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The Rule of One Weird Thing

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From a personal post by THLady Mealla Caimbeul

I was reminded this weekend that this essay has not been published. War season will start with Estrella, so let’s talk melee scenarios, shall we?

WARNING – Personal Opinion – This is not any kind of official policy. Nor is this a critique of any specific person or event. Just something I’ve been meaning to write since the last time I was responsible for melee scenarios.

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Writing a melee scenario is an art, and not an easy one – fortunately over the last twenty years or so there have been enough successful melee events that one need not reinvent the wheel each and every war. I have been playing in the SCA for over 15 years, and started as a War Dog; I have run war scenarios at least five times for Great Western War and Potrero and over that time I have formed The Universal Theory of Melee – also known as The Rule of One Weird Thing. Many of you have heard me expound on this topic, but I’ve been inspired to codify it and write it down so others can use it as a reference.

First and foremost you must understand Hoyle’s Law – no matter the game, the rules must be applied equally to all sides. Meaning that you can not change the scenario in the middle, thus applying different rules to different sides as we switch objectives and run the scenario from the other side. If something must be changed, you must start the whole scenario over so each side has the opportunity to play by the same rule set. This is doubly important if there are actual points, or any kind of score-keeping. Safety must come first, but fairness, or equality of awfulness, must come second. If the scenario is bad, so long as it is equally bad for everyone, no one will accuse anyone of playing favorites.

But let’s do our best to make good scenarios – and that it begins with the understanding there are only four basic scenarios:
  1. Kill them all
  2. Football (any ‘move the object over the goal-line’ game)
  3. Control Points
  4. Collect the Things
There are several sub-sets; for instance, “Kill the captain” is a control point game, the point is a person and you control it by killing it or keeping it alive. In Football, if the “ball” is a person, we call it an Escort battle, and so on. Almost any kind of melee game can be broken down into one of those four types of scenarios depending on the objective.
You can also add depth to any basic scenario by allowing specialty weapons – guns and spears can make a static Kill Them All scenario quite interesting, but still not “weird.” Let’s face it, if you can describe the scenario in a twitter post (140 characters) it’s not weird.

A note on Football: This is the most popular game since any scenario that involves getting a thing, or person, to a goal point is football. The simplest is getting a thing to the other side of the opponents’ line. Sometimes you start with the ball, sometimes you have to get it from the enemy, but if the main objective it to take a thing to a goal, it’s Football. But even a simple game of football can go wrong : if your teams can get to the goal without interacting with one another you have not made a melee scenario, you have made a foot race. I have seen a melee scenario where the ball was in the middle, and the goal was your team’s starting place. The scenario took two minutes and there was no fighting. A good scenario enables a majority of people to be involved in combat and attaining the objective.

A note on Collect the Things: If you are re-seeding the Things, and one side has gained a majority of ground, they should receive a majority of the Things. Otherwise, what the the point of gaining ground?

Terrain is the first kind of weirdness. Once you add something like bridges, doorways, islands and boats, a castle, etc. you are adding weirdness. These obstacles to make the scenario more complex, and interesting but remember only so many people can fit in a bridge or doorway. You don’t want to force more than two/thirds of your numbers into a non-fighting position, so make your openings large or plentiful enough to accommodate at least 1/3 to 1/2 the available fighters. Even though a gang-plank would be only 3-feet wide in the real world, if you want people to fight on them, you’ll need planks at least 6-feet across to accommodate that. If the majority of your fighters aren’t involved in the scenario and are likely to find their own entertainment, often outside the rules. You can get around this by opening a sally-port in a castle after a set time, or allowing assaulters to “blow” a wall with a grenade, or even allowing ships to drift toward one another over time. These start the scenario small, but allow for everyone to get involved with time.

Also, keep in mind it takes about two times the numbers to successfully assault a defensible position. So if you are planning a castle assault but have your forces divided in half, you will want to allow your attackers more resurrections than your defenders. A fun and easy way to run a castle siege with equal numbers is to give the attackers unlimited resurrections and they fight until the attackers raise a flag, kill all the defenders, breach the gate, etc. Then switch sides and see who accomplished the goal faster.

Resurrections are also a type of weirdness; they can be used to simulate greater numbers, and even used to balance sides. A basic, timed resurrection battle is hardly a weirdness, but if attackers get three resurrections while defenders get two, and other applications that involve fighters doing math add a layer of complications that it would in fact count as “weirdness” for this treaty.

Finally multiple objectives, or specialized rules are the most severe kind of weirdness. For instance:
  • Moveable rules, like
    • You can use guns but only on the boats.
    • MoDs can use the bridge, lower ranked fighters must use the river rocks.
    • Defenders can exit through the sally port, but attackers can’t use it until after ten minutes.
    • When attackers are off the boats, reserve forces are activated. And so on.
  • Capturing or pinning enemies.
  • Thrown weapons. Either by combatants or spectators on the side-line.
These kind of “what if” rules are difficult to remember in the midst of a battle. One is possible, but trying to keep track of your team, the enemy, the objective, and remember multiple complicated rules is much harder than you might think. Again, if your fighters don’t understand the scenario, they won’t play by it and will resort to making their own “fun.”

The Rule of One Weird Thing also applies to the scenarios as a whole too. Meaning, over the course of an event where you have multiple scenarios, you can have one that breaks these rules – one scenario that is, in and of itself, weird. If the remainder of the scenarios are easy to understand, you can have one that will take ten minutes to explain, and possibly have to be run a few times to work out the bugs. There might be some hot tempers on the field as that happens, but if they have been playing an hour or to already, and they know the next game will be easy, the odds are they won’t walk off the field and go home.

So if you have your heart set on a scenario where three sides have to cross a broken field to get to the bridge and rescue their captain while under assault from spectators throwing flaming hula-hoops, only to discover their captain has to get on a boat to collect a ransom from the enemy islands before being able to allow his guards to shoot guns…. Yeah, only have one of those.

Your job, as someone planning melee scenarios, is to see that the vast majority of fighters have good time. The easiest way to do that is to – forgive my bluntness – not make the fighters think too much. Let them spend their brainpower on strategy, teamwork, and remembering the safety conventions; not trying to remember the intricate details of your custom rules. When the field and the rules are seen as the obstacle, you have created a war where both sides are against you. But when the fighting continues easily from one game to the next, and everyone can understand the objective and obstacles easily, then everyone has a good time. If they are all smiling and exhausted at the end of the day, you’ve done your job well.

Author: Lot

Don Lot Ramirez is the Captain of the White Star and a Companion of the White Scarf of Caid among other awards, including the Vanguard of Honor and Legion of Courtesy. Mundanely, Jeff is an Online Colorist at Sonicpool in Hollywood, and he teaches classes in Historical Western Martial Arts at the Tattershall School of Defense, in Long Beach, CA.

One thought on “The Rule of One Weird Thing

  1. Damn fine article and stuff that should be taken to heart by those working to create scenarios. (Love you guys for all the work scenario building even if you don’t, but following this set of guides could help insure a win of the day for you too.)

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