King’s Assessment, 2014

Ibrahim, Gaiwn, and myself squeezed into Gawin’s hatchback and drove out to rural Virginia. At one point we stalled out on a gravel mountain road and had to push. It was that kind of day.

The Site

Chantilly Festival Farm only opened a little over a year ago, and the place is beautiful – 90 acres of more-or-less gently rolling hills and woods. It provides a scenic view of the Appalachians, and at night you can see the Milky Way. The site’s still developing its infrastructure but was quite sufficient to our needs. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but could probably host a war. Only downside is that the hills get a bit tiring after a day of fighting. It was a bit unfortunate that turnout was middling. I hope to see more events at this place.

Friday

The schedule had interesting rapier things starting early, so we arrived early, noonish. Nobody else seemed to be as enthusiastic. Getting people to come out on Fridays seems like it’s always going to be a challenge … thoughts?

Eventually we were able to round up five other fencers and fought a few impromptu melees of little note. At the end, I requested Windmasters vs The World; Aldemere was happy to oblige. Arrayed against the Windy Kitties were six: Ragnar Ribcracker, Lily, Colin of Black Diamond, Hector (aka Former Cornerback, Ballet, and Destreza Guy – one to keep an eye on), and two recent auths.

They came at us in three pairs; we split. Ibrahim led Hector and a new auth around the field in a big, slow circle while I kept Lily and Colin occupied. When Gawin killed off Ragnar I cheated over towards him; we ended up swapping and I stabbed the new auth before running to Gawin’s aid. I was in a wonderful position to DFB Colin when Gawin lost his footing (running backwards downhill will do that) and a hold was called. Blech. Colin got me and lost an arm for his trouble, while Lily and Gawin doubled. Ibrahim, unable to delay any longer, managed to take one more before being overwhelmed.

Thus was Windmasters’ arrogance checked. But I believe that if there’d been no hold, we’d have won that.

Saturday – Woods

Caitlin was leading activities, and Pennsic conventions (i.e. tip cuts) were in effect. A couple Aethelmearcians had traveled down from Pittsburgh to observe the vaunted Atlantian melee tactics, and their attempts to show us what tip cuts felt like went mostly ignored through the day. Turnout was about 20.

Melees began with a 10-minute rezzing woods battle, with three flags across the middle. Three-dimensional slopes are difficult to explain without pictures. Relevantly, Red rez was on higher ground than Blue rez; one flag, “top”, was an uphill climb from each, though closer to Red; one, “bottom”, was downhill from each but closer to Blue; and the “middle” flag was equidistant from the two but fairly close to the “top” flag.

The first run-through was Black Diamond vs Everyone Else. Black Diamond naturally included a lot of their locals and Scholars, while Everyone Else included the kind of people who will drive several hours to an event. Needless to say, although I was in command of Everyone Else, I didn’t have to do much.

For the second run-through, a couple of the senior fighters swapped sides. Everyone Else was outnumbered by two or three, and more evenly matched in skill; to make matters worse, we were using the Blue rez point this time. I tried to get us to focus on the top flag, but we had a lot of difficulty with it. Because we were outnumbered I was forced to fight instead of simply commanding from afar, and we did not move or engage as well. We never had any flags for long.

For the third run, switching back to a favorable rez point, we were able to come out slightly ahead. Admonishing my team not to engage in outnumbered fights helped, as did appointing Gawin a local commander at the top flag. It’s amazing how blind people get when there are swords pointed at them.

By now a few things were obvious. Most notably, the team that controlled the top flag tended to dominate – and the team rezzing from “Red” tended to have an easier time of it. The high ground gave easy access to a flanking position on the middle flag, so holding the one usually meant holding the other. The bottom flag only attracted a handful of skirmishers throughout. Although sending people up to the top flag ran the risk of tiring them, the other team also had an uphill slog. I micromanaged rotating fighters through the uphill position to keep them from getting tired. Except Windmasters. They were always up top, because we have cardio.

The last couple melees saw Gawin and myself opposed as commanders of a five-minute, one-flag battle. Teams were re-picked kickball style. Gawin, getting the first pick, selected Connor. Connor refused, saying he was marshaling. As we finished picking, the teams numbered 9-8, so Connor joined my team to even it out. Which probably did more than even it out. Eh.

The first run had my team at the Red rez. Our line proved stronger, and took the center early, repelling a couple attacks. Perhaps because there was only one flag, though, we lost our previous focus on holding the high ground. Ibrahim and two or three of his friends kept on showing up on our flank, and we had trouble pushing them off owing to the slope. He was instrumental in knocking our line back from the flag and probably deserves the credit for his team’s victory.

In the second run, at Blue rez, I decided to try something different. The high ground had been dominant all day, so I decided to load the other flank to see what would happen. Interestingly, this threat pulled several of their good fighters, including Ibrahim, and they completely forgot about keeping the high ground. We were able to hold it throughout the battle with just two of our own, and had the flag for almost the entire battle.

Saturday – Field

A very long lunch break followed, and because Court was comparatively early (4:30), we had little in the way of field battles. Teams were re-sorted and command was given to junior fighters, including Ibrahim; he did well enough for his first time, but seemed a bit overwhelmed. His idea to load the flanks, take the high ground, and press on the flank was pretty standard but not bad; unfortunately, our line was significantly weaker, and we were only able to successfully execute once in three runs.

Ibrahim asked me afterward about how to command. The question caught me a bit off-guard, to be honest. Even in WMH, we don’t really have a structure for “how to command effectively”; we just make everyone do it, give feedback, and they learn. Food for another post …

After this, Caitlin asked Gawin and myself to command, without weapons. I specifically remember the phrase “good example” being used as justification. There may be hope for us after all. We micromanaged our lines with gusto; for me, the exercise felt a little silly, but I do not know if others learned anything by observing.

Afterwards was Court and pickups, in which I was too tired to lunge but not so tired that the Aethelmearcian don, Will, didn’t recognize extended quarta and pay a few compliments. Still have a long ways to go. Chatting with Caitlin suggested that some Atlantian practices/units would be receptive to a “drill of the week”. I’d like to gauge interest on this. If it’s true, I’d very much be willing to delve into that kind of project post-Pennsic. It’d be restricted to the basics of Italian rapier, since that’s all I’m competent to teach, but I imagine much of that – or at least the framework – can be translated.

Windmasters – and other baronial units, for that matter – were generally allowed to stick together throughout the melees. This makes me very hopeful for the future. Encouraging fighters to identify as part of a baronial unit, rather than as a collection of individuals who happen to live near one another, could have some great results. It encourages fencers to help one another and come out to events together, to practice melee, and to participate on a larger scale (since they see themselves as part of the barony, not just as part of the Academie). Maybe some friendly rivalries will develop!

Lessons for the Day

Your tl;dr:

– High ground is very useful, even without ranged weapons
– Atlantians don’t know what tip cuts feel like, and so don’t take them. This may explain a certain reputation we have at Pennsic
– “Fall back” is a very useful command
– Falling back when outnumbered, instead of dying, is a good way to keep your energy up
– You’d do well to keep an eye on Ibrahim
– “Front 180” does not mean “the other guy can see you”. If you get stabbed by a sword you never saw, it doesn’t mean your attacker was out of the front 180.
– There may be interest in a “Drill of the Week”. More research/feedback is needed
– The idea of keeping baronial units intact at events seems to be taking hold. This is good
– Despite the small sizes of the melees, Run Right/Left was never called. Press, Fall Back, and Step were all present. Even Charge came out once. 😉

35 comments to King’s Assessment, 2014

  • Tibbie Croser

    Do you see any conflicts between keeping baronial units together at melees and your desire for melee teams to be balanced by skill, as in Dante’s method of team selection? Some baronial units are going to be heavy with White Scarves, others will comprise mostly low-level fighters. Should the “elite” baronial units be equally distributed between melee teams? Do teams need also to be balanced between baronial units and nongeographic units like the Dragoons?

    • Ruairc

      I think this is less a problem than you anticipate. Most large events (the only ones that will have melees on a scale that allows for keeping baronial units together) will attract enough fighters that MiCs will have many units of many different sizes and skill levels to work with, plus a healthy number of “solos” or pairs to sprinkle in as needed. Teams need not have even numbers, either, particularly if there’s some other discrepancy (cardio, leadership, raw skill …) to even it out. Fights might even be more interesting that way.

      Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason that teams cannot be reorganized after the first or second melee if there’s a clear discrepancy. Fight with your unit for half the day, then fight with random strangers for the rest of it.

      Experienced fighters are able to “eyeball” skill and balance with remarkable accuracy and, I think, will be able to create teams close in ability to one another with some consistency. Never hurts to have a fallback plan, though: a little thinking ahead on the part of the MiC can help here. Scenarios, rez point locations, etc, can be designed around giving the MiC the ability to dynamically balance the fight.

      In short, I think this is totally doable if people care enough to do it. We’ll see at War of the Wings.

      Nongeographic units like the Dragoons don’t make sense for generic melees – only for multi-kingdom wars, small melee tournaments, etc.

      • Dante di Pietro

        Why don’t non-geographic units “make sense” (whatever that means) for generic melees?

        Back when there *were* several fighting groups and teams got split along those lines (even by “stand near people you practice with”) things tended to go VERY lopsided very fast. If I stood with my local group and some friends, that was Dominyk, Aedan, Armand, Matheu, Celric, etc.. Celric had to change the rules for his baronial thing when it turned out that Stierbach was going to field a team of seventeen.

        Melee is one of the only areas where we regularly penalize people for being good at it. We break up units for balance, we restict teams, or we even sides up. I don’t have a problem with this, but it’s very antithetical to the notion of pure sport because we value enjoyment more highly than victory. I’m fine with that, and arrange my method of team division to promote balanced teams, but without anything at stake there’s a lack of incentive to do things differently (don’t say Pennsic, because that’s a numbers game more than it is anything else). There’s further the fact that a lot of people aren’t teamwork oriented and don’t fit into a unit well because of it.

        I’d like to see some practiced units make a return, but again, there needs to be some reason to do it. Right now, 9 out of 10 melees I’m in each year are basically the day’s amusement and nothing else: no prizes, no recognitions, no incentives, no rivalries. They’re fun, and I try to go to a lot of them, but I haven’t been able to fight with the people I practice melee with in a couple years, and with the push to baronial units I only somewhat can.

        • Ruairc

          Because the Dragoons are specifically an “all-star” squad, and actively recruit skilled fencers from across large swaths of the kingdom. Baronial units aren’t and don’t. It makes no sense to have them compete on even ground.

          Things WILL be lopsided, naturally. But there are plenty of workarounds. Allow for numerically uneven teams. Break up a single particularly large or skilled baronial unit, but leave the rest intact. Throw in special advantages to the weaker team. Or just allow them to be steamrolled for a couple runs, then re-divide teams. I get steamrolled in singles tournaments all the time, so I think I can psychologically endure a ten-minute melee. If I have the right attitude, it might even motivate me to improve and encourage more friends to show up next time.

          Melees being low-prestige seems a bit of a vicious cycle. Pennsic isn’t a good reason to do anything differently, but if we did things differently, performance at Pennsic would improve.

          Many things would have to change to strongly support this approach. People would need a reason to drive several hours to an event (else the host barony will always outnumber everyone. Also, there’s little incentive to train as a baronial unit if your unit is always two or three people strong). There are ways to build enthusiasm and esprit, and, you know, carpool, but some of the major assists require cultural changes (things like camping at an event or identifying as a member of Barony X before identifying as a member of the Academie, and representing your barony at an event because your baroness asked you to). Recognition and prizes are valuable – the first thing that comes to mind is getting the honor of bearing the Atlantian Army’s battle standard at Pennsic. An Iron Spike analog (which we sorta had at Ruby) would also be cool. Setting up 3-4 events a year specifically as baronial unit tournaments or melees, and getting people jazzed enough to mark it on their calendars – that’s what needs to ultimately happen.

          Doable, but a lot of work, and as Modius said, “apathy and ennui are the order of the day”. The biggest challenge would be finding people willing to push for this change. But I think they’re out there.

          • Dante di Pietro

            We didn’t *start* as an all-star squad. We started as a bunch of scholars who decided that they wanted to become very good at fighting, and then worked very hard to accomplish that over the course of many years. Most of our later additions came in as scholars, as well, because we recruit off *potential* as much as current ability.

            I can speak for several of us when I say that we would love to see that model repeated by anyone else.

            I think the baronial model is very difficult to make work because it is dependent on everyone in one area having the same volition and initiative, which will often not be the case. I agree that our current non-method could be improved, but I think people banding together regionally would far better accomplish that goal because of population, or by groups of friends because of like-minded motivation. Personally, I’d rather see everyone wearing Atlantian colors rather than baronial. I’m fairly confident that the “all-stars” will end up being pulled from their baronial units anyway, because things have to be done, and Pennsic is a hodgepodge of attendance each year anyway.

          • Ruairc

            I’d like to see it too. My fear is that if we have this meme of “elite units” – who recruit and compete amongst themselves – and “everyone else”, there’s not much motivation to do melee until you get noticed and picked up (or decide you want to be noticed), or else have the drive and clout to form a unit of your own.

            My hope is that enthusiasm will be contagious and that a culture of melee training and baronial identity and fighting with your friends can be established. This is, without a doubt, more difficult to effect and maintain than simply allowing already-motivated individuals to band together. Leading a horse to water and all that.

            Another note: There are other organizations that do combat sport and HMA. They are multiplying and growing faster than the SCA. Melee, however, seems to be unique to us. I think that’s our “hook” to interest people and keep our numbers up, and I’d like to cultivate it.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Recruiting, elite units are *exactly* how teams work. The Cubs don’t stop playing games because The Yankees exist; I think if there were rewards of *any* kind they would be sufficient for people to melee, even if it’s just that melees are fun things to do. NotT and DtG routinely get 40+ fencers because they have reputations for being fun and are therefore worth the drive.

            Motivation is a tricky thing, and my thought is that we’ll have better success having a clear path (or several options) for motivated people to take. Imagine being the only person in your barony who likes melee, or that your barony has 3 fencers, and now imagine that you’re stuck with that even though there’s a group of 15 who’d love to have you aboard. The smaller baronial units will get piled in together, probably, though, so you end up fighting with relatively strangers.

            I do think melee can be a great recruitment/retention tool. IMO, melees need to be creative, fun, marketed, and planned in order to do well.

          • Turvon

            There’s also nothing saying you can’t do both. I became a Dragoon in 05, but served as Baronial Warlord for Black Diamond at WoW for a couple years after (At least until 2009 according to this blog). My experience and work in the Dragoons allowed me to better help train and encourage the Baronial unit. The Dragoons provided a model around which I could base training and recruitment within the barony itself. A population numbers shifted I wasn’t prevented from being as a pa

          • Ruairc

            It’s how professional and some college teams work. It’s not how intramural or high school teams work. If recruiting power (and, accordingly, the relative strength of each team) wasn’t a threat to the entertainment of the sport, nobody would debate salary caps.

            The group of 15, nice as it might be, only works if there’s another (preferably several) group of 15 ready and able to oppose it. Truth be told, if we were to attain an intramural, semiformal “league” of several teams, I wouldn’t care if they were wearing household or baronial colors; I just think it’ll be easier to get there by using a preexisting geographical structure. Either way, the Marxbruders confederation seem well-positioned to help create this system. We just need to get the energy and people to do it.

            I’m all for creative awesome melees becoming the order of the day. I’ve big plans for War of the Wings which, I hope, will do much to motivate fencers. It’s worth noting that no melee will be interesting if its outcome is predetermined. That’s part of the problem.

          • Dante di Pietro

            High school teams also have the advantage of being able to cut players who aren’t doing well, and then sending out the same number of players as the other team. They also have plenty of incentives and external foes they compete against. We run into a weird spot where we’re supposed to compete against each other, but then against other kingdoms a couple times a year. It kills any shot at rivalries taking place because you end up on the same side eventually, but don’t see the other kingdoms often enough to treat them as the bad guys.

    • Gawin

      For starters, let me begin by stating that a “baronial unit” isn’t simply a group of people from the same barony who throw on some tabards and get grouped together at an event, but rather a group that trains together, shares the identity of being part of their baronial unit, come to events together and fight together as a unit, etc. We currently have very few of these baronial units within our kingdom (I can only think of 3). The Dragoons (and other non-geographic units) are functionally very similar to baronial units and differ only in their composition and proximity. They still have a group identity, can serve as a way of getting people to attend events, can practice and train together, can fight together at events, etc. For the sake of simplifying the terminology, we might consider calling these functioning units “regulars” and the collection of those who throw on a tabard occasionally to fight with their barony “militia.” So then our forces would be divided into baronial regular units and baronial militia units (and household regular units).

      So, when we talk about improving baronial units and such, what we are talking about mostly is focusing on the formation, training, and support of baronial regular units. We’ll see baronial militia at major events like Pennsic, War of the Wings, etc, but for many of our events, you’ll only see the local group’s militia fighters. Such baronial regular units have the potential to have an out-sized effect on the field at most events because teamwork matters in melees. Members of units that train together are aware of each others’ capabilities, can drive each other to improve, know all of the same commands (and can be confident that their teammates know them too), trust each other to follow commands and respond appropriate in melees, know each other’s moves, etc. Currently, these aspects don’t play out much in our melees because there are very few units on the field, so simply divvying up teams based on individual characteristics works pretty well. If in some alternate future where we have managed to create and improve our baronial units into competent melee forces, this sort of team selection method will be inappropriate, as the synergy of teamwork will be a significant factor that isn’t taken into account by these methods.

      As far as why the Dragoons get split up currently, the problem isn’t that the Dragoons exist, it is that they are the only game in town. It wouldn’t be necessary to split up the Dragoons if there were 1) other functioning units at events 2) those units were at least competently trained and drilled together and 3) if there were enough of those units to match the Dragoons in number.

      The fundamental problem that your question ignores, Tibbie, is that by promoting our baronial units, we’d be fundamentally changing what the fencing field at our events would look like and we would likewise need to come up with new ways of balancing teams that take teamwork into account rather than individual prowess.

      I wrote a long analogy comparing fencing to a pick-up game of baseball, but it was wordy so I deleted it. Suffice it to say that by focusing on regular units, we’ll take our game (collectively) from the hobbyist level to the intramural level so to speak.

      • Ruairc

        Currently, baronial regulars are frequently split up on purpose to SPECIFICALLY AVOID the teamwork-synergy effects that can unbalance a matchup. It’s annoying. Training melee with your friends can actually reduce your ability to fight with them at events.

        “Hobbyist to intramural” is a good way of phrasing it.

        Issues will come up, of course. But we’ll deal with them. Getting more people out to events, more enthusiastic about fighting, in better regalia, with stronger associations to other SCAdians, and stronger fighting in melee is worth any headaches this creates down the line.

  • Will

    The Aethelmarcian’s had a good time visiting Atlantia. Melee is always good training and we look forward to the battles at Pennsic. I am excited by the unit cohesion and flexibility we saw and will enjoy having to face against it soon.

    And to say I didn’t notice the guard…not entirely true. That I will be far more attentive in the future? Absolutely true! I enjoyed the passes.

    • Will

      In reading the post again, I think I misunderstood? In spite of all the running around you did throughout the day, you did in fact still execute what I understand to be Fabris mechanics. It was cool to see!

      • Ruairc

        Double negatives aren’t rarely confusing.

        I’m glad you enjoyed! Living in the middle of Atlantia I have remarkably little idea of how other kingdoms do melee. Atlantian bluster aside, I’m quite interested to learn how ya’ll work. Might try to make it up there next year.

  • Michael Wymarc

    Alright, making this short since the first post got eaten.

    Site: Black Diamond has a consistent problem with getting people to drive all the way out here. If you like the site, please go to events at the site in the future.

    Friday: I think Fridays are always going to be low attendance. People have things to do.

    Woods: I noticed it was very easy to get into the backfield without being challenged or shouted about.

    Pennsic Rules: I’m fine with what happened, but I’m not fine with the rule. As written not only does it allow shots from opponents whom I don’t know are there, it makes it legal for them to strike the back of my head without me knowing they are there. Is there anywhere we can comment on the rules in hopes of getting them better written?

  • Celric

    During my first iteration as Warlord, I relied heavily upon my experiences with the Dragoons to create a vision for the Kingdom as a whole, and settled on Baronial Identity as the panacea to the fundamental problem of individualism within Atlantian Melee, specifically at Wars. At the time, the Atlantian Rapier Army was composed of fighters at a level I considered battle-ready rabble for the most part, with “heroes” that could sway the battle by just being on the field. This was fantastic if you are a seeker for Shark’s Teeth, but a terrible way to win a War in the manner that I desired; through tactics. It was (and still is) my belief that Wars may be won through the proper application of skill and tactics, rather than simply making numbers be the deciding factor as is all too often the case.
    The Baronial Identity initiative was pretty successful at the time. It allowed those Barony’s fielding a unit to remain together and be commanded as a group, which in turn allowed me to run the War as an adventure of unit allocation, rather than a chaotic scrum, at least to a certain extent. Tactics, both good and bad, did indeed dictate much of the field successes and failures, and those stories, and least those with poorer outcomes, are still told today (re: The Tidy-Bowl of Death, The Flying ‘W’, and “Atlantia, are you with Me?). However, after my stint as Warlord, a new vision took over and we went away from Baronial Units, eventually finding ourselves back toward needing better command and control on the field and finding again the espirit de’corps that drew combatants to the field when they would otherwise remain in camp and drink.

    It is my opinion that units formed should not be split up to even sides given a standard level of enthusiasm across the Kingdom. By this I mean, should there be a time that all Baronies have “buy-in” for melee as a group, and are able to train units and form them for the purpose of competition, they should remain separated from other groups. The benefits of this are many, and include simple things from “unit identity” to trust in your team and even finding better ways tactically to use those (now known) resources you have on hand in varied circumstances, to vastly more complex ideas regarding retention and recruiting of the group itself, and/or group branding. But we’re not there yet. Terasu Sanada put a ton of effort into everything he could in order to field a team of 17 at Ruby Joust, and he did that in about 6 months. Now let’s say that Windmaster’s Hill did the same next year, and so did Lochmere and Storvik. Could we field a team of 10-20 each? Probably. So, given enough build-up, incentive and support, I just fielded an average of 60 people for Pennsic out of 4 groups, all combat-ready, internally trained and tested. There are 17 baronies in this Kingdom, and 4-5 extra-baronial groups. With a concerted push and some fundamental buy-in, we *could* field an Army next year of 170 people or more, and that’s easy math. It would also make the job of Next Year’s Warlord a whole lot easier.

    • Dante di Pietro

      I think dedicated recruitment is a worthy goal. I am curious to see if the baronial unit (or any unit) is actually used at Pennsic. Usually we get some instructions like “be on the left of the field” and fight en masse anyway. To that end, I wonder if kingdom tabards might have a better effect than the baronial ones.

      Part of the issue is the issue with Pennsic itself: the war is decided in November by alliances, and there’s no more Kingdom Crusades. Man, I miss KC so much.

      • Ruairc

        Rez battles make units difficult to maintain. There’s not much point to having them anyway when it’s just a giant line fight stretching from one end of the field to the other.

        Until Pennsic melees become fun and interesting, I don’t think there’s much point to training or organizing with Pennsic in mind.

        • Celric

          …And how would you propose that change would come about? Atlantia *could* be the driving force behind changing tactics on the battlefield if *we* are capable of maintaining units/regional alliances that actually change the way combat is approached. This isn’t about being the best ally that we can, maintaining standards of “as goes Atlantia, so goes the War”, or even trying to be a “primary” Kingdom again, but rather, bringing such a seed change to the field through numbers, discipline, and tactical prowess that there cannot be anything else but Atlantian dominance until the rest of the Kingdoms are forced to make a similar change to meet the risen standard. One side has to blink first in order for complacency to die, and since Atlantia *is* melee warfare, I believe that we should be that force.

          To address your other point, rez battles do not make units difficult to maintain when you know where to go and there is proper command and control. Having a team in colors means that you can find your group when you are returned to battle, and being able to “pull” a group by name for a limited special task is much easier than trying to pull individuals, for all the varied reasons that units are better than single people thrown together, almost too many to list in a reasonable time. Having them (units) is ALWAYS a good idea in a battle of any scope. Having a “giant line fight stretching from one end of the field to the other” is an artifact of the game we play, but (except for the weapons we use to do it) is a proven tactic throughout history designed to promote a safe zone from which command and control can operate to maintain order and enact changes to the strategy.

          “I don’t think there’s much point to training or organizing with Pennsic in mind.” Then don’t do it for Pennsic. Do it to promote your Barony. Do it to help recruit members to the SCA. Do it to maintain Espirit de Corps within your own fighters. Do it to recreate historical forms of battlefield combat, or to create melee rivalries with your neighbors, or to promote *your* brand of tactics. Rarely do we do a thing for the sake of only that thing, so why should this be any different?

          • Ruairc

            I see two major obstacles to movement in that direction:

            1. The nature of our game. Apathy and ennui. Or, if you’d prefer a more positive take, the hobbyist mindset. The SCA takes people as they are; although it rewards excellence, it doesn’t demand it, so not everyone (indeed, few) will really strive. I don’t see the motivation existing for regular drilling, making regalia, and showing up. We’re asking for a higher level of involvement than the average person is willing to put in.
            2. The nature of Pennsic battles. They tend to be very simple (and sometimes give the impression that nobody thought about them for more than five minutes, like Pennsic 41’s town battle). First, that’s not much fun (viz. line fight across the field), so there’s no overwhelming drive to fight rapier at Pennsic. Some kind of shenanigans might get me, and others, excited – but my attempts to drum up support for those have also met with little interest. Second, simple scenarios mitigate the impact of high-level organization and tactics, so there’s not much reason to train them, and there’s no warm-fuzzy of “our hard work paid off!” at the day’s end.

            How to fix it? Changing SCA culture is a difficult prospect, and in my opinion this is always going to hamstring attempts at excellence. We might try to change rapier culture. At a minimum, if melees are more interesting, more fun, and more structured, more people will care. If there’s enough interest to get it started, an intramural, semiformal “league” of sorts could inject some enthusiasm into the melee game. It would be relatively easy to set up and run and could maybe attract significant interest; the only question is if there’s sufficient buy-in to get it off the ground, and if it will develop into a kind-of-sort-of cool thing that the advanced fighters do to pass the time, rather than a pillar of Atlantian rapier where even novice fighters are encouraged to participate. Reminds of the current state of the Scarfhunter Challenge.

            As for the second, until Atlantia is permitted to show the primaries how it’s done, that’ll never change. SCA culture, again. Excellence is not required.

            I will continue to try to improve melee throughout the kingdom regardless. I have the energy and desire to devote to attempting practical wide-scale changes. But I cannot confess to a great deal of optimism. I vacillate between excitement and burnout a lot these days.

          • Gawin

            I find that the biggest problem for maintaining units through a rez battle is our traffic cop. Getting rid of them or having a traffic cop to point fencers to their unit would be the single simplest thing to implement as the warlord to start seeing units used in melees.

            With regards to changing tactics on the field, we’re really handcuffed by the scenarios themselves. Typically the field is too small for maneuver to have much effect and we end up forming two long lines across the width of the field. Likewise, with rez points as close as they are, killing a whole bunch of people has little strategic importance. With flag checks only every 15 min, most of the fighting simply doesn’t matter from a strategic standpoint. Long rez battles simply rely on numbers and cardio. The side with more fighters who can fight longer wins. The field battles are really the only ones where tactics are particularly relevant since killing the other guy (and quickly) actually matters.

          • Tibbie Croser

            Ruairc, Gawin, Celric: to promote excellence in melee, should we be nominating rapier units for the Vexillum Atlantiae? Per the kingdom OP, it hasn’t apparently been given to a rapier unit in a few years.

          • Gawin

            It was awarded at Pennsic 41, so I don’t think that it’s been too terribly long.

      • Celric

        I also miss Kingdom Crusades. Maybe we can get some buy in to make Blackstone Raids that event. It’s certainly a closer site to much of the Kingdom than the other one was…

  • Tibbie Croser

    About fielding numbers at Pennsic: If you put 170 fighters on the field, but only 50 of them (most likely from the elite units) get to engage the enemy, while the other 120 stand around overheating, some of those 120 are going to lose their motivation to fight with the Atlantian army in the next battle or the next Pennsic.

    Since Atlantia doesn’t devise the Pennsic battle scenarios, there’s not much we can do about this issue.

    • Celric

      In truth, if Atlantia EVER shows up with 170 people and we aren’t used as a whole I will be shocked. We have a knowne world reputation for aggression on the battlefield, lead somewhat by the Armored guys, but collectively understood in our fights as well. We were used as a reserve force once AFAIK, and even then we *made* our allies “Make a hole for Atlantia” so we could engage the enemy.

      My point in my earlier post was that if we could hone those things that make a unit a unit, then we would have the kind of Kingdom-wide buy-in that would preclude the type of sentiment that you fear might occur.

  • Tibbie Croser

    Celric, let me clarify. The Atlantian Rapier Army will always engage the enemy, but there’s no guarantee that the fighters toward the rear of the army will get to engage. Remember the Broken Field Battle at Pennsic 40? The enemy huddled in their straw-bale fort, and only a minority of Atlantians were able to engage them, while the rest of us stood baking in our masks with nothing to do. Then, at Pennsic 41, if I recall, Atlantia was to run toward the enemy in one of the field battles. The victory conditions were such that by the time the rear units got up to the line, the fight was over, and this happened in each run of the scenario. These things are artifacts of scenarios and discrepancies in numbers between the sides, over which we have little control. Now, perhaps if we had ideal discipline among units, we could rotate units between the front and rear so that everyone got a chance to engage (or rest).

    I hope that once you step down as Warlord, you can put your ideas into practice with the Storvik unit.

    • Gawin

      The optimal solution to this problem is to make the sides more numerically even at Pennsic, but good luck with that. It’s no fun to be massively outnumbered because then you just lose, it is likely no fun to massively outnumber your opponent because there aren’t enough people to stab. Now, I’m assuming you were thinking of a different Pennsic, because 41 was the one where we were outnumbered, but substitute any of the first two runs of Pennsic 40 or any of the field battle runs last year and you’re probably spot-on. Pennsic 39 was my first one and we were slightly outnumbered IIRC but won anyhow (which is really the most fun).

      As far as establishing ideal discipline, I’m pessimistic regarding our ability to do such a thing. It is important to remember that many real-life military units didn’t achieve ideal discipline and they were professionals. We are, in our organization, somewhere between hobbyists and intramural athletes, which really limits the time and interest in unit drills. Likewise, we are spread out across several states which makes practicing together impractical. This is really the argument for baronial units, as individuals in such units are by definition geographically close to each other and can theoretically practice together. Likewise, I think it is also the argument for the new book of 4 things that Ruairc wrote about a few weeks ago. At the core of it, the new book of 4 things emphasizes maneuvers that are both simpler to drill and seemingly more effective on the field (in contrast to run the flank for instance which is somewhat complicated, requires a great deal of trust in the unit, and isn’t terribly effective in practice). The goal is to optimize our limited drill time by training simpler maneuvers that require less coordination and that are also the most frequently and successfully used on the field.

      Now, as far as rotating groups to the front, I think that if we had a real unit structure, it would enable the warlord to do so, yes, however I think your idea may also run afoul of the same constraints that result in Pennsic sides being uneven. The problem is that the objectives of making Pennsic battles as much fun as possible for as many people as possible isn’t the same and is often opposed to ensuring victory. If my goal is to win, then I should as a matter of course make sure that I have far more people and likewise, if my goal is to win, sometimes that dictates that I put my fast/strong/specialist units at the front such that they can capture a flag early and keep it, for instance or in the case of a field battle, we want our slower/less skilled units to advance forward and pin another unit in place while our heavy hitting units crush another unit, turn the flank, and keep going (charge and turn left, so to speak). We (Atlantia) often are furthermore in a position where we feel the need to dominate the field quickly because we don’t trust that our allies can hold their own position. So the conflict between winning and optimizing fun makes this tricky, more-so when the sides start with uneven numbers (in either direction).

      I think it is worth making sure that our warlord (whoever they may be) is aware of and considers this problem though. There are times when ceding the victory in favor of making sure that everyone has fun is appropriate. Sometimes you can win the battle and lose the war so to speak, if nobody has fun, they won’t come back next year. I think we’re still suffering the effects of Pennsic 41 for this reason. Last Pennsic had approximately 2000 fewer people, I’m curious to see what numbers look like this year.

      • Ruairc

        I think Tibbie’s referring to the “town battle” in Pennsic 41, where the fight ended in under 90 seconds each time.

        A 90-second fight is going to be unsatisfying regardless. Somebody really didn’t think that one through. Changing strategies or deployment wouldn’t have mattered.

        How many of those 2000 were fighters – much less rapier fighters? I think lower attendance may be a symptom of SCA population declines in general. Also it had some screwy timing.

        War vs Sport is only a problem as long as we allow it to be a problem. Since I doubt many fighters will appreciate making the game more war-like (even if we had the space and logistics to support such a thing), we ought to just acknowledge the sportive nature of our game and operate from that perspective: balance the numbers, to the extent possible.

  • Tibbie Croser

    Ruairc, you’re right, it was the “town battle” at Pennsic 41. Pennsic 40 was a Pennsic in which our side outnumbered the other side, at least in terms of rapier, I believe. In the Broken Field battle that year, the enemy built their straw-bale fort and cowered inside it for long minutes. Some of the furthest-forward Atlantians, such as Alric and Benjamin, engaged the enemy, but most of us were too far away. It was a very poorly designed scenario. I personally understand that “victory” may require having more people in your army than can be used, or may require putting the fastest, most-skilled people at the front, leaving the rear fighters with little or nothing to do. This happens at least as much on the armored field as on the rapier field, I hear. The usual way to mitigate this problem is to have “friendship” or pickup melees after the official fighting. That’s an acceptable compromise to me personally.

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