When I think of some of the coolest moments I’ve had with my friends… well, I probably think back to a few weeks ago when they took me white water rafting. Did I mention they took me white water rafting for my bachelor party? That was pretty freaking awesome. Can’t wait to do that again.
But I also remember the renaissance faire. I’ve been there a few times, with a few different people. I’ve been there with my brother. I’ve been there every freaking year with my fiancee, and occasionally, we go with friends. Every year it’s been getting better and better. The people are warm and generous, the food is amazing, and every now and then they have some really cool twists and turns that make the whole experience incredible.
It should come as no shock that I’m a huge nerd. I always have been, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. And the medieval era has always been the time that ends up in my fantasies more than most. I’d loved old swashbuckling movies, like Willow and The Princess Bride, I played sword-and-sorcery games like Final Fantasy and King’s Quest. There was just no other way that I could be more involved in it unless I went to the medieval times.
I didn’t even think it was possible. Consider it: back in the 90’s, there weren’t a lot of ways to hear about something unless someone you knew had some insider knowledge. The internet that we had was awful, and the only thing you did was wait for a page about how to beat a video game or chat with strangers online back then. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a renaissance faire. And of course, in my childish mind, the one that we were going to was the only one in the country. It was a long drive—it felt like we were on the road for hours—but then we were there.
Going through those gates for the first time was spellbinding. It really was like stepping into the past. There were tongue-in-cheek references to life outside the faire: the shops accept Lady Visa and Master Card, jokes are made about technology from the future (there’s a magic box in people’s kitchens, and there’s a black snake that has fangs that grip into the wall), and they even fully endorse time traveler’s weekend. Even if you don’t think that the renaissance faire is your thing, it feels like they really do have something for everyone.
In our teens, Kev and Chris and I all went to the faire together. My favorite moment from the faire comes from a time when the three of us went toe to toe (to toe) in a little makeshift arena that they have. They give you these heavy “swords” and just let you go to town on the other person. You really beat the crap out of them, and if it weren’t for the heavy leather that you wear, and the reinforced fencing masks, it’d be pretty easy to see someone getting hurt. But that’s not the point. This is a game of finesse, you see. A gentleman’s game. Three balloons are strapped to your person: one on each shoulder, and one on the head. Now, you see, Kev is soft. He is easily dispatched. There’s a chance he didn’t even participate in this triple threat match with rudimentary weapons. But Chris is something else entirely. He’s akin to a demon. He’s double-oh seventeen. He’s got a finesse and strength that his youthfulness deceives. So when he and I are competing—in anything mind you… Mario Kart, Goldeneye, feats of strength or a swordsman’s duel—I expect to lose, and lose hard. But before you know it, we’re both down to one balloon: him on his head, and me on my trailing shoulder. This is a match where you fully anticipate being chopped at with swords that look like broken pieces of rebar. It’s difficult for me to throw those around as a grown man, and I vaguely remember my pudgy little teenager arms just barely lifting high enough to reach Chris’s helmet. After a long and strenuous battle, though, we both heard the death rattle of our duel. A high pitched squeal resonated across the battlefield, and the balloon atop Chris’ head shriveled up before flying off. He had bled to death, overcome by my prowess!
It’s funny what things stick with you. I remember driving back from the faire one year, making fun of another friend’s tiny sausage fingers. That was the same year that they had a rock wall that you could race your friends to the top on. Poor sausage fingers didn’t have the manual dexterity to come anywhere close to winning those races. There was the year that I purchased a wooden hammer, and brought it back home to paint to look like a real weapon. It was later utilized in a wrestling match and ended up sending a friend to the emergency room for stitches. There was the year where Skyrim music was shamelessly used during the segments of the final joust.
All in all, it’s been a wonderful time going to the renaissance faire these past fifteen years or so. I’m making new memories every year, and it’s been such fun that it’s no wonder why we keep going back. I’m happy to be sharing it with my wife-to-be as well. We haven’t missed a single year since we’ve been together, and it looks like we’re going to keep to that track going forward.
If you have the occasion to try out the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Lancaster, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. It’s always such a good time, and if you’ve never been there before, you’ll run out of time to get it all in. Maybe we’ll see you there next year!
Mike is the GM and host of podcast, Looking for RPG: Tellest and former co-host of the podcasts That's Entertainment and OuaT: The Unofficial Once Upon a Time Podcast
Mike also is the creator of Tellest, a world full of fantasy and super heroes!