Night had fallen as I came closer to the castle and a loud voice yelled out “halt!”
It was the night guard who was holding the torch over his head to see who was approaching. The imitation of the sounds of hooves and jingle of harnesses was evident for an alert which brought out the second guard.
“I say announce yourself,” he said. “Do not attack me for I am here to deliver an urgent message.”
As I neared the gate, I saw more guards who were fully armed and ready for battle to protect their kingdom. Such was the scene on a recent Sunday at for a gathering of particpants in a live-action role-playing event.
"Come forward," the night guard shouted again.
I can tell in his voice he was bit more confident now that he had a few more men surrounding the gate.
These were troubled times, so all precautions must be taken, otherwise a war will be deployed. I opened my coat and there was the crest of the Westmarch of the Barony of Thor’s Refuge. The soldiers gasped with respect.
“I need to see Lord Collin the Red MacAbee for I have urgent news and I need to speak with him immediately,” I said.
"This way, my lord," the guard replied.
More and more games are becoming a more surreal reality. Although virtual worlds and virtual online games are another means of role playing, there is nothing like getting down and dirty with the real deal. Moreover, gamers say that this live action had emerged from the Dungeons and Dragons mania of the 1970’s and that led to the creation of live-action role-playing, also known as LARP.
LARP is becoming more popular in our game playing society. The theme or back drop is a fantasy setting with characters who improvise during the game and abide to all rules and regulations. In addition, players learn to make weapons, fight for battle (which is no joke, they actually do fight), championship battles and meet other like minded men and women to engage with.
If you think this is strange then this just might be the game for you.
Ok, so I’m out of the chamber and let it be known that I too have that secret desire as well to take arms and fight for battle or just sit back and bask as a queen with servants. After watching a Robin Hood movie one night on cable, it really got me in the “Baroque” spirit. So I made my trek to locate who is in charge of the local chapter and who is sponsoring such a fitting game. My quest ended up with "Lord Collin the Red MacAbee" and "Lady Tamara MacAbee of Thor’s Refuge," who is part of Amtgard.
What is Amtgard, you may be wondering?
Amtgard is a non-profit, non-sectarian group dedicated to recreating elements of fantasy, medieval and other ancient genres. They’ve been around for more than 10 years in the midwestern United States and have reached the West Coast.
It is a safe and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. The weapons are safe, foam padded replicas of the real things.
Every Sunday, a large number of men, women and children gather at Carmichael Park to engage in playing Thor’s Refuge.
To become a member of Amtgard, you must fill out a membership form and waiver, and then turn them over to the Prime Minister. Minors are welcome, but must have a parent or guardian also sign their waivers. Minors under the age of 14 may not participate in combat without special permission from the Monarch.
Waiting patiently until the many battles had ended for the day, I had the pleasure of speaking to the royalty himself, Marcus Bergman, to give me a bit of an inside scoop on why he joined and started the Sacramento chapter for Thor’s Refuge.
Marcus Bergman, also known as "State Prime Minister Collin the Red MacAbee" (Occupation: math teacher at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt) is married to Teresa Bergman a.k.a. "Local Prime Minister Lady Tamara MacAbee".
Bergman met his wife at a production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and at the time he worked as a security guard. After their marriage, there was a reunion casting picnic at Carmichael Park. When he and his wife arrived, he noticed another group of people wearing funny clothes beating up on each other.
“I thought this is great," Bergman said. "So I met with the local knight Sir Euric and his 'brother' (from the game) and was surprised that apparently it was only around for a year or two, and so we joined up.”
Shortly thereafter, Bergman started his own clan for the local community. With his relentless dedication, he grew his membership from only eight members to about 250 members. Currently, he is now the California State Prime Minister, a heavy role in which he oversees all the prime ministers of California.
Bergman said his wife has been instramental in the group's growth. Many newer members came from Demos and word of mouth. Some motorists have seen the group as they drive by and stop to learn more.
You can definitely tell by his voice that his members are a hard core group that takes this game very seriously yet with much fun and they rarely miss any days at all. Members come from all walks of life, cultures and occupations. There are several titled positions with different abilities to obtain. However these have to be granted by the Duke of the land as every land has a Monarch region. Once you obtain that title you are allowed to keep that title for two terms of a period of six months maximum.
“This is our release every week,” Bergman said. “We get to go out and hit people and get hit. I enjoy the hell out of it!”
Jason Aziz, aka "the Leper (Champion)", said he enjoys taking part in the action.
“This is the kind of place one turns to if he really itches for battle and glory while his other friends itch to check their MySpace (pages)," Aziz said. "If you are sick of simply watching good old-fashioned epicness on TV and YouTube, then jump in the car and bring a couple bucks and when you are here you can buy weapon cores for a dollar. You will regret having no cash, because after you try it out, you're gonna want a few of your own.”
There are no physical pre-requisites, however with its physical demand of training and fighting, members must sign a medical waiver indicating that they fully understand the risks.
“Expect to get hit when you step onto the field, but you know these guys love it,” Bergman said. “We had a member who had cracked his ribs, yet he still got out and played. Yeah, we do have some crazy people.”
“Where else can you go to battle with new people and friends and actually have a good time fighting?" Aziz asked. "If you like swords and other medieval weapons, it’s a safe game to try it out in. In my opinion a great and healthy activity all around.”
Just because they go onto the battle field and whomp each other doesn’t mean that they don’t care for one another. With their compassionate concern, the whole clan called an injured member every hour just to make sure he was alright. As a matter of fact, the group is so close that they treat their own members just like family.
“We are a family here,” Bergman said. “Our mission is to service and travel so we go to other lands and help out locally. We’ve helped members who had surgery with daycare, those with financial troubles we try to provide meals for them and even assisted in building of homes.”
It doesn’t stop there. The organization has an annual food drive that they do for the local Sacramento food banks and to raise money. Every year, the lands will compete to see who can raise the most and last year they won and were awarded a prize by the Principality.
“We’re not like the Kiwanis. We are not a service organization,” Bergman said. “We’re a bunch of people with a common interest who do try to help, not much, but we do what we can.”
So what’s the charge to play this fantasy game?
Apparently there is absolutely no fees or charges to play the game. If you would like to be more a prominent voting member, then the membership cost is a whopping $10 every six months.
However, your weapons and clothing, which participants make themselves, is the only thing you would really have to dish out any money for and that might be anywhere from $10 to $20 or so depending on how intricate and creative you are with your gear.
Every Wednesday night, the group will meet up to make more weapons, clothing and accessories. The Bergmans always make sure that they have extra materials including foams and tape to assist others in making their gear.
“Dress up, make armor, battle with friends, sweat, laugh, and live life to its fullest,” Teresa Bergman said.
The game is just not limited to the United States. There are groups worldwide established and many are still forming. For example, there is a group in Japan located in the Navy base of Okinawa.
“I don’t think there’s a state without an Amtgard group. We’re everywhere,” Marcus Bergman said.
So what’s in the future for Thor’s Refuge?
“We are working towards providing larger bigger events locally with Viking feasts and Viking style games," he said. "We also look forward to next year’s local food drive for charities.”
If you would like to get involved and become a member, you can go online for more information and meet up schedules or you can just show up on Sunday at Carmichael Park starting at noon each Sunday.