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Amtgard Should Stay Out of Amtgard
[07/15/2003] [Luke Wyngarde]

I know I'll probably never hear the end of this, but here goes.

I wish the Wetlands had never become a Kingdom. More to the point, I wish the Wetlands didn't have to feel obliged to behave "like every other Kingdom" and concern itself with "inter-kingdom" politics, standards and expectations. I wish we could feel free to do our own thing, the way our populace chooses, unfettered by the workings and convolutions of other lands, other traditions - to not have to worry how we are perceived by distant lands and be able to create our own society, made by our own choices.

When I discovered Amtgard in Fall of 1994, it was love at first sight. I mean, there were a group of weirdos, playing the same fantasy game my weirdo high school friends "invented" years before. It had all the same elements of my own home-grown "Live Action Dungeons & Dragons" game; the same bad costumes, foam swords, cheesy spell incantations and everything. And, to make things even better, these weirdos had RULEBOOKS! In all the years of playing as a kid, we never really thought to write down RULES. We just played it by ear, built on what we did in weeks before and generally had a great time acting stupid.

The earliest days of the Wetlands, before we were a kingdom or a confederacy, hell, before we even had a name, were the true Golden Days of Amtgard. We didn't know about other Kingdoms and didn't care. Fighting Companies and Households were nearly unheard of, more a rarity than you might imagine, and our entire club was more like an extended family than anything. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't always perfection. There were political intrigues, petty grudges and embarrassing temper tantrums aplenty. But, at the end of the day, it was all about getting together at Double Dave's Pizza, wolfing down a dozen pepperoni sticks and laughing about who-sluffed-who and how-much-fun and whats-next-week. What colors you wore didn't matter. What chicken you had on your chest didn't matter. We were young and in love with having a good time and that meant more than anything, including the drama of the week or what was going in the semi-mythical Golden Plains, our sponsoring kingdom. Every weekend meant a Goblin Invasion to repel, a mysterious crypt to explore and another grand adventure to experience - and myself and many long-gone Amtgardians rose to each occasion with honor, humor and a smile.

But something changed all that, and I can sum it up in four words: SPRING WAR AND CLAN.

Oh, it was supposed to be this incredible thing, this wonderland of Amtgard, this unfathomably cool Mecca. Yes, Spring War Two was touted as the End-All-Be-All of Things to Do. So, I (and many other new and impressionable Amtgardians) packed up and made the trip to Legendary Celestial Kingdom. Truthfully, at the time, I was blinded by all the bustle, all the people, all the knights and squires and everything we didn't have in Houston. The big feast, the massive battles, it was all too good to be believed. And, if I knew then what I know now, I would have stayed home and tried to keep everyone else home with me.

See, we learned a few things that weekend; things that had never occured to most of us before:

1. There are people who play Amtgard to WIN AT ALL COSTS. No matter how much cheating, sluffing, abusing, lying or stealing it takes, there is someone out there who is ready to go the distance just to claim bragging rights. And NONE of these people EVER miss an Inter-Kingdom event. And no one ever tries to stop them.

2. Inter-Kingdom People don't play Amtgard. They had a "War" using the Rules, but the rest of the time everyone was engaged in a boring-ass, no-rules, no-questing game called "Ditching." This lame "game" consisted of everyone lining up, running at each other, hitting each other as HARD AS THEY COULD, while at the same time, BLOWING OFF EVERY SHOT they could get away with. Then, when everyone finally allowed themselves to die, they lined up and did it again. And again. And again. For hours. For days even.

3. People belonging to large "established" Companies and Households tended to stick to themselves, generally (though there were exceptions) spurning the new and uninvited who had nothing to offer. This was more true with Fighting Companies, whose members behaved completely unlike anything we had ever seen before - hard-ass jocks, snotty "nobles", vandals, miscreants and all manner of people who seemed to "play" Amtgard by making the lives of other people miserable. At least they tended to wear recognizable colors, and it was easy to figure out who was worth talking to and who was going to be rude.

4. Having awards and honors means you can pick and chose who you want to be nice to. It's also a GREAT way to get other people to do the things you don't want to do.

These realizations, more than anything, changed the way Amtgard was played in our part of the world forever. It would still be years until the Ditch Battle totally took over, but eventually it did, and nothing has been the same since. Most Park Days are spent doing the old "First Dead Shuffle" and after so much time, the people who really want to PLAY AMTGARD have stopped coming out altogether. At least playing Evercrack or Magic: The Circle Jerk, they can get some semblence of fantasy role-playing - the reason they started playing Amtgard in the first place.

Some people decided to join the distant Companies, others formed their own home-grown versions, and soon Double Dave's only saw us once a month, then not at all for a long time, until it shut down and became a shoe store. In the seven years since, we have only been out together, as a group, maybe three times. (Not really counting post-event breakfasts or dinners, when we're starving and just happen to be going the same direction. I'm talking about just hanging out at the park until dark then going, en masse, to eat somewhere.) Nowadays, after Amtgard, the groups all go their seperate ways, and don't even bother to ask if anyone else is interested - leaving many fellow players standing around wishing someone would ask "wanna come, too, y'all?"

Then came Clan. Why is it every time a newbie goes to Clan they come back as 6th level in something? Anyhow, Clan only served to enhance the broken illusion, casting everything in the rainy pall of Sleepygrass in July. Suffice to say, everything bad about Spring War was amplified twenty times in the muck and mire of up-close "inter-Kingdom" politics at Clan. The reason why the Wetlands' motto is "We Don't Suck" is because after three days of walking up and down that mountain, trying to be friendly and meet new people and being rebuffed and sluffed, the majority of us came to the revelation that everywhere else pretty much DID suck. So we wanted the rest of you to know it, thus our motto, which has withstood the test of time, remains firmly engrained in the spirit of every member who bothers to stick around despite the Eternal Ditch.

As soon as we became a Kingdom, we gained the ultimate power - meaning we didn't have to send away 587 miles to get an award higher than number three! Yeah! Masterhoods poured forth like wine, noble titles abound! In no time we had five Knights, fourteen Lords, three Dukes and partridge in a pear tree. We had Squires, Pages and Ladies, Oh My! Not long after we made our first Knight, everything went to hell in a handbasket. Now we had to start counting our awards, playing molly-coddle politics with every new Knight to ensure their vote with the Circle, and generally trying to be as haughty as the same fools we laughed about, lo those few months ago upon the mountainside.

We had to keep up appearences and travel all over Texas and New Mexico or we weren't doing it right. We had to have a CONTRACT and obey the will of the Burning Lands or face GETTING REVOKED. To this day, I still can not believe ANY Kingdom allows the people in El Paso to dictate ANYTHING to them, much less allow themselves to be bullied and railroaded by Hairymattress and his band of cronies in the manner they have become accustomed to.

But writing our own Corpora, now THAT is something of which I will always be proud. Twenty of us sat down in a room with the corporas of four other Kingdoms. What a laugh! Some people out there are so unfortunate to be forced to play under their own corpora. Why ten Roses for Master Rose, but twelve Garbers for Master Garber? Why do Lions and Griffons combine for one Masterhood? Why can only one person every six months be a good role-player? You mean, if you don't live in their Kingdom Park, you can't even RUN for Monarch? Oh, it was a riot trying to figure one ounce of reason in that crap. In the end, we tossed out so much crap we just started over from scratch. We pretty much had to, because what came before sucked so badly we didn't have a choice. We added, subtracted, multiplied and divided until we had a product to be proud of. Perfect? Nah, hardly. Better? Yes, much, much better.

Years go by ... people come, but mostly, people go.

One day the Knights Circle looks up and realizes there are literally DOZENS of people "in the pipe" - qualified Masters, worthy candidates all. Throw in the DOZEN already-belted Knights who were qualified for second- and third-belts, and the list looks more like the sign-in sheet at a small event than a list of knight's candidates. I'm talking, like, over thirty belts. At our standard two per reign, some candidates were looking at TEN REIGNS before they would be even CLOSE to the top of the list ... barring them getting tired of waiting and quitting, or giving up and opting to continue to participate, but not on the level of "knightly value". So, in a seemingly rational, retrospectively naive move, the Guildmaster of Knights holds a mass vote. Any current member of the Circle eligible for a multi-belt, who passes a vote by the Circle, will be awarded that belt without ceremony. Anyone passing the vote may opt to have a ceremony at the time of their choosing (and after any first-time Knights have their ceremony), or accept the will of the Circle and a public announcement in the Kingdom Newsletter. This move was supposed to (and did) clear up a HUGE back-log of worthy second- and third-belters from the cue, several of which DID opt to have a ceremony at the time of their choosing, and make way for worthy first-belters to have their chance to be a Paladin some time before their eightieth birthday. Noble, I thought (and still think, being the kind of person who actually WANTS to see other people achieve their goals), of these Knights to step aside with little more than a by-line, and free up court time for other people to have their moment in the sun.

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, someone got offended and the worst fears of my outspoken xenophobia and rampant desire for autonomy came to pass. We were told we couldn't play Amtgard anymore, because they didn't like the way we operated. We had sullied the title of Knight forevermore. We were heretics and Rabble Rousers and Unworthy Users and Liars and Ungrateful Seperatists and a whole unholy host of other things. As if we ever ASKED for their opinion! As if they EVER COME HERE! Our closest neighboring Kingdoms didn't care. Our Knight's Circle didn't care. Our populace didn't care. But, for some bizarre reason, less than ten people in El Paso took it upon themselves to illegally revoke an illegal contract between two imaginary Kingdoms in a land of make believe hundreds of miles away. Yeah, ten people most of us will never meet, nor who have ever been here, got together and decided they knew how to run our Kingdom better than we did. To get back in, all we had to do was kiss that ass.

I climbed on my steel-reinforced soap-box and preached for us to stay out of Amtgard and to tell the Burning Lands to stuff their worthless contract straight back down the Franzia box it was first scrawled upon. I said it then, and I'll say it now: The Wetlands does not need the Burning Lands to tell us how to play Amtgard. The Wetlands does not need to feel obliged to fall into line when other Kingdoms decide to force change upon us, or bow to the wishes of any foreign or Inter-Kingdom Committe, Council, Board or Circle.

You know what happened while we were "kicked out"? NOT A DAMN THING! We still held events, we still gave awards, we still played Amtgard, and, you know what else, people still came from other Kingdoms to play with us! Yes, that's right, we weren't pariahs after all! Not having a contract made NO DIFFERENCE! It didn't then, and it doesn't now, mostly because you can't just snap your fingers and reinstate a cancelled contract. We're free, and have been for some time. We never signed a new contract, and hope we never do. That they elected to reinstate our right to sit of the Circle of Monarchs is a joke - we deserve a place there because we ARE A KINGDOM OF AMTGARD IN SPIRIT AND NAME, because we choose to be, not because of any useless piece of paper.

More recently has been the outcry for award standardization. Let's face it, the only people who worry about their awards not meaning anything in another Kingdom are more worried about themselves than their hobby. I can PROMISE you, if you show up in this Kingdom with a pile of Griffons from Rustic Winds, and you can't fight your way past Spyn and Target, then you ain't ever going to see a Sword Belt. If you show up with a Master Lion and have already gotten your Flame Belt for it in Neverwhere, then you ain't going to see a Crown Belt for the same Qual. But, I bet if you showed up with ten Orders of the Bard from Goldensnail, we'd pass a resolution to equate them to Dragons, if you were cool and asked nicely - and sang for us for a while! So, yeah, you musicians might actually be better off down here than in the Frozen North in that regard. And if you're the type of unfortunate who moves to a different Kingdom every two years, well, better get used to learning to adapt.

Thus, the point of this entire article: The Wetlands and Amtgard does not need an Inter-Kingdom Movement to survive, it needs to be left alone. It does not need Inter-Kingdom Events to spoil the Light of the Newbies. It does not need a Senate to decide the fate of the game. Amtgard and the Wetlands does not need the Burning Lands Board of Directors and their random edicts from afar to keep us in line. It does not need endless ditch fights, elitist companies, award standardization or the univited opinions of distant lands. None of these things will help the club grow, they only serve to stifle creativity and force undue amounts of reality into a fantasy game.

Amtgard needs change, in the form of leaders who are willing to adapt to the populace and not just sit content because "they already have theirs" or "we were here first." Amtgard need energy, in the form of players willing to step forward and run REAL QUESTS AND BATTLEGAMES using the rules of play. Amtgard needs players to set aside the sick paradigm of us-and-them and get back to the basic fun of enjoying each other in social interaction, as well as battlefield action. It needs committment, in the form of active recruitment drives, demonstrations, community interaction and keep-a-newbie programs. These are the things that will bring in new blood and new life to Amtgard - not new rules, not standard awards and global community.

If Amtgard and the Wetlands plan to survive another ten years, it needs leaders on a local level doing things to keep the local players happy - not distant, heavy-handed pettiness or inter-kingdom committees with sweeping powers. It needs love and nuturing and people willing to put aside their own fun to ensure that other's around them are enjoying themselves.

Above all that, it needs those people to remember what it was that drew them to this game in the first place and kept them here - and share a little of that every week with someone new.

Now that would be real magic.

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