|Feast of the Dead: Everyone Warned Me
Everyone warned me. "The event will be awful," one said. "Save your money," another said. "You're going to be bored," said a third. Everyone warned me that going to any Crystal Groves event was a mistake and that going to The Feast of the Dead was raising making a mistake to an art form.
I went anyway. I drove up from Gainesville (Florida) on Friday. I left on Friday morning at 8am with my friend Mo and drove straight up. We stopped once for gas and otherwise drove straight through. It took 13 hours and we arrived at a bit after 9pm. We checked into our hotel and headed out to the site.
Gate seemed concerned we were going to blast past them at 80 miles per hour and that we for some reason would not grasp the concept of paying money for an Amtgard event, which was not an auspicious start. Once I cheerfully pointed out that we were not drooling morons, however, everyone seemed to relax. We paid $39 at gate, since Mo had forgotten cash and that was all the cash I was carrying. Gate cheerfully accepted this minor discrepancy, which gave me the first ray of hope for this event.
I parked in front of the feast hall and got out my gear to fight, pausing to listen for the distinctive sounds of foam combat. Silence. Well, crap. Luckily, I spotted Toda and Siobhan and spent some time catching up with them while waiting for someone to show up to fight with. After an enjoyable hour of chit-chat combat finally arrived.
The ditch was fairly small, topping out at maybe 25 people and not having room for more than twice that number at most. The ditch lights were set just above eye level, which I exploited ruthlessly to the detriment of my less mobile opponents. The average skill level was about what I expected, which is to say below the Amtgard average, and without the top-end pool I'm used to seeing at out-of-state events I travel to. Despite all these faults, the ditching was FUN. Everyone took their shots. Everyone was in a good mood. Everyone was pleasant and friendly. Everyone was excited about fighting. These were the type of fighters who make Amtgard a game worth playing. This was, against all expectations, a shiny happy kingdom. It was like a time-warp back to late-90's Florida.
I headed back to my hotel sometime between midnight and 1 A.M. I'd been side-lined with a cold all week and wasn't close to recovered and Mo was nursing a back injury, so we wisely cut short our fun in the interest of being functional Saturday.
Saturday morning I found I was out of intact swords, so I had to spend some time remaking a few swords. By the time I was done, people had stopped ditching to get ready for a tournament. Oh, how I hate tournaments. They take perfectly good ditching time and make you stand around watching other people fight. Still, fighting in a tournament was better than just watching. I fought. Against all expectation, I won the florentine bracket. I am an awful florentine fighter. Everyone in CG should hang their head in shame. The tourney ended up a three-way tie for first between Armand, Tosc and I, which resulted in some strange round-robin thing for final placing. Tosc ended up winning the tourney.
Overall, I enjoyed the tourney, though it wiped me out some standing around in the sun for hours. I found Tosc to be pleasant and surprisingly self-deprecating in his demeanor. Armand was also a genial and pleasant person, and I found his company likewise enjoyable. I'd met both of them before, but this was the first time I had a lot of sustained interaction with them. In fact, everyone I fought was fun to fight, clean in their shot taking, and graceful in both victory and defeat. That's not to say it was a perfect tournament but the disputes were both less frequent and less energetic than I typically see in anything other than my home-field tournaments. However, Tournaments should always be seeded, double-elimination tournaments and this one was neither.
After the tourney there was a brief fighting class on the schedule, put on by Toda. I sat in on the class out of curiosity and it reminded me of some of the things I've seen in SKBC classes. He had some good core information, especially for the level of fighters Crystal Groves has. After Toda's instruction, I was asked to give a brief presentation on "how to kill lefties", which I was happy to do. Warlord Glen, Professor. I found it an amusing role to be in, but nonetheless attempted to provide good value for the time people invested in it. I encourage everyone there to come to SKBC, where you can get prepared lectures from actual sword knights instead of off-the-cuff lectures from Brennon's squire. I love teaching so I had fun, even if no one else did.
I missed the battle games that were going on concurrently with the fighting classes, which made me a bit sad. I had been looking forward to seeing how CG did battle games and had even volunteered to play a monster if they needed more bodies. I know there were battle games, but I have no idea how they went.
I got in a bit more fighting after this, mainly by dragooning random strangers into sparring with me. At one point I think I stole Armand's sparring partner. Eventually someone came out of the feast hall to tell us that feast was not only served but that if we wanted to eat at all we better come in and get some food. I found it noteworthy that Armand and Tosc, who had tied for first place in the fighting tourney, were serving feast. I approved. I cheerfully upheld the fighter stereotype by not helping at all. Feast itself was simple, filling, and tasty; spaghetti, meatballs, salad, and I believe there was something else I am forgetting. I loaded up on carbs to replace what I'd spent during the day.
After feast I skipped court and headed back to my hotel room for a short break. Still recovering from my cold, I needed a little down time if I was going to ditch into the night. I conveniently returned to site shortly after court ended and the ditching had already begun. Like Friday, the ditching was small, fun, clean, and friendly. People drifted over to ditch for a while, then would wander off to do some drinking and socializing and new fighters would replace them. More poles made their appearance, too many for a ditch of that size, but in the spirit of a friendly ditch I never physically reminded them that poles weren't people. They repaid me the courtesy by mostly bothering other people. Everyone, or at least me, was happy. Sometime around midnight the ditching broke down as too many people wanted to socialize and drink and I was reduced to sparring with random people. I never ran out of people to fight, though.
Overall, I had a ton of fun at the Feast of the Dead. The event was small, but it was also friendly, intimate, and fun. I didn't see any signs of any of the problems I hear about when Crystal Groves is brought up, with the exception of a shallow fighting pool. A shallow fighting pool is the sort of thing that resolves itself as a kingdom ages and people become more experienced. Their fighters have the will and the desire to improve and the personality to do so gracefully. The event gave me a new perspective on Crystal Groves. I would go to visit them again and would encourage those who have never been there to go and see what Crystal Groves has to offer.
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