> Escapist Interviews > Meghan Gardner of Wizards & Warriors™
An Interview with Meghan Gardner
Gardner is the founder
and CEO of
Guard Up! Inc. and Wizards &
Warriors™ Camps. Her job is one that many of us would consider
the perfect one - creating plots, props, and costumes for LARP
adventures for young people.
Guard Up! Inc. is based out of Burlington,
MA and Wizards
& Warriors™ Overnight and Quest Camps are currently operating
took some time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about her
camps, the effort that goes into them, the challenges that must be
met, and where you can sign up.
For the benefit of those who have
never heard of them, explain what Guard Up! Inc. and
Wizards & Warriors™ are all about.
Guard Up! Inc. is the largest
swordsmanship training facility in
North America. We serve over 1,000 sword and roleplaying
year. We offer training in a variety of sword styles
including the sport
of Foil Fencing, Kendo, Iaido, German Longsword, Italian Rapier and
more. Our flagship program is our proprietary Points
& Powers™ games
class which combines the fun and educational aspects of roleplaying
non-repeating plot line where kids get to be heroes in their own
We also offer Birthday Parties, Special Events and our new After School
with transportation in our “Hero Van” from schools to our location.
Warriors™ is a subsidiary of Guard Up Inc.
and is the name of our Summer Camp programs… our Day Camp, Overnight
and our new Quest Camp which transports kids from Eastern Massachusetts
Overnight Camp in Central Massachusetts and back each day.
Warriors™ Camps uses the Points & Powers™ gaming system so that
kids can traverse the different camps, classes, After School Program
events with ease.
What inspired the Wizards
& Warriors™ summer program?
The original inspiration came when I attended my first LARP, witnessed
the exciting activities and started asking around why this wasn’t being
done for kids. No one had an answer that applied to my
experience. So I hired
some excellent LARPers who loved working with kids and we started our
system for kids called Points & Powers™. We have been
weekly classes and monthly events for kids since 2001.
In 2002, we started our
Day Camp (held in Burlington, MA) to meet the demand for a summer
incorporated roleplaying and the educational aspects it involves such
creative problem solving, leadership, negotiation skills and
ago, we started an Overnight Camp (held in Charlton, MA) for kids and
which was a huge success. As of the end of September, we are
three-quarters sold out for
next summer’s Overnight Camp. As such, we added a third type
this year called Quest Camp™ where we transport the campers
from central locations in Massachusetts to the Overnight Camp and then
home each evening.
You have a school break program
as well. Can you tell us more about it?
Our School Break Adventure is essentially the same as
our Summer Camp but held during Winter and Spring Break. In
the past, we only
offered Day Adventures for ages 6-10 and 11-15. However, this
year, we are
testing a Quest Camp™ Spring Break for ages 11 and up.
How many kids
do you usually get at each program?
We can total up to 90 kids for
Overnight Camp, 120 kids for Quest Camp™ and
240 kids for our Day Camps. We just moved to a new 7200
square foot facility
in Burlington, MA which will allow for more expansion with our Day
Camps as the
demand last summer often reached our space capacity.
How much preparation time is
involved in these programs?
Since we need to have 8 weeks of ongoing plot for each Day Camp at 6
hours a day and 2 weeks of Overnight Camp at 12 hours a day, we spend a
deal of time and salary on writing plots, building props, creating
It’s important to note that NONE of our plots repeat and that every
event picks up where it left off – helping to create
well, we have weekly Points & Powers™ classes and monthly
at our facilities… these classes and event also require plot writing
paid to write plot and make props is one of the biggest perks in
our company. The greatest payment, however, is the look on
the face of the
kids when they experience what we have created for them. We
have a saying here
that once you start LARPing with kids as an NPC, you will likely never
LARP with adults again. Kids are extremely proactive, they
immediately, they never get jaded, they write excellent fan fiction
NPCs, they adore our staff and they appreciate what we do for them like
else we have ever entertained.
Do you have a specific
storyline that you adhere to, or is it more
have an overarching ethos and each event has a basic
plot line with various dynamics worked out. However, as all
know, the plot never survives first contact intact. We have
every morning and night to rewrite as necessary. A lot of our
actually come from the kids providing us with ideas that are better
been some theories that the game industry usually thrives during a
slow economy. Has the economy affected attendance at all?
word is that some summer camps had a hard season
this year. However, we are so niche that we are somewhat
immune from the
influence of the economy. We know our demographic very well
and target it
surgically with our materials. In fact, both our Day Camp and
Camp grew 30% this year. The only difference we noticed is a
small increase in
the number of families who applied for financial aid this
year. We do not turn
away campers because they cannot afford our camps. We have
worked out a number
of creative options to help kids experience our adventures within their
I'm sure I join a lot of people
reading this when I ask the most important question of all - "Where do
I sign up?"
We are always on the lookout for new
staff for our camps and even for year round employment. We
are due to
franchise in 3 years and we promote from within.
Far more important to us than
LARPing experience or swordsmanship expertise is a passion for working
kids. Our best staff live for those smiles and cheers while
having a constant
eye on safety. We also have management positions opening up
sales and finance. Please visit www.guardup.com
for more information or to apply.
What do you
find are your biggest challenges with organizing and running
Wizards and Warriors™ Camp?
Our biggest challenge is finding
Thankfully, one of our easiest tasks is keeping them.
However, we get
many applications from LARPers or sword enthusiasts who lack experience
working with kids. We would rather have staff who have
(and a passion for) working with kids and then teach these staff how to
roleplay than hire a top notch roleplayer who prefers working with
Our staff retention is
outstanding. The staff who qualify
and who meet our standards are invited to return each year.
Quite a few
of our part time and salaried staff at our facility actually came from
or Day Camp. Once we find an employee with initiative,
strong business skills, we try not to let them slip through our
More than one camp counselor has quit their “normal job” to come
work year round for us. We are constantly hiring because of
growth. But we can only grow as fast as our staff base
we refuse to compromise on quality – not to mention that our current
staff would never allow it. So this is our biggest challenge.
You mentioned going into franchise. Are there
any particular areas
you're targeting for franchises, or any that you would like to see?
We are expecting to franchise our
facility model (Guard Up!)
first. The facility is a year round operations center which
runs our Weekly
Classes, Birthday Parties, Special Events, and Wizards
Summer Day Camp and After School Program. Each of these
programs is based
on the same proprietary game system called Points & Powers™
the foundation of the overnight camp. At a later time, we may
also franchising the Overnight Camp so that we may offer the same style
in various locations for our avid campers who like to travel.
We are targeting
locations that fit our demographic model and
franchisees who have experience managing a business (and employees) as
well as the
capital necessary to purchase the franchise as well as cover start up
expenses. All prospective franchise owners would
first have to graduate
an intensive residential training course that would expose them to all
of the business first hand. We are very strict about our
standards as can be seen in examples as simple as our instructor
program which requires certification in CPR, First Aid, Positive
Methodology, Safety and Risk Assessment, Classroom Management, and much
more. As well, all of our staff go through an intensive
background check. We take the safety of our customers and
training of our
staff very seriously.