Are you a member of the SCA Society for creative Anachronism? Have you ever been to Pennsic War?
If you’ve never heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism, it’s…. well, hard to explain. Lots of people come together for a medieval-fest and turn a building, or a huge area, back in time. Think Renaissance Faire on steroids. But in these events they won’t even let you in without proper garb.
And you don’t just get to watch. With training, you become part of the world.
I went to an event once over twenty years ago, and it was quite a treat. It had a big enough impact on me that I still think about it, and I’ve decided to feature a SCA event, the Pennsic War, in one of my novels.
Here’s my problem. I’ve never been to Pennsic War. I am trying to imagine what Cooper’s Lake park in PA looks like when 10,000 (yes, that’s ten-thousand) people from around the world converge on that one campground, to watch and take part as the East Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom meet for a week of tournament and good times. Think Olympics, Medieval style.
Heavy combat, fencing, crossbows. Oh! I get tingles just thinking about it!
Thing is, I can imagine what a campground of people in Medieval garb looks like, but anything I can come up with would just be a really good guess.
So I’m wondering. Have you been to Pennsic War? Or maybe another smaller war-like event?
Here are my questions.
- Does combat start on Friday, or is that just revelry like the opening ceremonies and the good stuff starts on Saturday?
- Do most people stay at the campground?
- Are there ever any non-SCA campers there? Are they freaked out?
- What is it like back at the campground? Do people stay garbed and “in character” for the whole week or two weeks?
- Do combatants get hurt?
- Fencing competition: Do girls fight girls and guys fight guys, or can a championship match be a guy and a girl? (Sorry that was a spoiler)
- From the event I went to, I imagine the rivalry feigned and in good fun. But is that still true? Any side-duels that might not exactly “follow the safety rules”?
- Anything you can give me would be helpful. I want this to be authentic, and do the event justice as the catalyst to send my heroine on her journey.
Oh! Do you have pictures? More pictures will be helpful.
And, as a side note, if any SCA member would like to read the SCA excerpt when I’m done to make sure I “got it” I would be eternally grateful.
(Yeah, that was probably lame. I’m sure I spelled that wrong.)
Find out more about this cool organization here: http://www.sca.org/
Just stopping back by to catch up on readers’ comments. Interesting.
Yup. Got some good info. Ya gotta love the world wide web.
Been watching that “swarm phenomenon” on the blogs. This post’s another example of it working to benefit.
If you’d like to see some photos, I’m maco_nix on Flickr and have a set called “Pennsic XL” the comment wouldn’t post with the link
1. Pennsic is two weeks long. The first week is “Peace Week” and the second is “War Week.” Fighting usually starts on Monday of War Week with a break on Wednesday.
2. Yes, most people stay on-site.
3. Yes, there are people who go only to Pennsic and not other SCA events. Some of them are vendors/merchants (in the restaurants or people who ordinarily sell at Ren Faires), and some of them are people looking to have a fun vacation away from the boring normal world. I’ve heard it compared to Burning Man, but since I know next to nothing about Burning Man, I’m going with Disney! It’s a magical kingdom, and you may not be Mickey, but you’ll put on the ears and have fun. Yes, everybody dresses up, but “won’t let you get in without proper garb” is sort of an exaggeration, since the SCA’s rule is always “a reasonable attempt at pre-17th century clothing.” “Reasonable attempt” seems to be interpreted a bit more loosely at Pennsic than other events, possibly something to do with the weather.
4. Garbed? Yes. In character….eh. There are “enchanted ground” encampments where it is full-on role playing / historical interpreting (like Colonial Williamsburg level stuff), but in a lot of encampments, “can I borrow your solar charger?” or “hey, how’s the new job going?” wouldn’t be unusual. My group had an enchanted tapestry a couple years ago…by which I mean we used a white canvas tent wall as a projector screen for a period drama. In the common areas of Pennsic, that stuff tends to go away too.
This is helpful. Thanks.
I was a member of the SCA for about ten years, a proud gentle of the Kingdom of Trimaris. (Vivat! Vivat! Vivat, Trimaris!!) I never had the pleasure of attending Pennsic, but for several years I attended the smaller SCA war event called Gulf Wars, a war between the Kingdom of Ansteorra and the Kingdom of Trimaris hosted by the Kingdom of Meridies (only in the SCA… *lol*). Gulf Wars was smaller in scale and attendance. Only about two to three-thousand at most would gather in Littleton, Mississippi each year for Gulf Wars, but there are some things on your list that I can speak to in that they are strictly established by the SCA for all simulated combat activities, and some other things that are common to the peculiar culture that has developed in the SCA over the years.
Question 1: A Pennsic schedule would obviously be your best guide here, but my expectation would be that the war would have its official opening court on the first full day (often a Saturday for war events), but people will be arriving beforehand for hours the previous evening, and for Pennsic I would expect that ‘ingathering’ to actually extend to a couple of days. At Gulf Wars, it was expected that there would be unofficial ‘pick-up’ bouts of combat on the evening before, so at Pennsic I would expect the same, just on a larger scale.
Question 2: Yes, practically all those in attendance at SCA war events will be staying in encampments on-site. Depending upon the specific site and the available amenities in the surrounding area, some sites will allow for those who require more comfortable lodging to avail themselves of more modern hospitality options. Pennsic, however, is extremely remote, so you’ll need to get in touch with someone in-the-know regarding what specific options are available there, if any, to those few who would ordinarily choose to stay off-site.
Question 3: Attendance at SCA events by non-SCA folks is extremely uncommon, primarily because the expense of attending events would be a disincentive for people to just simply show up to check it out. For Pennsic, again, multiply that disincentive by a lot. Coopers Lake, at this point, is setup to cater exclusively to Pennsic, so there won’t be any other campers there who will be surprised by thousands of screaming warriors beating dents our of their armor and their entourages banging drums till 3AM. Additionally, the risky nature of some of the activities demands that a great deal of attention be directed to the issue of liability, so the event autocrats (those in charge of the event’s administration) need to know who is on-site and what local group they are affiliated with.This includes the merchants. Even though they may or may not be society members, themselves, merchants need to register separately, and far in advance of the event.
Question 4: YES!! An unofficial maxim of the SCA is “to live the dream”, and the shared dream across the society is to feel what medieval life was like to the best of our modern ability (only with less disease and poverty). As folks arrive, they’ll be shedding their “mundane” clothing and getting into garb at the earliest opportunity and they will most likely not even see another article of modern clothing again until they put on jeans to start packing up their camp to go back home.
Question 5: As has been answered, yes. Injuries happen; and at wars, especially. The SCA, however, recognizes that some of what they do is inherently dangerous and many safety rules have been established to do everything possible to keep people doing risky things as safe as possible. But freak accidents can, and do, happen. War, even at its friendliest and safest, is a bloody undertaking.
Question 6: While there may be ladies-only fighting at some events, most events are not gender-restrictive. As of the year 2000, there was still some anti-female bias in the ranks of the knighthood (the most highly-decorated heavy-weapons fighters), but that was far less pronounced in the ranks of the light-weapons fighters (those who compete in a medieval-looking form of what the modern world calls fencing). So, I would imagine that a man and woman facing each other in a light-weapons tourney slightly uncommon based strictly on numbers, but not at all unheard-of or even that unusual.
Question 7: Yes, you’re right. There’s a slight undertone of genuine antipathy for those on the other side of a battle, but what you saw was almost entirely feigned and any disregard for opponents is all in fun. As for any side-duels that might not follow the safety rules, I’m going to say confidently that it would never, ever happen. Within the culture of the SCA, chivalry, honor, and integrity are the true ‘coin of the realm’. People take this very seriously. If one were caught engaging in such a bout they would most likely be ejected from the site and have their membership in the society revoked at the next quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors. To even suggest such a bout would be to risk being ostracized by one’s peers, and have their reputation tarnished for years.
I hope this helps! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask!
Tristan, you ROCK! This was very helpful.
I am a past SCA member, although like some of your correspondents it’s been a good many years. My suggestion would be to find out if smaller “wars” are going on near you, and see if you can afford to attend and view the proceedings. Then multiply by a factor of a zillion…
Multiply by a zillion. Ha!
Used to do medival fighting reenactment aka Dagorhir, but been years. Used to be a Renn rat too, but again…years… Always wished to have seen Pennsic. Have heard amazing stories. Know one guy in my church who used to go.
Can answer one question, people do get hurt. They try to avoid it, but rattan is still pretty hard. People definately get injured. Have heard lots of stories.
Sounds exciting. Haven`t had any experience with this. I`m sure information and support will pour in. Good luck. 😉
Wow, I wish I was still in touch with a guy I knew who was heavy into Pennsic. I mean, he went every year. He made all of his own clothing by hand. It was amazing. He had tons of pictures and knew the ins and outs of the whole event. Anyway, don’t know if you saw this site: http://www.pennsic.net/index.html but it discusses the event, what happens, how you can participate, etc. You might be able to get your info from there or contact the peeps, tell them what you’re doing, and I’m sure you’d get tons of help!! Good luck. What a great event to learn about.