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Thirteen Kingdoms in Twelve Months: Emerald Hills
[03/29/2010] [Randall]

Sometime around last November, I decided it would be fun to try to hit up all of the kingdoms in 2010. This idea isn’t original – it’s stolen from Michael Hammer of God, who did it with a lot of success back in 2003 and 2004 – but I decided I wanted to do something a bit different. Since I’m not terribly fond of setting up tents, and since I don’t want to structure my travel plans around event schedules, I’m aiming to visit as many of the kingdoms as possible by going to regular park days.

There is something to be said for Amtgard on any given Saturday. Although there’s a great deal of overlap, a lot of Amtgarders who go to events don’t always show up on the weekends – and even more weekend Amtgarders don’t go to events. To me, the visit-the-parks plan seemed like a great opportunity to see a different side of Amtgard. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the various small-town parks around the game. I love seeing how Amtgard is played, how feasts are held, what garb looks like, and how foam is swung – because it’s different in every park. That’s something worth experiencing. Something about it is reinvigorating – reinspiring, really – and infectious. It’s a way to recharge the joy of playing by sharing in fun that’s different and good at the same time.

Although I have technically visited two kingdoms so far this year, I’m not counting either yet – Dragonspine and the Burning Lands can wait ‘til later in the year. That makes my first visit of the year the parks of the Emerald Kingdom – Mourningwood Glen in Arlington and Eagleshire in Denton.

After spending a day in Dallas doing a bit of sight-seeing, on Saturday I went with Brennon and Kairi to the park in Arlington. Since a campout was taking place in Tanglewood Forest down near Corsicana, we knew attendance would be light. As we waited for people to show up, the three of us walked around the woods and terrain in the back area of the park. To me, this terrain looked like paradise. I play at a park I love, but it’s a flat park – the police took our hills seventeen years ago – and we have to make our terrain with surveying tape, flags, and the occasional hay bale. Here in Arlington, the rivers, embankments, thick woods, isolated trails, and steep ravines made it impossible not to dream up battlegames. Brennon led us through, pointing out where one party of Amtgarders had fought to defend a treasure chest in a stream, or where another had set up a defensive position at the crumbled ford of a river. The forest was simply full of possibilities. Were I a native of the area, I would not let a week go by without playing in the woods – and I would go out of my way to drive to Arlington to play games held there.

Outside the woods in the main part of the park, the green hills provided a great place to do pick-up Amtgard. Once we got back out, we found a few newbies warming up, so we got our gear and started a ditch. There were several teenagers hanging around the park where we were fighting, so we called them over and let them borrow some swords so they could join us. A few more regulars showed up, but with the great majority of the park away at the event, a dozen or more of the twenty people who I got to ditch with were first-time newbies. I had a lot of fun, and I hope they did too. After the fighting died down, a few of the newbies ran another ditch for while the rest of the players played a pick-up game of tackle football. The Amtgard team held their weight, as it were – with players like Brett, Brennon, Muadib, and Potato – scoring three touchdowns to zero.

My hosts were busy taking care of some errands for the rest of the afternoon, so I took off to Corsicana and took the turnoff to Tanglewood Forest, arriving at a bit after six. The entire experience was, for me, fascinating and relaxing. At gate, I was asked which park I was from, and I said Dragonspine. The person there started flipping through the sign-in sheets as though Dragonspine might be found among the local parks. I might as well have said I was from Mars. Sutra recognized my name and welcomed me to the event - he said they’d had seventy people pass through game, and that feast was just about to start. After I got garbed up and parked, I walked through the woods, passing a couple of kids ditching before I got mildly lost. The woods are beautiful. The resources available at Tanglewood to run bad-ass battlegames are vast. After a moment or two, I found someone – Dante – and followed him to the tavern, where three or four dozen people were gathered waiting for the food to be served. I talked to Brigade a bit about how awesome Westmarch is, and then wandered up to the tavern counter. There, I met Three Jugs, a lovely lady who helped me clean some sap off my hands and served me some wonderful drinks and some even more wonderful fry bread. The bread was the best I’d ever had –Three Jugs earned a fan this weekend.

As I wandered around talking to people - feeling only mildly distressed that there was no beer whatsoever available to be appropriated - I noticed that many people seemed to not be aware that Dragonspine existed, or that it was a kingdom, or where it might be located. A few people asked me if it was a Wetlands park. At least one thought it might be in the Celestial Kingdom. This was an interesting, surreal, and yet liberating experience; visiting from what may very well be the largest kingdom in Amtgard, I might as well have been visiting from Nero for all anybody seemed to know. I shook a lot of hands and introduced myself, and realized I probably could’ve gotten away with making up any name I wanted, and nobody would have been the wiser. A couple of people blinked at my introduction, as though they felt like they had met me somewhere but couldn’t figure out where. I spent a little bit longer hanging out talking to Delphos and Nevron about El Paso and the finer points of strippers and sopapillas, and then went on my way.

I dug the whole Tanglewood experience. If I didn’t have plans that evening to eat dinner back in Fort Worth, I would have happily stayed for hours. Everybody was friendly, the food was delicious, and I got to see a few people I hadn’t talked to in many years. Everyone I spoke to said they were having a good time, and I felt a little jealous that my travel constraints meant that I hadn’t been able to show up earlier – and that I had to leave so soon. A few people seemed apologetic about the event – “Yeah, only about seventy people” – but, from an outsider’s perspective, the hour and a half I was able to walk through Tanglewood were achingly brief. Thank you, Sutra and the Emerald Hills, for the hospitality.

Back in Forth Worth, I met up again with Brennon and Kairi. We were joined by Megiddo, who had driven into town to visit as well. The four of us ate some wonderful jambalaya and talked a bit about the challenges of recruitment and retention in very small parks – and the challenges of being a traveling king in a large kingdom. Megiddo had to leave early the next day, so we ended our late night with milk shakes and beer. It was a fun and relaxing interlude in the busy weekend, and a nice opportunity to get to hang out with another Amtgarder.

On Sunday, the plan was to go to Eagleshire for a special battlegame Brennon had planned. Brennon, Kairi and I arrived early, set up the battlegame (giving me a chance to get some use out of my white belt, looping tree branches so we could tie flags to them), and started some sparring until a few more people showed up. The sparring turned into ditching, and the ditching eventually turned into the beginning of a battlegame with a bit over twenty people. I got a chance to briefly say hello to Forest and Spyn, and then I had to leave to catch my flight - but I got a pretty good idea of what the game was going to be.

With terrain blocking line of sight, two opposing commanders sitting back at their bases with maps (complete with coordinates) and walky-talkies, and roaming teams carrying walky-talkies so they could communicate with their commanders back at base, the battlegame was a full-class, live-action version of a real-time strategy game. There were flags marking positions that could be captured and points given for how long each side controlled the flags. It looked seriously bad-ass, and I am stealing the idea for use in Dragonspine. After I left, another dozen people – mostly newbies - showed up for the second game. Hearing how it turned out made me sorry that my flight left on Sunday instead of the following day.

The weekend was enjoyable and full, and the little taste I got of these wonderful parks made me want to stay longer at each of them. It was worth the visit to play even for a little while. For my next trip, I’m thinking of making it Dark Oasis in the Golden Plains on May 1st. Anything fun happening out there?

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