Saturdays in the shire

By Kevin Wilson

The battle cries come each Saturday afternoon, with players coming from all over the area to turn Rotary Park into a battlefield similar to one seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For those few hours, the small stretch of land is known as the Shire of the Shining Dogs, and the students and community members are participants in an organization called Amtgard.

Amtgard is a non-sectarian, non-profit live-action roleplaying organization founded in 1983 in El Paso, Texas. Members of the group reconstruct medieval combat with foam-padded replicas of ancient weapons.

“Essentially, I was looking for something to do on the weekends,” said Martin Capasse. “I swung my first sword and I was hooked. I’ve been playing for 10 years.”

The object of Amtgard battles have never changed. In each battle, team members try to kill all of the opposition members as quickly as possible.

A kill is registered when a participant absorbs two shots to the limbs (arm or leg) or one torso shot — head shots are not allowed. Once a limb is hit, the player is not allowed to use that limb anymore — a participant hit in the arm must pretend the arm has gone numb, and a participant hit in the leg must drop to his or her knees.

Depending on the number of participants, it may only be a matter of minutes from one battle to the next. Saturday’s battle included about a dozen of the shire’s 35 members, but other weekends have seen fellow Amtgard clubs come for battles that include nearly 100 people.

Regardless of a battle size, safety is the biggest concern, and each weapon has specific requirements for its construction. The average sword used by Amtgard participants is a golf club shaft, covered in a foam noodle (usually used as pool toys) and capped with more foam with the handle taped and padded as well. All told, the materials to create one sword might not exceed $10.

“A lot of people put quite a bit of money into it,” Sam Langley said, “because it’s our favorite pasttime.”

Langley is the champion of the land, and one of his duties is to make sure all weapons are legal for battle, from nunchucks to bows to swords to many other foam-padded replicas.

He also inspects uniforms, which include certain markings to note the character type. Also, uniforms can include armor to withstand more blows. Some come to Rotary Park in full medieval garb, while others come with more modern attire.

“I think it’s more about having fun than the authenticity myself,” said Brad Carmin, known in the shire as Atnosk.
The Shire of the Shining Dogs is one of 10 recognized Amtgard groups in New Mexico. The Portales shire works under the Kingdom of Dragonspine, one of the nation’s 12 kingdoms of Amtgard.

The shire is nearly two years old. It broke off its affiliation with ENMU in September, members said, so non-students could play a greater role in the direction of the shire. Many members of the shire are in the area due to Cannon Air Force Base, including Carmin, Langley and Cepasse, the sheriff.

Cepasse spent Saturday’s battles as a healer. As there are different weapons, there are different types of Amtgard characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses and duties. The Amtgard rules stipulate 13 different classes of fighter and four classes of non-fighters as well.

Each fighter is also assigned a class, from one to six. The classes raise depending on experience in Amtgard gatherings. A participant receives one point for each Amtgard event attended and can acquire up to seven points per month. The sixth level is reached after 61 points.

“It’s about finding what you like and getting really good at it,” said Brianna Horning, a sophomore at Eastern New Mexico University. “Then (later), maybe you find something else to get good at.”

When a competitor learns to play more than one character, they can choose to be whatever role is more beneficial for that day of battling. Depending on the levels and types of fighters in each team, the strategy of battle may change to protect certain members and focus attacks on certain opponents.

Those who come for the Saturday battles, and the feasts that follow, said they come out every weekend to see friends and use foam weapons to take out the stress that builds up from a normal week of work or class. Members must be at least 14 years old (with parental consent), with dues of $6 per six months.

The members invite anybody interested to watch the battles each Saturday, and to contact for information on the shire or Amtgard.