Once I had my membership card in hand for the SCA, I began to wonder: “What exactly am I supposed to do next?”
After reaching out to our local group and meeting everyone, I was informed about the prepwork they were doing for Blackstone Raid XXV, one of the two events they host each year (and by far the bigger of the two). After many conversations and much convincing, I caved and decided to scramble to join the event not only as an attendee, but as a volunteer.
Like most conventions, the SCA events do take some prepwork. As I was only volunteering at Troll (registration), I didn’t have to worry about too much…just my entire wardrobe.
Unlike conventions and Renaissance Faires, SCA events require that an “effort be made” to wear attire fitting to the eras no later than sometime in the 1600s. As my closet is mostly filled with business casual (and more t-shirts than I need which I use for smithing), I had my work cut out for me.
Thankfully, I had a head start: I have been slowly buying garb at Faires over the years. Sadly, only the boots, belt, sporrans, and blades were valid, and a few accessories (leather vest, drinking horn, tankard, etc). Everything else ended up shrinking (an off-brand Utilikilt and a shirt) when my wife ran it through the dryer after the last Faire I attended, so I was almost starting from scratch for the important stuff.
Not to do things the easy way, I got in touch with the local members and got started. One member offered to make pants and a shirt for me in exchange for the extra fabric, so I took her up on the offer. A friend of mine offered to lend me a cloak as all forecasts were showing rain, so that was one expense spared (cloaks are EXPENSIVE). I was able to repurpose my old rapier frog for my sword, which was nice as my original plan to make one attached to a hand-forged chain fell apart.
This left me without gloves (optional), hat (I feel naked without one), scabbard for the sword, and feastware.
Due to time and lack of proper materials (i.e. properly sized steel), I bought the feastware utensils online easily enough ($20 for knife, spoon, fork, and carry pouch), and that seems to be a sound investment (especially since it shows me shapes I can hopefully reproduce later).
The hat was a bit of a challenge. When I bought the fabric for the rest of my garb, I bought some felt due to it’s texture being close to wool and got cracking. It was a total experiment, but three hours later I left with a hat. Wasn’t too confident with it, but it fit the part, at least!
My final project was to sew a sheath for my sword. I didn’t have the time (or the tools) to make a wooden case for it, so I resorted to pleather only and put it together by hand. This took far longer than expected, but it gave me a good reason to play Fate/Stay Night (the first season) in the background again.
When it comes to events, I have a new rule: if I can, I volunteer. I’ve attended too many conventions that I’d find myself helping out without actually being staff, whether it was providing entertainment (i.e. The NPC), being a go-for (usually for water), or monitoring a table. Once I heard the Barony needed volunteers for Troll and teardown, I immediately signed up. This is due in part of my nature (again, helping out) and wanting to meet people through the group (you meet everyone who is coming to the event if you stay at Troll long enough).
The event itself ran from Thursday, April 28th through Sunday, May 1st (technically). Thursday was mostly setup, Friday consisted of a handful of tournaments, Saturday was plenty of activity (combat, classes, and court), and Sunday was a packing and rolling out day.
As I had to work (and burned all of my recently accrued vacation days on Tekko), I couldn’t arrive until Friday night. This still left me with plenty to do.
On Friday night, a number of vendors were still open, but outside of that there wasn’t much going on except partying. One thing I will say: SCAdians know how to party.
I don’t mean the boozing part (there was plenty of that, though), but I do mean in general. I decided to take a walk with a friend of mine around the campground housing the event and witnessed a great deal of kindness and generosity. In a college town, you might get people yelling at you to grab a beer and insulted if you aren’t grabbing one, or you might be insulted because you’re not part of the party. Here, I was politely asked if I was interested in joining for some of the food that was made by individual groups (most visitors from outside the barony or members of “houses” would stay together), offered a drink (usually beer, but still a nice gesture), and welcomed to the SCA when I or a friend informed everyone that I was new to the group and it was my first event.
Friday was a slow evening, but it was nice to get my feet wet (and literally, at that, as it was raining) and meander around to try to meet people.
Saturday, on the other hand, was a pile of crazy. I started at Troll right when it opened (technically a bit before opening) and embraced the madness of welcoming people and signing them up. It went pretty well, as I was able to at least passingly meet a few people that I was hoping to find as well as meeting the king and queen of Aethelmearc before they donned their royal regalia. It was surely a busy time, but I would do it again, mostly because it’s like an easier version of what I already do at work.
I was let loose around lunchtime and told to enjoy the event, which I attempted to do.
For the most part, Blackstone Raid is a small event. Sure, there’s about 600-800 people, but you would never guess that. As the event spans the entire campground, there’s plenty of space for people to congregate and walk around. Some areas are more crowded than others, but it’s still easy to navigate.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the massive amount of heavy weapons combat. As it was raining sporadically (and eventually heavily), a number of fencers weren’t up for fighting in that weather, so the real focus was heavy combat in the battlefield.
After watching a few bouts of the bridge fight, I decided to migrate and check out the ranged combat section. Archery was pretty full and it looked like they were lacking loaner gear (either that or they were just THAT busy), but there were openings with thrown weapons. As I haven’t thrown a weapon in years, I decided to join in on that.
Allow me to say that learning to throw axes is a TON of fun an surprisingly satisfying. An uncle of mine taught me basic knife throwing back in high school (was never the greatest but I could at least sink a knife in when I was within 10 feet of a target), so learning the basics of axes was a blast. I am considering learning the technique a bit more because it really is fun.
From there, the rest of the day was meandering until court. There was still plenty to do, though.
The event had an two-part Arts and Science competition: a “Dirty Dozen Donation Derby” and a general competition. The Dirty Dozen was an opportunity for Blackstone artisans to showcase their work and present it to their majesties to use as largess (i.e. gifts for whomever they wish), which is a brilliant way to get our work out there. I sadly did not get a chance to participate due to time (as I would have had to make a dozen things that share a theme), but it was wonderful to see some of the artwork. In fact, the winner of the Dirty Dozen Donation Derby (literally, he won all three awards for the competition at court) was Lord Sasson della Sancta Victoria, known online as The Dark Anacrhonist. Take a look at his page for more of his artwork and crafts (he had other items entered and also recently started a coloring book).
The general competition was a standard Arts and Science competition. People crafted things and showed off their skills with whatever it was they made, ranging from knives to jewelry to metsubushi (hollow eggs filled with powder to distract opponents in combat. Lord Sasson della Sancta Victoria won an award for his metsubushi, but Brandy from Sinclair Jewelry won two of the other awards for her amazing jewelry she entered into the competition.
Other events included classes going on in the various classroom buildings throughout the day, other combat methods to watch (or take part in if you were authorized or if someone was training you; not as many due to weather), and of course the merchant’s area.
Outside of hanging out at Sinclair Jewelry, I spent a bit of time talking to Drogo from Rabelwald Metalsmything. Any chance talking with a fellow blacksmith is always nice, and Drogo is good people with impressive work ranging from simple hooks to stainless steel forks and even various blades (including axes). Take a look at this work if you don’t believe me!
The final event of Saturday was court. Many people were already packing up and leaving when court began, but as it was my first event, I wanted to take part of it. Court seems to be focused on a general address to the masses as well as acknowledging those who have done great things, whether it is an award for service, combat, or the arts. As this was the first event with the new king and queen of Aethelmearc, part of the event was the local baron and baroness pledging allegiance to the new royalty, as well as other members of the peerage doing the same (including a count that has been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive performing his speech in LATIN). It can drag on a bit and get dull (it was an hour and a half of presenting awards and swearing fealty), and seems to be why everyone packed up and left as court was beginning.
Saturday night was a repeat of Friday night, only much smaller: food, drink, and conversations abound. I called it a night early as I knew Sunday would be exhausting, but as nearly half of the attendees were already gone, I didn’t feel so bad (especially since a number of the merchants, including the food vendor, starting packing that evening to leave the following morning).
Sunday was simply a teardown day. I spent the day with fellow barony members pulling up stakes, knocking down pavilions, tearing down psuedo-fences, and loading trucks. Hot work for a hot day, but it was great to work together with people that I will be fighting alongside at events in the future.
Compared to what I was originally expecting before I joined the SCA, I was pleasantly surprised. A friend of mine in college that joined by 7th Sea games always made the SCA out to be a bunch of stuck-up purists that would shame you if you weren’t in proper attire, in character, or for any other number of reasons. It was this reason that I never bothered to join until three good friends of mine kept speaking so highly of it and tried to assure me that my fears were unmerited.
Thankfully, I listened, joined, and was pleasantly surprised. Everyone was supportive and did not pass judgement. If anything, I was given a number of compliments on my outfit, everything from my taste in vests, choice of boots, and even the hat and sword I made. No one even said a word to my wife who was walking around in black leggings, black shirt, black boots, and a purple vest/coat she bought at a Renaissance Faire. The group was surprisingly easygoing and willing to help with things, and I can see why everyone joins.
The group also wasn’t horribly strict on maintaining a period appearance. Modern tents were allowed, and it was interesting to see them side-by-side with period-inspired tents.
It was also interesting to see how people were living. Seriously. Some cabins had a large number of weapons (mostly combat-legal polearms) and shields sitting outside the cabins, the shields often denoting the house staying there or where they were from. Others had a casual feel to them, having armor side-by-side with a cooler.
Some of the party elements I’m not too fond of (too many drunks ruin things for me), but they didn’t seem to run the entire event, which was brilliant.
Will I be attending another SCA event? Absolutely. There’s something about being able to take part in all of the fun of a Renn Faire without the only appeal being shopping and people pulling their blows in combat shows. Knowing that I can watch a show of arms in mass combat and tournament forms, learn various skills (which are included in the price), take part in said combat, earn awards, party with great people, try good food (that is sometimes period) and still shop if I so choose is a win in my book. Add to this that most SCA events are rather affordable and close to half of the cost of a Faire (this was $25 for non-members for a four day event), I’ll chalk it up as a win.
Consider this my way of saying that if you like this sort of thing, you should consider joining. There are a great number of good people that attend these events and that you can learn from if you so choose, and local chapters (at least around here) are relatively laid back and welcoming to new people.
While I won’t be attending Pennsic this year (need more vacation time and want to be authorized for combat first), I am looking forward to a few other local events later this year as well as working on accruing the equipment and skills I need to enter combat (which includes more blacksmithing to possibly make my own gear). Let’s see how it goes, ne?
Until then, I have this really sweet medallion that was used to commemorate our 25th Blackstone Raid as a memento of the event.