The founder of Amtgard, long estranged from his creation. There are various stories about how it came to pass, but they all generally go over the same basic material:
Peter LaGrue formerly played Dagorhir (and maybe Emarthngarth) back east, and moved to El Paso in the early 80's. He posted an announcement for something called "Attillia The Hun's Birthday Bash" in various places, talking about siege engines and tents and weapons. Many people, including some from a high school science fiction club showed up, saw no siege engines or tents, but he did have weapons, and they held a tournament which was won by Tawnee Darkfalcon. He proclaimed her Queen, gave himself the higher title of Grand Poobah, and started the Amtgard club, charging each week for people to play. He also had with him a rulebook he had written (borrowing liberally from Dag, Emarth, but had some original material as well) which he sold (to play you had to buy one). He basically kept all the money himself, though would often claim otherwise. His various antics seemed to be destined to kill the group, which would have been but a footnote in history except he up and vanished suddenly, leaving his buddy Harnsaure in charge. Harnasure lacked the force of will and ability to manipulate people that LaGrue had, and the remaining people quickly replaced him in short order, changed dues to the $5/6months (which they remain over a quarter century later) and the rest is history. He turned up somewhat later and was not allowed to reclaim his position, and has been hostile to Amtgard ever since.
Since being ousted from Amtgard, LaGrue has had kind of a legend about him, he turned up in various parks, and was alternately incoherent, weird or even violent. One story has him showing up in Houston, challenging someone to a duel, then throwing up on their sword. He has written threatening letters to various Amtgarders from the Burning Lands, and succeeded in getting at least one event to lose their site after one of these letters. Many of the people who knew him from El Paso have warned about having contact with him. He turned up homeless in a park in El Paso at one point, recognized a few of them and shouted various incoherent things at them. Stuff like that. Proceed with caution. The accuracy of any of these "tales" cannot be easily verified.
FROM AN ARTICLE IN A HOUSTON NEWSPAPER REGARDING AMTGARD.
Enter a Virginian in his early twenties named Jim Haren Jr. From most accounts, he brought with him a personality with equal parts charisma and confrontation. No one in Dagorhir knew much about him, other than the fact that he was really into his persona, Musashi, who exemplified Haren's more abrasive tendencies. Wanting more control in the game, he created a splinter group called Kagehiri. According to an Amtgard historian, those who followed Haren had trouble with his ego, causing Haren to dissolve and establish a series of short-lived Dagorhir subsets, with names like Warriors of the Golden Dawn and Sons of the Black Death Jungle Combo and Storm Door Company.
Haren soon gained a reputation as one of the game's more renowned jerks, and he became a favorite target on the battlefield. In a bid to shed his reputation, he had his character commit seppuku, a samurai ritual suicide. He walked off the battlefield, only to return about 15 minutes later wearing an eye patch and calling himself Peter La Grue. La Grue was supposed to be a Viking, a persona wholly unlike Musashi, but it turned out he was still a prick. He hung around for a few months, only to disappear without explanation.
In February of 1983, an El Paso newspaper ran a classified ad announcing "Attila the Hun's Birthday Brawl." Similar flyers appeared all over the city, and on February 12, a small, curious crowd turned up at Ponder Park, eager to see just exactly what the deal was. And the deal was a dude in a grey tunic and black-and-white leggings, calling himself Peter La Grue — Grue, for short. He had a few weapons, which he said were for a game he had invented called Amtgard. He eventually showed them the rulebook, which was actually the Dagorhir rulebook with the cover ripped off and an Amtgard design Scotch-taped on.
Haren lucked out — the first folks to show up included a newspaper reporter and the organizers of a local sci-fi/fantasy convention. As goofy as they found the first outing, word spread, and each week found more people at the park. Haren charged each person a dollar a day to play — cheap enough, but soon the newbies found the real cost was putting up with Haren's obnoxious behavior. It wasn't long before he was kicked out of his own game (or, to be more precise, the game he "invented").
The new guard established the Kingdom of the Burning Lands and tweaked the rules enough to separate themselves from Dagorhir — most prominently in the addition of fantasy characters like wizards and monsters, and incorporating the use of magical spells. The game also has an incredibly detailed class system and elaborate procedures for obtaining knighthood. Subsequent chapters popped up throughout Texas, including Houston (Kingdom of the Wetlands), Austin-San Antonio (Celestial Kingdom); and Dallas/Fort Worth (Kingdom of the Emerald Hills). In the 25 years since Haren was exiled, the game has gone through seven editions of its rulebook and seen the advent of regional and national events. For a game so steeped in fantasy, the origin of its name is quite banal. Haren named it after two friends, Matthew and Katy Amt, he knew from his Kagehiri days. The Amts (brother and sister) say they and Haren parted on bad terms, and they weren't even aware of the game until about five years ago.
"I think [we] just had a big yuck over it," Matthew Amt recalls from his office in Pennsylvania, "because we all assumed it would crash in flames, and that would be the end of another Grue story." The Amts recall Haren turning up on their porch one night; a neighbor called to alert them. He was huddled in the corner, sleeping. The Amt family took him in for a few weeks, but Haren wouldn't talk about his relationship with his own family. All he'd ever say, according to Matthew Amt, was that he was the "white sheep" of the family. Before he left for El Paso, he moved from couch to couch, even living at one point in someone's walk-in closet. "He's been spotted a few times since then," says Amtgard historian and transplanted Houstonian Michael Lynch. "But basically since...'84 or '85, he hasn't been in Amtgard at all."
Subsequent Haren sightings are akin to glimpses of Sasquatch. Reports have had him working as a department store Santa Claus, living on the streets of San Francisco and once turning up at an Amtgard battle in Hermann Park, demanding royalties from these people who were so brazenly playing his copyrighted game. Although Haren never made much money off Amtgard, he had an entrepreneurial spirit that might have been a gift from his dad. Speaking from his home in Florida, James "Bulldog" Haren Sr. says he hasn't heard from his son in about three years and is not sure where he's living.
Article with Mathew Amt
Here's a short History found on the Net dealing with our infamous founder.
Overly colourful on its best day, Amtgard was the semi-spontaneous creation of a man named James Haren, under the alias of Peter LaGrue. A kind of small-time confidence man with a background in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, LaGrue had recently been expelled from another fantasy role playing group, called Dagohir, in Maryland. One Amtgard member later recalled, "He could stand in front of you and lie with absolutely no concern over whether or not you knew the facts of situation. Attempts to challenge him would bring attempts at verbal or physical intimidation. At the same time, he was so silver-tongued that only the finest orator could challenge him, a formidable fellow. Unfortunately for LaGrue not everyone in Amtgard in those days was a pushover."
Amtgard itself was named after Matthew and Katy Amt, siblings who befriended Haren/LaGrue back east. As Matt Amt later recalled, "Back in the 80s I got my start in re-enacting with Markland, the local medieval group, along with my sister Katy. Not long afterwards we also discovered Dagorhir, a fantasy-medieval padded-weapon organization, which was a blast. One of the group leaders in that was Jim Haren, then known as Musashi, and I fell in with his band, along with a few other folks, mostly teenagers. We had a great time! Musashi always had incredible stories to tell both war stories from past battles and real life experiences. He was a bit of an odd duck, always changing (or losing) jobs and living in various peoples' basements and closets. And there was quite a rapid turnover of members in his group, and he kept declaring the group dead and then reincarnating it with a new name."
Amt continued, "Somewhere along the line we started hearing the strangest stories about him, though he was always puzzled and aggrieved that such-and-such a person should have taken a disliking to him! Then it began to dawn on us that his version of a particular event could be wildly different from that of other persons involved."
"Well, to make a long story short, we eventually got it through our thick skulls that he was a jerk and a liar, and, in real life, a total loser! He decided to have his character Musashi commit public suicide (as some sort of apology to the world), then reappeared minutes later as Peter la Grue. Things didn't really change much. (It couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years that this all went on, but it seems like more!)
On several occasions Jim went travelling or moved back to El Paso (his family's home), and my sister and I kept our little group together and battling. He had appointed me Warlord and I was in charge while he (being King) was away. After one of his returns from Texas he told us he had started a new group and named it Amtgard in honour of us, his best friends. We gagged a bit, said "Uh, gee, that's great, Grue," and thought, "Gads, he's done it again, and lured yet another band of kids to their doom!" Eventually we ALL got sick of him, and he threw a tantrum and left for good. It must have been not long after at one of my last Dagorhir battles, one of the guys in charge was showing us a letter he'd gotten from someone in Texas. The name was different, but it was Jim Haren's handwriting! He had, he said, just learned about Dagorhir and was surprised to find that the rules were so similar to those of his own group, Amtgard. "Of course," crowed I, "it's because he photocopied the Dagorhir rulebook!" We all had a great laugh."
Finding himself in El Paso, he placed an ad in a local paper the week before the 13th of February 1983. The ad announced a celebration "birthday bash" for Attila the Hun and directed people to a local park and told them to look for the pavilions and siege machines. There were none. For the 40-odd people who showed up, all they found were LaGrue and some members of an old science fiction fan club playing with LaGrue's weapons. None of this even slowed LaGrue down.
Attendees were told that Amtgard was a nationwide organization. Each person playing Amtgard was charged $1.00 per week dues, and .50 for a rulebook. In order to play, each person had to purchase a rulebook. LaGrue pocketed the money.
Matt Amt recalled, "A couple years ago I was put in touch with another Amtgard member (some question about costuming, I think), and discovered the group's website. It was quite startling to see how large and far-flung it had become. Reading through the archives, I found references to the exact same kind of troubles with la Grue that we had had--eventually Amtgard had thrown him out, too. What a hoot! I like to believe that Amtgard has flourished not because of him, but in spite of him."
For some reason he also, very early on, had Amtgard make contact with the local SCA chapter. By Amtgard's own chronology, on February 26, 1983: "Amtgard challenges the SCA and the SCA breaks Amtgard's weapons." Before too much longer, however, LaGrue generated sufficient hostility among his own rank and file that he chose to disappear, leaving the group to recreate itself with more satisfying results. In a fairly short time the group spread across two dozen states with a large number of chapters in the Houston-Galveston area. An Amtgard member later recalled, "Since then he was reported as showing up once in Granite Spyre (Houston), where he challenged a number of people, but then keeled over and threw up on somebody's sword."