Friday, 26 September 2014

On Leaving Your College

Since graduating at the end of last year, my wife and I spent some time planning how we'd leave the College. It happened with some sadness, as we both started out in the College, met through the College, and had spent years watching it grow. But, leaving had to be done. This post is mostly an exploration of why that is, along with some of the method.

One of the main reasons we left is that we're both getting towards a decade older than the general population of first-year uni students. That starts to feel all sorts of awkward, despite the best of intentions on both sides. It can also change the dynamic of the group, with the older, theoretically responsible folks making people think they should behave.

Additionally, as members of the Old Guard, and in fact both former Seneschals, we were starting to feel that the way these whipper-snappers are running things is wrong, because it's not how we did things, con-sarnit. If they're not doing things my way, they must be saying I was getting it wrong, and that's impossible, because I'm always right. Curse these youngin's with their strange fashions and silly music.

But, the new generation of Collegians seem to be doing a fine job of running things. Numbers are up, people seem keen, and that's a mark of success. My ways of running the College are really focused around pulling it back from the bring - I remember more than one month where the peak numbers were 3 (of which I was the only student). Once you're not on the verge of shutting, then the ideal methods change.

So, the decision was made, we shall leave the College! Ah, but we should wait until the new folk this year have settled in, they might need some advice that we can be helpful with... Okay, we'll start skipping a few meetings, only coming to the ones with something interesting going on... But habits are hard to break, and when "not coming" is a decision and "coming" is the status quo, you just keep coming. Eventually, we decided to just cut it off at a certain mark (which was timed well with the next planning meeting, by coincidence. Not having the Old Guard being opinionated in the College planning meeting is a good thing if you want to move on).

So, we've left, we're now alumni of the College of Saint Aldhelm instead of veterans of it, and the College is growing in new and exciting ways. May God have mercy on their souls.

Now get off my lawn.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

On Completing A Project Somewhat

Some time ago, I posted about my hopes for the Book of La being polished and placed online. This has finally happened! It now has its own page on this very blog, even.

And now that the College War XVIII edition, past its second birthday, has finally had the typos and formatting errors corrected, I turn my gaze to the next edition. I shall be seeking out more songs to add to it, and I think a complete revision of the style of the work is in order. I may even me adding some songs of my own, if things go well.

Watch this space (and poke me if I take too long - shiny baubles may get in the way).

Monday, 7 July 2014

On Unusual Fencing Forms

At this weekend's Midwinter Coronation event in Politarchopolis, there were several rapier tourneys held, which, given the fact that the participants were out there for fun for the most part, and a requirement that weapons forms not be repeated, ended up with several unusual weapons forms used. I thought I might give a brief exploration of some of those I've seen, both this weekend and at other events, along with some of my schemes.

Sword and Rubber Chicken

One of the standards, when silliness is called for (can also work with dagger and chicken, if you like). The chicken acts like a short, somewhat floppy baton - not overly combat effective, but it can provide a good distraction. For bonus effect, get a rubber chicken with a squeaky toy inside - when the bird is hit, or is thrust vigorously into the mask of a fallen opponent, giggles will ensue from the audience. Not the most period-looking form (depending on the grade of rubber chicken acquired).

Dagger and Beverage

Well-suited to tavern feasts, the off hand is taken up by a goblet full of liquid (often water and food dye to simulate wine without wasting any). The victor is not the fighter who survives, but the one who reaches the end of the bout with the most remaining in their cup. Hand-snipers can do well in this form. I once received a 'best death' prize in this form, as I lost my dagger hand, and my response (once it was established I couldn't attack without dropping the cup) was to throw down the goblet, and with a cry of "I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT WINE", run myself through on my dagger. Not to be attempted indoors (the cleanup is a pain).

Single Dagger

This form actually occurs in period manuals, but is rendered rather odd by our safety rules making most of the period techniques unusable. Denied the chance to ram into my opponent, knock their legs out from under them, and slit their throat, it usually devolves into a dodging, flailing mess.

Case of Daggers

Everything about fighting single dagger, but... more so.

Monkey Knife Fight

Because single dagger isn't silly enough. Right hand holds the knife, left arms are tied together (either directly, or with a short length of rope between). Very silly, and you get some interesting tactics involving using the joined arms as a parrying device.

Sword and Puppet

Yes, hand-puppet. Essentially the same as fighting single sword, unless you've agreed that the sword the puppet carries (it HAS to carry a sword, let's face it) is capable of drawing blood, in which case you get the embarassing situation of having your face torn to shreds by Don Binky.

Sword and Minion

There have been a few cases with the off-hand being occupied by the belt of another fighter (while they're wearing it). Usually a Don or Guildmaster, and usually only permitted defensive items. I'm really not a fan of this one, for safety reasons - I've had my arm get stuck in a flailing knot of batons, while being pushed too hard to be physically able to call a hold.

Sword and Banner

There are a few variants on this one. This weekend, I saw two people fighting with banner poles, each twice their own height (one with a banner), and the lack of maneuverability seemed to make it a bit silly from what I could see. I have my own plans for a fighting banner (applique for strength, rather than painted silk), which I plan on having a 60cm banner on a 90cm pole - it should essentially handle like a cloak draped over a baton, probably with the disadvantages of both.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

On the Importance of Bardic Icebreakers

We've just had our local Newcomers' Feast (timed to be a few weeks after the university year begins, to welcome new Collegians to the SCA), and it was quite excellently filled with bardic endeavours of multiple kinds. A thought occurred to me on a critical factor in this, that I would like to explore somewhat today.

One of the factors in getting the bardic things happening at the feast - of which there were multitudes, from instruments and dance, to juggling, to song, to storytelling, to poetry (okay, a silly poem about a Seussical viking's dietary preferences, but a poem none the less) - was the first few people.

Most of the entertainments were of the "performance to the hall" variety, rather than entertaining the few people at their own table, and being the first one to get up, take everyone's attention, and begin with that is something that many people aren't comfortable with. I know I certainly am not - and that's speaking as a field and court herald of some experience. But, once the solo singing (with group participation on the chorus) had been started, I was actually comfortable enough to take the hall's attention for myself.

I can't speak for the others who put themselves in the centre of attention, but I've certainly noticed that it's the same few people who usually start things off - and to them, I'm rather grateful.

As for what I take from this... I've decided that being one of those people is a worthy goal for myself. I love bardic endeavours of all kinds, provided they're done well, and I certainly look forward to expanding my repertoire (I think learning at least two or three period (or period-plausible) stories should be my next step - songs I know in plenty), but those events where nobody starts things... well, if nobody starts it, nobody can continue it.

The trick there is in the ability to read the mood of the room. Is this feast one where people would like someone to perform for them? Do they want a short song or a long story? Additionally... do I have the ability to put them in a good mood about bardic things? I've seen the effects a story told less than expertly (and of much too great a duration) can have on the mood in a hall - the only entertainment on that occasion was sitting across from someone with his back to the speaker, whose facial expressions contained a less-subtle expression of my opinions of the story, and were comedically exaggerated. At that feast, despite the ice being nominally broken, nobody seemed particularly keen to take to the water (perhaps I should stop stretching this metaphor).

So, that leaves me with a goal of having both the confidence and the performance ability to be a bardic icebreaker for feasts... Watch this space, it may be some time.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

On Change Among Heralds

It can be a curious pleasure to look back at 30 year old correspondence between the heralds of the SCA, and marvel at how things have changed. Most of the time, it can feel like the College of Heralds changes nothing it isn't forced to, preferring their hidebound tested methods... And then there comes a big change, before it settles down again, and people become convinced we never change anything.

Some of the biggest changes that I've seen, looking back on records older than I am, are mostly around communication. In the early days, when rocks were soft, all of the heraldic correspondence was done in hardcopy, through the mail, meaning that discussions which would take days in the modern email-heavy world would take months. This is possibly the cause of the single greatest improvement to the speed of heraldic submissions - down to six months in many cases, from over two years.

The online version of the Ordinary and Armorial, the combined record of all names, devices, badges, and so forth which are registered in the SCA. I have held a twenty-years-outdated copy of the O and A, and it was three heavy folders worth. Every submission would need to be conflict checked manually using this monster example of slain forestry. And this is with the database as it was 20 years ago. It has approximately tripled in size since then, if my maths holds true - nine or ten hefty folders... would prevent a lot of convenient quick conflict checks.

In Lochac, we've just experienced another of these moments of change (three, in fact, but they came in such rapid succession that I consider them as part of the same revolution).

The first part of this change is the variance in the number of submission forms required - from six copies of the form, down to only two, in cases of device or badge submission, and from three copies down to one, in cases of name submissions. A significant decrease in the amount of work required to prepare a submission, especially when combined with the next point.

The second part of the change is that heraldic submissions can be prepared using colour printer, rather than the hand-colouring with approved textas (markers, for the continental audience). Instead of hours spent designing, followed by hours spent pains-takingly illuminating the submission forms, the design of the arms and preparation of the forms can be combined into one process - for those who wish it. The hand-coloured option remains for those whose artistic abilities are more manual than electronic.

The third part, and I think the most exciting, is that the minimum number of submission forms printed on lovingly prepared slices of dead tree... is now zero. Lochac has officially implemented electronic submissions. The process is still in the careful, experimental stages, but with the provision of a correctly formatted file (the format is enforced by the Society-wide submissions system), you can make your name, device and badge submissions with no postage, no printing. I took advantage of the system myself, with some recent submissions.

For more information, please see the Submissions page on the new Lochac College of Heralds website.

These changes have been a long time coming. People have often asked - why did they take so long?

Part of the reason is the scale of the problem. As mentioned previously, there are many existing registrations. Approximately one hundred thousand entries, if I calculated right. Any changes to heraldry processes need to be compatible with the existing work, or the existing work made compatible with the new.

A great example here is that all of Lochac's heraldry records are now kept digitally: the old paper files have been scanned and transferred to disk. As to the fate of the now redundant paper records, I shan't speculate. I'm told that the Society-wide records are making progress towards this goal, but it's a massive task for a volunteer organisation.

Another part, I think, is the permanence of decisions in heraldry. There has been, from the earliest days of registration, a guarantee that items registered would be protected from conflict and presumption in perpetuity. This has been argued (convincingly enough that I shan't try to affect it otherwise) that this constitutes a legal obligation, especially considering that money changes hands for registrations.

A submission in the latest Letter of Acceptance and Returns had to be returned for conflict with a badge which was registered in 1979. Not too bad on its own, however the badge was Tinctureless, devoid of colour. This means that that same charge, in any tincture, would conflict with this badge. Tinctureless designs are now all but banned (except for Principal Heralds' Seals, one per Kingdom), but these registrations from before that sensible decision remain in force, bearing down on the clients of today with clumsy wrath.

Future decisions made by the College of Arms may have such an effect on the state of Society Heraldry, unless done after a lot of study and analysis of the problem, and so the decisions are made with rightful caution.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On My Fencing Training Plans

I have decided to use the new year as a trigger for improving my training at the noble art of defence, and I thought I would outline the things I plan to work on and hope to achieve.


This is one of the biggest areas which tends to get ignored in most rapier training I've experienced. Most of my discussions with people have tended to work on the assumption that, so long as you can hold your sword up and keep your feet moving through the bout, your fitness is fine for fencing. This is a stark contrast to the heavy fighting community, where fitness is required and encouraged.

Is that just because we have no real need for "armour fitness" as they do, because what we wear is so much lighter?

I don't think so...

My main fitness focus this year will be leg fitness, to improve the speed of my footwork, and the range of techniques available (there are just too many positions I can't use for the simple reason that there's no way I'm getting my 115 kg out of that position once I get there). I'll also be aiming for some arm muscle improvements, but also a great deal of stamina training (as best as I can).


There is a reasonably heavy focus on technique over fitness in the parts of the fencing community I've been exposed to, and that's all well and good, but I've decided I would like to take it in a different direction for my own development.

There is a definite trend in my training group, especially among those who teach and train us, to focus on developing a broad understanding of advanced and fancy techniques. This is all well and good, in its place, but as the main area of instruction? I feel that it's coming at the expense of gaining a better grip on the fundamentals of technique.

There is a push in the local heavy fighting community at the moment to bring a greater focus on the fundamentals, as the core and basis of any fighting technique, and I believe that it would be of great value to import this focus to the fencing world.

I have several well-identified weaknesses in my technique, and I must say, none of them are "not enough advanced techniques". My weaknesses are all critical areas of the fundamentals. Attacking straight down the line. Not using footwork to position myself for advantage. Poor point control. Poor parries. Not covering the line. Moving straight backwards. Not being assertive in the fight. There's no amount of complicated advanced technique that will cover those gaps, no matter how much Italian you use to describe it.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

On Tourney Formats

There are a great many formats which tourneys, either of rapier or heavy combat, may take, each with their own intricacies, advantages, and disadvantages. This won't be a comprehensive list, since you can make up a tourney format on the spot if the mood strikes, but it will cover the more common ones (or, the ones I have experience with).

The advantages/disadvantages listed are somewhat biased to my experience as a herald and a fencer, but I've tried to consider all the effects they may have.

Single Kill, Double Elimination

This one can be considered the baseline tourney format, and is certainly the most common in Lochac.

Each round, fighters are paired up with someone they haven't fought yet (if possible), and if there's an odd number, one fighter is given the bye (which may be fought against a designated person not otherwise participating, but need not be). Each bout goes to a single kill. If a fighter is defeated twice, they're eliminated from the tourney, so the field starts to narrow sharply after the second round.

A common variation on this is to alter the number of losses required for elimination, or to fight the final pairing as a Best-of-Three (or five, &c.). Double kills can either be taken as a loss for both, or refought.

This format requires a lists officer to be in attendance and monitoring the progress, recording losses and determining the next pairings. Often, the herald will assist by recording each bout's results.

A double elim tourney has the drawbacks of requiring an attentive lists officer (who needs to be both recording results and working out the next round at once), one per field if multiple fields are running, and can rather limit the amount of fights that the participants get each. Advantages can be the speed of the tourney, as rounds get successively shorter, and the definitive result at the end (thus its use for many Crown Tourneys).

The single kill, double elim tourney tends to have the highest formality, with every bout announced and salutes made. This doesn't mean that others can't have this level of formality also, but they tend not to as often.

Atlantian Speed Tourney

The speed tourney, which apparently came out of the Kingdom of Atlantia, can be seen as a variation of the single kill, double elim tourney, designed to increase the speed and decrease the lists work.

The fighters line up, then the line splits in half and the fighters pair up with someone from the other side of the line. The fights are done with multiple going at a time, if space allows (so, it requires a larger field than a plain single kill, double elim tourney). If the first bout is won, that fighter goes to the winner's circle, and if lost, to the loser's circle. The second round is fought in among each of these circles. The winner of a fight in the winner's circle stays in that circle, while the loser moves to the loser's circle. The winner of a fight in the loser's circle stays in that circle, while the loser is eliminated from the tourney.

In terms of a double elim tourney, the winner's circle can be seen as "two lives remaining", and the loser's circle as "one life remaining".

The speed tourney requires almost no lists or herald intervention, other than to start it, though the multiple fights mean that more marshals are required, and there can be some confusion among the fighters if they're unfamiliar with the format. It's also very quick, as the name implies, and has almost constant action, so is better for spectators, though can be somewhat unsatisfying to those who want to fight more, as with a double elim.

Round Robin

In a round robin tourney, each round the fighters are paired up with someone they haven't fought yet. There are no eliminations, and a round robin of N fighters will have N-1 rounds, as each fighter faces each other fighter once. The winner is the one with the highest number of victories, or may be decided in a final bout after the main rounds.

A round robin has the drawbacks of the amount of time required, as each round stays full, but is easier on the lists officer, as they can prepare the full list of rounds in advance, and then just need to record scores. It also allows more bouts for each fighter, as they face every other fighter once.


The meatgrinder format has been gaining possibilities, and is a sure way to make sure fighters get plenty of action. An example of a meatgrinder for five is thus: The fighters are numbered, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. In round 1, fighter 1 takes the field, and faces fighters 2, 3, 4, and 5. In round 2, fighter 2 takes the field, and faces fighters 3, 4, 5, and 1. And so on for rounds 3, 4, and 5.

Essentially, the fighters form a queue, and then fight the rest of the queue in order, then join the back of the queue (which gives them a break between their round on the field, and their next fight).

Meatgrinders are long, but take almost no lists intervention past counting victories (a common variation is whether to count only victories during that fighter's round holding the field, or all victories). The herald's interaction is also greatly reduced, just making sure the fighters know who's up next.

Every fighter will face each other fighter twice, once each as the attacker and defender. My first tourney took this format, and with 10 fencers, that made for 90 bouts (10 rounds, each of 9 bouts). About three hours long. While it's hard to go unsatisfied after a meatgrinder, be careful about setting them during summer, when fighters may overheat.


The Valhalla tourney format is a semi-melee, even more so than the Atlantian speed tourney. It requires no lists officer, and likely no herald.

All fighters take to the field, and fight a series of individual bouts among themselves as they choose (or it may be treated as a full melee, depending on the preferences of the participants). If defeated, the fighter leaves the field. However, when a fighter is defeated, all those that they had sent off the field themselves are brought back to life. The winner is the last fighter standing - and thus, the person who necessarily defeated all of the others themselves, without dying in the interim.

Because of this, the winner of a Valhalla tourney is undoubtedly the true victor, even if by endurance rather than sheer prowess. However, because of the constant resurrections, the Valhalla tourney can take several hours (or ten minutes, it all depends), and grows with numbers much more fiercely than other formats. It's possible to get only a single fight in a Valhalla tourney, if you're the first victim of the victor, and they're on particularly fine form, but it's unlikely.

I'm aware there are a great many other formats, but as I've not participated in them (or perhaps they were unmemorable to me), I shan't list them at this point.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

On Steps From Period Practice

Please excuse another rant on a submissions-related topic.

In SCA heraldry, there exists fascinating gray area called the "Step From Period Practice", often abbreviated to SFPP in general conversation among heralds. In short, an SFPP is something in heraldic practice which is flatly known not to be period, but which is considered a minor enough inconvenience, and is popular enough among submitters, to be allowed, though no more than one per device.

Some examples of an SFPP are the valknut, the wolf ululant (sitting down and howling at the moon), pawprints,  and the "phases of the moon" motif (a roundel between an increscent and a decrescent). Note that this last one is possibly going to be leaving the list, as documentation might have been found. Things can also move off the list in the other direction, if they're found to be so unperiod that they're flat unregisterable.

There is something of an attitude that crops up occasionally that, since you can get away with having one of them, they must be perfectly fine. I believe this attitude to be not only wrong, but harmful.

One of the goals of the SCA is to re-create period art and practice. The Step From Period Practice allowance is a step backwards in this goal. It causes the design of things which can be excessively obtrusively modern. Even if they don't pass the registration process, the glimmer of hope for submitters who see the SFPP allowance means that many are disappointed by an apparently legal design being rejected, and those who aren't, degrade the state of heraldry by a small step.

It makes me long for the days when heralds would create arms and assign them to the deserving...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

On the Inheritance of Real World Arms

A subject that comes up with infuriating and disheartening frequency at the consultation table is the question "Can I just use my family coat of arms?"

There are... numerous problems with this. I shall try to address some of the largest of them here.

First, we shall look at the problem from the perspective of assuming the claim to the coat of arms to be true (more on why that's a bad assumption later). We come to a point much the same as if the submitter wished to register their own legal name, exactly as it is. To quote the Administrative Handbook, section III.B.7:
Armory Used by the Submitter Outside the Society - No armory will be registered to a submitter if it is identical to an insignia used by the submitter for purposes of identification outside of a Society context. This includes armory, trademarks, and other items registered with mundane authorities that serve to identify an individual or group. This restriction is intended to help preserve a distinction between a submitter's identity within the Society and the submitter's identity outside of the Society. Any change that causes a blazonable difference between mundane and Society armory is sufficient to allow registration by Laurel. Further, submitters may register either a name or armory which is a close variant of a name or insignia they use outside the Society, but not both.
This provides both the fact that it is forbidden, and also the reason for this prohibition: In the SCA, we are not our modern selves, and our names and heraldry ought reflect this. You, as a person, could not have existed within period (we are, after all, each a product of the sum of our experiences). There may be some philosophical debate around how to define various parts of this, but the rules are as they are.

Next, we come to the much more weighty problem. The "family coat of arms".

There is no such thing. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

In most heraldic cultures, arms are the property of the individual, not the family. Yes, his son will inherit, or his daughter if he has no sons, but only the first son inherits the coat. There may be modified versions handed down through the various family lines, but the plain coat is owned by one person, and one alone. The idea that they're owned by a family, or even worse, by a surname, is painfully wrong.

I know, there are many companies willing to sell you a plaque with your "family coat of arms" on it. Don't know it? Why, they have a handy-dandy book of surnames, each with their own coat of arms! I can think of two possibilities. Either they honestly don't know that this is heraldically poor practice, in which case they are willfully ignorant, given how easy this information is to come by, or they do know how poor it is, in which case they're maliciously fraudulent. I choose to hope for the former.

Note that I said *most* heraldic cultures. There are some notable exceptions to this, especially the Polish heraldic practices. But, these also present a great problem.

In the Polish tradition, each coat of arms has a name - what essentially boils down to a clan name. Each person in that group may have a different surname, but will include the clan name in their name as well, for some double-barrelled fun. Every person with the same clan name bears the same arms.

I can already hear the plans being drawn up by people clamoring to register some Polish heraldry that they have some claim to, or some other rare family-based example... Ahh, but therein lies the problem. Every member of that clan has the same rights to the same coat of arms. If you register it within the SCA, then you and you alone have the rights to its use. Unless you're willing to allow every other member of the SCA with some claim on those arms to use them, you've just taken something that they have as much claim to as you, just by virtue of being first.

No, much better to avoid the subject entirely.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

On Unusual Charges - Part II: Harpies Displayed

The Field is Azure, an Harpey displaied, Crined, Crowned, and Armed, Or. These are the Armes of the noble City of Norenberga, which according to some Authors is sitituate in the very Center of the vast and spacious Country of Germany. The Harpey (saith Upton) should be given to such persons as have committed manslaughter, to the end that by the often view of their Ensignes they might be moved to bewaile the foulnesse of their offence.
This is rather a good entry in the competition for 'charges which should never be shown displayed' by John Guillim in his 1611 Display of Heraldrie.