In the Kingdom of the Wolverines, it would appear that chivalry is alive and well. Nestled in a courtyard west of the library, a small fellowship of warriors gathers weekly to hone the fine art of swordplay through a sport known as Belegarth.
At first glance, Belegarth might look to an outsider like a live-action roleplay (LARP), essentially a more physically engaged “Dungeons and Dragons” style role-playing game. However, practitioners of Belegarth are more focused on the sport and strategy of the game than the story.
“If you take out all the acting and all the magic of LARP and focus on the combat, you get this sport.” said Justin Holsinger, President of UVU’ s Live Action Combat Club, known by other fighters by his battle name, Darth Wesley.
More than just a local phenomenon, Belegarth is practiced by thousands of athletes and hobbyists across the country and in a handful of places around the world, with eight official chapters or “realms” in Utah alone.
Beyond the larger realms, Belegarthians can divide themselves into smaller sub-factions surrounding common interests.
“I’ m a member of a band called the Dogs of War,” said Devin Beesley, an animation and game design major who fights under the name Kitt. “We’ re basically a mercenary band who will fight for whoever’ s got the most coin.”
Another local unit fights as The God Squad, fashioning their characters after biblical figures. An elite God Squad member uses the moniker Moses, and is known for being a fierce fighter. “There’ s no blocking a kidney shot from Moses,” said Holsinger.
Belegarth is known to draw out a variety of interesting characters, such as a local player called Hobbit, who is named for his short stature and agility and has been estimated by Holsinger’ s eyewitness to have jumped over five feet vertically. The Hobbit strikes opponents in the back with his sword.
There was also much talk of Holsinger’ s predecessor, Pope, or his real-life alter ego, Benjamin Sather. Pope is known for fighting in “grandiose white robes,” sunglasses, and a tall pope hat hailing himself as the “Bro Pope” and toting a jug labeled “holy water” for liquid refreshment. When not self-declared, the battle names given to members of each realm are often earned based on certain attributes of their personality and appearance. “My very first time, I looked like Wesley from Princess Bride,” said Holsinger about his own battle name. “Later we did an event for kids, where I went out on stage in a flowy black trench coat and carrying a red sword, and the kids said, ‘ It’ s Darth Vader!’ So now they call me Darth Wesley.”
Holsinger’ s dark cloak, or “garb” as it is officially called, and his foam armor do more than merely intimidate opponents. They also provide him strategic advantages in battle. Garb serves as a handy way to identify friend from foe in larger battles, which at bigger national events can comprise several hundreds of participants. When armor is introduced to the equation, the player is granted one more hit to any area covered by it.
When a player foregoes armor, the basic rules of the game stipulate that a body blow (a strike to the torso or pelvis) will “kill” the player, taking them out of the battle. A strike to one limb disables the other limb, while two strikes to any limbs is also lethal.