The crowd is small, but every seat, bench and table in the alley outside Uptown Coffee is occupied by happy patrons sipping their favorite warm holiday beverages. It is late November and the Fall temperatures are slowly declining in to Winter. The temperature in Oxford, Mississippi, is cool enough today for hats and mittens. Cold enough even for families to finally embrace the holiday season. Mothers sip lattes in white cashmere sweaters, Dads breaking out the red flannel for the first time this season. University coeds trade notes in preparation for finals week at Ole Miss, lamenting with one another about how boring it was being home for Thanksgiving. In the center of the alley stands a fifteen-foot Christmas tree. Draped in garland and bulbus ornaments, the tree stands proudly as a beacon guiding patrons past Thanksgiving and into the holiday season. The star, hung upon the highest bough of course, catches and reflect the light just right. Oxford shines in moments like this. The scene is so picturesque, you would think the Hallmark channel is setting up to shoot their latest ‘home for the holidays’ movie. And in the middle of all this revelry and holiday cheer, Nathan patiently waits in a black duster, black jeans, and black sneakers.
It is September, and Beibhinn Windrider gather shades underneath a large oak, seeking some respite from the blazing heat. Summer has yet to yield the heat that is welcomed in early Spring and late Fall, but at this moment, with her eyes fixed to the West, internally she begs for the Sun to pass beyond the tree line. Still hours from descending, the afternoon Sun cast long shadows. On the hill in the distance, the three figures wait with the light on their backs. they trio cast shadows into the valley as they observe the scene ominously from afar. “They always look first,” says Windrider. “They are nervous, but they came here for a reason. They’ll come down as soon enough.”Fidgeting with a ribbon she has tied to her wrist, Beibhinn Windrider runs the threads through her fingers one last time before raising her arm high above her head. With her palm to the trio she shows that she holds no weapons, and offers no harm. Lowering her eyes to the ground, her breath leaves her body in great exasperation.“Yup, always nervous,” she says. “We’ll see how they do.” Beibhinn Windrider’s real name is April Steen.
“I was always interested in larping, but I never lived in an area that had it,” Oslein Yagovich would tell me months later. But before he took that pseudonym, walking down to enter Rebels Hold for the first time was a young warrior named Julian Gaona, the most eager of the trio.Julian in not dressed as ornate at Windrider. In fact, he looks more like any student you would find at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Oxford, where he is a student. He is getting his basic credits out of the way right now, but intends to major in history and hopes someday to teach. He doesn’t waste a minute with apprehension. With a grin as wide as Windrider’s, he shakes her hand and thanks her for the warm welcome. There is an immediate level of kinship exchanged.
Away from the crowd, kneeling in the grass as he wraps a more sufficient grip on the heft of his sword, Mummol isn’t concerned with the excitement of new members. Having been part of this guild for two years, Mummol is comfortable with his position Rebels Hold. He is skilled enough to compete at a high level, but is still searching for his place.
Amtgard was created by Jim Haren Jr, also known as Peter LaGrue (his pseudonym) , in El Paso, Texas in 1983. Taking pieces from rulebooks of popular live-action role playing games, his version quickly spread throughout the state and then the country. The largest concentrations of Amtgard chapters are in the United States, but the game is played around the globe.
Character of Amtgard are class-based with player choosing a standard type with pre-established abilities. Player might play an assassin, warrior or other character types. As players devote more time to the game and ‘level up’ a player's skill levels are increased. The length of game time they devote and by the passing guild tests allow players to gain abilities.
But of course, the primary focus of the game is combat.
Amtgard combat is resolved with actual physical combat with boffer weapons: foam padded weapons that are used for simulated handheld combat. Players lose limbs based on hit locations and will disable the location where that player is struck, and a torso hit will kill that character. Amtgard fighting tends to be fast and precise, focusing more on accuracy than on power.
Magic is another important aspect of Amtgard and is delivered by audible incantations or by thrown by spell balls (small foam projectiles).
Amtgard also utilizes armor throughout the game. Armor grants multiple hit points to a covered hit location and is rated on the type of armor, materials and techniques used to construct it.
Battlegames range from one-on-one tournaments to team battles of forty or fifty people to mass warfare with hundreds of players.
The largest "grand melees" are held at the major annual events and can incorporate hundreds of members from chapters all over the world.
Class abilities may be used. These games generally involve at least 2 teams, and sometimes involve monsters.
Injuries are quite rare due to the stringent attention paid to safety. Contact is limited between fighters and non-weapon tactics like grappling or shield bashing are strictly prohibited.
It is October, and the crisp air of Fall has replaced the stinging heat of Summer in Rebels Hold. Beibhinn Windrider continues her reign as monarch, and the new blood is learning quickly. Oslein Yagovich, now Julian’s character has established his dedication to the guild, but still has a lot to learn. Mummol has taken him under his wing, with both combatants sparring often.
“Nathan has really shown me a lot,” says Gaona. “We’ll spar during the week on the Grove stage in the center of campus. It’s funny because people will cheer us on as they walk by.” Julian has a gleam in his eye as he talks about sparring with Nathan in the center of campus at the University of Mississippi. I can’t help but be skeptical that the cheers from the students passing by might be sarcastic but I can’t be sure because I’m hearing about the event second hand. Julian speaks to me with the greenhorn optimism that often can look at a situation with rose colored glasses.
“The people I met when I first came out to Amtgard were very interesting,” said Steen. “They weren’t… I think it’s hard to explain. They were all different from each other but they accepted those differences and celebrated it. We all knew we were weird, we all knew we weren’t what is normal “here in Oxford” especially, but no only was that weirdness accepted, but it was celebrated.” Unlike Julian the novice, and unlike Nathan who was hesitant, April understands exactly who she is, and what Amtgard provides her. She speaks with a confidence that has fully embraced her fellowship, and this confidence has manifested itself into her ability to lead Rebels Hold. She embraces the new blood, supports the veterans, and mentors all the members who are transitioning between those two realms. All these traits are what makes her such and effecting monarch.
“The way I see it, I would rather be more versatile with all the weapons than be confined to just one,” says Mummol. “With the versatility, it makes me a bit more of a tool box player. If you need a barbarian with a giant great sword, I can do that. If you need a scout with a bow, I can do that. If you need an assassin with two short swords, I’m open for that too.”
Right now, Mummol unwearyingly waits for Yagovich to make the first move. It’s a scene that has played out in ever movie where an apprentice takes on the master. The master gives the apprentice a taste of success, then waits to deliver the real lesson.And like a fish taking the bate, Yagovich dives to strike at Mummol. The calm, collected Mummol falls backwards before the jab of Yagovich’s spear tip can make contact, only to swing his sword into the side of Yagovich – winning the bout and remaining the master. Julian throws down the spear with a huge grin on his face. He knows he’s been bested in the spar, but is exhilarated with the excitement of the game. He offers Nathan his hand in order to raise him to his feet. After all, everyone is here for the fun of the game.