REBELS HOLD the heart of amtgard in oxford

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.

A black duster.

I challenge you to think of an article of clothing that is more defiant of holiday cheer than a black, knee length, stolen straight off the set of a Spaghetti Western canvas duster. Nathan isn’t opposed to holiday cheer, and he’s not a cynic, he’s just and individual in a town that can sometimes get a little hive minded… especially in the Fall.

Oxford can be a tough place for individuals, especially if you aren’t the football type.

“My family all comes from the south and are all sports fans. I like sports, but it’s not something that I was ever overly into,” said Nathan, who happens to be a freshman at Ole Miss. Aside from the way he is dressed, Nathan shares a lot of the similar traits all freshmen possess: He is studying criminal justice, but hasn’t decided if it’s really what he wants to pursue a degree in. He’s participates in a bevvy of extra-curricular activities (I am lucky enough to catch him to talk before he has to get back to campus, he is preparing theater’s for Spring production of H.M.S. Pinnafore) He’s stressing over finals, and is ready for some down time over winter break.One distinct difference that Nathan has over his freshmen counter parts is his Sunday routine, when the pressure of school and work reaches that tipping point, Nathan Zerangue puts away his books for a couple of hours to enter the kingdom of Winter’s Edge and find the local Amptgard chapter, that is...

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.

She drops her arm and immediately the flashes a grin so genuine, you would swear that she knows something that no one else in Avent Park knows. Maybe she does. After all she is the monarch of Rebels Hold, the local Amtgard live-action fantasy roleplaying group.

More colloquially, live-action roleplaying has gained the causal acronym of larp (and larping when used as a verb). Specifically, the fantasy boffer combat game played by Rebels Hold is part of the Kingdom Winter’s Edge which is the Amtgard kingdom the of the South East in the United States. Amtgard is also played in Canada as well as Germany, Croatia, and South Korea.Rebels Hold meets Sunday afternoon in Avent Park. The numbers rise and fall depending on the weather, time of year, and how committed people are to joining the group. The numbers always rise in the Fall when school is back in session, Windrider tells me. Windrider is draped from her shoulders to her ankles in a maroon frock with a crown of woven branch and flowers. Her makeup draws clay-colored Fibonacci spirals from the corners of her eyes, and ornate ropes hang a satchel from her waste. She is warm and welcoming. The perfect ambassador to the trio who have now bravely crossed into the valley, taking the first steps to joining the festivities.

“I was always interested in larping, but I never lived in an area that had it”

“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.

Julian doesn’t waste a second more than necessary on pleasantries after he has eyed the boffer weaponry that is laid out upon the picnic table, surrounded by the clan of Rebels Hold.Eager members invite Julian and the other neophytes to handle the various swords, spears, and daggers. Windrider explains the benefits and disadvantages of each weapon while other members mingle with the newcomers… all except one.

Remember Nathan, Rhahlen Mummol? He could care less about the new blood.

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.

“One time we had one of the highest belted sword knights in the kingdom come down to our park and I beat him first try,” Mummol lets me know. “One of the top ten fighters in this region of the U.S., which is Winter’s Edge, and I was able to take him one on one.” You can see the passion Mummol devotes to Amtgard. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and from the look he’s giving the newcomers, he is yet to find someone worthy of introducing himself to. “At this point, I’m always looking for someone better than me so I can improve,” Mummol would tell me. In order to understand what this all means, it’s important to recognize what Amtgard is, and what it is not.

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.

“People look at larp as ‘adult children’ just whacking each other with foam swords but there is so much more to it than that,” Nathan tells me. Normally he looks me in the eye, but as he makes this statement I can feel the hesitancy in his voice. The kind of hesitancy that comes from repeatedly defending your passion. “Yes, combat is a large part of it, but there is also art, and science and story to the whole organization,” says Nathan. Larp offers a juxtaposition that has plagued fans of any sort of fantasy escapism for decades. Outsiders are intrigued by what is going on and they want to understand it, but they are too fearful to participate. But sadly, participation is the only way to truly understand what a fantasy role playing can provide.

“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.

It is November. The winter air now bites at exposed skin and the dedicated members of Rebels Hold bury their knuckles in their under arms. Oslein Yagovich stands yards away from Rhahlen Mummol with a coy smile creeping off the side of his face. Mummol has only the use of one arm, and has been brought to his knees by a band of combatants. Mummol patiently waits, confident in his skills, and comfortable with all weapons.

“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.

All the while, Beibhinn Windrider watches over the sport with the same grin that is so genuine, you would swear that she knew when Julian walked up months ago, she knew he would be hooked.“I want to play Amtgard until I’m old, I want to introduce my kids to Amtgard because it is such and awesome and inclusive game,” says Steen.And she’s right. It is pastime that doesn’t discriminate. As long as you have an interest to play and have the courage to show up, Rebels Hold won’t turn you away.Windrider sees a future monarch in Mummol, and a future champion Yagovich. Only time will tell whether all these prophecies come true, but one thing will always be genuine: if you have the heart to get involved, Rebels Hold has the heart to accept you.

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