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A Farewell to Arms
[10/17/2002] [Arthon]

Recently, posts have been cropping up comparing old-tech weapons to that of the feather-light variety. Now there are points to both sides of the issue. I, myself, favor heftier weapons for reasons I have discussed elsewhere. However, every time someone talks about the ‘good old days’, when weapons had a bit more meat to them, it takes me back to my first year when I started playing.

Ahh, those were the days. 1988. Even though Amtgard had been around for a few years, the Emerald Hills had not. Weapon technology was still in its infancy there. I was seventeen then, thin as a rail, and had not come into my full growth. Gargantuan men like Landolf [i] could have substituted using me for a weapon and probably not noticed the difference in weight.

My first weapon was this monstrosity of a two handed sword, made of ¾” thick-wall pvc with a crossguard screwed on. I’d wrapped some couch foam around it and secured it with a spiral wrap of duct tape. I remember making the tape squeal when I applied it because of the torque I was using. You see, I had to compact the foam to reduce the diameter from ten inches to a much more aerodynamic four. I proudly brought it out to the field the next weekend. Rheinhold [ii] took one look at it, shook his head, and it stayed under the Nirvana tree the rest of the day.

Dismayed, but undeterred, I went back to my secret weapons laboratory and begin work on other prototypes. Many weeks later, I hit upon the Mark IV. I had decided that I wanted to use a shield and so a mere three-and-a-half-foot sword was in order. I still wanted a crossguard because I had developed this ingenious (to my mind) device from a coat hanger that would allow me to hang my sword on my belt but it required quillions to function. I used ¾” thin-wall (so as to reduce the weight) and applied the same coach foam to it. I had learned not to compact the foam and so I layered the duct tape on, first vertically down the length of the sword, the horizontally, then vertically again. This was done to prevent the duct tape from splitting and tearing the precious coach foam. Also, sword covers were not in vogue and so we had to take steps to prevent our weapons from being damaged by brambles and thorns. Now, not only was my weapon protected, it was waterproof, too.

You may laugh, but coach foam can soak up an amazing bit of water when it rains. When this occurs, it’s sort of like those time travel paradoxes that scientists talk about – you know, meeting yourself leaving as you’re walking into the time machine. You can swing the handle of your sword, look behind you and still see the tip, just starting to move while your arm is done and going onto the next attack. There might be a second’s delay while the water-weighted tip catches up to the rest of the sword.

Now, I finally had the weapon that would allow my true warrior nature to emerge. But more about that in a moment.

Meanwhile my friends had decided on other directions for their paths to martial glory. Draknar [iii] was playing a mage and decided that a staff was the optimal weapon. Not just a regular staff, but also one that was eight feet long, bare PVC (3/4” thick-wall, of course), with the tips padded exactly as my sword was. It looked like a giant silver Q-tip and probably functioned about as well.

My brother, Arak [iv], had concluded that a better weight ratio was to be found with axes (at the time, he was right). He was also monstrously huge for a sixteen year-old. So, he made himself a great ax. Now remember, my children, that in 1988 a great weapon had to be two pounds per foot. That was hard enough to do with a sword. With an ax, the weight all has to be, guess where? You got it … in the head. I think two whole couch cushions died so that his red ax might live. It started off as a five-foot double-headed axe. After a week, one of the heads ripped off and so it became a one-headed ax. However, to make up for the lost head he used multiple roles of duct tape to increase the weight back to its original. So now, he has a five-foot weapon that weighs something like ten pounds in the head. To fight, he’d swing it in huge arcs. Sure, you could jump in while he was swinging it and kill him, but you knew that ax head was coming. Like a freight train. It picked up smaller people and threw them. It wasn’t too pleasant on the rest of us, either, but it sure had a lot of padding. You couldn’t feel core, ‘cause I think the layers of duct tape were so rigid you couldn’t bend the foam.

Speaking of my brother, he later made a three-foot long one-handed axe. We called it the ‘Black Axe’. He’d decided duct tape was too heavy and had wrapped the entire thing in electrical tape. Just to give you an idea about how stoutly made the Black Axe was, we used it (fairly successfully) to play mailbox baseball with on Fridays before Amtgard and it never broke down.

Back to my original story, my Mark IV had about a nine-inch diameter on it and must have easily weighed two hundred pounds. The only way I could kill someone was if his back was turned and I had a running start to build momentum. Needless to say, this did not endear me to the fighters of that time. I decided to take an alternate path of glory and become a bowman.

My early observations of Amtgard arrows led me to believe that their range was pitiful. I was looking for an edge. One of my brother’s friends, Septu [v], had a bow that he was willing to lend me. It had “35#” printed on it so I knew that it must be safe. On the other hand, it stood five feet tall when strung and it took an effort on my part to draw it all the way back. As a matter of fact, a regular arrow seemed too short for this bow - you still could draw the bow further but the arrow wasn’t long enough. Noting my previous observations about range, I wanted an arrow that would go as far as possible. Back to the secret lab again.

I went to the hardware store and bought three-foot dowel rods to which I attached fletchings and nocks. I attached a penny to the head as per the Amtgard rulebook, and added a four-inch piece of couch foam for padding, which I secured with electrical tape. With my bow, I could pull these arrows all the way back to my ear. In practice, the arrows would fly from corner to corner of my back yard and hit the fence with a satisfying ‘thunk’. Yes, these ‘cloth-yard shafts’ were worthy of my bow.

Again, I went triumphantly out to the field to wage war on the hun. Again, Rheinhold took one look at my newly made weapons of destruction and forbade them from gracing the battlefield. Still, I wanted to test them out on live people (my brother would not submit to getting shot with them, for some reason). I asked for Monk volunteers who wanted to hone their arrow blocking skill. Dustin [vi], Rheinhold’s little brother, spoke up. Pure folly, for my arrows were too much for mere mortals. We squared off at twenty-five yards distance. I asked if he was ready. As he was nodding his assent, the arrow leapt from my bow like lightning from Zeus’ hand. It struck him in the face, blood fountained from his lip, and Rheinhold wandered over to kick my ass. After many apologies, my ass kicking was averted but my dreams of being a bowman were quashed. I tried, oh Lord, how I tried. But I had to use an inferior bow and my cloth-yard shafts were forever denied me. It was not meant to be. Soon, I gave up.

There were other follies after that – double-headed flails, iron-weighted hilts, sand in the core, and things of that nature. I eventually came into my own, but that first year, that magical year, will haunt my every waking step as a constant reminder of the flurb that I was.

i. Landolf – Easily the best warrior EH fielded that first year. 6’8” with long, monkey arms. Later, he was in political disfavor and so he left. Cool guy, though.
ii. Rheinhold – First Champion of the EH. Later moved to/started Golden Plains. Current whereabouts: unknown.
iii. Draknar Von Brazelius – Left the staff behind and moved to the CK and became a Knight of the Sword. Currently semi-retired, pending injuries (Old Man Syndrome).
iv. Arak Indunutz – Won first EH Weaponmaster. Got married and settled down in Ft. Worth. Dumbass.
v. Septu – Still in EH. Semi-retired (but I hear he shows up now and again). Has white man’s fro.
vi. Dustin – Moved to GP with Rheinhold. Became knight there. Later died. Was buried with belt.

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