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Chris Bieri, Grand Forks Herald , Published June 24 2012

Role players do battle every weekend in Grand Forks park

GRAND FORKS - Passer-by will occasionally point and snicker.

Sometimes they’ll shout out catcalls as they cruise by University Park in Grand Forks.

But the members of the Land’s End Amtgard aren’t bothered.

They’re too busy with sticks and stones to be concerned with any names they might be called.

Those sticks are homemade foam swords, staffs and axes, which players in this Live Action Role Playing, or LARP, club use to slice, stab and imaginarily dismember each other on a weekly basis.

“We’re having fun,” said Kurt Ganyo on Saturday, dressed like a cross between a Jedi knight and a kung fu warrior. “We look at them and say, ‘You’re not having as much fun as we are.’”

Amtgard, which combines live action battling with medieval fantasy elements, was established in El Paso, Texas, in 1983. The local Land’s End group said they formed nine years ago, and now hold an active membership of around 25.

With a motto, “Meet new and interesting people, and beat them with foam weapons,” the group attracts locals, many of whom cut their teeth on fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Many of the combatants, who range in age from 13 to 45, take on personas, complete with elaborate costumes.

“It’s encouraged that if you’re going to become a member, you make your own weapons and take on your own persona,” said Allan Hoffman, a.k.a. Ursan Snow. “It’s about 80 percent that come from a fantasy gaming background.”

On Saturday, UND student Robert Simon, 21, was in full battle regalia, complete with body armor, protective chainmail and a Bascinet helmet.

There are a number of different combat scenarios the players compete under. A basic one is a ditch battle, in which the group splits up into two teams and jousts with swords and shields.

If a player gets hit on the arm or leg, they are unable to use that limb. If a player is hit in the torso, they are out.

The fights get more elaborate, taking into account other roles: barbarians, healers, archers and warriors, each with different powers and responsibilities.

Amtgard is undeniably do it yourself.

Nearly all of the weapons, costumes and accessories are made by members of the group. There is an awards system for making everything from weapons to jewelry.

Hoffman is one of the weapons experts, crafting swords out of bamboo, foam and cloth, sometimes using an old golf club shaft for reinforcement.

There are generally two participatory groups within an Amtgard, according to Hoffman. Stick jocks take to the sword play, and enjoy the fighting aspect of the game while flurbs are more into the fantasy part involving role playing.

There are governing groups nationally, which have a feudal theme. Land’s End is a shire, working on becoming a larger, more powerful barony. They are under the Kingdom of the Iron Mountains, based in Colorado.

It’s not unusual for Land’s End to get together for battles with other groups. Winnipeg, Crookston and Warroad, Minn., all have active Amtgard colonies.

Kurt Ganyo got interested in the Amtgard after his son Erik Ganyo, 20, got involved in the group.

Some fathers and sons go fishing or golfing together. The Ganyos travel to Amtgard events, making stops in Bemidji; Omaha, Neb.; and Vermillion, S.D.

“My dad just got curious,” Erik Ganyo said. “He’s been enjoying it ever since.”

It’s a family affair for Hoffman as well, whose young son Randall, aka. Bugus the Dinolord, is too young for the swordplay, but not for the fantasy portion.

Ophelia Brewer, 18, is one of the few females in the Land’s End group.

A gypsy/fairy known as Zalea when she participates in the Amtgard, Brewer said she’s been playing since 2010, when she started in a group in Warroad.

At 13, Hunter Cardinal is the youngest competitor and travels from Crookston on a weekly basis to be part of the group.

Although nearly all the members are older than 18, Hoffman admits that part of the appeal is to be a kid again.

“Everyone here has the 7-year-old inside them that wants to hit each other with sticks,” he said. “This is how we exercise our inner children.”