By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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Dughan, a.k.a. Brian Dean of Spring, has been in Amtgard for 11 years. An early interest in medieval history, and medieval warfare specifically, led him when he was 19 to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval reenactment group that fights with real armor and real weapons. At a gaming convention a few years later, he heard about Amtgard, and when he showed up for his first battle, it was like walking into an extended family.
Like just about everyone out here, Dean finds Amtgard to be first and foremost a great workout — a fun way to just let go and relieve stress by whupping ass in a safe, friendly environment. It also gives him a musical outlet; when he's not swinging his sword, he can be found on the sideline, jamming with a drummer or a dude on a lute.
Lately, Dean's been excited about his upcoming knighthood. He's been a squire (knight-in-training) to Misteslaus Harlstonovich, a.k.a. Stephen Duncan, an Oriental Orthodox priest and fellow musician. It's Duncan's job to forge Dean into the best Amtgarder he can be — make him a leader who will be a credit to this fantasy universe. Squires are knighted in different disciplines, and Dean is shooting to be a Knight of the Serpent, a person who has excelled in Amtgard's more artistic aspects, such as music, wardrobe and acting. Knighting ceremonies typically take place at major gatherings, amid much celebration and libation. The squire drops to one knee within a circle of knights, who pass a cup and say a few words about the man or woman of the hour.
It's a huge honor, and it's something serious Amtgarders don't forget — like Finoghaal, a.k.a. Penelope McFadin of Nassau Bay, who in 1998 became a Knight of the Flame for outstanding service to the kingdom. She got a late start today and doesn't show up until after the battle has begun.
McFadin, a City of Houston employee, is old school. She joined Amtgard in the early '90s, when the Kingdom of the Wetlands had a chapter that met in Hermann Park. The chapter got its name from the place where they met at the park — the obelisk by the reflecting pool. They called themselves the Barony of Granite Spyre. (Ultimately, parking proved to be a problem, so the group moved to Memorial Park.)
An early lover of sci-fi/fantasy books, McFadin got into tabletop role-playing games in high school, and eventually joined the Society for Creative Anachronism. But lumbering around in heavy armor soon got to be too much for her, so she figured she'd take a break. That's when she saw an Amtgard demonstration at a sci-fi convention in Austin and thought she'd give it a shot. She was an instant fan.
Unlike the SCA, she says, Amtgarders "weren't so obsessed with the practice, practice, practice all the time...you would just go out, and you had fun."
McFadin can be found on the battlefield, but she really enjoys specialized battle games, like quests, which tend to involve more strategy than fighting. As McFadin puts it, "it's something other than just beating on people with sticks."
After a few years in Amtgard, McFadin became royalty. Amtgard elections are held every May and December, and McFadin won the queen's throne in December 1999. Kings and Queens hand out awards, make sure everyone's following the rules and, in a more mundane role, act as the heads of the board of directors for the kingdom, or, as the Internal Revenue Service would call it, a 501(c)3. (Each kingdom operates as a nonprofit corporate grantee under Amtgard, Inc., Kingdom of the Burning Lands.)
McFadin learned that campaigning can be brutal. Amtgard is not immune to political mud-slinging, both within and between kingdoms, nor is it immune to the occasional person who takes things way too seriously. And some believe it's grown worse in recent years.
Amtgard historian Michael Lynch says he's on "hiatus" because of political in-fighting. He says the Kingdom of the Wetlands (Houston) liked to add little things here and there that weren't covered in the rulebook, which earned the ire of the Kingdom of the Burning Lands (El Paso), which claims copyright control over Amtgard.
"Legalities aside, the Kingdom of the Wetlands wanted to do what it wanted to have fun," Lynch says. "The Kingdom of the Burning Lands wanted everybody to conform to [its] idea of what was right."
This resulted in the Burning Lands declaring the Wetlands a nonentity, which hasn't seemed to have much effect locally.
Lynch says, "The people that founded — and were early leaders — in this kingdom...they're true Texans, in the independent, 'we are what we are and you can't change us' sort of Texas way."
As distasteful as such bickering might be, Lynch still credits Amtgard with making him a better person.
"When I first joined Amtgard, I was about as immature of an 18- or 19-year-old as there is — which is funny, because I was 21 when I joined," he says. "I was afraid to even look a girl in the face, you know; I couldn't deal with conflict. Violence terrified me — I mean, I was a wreck of a human being."