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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Campus

UH LARPers build inclusive, charitable community


Mutlaq Dowaihy at a LARPing meetup in August. The club started from a humble place and grew to a large inclusive group of friends. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar.

By the star in Lynn Eusan park, student LARPers, or Live Action Roleplayers, dressed in vibrant costumes and carrying foam weaponry step into another world of adventure and magic.

LARPing might conjure images of Dungeons and Dragons and sitting around a table, as well as exclusive nerds gate-keeping out more fair-weather fans of roleplaying. The reality of UH’s LARPing club is the opposite: friendly, charming and dressed in colorful clothes, they are eager to share the culture of their game, even inviting total beginners to practice sparring.

“The group is inclusive. They respect pronouns and they try to show everyone good sportsmanship,” said Amy Rivera, a biology sophomore who’s been LARPing for under a year at UH.

Such inclusivity blossomed from a humble place. Emil Revote, a 2019 UH graduate and founder of the group, said he started the club early in his college career simply because he wanted more people to fight.

“We started with about three people: myself, an acquaintance of mine and another person from the Cougar Village dorms. From there, I tried to expand pretty hard,” Revote said. “By the end of the year, we had maybe 11-15 people a session.”

With help from a few friends interested in seeing the community expand, Revote recruited, with the challenge of being a new group on campus.

“It was pretty difficult to grow at first,” Revote said. “We wouldn’t get a lot of attention since it was new.”

Despite that, the group has expanded to roughly 20 to 25 active LARPers, and with that growth a strong, charitable community that turns volunteering into competitions took form.

“Our Kingdom runs a lot of charity events,” Revote said. “Last year, our standing monarch wanted an Egyptian-themed reign. His service project was that anyone who volunteered at a service shelter, cats preferred as a joke, would get extra credits for a class.”

The UH LARPers last year raised over $3,000 for the Food Bank, winning an annual competition called Food Fight in the process, Revote said.

The club’s current monarch, a position analogous to a president, Sean Nanowsky, was practicing martial arts outside Cougar Village when Revote approached them with foam weapons and introduced them to LARPing.

“He asked us if we were interested in something different, and we were curious,” Nanowsky said.

Initially thinking of it as a play fight, Nanowsky was struck in the head by a spear Revote threw, which sent him sprawling, but that didn’t scare him off from the game.

“Suddenly, I’m on the ground, I’m wiping dirt off myself and wondering what just happened,” Nanowsky said. “But I thought, okay, this is a contact sport. And I felt drawn to it after that.”

Nanowsky has been running the group since May but has been involved for three years since Revote recruited him.  

“(Revote) is the person that rounded us all up and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna kick a bunch of nerd butt, let’s do this’,” Nanowsky said.

Another world  

UH’s club, the Crossways, officially joined a larger game in 2018 called Amtgard, a LARP system focused on high fantasy in which LARPers can focus on fighting, casting spells, crafting gear and even skills like expanding the community or leadership.

“When we volunteer, it’s for LARPing events usually, as cooks, game runners, security and clean-up volunteers,” Revote said. “Volunteerism keeps the game going smoother, so a lot of us have a good selection of skills because of that.”

Amtgard spans the United States and even has groups in Europe, and it is separated into Kingdoms, which contain the smaller groups like UH’s own Crossways.

Crossways is officially under the Kingdom of the Wetlands, which covers parts of Texas and Louisiana and has roughly 300-400 members, Revote said.

The LARPers of the Crossways all have personas and classes within the game that they step into when they come to play.

Amtgard employs an “order system,” which gives ranks based on what roles someone pursues, Revote said.

“Orders are given based on your proficiency in a facet of the community,” Revote said. “A good service person would be a Rose, whereas a leader would be a Lion.”

The most coveted prize, Revote said, is the maximum rank of Warrior.

“Most people on their tenth Warrior (rank) are martial artists, athletes and other extremely fit and active fighters who care about constant improvement,” Revote said. “That sort of thing takes a decade or two of constant practice.”

The sport of fighting is the main draw for many playing Amtgard, evidenced by the original game that the club played, called Dagorhir, focused more on fighting than roleplaying.

Cultivating the future

Not satisfied with where they are now, Crossways has plans for the first weeks of school and beyond.

“We’re planning a welcome back week, and we’re potentially going to different parks, or we might stay (at UH), but we’re going to fight for a whole week straight,” Nanowsky said. “Just to see who’s interested and who wants to come out.”

The group is currently wanting to host an event called Dragonmaster at UH on Oct. 5, where according to Nanowsky the “best of the best” in the Houston area meet at one location and three judges crown the best creator of the reign.

The game rewards people who invest in different skills, giving them ranks in pathways like fighting and crafting.

Nanowsky loves the variety of skills and roles in the game and, above that, loves that he has an avenue for being an entertainer.

“I used to be a music major when I was a UH student,” Nanowsky said. “The last event, I played my guitar, and it was me and 20 other people. It was the best music. We sang all night until the sun came up.”

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