Combat Archery: Southern Spy

What I learned at Pennsic

Kungaloosh Photography

OK, I really wasn’t a spy, since I was very open about being the DEM for Gleann Abhann.  When I announced on Facebook that I was attending my first Pennsic War, one of the first requests from a fellow combat archer was to watch and report back how “it’s done” to our section of the Known World.  I was able to spend a large majority of Sunday at inspection point both getting my bolts inspected for the next day’s battle and take the orientation inspection class offered by Master Erikson to see the ammo box of horrors.  I had a lot going on, with rotations as retinue for His Highness (which was the actual reason I went to Pennsic: road trip with Holy!), but B rotated with me during the weekend, so we could both do things we wanted to do.  I had limited time to volunteer at the inspection point after the weekend, but I was able to ask questions during after battle inspections and meet a lot of great people in the community.

GA Army: 1.5 combat archers or 12% (Kungaloosh Photography)

It was a bit of a wake up call when the immediate response to my Kingdom was the complaints from Gulf Wars this year.*  At first, I thought the reference was to the poundage, as we had an especially cold Gulf Wars, and cold prods and cold muscles lead to more bruises.  As the conversation progressed, I realized the references were to ammo and the lack of standards for APDs, specifically.  Gulf Wars, for the most part, follows SCA minimum rules for Combat Archery.  The big issue with this, is that there are no specific rules for the level of damage an APD should have in order to be considered unsafe.  The rule of thumb has been, “If it will survive the next battle, and do its job as an APD, then it is still legal.”  Obviously, split APDs will not do the job properly and will fail inspection, but what about ones with minor armor nicks?  Where do we draw the line on fracture lines?  I learned the “fingernail technique” at Pennsic, which is basically, if a fingernail can be inserted into the APD fracture, then it should fail.  If the fracture is only at the surface, it is still OK.  I want to begin adopting this as a standard at Gulf Wars.

Siloflex gauge

The other APD issue we had at Gulf Wars this year was much quieter.  The kingdom cache for one of the principle kingdoms had Siloflex equivalent APDs.  Not normally an issue, but the material used was less than the standard 1.25″ OD so the kingdom DEM kindly pulled them off the field.  After the war, we were able to determine that the ID was over 1″, so they were legal at society minimums, after all.  During the Inspection Calibration class at Pennsic, I was shown this cool gauge to inspect Siloflex.  It has a 1″ dowel rod inserted into 1.25″ Siloflex, so that you can easily measure against the required minimums of both ID and OD.  I’ll be making a few of these for war, so we don’t run into the issue again.  The rest of the Box of Horrors class was great, too.  Along with seeing some of the older (no longer legal) relics, the simple run through of what we are inspecting for was helpful for me during later inspections.  There were definitely rules that I didn’t 100% agree with (see below), but the calibration allowed me to inspect to the level that Pennsic holds, regardless of my kingdom’s inspection standards.  Master Erikson takes failed ammo and replaces it with new parts to stock his box o’ horrors, and that is a practice I will begin doing as well.  Until then, I took a few pictures to create a picture book of the things I’ll prolly never see again.

The field battle – I’m on the far right, in front of Kane’s Shadow Legion shield (Kungaloosh Photography)

The rule that I still don’t understand is the rotation of Fathead blunts.  Pennsic conventions state that if a blunt rotates more than 1/8 of an inch, it fails.  This may stem to the fact that they do not distinguish between classic Baldars and the current Fatheads.  Since the classic Baldar bunts are assembled with adhesive, rotation may indicate the failure of said adhesive, and thus it makes sense to mark a classic Badlar that is rotating as a failure.  I don’t see a safety issue with Fatheads that rotate, as long as they don’t move longitudinally, especially if the tape that secures it is sound.  At Gulf Wars, we separate the styles of Baldar when inspecting, so marking failure rules for each of them shouldn’t be an issue.  In addition, the classic Baldars are beginning to show their age and separate in the middle.  Pennsic doesn’t allow any signs of separation, while the DEM council at Gulf Wars last year ruled more than 25% separated or more than one separation point.  Pennsic notes any separation as a fail.  One point I was able to bring to the folks at Pennsic was the issue of the fins on classic Baldars getting soft.  We had an incident at Gulf Wars 2 years ago where soft fins were able to penetrate the bar grills of a helmet.  Since then we have failed those blunts that have fins that can be compressed by pressure with 2 fingers and a thumb.

Yellow and gold on my bolts

Inspection piles had an extra step at Pennsic, too.  In addition to inspecting and pass/fail for ammo, Pennsic has another step:  Sorting the ammo into owner piles.  At Gulf Wars, after ammo is passed, it is laid out by runners (many times children of marshals) in rows for the archers to search and collect.  An effort is made to put “like” ammo together, but not a high effort.  At Pennsic, the ammo is pre-sorted into piles of the “like” ammo for the owner to collect.  It was interesting to see the “red” piles and “blue” piles before sorting down to smaller ammo markers.  I believe the difference is due to the paint on the ammo that indicates that it is approved for the next battle, as its the owner’s responsibility to make sure the next battle’s paint is applied by the marshals.  The owner lines up the ammo is a row for ease of spray paint.  Pennsic requires a new color of spray paint to designate initial inspection and re-inspection for the following battles, which leads to 3-4 blasts of paint per piece of ammo, leaving a unique color array left on the bolts.  I missed the last day’s battle so didn’t get the teal paint on my bolts, but I can see that after a few wars, the paint would get colorful.  I now know where the “unicorn vomit” paint on ammo hails from, and will always have a little smile when I see it.

I like the initial spray paint mark for ammo.  Let me explain my rationale.  A few years ago, we had an incident where a few obviously unfinished bolts were shot on the field.  There was no way for us to know if the rest of the quiver had been inspected or not (which would drastically change the marshal’s court ruling), so we settled for pulling all the “like” bolts off the field.  If we had spray paint to denote the quiver was inspected, only the failed ammo would need to be removed from the field.  At every war I have been to, spray paint is used to denote that a weapon was inspected and noted as passed at inspection point.  Ammo is a bit unique, where it requires inspection after each use.  Technically, other weapons require this, too, since a failed weapon wouldn’t be allowed on the field, even if it passed initial inspection earlier in the week.  The difference is that a fighter is entrusted with ensuring his weapon is OK after each battle.  Now, I still think we should have ammo re-inspections by marshals, just not spray paint for re-inspections.  I don’t think Gulf Wars needs to move to a different color of paint for each battle, but an indication of initial inspection would be helpful.  It could be at the top of the shaft where the tape anchors the blunt to the shaft to preserve the vanity of those with pretty ammo and we could make sure that only approved inspectors have the spray paint.  This wont stop those intent on cheating, of course, but nothing really stops them now.

His Highness ready for battle (Kungaloosh Photography)

The combat archery only field battle was my other magical moment in Pennsic (the other was House Bardicci).  His Highness chose not to fight in the woods (He is allergic to wasps and poison ivy), so he fought with me in the CA field battle.  One of the key differences in this battle and the CA ravine at Gulf Wars was the number of non CA fighters with shields and thrown weapons.  Once we got to the CA marshal’s tent we witnessed a ruling for shields that impacted what His Highness wanted to do.  A fighter could carry a shield and a thrown weapon or a shield and a crossbow, as long as someone else loaded the bow for him.  We sent word to the camp to bring His Highness’ shield.  The battle started a bit late, so we were really only able to fight in the first scenario since we had an appointment later that afternoon that required clean up.  It was a town battle scenario, with 5 buildings to control (4 20×20 and 1 20×40).  There wasn’t a lot of tactics discussed, so His Highness decided that we would focus on the smaller buildings on our side.  Of course, I was loading his crossbow, and trading out my own while he was a mobile shield.  We rolled through the building closest to us and made sure there were a few folks from our side to hold it before moving to the next one.  We took it easily.  His Highness then moved in front of the building to threaten the opposing archers.  He kept advancing and they kept retreating, eventually taking one of their pavises.  He was even able to roll on them, and allow both of us to shoot the other side from the flank!  I only died once and He didn’t die at all.  He had a +5 protection spell, apparently.

Kungaloosh Photography

I loved the overall schedule, too. Chivalric melee battles were Mon, Wed, Fri, with Rapier on the off days.  The Champions battles were peppered in as well, but it was nice to take alternating days off.  It was awesome to see the companionship between archers and non-archers, too.  Overall, I felt like the fighters appreciated archers more than they do in the South.  The King of the East even publicly declared that the bridge battle wins wouldn’t have been possible with the archers.  I had heard so many horror stories before attending Pennsic: only pristine ammo passes,  the war hates archers, the counting between battles slows everything down, etc.  I didn’t find this to be true, at all.  My ammo wasn’t sparkly new (I didn’t have time before war to do anything other than basic maintenance, and didn’t do a good job at that).  I did have to put my labels under clear tape (instead of strapping tape) and they want a POC name on caches.  I did note a slow down over re-spraying the bolts (hence why I don’t see a need to re-spray), but I didn’t notice recounting after battles.  My general impression is that Pennsic is more proactive about safety concerns than the Society minimums that Gulf Wars employs.  While I did not agree with the length of all the precautions I saw at Pennsic, I see where the culture of the war and the unique social structures would lead to more caution.  There are a number of non-SCA combatants on the field, and regardless of your thoughts on those groups, the simple fact that they participate in fewer events and wars makes running things through culture a dangerous plan.  Gulf Wars has roughly the same volume of ammo to inspect, with less fighters on the field, so there is no reason not to implement some of the same standards.


*Although I was not the CA MiC, as Gleann Abhann’s DEM, I still bear responsibility over this war.

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