Newbie Question of the Week   4 comments

We haven’t had one of these in weeks and weeks, mostly because Wistric has already taught me everything I need to know about fencing and I understand it all perfectly, so there’s no need for any more questions. He did ask me to post about my experience at War of the Wings, however, claiming that sometimes experienced fencers forget what it’s like for a shiny new scholar to be thrown headlong into the clanging chaos of war. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and tell him that you all remember everything perfectly, too, and he’s the only one who forgets, so here we are.

War of the Wings: Sooooo Shiny!!!

Just to emphasize how incredibly new at this mass-effect stabbery I am, I’ll tell you that WoW was only my third event – the first being Le Grand Tournoi de Amitie back in April (first melee evar and not a complete disaster), the second being Rapier Academy in May.  While Kappellenberg can boast a fairly high practice turnout every week,  we certainly don’t have enough bodies to even begin to approximate something like WoW (or Tournoi, really), and melee-oriented drills aren’t usually #1 on everyone’s To-Do list (What is #1, you ask? Footwork drills, of course!).  My very first experiences with melee left me absolutely bewildered and a little panicked and most definitely not trying to do anything but die slowly. One opponent was manageable. With two, I had difficulty splitting my concern, and adding a few others buzzing around threw me into a tizzy. Actually attempting to kill someone else was Right Out. Fortunately, improvements in my fencing fundamentals  and some requests for melee practice managed to leave me feeling optimistic for a good day on the 10th – not to mention that it was supposed to be a Hell Day at work and I miraculously was granted a day off. Clearly, fate was on my side.

The day dawned far too early and far too gray, but there’s nothing like a rousing game of “Listen to the Provost Torture Her Cadet” to get your blood pumping in the morning, so by the time we actually arrived on-site I was feeling quite perky in spite of all the strange people (I have a tendency to get neurotic in large crowds). After reconnoitering the situation and watching the procession and setting up the Baron’s tent and a bunch of other stuff, it got to be inspection time, whereupon I learned something important that I had never really considered: my shoes are Ugly.

You see, I am addicted to the Vibram Five Fingers (aka ‘toeshoes’). I wear them every day, in every situation possible (haven’t figured out how to make ’em waterproof yet, though). They alleviate all sorts of back and knee pain in my daily life. They are the only shoes that prevent my old left foot/ankle injury from flaring up again. Their traction over uneven terrain is peerless and it’s nearly impossible to roll your ankle in them unless you have done something horribly, horribly wrong, in which case your ankle is probably the least of your worries. In my opinion, they are a divine gift to humanity, and as soon as I could afford ’em I got myself a nice and (I thought) inobtrusive black pair and have been scurrying around happily ever since. If I wear socks under them (a tricky proposition!), they pass the Kingdom rapier safety requirements, so I never thought twice about the fact that they could be considered Ugly.

But! No less than four marshals stared at them, scratched their heads, and finally decided that, since I didn’t have anything else, they’d do for today, but next time, they should be Prettier, because it looked like I was running around at war with very, very dirty bare feet, and that was Not Period.

Now, this was no big deal, really, but it did rather ding my good mood at the time, so by the time we sauntered over to the Woods battle, I was picking my way around horse poop and staring up at a finicky sky and wondering if it was actually worth it to be doing this. You see, none of my previous melee experiences were particularly rewarding, mostly due to my own nerves and inexperience, and I had always wondered why Wistric would gleefully recount tales of dancing in the backfield with a big bucket of DFB (which is much like KFC in that it contains death, but not actual chicken).

Well, now I know.

Into the Woods

When Giovan sent up a call for Windmasters who were feeling speedy, I decided some zipping around would put things to rights in my head again, so I volunteered – it turns out for messenger duty. Messenger duty? Just run around and tell Turvon when you find a flag. Oh. Which one is Turvon? The one in the big shiny coat. Thank you, Turvon, for wearing a big shiny coat and being identifiable!

IMO the field seemed small enough that after the first flags were located, messengering became less relevant because Turvon could actually see what needed to be done (or hear Roz yelling about it). Also, even if you were on acid and I were on speed, you could never mistake me for Benjamin, so eventually I slowed down enough that the news travelled faster than I did. At that point, I’d rez up and then find the nearest commanding figure (usually Turvon or Giovan, sometimes Roz) and ask them what they wanted me to do; barring that, I’d stop and take a look around and try to figure it out for myself. I didn’t see much action on the right flank, instead concentrating attention on the left and center – most specifically, I seemed to end up a lot in the ‘no man’s land’ of little passageways between the two, where a single fighter could sneak through if you let ’em and do all sorts of horrible things in the backfield. It was interesting to note that my first instinct was usually “join a line,” unless I happened to see the enemy creeping around, at which point it became “plug that hole”. At one point, though, I did get instructed to reinforce the center. I aimed for the line that had formed, but then realized that there was a big empty space between me and the enemy’s backfield, which I gleefully crossed to DFB their line. Disrupting the enemy’s line counts as reinforcement, right?

In the end, I learned that running through the woods stabbing people is a whole bunch of fun, that combat archers are awesome, and that DFB is delicious if you’re the one doing it. The only things I might’ve wished for were a water bearer at our rez point and an extra huff on my inhaler. And another hour of woods battle.

Painting the Town Red (with Blood)

A breather and some snackies later, everybody migrated down to the Ruins for round 2. I really liked the setup for this battle: defenders hold out as long as you can with only 3 lives, while unlimited rez raiders try to plunder yer treasure. Arrr. I do so love me a good pillagin’. Black Diamond first crammed into the raider starting gate (literally), Windmasters among them with the instructions to… well, to be honest, I am not entirely certain what our instructions were by the time we finally got started. At one point I was pretty certain that orders were to punch a hole through the defenses after the gunners took a shot, and let the Dragoons in, but then the Dragoons repositioned in front of us and I’m not sure what happened with the artillery, and asking “What’s our job again?” one more time didn’t seem like a very good idea, so I resolved myself to charge in beside Roz in the column and hopefully at least obstruct an enemy sword or three before dying. Which is basically what would have happened if Sacred Stone hadn’t had someone tucked into the corner right beside the right entranceway, legging and then killing people as soon as they came in. Very sneaky.

Well and good. They’ve got a killing cup. But guess what I know how to do? Sacrifice myself to help disrupt a killing cup! After the melee at Tournoi, there was a bit of melee practice in which we learned how to sweep the blades of a defensive cup and take them towards the ground, a maneuver in which one is nearly certain to die, but is well worth it if you’ve got unlimited rez and the folks behind you are all ready to take advantage of the openings you create. I must admit it took quite a few practice runs before “throw yourself  (carefully) on the blades of your foes!” began to seem like a good idea in my head, but I guess it stuck, because that is what I tried to do in the ruins. Of course, I failed to appreciate the differences between practice and actual battle. In the former, everyone knows what’s going on and what’s supposed to happen next. In the latter… not so much. I think I tried this two or three times before any significant progress was made, but hey! Unlimited rez!

I was so busy dying and rezing that it seemed like a very short time between when we started and when we finished, and I have absolutely no idea what happened on the rest of the field. Somewhere in there I grabbed a treasure, though, and took it back to the designated area. Yay me.

Defending was a little clearer. Windmasters was set up to defend the right (the left of the attackers) with a killing cup at the entrance and some ‘reserve’ fighters just behind ready to close gaps, of which I was one (ostensibly in some capacity of messenger, again, although I don’t think I did much of that this time ’round). I ended up actually spending most of my time reinforcing a killing cup in the center, where the wider entranceway seemed to allow a greater influx of enemy combatants and hence more deaths for our side. I actually forgot about the limited rez on the defender side, and after I had died a few times I stopped myself and had to think very hard about how many rezzes I’d used up. In the end I decided I had done it twice and I was now out, so I went to the sideline just in time to watch someone from Sacred Stone DFB his own team. Poor chap.

One thing I noticed is that in the cramped and hectic quarters of the ruins, people are far less likely to realize when they’ve been stabbed until it’s happened a few times, although no doubt some of that’s due to the fact that you can’t stop all the blades coming at you in time with your death cry.  Also, it is apparently difficult to remember to die in place. Adrenaline is an amazing thing (which methinks explains why some women bear more than one child).

Ruins wish list: More ruins. More ruins battles. More room? Witty repartee tossed over the walls would be good, too. There should be Baronial Rapier Smartasses. I suspect these already exist, although not in any official capacity.

The Baron is Dead; Long Live the Baron!

For our final foray, ’twas to the field, where I got to see the King for the first time (and what an impressive impression it was, what with the guy slipping and getting stepped on and such). I have to say, it’s really cool to have a king you can stab. Or at least try to stab. The numbers for the field battle were a little more even and made the battle that much more challenging (not that it had been a cakewalk before that, at least for me). When we all lined up, I was prepared for a line battle and wondering just what we’d do  – run a flank? Lightly engage and distract so that some assassin-y types could go snuff His Excellency of Sacred Stone? Do the Hokey Pokey?

Truth told, I’m not entirely certain what went on; I was getting a bit weary by then and my memory’s never good in the first place. Windmasters started on the right flank, and I think we simply advanced at speed and engaged with their line. Everything broke up fairly quickly, and I went back into ‘rez and figure out where you’re needed’ mode. Here, with bits of line scattered clearly across the field, the ‘join a line’ urge was overwhelmingly strong – I would just beeline to the nearest line and join up, frequently forgetting to check and see if we were being effective at all. I think once Wistric caught me at rez point and we dashed into their backfield and made some noise before dying pretty quickly. Other than that, line, fight, die, rez, line. I wish I’d had the wherewithal to think on it a little more, or, even better, ask someone with a clue.

If I had to fight that battle all over again, I’d like to have more unit cohesion to make a more tactically effective force. Maybe some reinforcement that the idea was kill the baron, not just each other, so that my tired brain wouldn’t make stupid decisions on its own. Also, pizza.

You Want Me to What?

And then it was over and nobody was stabbing each other anymore and half of us were still thinking “Kill!” so they rustled up another little melee, after redistributing the troops in a more even-handed way. And then somebody had the brilliant idea that a scholar should be the commander rather than a free scholar or a provost, and then I figured out that me and Jauma were the only blue scarves around, and then I realized that you can’t hear Jauma when he shouts commands, so it’d better be me, and then suddenly I was the default commander. G’dammit. I am pretty sure Wistric planned it that way, too.

My second least favorite thing about commanding is coming up with a plan, especially in a short time. My third least favorite thing is enacting my plan. And my least favorite thing about being a commander? Not being listened to. This includes the clever free scholar  in the  blue and gold doublet on the end of the left flank who thought he’d go running ahead and kill people all by his lonesome and dragged half the left flank with him, disrupting the pace I’d set. It was a big confidence builder.

After things had fallen gloriously apart (Roz had warned me that plans never last!), I continued shouting stuff because I like hearing my own voice. My favorite moment was when I was in a small line facing a small line and encouraging my line to push (felt like a frickin’ midwife) and Connor, from the far end of his very long sword in his very long arm, mentioned that, “It only works if you push, too.” “Well, I’m a chicken, what can I say?” Especially with that long sword in that long arm tied with a white scarf right in front of me. Of course, I died right after that, and decided I’d had quite enough melee for the day.

Letia has since informed me that the proper response to such an observation is to note, “Commander stays alive!”, although that would’ve worked better if I’d been standing behind my line instead of in it, but I don’t know if any line would have formed if I hadn’t jumped in there and started yelling at people to join up.

The next time Wistric finagles me into commanding, I am finding a new place to sheathe his dagger which he will not in any way enjoy.

You & Me & a Dagger Makes Three
I did manage a few solo bouts that day: beginning with Dan, who early on in the day found me brooding by the fenceline and got to experience my fencing at its twitchiest. Between the ruins and the field battle, I took a few passes with Matteo, who I’d fought at Rapier Academy, and after the last melee Antonio was kind enough to cross blades. All three were of course excellent opponents, and while their advice and observations were slightly different, I could tell that it all boiled down to one thing: I’m not keeping my back hip down. I don’t tend to have a problem with that at practice, but I suspect between nerves and fatigue it creeps up on me and leaves me leaning forward – ‘parrying with my head’, as it were. So that’s good to know, in a masochistic kind of way (footwork drills! footwork drills!).

The Moral of the Story

Overall, I had an excellent day. More fun than I’ve ever had at an event. More fun than I’ve ever had stabbing people, except for that one time at practice when Benjamin and I went after each other like our lives depended on it, but that’s a story for another time. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold, not too bright – and the beer and conversation afterwards was excellent. I understand the excitement about melee events quite a bit better now – but tournaments remain a mystery, and will no doubt continue to do so until I get back from Ansteorra.

Posted October 19, 2009 by Dreya in Newbie Question of the Week

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