An Amtgard Guide for the Competitive Newbie
It should be noted that this articles is very old, and that some of the things portrayed in it as no longer applicable to modern Amtgard. Most notably, the section regarding the attitude of top fighters to up-and-comers is now largely inaccurate. Amtgard has grown to have a very welcoming attitude towards up and coming fighters, which focuses a great deal on teaching and mentoring.
This article is very much an opinion piece. It is also fairly Texas-centric. I am the first to admit the last time I played in an Inter-Kingdom game there were only five kingdoms, so I cannot tell you what it is like in RW or Neverwinter. Furthermore, discussing Amtgard combat is like teaching the English language - there are a great many rules and each one tends to have an exception. Seeing that my purpose is to educate newer members I have elected to concentrate on generalities, as they will have all the time in the world to learn the corollaries on their own. As to my credentials, I am a CK Sword Knight with nine Orders of the Warrior to my credit, a Warmaster title, and a host of lesser tournament wins. I have also spent the last ten years training with some of the best Warlord and Knight of the Sword in the organization.
The most common statement I hear from new players is the proclamation that they would like to be a Sword Knight and or a Warlord. It goes without saying that the vast majority of these people get frustrated, fade away or lose interest well before they get anywhere near achieving their goal. Amongst stick jocks this scenario is something of a joke. Generally the staff-wielding newbie follows the statement by describing his persona in some way and then runs off into the woods for libations. This article is not written for that sort of person. The key word here is “competitive.” It is intended for that very small percent of new members who are serious in their desire to achieve excellence on the battlefield. That being said, it is of limited utility to casual fighters, role-players, and magic junkies. Those sorts of players should feel free to read on, I just don’t expect that it will be nearly so valuable to you. Assuming for a minute that you mean what you say, what happens now? Well, as with all things, personal excellence starts with a choice.
Taking the Red Pill:
Great fighters are not born, they are made, and the first step is deciding that you are willing to pay the price. What price, you ask? Well, you can expect to spend years perfecting your craft. Depending on your natural talent and fitness level, it can take anywhere between three and five years to really hit your stride. After you gain the skills, you will spend several more years earning and defending your reputation by slugging it out on the Inter-Kingdom ditch fields. Depending on how often you travel you will probably spend a few more years attempting to learn how to cope with other styles of play. After all, it is hard to be one of the elite when you have never encountered “Atomic Clock” or had to deal with a phalanx of howitzers.
These estimates assume you will be playing two to three times a week, and fighting almost the entire time you are at the field. They also assume that you will be fighting against people with real talent. You can only learn so much fighting individuals with less skill than you presently possess and, while it is possible to improve on your own, things go much faster when you have a teacher or serious competition. Guy Kasama is fond of describing his time competing against Wolfram and Auromax as a rocket race to the moon for a reason. Needless to say, fighting more or less often will increase or decrease the estimate proportionately. Personally I saw the most progress when I was fighting four to five times a week!
There is also the human cost to consider. If you are not in good shape, fail to wear protective equipment, or insist on running on your knees every time you get legged, you will be injured. You will also face a good deal of frustration. New players are frequently upset that they do not learn fast enough. More established fighters are upset because they feel they should be winning more often. Remember, to improve you have to fight people who are more skilled, and that means you spend a lot of time losing. Try to take it in stride and avoid the race mentality. That the person beating you nine times out of ten most certainly went through the same process. They just happened to start a few years before you did.
As your skill improves you will find that people change their attitude toward you, and not always in a positive way. This is especially true in the formative years of your career as a stick jock. During this time period the average up-and-comer’s skill level is considerably larger than his or her reputation. Casual fighters who have not shown the same degree of dedication will begin to lose to you on a regular basis and all too often they resent you for beating them. Ego can be a terrible thing, and most people are far too ready to make excuses as to why they lost than they are to dedicating time to improve themselves. The good news is that once you have earned a reputation as a superior fighter this tends to happen less frequently.
In addition to jealousy from below, you also have to deal with a certain degree of hostility from above. To your fellow stick jocks and betters you are a threat. After all, reputations are made by besting the high-end fighters that come before you, much like the gunfighters of the Old West. As I said earlier, no one likes to lose and they will not make it easy for you to supplant them. The opposition will make every effort to drive you into the ground, and rain all sorts of smack and abuse upon you in an attempt to break your spirit or establish dominance. Conversely, up-and-comers do not like being treated poorly and take great glee in returning the abuse, thus perpetuating the cycle. The “gunfighter syndrome” amuses me to no end.
Only in Amtgard could a system like this truly prosper. Mutual respect is a large part of most martial traditions, but is institutionally absent from ours. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to learn martial arts from a sensei that insisted on screaming, “I just beat the whole dojo” every time they ended a sparring session. Or trying to teach a student who refused to admit that their instructor had something to offer. Yet this sort of thing is entirely par for the course in Amtgard. To be accepted by the elite, you must first prove yourself their equal. Part of that process is beating them on the field but the other part is embracing their culture. I would therefore recommend listing to a lot of Sports Radio, and talking a great deal of smack.
The road walked by great fighters is long, dark and lit only at odd intervals by other great fighters and more often than not they are going to be your enemies. Even so, they are the only true luxury you have*. They at least understand you, and in time after you have bloodied one another often enough you are likely to become the best of friends. But until that day comes to pass, you should not expect any quarter whatsoever. Personally I don’t look down on anyone who has the sense to avoid the whole mess and play for the sheer joy of it. Just once, I would like to hear a new member say something like, “I sure do love this organization, and I want to work for its betterment, and maybe one day I can be Flame Knight.” I think the shock might kill me, and I most definitely not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.
But I digress. The point I want to convey is that this is a time-consuming and difficult process. It is not simply a matter of telling everyone you meet about your ambitions until the Monarch decides to knight you. Very few people manage to become Sword Knights and/or Warlords and those that do tend to share two traits: They all love to fight, and they all have the drive to see exactly how good they can be. At the end of the day, no one goes through all of this just to earn an award. I believe that Spyn Thrift N’than once said, “I didn’t start out to be a sword knight. I started out to be a great fighter and in the process I became a sword knight.” I could not agree more, so without further ado let’s talk about how to start down that path.
- This is paraphrased from Theodore Roosevelt in "The Wind and the Lion".
Free Your Mind:
Equipment is important, but before I break down the various styles and types of technology I want to spend a few minutes discussing mind states. The greatest hindrances to learning are past experience and personal preference. This is the reason why it is easier for children to learn new languages than it is for adults. One would think that the same would be true of new players in Amtgard. After all, they have never played, so how can they have any prejudices? Well, while they may have never picked up an ultralight before, they most certainly have read books, seen movies, played games, or even taken Martial Arts, all of which serves to form the basis of their opinion on which styles and techniques they think are best.
I cannot count the times I have seen a newbie fighting with a style or weapon that is simply not effective given our rules. Even older players fall prey to this mindset, decrying the evils of ultralight weapons, foam shields, polearms, or archery. All of these things are legitimate parts of the game, but to some people they will always be “cheap.” “Real players don’t use .” Well, they could not be more wrong. All of these examples are perfectly valid ways to play. The people who fall into this mind state are not playing Amtgard. Instead they are playing their own game where their opponents should not take their legs, use long, light weapons, or backstab, all because of their personal preference.
Established fighters cannot afford to blind themselves to the possibilities, and the best only stay that way because they are capable of adapting to new styles and kinds of equipment. Conversely new players need to unburden themselves of these preconceptions so that they can decrease their learning time. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies; the key is not allowing them to impact your performance. This is especially true where equipment is concerned. In fact, equipment is the one element of the game that players have complete control over. Serious fighters should take great care to avoid these sorts of prejudices when choosing their fighting style and tech level. For example, fighters who lack a great deal of upper body strength would benefit from using lighter weapons, while slower fighters would benefit from using larger shields.
The Tools of the Trade:
Don’t let anyone fool you - equipment matters. I don’t care if Clalibus is able to kill half the free world with the same sword he was using eight years ago. You’re not Clalibus and for that matter neither am I. Those of us who are not as athletic or lack the freakish ability of Corbin to kill people with just about anything have to worry about riding the tech curve. Fortunately for us, weapons are probably as light as they are going to get for the foreseeable future. For most of us it is really a question of deciding whether or not to use new tech or ultralight weapons and equipment. Can’t tell a Howitzers from Duck Swords? Well, read on to learn all about the three generally recognized tech levels.
Old Tech: This is the gear used by people back in the early 80’s all the way up until the early to mid 90’s. We are talking everything from thick wall PVC and couch foam, all the way up to tent pegs and vlar. Somewhere along the way they also used camp pad, solid fiberglass rods, and bamboo. Shields were made of wood or trashcan lids, and were smaller on average than they are now. Old tech weapons are heavy, slow, and hit with a lot of force. Given their mass, the people who made good use of them had to have a lot of upper body strength. Sword Knights were generally stronger than average, examples of KoS members who qualified with old tech include Nevron, M'Deth, Tholden, and Theo Blackflame.
New Tech: Equipment of this make became popular in the early to mid 90’s but that varies from kingdom to kingdom. New tech swords generally have 505 or 404-diameter kitespar core. The blades are generally made with some variety of MC, either 1900S or 2000. Fun noodle also became popular in this time, specifically in the Iron Mountains, but was generally reinforced and or strapped down to make the weapon heavier or more durable. Shields were generally made from snow sleds and tended be larger to better compensate for the faster weapons. Would-be Sword Knights still profit from being stronger than their opponents but not nearly to the degree required with Old Tech weapons. KoS members who favor New Tech weapons and equipment include Arthon, Drakknar, Clalibus, Guy Kasama, Glorious, and Ziggy.
Ultralights: Presently ultralights are the pinnacle of weapon technology. These weapons are generally made with the lighter forms of golf club shafts and fun noodle. They use a limited amount of tape, and pantyhose as opposed to a cloth cover. Weapons of this sort are made to be as light as possible. Given their construction, weapons of this type have a marked tendency to break down quickly, and constantly have to be repaired or remade. They also tend to be very long and even a 45” sword can be used effectively with only one hand. Shields have changed as well and on average are well into the medium range (27” to 30”). Also, many people prefer all foam shields that do not require separate padding. KoS members who favor weapons of this sort include Spyn Thrift N’than, Lief, and Sparhawk.
Not everyone uses the same tech level and their use as well as implementation dates vary from kingdom to kingdom. For the longest time the EH refused to use new tech weapons. Now it is just the opposite, the EH, IM and WL favor ultralights while many people in the CK stalwartly continue to use New Tech weapons. Likewise I have heard it said that many of our friends in the Burning Lands still favor old tech but that might just be slander on the part of the people Bolt regularly bludgeons like so many baby seals. Ultimately the choice of which tech level to use depends on the individual and the environment, although I would discourage anyone who wants to seriously compete from actually using Old Tech.
Tech Readout 2004:
Now that we have covered the types of equipment and materials that are available, we need to discuss the kinds of weapons that can be made out of them. Everyone has a favored style, but not all of those styles are equally effective. More experienced fighters can offset some of the disadvantages inherent to specific styles with skill but newer players do not have the same luxury. As I mentioned earlier, frustration is a major problem for young stick jocks. The fact of the matter is that people tend to enjoy the game more when they are winning, or barring that at least doing well. It therefore stands to reason that new players should use the most competitive styles available and avoid ones that will hinder their performance. This section of the guide is written for new members who have no idea what works well on the Amtgard battlefield.
Sword and Shield: It is my opinion that sword and shield is the most effective style for new players. It gives them a passive defense against just about anything and insures that they do not generally take the full brunt of polearms, Spears, Archery, or multiple opponents. In short having a shield tends to keep the average fighter alive longer than just about any other combination in the game. It also has the added benefit of being comparatively quick to learn. Even better it is one of the three styles you can expect to see in just about any tournament. All in all, it is hard to wrong with sword and shield. Even so it is not a popular style amongst new players and those that do pick it up tend to go with a small round shield. Class considerations aside, small round shields are a death sentence given the length and speed of ultralight weapons. I cannot recommend in good faith using anything less than a 27-30” round shield or the equivalent kite or heater.
Florentine: More newbies start out fighting Florentine than any other style, and I believe RA Salvatore is to blame for it. The trend is probably helped by the fact that legal swords are far easier for new members to make than other types of weapons. Regardless of the cause Florentine is a very difficult style to learn, the principle reason being that most people lack any degree of coordination with their off hand. As you can imagine this is a bit of a hindrance when fighting with two weapons. The learning curve is also negatively affected by the style’s dependence on mobility. Florentine fighters have to know when to press and when to retreat, and the average newbie seems to have a hard time learning how maneuver to their advantage. I should also mention that given the lack of a passive defense Florentinists tend to soak up a lot of free shots and projectiles. This is especially true at range and against multiple opponents. Even so, once you get past the learning curve, Florentine is a competitive style and a mainstay event in most tournaments.
Single Sword: Let me start off by saying that as much as I like this style it cannot in any way, shape or form be construed as competitive. Single sword fighters are at a great disadvantage against anyone with multiple weapons, a shield, or a longer sword. Seeing that you can fully expect to encounter all of those things on the battlefield, you should always take another weapon with you whenever possible. In only two circumstances can I recommend fighting single sword: when you have lost your primary weapon, and if you are in a tournament or ditch where everyone else is using the same thing. Using single sword in any other situation is just asking to be killed. Now that being said, single sword events are found in almost every tournament and it certainly behooves you to practice against other single swordsmen.
Quarterstaff: Astute readers will remember this style’s inclusion as a joke in the introduction. The reason for this is that staves are not remotely effective in Amtgard. No, really, do yourself a favor and leave the staff at home. Better yet, break it down to its component elements and make something useful, like a javelin.
Great Sword: Great swords suffer from the same basic problem as the staff - that is to say that they are far more effective in reality than they are in our game. Personally I have little use for them, and find that both old and new tech great swords to be of limited utility at best. They are an especially bad choice for new players who have yet to learn how to compensate for the limitations of their weapons. The only effective great swords I have seen are the ultralights made famous by Auromax and Cedric. It is probably important to note that the two of them tend to use theirs as down swords in a fashion similar to a madu. It is my recommendation that, this particular use aside, traditional two-handed great swords should be avoided.
Spear / Polearm: These weapons are ideal in a line fight, or in situations where the enemy cannot readily maneuver. The basic premise is that the weapons are so long you can engage multiple opponents at once, and in the process kill people who are not paying attention. They are of limited use in smaller battles, or in situations with a fluid line, and they can be very difficult to wield when engaged in one-on-one combat. It is my experience that polearms are all-or-nothing weapons. That is to say, they either do very well, or very poorly. They also attract a great deal of attention, so be prepared to have every shield man in Christendom charging down your throat. Some fighters like Arg, Target and Bolt have made a career out of using short polearms, but I cannot in good faith recommend them as a primary weapon for new players.
EH / IM Madu: Classically, a madu is a short spear joined with some form of shield, although the term now applies to any short spear or polearm designed to be used one-handed. Generally, madus are used to stab with and are held in the off hand. There are three basic styles of madu: IM, EH, and top spike or center grip. This particular entry focuses on the two most common, and assumes that top spike madus are a bit esoteric for your average new fighter. The classic or IM style madus generally sport a small or medium shield in additional to a short spear. They are normally used to take legs as the shield generally interferes with throwing shots higher than mid waist. EH madus, on the other hand, are generally longer and do not employ a shield. They are excellent distance weapons, and are capable of many shots and combinations denied to their IM brethren. Overall, madus are very competitive weapons, and combine many of the best traits of both Sword and Shield and Florentine. Their only real drawback is that most tournaments do not feature madu as a separate event, which leaves dedicated madu fighters with only open as a common category. Famous fighters who favor the madu include Wolfram (IM), Sparhawk (EH), and Corbin (Top Spike).
Anything involving a flail: There was a time when flails were amongst the most effective weapons in the game. Given their construction, they were frequently far lighter than the average sword, and when properly employed had the ability to blow right past shields. Many fighters who lacked upper body strength or were unable to throw wrap shots compensated for their difficulties by using a flail. In fact, they became so common and effective that the CK passed a rules clarification limiting their length to no greater than 36” equally split between the haft and the chain. Even so the flail continued to be very effective right up to the point where ultralight weapons became commonplace. Simply put, someone employing a longer or faster weapon will make mincemeat of a flail user well before they get into range. Given the present state of the game flails are best used as back up weapons or in limited formats like jugging.
Anything involving a dagger: This section includes sword and dagger, single dagger, and double dagger. Daggers are only truly useful if you intend to play a magic user in a battle game and need to save on spell points. In another occasion they are simply too short to bear serious consideration. In fact, unless the dagger fighter has magic to back them up, about the best they can hope for is a simultaneous kill. Some people are under the mistaken belief that fighting sword and dagger will somehow make them a better Florentine fighter. This is simply not true. The way to become a better Florentine fighter is to fight more Florentine! All in all, daggers should be saved for playing quick in jugging or magic users in battle games.
As you can see, it takes a good deal more than a simple proclamation to make someone a great fighter. Some of those things we have covered in this document, and others are a bit more ethereal than casual discussion allows. For those of you who are serious about becoming a better fighter, I have a few parting words of advice. First of all, pick a competitive style and spend time making it your own. Some of us go through our entire careers without picking up a different combination of weapons. There is no shame in that, and a good deal of folly in changing out styles every few weeks. Second, don’t work when you don’t have too. It can be hard enough to win against superior opponents. This is doubly true if you insist on using weapons or equipment that does not suit your playing style. Be especially wary of falling into the battle game trap - choosing equipment based on class abilities rather than effectiveness. Reputations are made on ditch fields and in tournaments, they are not made in battle games or in war. Your peers do not care how good of a scout you are. They only know that your small round shield does not cover you properly and that you are an easy kill. Third, find a sparring partner and work with them on a regular basis. As I mentioned earlier, it is easier to learn if you have someone to help you along the way. Fourth, pay attention to how other people fight. Try to remember the shots they like to throw. This information might come in handy the next time you have to fight them. Also pay attention to shots that kill you on a regular basis. Obviously if you are dying to them you need a better defense against them! Fifth, keep your chin up. It can take a long time to get where you want to be, but as long as you continue to improve you will get there.