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Live-action role-playing game offers a variety of fun

February 9, 2018

In this Feb. 3, 2018, photo, Aaron Gonzales, of Orem, Utah, also known by his in-game persona as Chaco, is hit by a spell ball, right in red, during battle games held by the Duchy of Iron Hold at Orem City Center Park in Orem. Iron Hold, which is Utah County's Amtgard group, currently has about 30 active members, and grows to about 50 members in summer months. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Orem City Center Park has been the site of numerous battles of magic and medieval might. Swords have been swung, arrows shot, spells cast, monsters slain and loot acquired. The battles are much like popular role-playing games, and that’s the point — except in this battle, you are the character.

Amtgard is an international LARP, or live-action role-playing game, that hinges between medieval combat and fantasy role-playing elements. No, the weapons and spells aren’t real and don’t inflict real damage, but the battleground mentality felt at the park is real.

“A lot of people think that we’re just a bunch of crazy nerds that come out here, and while that is true, that’s not the only thing about it,” said Pleasant Grove resident and guild master of druids, Riin Cari. “One of the coolest things about Amtgard is the group of people you meet. We’re all out here doing what we love, we’re all out here having fun.”

When represented in popular culture, LARPers aren’t often portrayed in the most savory light. Though, Cari has countered the occasional unkind word from people with open arms.

“More often than not, if someone’s like ‘you guys are dumb!’ I won’t yell at them, I’ll say, ‘come out and play!’” explained Cari. “I’ve actually gotten people to come out and play and stick around. It’s easy to judge from your car, but once you get out and try it you’ll realize that it’s a really good time.”

The world of Amtgard, and the world itself, is split up into regional kingdoms. The United States, where the game is primarily-based, is home to 21 different kingdoms. Each kingdom has a multitude of provincial Parks and each Park has its own group of players and medieval-style localized leadership. Utah lies in the Kingdom of Desert Winds, which also includes Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Southern Idaho. Within that kingdom, the Duchy of Iron Hold is Utah County’s regional park.

The battles, termed battle games, that people often associate with live-action role-playing games comprises the meat and potatoes of the Amtgard experience. Battle games can be played in many different ways: some are more traditional team death-match style, whereas others are more objective-based with overarching story elements. There are several other LARP groups, all with their own flavor. In battle, some focus more on role-playing elements, some more on combat. Amtgard strives to strike a balance between the two.

Battle games in Amtgard are based on a wound system.

“If you get hit in the arm and you don’t have armor, or special armor, then that arm’s gone; you can’t use it,” explained Aaron Estep, monarch of the Duchy of Iron Hold.

Hits to either the arms or the legs results in a wound. Two wounds and a player is considered dead. Though, a single hit to the torso or back is considered an instant kill. Shots to the head or neck are not permitted. Armor allows for players to endure additional hits before sustaining a wound. How many hits armor can endure before being destroyed depends on the type of armor, how much of it the player is wearing, and what attack is striking the armor.

“It can be quite confusing, especially in the moment,” said Estep of learning the fighting system. “But then after a couple of weeks, you begin to understand. We have a good crew of people that like to bring in new people and get them acclimated because it is one of the most fun things to swing swords at people and not to get in trouble for it,” Estep explained with a laugh.

For in-depth details on the battle system, weapons, classes, level progression, rewards system, leadership hierarchy and much more pertaining to Amtgard, the game’s 77-page rule book can be found online at http://bit.ly/2E2vMW7.

As for weapons, they are much less destructive than the medieval originals from which they’re frequently based.

All weapons must be padded with enough foam to prevent any injury or bruising. Swords are often created from a hollow rod core (of PVC tubing, fiberglass, etc), shaped into the desired length and shape, and then cushioned with padding. The goal is to create a fun weapon to use that fits into each player’s class and play style, but causes minimal pain to opposing players. Arrows and spells (which sometimes take the form of foam spell balls) are also cushioned to prevent harm. To deflect attacks, foam shields of various sizes and shapes are permitted depending on a player’s class.

Battle games are what initially gets many players into Amtgard, such as Orem resident Kyle Frazier, who began battling under a more primitive circumstance.

“My brother Chad and I, we started very similarly to most of us ‘weirdos,’” said Frazier with a laugh. “As kids we began whacking each other in our backyard with sticks.” Frazier and his brother eventually grew to know Belegarth, another live-action role-playing game that is more combat-oriented than Amtgard. “It was fun, but it wasn’t really my style,” he said.

So, he and his brother began searching for other outlets for their love of role-playing. Upon finding that the Duchy of River’s End, the regional kingdom’s capital, was in Salt Lake City, they went north to begin playing Amtgard. However, they soon tired of making the drive up to the state capital, so they and another friend decided to found an Amtgard chapter of their own, and thus Iron Hold was formed as Utah County’s chapter in February of 2011.

Despite being the most visible portion of playing Amtgard, battle games only narrowly comprise the bulk of the game.

“The cool thing about Amtgard is that it isn’t all about fighting, or all about role-playing, or those kinds of things,” said Ginger Estep, Iron Hold’s guildmaster of reeves and wife of the group’s monarch. “There’s lots of leadership opportunities and bonuses outside of ‘yay, we get to hit our friends with swords.’”

Outside of weekly battle games (held Saturdays beginning at 11 a.m. at Orem City Center Park), the group also gathers each week for fighter practice and craft night. Fighter practice (held Mondays beginning at 6 p.m. at the park) is led by the group’s champion, who teaches members fighting techniques, rules of battle games and battle safety. Before any sort of battle, the champion checks all weapons to ensure that they’re safe and fit the game’s specifications. Craft night (held Wednesdays beginning at 6 p.m. at the home of one of the group’s leaders) is a time for members to work on creating their weapons, armor and spells, and also to hangout and socialize.

Every member feels that to some degree, the community of people is what keeps them playing Amtgard.

For Orem resident Maya Frazier, it was her brothers that introduced her to the community of Amtgard.

“They dragged me out for a weekend and I said, ‘fine, I’ll give it a shot,’” she explained.

The next weekend her brothers asked her if she would like to go again, and she agreed once more, this time with less reluctance. She loves the role-playing elements of the game, including creating her own persona. Personas are not only a backstory developed by each player for their own in-game character, but a name they’re called when playing the game. For Maya, her persona is Kara.

Today, she’s been in the group for about a year and a half.

“These people are my family,” explained Maya. “Sometimes if I have a bad day, I’ll be at someone’s house for like nine hours,” she said with a smirk, also adding her gratitude for the group’s openness to her frequent company. “I just like being with them.”

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com

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