Roughly 20 players, both men and women, sat under the gazebo to trade in their plain clothes for medieval and mythical garb. Making last minute repairs to their foam armor and weapons, one by one they trailed out into the field with swords, shields, spears and bows, ready to clobber each other in battle.
LARP stands for live action role-playing. Though role-playing was prominent in games since the 1974 introduction of Dungeons and Dragons, the live action combat element can be traced to a Washington, D.C. group called “Dagorhir” or “hobbit wars,” which began in 1977.
According to a 2014 LARP census, this phenomenon has grown to 6,240 practicing members in the United States.
Okemos’ Ashen Hills group is part of a bigger network of LARPers called Amtgard, an organization formed in 1983 with more than 300 chapters in the U.S. and Canada.
Ehren Mitchell, leader of Ashen Hills, said, “I used to live out in Oregon when I was going to high school. It was bigger out there than it was here at the time. I got into it and I was kind of into the Dungeons and Dragons thing, so it was a good fit.”
Bringing LARPing to Lansing after high school, Mitchell said it was an alternative to more dangerous games his friends would play. “I moved back here, and my friends were hitting each other with real sticks so I was like, ‘Hey guys there’s a game for that.’”
After playing the game for 20 years, Mitchell said he is into it less for role play and more for a sense of battle. “It’s exciting. I’m in it for the thrills most of the time. I like just the catharsis of going out and hitting people with stuff,” said Mitchell.
However, safety takes precedent said Mitchell. “There are no melee headshots. It can happen, of course, by accident. No tackling or shield bashing, and you keep your hands off other people.”
Along with the safety rules, there’s an Amtgard lore book filled with Amtgard hierarchy information, character classifications and battle game types.
“Our park is Ashen Hills and we are a shire, which is the smallest,” said Mitchell. “We are part of a larger kingdom called the Rising Winds that's based mostly out of Indianapolis. We travel a fair amount.”
Newcomers should not be daunted by the breadth of information, said Mitchell.
“I guess the big thing about Amtgard is it’s less of a LARP than it thinks it is,” said Mitchell. “There isn't an ongoing metagame. It is sort of you show up, one side will win, one side will lose and you reset from there.”
Mitchell said though Amtgard is technically a LARP game, people can experience it in different ways. “It is more like a medieval combat sport. The role play part exists, but it doesn't allow it as well as it should. It is built around the combat and works role play in somehow.”
Amtgard member Casey Baker said he enjoys the role play aspect of it.
“I don’t really care about the competitive side of it,” said Baker. “I try to get into the immersion side of it.”
Portraying a character is part of the fun, said Baker.
“I do an archer, and maybe an elf archer sort of character. If I’m going to be an archer, my job is to be a nuisance,” said Baker. “A lot of times I try to go to a position that doesn't hit their armor or shields, and cause some trouble flanking.”
If you're interested in LARPing, Mitchell said to just show up. “It’s free to play and we have loaner stuff. If you want to get into it, it depends on how much you want to spend. Not here, but there are guys running around in $1000 armor suits.”
If you're interested in crafting weapons, Mitchell said it is easy to get into with commonly available products.
“I make them using camp foam from Walmart, but we have a couple of other things,” said Mitchell. “A lot of our cores are old golf shafts, and graphite golf shafts that we cut the top off.”
Crafting shields comes easy as well, said Mitchell. “Shields are usually most of the time solid foam now. We get a denser foam with some kind of handle system on it. Saucer sleds are an old standby.”
Though imitating violent medieval combat, people shouldn't be scared of LARPing or LARPers, said Mitchell.
“At the end of the day, it is a stick tag, which is a little different from actually trying to kill somebody.”