First Bardic War

The First Bardic War Has Ended

Yesterday, the First Bardic War, a nine-day, round-the-world, online event, came to a conclusion. This was an event done for the first time ever, with only three and a half months to plan, by a relative skeleton crew, in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen to an unqualified triumph.

The 35 War Points were awarded between the three alliances as follows: East/Atlantia 19, Middle 13, West 3. Let me say here what I said multiple times before and throughout the event: this was basically summer camp Color Wars, and the “winners” and the “points” never really mattered. I believe firmly that no one who was on a growth path toward any level of recognition or responsibility will be held up on that path because their side did not win any given War Point.

Let me also admit here: the joy and pride I took as a general, watching our five-kingdom alliance fight their way to victory in the First Bardic War, was simply indescribable. I will do my best to savor it without being insufferable. (I think I got most of it out of my system during the online post-revel.)

So many incredible people surpassed themselves to make this war possible, and we’ll get to them in a moment. But first, let’s reflect on what made this event unique and unprecedented, and indeed so perplexing to many people when they first heard the idea:

Why was there need for a “bardic war” at all? If we wanted to have a large-scale event, why was it necessary to call it a war? And why should we crave to celebrate performers for more than a full week around the entire SCA? And promote the event so relentlessly for months beforehand? How could bards possibly want more of a spotlight than they already enjoy?

Anyone who is in the SCA and doesn’t participate in fighting activities can probably guess the answers to some of these questions. Performers are indeed welcome at most large events, and usually there is some space carved out for them to entertain people who are in the mood for that sort of thing. But no matter how you slice it, the greatest share of glory and attention in the SCA is given to our fighters, particularly our armored heavy fighters. They are the only ones eligible to earn the right to rule over a kingdom. And the largest events the SCA has, the gatherings Scadians around the world look forward to every year, revolve around those fighters: War events.

The SCA, as of this writing, hosts 7 annual interkingdom wars. They run from 5 days to two weeks (Pennsic, the largest, in Western PA), and draw in masses each year that number, sometimes, in the thousands. The wars are centered around fighting activities, but many other sorts of activities take place at them that are not fighting related. They are tribal gatherings, festivals, celebrations of community and found family. And many if not all wars have expanded the ways in which one can earn “points” toward one team’s victory, to include volunteering time, and competing in Arts & Sciences displays, among other endeavors.

But no interkingdom war, to my knowledge, has a War Point for performance of any kind. There is a widespread belief in the performance community that bards, musicians, storytellers, and other performers are consider peripheral and relatively inconsequential to the identity of the Society, and that this is reflected in these central events. (In this regard, we are far from the only SCA community to feel, at times, overlooked or undervalued. By and large, we just accept that this is the way our Society is structured, and work with what we have. It is what it is.)

So, when Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya’ said “NOW THAT IS A WAR I WOULD GO TO!… I seriously want a bardic war now,” and Hilla Stormbringer responded “This SOOOOOO needs to be an event!!!” (back in January, during what is now known, for some inexplicable reason, as “the Zoom where it happened”), the two of them were expressing a long-felt yearning among bards, in the right place at the right time. The Society was nearing 12 months without any events, including the community spirit fostered by an interkingdom war.

Some in the performance community, nevertheless, were taken aback by the use of the word “war” to describe this new event, and wondered why the event couldn’t be something else. I suspect in retrospect, many of them were concerned about the emotional stakes inherent in performance competitions, where one individual is declared the winner, which inevitably makes everyone else a loser.

Looking back over the past week, however, this is where Hilla and Laila and their staff truly knock me over with their brilliance in their conception of this event. It took me, and many other participants, a while to recognize the importance of the choices they made in their War Point rules. In the interest of minimizing barriers and being as inclusive as possible, and not favoring any given army based on the size of the field, the rules made this every bit a war, and not a bardic competition, for one critical reason above all others:

All the scoring for every War Point was averaged across each competing team. (Except for three that were based on cumulative results.) There were no individual winners. As much as we might individually invest our own egos or insecurities in terms of how well we performed in a given category, no War Point was won or lost based solely on which team fielded the biggest ringer who then scored highest. Every win was a team victory, and every score mattered. But while the staff shared how each alliance placed for each point, no raw scores, individual or cumulative, were shared out. So yes, competitors could question and scrutinize their individual performances after the fact (and the staff is going to provide competitors with contact information if they want to request feedback from the category judges), but only to a point. Because in the end, this wasn’t a competition. It was a war, and wars aren’t about whether you forgot one line or missed a beat or went off key that one time.

For all the technical challenges, and the scrambling for volunteers, and delays on this or that War Point result, the focus of the event as a whole was about people stepping up and pushing their own limits to serve something larger than themselves. They–we–were serving our kingdoms, our alliances, our artistic communities, and a Society that needed art and connection like never before.

I was honored beyond words to participate in this endeavor from a truly privileged vantage point as a general. (The acting kingdom bardic champions at the War’s inception were, for the most part, logical choices to enroll as generals, so this extended Grim’s and my overall kingdom service to a total of fifteen months as it played out.) We were privy to much of the conversation going on within the Bardic War staff, as they debated and brainstormed and reverse engineered, inventing a wholly novel format for a full-scale, incredibly inclusive, war event. We did not make the key decisions, but we learned about them first, and served as best we could as the public face of the War, sharing announcements and clarifications about rules and schedules as we learned them; taking questions back to the staff; and advocating for our competitors and their needs to be met as best the circumstances allowed. Tensions ran high and passions flared, but in the end, some of the most skeptical critics of this event became its most buoyant and enthusiastic supporters and advocates, because everyone involved was working impossibly hard in the best of good faith.

And so, having said all that, I, Drake Oranwood, retiring general of the Eastern forces, ask you to raise your glass and toast the staff with me.

  • To Hilla Stormbringer, Co-creator and Event Steward of this War, she of the hard head, firm beliefs, and devilish smile, who would not let anything stop her or this War from happening (but whose story is only hers to tell).
  • To Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya’, Co-creator and Event Steward and partner in crime, she of the clarion voice, the sandstorm wind in our sails, and prophet’s speech (I mean, did she call that result or what?), who rallied the staff each day in the face of all odds.
  • To Katrina of Coventry, War Point Coordinator, tasked with taking the ideal of fairness and turning into decisions and advocacy day after day, with good cheer backed by steely resolve.
  • To Jehanette de Lille, Volunteer Coordinator, conjuring and organizing a whole other army of moderators, hosts, judges, and teachers, through dark magics we dare not contemplate for sanity’s sake.
  • To Cerian Cantwr, Performance Coordinator, whose twinkling eyes and impish glee brought together the concert series throughout the war.
  • To Aibhilin inghean Daibhidh, Scheduling Coordinator, who answered hard questions, addressed any task that was dropped, and got things done when it seemed impossible.
  • To Margot Le Cler, Marketing Coordinator, because mustering a force is only possible if you keep the message-towers lit.
  • To Berakha bat Mira v’Shlomo, Social Media Coordinator, who assembled her own army to carry the message of war to the remotest corners of the Internet.
  • To Li Xia, Tech Director, unflappable and unshakeable, who likewise led an army that made all the Zooms happen.
  • To Maxima, Live Stream Director, who conjured the ethereal power through sorceries unknown, such that the entire Knowne World could observe these mysterious Zooms as they happened.
  • To Erlandr Skald di Norlandi, Family Activities Coordinator, who created spaces for our youth to delight in, as they are the future of the Society.
  • To Katriina Turkulainen, Exchequer, who ensured that the coffers never emptied and the ethereal electrons flowed to support the battlefield throughout.
  • To Dorothea de Beckham, Chronicler, of the sharp eye and steel trap mind, who summarized each meeting so the oaths of war would not be lost to memory.
  • To Jibril al-Gazal, Webminister, who fielded daily requests to reformat the website, make it easier to find information, update a hundred categories, and make it look pretty to boot.
  • To Ajir Tsagaan, Artisan, whose whimsical and gorgeous artwork brought the war to brilliant visual life.

Now, recharge your glasses, as I toast my partners, the East/Atlantia Generals. We bonded as a merry band over the months leading up to the war, watched each other’s backs, encouraged one another to play to our strengths, and just made each other better.

  • To Nezhka Orshinaia of Atlantia, who kept us organized and ever moving forward. If I was more visible as seeming lead general, it’s only because I’m louder and have been known in the bardic community a bit longer. There is always a strong element of luck to a successful war campaign…but luck favors the prepared, and Nezhka made sure we were prepared. (And if you missed her video dispatches during the war, you missed a real treat.)
  • To Grim the Skald of the East, long time friend, whose keen eye and long memory were invaluable in putting together the Eastern roster.
  • To Ambra Michelli of Trimaris, ever eager and full of delight, bringing her infectious enthusiasm to the fray. (Also gracious and patient as I moved past my fanboy awe for her recorded music.)
  • To Dietrich von Sachsen of Ealdormere, filled with dashing wit and unflagging commitment to his troops.
  • To Éadaoin Ruadh of Aethelmearc, ever the mercurial wild card, leading the Sylvan charge with zest and brio.
  • To Hákon hábrok of Atlantia, who supported Nezhka honorably as time and circumstances allowed.
  • To our Royals for their spirited support and trust in our unfathomable bardic ways.

Kindly refill again (come on, it’s a post-revel, we’re supposed to get a little tipsy) for one last toast.

  • To Honor von Atzinger of the Midrealm, valiant, passionate, and uplifting. She and her co-generals of the Midrealm Alliance gave us merry chase after we took a solid lead the first weekend, and fought us point for point ever after. Indeed, they took two of my most cherished War Points, the Champions Battle and Original Song of the Modern Middle Ages, for which I will one day forgive them. But in Honor I have made a lifelong friend and collaborator, which matters far more.
  • To Ruprecht Keller of the West, charismatic and audacious, who wanted a three-front war and got one, to our startlement but ultimate delight. He and his upstart co-generals won our respect and admiration long before their delightful parting shot at war’s end (yes, he wrote a Hamilton filk and they performed it together, a perfect bookend to the war).
  • To the Performers and Competitors of the East, Atlantia, Trimaris, Ealdormere, Aethelmearc, and the entire Knowne World, who astonished us all with their talents and bravery.
  • To Peregrine the Illuminator and Toki Skáldagörvir, my Peers, who kept me grounded, centered, and supported throughout the experience.
  • And down the whole glass to Jessa de Hunteleghe, my rock and other half, who supported me despite my having promised her I wasn’t going to get sucked into any more bardic projects, and forgave me in the end.

In grateful service,

Drake Oranwood, East Kingdom General (retired)

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