Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson



Society: On Societies

This, the "Empire of Chivalry and Steel," is billed as a live-action medieval recreation society (I assume they didn't consider that the acronym would be LAMeRS), and they are serious about the society part of it. That's what's interesting to a lot of the people who love this stuff, not just the battlewear and mechanics of making your own chain mail at home and how to hold a wazikashi versus a bastard sword, but the proper period construction and usage of these weapons, the courtly rules, the most authentic way to make mead and get your friends drunk and possibly get their pants off. Don't get me wrong, they're interested and happy to tell you about the wazikashi (purists would note that the wazikashi is not a period-appropriate weapon for most versions of medieval whatever, though when the Oriental Adventures expansion book was published to augment second edition Dungeons & Dragons, I remember reading a sort-of-half-assed rationale involving the possibility that trade with the East might have resulted in the spillage and cross-pollination of technologies, which is all highly doubtful, but then again there's the powerful allure of having your thief character able to throw shuriken (throwing stars) and use ninja flash powder.

The LAMeRS are also interested in the economies of medieval societies, on recreating medieval crafts and semi-authentic foods. There's a lot of overlap with academia, I imagine, remembering the dude who made his own chain mail for a class project in Old English when I was in the graduate program at Iowa State University**; I believe he was writing his thesis on Tolkien, or maybe Spenser or something with a little more lit-crit street cred without crossing over into cultural studies. Renaissance Faires / Renaissance Festivals are a tourist version of these societies, built for the public to (pay to) come in and be entertained. Have a turkey leg. Drink some of Chaucer's Officiale Meade. Have a Frozen Princess Latte. Etc. But the "Empire of Chivalry and Steel" is a "not-for-profit educational corporation that studies and teaches the ideals and history of Europe between 800AD and 1650AD to the general public," which has its public component, sure. But the Galandor folks are interested in accuracy, education, specificity, a real immersion in the past, at least as much as is possible without sacrificing bathrooms, hygiene, health, and other appealing modern things.

Renaissance Festivals started more like LARPs before most of them went South to generate revenue, to provide jobs for actors who play jesters and maidens and jugglers and so on. There is a circuit for these types of people that allows them to get paid to dress up and entertain. Hey, at least it's better than getting stuck on some Disney Cruise with a couple thousand chipper people. The first real Renaissance Faire was the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, in California, which started out as an interactive educational exhibit. First, education; second, entertainment. Others copies it and gave it their spin. At some point clearly some of the participants understood the profit and tourist potential of the whole thing as people started flooding in to get another kind of theme park experience, and that's what most of them have become. First, entertainment; second, education.

But the idea of a society implies a sort of citizenship, the duties of every player, or participant, or playtron (pronounced play + patron, not like the band Ladytron), as patrons who dress up and are in character at Renaissance Faires are called. And if you take a gander at The Blade, the newsletter of Galandor, you can see the great detail that the society's bylaws and amended bylaws require. And the extent to which these people get ino character. Pretty soon you're back up at the level of debating the sexual habits of the athcoid, or gelatinous cube.

In case it is not obvious, this is all a lot of fun.

The more detailed it is, like wargames or certain board games (if you've ever played Arkham Horror, a highly complex board game based on H. P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu mythology, you'll understand: that game takes 1.5 hours just to set up*), the more realistic it is, and the more fun for a certain sort of person. And this was actually the rationale behind the split between Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D): that D&D was simplified, and only really had five boxes worth of rules. AD&D has dozens and dozens of books worth of far more complex and detailed rules. Encumbrance (a way of sorting out how much your collected loot and weapons weighed) was a particularly annoying addition, where, as in reality, the more stuff you carried on your character, the slower she moved, so you had to figure out how much your armor and weapons and spellbooks and wineskins and gold and provisions weighed versus your character's physical fitness. However, this was rarely very fun. One wanted to carry as much loot as one could find. One was, after all, fourteen. AD&D eventually went into initiative, and critical hits, and profiencies, and became increasingly abstract, like those who play in fantasy historical baseball leagues replaying classic games and trying to see what would have happened if Roger Maris had been healthy for Game X. We chucked encumbrance when we played. Probably we should have been playing D&D instead of AD&D. But who would want to play the less advanced version of anything? Those were other kinds of kids, the ones who actually read books appropriate for their age group instead of reading up and trying to find violence and porn like a reasonable person. And AD&D had more races and classes (fighter, thief, mage, paladin, ninja, cavalier, illusionist, cleric, etc.), and far more weapons and spells, and that is, after all, what you really want.

The Galandor folk are far more serious about realism than a bunch of fourteen year olds. For starters, they're adults, and they don't want to pretend. They want it to be as actual as possible without beheadings. And there are surely even more specialized groups than group Galandor that are even more serious. There is always someone more serious than you. Always someone geekier. This is a useful lesson to learn, even for geeks. It puts things in perspective quickly. Go to GEN CON (that big D&D and other role-playing convention) to have this immediately confirmed. You will feel like the coolest, most mainstream, and social kid in the room by the time you check out of the convention hotel at the end of the weekend. Or maybe not. I don't know you all that well.




* I have never actually finished playing this game. The setup time and complexity of actual play (it has 736 separate game pieces!--just in the basic set without the expansion sets, either the Black Goat of the Woods Expansion, the Dunwich Horror Expansion, the King in Yellow Expansion, the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh Expansion, the Kingsport Horror Expansion, or any of the many other future expansions!) made me want to die, or at least want a computer to handle all the game mechanics. Isn't that what we built computers for? Apparently not. There is an exceptionally serious group of board game geeks (see the website for discussion) for whom these games are the pinnacle of pleasure. Partly I imagine the appeal is that it weeds out the chumps, so the remaining few are the elite, are the dedicated, are self-selecting.

I went for a run in Sabino Canyon on the edge of Tucson moving up into the Rincon mountain range yesterday after the big rainstorm/snowstorm. The path is paved, mostly uphill, and crosses (though I didn't know this until it was too late) the wash nine times. When it snows on the mountain, the water rushes over the road. This means that in order to run up to the end of the road you have to get across the water. 95% of the sunday hikers walking up this pathway turn around at the first crossing. I took my shoes and socks off and waded through, repeated. One of the women I talked to while we were both putting our shoes back on said, well, at least it keeps the yahoos out.


** If my wife is reading this she will realize that I stole her anecdote. In fact I dropped this class after the first day. I was a lazy student. It makes me sad, and then not sad, and then sad again. (Mostly not sad.)