August 30, 2014

Role-playing group takes its medieval-like battles to Riverside Park

Battle doesn’t stop in 100-degree weather.

Battle doesn’t stop in 100-degree weather.

At least not in Riverside Park.

You’ve probably seen them fighting.

Every Saturday, members of Stormwrath – the Wichita area realm of Dagorhir Battle Games – meet around 2 p.m. at Riverside Park.

The battle games are known as live action role playing. Participants dress in their best gear and pummel each other with Nerf-like weapons.

Stormwrath’s leader is Eric Simoncic, a 23-year-old from Wichita whose character is named Eerie.

“I came up with it because it’s similar enough to Eric and I can go any direction with my character,” he said. “I ended up going evil, so it worked out even better.

“I like the fighting. I started getting good, and I liked getting good,” he said. “It’s something to grow at, and you’re constantly going to grow. You’ll hit a peak, but you’ll never be perfect. There’s always something to learn.”

Stormwrath has between 20 and 30 active members. It’s part of the larger Midwest Dagorhir, which has about 2,000 members across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Iowa, Simoncic said. Other Dagorhir groups are spread across the country.

A recent Saturday practice involved several games to teach strategy. Players stay within the boundaries of cones they’ve brought to the park. Friends and relatives come to watch and picnic, and they’ve brought plenty of water because of the heat.

Andrew Walker, also known as Sir Andrew of the Knights of Stormwrath, is 31 and recently returned to practice after time off when he broke his finger at work. He’s chosen to use his character for good instead of evil.

“We’re just your typical European-style knights,” he says of his character. “We try to be chivalrous on the battlefield. I don’t like to stab people in the back and try to play fair and leave out some of the dirty tricks.”

Walker says it can be hard to come to practice sometimes – he’s got 3-year-old twin boys. But his wife supports his hobby.

“She’s happy because it gets me out of the house and doing something,” Walker said. “I work out my stress on the battlefield. As long as it makes me happy and I come home in one piece.”

Game of honor

Every year, Dagorhir members from across the country gather at Coopers Lake campground in Pennsylvania for Ragnarok, a weeklong war between the different realms culminating in a final battle.

Next year will be the 30th annual Ragnarok.

Dagorhir battle games started in Maryland in the 1970s when a man named Bryan Weise “saw the movie ‘Robin and Marion’ while he was reading ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Bryan had never heard of ‘medieval re-enactment,’ ‘Live Action Role Playing’ or ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ But he wanted to find a way to capture that spirit of adventure that could only come from wielding a sword or a bow,” according to the organization’s website.

The different realms that participate follow national rules set by Dagorhir.

The ultimate rule is that it is a game of honor.

“All the rules are centered around not being injured,” Simoncic said. “The most important rule is the anti-loophole rule. Anything that isn’t covered in the rules that might be against safety, playability or realism is (not allowed).”

There are rules about allowable costumes as well as weapons, which are nearly all homemade.

“Pre-made armor doesn’t work very well for this because if it’s not fitted right, you’re going to get hurt wearing it,” Simoncic said. “Even all of the steel armor is homemade or made by professionals. The armor can get pretty expensive to have it fit properly.”

‘My other family’

Jimmie Jayroe, 23, of Augusta says his favorite part is making weapons. He usually finds items at The Yard, a surplus/hardware store on East Central. He has used foam-covered fiberglass poles, electric fence posts and PVC pipes.

“As long as it’s safe and doesn’t leave bruises,” he said while wearing a skull mask as his character of Aodhan, who is undead.

The weapons are tested at full force by the heaviest hitters during practices as part of the rules.

Jayroe has been playing for about three years.

“I proposed to my wife near here and saw people fighting on a Tuesday,” he said. “I walked by to see what was happening, they let me fight, and I’ve been fighting ever since. It’s real fun and a stress reliever.”

He said people often stop by to see what they’re doing.

“We tell them and if they sign the waiver, they can come out and play as long as they’re 18 to sign the waiver and 16 with the parent’s consent.”

Maria Cruz, 20, is a grocery store bakery clerk by day.

But at Riverside Park, she’s Azrael, the angel of chaos and destruction, she said.

“I’m a neutral party, though I side with evil more,” she said during a break from practicing.

“I’m not good at any sports, but I’m good at this.”

She has been playing for nearly three years. She started after dating one of the other fighters.

When she’s not fighting, she helps the other players with their costumes and with covering their weapons.

“This is like my other family. Everybody here is like another brother or sister to me.”

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

How to watch, participate

Stormwrath Invasion VI, a larger gathering of role players, will be held at noon Oct. 12 at Riverside Park, 720 Nims.

Members of Stormwrath meet every Saturday afternoon in Riverside Park for practice. For more information and to find upcoming events, visit www.facebook.com/groups/MidwestDag.

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