Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Daytripping: Embracing the New

Someone let Graham Day behind the keyboard again. Won't somebody please think of the children? Actually, that's kind of what he's writing about today - Baby Scadians, those new to the kingdom, and what we can to do help them find their place among the good gentles of Ealdormere.  

Let me start by acknowledging a simple truth: We’re all geeks. All of us. You. Me. That guy over there. The woman standing to his left. All of us. We’re all geeks about something, and that’s not a bad thing. Being a geek just means there’s something that you’re into to the extent that you’ll gleefully rabbit on about it, unashamed, with wanton abandon. Some people are sports geeks, some people are book geeks, almost everyone in the SCA is on some level a history geek, or in the very least a camping geek.

Being a geek is a good thing.

Those of you who’ve been following my SCA adventures on Lost Hemisphere, thank you. Those of you who’ve explored the blog a little further, though, will be well aware that these modern medieval times aren’t even my primary geekdom. I’m a tabletop gamer, a figurine painter, a boardgamer. I’m actually part of the volunteer corps for two different miniature game manufacturers, running demos and doing promotional work for each. I can still remember my first forays into tabletop miniatures in the late 1980’s. Yes, I’m old, but I guess the point is, I’ve been doing this for awhile now. I’ve taken my love of geeky things and turned it into a blog with a modest sized regular audience, parlayed it into an annual fundraising event that raises many denarii for charity. I’ve spent many hours sharing my love of little metal figurines with potentially interested folk, teaching them how to play the games that I like to geek about, hoping to let a little of my enthusiasm bleed off onto them (ew, that’s a grosser metaphor than I was planning) in the hope that they, too, will be hooked and find their own joy in tabletop gaming.

This brings me to my Scadian adventures in the Kingdom of Ealdormere. During the moot at Feast of the Hare the topic of attracting and retaining new players came up. This started my ruminations and has ultimately led to this bloggery. Part of my role in the tabletop gaming world is to help new players find the love of the game, so naturally I began pondering my entry into Ealdormere.

When I first started poking a stick in the hedge to see if anything nibbled on it I was very fortunate to catch the attention of His Excellency Percival de la Rocque, who was quick to answer my questions, to introduce me to other local Ealdormereans (including Her Then-Highness Lidr) and even to help me out with loaner garb so that I wouldn’t look like a complete tosspot at my first event(s). Through the contacts I made at the Kingdom A&S Faire and through the Talfrynii I started meeting other people, making other friends.

Over the course of the year I attended a Coronation, FOOL, Crown tourney, Murder Melee, the Trillium War, Lady Mary, Feast of the Hare and most recently, Wassail, and at every event I was warmly welcomed and treated as if I was already one of the family, despite my rampant newbness. I’ve sat in a couple of Feasts, served as entourage for His Highness Quilliam. While I still fumble around trying to figure out what’s what, at every turn I feel like I’ve been welcomed into the kind of family I wish I’d been part of years ago.

Frankly, it’s been awesome, and I’m delighted that my enthusiasm for all the shinies bleeds off (there’s that metaphor again) and can serve to remind established, veteran Scadians that what we do is so damn freaking cool.

Trouble is, not everyone is me.

Not everyone has the initiative to start poking around, asking questions. I had a significant advantage in knowing the soon-to-be-queen in the mundane world, so my comfort level around the crown was bolstered from the outset. Not everyone feels comfortable flouncing up to a stranger in a coronet and starting with “So, what’s with the pointy hat?”

This is where we, as established Scadians, can be mindful.

If we want to increase our numbers we need to open to exposing ourselves to the mundanes (not like that, you dirty curs) so that they can see just what it is we do, how we’re not a LARP, how we’re historical enthusiasts, artisans, accomplished athletes, a network of like-minded folk that can appreciate a non-digital world (not that that’s going to stop me whipping out the phone to take pictures). Strictly speaking my first exposure to Ealdormere was the College Royal Open Day at the University of Guelph, where a handful of Scadians answered my questions, showed me some books and let me hold a sword. I even left with a bookmark bearing my name scripted by a Laurel. Nerd times!

Point A is that Non-Scadians aren’t generally going to show up at SCA events unless they’re brought by friends, so having a presence in the broader community, getting ourselves out there, is key.

Then what of those who do come to play for the first time? Second, third? I’ve been truly blessed in how I’ve been received, but I remember a little shellshock at my first event. So many lids! Do I bow to them all? Am I even allowed to approach them and speak freely? Even with my personality some of the conversations at those first few events were awkward and nerve wracking, and I’m grateful to those who took the time to natter with me, to answer my questions. While we don’t want to overwhelm new players, we do need to make sure someone’s talking with that wallflower, someone’s actively taking their hand and walking them around the site, introducing them and explaining things. Heck, as crystal clear as it is nowadays, it wasn’t until Murder Melee when I actually clued in as to what people were referring to when they talked about Troll. Yes, I’m occasionally that clueless.

In my role as a volunteer in the gaming industry, I’m often making myself available for people to send me an email with their questions, to chat via instant messenger, to help people wrap their heads around just what they’re getting into. In my case I had Percival, Christiana, Lidr, Albrecht, Merewen and Berengar who were all very tolerant of my haranguing them.  Not everyone is that lucky.

Point B is that making sure that a new player has a buddy to help them learn the ropes, both at their first event and beyond, could make all the difference about whether or not we’ll see them at the next event. I know we have Kingdom officers for this sort of thing, but there's nothing saying we can't, as individuals within the populace, step up and be a guide for new players, and you never know which one of us will make the difference for a new player.

Sidebar: The last few courts I've been to have seen the Crown asking for new players to come up and receive a gift, a token of sorts. This is a bloody fantastic idea. I know I was borderline speechless when Queen Kaylah handed me a small silk flag bearing the populace badge at my first event; those of you who know me, think about that. Me. Unable to think of things to say. Right? RIIIGHT? If you have a handy dandy skill that could be used to add to the kingdom's largesse so that this tradition can continue, I encourage you to put that skill to work. 

I’ve loved my time with the SCA, with Ealdormere, and sharing it with the world at large is part of the reason I share the photodumps on Lost Hemisphere, ostensibly a non-SCA blog. I want people to see what we get up to, to be exposed to the sheer awesomeness. To see Ealdormereans for the wonderful populace that we are, to see that maybe the SCA is what they’ve been missing, that there’s a place for them among our ranks, that maybe they can find a home with us in these modern medieval times.

In the end, if we want new members, new players, we need to make the effort to invite them in, and then give them a reason to stay, Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have kumihimo to do… 

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