Every Saturday from 4-7 p.m. in Homer, often at Karen Hornaday Park, brave warriors fight evil lizards, or escort a princess with a flag across a battlefield, or simply take part in a free-for-all death match.
But it’s not as violent and bloody as it sounds.
The arrow tips are made of cloth-stuffed socks and the swords forged of foam. Most weapons weigh about as much, or less, as the average foam swimming pool noodle. However, to the subjects of the Shire of IceFire Bay, the glory — and fun — of the games are quite real.
About 20-30 Homer youth and adults take part in Homer’s own Amtgard group on a given Saturday. Amtgard, a world-wide organization that combines padded weapons, authentic medieval clothing and some fantastical imagination to take part in live action role play games, known as LARP, acts as a regulatory body for groups such as the Shire of IceFire Bay. There are rules that must be followed, as well as legal waivers and a leadership structure throughout the group. A new group, like Homer’s, is a shire to start, until they have at least 30 members and $100 in their coffers for at least a year, said Samantha Cunningham, the Shire’s matriarch.
The Shire of IceFire is unique to Homer in that both genders show up to play. Amtgard groups are often male dominated.
“One of the things that’s different from the national is that we are both male and female pretty equal. We tend to be a little more matriarchal than most areas,” Samantha said.
Homer’s group started nearly a year ago, with a birthday party. Samantha’s son, Rowyn Cunningham, decided he wanted to have a LARP-themed birthday party and invited people to show up and fight with padded weapons. Rowyn, as Samatha’s son and a founding member, is the heir apparent of the Shire of IceFire Bay.
“I made like 15 swords and then I decided to make my own rules for it … and then I ran that on my birthday night and about 30 people showed up. One of the people that showed up was an Amtgarder and … I decided to start a Shire in Homer,” Rowyn said.
Kenai’s Amtgard group, the Barony of Frozen Coast, guided Rowyn through the process of starting a Shire, he said.
“Homer really needed this. I figured Homer needed something drug-free, physical and outdoors that involved both nerds and jocks and gave them both an equal opportunity to win on the battlefield, which gives them exercise and exercise of their brain.”
In addition to whacking people with swords, spells are also used in play, which means LARPers make ample use of their minds as well as brute force, Rowyn said.
A variety of Homer residents have joined the ranks. The Shire of IceFire Bay’s subjects range from middle-school students, who participate as apprentices of older members, through twenty-somethings and above. On the field, age is fairly irrelevant. There are simply winners and losers, alive and dead.
Anyone is welcome to join the group. The Shire of IceFire Bay is an inclusive, accepting place for all who enjoy trying to hit people with foam sticks. Many of the members didn’t have a place where they fit in before discovering LARP, or preferred to play video games indoors.
“It’s difficult to point to them without making them feel uncomfortable, but in general terms, kids who would normally on a day like today be found sitting in the library playing on the computer,” Samantha said. “Here, they can be actively involved in playing on the field or, there are three girls here now that don’t actively fight but they keep an eye on how things are running, support roles, they often come to the arts and sciences to do things like costuming.”
Though “the geek power is strong” in the Shire, there are athletes, artists and many others with a variety of interests involved.
Aspen Etzwiler, an eighth-grade student at Homer Middle School, joined the Shire in October 2015. She chose a bow and arrow because of the Hunger Games character Katniss Everdeen. Using that bow is one of her favorite things about playing with the group, as well as the community involved.
“I get to shoot people with my bow and arrows, and dress awesome,” Etzwiler said. “We go and have pizza every Saturday night after this and play card games.”
Landon Bunting, a Homer High School student and athlete started LARP at Rowyn’s birthday party and then joined the Shire. He recruits friends from school to come participate in the games as well.
“It’s physical activity, you get to use your imagination,” Bunting said.
In addition to meeting up on Saturdays for battle play, followed by pizza at the Dragon’s Den on Pioneer Avenue, the subjects of the Shire of IceFire Bay have a craft day of sorts of Friday evenings. There, they make weapons or costumes, which in addition to helping them become battle ready, teaches participants skills like sewing, giving participants a creative outlet.