Sunday afternoons bring strange sights to Olmos Basin Park.
Stroll, bike or drive by the cozy, wooded area and chances are you’ll spot wildly garbed characters who could be straight out of “Game of Thrones,” flailing away at each other with a variety of martial weapons.
This is not a mirage. It’s the weekly meeting of Traitor’s Gate, the quirky, engaging San Antonio chapter of a “medieval recreation society” named Amtgard.
“We’re a bunch of geeks and nerds out here, and this is where we find our common ground,” said Andrew Kelly, known as Anndra Ó Ceallaigh when involved with Amtgard. “It’s good exercise. I’m not into sports – I never have been – but this is akin to a combat sport.”
Founded in El Paso in 1984, Amtgard is what players refer to as a “LARP” – a live-action role-playing group formed for nonlethal “boffer” combat in medieval and ancient modes, including magic, monsters and a seemingly never-ending combination of scenarios.
There is also a strong arts and sciences component, emphasizing crafts and skills.
Many players create their own costumes, from sashes and shields to actual armor or chain mail. They also cook, do leather or metal crafting and write and perform. Since there’s no set Amtgard story line, the groups are free to find their own battles, enchantments and campaigns. There is, however, an extensive manual on rules of play, magic, spells and strategies, and specifications for foam-padded weapons and arrowheads.
The Traitor’s Gate chapter, part of the Celestial Kingdom region, was formed in 1998 by a merger of two groups, Traitors Hollow and Gates of Solaris. There are some 200 members and about 75 active adherents. Visitors, however, are often among those participating.
The weekly meets started in Olmos Basin Park in 1985, then moved to McAllister Park. Six years ago they returned to the Basin.
“We come out here every week to dress up and hit each other with safe, foam-padded bats,” said Jayme Buckwalter after a few combat rounds on a recent Sunday.
Arrayed in chain mail, with a leather helmet and visor and heavily padded gloves and leg wrappings, Buckwalter cuts a formidable figure on the field of honor.
“My fighting name is Deathlily Megatron Sunshine,” he said, “but most people just call me Jay. I’m part of a fighting company called Torches, and I’m a squire to a knight – Sir Michael Hammer of God is his name. Super cool dude. He’s up in Minnesota, and I’m down here in Texas.”
Buckwalter’s wife, Jessica (who goes by Hopper when in medieval mode), sported a long, hooded black cape with a striking geometric motif. A talented seamstress and designer, she said she was attracted to Traitor’s Gate because of the enthusiastic arts and sciences contingent.
She shrugged off her cape to reveal a pink shirt with delicate wings on her back.
“If I get scared, I fly away,” she said.
There are all levels of skill on the field of combat. Most fighting takes place in brief battles of sword and shield. Because of the complex rules, it’s difficult for a beginner to follow.
Mark Zaragoza, or Zark Black, in a tunic emblazoned with a Knights Templar cross, is mastering the learning curve himself.
“I’ve been playing for about a year now. I formed a company called One For All for newbies, so they can learn how to fight,” he said.
Members join for many reasons.
“I was going through some bad stuff with my ex, and I decided to find a way to fight with my heart. This is a healthy outlet for all the drama,” said Eve Gomez, or Gemalyne.
Dükkêr Flortiz, or MidNite, wields a powerful longbow that shoots arrows tipped with large soft foam bags. An art teacher at San Anto Cultural Arts, he said his Traitor’s Gate comrades have dubbed him “den mother.”
He is organizing the group’s craft and fighting demonstrations at the San Antonio Public Library’s Pop Con Feb. 16.
On this Sunday afternoon, his open tent is filled with his artwork and craft projects, including blacksmith Sabrina Caylor’s tiny handmade knife and fresh banana bread baked by Dawn Zaiontz (Dusk).
Nearby, Catheryn Garza (Renegade Red Thunder) painted exquisite watercolors, while Alyssa Wade (Eva Destruction) traded stories with old friends.
“I was born and raised in Amtgard,” Wade said. “A lot of people here have known me since I was 5.”
It’s a family scene, bridging generations. Many members bring children.
Wade’s father, J.D. Wade (Theodric Blackflame, Scourge of the Celestial Kingdom), is one of the longest-serving veterans. He joined Amtgard in El Paso, soon after it began.
“There’s not a lot to do in El Paso except get in trouble, and in trouble I got,” J.D. Wade said. “Then I found this bunch of like-minded people, and this great fun, positive outlet.”
For more information, call 469-321-7566 or email TraitorsGateCK@gmail.com.