This interview was conducted by email between Moogie and Tawnee Darkfalcon
Moogie: The questions below are just a guide, feel free to expand on them and to include anything, anecdotes, history or experiences, that you think might help to complete a picture of your experiences in Amtgard, particularly relating to fighting. It doesn't all need to be fighting, though, I'll leave that to your discretion.
Tawnee: You have no idea how dangerous that offer is. I can be pretty darned garrulous, especially at a keyboard.
In terms of historical accuracy, I am going to be referring to a document I dug out of my records called "100 Weeks of Amtgard: A History in Brief". I wrote this article in 84 or 85, not too long after the club passed the 100 week mark in age. So this is a reliable reference since I wrote it 16 years ago when the information was still fresh. Anything I am not certain of, I will say so.
Moogie:What year did you start Amtgard? How old was the game? How old were you?
Tawnee: I started Amtgard on February 12, 1983. It was the first week of Amtgard. I was 23 years old.
Moogie:How were you introduced to Amtgard?
Tawnee: I was the head of a science fiction club called Starquest which met at my house every week. One of the members of the club was Monica Livingston, a reporter for the Times. She brought a flyer to the February 11 SF club meeting which "some wierd guy in tights" had brought by the newspaper in the hopes that they would print a blurb. It was Le Grue's (in)famous "Attilla the Hun's Birthday Bash" flyer. We were all active in the SF convention world and SF roleplaying (Traveller) and were interested in costuming ad roleplaying, but not really in fantasy or medieval stuff. Still, the costuming and roleplaying elements were interesting, so we all agreed to attend. Things came up for several of our members, and in the end only Mandy, Monica and myself went.
On February 12, Joella Starwatcher (Mandy Burgin), Ward Truestory (Monica Livingston), and Tawnee Darkfalcon (Michele Ellington) were born in a small strip park in East El Paso. Peter Le Grue (James Harren) was the only other person there--although that first day of Amtgard has become rather like Woodstock. If everyone who says they were there watching but not participating actually had been there, we'd have needed bleachers. Le Grue had a short sword and a small axe, and a rulebook which we later learned was essentially photocopied out of Dagorhir's rules. We sparred for a while, had a reasonably good time, and agreed to come back the next week.
On February 19, we decided to form a company (as described in the rulebook) called "The Starquesting Dragons" (after the club). We got one new member, a childhood buddy of Le Grue's named Harnsaure (Walter Bales). This was the first week I played with Two-Blade, a small madu which is still in service, I fought with it this past Sunday. (Nobody can say I don't treat my weapons with respect...)
On February 26, we held our first game at Memorial Park. Some SCA folks came out to play with us, we were sadly underarmed and ill prepared to face the sophisticated SCA fighters.
On February 27 (Sunday) we held a desert battle, and Pan Faarstar (Carol Ward who is now Alex Stefan) and Thanos (Jaime Martinez) joined. The Lone Wolves joined (I don't recall the players' names) with 6 players, all male.
On March 5 we fight at Album Park, and Nashomi (Sammy Snoddy), Kalibria (Kim Snoddy) and Asmund Heimdall Haroldsson (Dylan Anderson) join. These three form the Wandering Unicorns. Thanos broke his ankle, our first major injury.
On March 12, we had the first Crown Tournament. In order to participate you needed two weeks of experience, only three contestants entered: Joella, Pan and Tawnee (the first crown tournament was all female!). Tawnee won, Joella placed second and was named Champion. Harnsaure was named Tawnee's Prince-Consort.
Nothing notable happens till April 30, 1983, when the nine of us regular players (the Lone Wolves had disappeared) were inundated with new faces. Thirty new players all showed up on the same day, in three groups who didn't know one another. They were the Far Travellers, led by Gilos Dawnhope (Ben Passmore), the Claw Legion, led by Noman (now named Aramithris) (J.W. Donnelly), and a group led by Morluck (Lee Jackson) which would later become the Corsairs (and even later subdivide to create the Saracens). Certainly one of the most chaotic days in Amtgard history.
On May 7, Thanos hosted the first Amtgard feast. The Claw Legion arrived early (before the Crown) and Le Grue ordered them to leave, since they refused to pay dues. (Le Grue was charging $1 week dues which he was spending himself, but none of us cared--the Claw refused to pay, Le Grue was seen as being in charge because he founded the club, so they took him at his word when he told them they were out.)
On May 28 was the last time we saw Le Grue, he disappeared and Tawnee, Gilos and Nashomi pretty much took over running the club. This was the first appearance of Theo (JD Wade).
On June 11, Andrelaine (Kerry Brault, now Kerry Hunter) joined the club.
On July 6, an Allthing was held where we decided that the club was about more than combat, and that the awards system should reflect that. Orders of the Lion were developed for outstanding service. Orders of the Warrior were developed for nitty gritty combat which would lead to the title of Warlord, an equivalent to the title of Knight. (Knights were expected to always be honorable, not to take advantage-- for example, if an opponent lost a weapon, a knight was expected to let her retrieve it, etc-- Warlord was intended to recognize fighters whose personas weren't appropriate to that kind of behavior. Attila the Hun by contrast to Lancelot. Sadly, that distinction has since gone the way of the dinosaur.) At this time, about half the fighters in the club were female (everyone fought, there was no such thing as a blanket bunny for years), and there was a movement by some people (mostly men) to have men and women fight in separate groups, which was quashed immediately.
August 1983, first Gathering of the Clans, which was about a dozen of us freezing our asses off in Cloudcroft at Sleepy Grass because we didn't think to bring warm gear.
August 27, 1983, I was out of town at Worldcon and Harnsaure tried to foist off a book of his own while I was gone. Nashomi, Gilos, and Joella launched a pre-emptive strike and rewrote the rulebook to the format currently in use save for some changes to the class structure over the years. At this time there are no levels in the classes. First through Third level in each class was later written by Nashomi and Tawnee (with probable contributions from others, but I don't recall who, I just remember debating class balance with Sammy). Even later the number of levels was increased to 6, with each guildmaster writing their own classes, I wrote Wizard, Paladin, Anti-paladin (the guildmaster wasn't up to it but worked with me on it) and The Rules of Magic. This includes the invention of 17 new wizard spells and re-writing the old ones for clarity and balance.
October 8, Nashomi and Tawnee attended an SCA Arts and Sciences competition, decided to implement Crown Qualifications to ensure a well balanced monarchy (at the time we were still fighting for the crown).
October 22, second crown tournament. King Gilos, Princess-Consort Andrelaine, Champion Thanos. Nashomi elected Prime Minister.
November 19, Order of the Rose invented to give out in heaping portions to those who served the club. They were originally intended to be accumulated to earn titles of nobility.
January 14, 1984, Aron's (Len Nelson) first day in the club.
April 14, 1984, reappearance of the Claw Legion. The second week of Amtgard for Noman (Aramithris), Mamadeth (M'Deth), Ghee, and a handful of others, plus some new faces.
April 28, third crown tournament, King Heimdall, Princess Consort Arshra, Champion Conan. Deth (not M'Deth, a different Deth) elected Prime Minister.
May 19, Tawnee invented Weaponmaster Tourney as a feminist joke (on my father's and brother's birthday, no less!)
June 21, first election of guildmasters. Deth was unable to continue as Prime Minister, Allthing decided it was better for PM and Monarch terms to overlap anyway. Croth elected PM.
August 18, second Gathering of the Clans at Sleepy Grass in Cloudcroft, NM. This time we remembered camping gear. See? We were learning. :)
Moogie:Were you initially attracted to the fighting aspect? If not, how did you become so?
Tawnee: I showed up looking for costuming and role-playing opportunities. What I found was 80% combat, 15% socializing, and 5% costuming and role-playing. But I took to the fighting right away. I am a highly competitive person, and have always been relatively rough and tumble.
Moogie:What was the representation of women on the field? What was the status of female fighters?
Tawnee: Large and in charge. At least at first. The numbers of women to men held about even for the first year, and power was also equally divided. The movers and shakers were evenly gender balanced, as were the people holding titles and offices. There were a handful of people who had trouble with the idea of mixed gender combat who argued for separating into two like most professional sports. Their arguments were pretty puny -- "I was raised not to hit girls", "I can't swing hard with all these girls on the field", "I don't like fighting men it intimidates me". By and large people felt like the men making these arguments just didn't like getting their asses kicked by women, and the women weren't doing themselves any favors by caving in to fear of physical conflict with men. The idea was quashed, but it is important to remember it was ever even suggested. Most of the men and women, boys and girls played and fought well and on equal terms on the field.
Moogie: Were there efforts to recruit or encourage female fighters?
Tawnee: I am certain Le Grue was quite surprised and put off by the dominance of women during the brief time he played with us. Once our gang was running things, I don't recall any efforts targeted specifically toward female fighters. We were always working on recruitment, hanging flyers, holding demos. I made most of the flyers and tried to make sure that there were art and gender references to female fighters as well as male on anything we posted. But my aim was inclusive rather than exclusive, I never made a special point of recruiting or helping women. New players were welcomed and encouraged, and after some time we got a pretty good "arm and garb" machine going to equip newbies.
Moogie: Were there obstacles for women fighters?
Tawnee: I think that there were men who would have liked to have created them, but women were so strong in all aspects of the club that they couldn't gather the political power to make the obstacles happen. There are certainly many more obstacles for women now than there were back then (for example, that boys' club called Knights of the Sword).
Moogie: Who were your main influences in fighting?
Tawnee: I always wished for Nashomi's speed, power and physical confidence. Never going to happen. I would kill for Morluck's or Theo's natural grace, also never going to happen. Over time I saw that my combat style has a lot of similarity to M'Deth's, I wished that I could make it work for me half as well as he makes it work for him. Not going to happen. But I can still kick ass on the field. I can't say anyone ever had a direct impact on my combat style, I have always fought with fairly unusual weapons. A shortish sword and 15" modu, or more often, a thrust only spear. The number of true spear fighters in Amtgard has been tiny, honestly, I can't name anyone else who uses spear (not polelarm, naginata or other slashing weapon). My style has always been my own invention. But of all the alpha ranked fighters in the club, I admire Nashomi the most. After all these years it is still a rush to get a clean shot in on him.
Moogie: What events have been notable or influential in your fighting career?
Tawnee: The first time I picked up a spear and knew it was the weapon for me. Breaking my right wrist on a sword swing and cementing my role as a spear fighter (since I can't swing a sword properly any more). Winning the first Crown Tournament, winning Champion in the fourth Crown Tournament against a very rigorous field, winning team in the first jugging contest, and winning one outstanding duel in an Iron Mountains quest (long but funny and glorious story). Fighting at Barad Duin and meeting experienced warriors whose styles and skills I didn't know for the first time. One seemingly endless period in the young vs old battle at 10th Year when it seemed nothing could stand before my spear. Watching the Old Guard Corsairs move across that battlefield like a Chinese Dragon, killing everything they met. Watching my former squire Theo run and fight as if the laws of physics didn't apply to him. Watching M'Deth lure opponents onto the tip of his blade with his cobra stare. Watching Nashomi mop up the young guns after a decade off the field. Watching Otter and some of the other kids go from smalls to young guns, watching the second generation take the field. Crossing blades with people I'd seen diapered.
Moogie: How have you changed in Amtgard over the years?
Tawnee: I have a greater sense of my own physical capabilities and limitations. I learned organizational skills which have helped me in many other areas of my life. In competing in A&S activities, I learned that there is no type of art completely outside my reach, that I could even learn to sing on key if I worked at it. I am not as trusting. I am more social, and find it easier to be in large groups of people, which has been very helpful in my mundane career. Amtgard gave me an opportunity to become good friends with people of all races, beliefs, ethnicities, ages, etc, most of whom I am sure I would never have met otherwise.
Moogie: Has the representation and status of female fighters changed? How?
Tawnee: Over the years, the percentage of female fighters has gone down, certainly in the Burning Lands. I haven't been out to the regular game in a while, but it is my understanding that few or no women are playing regularly these days (but I don't know that for a fact). Women are definitely not seen as equals in combat, and part of that has to do with the way combat seems to have changed. Skill has been traded in for brute force in many ways, and women are on the short stick in the trade. We have gone from weapons which "will not leave a bruise" (as stated in the rulebook) to "if you can't take the hit, get off the field" (this weekend I heard someone needed stitches from being hit with a weapon--if that's true, what was it doing in use?). Women who have been fighting a long time and are inured to getting pounded may be willing to continue at that level of play, but we aren't going to see many new female fighters. I am confident that if the club had been in 1983 what it is today, our first visit would have been our last.
Moogie: Do you think the overall experience of Amtgard women has changed?
Tawnee: I think that with what I refer to somewhat overdramatically as "the death of civilization" in the Burning Lands, the club simply isn't attractive to most women. A lot of women are attracted to the medieval trappings of the club, garb, feasts, royalty, role-play. Many of these women become fighters, but that isn't what first called them to join. I don't believe we will attract as many women with a "combat first, beer later" attitude. Once upon a time, when a teenaged girl wanted to attend a camping event, her parents would call me and ask if their daughter would be safe. I would answer yes unequivocally. I couldn't do that now. Amtgard has developed a dark side, not a role-played dark side, but a genuine dark side, that would make me unwilling to send my (imaginary)14 year old daughter to Clan. There are plenty of wonderful people, but there are also plenty of people who are hazards, on the field and off.
Moogie: What advice would you have to new women fighters?
Tawnee: Have fun. Don't take safety risks. Taking a lifelong injury to give
someone a five minute death is a bad trade. Most of us older fighters are
haunted by injuries sustained on the field which could have been avoided or
would have been reduced if properly treated. Never ever let a man push you
around, on the field or off. There's safety in numbers, but there's no
glory in them. Amtgard has no awards for good team play. You usually learn
more from losing than winning, so never shy away from a fight or competition
you may lose. Enter planning to win, and if you learn something you have
won, regardless of who gets the award. Don't let other people set the
victory conditions, always define your own and live by them. And have fun.
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