Friday, September 22, 2006

Awards in the SCA

In my SCA career, I was honoured to receive two awards, the Award of Arms (AoA), and becoming a member of the Order of the Silver Crescent (OSC).

I received my AoA at an event in the Canton of Seashire (Halifax, NS) in the fall of 1991. I had no idea it was coming. At the time I fancied myself as a bit of a photographer, and I had been taking lots of pictures at various SCA events through the summer and fall. I had a photo of His Majesty Randall of the Dark and another of his lady Her Majesty Katherine Stanhope framed, and I intended to present the pictures to Her Majesty at Court at the event (Randall was not at the event). I spoke to the herald before Court and told him I had business for the Queen.

When my name was called, I was so awed by being in Court that I approached the Queen, bowing, before I realized I had forgotten the pictures back at my seat! I hastily withdrew, fetched the pictures, then re-approached the Queen. I presented them to her while mumbling something about them being a gift to the Crown. She showed them to the audience while complimenting me on them, and they received some applause. I was just about to withdraw, when she said, "So Rupert, while you are here..." and proceeded to give me my AoA.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I couldn't believe it. She told me the AoA was being given for my service as Seneschal of Lyndhaven (and indirectly for Lyndhaven finally becoming a shire, no doubt). Then she presented my scroll to me, turned me around and presented me to the masses as Lord Rupert Maxwell amongst many VIVATs.

I shakily made my way back to my seat and sat through the rest of Court in a daze. I was trembling and almost crying, I was so overcome. That was one of those "wow" SCA moments that come along once in a while.

I wish I could relate a similar experience for my OSC but it was very anticlimatic in comparison. I remember that I had missed one of the Great Northeastern Wars in Malagentia, and we held a War at Lyndhaven shortly after that. One person from that War was talking with me, and she said it was too bad I didn't attend GNE as I missed "a big surprise". She wouldn't elaborate, and after some reflection I concluded she had to have been talking about an OSC for me. It didn't help that a visiting noble asked very pointedly what the next event I would be attending would be, ostensibly to present an AoA for my lady. She insisted that we should attend so my lady could get her AoA. I knew AoAs were given "in absentia" so I figured that was an excuse to get me there. I don't fault her for that - it's difficult to coordinate these things without letting the cat out of the bag.

My lady and I attended an event later that fall in Ruantallan. In Court they called all the members of the Order of the Silver Crescent up, and I knew my time was coming. I was the first one called up, as my award actually dated from the GNE event. I was pleased to join such a special group of people and honoured that I was chosen. Although my inducation was less exciting than my AoA, it meant a lot more to me. I had a lot of respect for everyone in the Order as they had worked hard to get there.

One of the benefits of being in an Order is you get to suggest new members to the Crown, and offer your opinions on candidates others have suggested. In this electronic age a list was circulated every now and then by email and members could "vote" on it. I say "vote" in question marks because it is all advisory and the Crown has the final say on who should be inducted into the Order. I hope and assume that the Crown lent great weight to the Order's advice but I have no way of knowing. For each candidate, we could either vote yes, no, or abstain. I abstained for most candidates because I did not know them. Occasionally I would vote in the negative because I felt the candidate had not done enough to be considered for the Order, but usually I voted an enthusiastic positive for those I knew. I was always pleased to see those I knew become candidates, because I knew how much work they put in for their groups, the Kingdom and the Society as a whole.

Suspending my membership in the Order was about the last thing I did in the SCA, and it was hard. I really liked being a part of that group.

I never actively tried for either of the awards, but I do feel I earned them and I am honoured that I received them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Service in the SCA, or The Inability to Say "No".

Like many people, I held a number of positions in my local group, that being the Shire of Lyndhaven. In vaguely chronological order, they were Exchequer, Seneschal, Chronicler, Herald, Company Captain of Archers.

When our group first became incipient (aka "group in training"), everyone got a position. That's what happens when there's a small group of people - everyone gets to be a General and nobody has to be a Private. I guess I got the short straw because I got to be the Exchequer, commonly known as the Treasurer in most groups. It was a pretty easy job at first, since we had no money and didn't spend any. Filing a bunch of "zero reports" was simple. Things became more complicated once we finally started holding events, and the position became a real pain in the butt. The hardest part of the job was chasing down autocrats (event organizers) to get them to cough up the financial details of the event. Often there was a discrepancy, in the order of ten or twenty dollars, between the receipts and the cash on hand. That was the real difficulty, trying to figure out WHY. I was the shire Exchequer for ever, as nobody else wanted the job no matter how many times I asked for help.

I became Seneschal after Dave Westwick headed for greener pastures. I can't remember what kind of election process was held, if any, but I got the job. I stayed in the job through our lengthy incipient period until late 1997, when I resigned and Aetheric took over.

Being Seneschal of an incipient shire (especially an inactive one like Lyndhaven was) could be both easy and difficult. It was easy because reports were simple - "we did nothing". It was difficult because after a while, the regional seneschal started asking why we weren't doing anything. At the time the Northern Regional Seneschal was Master Harold von Auerbach. Harold and I became friends and I credit him for keeping Lyndhaven around. I think many other people would have said "give it up" but Harold was always positive and encouraging. Not to blow my own horn, but after Lyndhaven became a full shire Harold told me the only reason he didn't can us was because I kept on diligently filing reports. Hope springs eternal.

Regrettably, every volunteer group has politics and the SCA is no exception. Once Lyndhaven became a full shire, my job as Seneschal became far harder. There were a few factions within the group working to different purposes, one separatist group, and several people who clearly hated each other. It made for some difficult conversations and a lot of mediation. It didn't help that at least one person actively worked to sabotage my position through others (I'm not going to name names).

It really became apparent to me that it was time to move on when I was accosted by someone at one event I attended and encouraged to step down. They had been sent by this person and I thought it was particularly low to get some innocent person to do your dirty work. I figure that if you have a problem with someone, as an ADULT you have two options: 1) go talk with them and work it out, or 2) get over it. There is no option 3, backstab.

In any case, I resigned as Seneschal late in 1997 after a ten? year run. It was past time for me to go.

I was the Chronicler of the group for a few years in conjunction with my then-wife. I remember producing the newsletter on my Amiga, which shows how long ago that was. I think we did a good job with the newsletter, and indeed I have continued with newsletter production in the CRHA until recently. The struggle with many newsletters is finding people to write for it. I remember I produced one "All Rupert" edition.

For a short time I was the shire Herald (Pursuivant), after resigning as Seneschal. I confess I did a poor to nonexistent job and I feel bad about that. I'm not entirely sure now why I took the job but mercifully I didn't hold the position too long.

I trained as an archery marshal and as such became the shire's Company Captain of Archers by default, being the only marshal in the group. We had some good archery practices but in general they were poorly attended. I confess I could have done a better job of evangelizing archery. I was the Captain during the latter half of my SCA career where my enthusiasm was rapidly declining.

I vaguely remember training as a heavy list marshal but I don't believe I ever completed the training.

Outside of the Shire, I was the Regional Exchequer for Canada (whatever the SCA name for that was). That was challenging at times, especially trying to talk about finances with people from Quebec who barely spoke English. This was actually the last position I held in the SCA before my retirement.

All in all, being seneschal was the most enjoyable and the most frustrating. I do recommend serving your group in whatever capacity you can. Everyone is a volunteer in the SCA and someone has to do the administrative stuff so everyone can have fun playing. To those who serve... vivat!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What I Did In The SCA

In this SCA entry I'll talk about what I actually did in the SCA.

By 1990 I had essentially switched from rattan combat to archery as my favourite activity in the SCA. I purchased a 40 pound compound bow (blue and white - not very period-looking) and I practiced with Dave Hann/Conrad weekly at the local archery club. I was slowly getting better and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I purchased a good longbow at Pennsic XX (1991) and I still have it.

Archery is a great sport. I like it because it is truly just you, the bow, the arrow and the target. If you miss, you can only blame yourself... no whining about so-and-so beating you because she practices 18 hours a day. If you hit your target, it feels so RIGHT. I love that feeling of.. flow.. the smooth draw-aim-release-hit that makes the bow feel like a part of your body you've always had but never noticed before.

I've shot a modern compound bow a few times and it feels so.. mechanical. It feels like the pulleys and sights and trigger release and all the other gadgetry sucks the fun right out of it and leaves you like Robocop with a bionic arm. I'm not saying it's not challenging - there is certainly a lot of skill involved with modern archery but it is a game of millimetres, where a "miss" is almost indistinguishable from a hit. It's just not my thing.

Setting up the Advancing Barbarian shoot at Lyndhaven's first event. That's Conrad on the left with me on the right in the blue shirt and dorky hat.

I became an archery marshal so I could officially run archery at Lyndhaven's events. It is not a difficult job but you have to be on your toes to keep things safe. I marshalled at Pennsic a few times and I particularly remember one day when this idiot kid came to shoot with a crossbow and was waving a loaded crossbow around behind the shooting line. I educated him about being safe!

I started fencing later, probably around 1994. Like combat and archery, I got into it intensely for a year or so then gradually lost interest. I was never more than a hacker but it was a lot of fun. I especially liked the group combats. The Bared Blade events in Endewearde (Bangor, ME) were a blast and I thoroughly enjoyed the two or three I went to.

One thing I did get into quite a bit was dancing. It was a fun thing to do at events, didn't take much equipment (beyond a way to produce music) and everyone could join in. Plus a lot of women liked to dance, which was an excellent side (main?) benefit. I started learning dance in 1991 and bought a few books and tapes to learn it better. We set up a weekly dance practice here in the shire that ran for a few years. I ended up running dance at a number of our indoor events and in general I liked it a lot. One of the downsides of conducting dance at events is getting enough men to dance. I understood why - fear of looking foolish and/or not a "manly" activity - but can I just say, "girls"? :)

I learned a lot about English country dancing but I never mastered the more complicated dances like some of the Italian dances. Even today I could tell you the steps for Hole In The Wall or the Gae Gordon. I've found myself humming dance tunes when I'm walking my baby son around!

I did some cooking in the SCA but only at a basic level. I did the cooking for two of our local events that I can remember, and they worked out pretty well. No disasters, anyway!

I'll talk about the service I did (as seneschal, exchequer and so forth) in another entry.

So... fighting to archery to fencing with dancing and cooking along the way. Not too bad.

Great Northeastern Wars

Since this year will be the 20th Great Northeastern War (aka S&M War), I would like to offer my personal memories of the several Wars I attended.

As I said previously, I was at the first war between the shires of Seashire (Halifax) and Malagentia (Portland, ME). As a newbie to the SCA I felt a little "on the outside" and didn't get as fully immersed in the experience as I did at later wars. The first war was held on the weekend of June 20-22, 1987.

S&M II was fought between Malagentia and the Barony of Stonemarche (Boston area). Lyndhaven allied with our Malagentian friends again. This war was fought on a new site, vastly superior to the first one. It had a couple of fields for battle and archery, ample camping space and even a river for swimming in.

By this time I was fighting with a greatsword (two-handed sword) and I remember the thrilling feeling of charging toward your opponent's line across a field, screaming at the top of your lungs, and coming together with a huge crash and instant chaos. I think I actually survived to the end of the field battle at that war!

GNE 3 and 4
If I remember correctly, S&M III was between l'Isle de Dragon Dormant (Montreal) and Malagentia. I don't think I went to either 3 or 4. I think they stopped calling it S&M after the second War because they ran out of "S"s to fight.

GNE 5 was held on the weekend of July 26-28, 1991. I went with Marc Lutz in my car, and Dave Hann travelled with Rick Gaigneur and Shelly Harper in their car. We arrived late at night on Friday the 26th, set up tents in the dark, and went to sleep. It turned out that we camped next to the Ruantallan contingent, a happy coincidence.

I fought an authorization bout with polearm in the morning and successfully authorized. I then fought in the castle battle, and was killed after both my arms were taken off. Pity, that. I then fought in the field battle, a battle I remember quite well. When fighting polearm, you are always behind and supporting several shieldmen who protect you while you poke between them to kill your foes. I was on the extreme left of our line, and very soon after the two lines met my shieldmen were killed. As the battle order fell into chaos, I ended up facing one shieldman with two spearmen. I considered turning and running to join some of my compatriots ("live to fight another day") but I figured I could do more good by keeping three enemies busy for a while. I cut and parried for a while, trying to get a blow in on one of my foes, but the shieldman was good and protected the two spearmen. The spearmen themselves didn't coordinate their attacks, so I was able to fend them off for a few minutes before they finally got a blow in and killed me.
A pickup battle after the field battle

After a change and a little rest, I picked up my bow and went to the archery field. I shot the advancing barbarian shoot, and totally missed the clout shoot, alas. I then did a little shopping at the merchant area before returning to the archery field to shoot a 46 Royal Round score.

Royal Court
Royal Court with Randall and Katherine.

I attended Court with a lovely young lady, then went dancing in the falling dark. At this time I wasn't very good at dancing but I had fun nevertheless. Sometimes the company you keep makes all the difference. Later on in the evening, plans were made to have a war in Lyndhaven (eventually titled "M.R. War Comes To Lyndhaven") in the next year. In the morning, I shot a 51 score on the Royal Rounds and then reluctantly headed for home. GNE 5 was probably my favourite war.

I went there with my girlfriend (who became my first wife), and I don't remember the event quite as clearly as GNE 5 for some reason. Some things do stand out.

I remember that it was very hot on Saturday. The woods battle followed the field battle, and many people opted not to fight in the woods due to the heat. Being young and foolish, I carried on. I remember we didn't do a lot of running in the woods, due to the heat. Keep in mind that I was still wearing carpet armour. Imagine the air temperature being at least 30C and wearing a rug on your chest and back, with your head in a metal bucket. It was hot.

After the woods battle was done, I took my helmet and slowly walked across the field toward my tent. I remember thinking that I would collapse if I took another step, so I stopped walking, and swayed where I stood. Eventually one of the waterbearers came up to me and asked me if I wanted any water. I nodded and took a cup and poured it over my head, then drank another cup. I eventually made it back to my camping area, took the carpet off, and fell backwards onto the grass and laid there looking at the sky for ten or fifteen minutes. Then I changed into a swimsuit and stood in the river for a while.

I remember waking up Sunday morning to the sounds of some couple having very loud sex in their tent. I remember drinking litres and litres of water and pop and never peeing once all weekend. I remember stopping at Burger King on the I95 and absolutely loving the salty fries. I've never tasted better.

GNE 7 was held at a different site, near Bath, Maine. The site was better in some ways than the previous one (larger again) and worse in others (almost too spread out). I remember shooting archery at the war but not fighting. Much of the event was spent discussing shire politics, unfortunately.

Combat - Aurelius (Marc) is the guy with the red and white rats on his shield

Some apres-combat discussion with Feng, Aurelius and Conrad

I'm not sure, but I think the 7th War was the last one I went to. After GNE 6 my interest in the SCA was beginning to wane, and although I went to Pennsic a couple of times after that, my out-of-province travelling took a nose-dive.

Whacking people with big sticks

As I mentioned in the previous post, we had attended my first SCA event, the "Mis-Spent Lent Event". My next two events were the War Practice and the very first S&M War.. er, Great Northeastern War.

The War Practice event was held in northern Maine. It was a pretty informal event, being held at someone's farm house. I brought my armour and greatsword down to the event in the hope of becoming "authorized" to fight.

The SCA prides itself on its combat safety. There are extensive rules on what kinds of armour you have to wear and what weapons you may use, all in the interest of keeping people safe. The important thing to keep in mind for SCA combat is that combatants don't pull their punches - all blows are struck with full force. So if you can imagine two (or more) armoured people whaling away at each other with big wooden clubs, you can see that good protection is required to keep from being hurt.

In order to fight in the SCA, one must be "authorized" to fight. You first have to train in the privacy of your home territory, then participate in a supervised combat in order to be authorized to fight. There are "marshals" who are well versed in the rules of SCA combat who decide whether you are ready to be allowed to fight. Standards vary a bit, but what they want to see is that you can fight safely and have half a clue of what to do. You don't have to be particularly good at fighting, just good enough not to hurt yourself or someone else.

I fought my authorization bout at this event, and I failed. They felt I hadn't had enough practice, and although I was disappointed I agreed there was room for improvement. At this time I was working in Saint John and I could only practice on weekends, and I really hadn't done enough training to be ready for authorization.

There was a little dinner in the house after the day's practices were done, and I remember sitting quietly in the back and watching. Oh yes.. I also remember developing a crush for a particular woman there, "Hilary of Malagentia". She was wicked cute. I even wrote bad poetry about her when I got home. Ah, youth.

We came back in force for the Seashire & Malagentia War, aka the S&M War. The premise of this event was that Seashire (Halifax, NS) had offended some royalty in the past and Malagentia was avenging this slight of honour. It was all a big excuse to have a war. We ended up allying ourselves with Malagentia, even though Seashire was sponsoring our group's entry into the SCA. That was a bit awkward.

I fought another authorization bout there, in a borrowed helmet, and this time I was successful. Off to war!!!

The first battle that was fought was a Champions Battle, where the best five fighters from each side squared off in a group combat.
Malagentia prevailed in this fight.

I can't recall the second battle (I did participate), and the third battle was a Woods Battle. SCA Woods Battles are fought.. guess where.. in a field.. just kidding.. and feature resurrections. That is, when you are killed you walk back to a particular location called "Resurrection Point", wait a prescribed period of time, then you're alive and ready to fight again. Resurrection battles like this run for a fixed period of time and are typically "capture the flag" style combats where the side with the most flags at the end wins. In this particular battle I believe there was only one flag, and I ended up being the guy holding the flag for our side, since I wasn't very good at fighting. I can't remember if we won the Woods Battle, but we (Malagentia) won the war.

Sometime I will have to describe how SCA combats work and how you get "killed".

The site itself was a few clearings in a forest, with numerous tents and canopies around. I remember the weather was pretty nice. My only injury during the war was getting bug spray in my eye, and having to go to the chirurgeon's (medic's) tent to get it washed out. As embarrassing as this was, it was a bonus to have Hilary do the washing out.


After the War, I spent some time honing my fighting skills to an appropriate level of mediocrity. I was never anything but adequate, as my interests soon shifted to archery.

My first event

As I mentioned in my previous post, our fledgling group travelled to the Shire of Wolfsgate (Wolfville, Nova Scotia) to attend our first event, the Mis-Spent Lent Event. This event was centered around a supper, or "feast" as it is called in the SCA.

In the SCA, one assumes a "persona", a person who could have existed in the Middle Ages. There are few restrictions on what kind of persona you can adopt. The time period covered is in the general range 500 A.D. to 1650 A.D. One cannot start as nobility, so you can't be Duke Whatzit. Nobility is earned in the SCA. One final restriction is you cannot be a person who actually existed.

On the drive to Wolfsgate, I decided I would be Rupert Maxwell, an Englishman in the time of the first Spanish Armada (1588). Don't ask me where I got the name from - I just made it up. My thought was that Rupert was a wandering adventurer, son of a merchant who was forced to leave town after an improper relationship with a noble's daughter.

Your first event is a little overwhelming. I'm glad this event was fairly small (about 50-60 people). People were wandering around in "garb" (medieval clothes), speaking forsoothly and trying to behave like it really is 1500 A.D. or whenever. We had borrowed or made our garb. I was wearing a blue T-tunic (T-shaped shirt, basically) and some nondescript pants and shoes.

I think the event was held in a community center. There was a large gym-like area where the main activities went on, a kitchen, and a hall between them. My first surprise when I arrived was meeting Lise Quintin, my sister's friend from ten or so years before. I recognized her, and she me, so that was cool.

My second surprise was there were WOMEN in the SCA. Obviously I knew on a logical level that it wasn't just guys, but the thought never occurred to me. And some of them wore some pretty interesting dresses - interesting to a twenty-year-old male with raging hormones (20YOMWRH), that is.

I can't remember what specifically was served at the feast, but I can give you a general idea of SCA feasts. They are normally served in "removes", or what normal people call courses. A feast typically has between six and a dozen removes. Each dish is brought out by one or more servers (often volunteers from the event attendees, a good way to meet people) and served to the head table first, then to the rest of the populace. Sometimes the next remove will be brought out while the previous one is still being served, especially if there are a lot of people at the feast. Often there is a break in the middle of the feast for a stretch, to dump what you didn't eat off your plate, grab a smoke, and so forth. Generally one takes at least a little bit of everything. I'll have to talk about the types of food served in another entry.

After the feast I remember there was dancing. Medieval dancing is another entire topic, and I spent a lot of my later SCA career doing and teaching dance, so it became a big part of my SCA experience. I don't think I danced much at this event.

Sometimes there are little "side games" that go on at SCA events. One that I remember from this event was the cloven fruit. Here's the process:
  • Someone offers you with a fruit with cloves in it

  • You take it, remove a clove and bite into it and subtly discard it

  • You offer your hand, cheek or lips to the person to kiss

  • Now YOU get to give the fruit to someone else

Needless to say, as a 20YOMWRH (and a geeky one at that), this was a great game. I was kissed several times. Bliss.

There are a lot of nuances in the game. Generally one tries to be subtle about approaching your "target" and surprise them with it. That's not hard when the fruit is an orange or a lemon, but more difficult when it's a watermelon. Always, always the lady decides where she would like to be kissed. Be a gentleman! It's also considered bad form to repeatedly kiss the same person.

My friend Marc decided he would mix up some Wonder Wine to bring to the event. He ended up bringing 4 litres of wine, and he drank quite a bit of it himself. I remember him staggering around the later part of the event, using a wall to hold himself up, and finally vomiting quite a few times, fortunately outside the hall. He had a hangover for a week. Hee hee! It's great to be a teetotaler when other people are suffering from drinking.

We stayed over at someone's house and went back to New Brunswick the next day. Needless to say, I was hooked!

Next entry: the next couple of events, including the very first S&M War.. er, Great Northeastern War.

In the beginning

My time in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) started in January? of 1987 when I saw a recruiting poster on campus. It showed a man in armour with the caption "Why is this man smiling?" It attracted my attention because I was still a Dungeons & Dragons geek. OK, technically I played Advanced D&D, but whatever.

Yep, this was me. Like the hockey gloves? And the duct tape? How about the carpet?

I called the given phone number and spoke with a Dave Westwick (now Dr. David T. Westwick) who was taking a graduate course at the Biomedical Center at our university. He said he was trying to start a chapter of the SCA in New Brunswick. He patiently answered my questions about the SCA and said he was having a meeting in a little while with some prospective members.

I talked to my AD&D friends Marc, Dave H, Andy and Rick and we agreed to meet Dave W. and see what he had to say. Another fellow that I knew, Mike, also attended the meeting. He described the purpose of the SCA, basically to relive medieval life "as it should have been". We decided to try to form a "shire", basically a chapter of the group. Everyone was assigned a position, with Dave W becoming seneschal (president), and I became the exchequer (treasurer).

Dave Westwick making a sword. He's grinning because of the, um, suggestive look of the sword and the white glue on it.

One of the flashiest things the SCA does is fight in armour. Dave W had some of his own armour, so we set about making our own. There were/are specific regulations on what is acceptable for armour, and these rules have changed over time. At the time it was perfectly acceptable to use two layers of carpet to protect your body, and that is what I wore. Let me tell you - it may protect your bones from
being broken but it doesn't insulate you from pain! For weapons, the SCA specified solid rattan poles for their flexibility and freedom from splintering. Dave W ordered some rattan poles from somewhere and I made a sword.

My main focus at the start was fighting, and later some archery. Dave W was into mandolins too, and Marc took some interest in mandolins as well as fighting. Rick was interested in heraldry and Dave H took up fighting and archery too.

Me getting whacked in the head

We practiced at the Oromocto Community Center, and in the field across from my parents' house. You sure get some funny looks when you walk into a convenience store in armour. The number 1 question:
Are you in a play?.

Back L-R: Dave H, me, Marc. Front: Dave W, Mike

Members of the SCA get together at "events" to reenact medieval life. Themes for these events vary greatly, but include wars, arts competitions, feasts, and so forth. We were all looking forward to going to our first event at Wolfsgate on March 7-8, 1987, the "Mis-Spent Lent Event". I'll talk about that next.


I will be posting about my former life in the SCA here. This is a convenient place for me to write my memories down. I hope they entertain you!