Balancing Accuracy with Fun
by Ser Maelgrim Crowther
What is it that attracts people to this esoteric and demanding hobby? Is it the lure of wearing outlandish-looking costumes and being gawked at by strangers? Perhaps it’s the fun of trying to remember medieval names from places we’ve never visited? Maybe the thing that gets everybody excited about swordfighting is collecting bruises and bumps all over.
While these are all undeniable benefits of getting into any sort of re-enactment or re-creation group that focuses on the Middle Ages, they’re certainly not the draw one might imagine. Rather, it is people’s imaginations that drive to pursue this hobby.
Ask anybody in the MMCG—or indeed any other historically-inspired combat group. You’ll likely find that most of us who got into this did so with the hope of capturing a certain feeling. You know the one I’m talking about: it’s when you’re reading your favorite fantasy author’s newest book and the hero is kicking ass with drawn blades. It’s in one of your favorite movies when the hero and the villain are fighting atop a lightning-lit bridge next to a crumbling castle. It’s when you’re really into your video game and your character just defeated everything on the screen using their sword.
That’s the feeling that gets many of us into this: the feeling of wanting to have an adventure with our friends in parts unknown with our sword at our collective side. The instances when I have the most fun tend to be when I forget that my car is parked only half a mile away, and that I have to go back to work in a few days, and I can feel for a few moments that I’m there in Westeros.
You get the idea.
Problems arise when different points of view conflict concerning the importance of historical accuracy in our group versus the importance of creating an atmosphere that’s fun for everybody. Simply stated, most of us started out with strange notions of medieval speech, dress, names and weaponry which were more influenced by Dungeons & Dragons than by any sort of research.
As reflected in the mission statement of the MMCG, one of our chief goals is “to develop an accepting atmosphere where members can feel free to experiment within the confines of the mission.” However, the MMCG is also proud of the fact that it is a historical combat group, and not “a ‘live-role-playing’ group … we restrict our members to the real world and do not allow fantasy elements such as magic or personas that are not human.”
While not a judgment in any way about LARP groups or fantasy-based groups, this statement can be construed as contradictory to “developing an accepting atmosphere” for a group of folks who grew up immersed in stories, movies and games about Hylians, hobbits, Sithi and Cimmerians.
This article will attempt to present ways to balance the fantasy with which we all grew up with the historical accuracy that our group encourages, while hopefully retaining the feeling that makes you feel just like Alanna the Lioness or Cecil the Paladin while you’re out there fighting. It is not intended as either an exhaustive guide to historical accuracy in all facets of recreation. Neither is it intended to deride the fantasy we all enjoy—merely to suggest ways to adapt fantasy to its historical inspirations without losing the flavor that hooked our interest to begin with.
For the purposes of this article, fantasy-combat archetypes will be considered as examples of how to balance accuracy with fun, covering a wide range of approaches to combat and costuming. Theses archetypes will be the barbarian, the knight, and the ranger. This article will provide steps to deconstruct any fantasy look or feel, and recreate it within historical parameters, so if your preferred archetype isn’t present on the list, consider the following suggestions in order to adapt it.