2016-09-29 / Front Page

Biddeford role playing group competes in live-action combat

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


On guard Amtgard players at Rotary Park in Biddeford circle each other in a fight with foam swords. The game shown is a game of capture the flag, where each team attempts to reach the other team’s side of the field to steal a flag and return with it. (Anthony Aloisio photo) On guard Amtgard players at Rotary Park in Biddeford circle each other in a fight with foam swords. The game shown is a game of capture the flag, where each team attempts to reach the other team’s side of the field to steal a flag and return with it. (Anthony Aloisio photo) BIDDEFORD – A new pastime arrived in Biddeford this summer with the creation of a group of live action role-players (LARP, LARPers) for a game called “Amtgard.” The new chapter of Amtgard belongs to a larger international organization of chapters and players.

LARP in general works much like theater – with players acting in the role of a specific character, which they have created – but, in place of a script or improvisation guidelines, Amtgard participants play their characters in a game according to established rules, which includes live action combat.

Amtgard has these qualities, but it differentiates itself by putting emphasis on the live combat, which gives it the feel of a sport. Playing Amtgard appears on the outside like a Renaissance fair, but it also works a lot like town league soccer, says Sam Butler, 41, of Old Orchard Beach, who started the chapter along with a few others. Ultimately, however, the experience varies depending on the chapter.


A foam weapon, often called a “boffer,” crafted by a Biddeford area Amtgard player was used in live action combat during gameplay. Amtgard players often craft the weapons, clothing, and equipment used in game. Regional competitions challenge crafters to improve their crafting skill, and some even go on to sell their crafts commercially. (Anthony Aloisio photo) A foam weapon, often called a “boffer,” crafted by a Biddeford area Amtgard player was used in live action combat during gameplay. Amtgard players often craft the weapons, clothing, and equipment used in game. Regional competitions challenge crafters to improve their crafting skill, and some even go on to sell their crafts commercially. (Anthony Aloisio photo) “Some groups, every game is just a battle game and you just fight,” said Michael Mayer, 37, of Nashua, New Hampshire, who holds a regional office within the organization and tours nearby chapters to participate. “Some groups, every game is part of a larger quest arc.”


Amtgard players attack each other in a sword fight with padded sword weapons. At right is Peter Piper, 35, of Nashua, New Hampshire. Amtgard players are encouraged to develop a character whose role they play in stories and in combat. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Amtgard players attack each other in a sword fight with padded sword weapons. At right is Peter Piper, 35, of Nashua, New Hampshire. Amtgard players are encouraged to develop a character whose role they play in stories and in combat. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Mayer added that longer term game structures, called quests, may last up to six months.

The in-game combat is done using padded foam weapons, often called “boffers,” which are typically crafted by players themselves.

Aside from the gameplay and story elements, Amtgard also integrates crafting. The weapons, equipment, armor and clothing may all be crafted or bought. Many players enjoy the opportunity to put time and care into learning a craft and creating a high-quality item. This includes challenging crafts like leathercraft and making chain mail. Amtgard holds frequent regional competitions where players can show their crafted items for a chance to win awards. A player who earns many awards is honored with a higher level award called a Knight award.

The Biddeford chapter of Amtgard grew out of a nearby chapter in Sanford, Butler said. The Biddeford and Sanford chapters are the only two in Maine.

Recruiting works partly by word-of-mouth, but frequently new players are attracted simply by being exposed to the game play at a public park. Other pastime groups like, for example, Frisbee golf, Butler said, might see Amtgard groups playing and want to hear more about it.

Sometimes Amtgard players and their colorful garb catch prospective players’ attention in more unexpected places.

“I used to be into acting in high school,” said Angel Amaro, 35, of Biddeford. “Some people at the (Sanford) park were here in Biddeford at the Hannaford, dressed in garb, in character, so I asked them about it.

“They’re like ‘We’re over in Sanford, we do this every Sunday,’ and I got excited, bought full plate armor, and just went out for my first day.”

Chapters also plan public demonstrations. The Sanford chapter, Butler said, held demonstrations before the release of each of the recent movie recreations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”

Amtgard also uses its organization to make opportunities for community service. Aside from encouraging players to give their time to volunteering, the organization also promotes projects such as “Food Fight,” which raises money for local food banks. A player doing the Food Fight will appear in public and take donations of $2 per person to fight against the player in one-on-one combat with the foam weapons. In recent weeks, Amaro did the Food Fight at the Biddeford and Portland Art Walks, which happen on Fridays once per month. Between the two events, Amaro said it brought in at least $180 for an Old Orchard Beach food bank.

According to Butler, the chapters compete against each other to raise money, and throughout the whole organization thousands of dollars have been raised for food banks.

“And it’s literally all at the end of the day to go ‘We’re better than you,’” added Butler, laughing. “It’s competition for competition’s sake, and then it has the side benefit of actually benefitting people.”

Another important theme of Amtgard and its membership is inclusiveness, Butler said. Players from all backgrounds are welcomed, and the organization has a systemic structure for dealing with harassment.

“We do not tolerate intolerance,” Butler said.

The purpose of Amtgard is sharing the experience, according to Andrea Delgado, 42, of Old Orchard Beach.

“Everybody gets together and we have something in common,” Delgado said. “It’s a great way to be social for people who aren’t necessarily social in other settings. We’re nerds, we’re kinda outsiders sometimes, you know.”

Another thing players in Maine’s chapters of Amtgard have in common is that they’re all New Englanders, and their Amtgard experience reflects that. Outdoor game play continues through winter, even through snowfall. Part of the benefit of wearing heavy garb like clothes and armor, Butler said, is that it’s easy to stay warm in the cold. “We’ll be there,” Butler said. “The group in Sanford actually takes snow shovels to dig themselves out.”

The Biddeford chapter meets at 12:30 p.m. most Sundays at Rotary Park. Part of that choice, Butler said, was because the city clears snow from parts of the park in winter. They can be contacted by their Facebook group, called “Ebon Falls.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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