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My mum apparently spent the weekend re-organizing her apartment, which included replacing various photos in her front-hall “rogues gallery”; that collection of photos of her extensive brood (I’m one of five, and four out of five of us are married or engaged, so there’s a lot of warm bodies at our Christmas celebrations, is what I’m saying.) As part of the reorganization, she posted an old photo of me at one of my first SCA events from about eight years ago. She attended the event with me since it was held about three blocks from her house and she was curious to see what this new hobby I’d taken up was all about.

It’s brutal, especially compared to the very fine garb The Wife™ now makes for me. The only part of that garb I still wear is the tunic, which was made for me by a friend who actually knew what she was doing, and the dagger, for which I recently made a new sheath. It’s pretty standard student-on-a-budget SCA-generic, which means “not all that medieval”, so that works out to a pretty embarrassing photo, is what I’m saying.

But it got me thinking about how far I’ve come in the SCA. From my first suit of armour to the kit I’m currently wearing, it’s all been a gradual progression towards more historically accurate portrayal. I’m still getting there, obviously, but I’m doing a lot better than I was. Part of that is luck, of course: The Wife™ is an excellent seamstress and she genuinely cares about medieval accuracy… as well as being generous enough to work her magic on me. But by and large, I feel like I’ve followed the pretty standard progression from a noob SCAdian to someone who’s actually doing medieval re-creation.

One of the major strengths of the Society, I’ve always found, is that it’s so accessible for new people. We don’t have strict rules about the level of authenticity required: the rule in the SCA is that you have to “make an attempt” at pre-17th century clothing. It’s an easy, relatively inexpensive way to get into historical re-enactment. I had a couple of friends get into black-powder re-enactment, and it costs a fortune to get your kit up to the level where you’ll be allowed to participate. The SCA, thankfully, will let anybody in the door so long as you’re trying. (Of course, the flip side of that is the people who never really make the effort at going past the bare minimum, but for the most part that sort of thing is the exception, not the rule.)

I know a couple of people in the SCA who actually don’t like the SCA all that much because of those lax acceptance standards, and also for it’s “LARP” overtones. Somewhat amusingly, one of the same people who’s made that complaint to me has also praised some of the more popular LARP organizations for their enthusiasm, before demanding to know why the SCA isn’t attracting that kind of enthusiasm from young people.

Which is actually a damned good question when you think about it… and one we should be asking ourselves.

Part of the reason that fantasy LARPs are popular, I suspect, is that they’re just fun. I’ve never LARPed, but running around a forest in costume is a hoot, trust me on that, and adding dwarves and elves and magic probably makes for a really enjoyable weekend with the right crowd. LARP combat tends to be boffer-style, so the armouring standards for (and intensity of) combat is much lower than in the SCA, something I suspect makes it much more accessible for the novice. And LARP events have something which SCA events don’t, which is a dedicated group of formal “game masters” (or “plot members” or whatever the individual group calls them) who make sure the whole thing goes off as smoothly as possible. It’s a narrative, a story, in the same way that a well-run Dungeons & Dragons session is. It’s just much more athletic than your typical cheeto-fueled D&D session, is all.

The SCA has role-playing overtones, in that we dress up and assume names and “play” being in imaginary Kingdoms, but there’s no narrative involved. You’re not going to an event to slay the dragon, or rout an orc horde, or even to change the fate of the realm — the winners and losers of a given “war” event won’t gain or cede territory (all jokes about the fate of Pittsburgh aside). The SCA largely exists to be the SCA, not to tell a story. It’s a sandbox, as much as anything else, and it tries to be the biggest sandbox possible in order to allow for the largest number of interests to be accommodated.

Neither approach is better or worse, they’re just different. Both approaches, I suspect, have their pros and cons. I’ve been considering checking out one of the local fantasy LARP groups just to see what they do differently, and because I always enjoyed playing D&D.

But I do find myself wondering how LARP rules would accommodate a suit of 14th century plate…