Testing the Amtgard Waters  

Posted by Don in , , , , , , , ,

Rewinding back before Samhain, at our second Belegarth practice we met a new fighter that we hadn't met the first time, Breeder.  Loptr introduced him as his squire from Amtgard, and that he was currently in the middle of his reign as Duke for our area's duchy.  I had picked up up a bit about Amtgard on the Bel boards; a few guys looked down on them but most begrudgingly respected their fighting ability, even thought they didn't hit as hard and didn't smash shields.  Quite a few even mentioned they cross-gamed.

Loptr and Burke had talked up Amtgard fighter practice a week earlier and Breeder continued the sell, being Duke and all and wanting to recruit.  They mentioned there were women fighters at Amtgard, and more fighters attending period.  I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to fight full-contact Bel and I just wasn't interested in anything else.  We caved and decided to come out the next night for Amtgard fighter practice at the behest of Burke, Breeder, and Loptr.

It wasn't much different from the Belegarth practices we'd attended so far, just a few new faces we hadn't met yet. (Dea, Breeder's Regent Loup, Harpy, and Tuber)  The practice was nearly the same as Belegarth, only with lighter weapons.  At the end of the night Breeder asked if we wanted to come help build swords for a duchy fundraiser.  He convinced us by mentioning they'd have cheap foam shield blanks we could use for both Bel and Amtgard.

I verified kids were cool at the party and we showed up at Roisin and Pancake's place and jumped in, cutting foam, taping, and constructing weapons.  Roisin was even cool enough to provide chili and cornbread for everyone if we hadn't had time to grab dinner yet.  Harpy and Pancakes kept the kids sufficiently entertained by allowing themselves to be chased around the yard by foam-wielding children.  There was a good mix of people there, young & old, "typical" LARPers, but also some folks in their late teens or early 20's that didn't fit the stereotypical image of a LARPer.

I think we ended up making 35 swords total while hanging out and chatting with the group.  Some kept to themselves but most were pretty open and friendly.  We had to drag the kids away at the end of the night, they were having so much fun, but I promised we could all go to park the next day.  Based on my experiences it's definitely a family friendly activity.  I've come to think of it almost like the Boy Scouts, only fantasy/medieval-themed.  It has a sort of "meta" game where you can gain ranks and win awards in various aspects of the organization such as service, leadership, weapon and armor crafting, the arts, and fighting.  You can even eventually be knighted in multiple tracks.

The next day I brought the kids with me to park and the duchy was setting up for a tournament.  There was confusion on my part and I got in line to fight only to find out it was a fund raising effort.  I hadn't filled out a waiver with my information for the O.R.K. so the park member keeping the bracket didn't have any information on me.  I bowed out until enough fighters ran out of purchased lives that we could start ditching. (two lines fighting, winning side sends their first dead to the other side)  We ditched for a while because people kept buying more lives for the last two fighters, Burke and Yoshi, mostly because it was funny to watch them get exhausted.  I was also finally able to meet the great Fitz Caliston, weaponcrafter and garber extraordinaire.

And then everyone started getting ready for the battle game.

In my experience LARPing up to that point it had been straight fighting.  Now people were pulling out sashes and spell balls and talking about classes.  I was starting to get that "lightning bolt" feeling.  Breeder told me not to worry about it and to stick with a straight fighting class like Warrior or Barbarian and I'd be fine.  They couldn't find a Warrior sash so Barbarian it was.  By this point Autumn and I hadn't made any garb so I was just in black jeans and long sleeve shirt.  That wouldn't do for Burke and so he tossed a long rambo-style tabard on me, with Breeder's leather gothic lorica breastplate, pauldrons, and greaves.  By the time they were done I didn't think I looked half bad.

They gave me a quick rundown of the barbarian class, five lives per battle before going out,  and the ability to berserk for additional damage and armor once per game.  Simple enough.  The game was capture the flag and we had to hold both flags at the same time to get the capture.  I think we had five on our side and seven or eight on theirs because we had two magic users and an archer and they didn't have either.  This was a good thing, for me, because I didn't have to deal with wondering what spells were being used on me.  And there were a lot, like rooting people in place, heating up weapons so they had to be dropped, as well as typical stuff like fireballs.

Yes, that's a goblin on the far right.

Having played CTF in Belegarth and CTF in Amtgard I'm going to have express my preference for Belegarth, mostly because of the ease of play.  Bel's rules are stupid simple and it keeps the game moving.  Amtgard's rules are complex, from tracking lives, to number of hits left on armor, to figuring what was just cast on you.  Like I said, I'm glad I didn't have to deal with any magic aimed my way.  There was still nearly the same physicality, chasing flankers and runners, and I got the same rush defending against attackers.  Amtgard may eventually prove more rewarding just based on the greater variety of strategies available in class battles.

But that doesn't mean I have to like the casting mechanic of repeating your spell out loud multiple times... Lightning Bolt!

Our First Event: Samhain 2010 Part 2  

Posted by Don in , , ,

Even with the unseasonably warm October we were having it got downright chilly overnight and anything not covered (i.e. my face) got pretty cold.  We begrudgingly got out from under the warm sleeping bad and quickly got dressed and joined the Uruk crew for breakfast.  Crow, one of the youngest at the event at 18, was already going nuts on the stove making bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes for anyone who took him up on the offer.  The kid had a pretty infectious enthusiasm and kept us entertained through the event.

In the middle of breakfast this bellowing echoes out through the camp about weapons check and registering at troll.  (We'd been unable to register the night before because they were closed when we arrived)  Geryn's got a set of lungs on him and was good at keeping everyone informed of the when activities started, and generally ran a tight ship.  I dropped my swords off feeling pretty confident they'd pass check and they easily passed.  Grabbed our chompy skull tokens, finished eating, and it was time to head up to the field.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we headed up to the field but it looked like most other sporting events you see played on a Saturday, with supporters parked to the side of a soccer-sized field lined with equipment.  Only the participants are dressed in tunics and leather armor, and some of the supporters garbed up as well.

I picked up a breastplate with pauldrons and a pair of greaves that Breeder was selling, so I got to go into my first event armored up.  I understand most veteran fighters suggest that newbs not fight with armor so they can get used to taking hits, but it made the event that much better to hit the field wearing armor.  There's just nothing like it.  I got my armor checked out and approved, and Kain was even nice enough to adjust the back lacing to fit me a little better.

The Heralds started us off with rotating teams of 6, 8, and 10 against the field as people started showing up.  Almost immediately I was rushed by two red wielders and knocked backwards, breaking one of my thumbnails in the fall.  I'll admit that shook me up and for a second I wondered if I was ready for the level of contact Bel encourages.  I taped up the thumb so the nail wouldn't snag on anything and headed back out, though, and started getting into the flow of things.

I'll be the first to admit I'm a pretty rough fighter.  I've read about general concepts in martial arts and MMA, and even a little fencing, but I had no real practice other than the 4 or 5 practices we had the chance to get out to before the event.  I died.  Often.  But I was having a blast.  Going up against the varied fighting styles on the field gave me a chance to die in nearly every conceivable way, from being double legged by a spear, hit with an arrow, red-axed to the back, to the cheap death at the call of "Cutthroat!"  We broke for a quick lunch, headed to camp for sandwiches, and then returned to the fields for the rest of the day.

By far my favorite time fighting was during the scenario battle.  A square was roped off in blue rope in the middle of the field to represent water.  No armored fighters could go through and everyone else had to kneel their way through it.  There were narrow bridges to either side of the water, with voids on the outer edges you couldn't cross.  We played capture the flag with the field marked out like this and it's what probably hooked me on the game for good.  I had been fighting florentine up to this point because we haven't had the materials or time to make shields yet but Ceowulf was nice enough to let me borrow his amazing plastidip shield for the battle.  There's not much that compares to standing in a narrow shield line on a bridge with spears bristling above and in front of you, edging closer to the other side to try to break a hole through for your teammates.

By this point I had gotten over my earlier fear and shield-pushed my way into the other lines, typically dying but disrupting things enough that our guys were able to take the bridge.  I'd head back to respawn, wait for 4 other guys, then we'd head out and do it again.  At one point I ran across the field in full gear to do the same with the flag guards, shield-pushing, dying, and helping our side get a capture in the process.  I think that's what sticks with me.  Even though I wasn't a great fighter one on one I was still useful to my teammates.  Breaking shield lines, finding holes and flanking the enemy, I always tried to find some way to help.

After the scenario battle was done the group split with the Uruk-Hai holding a tournament or test, I didn't quite catch what it was, while the rest of us played zombie.  A few fighters groaned at the announcement but being new to all of this, I even had fun playing that for a bit.  I was pretty exhausted by this point and took over baby-duty and gave Autumn a chance to fight.  Most of her time was spent in the no-armor, single-blue ditching they had towards then end and she had the chance to meet some people while out fighting.  From my vantage point, and from all the pictures I grabbed, she didn't seem to do too bad.

The fighting started to wind down and so we headed back to camp to change garb for the feast.  Before we changed the Uruk-Hai gathered to initiate a new member, Cougar, into their ranks.  We caught it all on video and I was very impressed with how he held his own against guys twice his size.  Serious respect for Cougar.

We donned our feast garb and made a quick circuit around camp getting pictures of tents and banners while there was still light.  We made our way to the pavilion set up for dinner where Bacchus explained his many and varied collection of fedoras, and sat chatting with folks until dinner was served.  Somehow Popeye's Chicken seemed fitting for Samhain in Aquilonia and it ended up being delicious.

We eventually made our way back to the Uruk-Hai campfire again and sat chatting and laughing until we couldn't stay awake any longer.  We were woken up before dawn by some folks still laughing and chatting around the fire.  I feel bad because we shushed them and later found out from Eunuch that there are typically quiet camp areas for fighters with children.  Sorry for interrupting the revelry, Uruks, we'll be sure to set up in an area better suited for our needs next time.

The last day was mostly pulling up stakes and hugging folks goodbye.  I think what I took away from the event was how kind nearly everyone was.  Geryn for cutting us some slack on jeans because we'd been fighting less than a month, Loptr and Breeder for becoming fast friends, Kain for helping with my new armor and even offering chocolate milk, Jonesy for feeling like she need to hug me after a solid headshot, Ceowulf for letting me borrow his shield,  Alyrae for spending time giving Autumn pointers on the sidelines, Crow, Eunuch, and Fork for the great conversations, the Forsaken guys for being patient in their rules explanation to a newb, and the Barad-Dun guys for being great teammates during the bridge battle.

There will certainly be more events in our future.

Our First Event: Samhain 2010 Part 1  

Posted by Don in , , , ,

I'm going to jump out of order for a bit so I can try to get my thoughts up while they're still fresh in mind.  We hit a few Amtgard meetups but I've spent so much time participating lately that I haven't had time to write much about them.

But anyways, back to Samhain.

Reading the Belegarth boards, you get the impression that events are where it's at.  They're the reason the game exists.  Fighting at your local realm is all well and good and you need to start learning somewhere, but events are where you move from dozens of folks to hundreds of folks fighting.  People bring out their best equipment and gear to show off, new and interesting scenarios are set up, the game becomes everything for a small period of time.

I'd been keeping one eye on Samhain during our wedding, wondering if it was toon soon afterward to try and attend.  We were pretty burned out from planning the wedding and I wasn't sure if either Autumn or I would be up for getting everything made and ready in time for the event.  I broached the subject with her and she seemed excited so we pushed ahead with plans to go.

As I mentioned in my last post, my first blues were only a semi-success in that they were constructed properly but were way too whippy and likely wouldn't pass weapons check at an event.  So I went out and purchased some 3/8" inch fiberglass fencing poles from a local ranch store and just to be safe, DAP'ed, strapping taped, and liquid nailed them together into a solid dual core.  I worked on them every night up to the event and we finished the covers at midnight the day before.

We also lacked fighting garb.  We had the pirate garb we bought for our wedding but it wasn't exactly something we wanted to roll around the mud and grass in.  So we stopped by Jo-Ann's and picked up some green, black, and brown trigger cloth, which happened to be on sale at 40% off.  Being pressed for time we went super simple and just made a couple tabards from the cloth based on a pattern Autumn found online, modified with splits and points at the bottom edges.  I got some plain ring-belts off Ravenswood leather to wear around them and we were mostly set.  I would have liked a pair wrap pants for each of us as they look much better than just wearing levis but we ran out of time.  We also picked up safety equipment like a cup for me, volleyball kneepads and speedbag gloves to protect our hands and we were set, game-wise.

We planned for a second camping trip in less than a month, packed our gear into the car and headed out.  Unfortunately because of work, last minute packing, and childcare needs we didn't arrive in Ogden until after dark and missed the Friday evening fighting.  We did arrive just in time for full fledged drunken revelry.  Loptr was already three sheets, Breeder (whom we'd gotten to know through Amtgard) was comfortably buzzed, and there was a nice festive atmosphere.  We quickly got our tent set up and roasted some hotdogs over a campfire for dinner, chatting with our Uruk-Hai neighbors who were also relaxing around the fire.

One thing that surprised me that first night was how many people were walking around in garb, even though they weren't fighting, even though it was a little chilly.  It definitely lent to the atmosphere of the event, enough so that I decided I would toss on my simple tunic and ring belt under my coat.  We stayed with the Uruks for a bit, and I had an educational conversation with Forkbeard about the history of foam fighting in Utah.  The guy was just as big as I imagined and, despite of his internet persona, one of the nicest guys I talked to at the event.  After a bit we wandered down towards the drumming drifting from the center of camp.

We found it at the Black Lions camp and listened to a few folks try their hand, with the dancers trying to keep to the sometimes irregular beat. I'd read about bellydancers at other events so I wasn't entirely surprised to see some at Samhain, though it did seem kind of cold for them.  It was also our first exposure to the larger-than-life Lilith as she harangued the drummers and cracked everyone up as she danced.  I didn't get too drunk, just enough for a nice buzz that enhanced the experience.  Being the old responsible adults with a new baby, we turned in pretty early.

In all it was a nice way to ease into the culture of the group, to meet a few new faces and settle in before the fighting proper the next day.

First Attempt: Semi-Success  

Posted by Don in , , ,

I've been meaning to post this for a while but we ended up diving into our local foam groups head first so finding time to post about it has been scarce.

I completed our first swords and took them to our second Belegarth practice.

Loptr hesitantly took a look at them, as first attempts are usually a little scary.  He was impressed with their construction, though the cores I used on them ended up being way too whippy.  I thought I was using 3/8 inch fiberglass but it was only 1/4 inch and probably not as good quality as some rods you can find.

They were still well enough made that he didn't mind us using them at practice.  There's a noticeable difference when switching between ours and others swords, in both weight and rebound after a strike.  They've been serviceable for practice at home so they weren't entirely a waste, and the kids will get great use out of them.

They've also help me learn the pitfalls of construction so I'm better prepared for my second attempt, dual 3/8 inch cores made from fencing post I found at a local ranch store.

I Have The Coolest Wife  

Posted by Don in , , ,

In the car on the way home from practice Celeste suggested that the next evening after work she would watch the kids if I wanted to head out and pick up supplies for making our own swords.  Hint hint.

I hit the Geddon article on constructing a blue and made up a shopping list for everything I'd need.  We didn't have a hacksaw and I've always wanted a dremel anyway so all told I ended up spending around $80-$90 on the endeavor.  Here's everything spread out, including the 3/8th's inch fiberglass cores from the driveway reflectors you can pick up at any home improvement place.  I cut them to the suggested max for 3/8th inch cores, 27 inches.

I'm a fairly craft-comfortable guy, having made some Halloween props, tabletop RPG scenery, and costume accessories but there's always a learning curve jumping into any new project.  The article is very well written, though, and I had no trouble following along and getting close to expected results.

I cut the core-width pieces of foam and painted them and the cores with dap, let them dry, and they stuck like nothing else.

I then finished the boxes over the cores cutting pieces the width of cores plus the attached sides, then capped them off and reinforced them with cloth/hockey tape.

The boy was a huge help during this process.

After the core boxes I was finally ready to start attaching the striking layers of foam.

The biggest issue I had during construction was making sure to cut straight down into the foam rather than at an angle to prevent slight warping of the blade face.  Eventually I got into the habit of staying directly above where I was cutting and not cutting the entire length sitting in one position, which seemed to help.

After adding the two striking layers of foam I started working on the handles.  With such a thin core they needed to be widened, and I wanted to make them oblong to try and prevent striking with the flats of the blade.  The pennies were added mostly to prevent the cores in the handle from rolling around one another. (though it was unlikely anyway, as well attached as they were with DAP)

I wrapped the cores and pennies in double-sided carpet tape (holy nasty sticky stuff) and then attached some cheap, natural rope to the core with duct tape, wrapping it around to thicken the handle.

And then over the top of that with hockey tape for aesthetics and grip.

When I started the next day on the pommels I forgot the camera until after I had already attached the second layer.  I did get a shot before I attached the final bottom cap, though.  I had to unwrap a bit of the handle because I didn't realize I'd need to duct tape the pommel to the core under the rope.

After getting the bottom cap dapped and cross-taped to the core I re-wrapped the rope and hockey tape on the handle. 

I actually finished hockey-taping the pommels and marking them as blue last night but I haven't got any pictures of that yet.  We're also making some covers from leftover faux-suede material I used for legwraps for a Luke Skywalker costume.  Hopefully we'll get them done before practice tonight so we can use our own blades, but even if we don't we'll have them done this week for practice at home.

I'm pretty pleased with the results for a first attempt and I'm hopeful they'll pass weapons check.

Our First Practice  

Posted by Don in , , ,

With the wedding finally behind us we now have some semblance of free time (as much free time as parents of a 7 month old have) and we made it a priority to head out to the Acheron Monday practice at Liberty Park.

When we arrived attendance seemed pretty slim, just a couple guys (in garb) with their equipment bags.  Loptr and Burke were completely welcoming and friendly and sharing of equipment and guidance to (very) green fighters.

I've always meant to learn some form of martial art, whether unarmed or armed, but never set aside the time for it.  I lived for about a year with a guy who trained in jujitsu for MMA matches and he gave me a few tips here and there but nothing extensive.  I was pretty much as green as they come.

Burke was good about explaining stances, a couple different guards, trying to get in multiple strikes when you go on the offensive, that you need to keep moving, and throwing shots from your hip rather than just your shoulder. It's tough, especially being so new to it all, to keep all of that in mind, but I like to think I picked up some of it.  I wish we'd remembered to pull out the camera to show my goofy ass flailing around.

Both Loptr and Burke were great about explaining things to my wife and going the rounds with her to give her a feeling for things as well.  They mentioned an Amtgard group that meets on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the park but she really does want hard hitting combat over finesse fighting.

We went two on two with another member that showed up (I'm sorry, I can't recall his name) and I got to try some Florentine style fighting which felt a little awkward but was still fun.  I got a few kills in, though I definitely died more.  I tasted my first good jaw-shot that still smarts but nothing I won't get over quickly.

All in all I would say we both enjoyed ourselves quite a bit and we're looking forward to making our own weapons to practice with.  I definitely look forward to meeting more guys from the realm and putting what Burke taught me into practice.  God I need to get in better shape as well.

My Introduction to Belegarth  

Posted by Don in , , ,

So Forkbeard.

This guy kept popping up everywhere I looked, with bits of advice here and there and reasonable pimping of his well-crafted wares.  Like Gamhain, he also listed Belegarth as his game of choice.  I think images of some of the stuff he made finally encouraged me to search for the Belegarth site proper.

I skimmed over most of the site and learned it was very much in the vein of Dagorhir. (Which I later learned was the organization it split from after some differences in managerial opinion)  Less heavy on the role-playing, more heavy on the sport and combat aspect.  Which seemed to scratch the itch I didn't know I had.

I had started looking into LARP at roughly the same time I began planning a swordfight for my wedding. (Pirate wedding, wife suggested it and I had no problem with that.)  I'd watched a few videos on fencing basics and had even started looking into local clubs just as I found Belegarth.  I realized I wanted flourishes of fantasy but I was more interested in learning how to fight as well as exercising in a fun way while learning.

So I dove into the forums and lurked, and read about weapon construction, garb creation, armor, politics with other groups, units, training methods, pretty much anything and everything on the first two or three pages of every subforum.  It gave me a good idea of the overall state of the game, where to get or make gear, who were the leading voices (at least on the boards) and who was playing in my area.

These were the guys playing in my realm?  How could you not want to swing swords with guys dressed like that?  Fork looks like a goddamn modern day viking.  I finally decided to create an account on the board and get in touch with Cedric and Magnus to express my interest in joining Acheron.  Of course I did this right in the middle of planning the previously mentioned pirate wedding, when I had absolutely no free time.  I also happened to join the board about a week before Chaos Wars 15 so it was pretty dead while people were making preparations.

A funny thing happened during the swordfight practices with my wife for the wedding, though.  She discovered she enjoyed fighting just as much as I do.