Alexandria Dozens were left dead after an attack in Jones Point Park involving multiple knives and swords. Fortunately, there was only a 45-second respawn time.
The dead walked off the field, holding their foam swords above their head to avoid further injury. Behind them, the battle continued to rage, with the few remaining survivors from each side warily sticking together until reinforcements arrive from the respawn pool.
From teens wearing t-shirts and jeans to adults in their 40s wearing full chainmail, every Sunday between 20 to 40 members of Duchy of Rising Sun Station gather at Jones Point Park to go to war. The combatants are playing Amtgard, a live-action fantasy role playing game (LARP) that involves two sides fighting with foam covered medieval weaponry.
While some of the combatants armed with bows and foam-tipped arrows like to pick off targets from across the field, Eli McMillian (her game name is Kailoreth, or Kai) is more of a frontlines archer. McMillian is rarely more than a few feet from her more heavily armored teammates that form the brunt of the assault. Like a quarterback, she uses her position to identify weak spots and quickly plan new tactics. When one target begins creeping around the corner of the battle, she calls out for a shield-bearing knight on the end to duck. He drops without hesitation, and a second later McMillian’s arrow whistles over his head and strikes an enemy in his chest.
McMillian started playing at Jones Point Park two years ago, and says she’s never looked back. Now, McMillian is a monarch, one of the Duchy’s elected officials who run the day-to-day operations.
“There’s a camaraderie here,” said McMillian. “These guys became instant friends. [The best part] is seeing them grow and change over time.”
The Duchy of Rising Sun Station is about more than just combat. Unlike many LARP games, Amtgard is class based. While most of the players charge into combat with swords, a few move behind the lines “healing” and playing other magic-related roles. Others in the group weave and do other crafts off to the side of the field.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Lisa Jacobus, game name Celwyn. “Some people do garbing, like making the costumes. Others build props. Armor-working is popular,” she said, gesturing over to a group of combatants in chainmail. “Some people host big medieval feasts.”
McMillian said her favorite activity are the campouts the Duchy hosts five times a year. McMillian and others also said they also enjoyed some of the more traditional role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, that the group does when they aren’t bashing each other with swords and clubs.
The Duchy spans from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Some players are from Alexandria, many others like McMillian coming down from D.C. or Maryland. Nick Swisher (Fezzik), Leslie Harvey (Finny), Nathan MacCumbee (Homer) and Alexander Ryan (Thrash) are all part of a group called Bitter Coast based out of the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, Md. Each of the group members has been playing between 11 and 15 years. Harvey started in middle school with his dad, and later convinced Swisher to join him.
“You get some crazy stories,” said Harvey. “I fell out of it when I was in college. I found it again [after I graduated] and got sucked right back in.”
It was those crazy stories that hooked Swisher. On his first trip with a LARPing group, Swisher remembers gathering with others around a campfire and listening to their fun and outlandish war stories.
“The biggest thing is that you need to be OK with getting hit and hitting people,” said Harvey. “After that, just keep playing. Keep practicing.”
For Ryan, the biggest lesson of Amtgard is being OK with failure.
“You’re going to die often, you’re going to be frustrated, but keep going,” said Ryan. “It’s not some magical talent. It’s learned over time.”
While the game is usually played every Sunday, on March 5 many members will be travelling to Farmville to compete in a regional competition. On most days, the games start around 1 p.m. in a field at the southern end of the park. The knights with colorful shields are hard to miss. Most of the members bring their own weaponry and supplies, but basic foam swords are available for newcomers to borrow. There is no cost to play.