Monday, April 28, 2014

Cultural Differences and the BoW

One of the prevailing concepts when adjusting Belegarth's rules is KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.  In most cases, that means we have the minimum number of rules required to play safely. The unintended side effect is that we rely heavily on word of mouth and culture to fill in the gaps. Just a few examples:

  • What penalty is there for hitting an illegal target (e.g. the head)?
  • What do you say if someone hits you or your garb, but doesn't damage a target area (e.g. hand on weapon)?
  • Do you need to say anything at all?
  • What's the proper way for an archer to call combat hits?
  • How do you let your opponent know that you've stabbed with two hands on your weapon?
  • What does 'point' mean and do you need to honor it?
  • What is a courtesy strike and do you need to honor it?
  • When is okay to call 'HOLD' outside of unsafe situations?
Some of these may seem trivial, but others are the cause of heated debates on the field. When fighters from two cultures clash, there is a lot of room for miscommunication which can end in anger and resentment all around.

Even worse is when there's a disparity in power between the two people arguing - for example, a knight vs. a 'normal' veteran fighter. The knight gets annoyed because he feels like his experience is not being respected, and the vet resents that the knight is going to be seen as 'right' just because of his title. In reality, neither side may be 'correct' because the Book of War doesn't specify many details about required communication.

If you're not clear about what I mean, here's a culture clash I witnessed not too long ago. There are two players involved - a veteran archer and a knight. They were fighting in a bridge battle, where visibility was poor on both sides. The knight thought an arrow might have hit him, but couldn't tell in the chaos of bridge battles, so he looked to the archer for clarification. The archer, who saw the arrow contact a body tip-first but couldn't make out a specific target area, said 'point' when the knight stared at him, obviously waiting for some sort of call. And this is where the break down happened.
More than any other weapon, archers rely on culture
for their calls to be understood.
Photo © Ellie Apland
The archer said 'point' to mean "The arrow hit point first and deflected, but I couldn't see well enough to call a target area. I'm only saying anything because you're asking for clarification - I can't confirm for you a target area or that it hit nothing. Take what you felt. If you think it missed, that's okay." This is well within his rights as an archer, since they are not required to call their hits. He borrowed the word from how he learned to communicate javelin throws, indicating the hit taking is being left up to the judgement of his target.

On the other hand, the knight wasn't sure what 'point' meant when an archer used it. He may have assumed the archer may have meant "I hit you, take something." Compounded by the fact that the archer kept looking in his direction, he felt like he was being accused of cheating even though the archer wouldn't tell him what target area to take. In reality, the archer was only looking at the knight because he wanted a chance at a cleaner shot.

So what happened? A very unpleasant confrontation after the battle with both parties up in arms that they did nothing wrong. In fact, neither one did do anything wrong, but because of their different expectations around communication, they both felt like the other person was accusing them of cheating. A simple bridge battle turned into a heated situation for everyone because of a Belegarth culture clash.

To avoid unnecessary frustrations like that one, I would like to see stricter codification of language used on the field to avoid miscommunication. Short of that, perhaps it is time marshals take more control of their field and the communication that is expected on it.

Go ahead and require people to actually say 'hand', 'light', or 'garb' if there's concern your fighters are blowing off shots. Make it clear that an archer must call 'torso' instead of 'dead' when they shoot someone, so their opponents don't think think the archer is calling themselves dead. Tell your guys using javelins that they aren't allowed to call 'point' if it causes too much strife. Require that your fighters honor a courtesy strike if they are an archer or if they're hit from behind.

Where the rules have gaps, marshals can fill in and unify the culture on the field. I hope an extra bit of clarity will be enough to knock down the number of perceived slights and therefore the number of after-battle altercations. All too often, a simple difference in expected communication can grow into full-blown resentment of other fighters. More fighting on the field and less on the sidelines seems like a good goal to me.


  1. Good writing, Kri. Thanks for keeping upon the blog.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I had an experience at Equinox 2013 where i managed to flank behind archers. I stabbed softly saying "green" as i did so. The archer turned around looked at me and grabbed my glaive. I was so bewildered at what was happening I didnt try to grapple back. The archer stated I was supposed to call courtesy. In the BoW it states any compression of the tip counts as a stab, but I wasnt about to start an argument, the unit the guy belonged to was probably the largest in attendance, and ive only been in the sport a couple of years (but am a vet in others)

    This annoyed me, but I decided to just let him have my glaive, take my death, and just avoid confrontation.

    Also LOL I flanked their archers with an 8 foot glaive


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