Anyone visiting Mountain Run Winery this weekend could be forgiven for believing they momentarily had stepped back in time to a slightly warped medieval era.
Ladies and gentlemen clad in period costume, many wielding padded swords, daggers and spears, were engaged in combat in several areas around the winery grounds.
The vintners located on Mountain Run Lake Road hosted a live action roleplaying (LARP) event last weekend, with more than 150 members of Amtgard, a national medieval recreation society, in attendance.
While many participants belong to the local regional kingdom of Amtgard, the event was open to any members who wished to sign up to attend, event coordinator Kelsey Starr said.
Known in Amtgard parlance as an “autocrat,” Starr said she helped set up the three-day event in Culpeper County.
Starr said each regional kingdom of Amtgard holds a large gathering about every four months throughout the year somewhere in their region.
Participants can sign up to battle, enter crafting competitions or simply attend the event to socialize and enjoy the atmosphere.
Starr said participants have to be 14 years old to spar, but anyone can attend the events.
This was the group’s second visit to Mountain Run Winery this year, she said
“I absolutely love this site,” Starr said. “It’s gorgeous.”
Winery owner David Foster said Mountain Run began hosting LARP events about three years ago.
“After that, we just got hooked,” Foster said. “It’s a perfect site for them to come out, camp for the weekend and enjoy some wine, beer or mead, all in a family-friendly place.”
Foster said the winery has hosted six LARP events this year for three different roleplaying groups.
While participants can spend as much money as they like on costumes, weapons, shields and other accoutrements for LARP, Starr and most of the participants agreed the events are about having fun.
“We have the crafts tent set up, and we offer different arts and science classes, like beginning crocheting, water colors and candle-making,” said Elizabeth Gibson, who helped coordinate the weekend’s activities.
And what kingdom could be complete without a king?
“I’m called the Monarch,” said Ben Goldstein of Glenmoore, Pa. “My job is to make sure the kingdom is running properly. I make sure the rules are being followed, and that everything remains safe.”
While safety is a main concern, the combatants still recommend bringing a sturdy pair of protective gloves.
Even covered with padding, the swords and spears can do some damage when they hit unprotected hands and fingers, said Gary Black of Northern Virginia.
Black said he and many of his fellow fighters participate in several different LARP groups in the area.
“They all basically come from Dungeons and Dragons,” Black said. “Amtgard focuses on the medieval themes, while others focus more on the fantasy elements, like battling monsters.”
Black said the LARP groups all feature two main elements: combat tournaments and costumed roleplaying.
A lot of the participants come from backgrounds playing Dungeons and Dragons, video games and other tech pursuits, he said.
Black, a computer coder by trade, said he has a standard way of describing LARP outings to his friends and family.
“I tell everybody, ‘I’m going to hit nerds,’ ” he said. “We’re nerds. Most all of us embrace it.”
Alynna Lunaris of Laurel, Md., said she first learned about Amtgard at the age of 45.
“I came to it late,” she said. “I was hiking in a public park and saw a bunch of people fighting each other with swords. So I went over and asked what they were doing.”
Lunaris said the welcoming nature of the people she met was one of many aspects of the LARP universe that drew her in and keeps her coming back many years later.
“It’s exercise, a social event and a good way to let some stress out all at once,” she said. “And there’s hardly any other place I’ve found where the people are totally accepting of everyone. There’s no discrimination here.”
Lunaris said the group also has many combat veterans participating, with some telling her it’s a good form of therapy for them.
“What better way to spend a weekend than camping out, sitting around the campfire, enjoying a few drinks and then getting up to spend the day fighting each other?” she said.
Starr said anyone interested learning more may visit Amtgard.com. The website includes information about the nearest LARP groups and weekend event locations.