"Actually, I play Death," Gardner explains. A camper who gets struck down on the field of battle has to negotiate with her in order to "come back to life."
Gardner, who also owns the Guard Up! sword-fighting school in Burlington, says she created the Wizards & Warriors backstory by fusing the most appealing qualities of autonomous virtual games like World of Warcraft with the social theatrics of live-action role-playing (LARPing).
"We like to say our camp is computer games without the computers," Gardner says.
For example: this very morning, their last day of camp, Heroes woke up, recharged their energy at breakfast, and headed out for "guild time" — what most other camps might call "activities." Warriors trade tokens for training in a variety of fighting skills; healers get mini-chemistry lessons and potions; mages seek out natural crystals for protection from evil spirits.
Suddenly, a counselor drops in with some exposition: the Duke, an evil shape-shifting vampire they thought had been vanquished, has returned — but now there are two of him.
Quickly, the Heroes gather among themselves, without counselors listening, to flesh out their strategy against the Duke and his doppelganger — who, as shapeshifters, could look like anyone.
A Hero named Vance whispers that he saw the Duke wearing a distinctive necklace. "I need every Hero — every time you see a counselor, anytime you see anyone, you look for that necklace," Vance says.
Meanwhile, a group of counselors are behind the scenes, helping counselor Chris Wiley change into his evil costume for his big showdown against the Heroes.
"[The Duke] is equal parts evil, unbalanced, and narcissistic," says Wiley. "[The Heroes] kill anything that runs, and they'll trust anything evil if it has a good accent."
The kids love the Duke, despite his being evil. They love fighting. They love magic. None of them want to talk to me about where they come from, or what schools they go to. Instead they were happy to paint me with blue triangles, a sign that I'm on their side. Here, they all come from the same place: Sidleterra.
"I enjoy hitting things, and I enjoy plot lines," says 14-year-old Gwen Wilbert. "And I enjoy walking around in forests. And it all comes into this one beautiful thing right here." Wilbert was led to Sidleterra by her passion for fencing. "I do like fighting, but it's more that I like strategy," she adds.
BEAT THE PARENTS
She'll need it. The Duke, along with a host of vampires, is raising an army of zombie parents tonight. The Heroes v. Zombies battle on parent's day at Wizards & Warriors involves beating your mom or dad without retaliation, perhaps the ultimate teenage-geek fantasy.
Nearly all visiting parents are disguised as zombies and they're jumping into the fray against the Heroes. Pain is inevitable.
"They're going to beat the shit out of us," John and Kyle's dad, Alan Seymour, blurts before lurching to battle just before sunset.
"I think any parent willing to get beat up by their kid is a pretty good parent," says Gardner. "I feel that a lot of times what I'm trying to do is to educate parents about the importance of play for kids — and for adults."