Putting it into Practice
Written by Jason Rosa for The View from Valehaven
The spring eventing season is creeping up. Soon the snows will thaw and people will begin to wake up from the long hibernation of the doldrums of winter. And with the warmer weather comes the revitalization of the fight practices that occur weekly around New England. Though many persist throughout the winter in some fashion, the longer daylight hours and nicer temperatures certainly inspire more people to venture out for an evening of exercise and enjoyment. What better time is there, then, to make a weekly fight practice a normal part of your schedule?
There are many members of this community that have not made attending a weekly fight practice a part of their routine. Of course, there are a myriad of reasons we all have in our lives that prevent us from attending a practice, even if we would otherwise choose to. Family, work, school... all of these must remain paramount. But to those of you who have the opportunity, and I know there are more than a few, and who have not yet decided that you need to make a regular fight practice (or two, or three) a part of your week; I offer the following arguments to compel you to do so.
Skill: This first one is obvious; but it needs to be said and there is more to it then you might think. If you go to practice, you will become better at fighting. Obvious, right? But, there are those who possess a mental disconnect between that cause and effect and I have never quite understood why. I have watched dozens upon dozens of freshman come into SMAC at UCONN, and the most rapid growth always occurs in those who hit practice consistently. Yes, there are plateaus that everyone hits in their growth. There are times when improvement comes more slowly and there are times where people need to push themselves harder to advance. Practice, however, always produces results. The greatest fighters in the game still go to practice weekly; that is not a coincidence, it is pure causation.
Notoriety: Becoming a better fighter is a rewarding experience on its own, but it is also a means to an end... to many ends. Yes, notoriety is the most obvious reward; the ability to win tournaments or the respect that comes with putting in a good showing and making it through a round or two. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Becoming a more competent fighter gives you access to an array of skills and experience that will make you a more well rounded member of the community on a number of levels. In this community, people have a solid conception of who the best fighters are, even a solid conception of who the fighters are that can simply be considered competent. The names of the best fighters in this game are still remembered years after they have retired or passed their prime.
NPCing: We are often called upon to NPC, and almost without fail, the most common type of NPC needed at questing events are grunts; monsters that are there to challenge the players in combat. Attending fight practice not only allows you to be more difficult to beat as a combat NPC but it gives you the experience fighting alongside others and in tactical scenarios that can help make the overall event more engaging and challenging. Being a solid combat NPC is a fantastic way to be a core contributor to any person's events. Becoming a notably good combat NPC opens up the ability to play larger and more impressive combat roles. Either way, it is an avenue, perhaps even the best avenue, to become a valuable asset to the community.
Event Staffing: Being a part of an event's staff, be it the eventholder, the magic marshal, or a head NPC, becomes easier when you have combat experience. The dynamics of fighting, of understanding the flow of combat and the overall war of attrition, becomes more obvious the more experience that you have with it. Certainly there are a wealth of experienced Realmsies who have been throwing and attending events for years and have this innate understanding. Ascertaining what challenge level is appropriate for the event scenario, choosing whether to up or down power the monsters, deciding whether or not to input a spell reset or healing boost; these are calls that you can make with more precision when you have put the time in to understand combat on a deeper level. Fight practice is an avenue to help you gain that understanding. Events that are thrown without an understanding of combat suffer for it. We have all been to events that have felt slow and unengaging. Having consistent, well planned combat encounters at your event goes a long way towards preventing that.
Generaling and Leadership: Much as above, leadership on the field cannot exist unless those leaders understand the ebb and flow of large-scale combat (large on our scale, anyway). An experienced general knows when the moment is right to push through an enemy line, understands how much attrition has occurred over the course of the battle, sees the opportunities in a strategy that others may miss. They know how to arrange the skill levels and weapon combinations in their line to best counter what they see on the other side. Most fight practices feature line battles and other forms of group combat. The more you participate in them, the greater your understanding of them will grow. Those who have been participating in that kind of group combat for a long time will tell you that this 'battlefield awareness' is one of the hardest skills to obtain, but perhaps the most valuable.
All of the above reasons have focused on the opportunities you could personally gain by being a better fighter, but the advantages to hitting a regular fight practice go well beyond what you can accomplish as an individual. Attending fight practices is an important part of the overall success of a group or nation
Fighting as a Group: There is an inherent and obvious difference watching a group that is used to fighting alongside others, and watching those who have not had that kind of practice. In a group battle, whether it be a five-man or a fifty-person line battle, there is precious little time to communicate with one another after the lay-on is called. Understanding how to react amidst the unpredictability of that battle cannot be trusted to speech. Instead, each individual on your team must have an innate awareness of one another and what each is capable of accomplishing. Forming quick, decisive, two-on-one scenarios. Taking advantage of blind-spots or distractions to enemy combatants. These cannot be fully planned before the battle is engaged, because each fight has a life that is uniquely its own. Only experience fighting alongside others will give you the personal capacity to be an asset to your group in battle. Even if your group as a whole does not attend the same practice as you do, any experience working with teammates in battle will sharpen those instincts. Those that lack them will always lose to those who do not.
Visibility: There are lots of measures that we consciously or subconsciously use to decide whether or not a nation is strong. We regard it based on the number of people on its roster, the quality of the events that it throws, the notoriety and the success of the individuals that make it up. Certainly one of the obvious metrics that we use is the number of people that it can field, in large group tournaments and even on quests. But well beyond a large group showing at one or two big events during the year, a consistent large presence at a fight practice sends an important message to the Realms about your group. It heralds the fact that you are dedicated to standing alongside one another. It speaks to your groups commitment to improvement. It gives the Realms a change to see a large number of you on a consistent basis and forces everyone to recognize that you occupy a place in the community. Groups that consistently practice together at a public practice are regarded by the Realms as having an undeniable presence.
Camaraderie: This is especially important for groups that have a population which is geographically scattered. Groups stay strong and stay committed to the national ideals based entirely on the personal bonds of friendship that form between the individual members. Close relationships are a necessity in a group that will stand the test of time. For those friendships to remain strong, they require an investment of time. There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Many successful groups have gatherings and parties on a somewhat regular basis, and in doing so they get all of their members face to face and to give them that opportunity to become closer. Fight practice is a wonderful way to accomplish those same goals. It is a weekly opportunity to get your nation together, to build off of one another and help push one another forward, and to continuously cement those vital bonds that keep a group together.
Fighter Culture: Within almost every group, and certainly within the overall community, there is a principle of ‘fighter culture'. This is not, as you might suspect, an institution for those who play fighter characters. Rather, it is the message that a nation sends that the concept of martial skill is important and intrinsically valuable. Some groups have a much stronger fighter culture than others do. That does not make them superior as nations; it is not a competition. Each group in the game is unique and has different ideals. I merely suggest that somewhere listed among those ideals should be things like honor in combat, familiarity with fighting against different combat styles, the ability to work together in large group battles, competence with a variety of weapon types. All things obtained by attending a fight practice regularly. A group that regularly attends a fight practice sends a message to their members that the combat side of the game isn't there to be ignored.
Interacting with the Community: Politics. Love them or hate them, they are a consistent part of the in-character and out-of-character parts of our game. There are thousands of types political interactions, plans, alliances, trades, information exchange... all of them happen over electronic mediums, yes, but not nearly as efficiently or as regularly as they do when people are face to face. Of course they happen every time we all go to an event together, but they also all regularly happen at practices too. Sometimes they occur to the point of distraction; taking people away from the actual combat at practice, but ideally they happen as people gather between fights or find free moments between activities. Conversations even happen while people fight next to one another in line. Being there for practice increases your nation's exposure to these interactions. It allows you to be in on the plans, to be a part of the information trade, to traffic your ideas and to become more well known. The wheels of politics never stop turning, after all, and fight practice is one of the places that they certainly spin faster.
Recruiting: What better forum is there for recruiting new people into the community and recruiting individuals into nations than through a weekly fight practice? Perhaps more than any other area, I can speak to this point with expertise. UCONN practice is currently in its eighth year and each year it has grown larger. Each year we have produced members of the community that carry within them a tremendous amount of potential to leave their mark upon our game. Certainly many have already begun doing so. Unleashing this potential does not happen randomly or due to coincidence. It happens because the people who take the time and effort to be trainers pass along their ideals and their dedication to the community through the people that learn from them. Good players come from good mentors. It is a simple and understandable relationship. Attending practice is one of the best ways to be a part of that teaching tradition. Every practice that is out there has new recruits coming in. They are all eager to learn and find their mentors and role models throughout their weeks of attending a regular practice. Recruiting new members into a nation starts with one of those mentoring relationships. I have watched members of UCONN practice and the Oaken Guard graduate into many different groups and in EVERY single case it is because a member of that group started reaching out through weekly practice.
Endurance of the Community: Every single reason that I listed above is really only one reason in the end. Every reason to go to fight practice, to mentor others, to push forward fighter culture, to increase personal or group visibility... they all amount to the same thing in the end. The viability and the endurance of the Realms community. Our game has evolved into something very special. A set of people who are dedicated to one another and the continuity of our in-game world, but also to the ideals of sportsmanship, honor, and martial skill. Many LARPS are just games that meet on designated weekends for their in-character interactions. But our community goes so much deeper than that. The time we spend with one another at practices, getting to know one another better, testing our skills against each other, teaching those who wish to learn, carrying on conversations with those we wouldn't otherwise get to see regularly... all of these things bind us much closer together than a community that just gets together to role play and fight every other weekend. The tradition of fight practice has stretched across the four decades of this community's existence. It makes up a large part of who we are as a culture of LARPers. We retain that identity as we continue this enduring custom. As some of the oldest practices in our game, like WPI, continue proudly each year. As new practices, like Greenfield, Asnuntuck, and UMASS Lowell spring up to cater to their local populations. As we bring in new blood and use their energy and enthusiasm to spur us onward. Who we are as a community can be largely found in our fight practices.
Come join us this season, won't you?