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Title: Fantasy fanatics take medieval make-believe to Bill Schupp park

Source: The Monitor, September 17th, 2009

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Fantasy fanatics take medieval make-believe to Bill Schupp park
September 17, 2009 12:39 PM
Amy Nichol Smith

Bill Schupp Park in McAllen has become a battleground.

A warrior clutches his shield against his chest and lunges with his sword toward an enemy. His opponent, a besieged wizard, quickly casts a spell that freezes his nemesis in place – for a few seconds anyway.

The war between two groups continues until there is a victor. The Reeve, or referee, picks up a padded sword that’s been cast aside and tosses it to its owner, instructing each team to go back to its base. A young boy grabs the dagger his mom helped him make out of foam and cloth and heads back to a tree with his group.

Blood is rarely spilled on the well-worn grassy field of the park when members of the High Fantasy Society face off against each other.

A medieval game of live-action role-playing, or LARP, the organization has many members throughout Texas, with “kingdoms” organized in different parts of the state. In South Texas, the Silver Spire kingdom is thriving with young men, women and children who don costumes and take on various fictional roles who turn Bill Schupp into a realm of warfare every Sunday.

Besides using their imagination in a giant game of make-believe, the members of HFS also participate in combat with weapons that are realistic in form but safe in play. Swords, polearms and such must be made with non-solid cores and padded so injuries are limited to bruises, if that. Many use PVC pipe, foam from furniture store dumpsters or “pool noodles.”

Roleplayers are encouraged to make their own garb, which indicates the class, or type of character, they play and to help keep the fantasy aspect of the game. Not everyone comes in costume, and the players rarely stay in character, unless they’re attending a special event such as a mid-reign, which marks the mid-point of the leader’s rule.

Tom Cagle was recently knighted during a mid-reign. The 23-year-old has been playing for more than five years after a friend convinced him to travel to San Antonio for an HFS event. He saw an opportunity to explore his love of fantasy and get some exercise.

“I’ve never really been very athletic, so this seemed like a good alternative,” he said.

In addition to physical activity, Cagle has made great friends, gained confidence and learned to organize events through LARP.

Several players are also veterans of table top games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Others had experience with the computer game World of Warcraft, stumbled upon the group in the park and realized that HFS is much like a live-action version of the popular massive multiplayer online role-playing game.

Cinque Navarro plays a level 80 Horde paladin – a high level character – in the computer game and sees a few similarities to taking the action outside as a barbarian in HFS, but he won’t be quitting World of Warcaft anytime soon.

“I stop playing WoW to come do this, then go play WoW again,” the 22-year-old said.

Others discovered the game by observing the group play at the park.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was kind of nerdy,” said Juan Guerra, 21. “But when I started playing, it was a lot of fun.”

Guerra replaced his workout at the gym for the past three months with HFS battles.

Silver Spire’s current monarch, Pablo Lopez, played the card game Magic the Gathering, but he got involved in HFS when he was in high school. Lopez is now 25 years old and enjoys the game as much now as when he began.

“It’s a fun, physical sport. There isn’t anything like it,” Lopez said.

Lopez’s reign as leader of the group will end soon. Each monarch rules the kingdom for six months at a time. He is expected to run major events such as mid-reign and court, at which time new officials are selected.

The Silver Spire kingdom meets every Tuesday and Thursday to practice and Sunday for battles, quests and various events at Bill Schupp Park. The group always has extra weapons and they welcome any valiant knight or wise wizard who is interested in playing.

Live action World of Warcraft?

The game World of Warcraft appeals to the masses because there’s so much to do. From questing to raiding to player-versus-player combat, there’s something for everyone. There are even servers devoted to those who prefer to stay in character in their realm, or roleplay. With the exception of raiding, maybe, HFS can fill those same needs for players.

Roleplaying in HFS usually is reserved for the special events that are held throughout the year, but there are a few players who will rarely break character even during practices.

Quests can involve several people at once who are given a task or series of tasks to complete – whether that’s collecting items or “killing” monsters to achieve a goal. During large gatherings like mid-reign is when quests are organized.

And just like in World of Warcraft, players will level up and gain more skills and armor. Leveling up in the “kingdom” starts the first Sunday one attends where he or she will be granted one experience point. After 11 weeks, the player will reach level two.


Amy Nichol Smith covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4420
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