Heroic sword fights, champions dressed in handmade armor, assassins lurking through a battlefield.
Actions of these sort seem to be straight out of a medieval storybook, but for one Albuquerque community, these stories come to life through live-action role-play — or more popularly known as LARPing.
Every Saturday, the non-profit group Amtgard of Albuquerque - Pegasus Valley takes to Taylor Park to engage in medieval battle games that consist of combat weapons made of foam to replicate swords, daggers, arrows and other feudal weapons.
Members dress in garb of the middle ages, sporting leather or metal armor over their arms and chests, costumes to represent their roles within the group and anything else they deem appropriate to wear.
Dressing and battling aren’t the only means of self-expression in Pegasus Valley. According to the group’s website, "In addition to the fighting, (they) strive to better (themselves) in creating new pieces of costumes, armor, music and art."
The community of Amtgard has become a safe place for hundreds of individuals who have joined to meet others with similar interests.
For Pegasus Valley member and scout, Josephus Edmundson (or Salem Mordai to those in Pegasus Valley), dressing in his custom-made armor during Saturday battles is his opportunity to be himself in a community of like-minded individuals.
"Some people are loners, and they just can’t find their group. I feel like (Amtgard) allows them to get their group, their people," Edmundson said.
The Amtgard recreational organization is not singular to Albuquerque. It began in Texas in 1993 and has grown through make-believe Kingdoms, Shires, Baronies and Duchies spanning across American cities and other parts of the world.
Once a year, Edmundson said participants from all these Kingdoms and make-believe civilizations join together in a Gathering of the Clans somewhere in the U.S. to battle, feast and engage in one large celebration of all that Amtgard stands for.
"In Amtgard we have multiple Kingdoms," Edmundson said. "I’ve met people all the way from Alaska to Hawaii to North Carolina, just all over the country going to these Gatherings of the Clans."
LARPing began in 1977 when Dagorhir, a D.C. area full-contact medieval game, was founded. However, many LARPers have a connection with Dungeons and Dragons and, nowadays, it has become a more popular concept appearing in shows such as the CW’s Riverdale and movies such as Role Models.
Author of "Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games," Lizzie Stark dives into the nitty-gritty details of LARPing, calling it a "grassroots movement" that goes beyond foam swords and dressing up.
Since 1977, LARPing has grown and different groups can be found all over the world. There are many different reasons as to why people are so drawn to this fad. It's not just a game — serious research of the medieval time period, weaponry and the arts are done.
Game designer Ron Edwards came up with the self-proclaimed GNS theory, which can be defined as "role-playing attracts gamists, narrativists and simulationists." It's a place that exists for everyone, and it goes beyond just "nerd culture." A LARP culture has emerged over the many decades LARPing has been around.
The University of New Mexico has created a similar kind of culture at UNM through the College of Blaiddwyn, a campus club dedicated to student involvement in middle age history.
The UNM club engages in activities like costuming, rapier combat, calligraphy and weaponry, gathering on the University’s Johnson Field on Wednesday evenings to practice and show off their skills.
College of Blaiddwyn president and self-proclaimed history geek Hero Morrison made it clear that although the club activities are similar to LARPing, they do not consider themselves LARPers.
"What we do on Johnson Field is fighter practice, so we’ve got heavy armor recreated as best we can," Morrison said. "It’s very similar to LARPing but without the magic, and we’re a lot more focused on historicity and historical accuracy than 'I'm half-elf running through the woods.'"
Although the UNM group has different interests than Albuquerque’s Amtgard group, they are similar in terms of content and community.
Members from both the College of Blaiddwyn and Pegasus Valley expressed how therapeutic battling or expressing themselves creatively can be and the value of being in such a community.
"This sets me free … It’s cheaper than therapy," Zachariah Wallace said, a College of Blaiddwyn member who goes by Gottfried Von Zollern in the group's society. "It is more than just a club. I didn’t pay anything — they invited me into their home, they fed me and we created something. That is what is unique about the club, and there are experts that have been doing it for 25-plus years. There’s something for everybody."
As loved a hobby it is by those who participate in historical reenactment, it has the potential to be misunderstood by people who have never LARPed or been in a historical role-playing group.
Pegasus Valley organizer and group leader Sean Chapel spoke to a misconception of exclusivity around LARPing, saying that groups like Amtgard welcome newcomers with open arms.
"I wish more people knew how caring and accepting Amtgarders are and how easy it is to get involved in our game," Chapel said.
As interesting as the activities are that make up the College of Blaiddwyn and Amtgard, it is the relationships and community that are built that are crucial for so many of these participants.
"It’s always fun to dress up like a Viking and make mead and stuff," Morrison said. "But it’s even nicer to have that relationship with other people."
Alanie Rael is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllyRael
Andrea Solis is a culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Drearooo