Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Knightly Virtues

Several of the Knights of Numenor. Photo © Ellie Apland
Knighthood in Belegarth has a staggering variety of interpretations across its population. Each individual line of knights has its own requirements and values, and so the meaning continues to become increasingly diluted over time. This has lead to many bitter arguments about the "right" way to do things and if Knighthood even has any value beyond feeding a few egos.

Despite that, there are several knights who are almost universally lauded for their service and bearing. This leads me to believe that at the core there is a set of values which we generally agree are "good" or "knightly".

In light of that, I've decided to do a quick write-up of what traits I, personally, look for in the knights I respect. No one matches all of these perfectly, of course, but that's why I find this sort of list so interesting.


A knight should be a leader in word and deed. He seeks out problems and solves them with the help of others in a timely fashion. He is a voice of experience and guidance among his peers.

Pitfall of this virtue: Passivity
Someone showing leadership does not need to be told where to help out. A knight who only addresses issues when they are brought directly to his attention does not show leadership, even if he agree to assist with the problem afterwards.

Martial Mastery

A knight should be aware of all aspects of fighting. Although he will not be the best, or even great at every style, he should be knowledgeable enough to instruct others mindfully. Above all, he should always be aware of why he does what he does.

Pitfall of this virtue: Fixation
It is easy for someone to become entrenched in their strongest skills and focus solely on those, effectively barring the breadth of their knolwedge. A knight who only understands a small subset of styles that he uses every day has avoided becoming a complete master.


A knight should be giving of himself to his peers and his realm. Whether it be time, money, or skills, he should occasionally be willing to sacrifice for the good of others. If he sees a Belegrim in need, he is ready to step in however necessary.

Pitfall of this virtue: Permisiveness
Although being generous is a virtue, letting others take advantage of your kindness is not. A knight who allows others to rely on him to great excess does not show true generosity, as it creates a culture of devaluing service and personal growth.


A knight should seek to constantly better the world around him. When social or political conflicts arise, he should seek to solve them in a positive manner that best aids his peers, putting aside his personal gripes. He should also actively teach others, building them up to become the best they can.

Pitfall of this virtue: Explanation over Action
Many who try to be constructive fall short by merely assessing and explaining a situation but never attempting to resolve it. A knight who gives generic instruction to others instead of actively shaping the situation to the positive has failed at being constructive.


A knight should be welcoming to all he meets. He is a face that represents the best Belegarth has to offer, and should wear that responsibility proudly. Others should regularly seek him out because they know he will be reasonable and considerate.

Pitfall of this virtue: Tolerance Alone
Having listened to the same complaints and questions for many years, it becomes easy to simply tolerate those around you. A knight who will accept the approach of others, but does not inspire confidence and trust in them, has not mastered the art of congeniality.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anatomy of a Passing Sword

Along the lines of what I did for arrows, here's a visual guide to all the details of a passing sword. A special thank you to Sir Torrence for providing the cutaway pictures.
Click image to see full size

Monday, June 23, 2014

Garb Enforcement at Practice

Every year, there's a debate over how to handle garb enforcement.  Subsequently, the community usually ends in the same place: everyone agreeing that garb should be worn at events, some people insisting garb should be worn at practices, while others argue that requiring garb at practice is a death-kiss to recruitment.

I'm personally in the pro-garb at practice camp, with leeway given for newbies, because I've seen it done much more good than bad. At the very least, it helps prevent the rash of fighters who won't go to events because they need garb, or those who turn up at events without garb. In my experience, here's how it becomes a successful culture.
Some passing garb at practice.

Use role models

This is by far the most important step. If the top dogs in the realm wear garb, especially the top fighters, the rest of the realm will usually follow suit. It helps remove a bit of the goofiness factor when the toughest guys are dressed to the nines and are willing to defend their choice to wear garb every week. It doesn't need to be incredibly fancy, after all it is only practice, but enough to show they take pride in their appearance.

Don't bully, but be clear about expectations

If you come at someone aggressively about their lack of garb, they're going to get defensive and dig their heels in. If people understand why they should wear garb at practice, instead of being told "because I want us to", they're often more receptive. Following the rules, preparing for events, and PR are usually the reasons I give depending on my audience. Playing to their sense of pride may also work well in some cases.

If someone I know who has garb is not wearing garb at practice, the most I will say is a casual "No garb today?" and leave it at that. You can often make it clear that you've noticed someone isn't wearing garb and you'd prefer them to, without calling them out and loudly embarrassing them in front of everyone. Even I sometimes don't show up in garb because life got in the way, and I prefer the courtesy of a gentle reminder instead of a public flogging.

Make it a rite of passage

In the realms where garb is common at practice, wearing it is often seen as a literal or metaphorical rite of passage. In some places it gives you access to more weapons, since you've proven your dedication.  In others, it's the first step that marks you as a "real" Belegrim in the eyes of the realm.

Making or buying your first garb is usually met with praise and stories about how awful our own first garb was. If a new fighter really wants to become "one of the guys", they will force themselves to wear garb when everyone else is.

Treat it as a uniform

This is for the people who feel uncomfortable in garb because they're very self-conscious. Those of us who embrace our geekiness may have no problem hitting up a public restaurant after practice in full garb, but others find it mortifying. Make sure the non-garbers know that you'll give them time to change before and after practice; garb is only your uniform on the field. Having that level of separation between the game and real life is really helpful for many people.

Help them get their first set

Almost everyone struggled with their first set of garb, myself included. If someone seems to be dragging their feet, offer to make it for them or have sewing days if you need to. You can even hand them the names of a few good places to order a set.

Garb does not need to be expensive or time-consuming to pass, and many newbies may not realize that if your realm is particularly well-dressed. The more that veterans do to lower the bar to entry, the sooner realm-mates can become comfortable wearing garb and pass that mentality on to the next generation.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Welcome to Belegarth

AKA The Trials of a New Fighter

Photo © Ellie Apland
Hello, there! I couldn't help but notice you seem interested in what we're doing over here. Do you have any questions I can answer for you?

Oh? Well if you're sure, why don't you give it a try? It'll only take me a couple minutes to show you the rules.

I promise you won't hurt me if you're playing by the book. If it makes you feel better, you can take it easy on me while I'm teaching you. I'll just walk you through the motions, okay?

Great! Just grab one of those swords and shields. Whatever ones you like.

Sure, you can take two swords if you want. But it may be harder than you expect...

Okay, if you're really sure, I'm not going to stop you. Now, come over here with me and I'll run you through the basics. First of all, be careful not to hit anyone in the head. That's illegal in our game.

I promise it's for a good reason. We hit hard - it can be pretty dangerous.

Well, you'll believe me once you're fighting out there. You see, you'll need to hit people with what we call "sufficient" force for it to count. Like so.

A little more painful than you thought, huh? Good, that's about what you should expect. Now try hitting me, while I explain how you "kill" other people.

No, no, I'm perfectly fine. If anything you're hitting a bit light. You should make sure you swing a little harder on the guys out there. I think that's everything. You ready?

Good luck!

(5 minutes later)

Are you okay?! I heard you squeal from the other side of the field! Do we need to call a medic?

Oh, he just hit you in the nuts? Well, that's a legal target and counts as "death". Not like you'd want to keep fighting anyway. Let's get you off the field...

Haha, I thought you might say that. Welcome to Belegarth - there's a lot more of that to come. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Static Guard: A-Frame

This guide is for newer fighters. Some concepts below are simplified to allow more immediate comprehension and application.
Photo © Tiffany Tyler-Tyson
The A-Frame guard is often the first taught to new fighters who fight sword and board. It is relatively simple and provides a solid static defense when executed properly. As your footwork, speed, and understanding of combat become better, you'll be able to branch out into other methods with more success.

This guide assumes you are using a blue sword and a round shield.

Your Sword

The sword is the outer slant of your A-Frame. It usually isn't at a very severe angle, but the tip should be at enough of a diagonal to prevent your opponent from easily dropping their sword in the slot between your sword-tip and your head. Your hand should be fairly low in front of you, such that a decent portion of your blade is in front of your body, not over your head, and angled such that your elbow isn't sticking way out.

Why do you do this?

Without moving, your sword in this position takes away most straight upper-body shots. If you look in a mirror, you'll see that there are no obvious targets on your sword side without wrapping around the blade, moving it, or powering through it.

How do I block shots on this side?

Most shots can be blocked by moving your hand from side to side and keeping the tip stationary. You'll want to block all shots on this side with your sword, not your shield. Make sure your hand, arm, and blade snap back to your guard if you are not actively blocking or swinging.

Mistakes to avoid

  • Holding your sword too vertically. This opens up the slot on your shoulder.
  • Popping out your elbow. This allows opponents to more easily snipe your arm.
  • Keeping your hand too high. This will require you to move further to block strikes to your torso. It also offers little additional protection because the head is an illegal target in most cases.
  • Forgetting to reset your guard after swinging. It's easy to get sloppy when you're focused on attacking, and that may create openings that are not normally there.

Your Shield

Keep your shield relatively close to your body and up high enough to just cover your shoulder. If you are using a centered strap, you can try keeping your hand over your heart to start - that will help you avoid the temptation to drop your shield over time.

Why do you do this?

This keeps your entire shield side from being an easy target, without hindering your own range. If done correctly against an opponent of equal size, they are forced to wrap your shield or make you move it.

How do I block shots on this side?

Try not to move your shield much unless necessary. Many shots can be blocked simply by rotating your torso slightly. Practice with a friend to see exactly how much you can stop without letting your shield shift.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Letting your shield drop. This will happen naturally over time if you aren't paying attention, or may occur if you're moving your shield too much, and opens up your shoulder for an easy kill.
  • Shifting your shield too far when you block or swing. If your shield is moving, you are likely creating openings in its wake. This movement will also cause you to take extra time to reset your guard.
  • Holding your shield too far from your body. This changes the angles cut off by your shield and also reduces your own attack range. Depending on your opponent and shield, it may also make it easier for them to manipulate your shield out of the way.

Your Body

The torso is held upright, often square to your opponent if you aren't moving. Your weight should be distributed between your feet to allow you to move quickly. Footwork is a large topic, and it can be done in many ways, but a good place to start is with one foot slightly further back than the other, resting on the balls of your feet.

Why do you do this?

Your torso is being used to help you block and throw shots with the aid of your feet. The torso being upright also prevents your opponent from easily wrapping over your shoulder. Remember, your shield doesn't cover the top of your shoulder or your back, so leaning forward will make some of its protection useless.

Keeping your weight distributed between your feet allows you to both attack and retreat with more options than if you put most of your weight on one leg. This means you are able to slide or step your legs out of the way if necessary, effectively protecting your lower half.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Leaning over. This happens most often when going for leg shots and opens your shoulder to your opponent. Instead of leaning, bend at the knees to bring you down to the correct level.
  • Putting too much weight on one leg. This will get you legged often once your opponent realizes you're rooted in place. Also, you'll have a hard time moving around, away from, or through your competition.

Other Considerations

Although the above covers the basics, there are many other circumstances that can change the effectiveness of this stance. A few examples are listed below, but you'll find more as you gain expereience.

Height differences

If you're far taller or far shorter than your opponent, the shots both of you throw will change.  For example, short fighters can expect more wraps over the shoulder on average, while a tall fighter can expect their legs to be a prime target.

Range differences

Effective angles of attack change as you swing the same, straight weapon from different distances. Someone right in your face is going to have different options than the guy fighting at the edge of his range.

Weapon you're fighting against

You can expect different kinds of strikes from different weapons in the line, especially polearms. Make sure you take time to fight against many different styles and work on any weaknesses you find. Most likely, those weaknesses will be centered around footwork once your basics are solid.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fighting as Entertainment

Fighters just don't get people who would rather watch a battle than participate in it. That's not surprising, really - they all get the itch to grab a weapon when they're stuck on the sidelines. It doesn't compute why someone of perfectly fine health won't just pick up some gear and have fun, especially if they already know the rules.

For that reason, I am often asked: how can you enjoy yourself just sitting there?

Truth be told, I don't always. Sometimes even I get the urge to fight when I sit there all day, because I'm bored out of my skull. To me, fighting is entertainment. If I'm not entertained, I'd rather catch up with old friends and take off early than observe uninteresting battles. As I gain more experience in Belegarth, I find many veterans are the same way, ducking out of practices or events that have lost their interest.

Since I'm solely a spectator, I thought I'd share what makes for good entertainment vs. poor entertainment in my mind. If you're a regular marshal, you should talk to your people directly to figure out what works for them. What's good fun for an onlooker is not always the same as for a fighter.

Things to Avoid

Huge fields

Nothing is worse as a spectator than not being able to see anything. Like any other sport, being closer to the action is more exciting. However, you'll need to be able to trust your marshals to keep the sidelines free of clumsy or oblivious fighters.

Also, huge fields mean a lot more waiting with a lot less combat because fighters need to travel a long distance to reach one another. Watching people walk around isn't very interesting.

Battles that drag out

This often happens because someone is trying to be tactical at the end of a fight and refuses to engage their enemy. Endless circling or retreating is boring for spectators. I'd much rather see the battle end quickly and decisively so we can move onto the next, than someone surviving an extra minute by avoiding combat. Keeping a field small or giving a time limit when people aren't swinging are ways to avoid this.

Regen Battles

There are a few exceptions to this, most notably some scenario battles like Capture the Flag, but regen battles are often when I start talking with other people or picking up a craft instead of watching. This is because there's no feeling of progress or togetherness, and it can be hard to follow what's going on with all the chaos. Color battles are the worst offenders in this category, which means I usually wander off about the time they start.

Things to Try

Something a little different is always fun. Photo © Ellie Apland.

Scenario Battles

There are a ton of these you can try depending on the number of people you have (e.g. good vs. evil, monarch, castle) and many fighters enjoy them as well. By giving some special goals to combat, veterans tend to engage more, and fighters will try new and unusual techniques to get a leg up.

It's also a good way to build friendly rivalries that keep things interesting. Depending on the scenario, people are often forced to work more closely with their team than in a vanilla line battle, which means they are more invested in the outcome. This leads to amusing taunts and stunts that you don't see normally.

Unit and Realm Battles

Having someone to cheer for is fun. These battles are usually the only chance spectators get to watch all their friends fight together on the same side, so they have a clear favorite. As a side benefit, the natural comradery between teammates boosts both the entertainment factor and the quality of fighting on the field, since they more likely know how to work together.

Unusual Tournaments

The usual suspects are fine to watch, but truly unique tournaments are a blast. My personal favorite semi-serious tournament is "Death in a Hat" where fighters must fight with whatever random style they draw. Anything that's fun and a little silly is great, because tempers and cheating are less likely to be an issue. Ultimately, I want to be focused on the fighting, not the drama on the sidelines.

What are your favorite battles or tournaments? Share in the comments below!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Typecasting male event-goers

An overview of some of the men you will meet if you go to a Belegarth event. What type(s) are you?

The Creeper - “Your garb is really pretty. Can I touch it?”
The man who hides behind the cowl of social awkwardness to excuse his inappropriate behavior. He's uncomfortably forward, overly friendly, and invites himself into your conversations and personal space. Don't be this guy - everyone hates this guy.

The White Knight - “Sure, I’d be happy to spar with you. Just let me finish weapons check.”
Have a question or need a hand at an event? The White Knight is right there for anything you could need. He's usually extremely busy, but will go out of his way to make the event as amazing as it can be. Just be careful not to push his good nature too far or he might become a Grumpy Old Man one day.

The Black Knight - “What do you want?”
This guy has been around for a long time and is very skilled, but he's not really interested in helping anyone else. Short-tempered and perpetually annoyed by the attitudes of his brethren, the Black Knight won't get in the way, but has no tolerance for stupidity. It's easy for these guys to have both a good reputation and bad reputation at the same time, depending on how long someone has known them.

The Stick Jock - “Why is everyone still asleep? Don’t they want to fight?”
It's all about the fighting for him. He may not be any good at it, but it's his only focus at an event whether it's morning, noon, or night. The Stick Jock's biggest pet peeves are delays to the event starting and people turning in too early. He's perpetually eager for classes, sparring, and talking shop.

The Grumpy Old Man - “Archers aren't people.” 
He's seen every stupid idea, every nasty personality, every poorly enforced rule, and somehow come out the other side still involved in Belegarth. His patience is thin and countenance is intimidating, but befriending him reveals a fount of wisdom, sarcasm, and hilarious war stories. An offering of booze can help speed up that process.

The Clueless - “Should I have brought a tent or something?”
The idea of planning is so unfamiliar to the Clueless that he barely even remembered his own gear. He's a marvel of obliviousness so enthralling that others can't help but take pity on him. The Clueless who never learns not to depend on the good will of others is how Black Knights are born.

The Drunkard - “Ugh, I’m too hungover. I'm going back to my tent.” 
This guy had the best intentions to get out on the field during unit battles, but that third shot of mystery drink the night before did him under. The Drunkard is a blast when the sun goes down but often leaves his friends wanting the next day at fighting.

The Self-Appointed Badass - "I spent twelve years studying six different kinds of martial arts, and my sensei said I was the best in the class. I think I know a thing or two about fighting."
This guy is different from the Stick Jock in that he isn't serious about learning to be good at Belegarth. The Self-Appointed Badass's ego is more impressive than his fighting could ever be. While White Knights might patiently listen to his tall tales, Stick Jocks and Black Knights will try to embarrass him on the field every chance they get.

The Bodyguard - “Just keep walking.” 
Usually a big guy, the Bodyguard watches out for people when they're on or off the field. For many female Belegrim, these guys are the big brother types who handle the worst of the Creepers. They're great at stopping fights, and despite their stature, rarely need to use anything but the force of their personality to do so.
Photo © Ellie Apland

The Roleplayer - "Good day and well met. How fares the battlefield this fine morning?"
The guys who are serious about building a character are rare, and the result can just as easily be amazing as embarrassing. Talking with them is like being at a renaissance faire or in a movie. Just beware the ones who expect you to play along, or you might be in for a very painful afternoon.

The Newbie - “Hey, can I dual-wield axes?” 
They've got boundless energy, but a tenuous grasp on the rules and questionable common sense. It can be trying, but a little patience and indulgence goes a long way as they find their own role within Belegarth. If they're willing to learn, they'll make a great addition to the field one day.

Looking for more? There's a female version, too.

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