discord chat tomorrow evening?

Quote "Everything ON just said".

I agree. I think you're right to have strong beliefs about it too. The last thing we want is insurance getting more expensive and people hurting themselves or others! Ad changing the focus would be a mistake.

I think we may well find, though, that many of the others who cry out for their rights to carry a foam meat-cleaver, rubber halberd, plastic brick or stuffed dog in a Nerf War will also be satisfied by being permitted to tag with a cry of "bang" as I was. (Beside, BritStuffedDog isn't a good forum name anyway.)

I think with this compromise, we can doff the boffers and focus on blaster-y mastery.

Great to see we can still have a good disscusion on a topic that theres so many strong opinions on.

Well done forum, one of the reasons Britnerf is class leader.

Now then Jolt, I expect to hear an Austin Powers style "Judo Chop!"
Shout in your next vid. 😅

Totally watching out for Austin "Jolt" Powers.
This has been an interesting discussion, still keen to hear Davidofs' thoughts too.

This has been a really interesting discussion to follow.  Thanks to Boff for posting a really well thought out argument and everyone for the really interesting and insightful opinions.  

I'm a Noob and so had no particular opinoon about Melee. Until reading this. For me I don't think it can be controlled well enough to be done safely and with the quality of products/knowledge needed it isn't worth the risk.

However, in terms of looking cool then I think this may have a place. Not LARP standard, but it wouldn't be for using in a game. More for show like in cosplay. So you'd look awesome, but would still shoot people with foam.

Again, I can see arguments against this as it would be difficult to stop an over enthusiastic individual from going nuts with a foam swords in the heat of battle. So for me, Melee is out for Nerf wars but I still like the cosplay aspect it could bring to a persons kit.

From reading the above information and opinions from both sides of the fence I feel that anything that involves kids simply means NO melee. Kids are great, but things can very easily escalate and having physical contact in the mix isn't a great idea.

I like the shoulder touch 'Bang' idea and see that it can have a place in games, if it's the right game with the right people, but only really in a sneaky sneaky ninja way. Running up to someone and potentially hitting them hard on the shoulder (running + adrenalin) isn't a great idea and you can see how this could easily go wrong.

I have no problem at all with never having melee, after all I play to use my blaster.

And this is why we have a discussion on these things. I'm perfectly fine with a hand tag since we use it in HvZ already. Porting it across to other game modes isn't a problem. If you manage to get close enough then they should be deaded. Saving darts and preventing high powered blasters from being discharged at close quarters are added bonuses. Problems like lunges and what nots are already covered by the risk assessment that comes with HvZ style games so you're not adding anything new there, either. Smile

tbr wrote:

(edit.... Just realised I've described HvZ above, obviously that works, so yeah it should be fine, but if your running after someone, why arn't you shooting them? So still I think for game play reasons it should be limited to sneaky sneaky time)

I've been umm'ing and arr'ing about posting a comment to this thread...

I'm one of that tiny minority who would like to add an element of larp-like melee to certain games, based on my past experience of larp, and where i'd like to take the special farces rules set.

My major problem here is that I don't really think this is a discussion, it's become more of a "melee is bad m'kay" and the attitude that comes across to me is "anyone who wants melee is stupid"

That might not be the intention, but its certainly the feeling i'm getting from the thread, and why I was reluctant to post.

It would be easy to just say 'leave melee for Green Cloaks' but the distance and lore make that inaccessible for many. I'm sure theres a middle ground that could be reached, but i'm not seeing how that could be reached at the moment.

*shrugs* I'll just continue being that tiny minority. Sad

BGUK makes a very good point. Bravery kudos ^_^

*Considers Rab's challenge*

"Judo Chop"
"Judo Jolt"

... Hard to decide which I like best...

blindgeekuk wrote:
I'm one of that tiny minority who would like to add an element of larp-like melee to certain games, based on my past experience of larp, and where i'd like to take the special farces rules set.

I'm with you on this one. Melee can inhance certain game types and can add a lot more lols to a war. We once ran a game called 'Michael Myers' which saw a player walking around with a huge machete. It was always funny, especially when we used the smallest person as the the bad guy. We also used to run a 'Cowboys and Indians' type game which was surprisingly evenly matched (but then, we were using lightly modified N-Strike blasters back then). That game was serious carnage and swatting darts out the air with a boffer was common place.

Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with using boffers at a closed community game but I get twitchy at the idea of letting young kids and the general public go nuts with a big stick.

Fair play to you guys, as I said thats why Britnerf is such a good forum, everyone gets a chance to discuss their opinion.

Looks like some kind of specific closed doors game is where its heading, not a bad thing I suppose. One question regards melee weapons, would they have to be realistic looking or would you be happy using half a pool noodle?

I like that one particularly because one of the beers we brew is called Kendo named after the famous Kendo Nagasaki 🍻

The safety aspect of melee aside, I just can't help but think of this. I think that sums up my thoughts.

BGUK, as I stated in my OP it's not a case of 'melee is bad, m'kay' it's a case of needing to think long and hard about the significant safety caveats before you do so. There are few non-LARP organisers that I would trust to be able to regulate a melee game properly and I certainly wouldn't play anywhere with under 16s for the reasons given. I did point out in my OP that one of my favourite experiences of GC last year was wading into a fight Stryfe in one hand and sword in the other cutting through aliens at the tip of the spear as my regiment ploughed into them behind me. It's not a case of anyone who wants melee is stupid, it's a case of anyone who hasn't properly thought through the implications of melee is stupid. I encounter the latter type of person a lot.

However, the use of actual melee weapons needs to be restricted to over 16s and an environment and rule set that is conducive to their effective use. Close quarters melee takes the contact nature of the sport to another level and organisers have to reflect that in their planning. No one is stopping you running an event with melee rules. We had this with the Battery Wars (tm) at the start. If we hadn't struck out on our own then we'd still be running Trustfires and hair thin wire. Go do it, prove me wrong (honestly, I love it when people do). Fuck, if you've got experience of LARP first hand and can show me that you've thought it through properly then I'll lend a hand with logistics and possibly even travel to an event. However, I'd do that under my LARP banner and not my Nerf one. Even if it is LARP-lite.

My point is and always will be, melee is fine, just not on this forum (my opinion not that of the A&M team) and not at any game I organise. People who want melee are not stupid, they are simply in the wrong place.
Do what you want at your games!

blindgeekuk wrote:

It would be easy to just say 'leave melee for Green Cloaks' but the distance and lore make that inaccessible for many. I'm sure theres a middle ground that could be reached, but i'm not seeing how that could be reached at the moment.

The middle ground would appear to be organise another larp that is in an area you want to play in/is accessible to you and others/is fully risk assessed and insured.

How about "LARP, I nearly did?" from the team who bought you Grim up Nerf? Or "The LARP King of Rutland" or "LARP of the Mohicans" and maybe for Franksie " The LARP Samurai."

Larp action hero.

I know you guys have a wealth of experience and I only have a single Nerf war under my belt but I feel there is a place for melee in certain game types. With what I've read of the way the special farces game works, being able to sneak up on someone with a foam dagger and hold it to their neck using them as a human shield or getting a stealth kill would be useful. In that instance I think the dagger would have to be provided by the organisers. It would only go to the team member assigned the stealth kill skill set making sure it's someone deemed sensible enough to use it as intended and not to hack away at someone.
General game play I don't see it being a good idea unless it's in a well organised LARP environment for all the reasons listed above.

I think melee would be a bit of fun.

The thing to do would be to give it a try at a larger event. Keep it simple with a pistol round and give everyone a pool noodle. If it's a good laugh then great, if it's a bit naff then see if you can improve it.

Like I've said, I've had mixed experience with it in the past but I'm always open to new ideas.

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