tournaments-art - 8/16/95
Articles on doing more authentic SCA tournaments by Arval.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.
The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
NOTE: This was obtained by me off the WWW in July 1995, although originally posted to the Rialto.
Mark S. Harris
On more Period Tournaments
Greetings from Arval!
Here are three ways to run large tournaments that re-create medieval
tournaments more closely than our normal elimination lists. I believe that
they address all the objections Tristan listed, and if they are well-run, I
think that everyone will find them to be more fun than our run-of-the-mill
A 13th century-style Ransom Tournament.
Setup: The fighting field should be large enough for the fighters to be
fighting in small, separate melees but should have an open area big enough
to hold a general melee of all fighters. At one end of the field set up the
retreat, a roped-off area in which there will be no combat. There should be
two entrances into the retreat, well-separated. Spectators can watch from
the retreat, do it might be placed in front of a hill, bleachers, stage,
Divide the fighters into two roughly equal teams, perhaps by regional
origin (e.g. Aethelmearc vs. the Midrealm, The Mists vs. the Marches).
Combat will only take place between members of opposing teams. Once the
tournament begins, fighters may enter the field as they see fit, singly or
in groups. They may fight against members of the opposing team
individually, in groups, or in a massed melee, as they see fit. It is most
authentic to begin with a general melee of two opposing lines. Fighter may
return to the retreat at any time to rest or to escape capture (though this
last tactic is of questionable honor).
The object of the tournament is to take prisoners and win ransom. A ransom
can be won in two ways:
* If a fighter yields to his opponent, then he agrees to pay a ransom; the
captured fighter is allowed to leave freely to seek other combat, and is on
his honor to deliver his ransom later in the day.
* If a fighter is subdued (i.e. "killed" in standard Society parlance),
then he is captured. His captor must escort him to the retreat. Once they
reach the retreat, the prisoner must pay ransom and wait ten minutes before
returning to combat. The captor may return immediately. (The ten minute
penalty is intended to discourage fighting to the "death" and to encourage
yielding; make it longer or shorter to fit your circumstances. Ransoms can
also be set higher to encourage yielding.)
Ransom can be set many ways. It could be pre-set by rank, with
higher-ranking fighters worht greater ransom. It can be left to the
fighters involved, with every fighter encouraged to bring suitable ransom
to see himself through the day. The latter approach requires more advance
publicity, and can offer an excellent opportunity for merchants. Ransom
could be used as a score by which the best fighter of the day is chosen; if
so, it is best accounted by the list officers in the retreat. Or the list
officers can give a prize to the best fighter, without reference to ransom.
Advantages: Fighters get exactly as much fighting as they want, in whatever
combinations they prefer, with essentially no interference from the list
officers. The tournament requires minimal work to run: Enough marshals to
oversee the combat, plus a few people in the retreat to assist in
ransoming, time "death" penalties, etc. Spectators get to watch a variety
of combat all day long. No set time limit; the tournament can continue
until the fighters have had enough and can end whenever necessary to
accomodate other actvities of the event.
Disadvantages: No built-in climactic "final round". No built-in winner. The
tournament can have slow points: Fighters tend to wear themselves out in
the first half-hour, then take a long rest before returning to the field.
The organizers can alleviate this problem by having entertainment ready to
fill these gaps (which is exactly what happened in the tournaments of the
early 13th century). The retreat can be a place for dancing, singing, and
feasting rather than just a place to dump sweaty armor.
A 14th Century-style Passage of Arms: A Shield-Tree Tournament
Hang four shields from a shield tree (made as elaborately as you can
manage) at one end of the list field. Each shield should be painted to
represent combat with a different weapon-form. A fighter will strike a
shield to indicate their desire for combat in that weapons-form; someone
will accept his challenge, and the bout will be fought.
Weapons forms need not correspond to the normal meaning of that term; they
could include small group combat, axe and shield or great axe as distinct
forms, great swords at the barrier, or combat under special rules. For
example, combat could be "a outrance" versus "a plaisance"; the former
could be standard Society combat while the latter could be fought until one
opponent has landed three good blows. Another variant is to count strikes
only between the four limbs, i.e. on the head or body. Fighting "a
outrance" could also be made more risky: A fighter who loses in this style
could be made to sit out for a period of time; but either fighter could
yield to avoid this penalty. They would thus risk a penalty in pursuit of
Note: In this sort of tournament, combat at the barrier works very well.
The barrier should be a study fence, about belly height, placed between the
fighters. They are allowed to strike only across the barrier. Spears or
great weapons at the barrier can be lots of fun for everyone. A wider
barrier can be used for small-group combat to good effect.
A clerk should be assigned to each shield to record challenges, match up
bouts, and keep things running. Fighters should be encouraged to hire
heralds to deliver their challenges, cry their battle cries, and proclaim
their feats of arms. Any fighter who wishes to offer a special challenge
not accomodated by the shields could have his herald announce his
challenge. For example: A fighter could offer to stand against the first
ten comers with single sword, fighting to the first good blow, and offer a
bottle of wine to the first to strike his head.
Prizes could be given for the best fighter with each weapons form and to
the best fighter overall; these choices could be judged by the fighters
themselves, by the ladies, by the marshals, or by any combination. Fighters
could be encouraged to come prepared to present their own prizes as they
Advantages and Disadvantages: Similar to the ransom tournament. The use of
private heralds will provide extra entertainment for everyone, especially
if fighters are encouraged to pay their heralds in proportion to the
effectiveness of their labor.
A 15th Century-style Passage of Arms.
This tournament can be fought in a relatively small area, can provide
excellent opportunities for spectators and participation for many
Set up four lists in the corners of your field or hall, large enough for
one or two bouts to be fought in each. Leave enough space around the lists
on all sides to allow spectators and fighters to pass freely without
crowding. Pre-arrange a team of fighters to take challenges in each list;
these fighters are said to be "within" the list. The other fighters
("comers") will present themselves at these lists, either in sequence or as
they see fit, to challenge the fighters within. They can challenge as many
times as they wish.
There should be a herald and clerk for each list to keep track of the
comers to each list, to match them to opponents within, and to keep the
bouts moving efficiently. The clerk could also record the winner of each
bout, but I recommend against it. Ideally, there should also be one or more
judges at each list; they could include the herald, clerk, and marshal, or
could be ladies present at the event, or anyone else. This also provides
excellent opportunities for dressing up the tournament (see below). If
space is short, it is helpful to provide space in another room where
fighters can arm, leave their gear, and rest.
This is a very basic idea, which can be embroidered in many ways. For
example, the fighters within each list could use a different weapon form
(construed liberally, as above); or could be of different levels of skill;
or could fight under slightly different rules, as above. The comers could
work their way around the four lists in sequence, or they could fight in
what lists they choose. A prize could be given for each list, perhaps on
different criteria, giving the judges something to do. A further prize
could be given to the fighter who completes the most circuits of the four
lists. A small token could be given to a fighter each time he completes a
circuit, or could be given to each fighter every time he completes a bout.
The fighters within each list could be allowed to invite exception comers
to join them within; this should be played up as a great honor.
The four lists offer lot of possibilities for ceremony and display. Each
list could have an allgorical theme; the judges and herald could be dressed
to match the theme, and the herald could open each bout with a short
invocation consistent with the theme. This tournament was originally
designed on the theme of the four seasons, but possibilities abound. The
tournament could open with a ceremony involving a lady and herald
representing each list, and could close with another short ceremony; the
presentation of prizes could be similar orchestrated. The lists themselves
could be decorated in different colors, with pennons and standards and
banners. The fighters within could wear surcoats matching the list colors
and even decorate their weapons, shields, and armor in appropriate colors.
Crests could be made for the captain of each list.
Advantages and Disadvantages: Similar to the ransom tournament. The
possible use of allegorial elements and extravagant display make this style
of tournament particularly appropriate for an event in which the tournament
is not the primary focus; the theme of the tournament can tie into the
theme of the event as a whole. Note as well that this tournament could
begin and end at any time. The tournament provides opportunity for many
people to participate as judges, in the ceremonial roles, etc. If the
tournament is held in a gymnasium, the stage could be given over to
entertainers to fill interludes in the fighting.
Re-creating period tournaments
Greetings from Arval!
A couple days ago, I offered to post a series of articles on ways to
re-create period tournaments in the SCA. I received lots of enthusiastic
I'm going to post articles on three or four types of re-creations, plus a
bibliography of references useful to someone interested in re-creating
tournaments. Today, I'd like to start by explaining what I think is
necessary in running a new kind of tournament.
A re-creative tournament can have two aims: providing lots of fighting with
less interference from the list officers, and creating a grand medieval
pageant. These two goals can be served by the same tournament, but they can
also be at odds. It is important that the participants understand what they
are trying to accomplish before they start. For example, a re-creation of a
late-period tournament might well turn out to be more ceremony and
procession than fighting; it must be understood that it is a display,
almost a piece of theater, intended more for the spectators than for the
participants. This is not the kind of tournament I am going to discuss; I'm
more interested in organizing tournaments at which the fighters get to do
all the fighting they want AND experience a piece of medieval re-creation,
and at which the spectators have more fun.
You can't hold a tournament without fighters, so the first consideration
must be giving the fighters what they want. Fighters want to fight. Most
fighters don't care so much about prizes, over-all winners, and all that;
first and foremost, they want to get in lots of fighting. Most of our
standard tournaments are focussed on winning; I think that this is a
negative influence, and I believe that many fighters recognize it as such.a
Most fighters like having some structure to a tournament, as long as it
doesn't get in the way of the fighting. This is why I'm so surprised that
the elimination tournament is so common in the SCA; it is a classic example
of the structure getting in the way of the fighting. Most fighters are
eliminated in the early rounds, they only get to fight when and where the
list officers choose, and the late rounds drag on until a winner is finally
chosen. Granted, the eliminated fighters can go off and get in some extra
fighting on their own, but I think that points out that the tournament
itself is failing to provide them what they want.
When I design a re-creative tournament, I try to consider how the fighters
will re-act to it. Are the rules too complicated to explain at the last
minute? How will they limit the fighters? How will they allow the fighters
to choose their own fights? What kind of competition do they allow? Is
there enough incentive to participate? Is there too much incentive to win?
Does the tournament allow a variety of forms of combat? Is there an
incentive to engage in the full variety? Does the tournament give the
fighters a chance to try anything new? Is there any strategic element
beyond individual performance?
The earliest medieval tournaments were essentially un-organized. they
ranged over a large, ill-defined area, for an ill-defined period of time.
Fighting was conducted wherever and whenever the combattant chose. This
set-up allowed the fighters complete freedom, but offered very little
opportunity for participation by anyone other than the combattants. As the
tournament became a popular activity in the courts of western Europe, there
grew a desire for individual combattant to display their prowess to
spectators. Too many SCA tournaments suffer the same problem: They don't
hold an audience. There are only so many times any non-fighter is going to
want to watch a series of straight-forward single combats; most of the
audience at most tournaments that I've attended is the fighters themselves
and some of their ladies/lords. The other gentles at the event usually
wander off to do something else. What a pity! The tournament was a major
form of entertainment in the Middle Ages, and it clearly wasn't just
because medieval courtiers liked to watch guys bash each other over the
head with swords. The tournaments were designed to be good entertainment.
Very frequently, our tournaments are not.
Can we get other people actively involved in the tournament? Can we add
pageantry and other features which will make them more interesting to
These questions can be a good start toward designing an effective
tournament, whether you are trying to re-create some style of medieval
tournament or not. In order to make your tournament a good re-creation, you
need some knowledge of medieval tournaments. The very best starting point
for learning about the medieval tournament is Richard Barber & Juliet
Barker, "Tournaments" (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989). This book is
a very good survey of the history and development of the tournament
throughout medieval Europe. It contains an excellent bibliography, is
heavily illustrated, and includes a good level of detail. I'll compile and
post a more detailed bibliography within the next couple weeks.
From: mittle at panix.com (Josh Mittleman)
Subject: Re-creating Period Tournaments
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 92 21:34:19 GMT
Greetings from Arval!
In this article, I'd like to discuss one way to re-create 12th century
tournaments. In this discussion, I draw heavily on the experience of Lord
Galleron de Cressy and on his article "Running a Medieval Tournament"
(Tournaments Illuminated #98, Spring AS XXVI). I recommend this article as
a starting point for anyone interested in re-creating medieval tournaments
in the SCA. It contains a brief discussion of the general history of the
tournament, descriptions of three kinds of re-creations, and a short but
In the 12th century, the tournament was a fairly simple affair: Knights,
squires, and men-at-arms (sometimes including archers!) gathered at the
tournament site on the specified date, divided themselves into two teams,
and had at it. Combat ranged over a large area. Neutral areas, or
"retreats", were marked off, within which no fighting could take place.
Combattants could take rest or refreshment in the retreats, and spectators
and heralds could observe the tournament. The immediate goal of the
combattant was to take prisoners and return them safely to the retreat for
When a winner was chosen it was by the consensus of the knights and
heralds. This was, with variations, the only way of choosing a winner up
through the end of the 15th century. The heralds, judges, principal nobles,
participants, and ladies, or some combination of the above, would simply
get together and decide who they thought had fought best that day. Besides
authenticity, this method has several advantages for our tourneys. There is
much less incentive for ignoring blows, and since a fighter is no longer
tied to a rigid elimination tree there is much more flexibility in running
the tourney and much less paperwork for the list mistress. [Galleron de
Cressy, op cit, p.26]
Re-creations of this style of tournament are frequently called "ransom
tourneys". I have run and helped run one version of the ransom tourney; I
will describe my experience in some detail, with some comments on possible
The tournament was held in a large, open field with a few trees. It could
as easily be held on a broken field, in a woods with plenty of paths and
clearings, or on any other reasonable ground. At one end, a retreat was
roped off with two well-separated gates into the field. Within the retreat
was the list table, with water & chirurgeons nearby. Spectators watched
from behind the rope marking the near end of the field. On the list table
was a large checker-board; each fighter wrote his name on a square of the
board before entering the tournament.
At the beginning of the day, the fighters were divided into two teams, a
feature common to many types of period tournament. In England and France,
the division was commonly geographic: The knights of north England faced
the knights of south England, or the knights of France faced the knights of
Brabant and Hainault. These traditional alliances were firm enough that
when a party decided to change sides, there could be serious repercussions.
This feature maps nicely into our tournaments. Fighters can be divided up
by some geographical means, by household and branch affiliation, or can
simply be allowed to divide up as they see fit. Creating two teams adds a
level of strategy to the tournament, no matter how it is run, and replaces
individual competition with group competition. I have found that this
change tends to de-emphasize winning individual bouts in favor of
cooperation and clean fighting. In this case, the fighters were allowed to
divide themselves up as they saw fit.
Each fighters was given a set number of coins which were kept on his
checkboard square. These coins were used for the ransoms, which were
pre-determined by the rank of the fighter: so much for a normal fighter,
more for a member of the kingdom fighting order, more for knight, a count,
or duke. The field was open for several hours, during which time the
fighters were free to enter the field when they wished, fight it whatever
combinations they wished, and take rests as they wished. This allowed the
fighters to mix single combat and melee, as they saw fit. Each team entered
the field through its own gate. Any fighter defeated was held to be
subdued, rather than killed. Once subdued a fighter had to follow his
captor or to stand in place while his captor was not leading him. If the
captor reached his gate with his prisoner, then he earned the ransom. On
the other hand, a prisoner could be rescued by his own team or be stolen by
other members of the captor's team. Several fighters might work together to
capture prisoners and deliver them to the gate safely.
Once a captive was returned to the retreat, his ransom was delivered to his
captors and split among them. Fighters were free to re-enter the field as
soon as the ransoms had been paid. A fighter who ran out of coin for ransom
was allowed to purchase more from the list officers (to the benefit of some
worthy charity). At the end of the day, a table filled with prizes was
brought forth. The fighter who had compiled the most coin was allowed first
pick of a gift for his lady/her lord. The other fighters chose gifts in
order of the size of their hordes.
This style of tournament has several advantages. It allows the fighters to
get all the fighting they want, in whatever form and combination they want,
with no regimentation. The need to cooperate to capture prisoners, deliver
them safely to the retreat, and rescue fallen comrades adds a strategic
element with makes the tournament more interesting for fighters and
spectators. The fighters might choose to begin with a melee, or with a
series of individual jousts, in order to please the crowd. for the group
hosting the tournament, it is trivial to run: You need a couple heralds, a
few marshals, and two or three people to run the ransom table. Spectators
can participate as judges if you choose to award a prize to the best
fighter of the day.
The most significant drawback to this tournament is that it needs a fairly
large turn-out to work effectively. The first time I saw it done, there
were about 24 fighters; that was fine at the beginning, but once they
started to take rests, things quickly slowed down. I think this tournament
would work much better with teams of 25 or 30; I'd love to try to run it
for 100 or 200 fighters! (Anybody got a free afternoon at Pennsic? :)
There are lots of possible variations. Instead of the system of coin for
ransoms, fighters can be asked to bring their own ransoms; the ransoms
themselves thereby become the prizes. Local merchants can thrive on the
ransom trade. If you take that route, it is important to provide some
generic ransom for people who forget to bring anything or who never get the
word. Note that ransoms need not be money or goods; they can be services,
works of arts, or anything else that appeals to the fighters and their
consorts. I have seen ransom tournaments where a count is kept of how many
kills a fighter has accumulated; I don't think that is a great idea, but it
is a possible variation. If your kingdom allows missile weapons, those
could be added, though light fighters (corresponding to men-at-arms) would
not be worth any ransom, and should therefore be killed and,if you wish,
The retreat can become the center of the event: Leave it open at one side,
or make it large enough and you can have dancing, music, entertainment,
classes and refreshments at the retreat. The fighters can join the
socializing between forays onto the field, and arrange jousts and melees to
please the crowd. Heralds can proclaim the deeds of the fighters and
identify them to the spectators.
In my next article, I will describe another re-creation of a 12th century
The Pride of Lions Tournament
From: mittle at panix.com (Josh Mittleman)
Subject: Re-creating Period Tournaments #3
Date: Mon, 05 Oct 92 20:10:33 GMT
Greetings from Arval!
Today I'd like to describe another attempt to re-create a 12th century
tournament, undertaken by Master Korwyn Ariannaid, Mistress Margaret
Swynford of Bristow, Lady Elaine de Montgris, and the Shire of Dragon's
Mist in September of 1991. The event was called Tournament of the Lions;
some of you may find that familiar: Master Korwyn borrowed the general idea
from an event in Ansteorra. Master Korwyn, Lady Elaine, and Dragon's Mist
ran the event again last month; my discussion is drawn from my knowledge of
the 1991 event.
The event was an attempt at consistent medieval re-creation. It was set in
the year 1188 in the city of Toulouse, and all the activities were focussed
on creating and maintaining that atmosphere. Over the preceding six months,
the organizers distributed three newsletters describing what the event was,
what sort of activities were planned, and how to participate. It gave
historical background on 12th century Toulouse, patterns for garb, and
suggestions for other preparations for the event. Much of this was
presented in the form of letters from residents of Toulouse to friends or
relatives, discussing current events, styles, and the upcoming tournament.
Also included were a bibliography of references on relevent topics, advice
for heralds, musicians, ladies, entertainers, and complete rules and
guidelines for the tournament itself. Anyone interested in seeing these
newsletters and any other material for the event should contact Lady Elaine
de Montgris, who address I can provide.
To describe the tournament, I can hardly do better than to quote the
* The Tournament of the Lions is a multiple "day" tournament, where
each "day" is a segment of combat lasting between 10 and 45 minutes.
Each day showcases specific types of combat... which are based on
tounaments and pageants of the Middle Ages. Victory in this tournament
is determined not just by the strength of arms of the fighters but
also by the courtesy of their conduct and how well they participate in
a medival tournament. Between 5 and 7 fighters from the tournament
will be chosen as the "Pride of the Lions". [Each member of the Pride
received a spear with elaborate knotwork decoration.] The Ladies'
Gallery names the first fighter to the Pride... The ruling noble,
Baron Korwyn Ariannaid, names the remainer of the Pride, with advice
from the nobility and the ladies' gallery.
* You may participate in the combats of any day. If you are wounded or
bested, you will retire from the day's combats to heal such wounds as
you have received. The sole exception to this is for those fighters
who are knocked from the bridge... If you do not feel sage with a
given day's combats, do not participate that day. You gain no worship
by hurting yourself or others.
* If you are bested in battle, surrdner your principal weapon for the
bout to your opponent. When you pay your ransom your opponent returns
* Heralds are present at each gate onto the fields of honor. If you
find that the announcement of your entry or exit from the field does
not suit your station you are free to engage a Herald of your own. The
Heralds are provided as a courtesy. Suitable pay for these Heralds, of
course, improves the quality of your announcement.
The days of combat ran as follows:
1. ) Challenges fought with limited blows. If neither fighter is bested
within three blows, the challenge may cease or they may swtich to
another weapon form. Fighters indicated their interest in accepting
challenges by setting up a shield of their arms at the list.
2. ) Challenges a cheval. Combat by lance or sword only, fought as if
riding a horse. (Discussion of that point later.)
3. ) Holding the field. Single fighters or teams hold the field until
bested or until they choose to withdraw.
4. ) Bridge battles. A fighter or team holds the bridge until bested or
until he/they withdraw. If the attacking team crosses the bridge, they
5. ) Grand melee a cheval. A melee between two teams, including all
fighters, the first passage conducted as a charge. There was a refuge
where fighters could rst in safety. Fighting continued until roughly
half the fighters had withdrawn or were bested.
6. ) Judicial combat a outrance to resolve any disputes arising in the
first 5 days. Wounds received in combat a outrance were considered to
take more time to heal, with the details being decided by the ruling
7. ) The Pride of the Lions and certain other nobles and chiivalry stand
against all others. At least three combats.
In combat a cheval, fighters were required to move as if they were on
horseback. They could not stop or turn suddenly, lest they be unhorsed. The
fighters could not move backward or sideways except slowly, and then only
for a short distance. The marshals judged when a fighter was unhorsed. Only
spears (uncouched for safety) and sword & shield were permitted in combat a
cheval. Fighters passed each other at a trot, exchanging one or perhaps two
blows per pass. Blows below the hip were considered to have struck the
horse, a foul, and the fighter who struck such a blow was withdrawn from
that day's combat. This may sound a little peculiar and very silly, but it
actually worked: The fighters found it an interesting variation, and many
of them threw themselves into the spirit of the thing, riding their
invisible horses with great skill!
What made this tournament special was the way it was presented, the way a
variety of forms of combat were combined, and the atmosphere that
surrounded it. It mixed single combat with group combat, and introduced new
ideas like limited blows and combat a cheval in a context where they made
sense, but with plenty of alterantives to please all tastes. The entire
event was carefully organized: The day started with a ceremony involving
the ruling nobles and their heralds. Heralds were coached to compete with
one another in announcing their patrons, to delight the spectators and to
entice greater rewards. Fighters were encouraged to bring and give ransoms
appropriate to their stations. Entertainers were arranged for the Ladies'
Gallery, which was placed to afford a good view of the tournament. Lots of
people devoted themselves to preserving the atmosphere with their
activities, their garb, and their manner. All this preparation drew all the
participants into the event more completely, and focussed their attention
at and around the tournament.
The form and style of the tournament drew in part from periods later than
the 12th century. The goal was not so much to hold a perfect re-creation,
but to introduce lots of people to the idea of the tournament as
re-creation, to prove that we can fight and be medieval at the same time,
and still have fun. The event proved one other important lesson: making a
tournament more medieval is more work, just like making your garb more
medieval, but it's worth it.
This article copyright 1994 by Josh Mittleman