Drive past Santa Rosa Park in San Luis Obispo on any Saturday afternoon and you’ll hear dozens of cars honking at an unconventional sight.
The spectacle: A group of people engaged in combat, using Styrofoam shields and wearing deep forest-green cloaks.
They’re not rehearsing for a play or a fencing team but rather are the San Luis Obispo chapter of Amtgard – Barony of the Seven Sleeping Dragons.
“We play adult tag, that’s it,” said Nate Watkins, an architecture senior who has been playing Amtgard for three years.
And that, in basic terms, is what the group does.
Amtgard is a live action role playing (LARP) activity that aims to recreate elements of the medieval, ancient and fantasy life through costumed sword-fighting and battles.
Amtgard players battle in Santa Rosa Park, San Luis Obispo.
The weapons they use are all homemade, foam-padded replicas of the real thing.
Instead of keeping track of points, Amtgard is based on hit-location.
“If you are hit in the leg you have to kneel on that leg, if you get hit in the arm you have to put that arm behind your back; if you get hit in the torso then you’re dead,” said Jessica Fetcho, a Cal Poly interdisciplinary studies student who goes by the alias Lady Leah.
A hit from a weapon disables players to the location struck. Any combination of two different limb shots kills a player. For example, once both arms have been hit, that player is disqualified.
With realms popping up all over California and casting their charm all over the world, San Luis Obispo Amtgard members keep coming out every week for the people.
“I’ve got friends all up and down California,” Lady Leah said. “I could go to Alaska and stay at someone’s house because of the people I’ve met. It’s really for the people, for the social aspect of it.”
The Barony started as a Cal Poly club, she said. The founding students had previously participated in Amtgard in Colorado during the early ’90s and decided to bring the game to their school.
“They played on the Cal Poly campus for about 13 years and about two years ago we moved off campus,” Lady Leah said.
James H. Haren II created the first Amtgard sector in El Paso, Texas in 1983, according to an article from the Houston Press. Haren took rules from other live action role playing games to form Amtgard. The largest “realms” of Amtgard are in the Midwest, though it is practiced worldwide.
Haren named Amtgard after his friends Matthew and Katy Amt, the article said.
Many members said they appreciate the physical workout Amtgard provides.
“It’s good exercise, especially in the summer,” said Morro Bay High School senior Marissa Moore.
Amtgard can also be a draw for sedentary computer users.
“I know a lot of people spend way too much time on the Internet these days. It’s a great way to get yourself moving, it’s fun and the community is really nice,” he said.
In addition to shields and swords, the players have another trick up their sleeve: magic.
Moore’s favorite spell is called “Lost.”
“Basically the spell caster points at someone, says ‘I make you lost’ three times and the person has to stop what they are doing and go back to their base,” she said.
Magic is primarily an audible incantation or thrown by “spell balls,” small, safely padded, brightly colored projectiles.
Amtgard holds its spell over members ranging from elementary school children to their middle-aged parents. Brian Terrill moved to the area last year and said he wanted a place for his three sons — Gavin, Connor and Kyle — to be involved in the community.
His wife started bringing their sons to the park three months ago and they’ve been hooked ever since.
“It was for the kids to do, but someone’s gotta bring them every week,” Terrill said. At any point on a Saturday afternoon, he can be spotted just as immersed in the role playing as his sons.