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Jedis and vampires on campus

Role-playing isn’t only for video games. Students at USF are participating in Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing), where they get the chance to live a different life – if only for a little while.

LARPing is one, more physically engaging, form of role-playing games, most often known from the paper and dice role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons,” where players act out quests inspired by fantasy or entertainment worlds. More commonly, historical reinactments are also a form.

One of the largest groups at USF was inspired by the “Star Wars” movies. The members practice and battle with lightsabers while teaching the ways of the Force.

The Star Wars group, which has around 60 members, practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons in the Collins Boulevard parking garage. Tournaments among participants take place Fridays.

However, the group sometimes practices and fights elsewhere, including around the Sun Dome, the Fine Arts building, the Marshall Student Center and the Library parking lot.

“Most of the students are freshmen, which is cool because this is how you make friends,” said Molly Payne, a senior majoring in psychology and female member. “The only person I knew when I was here was a girl from high school.”

Costumes are not necessary, but imagination is welcomed, said Peter Elwell, a graduate student and experienced member of the Star Wars group.

“To be, honest, you’re in Florida and it’s over 90 degrees, you can’t really dress up,” he said. “Most people dress casually for practice.”

Elwell and Payne said said they knew nothing about LARPing at first but were hooked after one meeting.

Elwell and his friend Dan Wolfe, the founder of the Star Wars group at USF, began with 15-20 students in April 2007.

“Attendance varies every week. We’ve had a lot of newcomers,” Elwell said. “It was one of our newer players that decided we should have more practices rather than games.”

One of the new members Chelsea Gabriel, a freshman studying philosophy, was skeptical about joining because it sounded like “a bunch of nerds running around hitting each other with a stick,” she said.

“I didn’t even know what LARP was and what it stood for,” Gabriel said. “I was eating lunch with a friend of mine and I thought they were talking about a video game.”

Over the summer, Gabriel decided to join with encouragement from her LARPing friends.

“They told me they were running around hitting each other with plastic sticks, and I thought that sounded awesome,” she said.

For the first two nights, the group requires playing both alliances: Jedi and Sith. This way, the student gets a feel for which side is better, Gabriel said. Members then create characters within their alliances.

Aside from making friends, many participants also find LARPing a great escape from the stresses of college life.

“(LARPing) means having a stress reliever, it lets out a lot of tension,” Gabriel said. “It’s also a lot of fun. It’s like a giant improv game and manhunt, which I love, but it’s also a great way to meet great people and make awesome friends.”

“The game is much more about character interaction,” Elwell said. “We welcome anyone, I’m here to answer questions, you don’t have to be a serious Star Wars geek and we’ve taken people who know nothing.”

Constantine Kyriakou, a non-USF student who studies martial arts, takes this form of role-playing seriously and works with the Star Wars group.

“I want the students to know that this does involve some martial arts,” he said.

On tournament nights, the Star Wars group gathers for battle around 9 at the Student Services building.

There are other groups that participate in LARPing as well, including the vampires, who also meet at the same time every other Friday night near the Administration building.

Tobey Fox, one of the three storytellers for the vampire group, “Chaos of Entropy,” started role-playing in 2004. He and two others are in charge of the administration duties and storytelling.

“This group started here in 2009, but we’re part of the organization ‘One World by Night,’ which has up to 90-100 games all around the U.S.,” he said.

The vampire group has a crowd, predominantly men, of about 20-25 participents at every meeting.

“We’re much more different than other groups,” he said. “We meet every other Friday, our games are improvised, our characters react to each other and this is more of a political game.”

The group members can have different positions, each with their own purpose.

“We have a prince, sheriffs, primogen counsel; (which advises the prince) and the scourge. (The scourge) track down vampires who are not allowed to be in the area,” Fox said. “So, as you can see, there are a lot of political interactions.”

With members ranging from non-degree seeking students to those earning their master’s, the vampire group is open to everyone.

Tory Minars, a senior majoring in marketing, started role-playing seven years ago in Gainesville and moved to Tampa in January.

“It’s fun to meet up with friends and hangout,” he said. “And truthfully it’s the people that keep me coming back.”

Gabriel said she’s found her niche hobby.

“This is something I plan on doing throughout college,” she said.

For more information on LARPing, visit