Every Saturday afternoon, whether rain, heat, snow, blustery winds or bitter cold, Taylor Park in northeast Albuquerque becomes a battleground.
Local men and women come out, dressed in medieval garb, to play Amtgard, a live action role play combat game at Taylor Park, aka Pegasus Valley. With their homemade foam weapons, the group spends hours throwing, thrusting, swinging and running. The objective of the game changes all the time but the fun, according to the participants, never does.
Casandra Tognoni, 26, started playing when she was 12 years old in Las Cruces. She moved to Albuquerque with her family when she was 15 and joined the Pegasus Valley group. Tognoni battles every Saturday but is also considered an expert weapons maker and garber, often putting together costumes and building weapons for group members. She said once the group starts moving around, they hardly notice the weather.
Amtgard was started in El Paso, Texas, in 1983 and now has 10,000 active members around the globe, according to its website. The Albuquerque chapter started in 1993, a year before longtime member Matt Fuentes, who was then only 17, set foot on the Taylor Park battlefield for the first time. He joined the Army after high school and traveled the country, but no matter where he went, Amtgard remained a part of his life. He moved back to Albuquerque seven years ago and returned to the group at Taylor Park.
“It’s super nerdy but super fun,” he said. “Honestly it’s great therapy. When you come out, you are working out.”
One of Fuentes’ best friends is Jason Lax, who has been playing for 10 years. Lax, 27, is the Duke of Pegasus Valley and is responsible for running the group’s meet-up group, recruiting new members and making sure the weapons are safe. Most members, he said, make their own costumes and their own weapons. But there are members of the group who do not fight and instead make costumes or weapons. Lax said the game has held his interest for so long because it’s always evolving.
“There’s the challenge to always get better,” he said. “To be a better fighter. When I first started, I got my butt kicked left and right.”
Pegasus Valley is in the kingdom of Dragon Spine whose headquarters is in Las Cruces. The kingdom also encompasses parts of Phoenix and Alaska. Every Saturday the group transforms Taylor Park into Pegasus Valley using cones and ropes. The cones represent certain parts of the town, including a river. The ropes are used to outline the battlefield or castle.
Lax said the game isn’t always the same and changes depending on what the participants feel like doing. Each person chooses a character, such as assassin, healer, warrior or magician.
Fuentes said the object of the game might be to capture the flag of the other team. This means fighting their way across the field, trying not to be killed. Two wounds, or one wound to the torso, results in a death. Other times the goal of the game might be to invade and take control of the other team’s castles.
“And sometimes you are just trying to annihilate their entire team,” he said. “You battle until you get all their men.”
An important aspect of the game, Fuentes said, is the right weapon. There are weapons used for hand-to-hand combat, such as swords and axes, but there are also projectile weapons including rocks, magic balls and daggers.
Although the weapons cannot do any real damage, there is still a certain art to making them. When Fuentes first started in the game, weapons were made with PVC, which is the hard, plastic piping plumbers use. The piping was covered in foam and held together with duct tape. Now the group uses old golf shafts that a local business sells to them. These are also covered in foam but can vary in size and weight.
“A lot of thought and design goes into the weapon,” he said. “When you have a well balanced weapon they are super fast and efficient.”
The group includes all different types of people, including men and women, and teens, adults and even children, although they have to be supervised by their guardians.
The good people are trying to protect Pegasus Valley but Lax and Tognoni have other plans.
“We are bad people,” Tognoni said, smiling. “We play the villains.”