Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey

14-year old Colin Taylor with longbow on cover of Drakmar A Vassal's JourneyDrakmar: A Vassal’s Journey is a heartwarming documentary from 2006 about 14-year old Colin Taylor. Colin loves dragons and plays Halo, Sonic, and D&D. Recorded in 2004-2005, the film follows the bright but alienated Colin at school, home, and at Adrian Empire events. Though much of the documentary revolves around Colin’s vassal relationship as the squire Drakmar to his knight Sir Cledwyn, the film shifts focus to the possible renewal of Colin’s relationship with his biological father in Arizona. Film students Lowell Frank and Destin Daniel Cretton shot Drakmar on the cheap, but it doesn’t impact their storytelling at all. Within the first few minutes Colin will endear himself to the viewer who will later share in Colin’s nervousness at the prospects of reunion with his father. If Colin and older brother Corwin fail to tug at your heartstrings, there’s also Colin’s grandfather, an inveterate ham, who provides occasional comic relief. These human elements are Drakmar’s strengths and should be compelling to any person on the fence about the possibility of putting on armor and pretending to live in another time, whether it be the Adrian Empire, the SCA, or a LARP.

The Adrian Empire: Kingdom of Terre Neuve

Less famous than the SCA, the Adrian Empire has a narrower time frame for its personas, from 1066-1603 compared to the SCA’s generally accepted 600-1600. Geographically the Adrian Empire is exclusively Western Europe in its historical focus, whereas the SCA is global. Perhaps more importantly, the heavy end of Adrian Empire fighting is done with real steel instead of the SCA’s rattan. Colin Taylor is not old enough for these real steel battles, instead fighting with a shinai, a bamboo sword. But he boasts, “I’m actually a better archer than I am a shinai combatant. You give me a bow and I can shoot a penny off of your head.” Both Colin’s mother Kathy Taylor and his brother Corwin Taylor participate in Adria, respectively known as Mistress Aileen Bristow and Corrwyn Ardwulf. Living in San Diego, their Adrian region is the Kingdom of Terre Neuve. In the SCA, knights wear white belts with no other colors restricted to other fighters, but in Adria, knights like Sir Cledwyn wear blue belts, pages like Colin wear yellow belts, and men at arms wear green. Colin desperately wants his green belt.

Chivalry: Alive and Well in the Adrian Empire

Known mundanely as the jewelry store owner Scott Mallory, Sir Cledwyn is much more than a lord to his vassal Drakmar, also serving as Colin’s father figure (as well as Corwin’s). Mallory’s feudal ideals run deep. Speaking about Colin, Mallory says, “He does something wrong, it’s my responsibility to fix it. It’s my responsibility to equip him and to make sure that he’s not lacking for anything.” It’s not hard to imagine that Mallory is speaking both in game and out of game. In fact, the Taylor brothers recount Cledwyn’s very physical defense of his vassal’s honor owing to a belt-pulling incident that happened in the Adrian Empire. That the perpetrator of the dishonor was himself a knight says something, but in general other Adrian members captured in Drakmar seem to echo Mallory’s fondness for chivalry. “We are Adrian; that means we do things for honor,” one official reminds the Adrian populace before battle.

Belly dancers flank a knight in armor from the Adrian Empire at San Diego Comic-Con 2012

Kingdom of Terre Neuve Members at San Diego Comic Con 2012:

The Rush of Battle, Being Who You Want to Be, and History Re-Imagined

The documentary captures several fighter practices, including one involving rapiers at night near tennis courts. For Corwin, fighting in Adria is “a total complete adrenaline rush.” Others are attracted by the desire to recreate a different time, complete with wooden stocks and a wooden gaol. For Colin, each fighter practice and weekend trip to Adria, is “a break from reality” and far preferred to the complexities of our modern world. For another Adrian, it’s more about the freedom. Stan says:

“Out here, where these guys are finding themselves out and beating themselves silly, you can be a knight, you can be a lord, you can be a king (if you get elected). Anything you want and you can imagine, you can sit there and be in Adria. We call it mundane out there. This, for some people, is the real world. They get to come out here and do what they really want to do and be who they really want to be. I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

The Crown War for Terre Neuve

The climax of Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey as far as the Adrian Empire goes is the Crown War, fought in March at the Potrero County Park. Because progress towards knighthood in the Adrian Empire depends on a combination of skill at arms, artisanal skill, service to others (ministry), and archery, Colin finishes a belt pouch in order to get his green belt but must also supply documentation about its crafting and historical accuracy, before facing an oral panel who grill him about its construction. Fantasy gaming is only hinted at in Drakmar. Colin reveals around the Crown War campfire that he “had seven draconic items: the Draconic Orb of Doom, the Draconic Lance of Greatness, the Draconic Greatsword of Light, I had a Shield of Dragon Might, and the Boots of Dragon Speed, just to name a few. ” Yes, Colin loves dragons. The Crown War seems to be fought with 30 armored men or less on each side, but the action is intense as one warrior bashes his gauntleted fist over and over into another’s helm, following him down to the ground.

Hope is Here: The Real Vassal’s Journey

The real climax of Drakmar is much more touching than knights battling or even an oath of fealty. The knightly virtues of mercy, generosity, and courage come alive on screen, embodied in the form of a scrawny 14-year old. Role-playing can be about much more than identifying four-armed greater demon-dragons as Colin does at one point. Occasionally in a tabletop RPG, a player can so identify with his paladin PC or another character’s high morals as to transform his interactions in the real world. Drakmar presents evidence of fighters who learn the meaning of honor and courtesy on the fields of Adria. Many other participants though, like Colin Taylor and Scotty Mallory, already possess those virtues and the Adrian Empire merely refines them and lets them share them with the rest of the world.