Live-Action Role-Players Get Boffed in Amtgard

Amid flailing swords and flying shields, these modern-day knights fight on

Through his Amtgard persona — a ­Hobbit-like creature named Snicker Furfoot —he found his resolve.

"Michael was this shy little nerdy kid, but Snicker was this powerful, recognized...respected person," he says.

Lynch adheres to what many Amtgarders call "The Dream" — an ideal version of the real world that, theoretically, could be attained in a fictitious world. The Dream is having fun, respecting others, fighting fairly and just generally avoiding the B.S. that the real world can deliver by the truckload.

A black school bus delivered a horde of fighters to Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock.
Craig Malisow
A black school bus delivered a horde of fighters to Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock.
Daniel Kramer

"There are those who are...not interested so much in the dream as just getting out there and swinging a stick of foam and being 'the best,' whatever that is," Lynch says. "Amtgard is like any other social can't dip a toe in the Boy Scouts or the Parent-Teacher Association or the Lions Club or Scientology without finding this exact same stuff."

In 2006, some 30 years after live-action role-playing games started popping up, they got their first real mainstream (sort of) exposure.

That's the year Darkon, a documentary about Amtgard's D.C.-area forebear, was released. It won the South by Southwest Film Festival's Audience Award and earned mostly positive reviews. For many, it was their first glimpse into the world of LARPs, and while some viewers may have left the theater laughing, filmmakers Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer weren't driven by kitsch or mockery.

"We were interested in the notion of role-playing and the Shakespearean notion that, you know, 'Life is but a stage,'" Neel says from the duo's Brooklyn studio. "Another [theme] we were interested in was...raging against modern living and suburban life and office jobs and the increasingly homogenized world in which we live."

Neel believes that, while the film had "immediate hipster appeal," he and Meyer hoped the Converse Cognoscenti might view it in a non-ironic way.

"We treated them like human beings," Neel says of the Darkon players the film featured. "I think a lot of times, it's very easy to boil down their activity into some kind of ridiculous waste of time, or, you know, delusional fantasy world because they don't enjoy their own lives or something like that, which is just a very limited way of looking at it."

Neel puts it this way: "Darkon, to one extent or another, is an attempt to...combat, you know, the ennui that people experience in their day-to-day lives."

Ennui or not, mechanic Kevin McCall appreciates the heck out of the fact that he doesn't have to deal with a single engine when he's out on the battlefield. He can leave that behind when he's Silvertip, King of the Wetlands.

The name refers to his gray hair, a nod to the fact that he's 42 and still able to wipe the battlefield with fighters half his age. Amtgard, he says, reverses the aging process.

McCall's foray into the arts-and-­science aspect of Amtgard has been to make his own medieval beer, Silverbrew, which, at 30 proof, is a potent and quick way to unwind after running around the park. McCall came to Amtgard six years ago via the Society for Creative Anachronism, and he's a proactive king — trying to arrange more battles between the Houston and DFW kingdoms, and just generally promoting his kingdom online and at events.

On the battlefield, sporting wraparound shades and a diamond earring, he delights in the chance to take on the Corpus Monstrom fighters, at least one of whom is running around with a 14-foot foam-headed spear. Another Monstrom is running around with a bad case of sexism.

During one skirmish, a Monstrom comes within striking distance of 23-year-old Limbo, a.k.a. Megan Perrin of La Marque, only to lean in and say, "I don't kill women." Shortly after laughing her ass off, she tells a teammate, who says — loud enough for most on the field to hear — "Being sexist in this is just going to get you killed by a girl."

By now, Germ is back in the fray, darting around like the Tasmanian Devil, busted lip be damned. It's nothing compared to that one battle where he hyperextended his knee and saw it swell to the size of a cantaloupe.

Today's battle is a ditch-fight, a sort of informal scrimmage where the players line up on opposite sides of the field and charge each other at once. For the most part, they collide in a cluster of flailing swords and flying shields. Each skirmish is over in less than a minute. But it's an intense, exhilarating minute, repeated over several hours. Walking back to his line after one such skirmish, over the smack-talk and vows of vengeance, a voice rises above the mix. It's Silvertip, King of the Wetlands.

"You know what's cool about this?" he says to no one in particular. "We all go back to our starting points and do it again."

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