What I learned at Pennsic XXVII

By Hector of the Black Height

I had a very interesting War. I learned a couple of interesting lessons that I'd like to share with you.

First, I was one of the Midrealmers who, on Saturday the 15th, watched the East march off the field in a huge column. I was as disappointed as the next guy; I was very glad when the Midrealm and its allies chose sides from among those remaining on the field and had a pretty good fight.

I don't know what was going through the minds of all the Royalty involved, on both sides. However, after attending thirteen Wars I think I've learned a few things about War and Pennsic warriors.

We put a lot of stress on our leadership to be victorious War-Kings and -Queens. I've been guilty of that too, but I think I got better. To paraphrase Aaron Swiftrunner, now Midrealm Seneschal, once you get home, have a hot shower and re-acquaint yourself with facilities that flush, who cares -- who can remember? -- what the score was? It's not worth the stress and strain on good people.

When I think of Pennsic battles I think of my friends. Did my home group's fighters give better than they got? Did the Barony do its jobs in the various battles? Did the new guys walk off the field pumped and the greybeards walk off the field reminded of why we do this? Banners and bridges are "game-play" goals. The real aim is more smiling faces and war-stories.

When the time comes that Ealdormere is its own Kingdom, some of us will be standing at Pennsic and Border Raids and other events as Kings and Queens, able to look the other Royalty in the eye and say "Now hold on a minute…" and be listened to. That's when Ealdormere can remind the rest of the Known World that we came to play, not to stroke various Royal egos. On the field there is always a mechanism for resolving disputes. It starts with open dialogue. If you can't talk to your opponent you can't fight with him or her; that's the case with individual fighters and it applies to Kingdoms too. Fighters who lose their tempers leave the field, as individuals. Shouldn't Royalty do the same thing, without spoiling others' days?

Kings rule and generals command so that individual fighters can get on the field and have safe, exciting fun. That's what it's all about. I admire the East's discipline for marching off in a controlled fashion. I still think the Middle did the right thing -- the better thing -- by setting up a fight with those who remained on the field when the dust cleared. And that doesn't touch on the Eastern archers who were pulled off the line when their fighters marched off; what did that act of pique accomplish?

We must make sure our Royalty know it's okay to lose as long as everyone has fun in the process. A heavy-weapons massacre is not fun. Nobody likes to be a door-mat. Sometimes the right thing is to get off the field; Pennsic XXIII taught us that. However this was not (yet? I hope not; it didn't feel that close to me) a case where tempers were flaring in the shield-wall and the chirurgeons were working double-duty taking care of the casualties.

We expect the Royalty to arrange even sides and to have a plan to give us a fair, fighting chance of victory. It's a game; if somebody won then someone just came in second. However, if the fighters come off the field smiling, the archers have a good day on the line and the night fires have lots of good stories passing around them, how can you call those happy veterans "losers"?

The Royalty must remember why they rule. They must put the fighters, archers and fencers first. I believe Royalty on both sides forgot that a couple of weeks ago, in the name of personal honour or the memory of Jafar or whatever. No one's honour is served when people walk off in a huff. I was acquainted with Jafar, and I cannot believe he would have been pleased when an argument, even tangentially in his name, escalated to the point that a thousand fighters lost a chance to fight. Get clear on the concept, Your Majesties and Highnesses of the great Kingdoms. People, subjects, participants, are NOT abstract. We are here and now and we are why we play. We are why the Royalty play. If the Royalty think otherwise, if you ask me the tin-hats need to re-think a few things right now.

Remember. Learn. Don't be afraid to act for the right reasons, and remember that the greatest honour is often found in the greatest good.

I said I learned a couple of things. The other lesson was when I took two fine performers (Lady Marian of Heatherdale and Lord Garraed Galbraith) up to Horde Camp to perform for the finest Bardic Arts Laurels of the Known World. That was a night to live in legends, as Master Ioseph of Locksley and Mistress Morgana bro Morganwg were shown the wonders of Ealdormere's music. Our folks saw a breadth and depth to Bardic Arts they had never imagined; their amazement at the talent of Mistress Wyndreth Bergitsdottir, first Bard of Northshield, was obvious on their faces, and it went uphill from there.

I watched talented and accomplished people whose understanding of their art blossomed in half an hour, from a tunnel to an open field with infinite possibilities and points of view. This was good for my soul and I was laughing for the pure joy of it. The memory still makes me smile.

Part of Pennsic, part of the Arts within the Society, is getting people together to learn from each other. Part is to take people who are good and allow them to show their stuff to the very best, because in an atmosphere of trust and love and compassion, magic can happen; it did in Horde Camp the last Friday night of Pennsic.

Sometimes you need to face the very best and compare yourself to an impossibly high standard, because you'll be amazed how high you can score. The only score that matters, though, is the fun you have in the attempt. Hmm; so maybe I learned only one lesson. It's a good one.

(This essay was written in the September immediately after Pennsic XXVII.)


Copyright A. McLean 1998. All rights reserved.