By Blair Jackson
Every Sunday at high noon, wizards, barbarians and warriors arrive at Charles Finger Park in Fayetteville. They carry swords, war hammers, axes, arrows and daggers made of foam. Some wear jeans and tennis shoes. Others wear fur sashes, leather armor or robes.
They are members of the Barony of RazorHills, Fayetteville’s only live action role playing (LARPing) group. With a strong sense of community, these LARPers come together as friends and also as citizens.
Charles J. Finger Park was transformed into RazorHills two years ago when avid LARPers Lord Moose, Blue Moon and Derek Bross grew tired of traveling across the state to wage battle. RazorHills is part of an international LARPing group called Amtgard. The group is divided into large, regional sections that are dubbed as Kingdoms. Currently, Razorhills is part of the Emerald Hills Kingdom which includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee. However, some Oklahoma and Arkansas parks have plans to branch into their own kingdom and have banded together to create The Confederacy of Dreadmoor.
Lord Moose — who has been participating in live action role paying for almost 10 years in parks across Arkansas and also in southern Oklahoma — is currently the Champion of Dreadmoor, a title she earned by winning the Dreadmoor Champion’s Tournament. Along with her own advancement in the ranks, Moose has watched RazorHills grow from the original founders to a crowd of 30 people. “It’s a huge improvement,” she says emphatically.
Lord Moose began Larping on a whim, when she was 18 years old.
“I like to get up and do it. It’s a lot of exercise,” she says. For Moose, who has permanent nerve damage in her right arm, fighting in the Larp battles serves as a type of physical therapy that keeps her arm limber. Even though she can’t raise the arm above shoulder level, the young woman is the lead warrior on the battlefield, and her blows are delivered quickly, in a blur of gray and black. “Everyone’s getting their ass kicked by a cripple,” she says jokingly.
The battle unfolds like a movie scene. Thirty men, women, and teenagers dressed in costume (or “garb”) stand on opposite ends of the field, discussing battle strategies and preparing for the charge. A man with a yellow scarf tied around his forehead stands in the middle of the field. This bespectacled man is Lord Xaras. The yellow scarf identifies him as a wizard, but he is currently acting as the reeve (or referee).
“Lay on!” he cries.
The charge is slow at first. Those who have shields take the front at a light jog. Blows are delivered in dull thumps and thwacks, hacking limbs or being blocked by foam shields. Individuals soon engage each other, and there are one-on-one fights. Wizards hurl spell balls (foam balls covered in cloth) at their targets. Warriors fall to the ground when their legs are wounded. Kneeling, they continue to fight, at times fighting with both legs cut out from under them.
For every player, it is a fight to the death; but luckily, each player has at least five lives. Even with the power of resurrection, the intensity of combat is intimidating to the casual onlooker and new players. Lord Xaras says the most challenging part of the game for a new player is “overcoming that moment of panic, when you have a bunch of people bearing down on you with foam weapons.”
Even the fiercest warriors recall that initial moment.
“The first time I played, I thought, ‘I’m about to die,’” recalls Balec, a fifth level barbarian (there are
only six levels) who is also a junior at Fayetteville High School’s West campus. “I remember very clearly — as I was dying.” He died that first time at age 12.
Balec has matured into one of the best combat fighters on the field and is currently Lord Moose’s Man-at-Arms.
Rauchen, who is also a student at FHS West Campus, explains the man-at-arms position as a type of page position, but that it is “less of the stuff gathering and more of the body gathering.”
“It’s a more respected version of her bitch. If she wants someone killed, I go kill them,” explains Balec.
Balec attributes his success on the battlefield to his friend Rauchen, with whom he practices; but the teen also shows a deep commitment to the league.
“Amtgard is a good 50 percent of my life,” Balec says. He makes his own weapons and garb, and, of course, spends a lot of time practicing with his friends. With a long-term goal of climbing up the ranks and earning the title of warlord, Balec is also expected to participate in the league’s community service projects.
“I like giving back to RazorHills because my park gives so much to me,” he says. “It’s a way for me to get out any anger or resentment I have in a safe, fun environment.”
Larping as an emotional outlet or anger management is a common sight on the battlefield, according to Dragonfly, a woman dressed in black with chopsticks in her hair. “A lot of kids use larping as a way to get out aggression. Some of the best fighters are teenagers and some come from troubled homes.”
Dragonfly actively recruits teens and young adults. As a former employee of the Boys and Girls Club, reaching out to the younger generation is a personal passion.
“There are some kids who are just looking for someone to understand,” Dragonfly says, explaining that Larping teaches social skills and fair play. She mentions that it also gives them an opportunity to interact with responsible, caring adults. If there are students who can’t afford garb, the Amtgard crew will volunteer time and material to make them.
TigerHawke, the prime minister of Emerald Hills, says LARPing offers teens a sense of community and ownership that they may not feel in their schools or at home.
“We’re open to anybody. Everyone is welcome to participate in the group,” she says.
Though it may sound like fun and games, the technique of hand-to-hand combat is more complicated than one might think. Derek Bross, one of the Amtard founders, fashions armor from various materials. His most recent piece of garb is his leather cuirass, made of belts and rivets. Sitting on a picnic bench, with his face covered in green war paint, the warrior talks about the variances of technique demanded by different pieces of armor.
He says he has a chainmail shirt made of galvanized fencing wire that weighs 50 pounds. Wearing such heavy armor makes conserving energy imperative, especially during long games.
Because LARPing is much more physical than D&D and other paper-and-dice games, each player must learn the movements of fellow combatants, while also building speed and agility as well as strength.
For anyone who is familiar with RPG’s, the concept of skill building or “leveling up” is no foreign concept. In Amtgard, committing service is necessary to rise to new levels in combat and within the hierarchy. Players can volunteer to support Art and Science projects, serve as an officer or work as a page in service to their park.
Lord Moose gives orders to at least three pages who do her bidding. The youngest is 9-year-old Iron Hoof, who wears a shimmering golden blouse and a sash of animal fur.
“I’m learning to be an assassin,” she says.
Apparently, the girl is well on her way. She has already taken out one of the best warriors of RazorHills by executing a sneak attack from behind. Standing approximately four feet tall, the girl has the element of surprise on her side. For Iron Hoof, being Lord Moose’s page is an honor.
“She’s the best warrior and healer — she’s, like, cool,” she says.
Cool is exactly what the Larpers are, at least, to one another. Lord Xaras says there are certain movies that make Larping look foolish, but that everyone “has fun with it.” He references the 2008 movie “Role Models”. “We’ve been there. We’ve done that. We do look foolish — but we just laugh and keep throwing our spell balls and chucking our swords.”
For Pandora, who joined in February, Larping is a celebration of personalities. “You will not find a better group of people,” she says. We’re all weird and fun and quirky. We’re all geeks, and it’s fun, and we celebrate each other’s geekiness.”
The live-action aspect of this role playing game is what separates it from World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy or Dungeons and Dragons.
“The biggest difference (between LARPing and traditional RPG’s) is that it gets you up off your lazy butt! Shake it. Do something. Run, jump, die horribly,” says Lord Xaras, who has been LARPing since 1997 and has played in five states. In Washington, where Lord Xaras earned his title, the group would play in the knee-deep snow.
As for the RazorHills group, Xaras says the same attitude applies: Even snow won’t keep them off the field.