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Fourteen Kingdoms in Twelve Months: Wetlands
[12/22/2010] [Randall]

On November 14th, Azrael-Jade and I stopped at Granite Spyre on our way to New Orleans. Granite Spyre is a Sunday park that plays in west Houston. Azrael and I had been working pretty hard on getting ready for our current reign, so we were both looking forward to the vacation. I was also looking forward to hitting some strangers with foam swords, having not done nearly enough of it the day before at Dragonspine, and I had high hopes (boosted by Juju's descriptions of Amtgard there) that Granite Spyre wouldn't disappoint. We cruised our Jeep by the park in the early afternoon and saw a few folks who were clearly Amtgarders, but not a lot of people had shown up yet, so we went to get gas and use a restroom. The weather was a bit gloomy, which worried me a little bit. Back home, overcast skies are often all it takes to scare people away. As it turned otu, plenty of people were showing up when I got back. They had an interesting look to them: a mix of experienced people in nice garb and obvious newbies wearing borrowed tabards.

As we got out of our car, I said howdy to a knight who was walking past. I can't remember if he nodded and walked on by or just walked on by. Azrael and I were both in plain clothes at the time. Now, I don't know if he was busy, distracted, having a bad day, or if that's how he normally is, so I won't read too much into his response, but that doesn't meant I won't use it to segue into a point. Both of us looked like non-Amtgarders and were still willing to be friendly to an Amtgarder who walked by, which should have made us pitch material. The problem is that Amtgarders are pretty bad at reaching out to the public. It seems we get a lot of people who try Amtgard once and don't come back until years later, if at all, and they almost always tell me the same reason why they quit: nobody talked to them. Many people who stick it out and keep playing likewise have memories of nobody saying howdy. I've met more than a few girls who say that only Belgarin talked to them on their first day. Leaving Belgarin's motives aside, Amtgard can and should do better. We're a bunch of social misfits and that means it's sometimes hard for us to be aware of what's going on, but that should be knowledge, not an excuse. All the parks I've hit up lately were in public places, and all of them had spectators. Your park may be the same. Take a look around to see who is watching. Go up to them, tell them about the game, and invite them to try. For a surprising number of people, not being invited to play is the difference between embracing the game and walking away.

In any case, once we were garbed up and over at the park, the people there were quite friendly. I sparred with a kid for a while doing some single sword. Silvertip was there and saw us fighting, and he offered a few bits of advice on single sword, pointing out to me what he believed I was doing incorrectly. I didn't tell him that I was doing everything incorrectly, but instead thanked him for his advice and kept fighting the kid. After a bit, another knight who looked like Corbin walked up, and he told me after I introduced myself that he was, in fact, Corbin. When I said I didn't recognize him without his hat, he turned and showed me the trademark headwear hanging from his hip. The three of us sparred for a pretty good length of time until more people showed up. Juju got there and joined in our games, and then a few more people, and eventually our free-for-all single sword turned into a full-fledged ditch. I figure there were about ten or twelve of us in the ditch, and it was a lot of fun. All of the fighters were fun to fight, and some were pretty good. I don't think I killed Germ all day. Between ditches, I saw that Feral had showed up too, and made a mental note that I owe him a Shakespearean speech. He joined in the ditching as well. All in all, I was pretty satisfied with the ditch-to-lawn gnome ratio.

As the ditch wound down, Juju started to get some sort of goblin game going over at a nearby gazebo. This is when I started to take notice of how nice the park looked. The gazebo was off beyond a wooden ranch-type fence, and there was a neat trellis archway near it as well. Off to the other side of the trail, there was a decent amount of open space for fighting, and a lot of tree cover beyond that. Visibility wasn't poor, but the generally-gloomy weather made my notice my immediate surroundings more. I think there were some bleachers nearby, and someone mentioned something about a wooden fort. Juju was using the gazebo as a base for the goblin king, who would be played by Shady, and used colored bowls to make breakable walls. Our goal as Shady's goblin defenders was to prevent the goblin attackers from taking his crown. The game had a fast respawn and several choke points, so the fighting was fast, intense, and a lot of fun. After we did one round, the sides flipped and we had to take the crown from the other side. That was also fun. I don't think Shady got manhandled too badly.

After that, several of us hung out and watched the kids ditch for a bit while we made impolite observations about the demographics of Dragonspine. When it started to rain, people with children or guitars left, meaning Feral got away before I could inflict any speeches upon him. The weather held though, and Juju was able to set up another battlegame. This one had two teams competing to take individual flags from one another, plus a third spoiler team, plus a kickball that I am not sure was actually a prop until it later became a free sphere of annihilation. We played that until it descended into a revolving ditch. It was quite enjoyable, although my unfortunate memory of it is getting upset at someone who I believed was not taking my shots. I had begun to wonder about it, and then got upset when it appeared blatant to me. I was about to add something impolite to my comments, and then I reminded myself that I was a visitor and should just let it go rather than be the bad guy. I was already upset without myself for saying anything at all. Here's another lesson using my bad example as a warning: when you're the visitor, always give the locals the benefit of the doubt, and smile at adversity. I would have been happier if I had followed my own advice. I went on to fight some more, and had just taken off my armor to go see if I could spar with Germ for a bit when it really started to rain, cutting off my plans. We took our drenched selves off to the trees by the parking lot just in time for the rain to die down for a bit, but fighting for the day was over.

Juju held a little Althing, and I was struck by how similar it was to the one I had seen in Querna Tema. The locals were involved and attentive, the leaders conscientious and to the point. This is a happy park. To illustrate how happy they were, Shady invited the whole park to come hug me, which they proceeded to do after my surrender. We hung around for a little bit longer as I mentally toyed with staying for dinner versus hitting the road. It seemed like the last few people to linger at the park just weren't ready to go. While talking to Shady, I discovered he knew a guy who Azrael and I went to college with, putting another notch in my "small world" mental column. For some reason, this discovery seemed even weirder than finding out when I visited Austin that Doomshadow used to be pretty good friends with my sister. When it started to get a little darker and a little colder, we finally said our goodbyes and away we went, hoping to make it to New Orleans before exhaustion set in.

I dig Granite Spyre. It's a reasonably-progressive park that has the right ideas about how battlegames should work. The mix between newbies and veterans works there, and there was no obvious stick jock versus flurb dichotomy at work. The newbies were interested and the leaders, er, cared and tried. Even on a gloomy day, the park seemed well-attended, with something over twenty people showing up to play. The large number of knights who showed up made it look like an old park, but the attitudes, vibrancy, and progressive nature of play made it feel like a young park. I dunno what the rest of the Wetlands is like, but Granite Spyre represented well and merits emulation. I'm glad we were able to make it the first stop on our vacation, and I'd go again if I were in the Houston area.

That's five down (maybe seven, depending on how you score it.) At the moment, I am not sure how the rest of this travel project will work. My original winter plans were to spend the week on the east coast hitting up two kingdoms, but that's not happening. At this point, the worst-case scenario is that twelve months will turn into fourteen or fifteen, but we'll see. With that in mind, my next stop may be somewhere in Desert Winds or Tal Dagore, unless the warmer climes of Neverwinter call me. Any good Sunday parks out there with neat late January plans? I'm aiming for regular park days and not events, so let me know if your park fits the bill. Thanks, and maybe I'll see y'all soon.

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