War of Thrones overruns Fairmount Park

An agglomeration of engineering students and a gaggle of nerds walked into Fairmount Park Saturday.

They arrived in five-person teams, armed with padded swords, banners and an abundance of enthusiasm. A few wore cloaks, togas or pink, tie-dyed T-shirts. Some wore less, but all came looking for a fight at the second annual “War of Thrones” event, sponsored by Wichita State’s Nerd Union, a student organization.

Sophomore biology student Esben Kjaer was at the park representing Pi Kappa Phi. He and a few others showed up early to practice their fighting styles. Pairing off with a fraternity brother, Kjaer whipped and wielded his boffer — a homemade toy sword built with PVC Pipe, pool foam and duct tape — with gusto.

“I’ve been looking forward to larping,” Kjaer said. “It looks pretty fun. It’s basically hitting people with sticks.”

“Larping” — a verb from the acronym LARP, or live action role-playing — is a sport that’s been around since the 1970s. Typically, larpers dress in costumes and wield boffer weapons in simulated hand-to-hand combat, with varying degrees of role-playing.

LARPs can take place in different settings and genres, from high fantasy to gothic horror to cyberpunk to historical. War of Thrones on Saturday was light on role-playing and heavy on action.

Kjaer was the first participant tagged out in the first round of battle — a free-for-all — as he waded into the melee and took a boffer to the back.

Nerd Union organizers were big on safety, as evidenced by all the rules and precautions they covered before the fighting started. If a fighter was struck on the arm or leg, they lost use of that limb. A strike to the torso was a “death” blow.

“It went fantastic, better than last year,” said junior Alex Pennington, Nerd Union president. “We had about 40 fighters show up, which was down from 55 last year, but also counting over 20 NU members, plus spectators, we had a great turnout — more than 70 people.”

Among those spectators were Pennington’s grandparents, Jim and Genis Pennington, who have been hosting LARP battles on their property for several years.

 “It’s just a bunch of great kids that come out to our place,” Jim Pennington said. “We enjoy having them around.”

“It’s a lot of fun for us,” Genis Pennington said, though she admitted they’ve never tried it themselves.

Another group of spectators included freshmen sociology major Sara Schoenthaler, nursing student Paulina Dominguez, elementary education major Paige Coffman and business major Colton Ruscetti, all residents of Shocker Hall’s C-0 floor. They were there to root on their neighbors, who’d formed a team, Team C-0, to compete.

“I first heard of Nerd Union when our floor went to make their swords,” Ruscetti said. “It looked like a lot of fun. This sort of stuff has a lot broader appeal than it used to. It used to be that people who were into this were made fun of. Now ‘nerd’ is mainstream.”

Junior Parker Amos, an engineering student, is a Nerd Union member and resident adviser for floor C-0. He’s also responsible for putting the C-0 War of Thrones team together.

“I was pretty stoked that I managed to get a bunch of engineers involved,” Amos said. “It took some convincing, but once they saw how we make the swords, they really got into it.”

In the end, it was Team C-0 that defeated all the other challengers in the team-on-team tournament.

“I thought the whole thing went really well,” said Nerd Union member Aaron Hoffman, a graduate student studying Spanish. “This year’s War of Thrones was epic.”