Live, laugh, LARP: catching up with the Duchy of Ashen Hills


Every Sunday, members of the Duchy of Ashen Hills take to the battlegrounds of Patriarche Park, dressed in medieval attire and carrying homemade weapons.

“You cannot miss us. If you show up to Patriarche Park at noon on a Sunday, you cannot miss the group of nerds LARPing in the park,” said Lauren Warshaw, nicknamed “Alpaca” for the animal that adorns her homemade shield.

As the champion of Ashen Hills, Warshaw helps lead the Lansing chapter of Amtgard, an international organization that promotes live-action role playing, or LARPing, specifically medieval fantasy and combat sports.

“My job is to promote violence,” she said, laughing. “I create games, check weapons for safety and organize tournaments. It’s my main social group. These nerds are my best friends.”

Although she only joined the chapter in 2022, Warshaw said she’s known the “core group” of Ashen Hills for a long time.

“After I went through some difficult life things, my partner encouraged me to come out and socialize. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it can be a little cringey, but once you jump in and play, it’s really just a competitive sport with a nerdy twist to it,” she said.

Amtgard is considered a boffer sport, meaning players use foam swords and arrows to conduct their competitions. For Lansing LARPers, the Duchy of Ashen Hills is a place to find friendship and share tangential interests like leather working and blacksmithing.

A masked Ashen Hills player strikes during a midwinter game.
A masked Ashen Hills player strikes during a midwinter game.

“Everything we wear and all the weapons, everything is all homemade. There’s no place where you can just go buy things for Amtgard,” Warshaw said.

While LARPing is often thought of as questing, creating elaborate characters and interacting with the environment, Amtgard is much closer to a competitive sport.

“Every week, we have a new game. It can be capture the flag, storm the castle, gather the hoard of gold, protect the gold. We get creative with the objectives and thematics,” Warshaw said.

On Sundays, the group runs four to five battle games that last 15 to 30 minutes each. The head and neck aren’t legal targets, but some people still wear safety equipment like helmets or face masks.

“We’ll take breaks in between and keep going from there. I don’t think we’ve played the same game twice,” Warshaw said.

For those who want to take in the experience without the combative element, there are plenty of roles off the field.

“We’ll find a spot for you counting score, keeping track of the rules or being a non-player character. If you want to role play with us, we want you there,” Warshaw said.

Players must be 14 or older and willing to have fun, get a little dirty and sign a waiver. Minors require parental supervision, and when I showed up to a game last Sunday (March 17), I saw one parent waiting in a warm car, watching over a small group of teens at the pavilion.

Most everyone I spoke to gave me me their character name instead of their legal name. Isabel, 15, said her older brother got her involved in the group.

“I get to let out my energy, and it’s fun to play with other people,” she said.

Enoki, 15, quipped, “I just like hitting people with swords.” They laughed, then said, “There’s a headline! Local East Lansing teen loves hitting people with swords!”

When I asked what they enjoy about the group, Enoki said, “It’s a nice release to let things out. It’s just really nice to be accepted. We’re always looking for new people, and it’s low key.”

Emrys, 71, has been with Lansing’s Amtgard chapter since 2001, and he first participated in the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international living history organization, in 1966. With more than 50 years of fantasy play under his belt, he said this group keeps him young.

“My name means ‘child of light.’ I’m a Taurus, a bull. I push the outside of the envelope,” he said. “The way I see it, I can either sit at home in a rocking chair and wait for death, or I can hang around here and absorb their youth. I know death is coming, but I’d rather make him chase me down on the field.”

When Emrys first tried medieval role playing in the 1960s, he felt like he had been doing it all his life.

“Even in my past lives, if you believe in that sort of thing,” he said.

Throughout his career, he traveled as a software consultant and found Amtgard groups around the country. He said that unlike the Society for Creative Anachronism, which he described as “a major commitment,” Amtgard is more accessible.

“Come out and pick up a sword, it’s fun!” he exclaimed.

As he’s grown older, Emrys said he’s experienced a few heart attacks and has begun having trouble walking, so he’s switched his weapon of choice from a sword to a bow and arrow.

“It’s like having a 20-foot spear,” he said with a smile.

Cody Yordy, aka Dyrdron Baltori, is the monarch of Ashen Hills.

“I oversee the day-to-day activities, making certain that rules are followed, addressing safety concerns and being a front face toward the community to be a welcoming presence for people,” he explained.

Yordy is also responsible for growing talent, refining plans, questing and different battle game scenarios. When I visited, the group was running a competition where the players created their own games. Each player had time to explain the game, then the group played it. Finally, everyone scored each game with a rubric.

Yordy has been a member of the group for about a year, and he commutes most weekends from Petoskey to participate. He’s originally from Alaska, where he participated in an Amtgard chapter for about two years in Anchorage.

“We have an entirely separate kingdom,” he said. “Once I made my way to Michigan, I was looking to join a group, and Ashen Hills is the closest.”

Originally, Yordy fell into LARPing through mutual friends and family members. Even though the two groups are thousands of miles apart, he said they’re not very different.

“The Anchorage group is fairly equal in size, maybe about 35 people in the summer. Both are incredibly accepting. I have never felt more welcomed,” he said.

One difference he has noticed is that Ashen Hills is “more experimental” and “there’s always something new.”

“The community itself is awesome — having a friendly band of misfits, being able to spar with people, it’s good exercise,“ he said. “I enjoy what we have, and I’ve made a lot of good friends in Lansing. The people are the reason I keep coming back out.”

LARP, Lansing, Patriarch park, Ashen Hills


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us