Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 28: Engagement

One of the old saws of the melee world is that if you ask somebody if they understand engagement, and they say ‘Yes’, they’re lying.  They may not know it, but they really don’t understand engagement.  There’s a simple reason: engagement is stupid.  Or at least, any single definition of engagement is so insufficient as to be nearly useless.

Okay, not exactly, but it has about seven different definitions, all of which are contradictory, and nobody knows all seven of them anyway.

Engagement is, basically, a way to make sure nobody gets stabbed unexpectedly and is therefore able to recognize a touch as a touch, and also not run into an opponent accidentally, and so on.  The full rules for Atlantian melee engagement are in section 3.6.1.12.  These are augmented by a slew of additional unwritten rules and definitions, mostly because they’re a highly armor-centric ruleset.

The three definitions I know of are “You are engaged if you have acknowledgment from your opponent”, “You are engaged if you are within the 180° front of your opponent”, and “You are engaged if your opponent and you are in lines that are engaged”.

 

Acknowledgement

This, at first glance, is pretty straightforward.  “Hi Bob!” “Hi Wistric!” “Great, we’re engaged.”  Engagement of this variety can be gained by making eye contact, by their verbal response to your challenge (even “I refuse to engage you”), or by any other overt action that demonstrates an awareness of your presence.  Great.  Got it.

Okay, but where’s it end?  At lay on, when your armies are 50 yards apart, and you are aware of your opponents’ approach, is that engagement?  Does it extend across the whole 50 yards?  At Pennsic I had an opponent, an Aethelmercian, complain that I “ran through his engagement” even though we were well out of C range.  Did the mere fact that he could see me constitute sufficient enough engagement that I should have to stand and fight him?  Allow me to respond to that rhetorical question: Hell no.

Does it break off if you stop looking at them (‘If I can’t see you, you don’t exist, and we’re not engaged’)?  That would be a rather stupid loophole to provide.  What should we assume of your opponents’ field awareness?  If you wrap their line and they fall back to get away from you without making eye contact, is that still an acknowledgment of your presence on their flank?  A problematic and incomplete definition, to say the least.

 

The 180° rule

This works pretty well, with the standard that 180° is defined by the line of the shoulders.  But it leaves some issues: In a proper fencing stance, the left shoulder points well behind the fencer, and means that he can still be blind-sided by an opponent technically behind him.  By the same function, the right shoulder does not point to the right, which means a fighter too far to the right, though still “ahead” of him, would be firing at his back.

This becomes more problematic when taken in combination with the Line-on-Line standard.

 

Line-on-Line

Another standard generally applied is that, if you are part of a line that is engaged with another line, then you are engaged with everybody in that line.  This also works up to a point: in line fighting, you don’t have to have the acknowledgment of your opponent to throw a diagonal shot at them.  Of course, if your line starts wrapping the other line, you end up in that hazy area at 180°, still engaged by one standard, and not engaged by another.  This starts to render wrapping less effective: do you step into their 180 to throw the shot, or do you take the time to DFB?  One way gets them killed, but also deprives you of their backfield.  The other gets you into their backfield, but slows you down.

Also, lines tend to bend and flex, and you can end up throwing a shot at somebody just in your 180 or just in their 180, even though they’re only one person down the line from you.  They tend not to like it because they’re surprised, but your lines were engaged.

And even when doing line-on-line from within the 180, this does not prevent unpleasant surprises: At King’s Assessment last year, I joined on the right end of a three man line as Master Alan engaged the center.  I laid a shot on his mask, and he asked “Where did you come from?”  We had a quick talk about it, and it was all good, but it still had that “unexpected stabbing” element that engagement rules are trying to avoid.

 

Within Range

Another consideration is at what range you are, actually, engaged.  C range?  Further out?  Again back to the story of the Athelmercian, was I obliged to stop running when our tips crossed?

It was mentioned at Coronation that some fighters were coming up to the line and lunging immediately.  Given my thoughts on not allowing opponents time to settle into a guard, I find this a perfectly valid attack.  Eye contact is made and you are in front of your opponent, per 3.6.1.12.2.  But again it gets hazy as the attack is unexpected.  Maybe the core of my problem is that I prefer my opponents not to expect my attack, but I do also try to uphold the Beer Rule.

 

Total Engagement from Lay-on

An experiment that has been tried previously has been “Lay On” = Engagement.  All fighters on the field are immediately engaged with each other, though usually the 180° rule is applied still.  I like this idea, because it substantially rewards field awareness and speed.  However, the one time I’ve heard of this actually being tried was at an Atlantian 5-Man Tourney at Pennsic, and from what I’ve heard it did not go well.  At all. 

 

DFBs

Death-from-behind is, to my thinking, the safest and cleanest way to kill somebody on the melee field.  No engagement issues arise, just a couple of basic form issues: Are you behind the person’s shoulders?  Are you not running?  Is your sword over their shoulder where they can see it?  Great!  Job’s done, person is dead.  Compared to all the navel gazing and mental gymnastics for face-to-face engagement, this is so damn easy as to make me wish that such a simple set of rules could be arrived at for face-to-face.

Of course, it’s not always clean: More than once I’ve engaged somebody, had them turn around as I throw a shot, and land the shot on their back.  Yet another great way to piss somebody off, but this really is their own fault.  Another rule of engagement, 3.6.1.12.5, allows one shot as the opponent turns or runs past.

And many fighters have a trouble getting the “stop running” piece through their brains, or saying “My lord, you are dead” (which is not just courteous, but also representative of the time it takes to disengage your blade from somebody’s spine). 

 

Common Sense

It again boils down to the Beer Rule.  Use common sense, don’t intentionally blind-side your opponents, and if your opponent blind-sides you be forgiving and assume no malice.  If you’re really pissed off by it, step off the field with them and talk it out. 

4 comments to Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 28: Engagement

  • Girard

    The trouble with Engagement rules is that they tried to spell out actual rules that basically say, “don’t be a dick.” I’m starting to think that we should just have a rule, at the top of all the engagement section, that says, “the intent of the below rules is to prevent a combatant from being blind-sided unfairly…” or some such. Just make it clear what the goal is, and then these are the imperfect rules we use to head towards it.

  • I think a great deal of the rulebook would benefit from asking “What’s the purpose of this rule?” and writing specific to the purpose.

  • Dante di Pietro

    Society rules state that in rapier melee, everyone is engaged with every opponent from the moment lay on is called. There are no provisions for when engagement is broken. Unless specifically directed by the marshal, you are not required to warn any opponent of your presence before you strike them. You are not permitted to strike from behind, which is why disallowing DFB is a terrible idea.

    People misuse being “engaged” with an opponent when they mean to say “actively involved, at least close to being in range, with an opponent who is aware of your presence”. That is not what engagement means. Engagement means that you are legally able to wound or kill your opponent.

    When lay on is called, you can wound or kill any opponent. This does not change at any point during the battle. The only source of confusion should be where the 180 is defined, and the answer is simply that if you aren’t sure, take a step in either direction and become sure.

    Everything else are artifacts of armored combat.

    • Both the society “Marshals’ Handbook” and the society “Rapier Combat Handbook” are silent on the subject of engagement. Engagement is only mentioned in the Kingdom Policies under 3.6.1.12, but 3.6.1 is specifically the conventions of armored combat. There is no similar mention under the conventions of combat for rapier (which means, yes, the original post has some errors).

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