Friday, November 21, 2014

Fighting Erect

Fighting Erect, by Stephen Johnson
My back is very tight today, tight enough that I can already see I'm going to be popping Naproxen and lying down on the floor in my office periodically to try to get it to loosen up. It's been over a year since I've had it spasm enough that I have had to pull my legs in with my hands when getting into my car, and I am glad to say that I don't think it's that bad. It's just tight enough that I can feel it even when I sit and there is no position that feels "right".
The strange thing is, I had fight practice last night and I actually had a pretty damn good night. I won the grand melee twice, beat some really good fighters - both young and old - and ran around like a maniac during some dot-the-i, cross-the-T drills.
When I headed to practice last night, my back was already achey. I went anyways, of course, and don't regret it one bit.
I noticed early on that I wasn't able to lean forwards easily when I was warming up. My stance when my back is acting up tends to become much, much better.
I fight erect.
By that, of course, I mean that I don't lean forwards. I don't have much of any mobility at the waist because if I overextend in a lunge and wind up leaning forwards too far, I risk really tweaking my lower back and having it spasm on me. That would mean having to lie down for a bit, or worse - having to skip the gym for more than a day, or having to skip the next week's practice.
I definitely think I'm a better fighter when I can lean a bit and add more movement to my fighting style. Any experienced fighter knows that an extra inch can mean the difference between a hit and a miss, and the ability to lean forwards can give you that extra inch. It's frustrating as hell that on some nights I just can't pull that off.
I think it's fascinating that my style has adapted to my injury and that I'm still able to be competitive. The funny thing is, when my back is tight and I'm "fighting erect" I think I get hit in the head less and I probably have better form. Leaning puts your head into range and is something I've long taught young fighters to avoid.
I used to ask young fighters to tell me what they would see in their mind when they pictured a Buddha. They would invariably say he was smiling but they would usually recognize that he has a big ol' belly. When you push your belly fowards, your shoulders stay back. Fighting like that will keep your shoulders and head over your hips and if you try to lunge while pushing your stomach forwards, you will wind up with remarkably good form. I would call it "happy Buddha" style in the hopes that an odd name would help it to stick in their minds.
When my back is tweaking out on me, I'm not generally very happy. It hurts or is at least distractingly uncomfortable, and keeps me from fighting to the best of my ability. I wouldn't pretend to have it as bad as other well-known (and better) fighters who also struggle with and fight through back problems, but I definitely have bad days with plenty of discomfort if not outright pain. It isn't fun and I wouldn't recommend it to a friend.
That said, I suspect that in the long run I'll be better served by continuing to call the style "happy Buddha" instead of "fighting erect".
I'm 44 and don't know how many good years of fighting I've got left in the tank, but I'm definitely at the stage of my Realms career where the last thing I really want to do is get known as "that dirty old man". Therefore, I will continue to use "happy Buddha" to remind myself and my trainees to keep their shoulders over their hips and not lean when they don't really need to.
You should too... it's a good reminder to keep your head back out of the way of those pesky head-shots that can end a fight practically before it's begun.
Yeah... but in my head? I'll be "fighting erect", baby.

10 Questions- Patrick "Saka" Bobell

Photo by Angela Gray

How long have you been playing?
I started going to WPI fight practices and events in the Fall of 2010, so I have been playing for a little over four years now. My first event was "Beyond the Hag and Hungry Goblin," the first Book of Moons event at the Citadel, and it was epic. I was dead a lot, didn't understand much of what was going on, and Rel taught me Light as my first spell and signed off on my napkin-spellbook. Good times.

How has the game changed since you've been playing?
Well, the game itself really hasn't changed that much in my short time here. There have been a few changes to the spell system and other parts of the rules, of course, but what has changed the most about the game for me is the way I see it. Each year I meet more people in the community, and now that I'm out of college I have more time to help with or play at events. I'm gradually getting a better understanding of how our game works, where it came from, and how much time and effort people put into it to create the environment for everyone else to be able to enjoy.

Who have you learned the most from?
This is sort of an insane question for me to try to answer; I've been extremely fortunate in having the opportunity to learn very many things from so many people. If I have to narrow it down, though, I'd have to say that I've learned the most from the SMAS family, from this year's group of newbies all the way up to the wonderful alums who have been helping out with practices and workshops before and after my time at WPI. They've taught me how to be a better friend, leader, role model, and person. They have helped me find my shortcomings, and let me help some of them find their own strengths. The lessons I have learned and continue to learn from my time with SMAS will stick with me wherever life takes me.

What was your best moment IC?
Photo by Jesse Gifford
There are a handful of moments that stand out to me...becoming King Cecil's Page and then Squire, joining Rua Thar Cinn and Chimeron, working hard with my team at Pressure Point, and the top-secret mission Saka went on with Larry Saurus, Rex. However, my best moment as Saka was during the quest to retrieve the Crown of Chimeron from Jonas Cooke's vault.

The twelve of us had made it far through the traps and locks and creatures guarding what Cooke stored within, but we still had a long way to go. Most of us were dead; to my knowledge only Monique and I were left alive, with the exception of Atticus, who was incorporeal. I don't recall what we were fighting in that room, but one of the things had me cornered on a balcony while another was advancing to attack Monique among the bodies of our friends in the courtyard below. As I backed away from my attacker, my mind raced, trying to think of a way out of this. I was coming up blank. My magic missiles were cast earlier in the fight, and all I had left was Guidance, my dagger, with which to best the monsters.

It hit me, with a sense of hopelessness and shame, that we were about to fail. We were the twelve who had been selected to restore the Crown, and the honor of our nation and ourselves, after being humiliated by Tenebrous in our own Court. With the memory of that evening came the rage that had burned within me while I watched from above my regenerating body as Tenebrous lifted the crown off my King's head and banished himself to safety. There was no way I could let such an insult stand. I looked the monster striding toward me in the eye, and it stopped in its tracks.

After that, I remember a few seconds of excruciating pain and unbridled fury. The pain quickly subsided, but my anger did not. I destroyed the creature in front of me, joined Monique, and together we quickly dispatched the rest of our foes. After the fight, my mind started to calm, and I realized that my arms had become black wings, and I could no longer speak. Instead, a strange warble came out of my...beak? My body had transformed into that of an enormous bird, and as I glanced around I saw that the majority of our foes lay folded and collapsed at impossible angles, one of them missing its head. My friends, as they were healed, looked around wide-eyed at the carnage left in my wings' wake.

As we quickly came to understand what I had done, and as I discovered what I was apparently capable of, I'll admit that I was as terrified as my friends were impressed. Looking back, that moment was transformative for me in more ways than one, and I am proud to know that I made a difference in the success of that expedition.

What was your best moment as a[n] NPC/EH/Player?
I really love NPCing, both because I get to help make the game fun for the PCs and because it's nice to mix it up with the variety of roles. Getting to run around as a rowdy goblin with friends is a blast. My favorite moment, however, was at KoEF Questing a while back when I was NPCing the Watch of Lacunae quest and *ahem*...certain individuals... repeatedly disregarded warnings from Pater Yule not to set the watch exceedingly late in the War against Bedlam. The warning was supposed to be the result for PCs who chose to go to that time, with the assumption that they would take the advice. However, since those certain individuals tried it three times, there was a little improvisation that resulted in me getting to run those individuals down as a bois in the black tide they unleashed upon the event as they ran in terror back to the tavern. It was a fun combination of getting to really sprint all-out, and seeing shock and fear in the eyes of some people who don't exhibit that sort of thing very often.

What would you like to see changed or developed more in game?
I would like to see the lines between groups of players get blurred. For a lot of people, those lines don't really exist to any significant extent, but we do sort ourselves into spellcasters and fighters, we all have our own reasons for playing the game, and there are so many different aspects of it which each of us enjoy the most. What I'm saying, I think, is that I would like to see more respect for one another, even if we don't understand or agree on certain subjects. In my experience our community does this very well on typical sources of vitriol from real life, like politics and religion. Those opinions don't diminish any individual as a player, and more importantly as a person. I'd like to see that same sort of respect extended, at least OOC, throughout the various aspects of the game as well.

What advice would you give new players?
Well, there is a lot of advice that I already give to new players who are open to it, but I think the best bit of wisdom I could offer would be simply to talk with people, as much as you can. The Realms is one of the most diverse and accepting groups of people I have ever encountered, and the best thing you can do as someone just joining is to make new friends and discover that for yourself.

What do you love most about the game?
Just about everyone answers this question with "the community," and I think a big enabling factor for our community is the wide breadth of interests and niches our game has with low barriers to entry. People in our game sew, cook, craft, fight, problem solve, write, read, learn, draw, design, lead, follow, volunteer, all while playing the same game. That creates a fantastic common ground, and that is what I love the most about our game.

Who would you like to see the next interview be with?
I would like to see interviews with Jerry Pearce, Dave Hayden, Angie Gray, Steve Yazinka, Zach Senchuk, Paul Tilton, Jay Bonci, Zack Reynolds, Alex Newbold, and Aaron Metzger. I'm pretty sure none of them have done one yet.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Belts of the Eternal Flame

Jason "Sir Aeston" Rosa

1. What year were you awarded your white belt?

It was in 2006, at that year’s Queen of Hearts.

2. Who administered "the punch" and-- be honest!!--did it hurt?

It was Seth Flagg, and surprisingly it wasn’t that bad. He punched me in such a way that the impact was not that painful but it pushed me back a bunch. I recall flying through the air much more so than being in pain.

3. Whose belt did you wear until you got your own, and how was this significant for you?

I wore Steve Johnson’s/Sir Duncan’s belt, which, of course, was very meaningful. Perhaps more than anyone else, Steve put my on my path of continuously working towards the betterment of the community. He showed me that a single individual, properly motivated, can change the entire course of the Realms solely through their effort. I’ve been running with that example ever since and endeavor to pass it on to the people who have learned from me.

4. Please describe your own belt's heraldry.

In emulation of Steve’s belt I chose to have my belt painted with the traditional diagonal stripes. The heraldry in the center is that of the nation of Vinehaeven.

5. Why did you chose that heraldry to represent you?

A couple of years prior to me receiving my belt I experienced the only true ‘burnout’ I’ve ever experienced while being a part of this game. This was somewhat aggravated by me becoming very, very ill, and having to move from the Worcester area back to my parents’ home in Connecticut to begin several months of convalescence.

Though I never doubted that I would return to the Realms, when I finally started getting better I was somewhat stymied; taking a hunk of time off made me somewhat hesitant to come back, unsure of what could have changed in that time or the welcome that I would receive after being gone.

At the same time, however, a great opportunity presented itself. Many of my hometown friends still lived in the area. They were underclassmen to me in highschool and had stayed in the area to attend community colleges or the UCONN branch campus part time while they worked. I was able to move back to my home welcomed by a group of good friends. These friends, by the way, through a very, very circuitous set of events, had a bit of Realms experience to speak of (translation: Sea Elves).

We discussed the idea at length and decided that we should all return to Realms together as a new nation, a small, tight-knit group of friends who called themselves Vinehaeven. The name and heraldry was a homage to the state flag of Connecticut, with three grape vines on it. Over the next couple of years we made some of the best memories I have as a part of the Realms, not the least of which was working together to start UCONN practice and the Oaken Guard. This was the era that I received my belt and, to me, the symbol represents the bond I have with those friends and what we achieved together in those years.

6. Who did the artwork on your belt?

Andrea Ruzzo (at the time Andrea Farr) now a loyal Rhiassan, then the Captain of the Oaken Guard.

7.  What do you remember most about your knighting?

Not a great deal. I remember that Seth spoke, and Seth pretty much always gives away the surprise while he is trying to speak on a person’s behalf, so I knew it was me before he called my name.

8.  What does being a KoEF mean to you?

To me, being a Knight of the Eternal Flame is a responsibility. A happy one, but a responsibility nonetheless. I believe that Knights of the Eternal Flame are called upon to be leaders of service, to dedicate what free time they have to moving the community forward, and to properly shepard newer players into the game, among many other duties. I believe that receiving a while belt is as much a commitment as it is a reward and that if a person receives one, it is just the beginning of their mission, not the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here's What You Missed at.... The Order of the List Invitational 2014

The Order of the List is an organization dedicated not only to the promotion of excellence in combat, but also sportsmanship and training of others.  Throughout the year, tournament event-holders can have their results certified by the  Order, meaning that the top four finishers in each tournament at a certified event are awarded a number of points, which are recorded by the Order. At the close of the "season," the top sixteen fighters with the highest number of points are invited to participate in the yearly Invitational tournament. The winner of the Invitational is then inducted into the Order of the List as a full member. 

This year the Invitational was held in Rhiassa, and the overall festive atmosphere of the tournament was  highlighted by the many banners hung around the area, as well as the pennants strung over the fighting pits. Banners representing the various participants also decorated the area, adding to the colorful array. While only the top sixteen fighters participated in the actual tournament, there was a good crowd of spectators on-hand as well to cheer on the contestants in addition to getting in a little time to do some socializing. Stewpendous put in an appearance and was delicious as per usual, especially the beef stew (Rhiassa ran up quite a tab!);  Lord Malaki of Folkestone was also selling desserts, with such tempting offerings as caramel-apple "pie-lets" and pumpkin bread slices with butter.  Grimloch Gear was also in attendance with a nice variety of items for sale. The Gilded Lion, Rhiassa's multipurpose shop/ casino, was open and taking bets, allowing spectators to place wagers on various competitors and outcomes and adding an extra layer of excitement on top of the fierce fighting. The Blackwood Casino was also on hand for those who wanted to gamble in a different way, and there was a trivia tournament for spectators that ran in three rounds throughout the day.  Syruss and Eldritch of Grimloch, two Order members, also ran a newbie or "Young Blood" tournament. Shortly before the competition started Nighthawk's contributions to the event for the past few years was recognized when he was awarded an official "Order of the List Marhsal" favor. 

The Invitational kicked off with the introduction of the competitors. Each person was presented to the crowd accompanied by specially selected theme music.  The initial seeding of this year's top sixteen competitors:

1) Wrath
5) Vuel
9) Illyana
13) XT
2) Dygen
6) Saegan
10) Graham
14) Qualoth
3) Guilliam
7) Grebinar
11) Vex
15) Kirk
4) Nos
8) William
12) Drike
16) Rillan

Round One

The first round consisted of  limited fights with a variety of weapon styles . Fights were done bracket-style, best two-out-of-three,  with the lower-seed competitors fighting the higher-seed competitors; first and second place in each weapon style tournament was decided by best three-out-of-five. Points were awarded based on the number of wins each competitor achieved, with the brackets being re-drawn before each new tournament based on each competitor's current point total at that time. These styles, in addition to the winner of each tournament, were as follows:

Sword & Dagger: Wrath
Single Short: Guilliam
Sword & Shield:  Guilliam
Hand & Half: Guilliam
Dagger: Vuel
Great Weapon: XT
Florentine: William
Sword & Marn: Guilliam

The point totals at the end of the first round, with the top eight in these standings advancing to the next level of competition:

1) Guilliam: 63
5) Graham: 29
9) Vex: 13
13) Nos: 7
2) XT: 30
6) Vuel: 27
10) Drike: 10
14) Saegan: 5
3) Dygen: 29
7) Wrath: 26
11) Quayloth: 9
15) Illy: 5
4) William: 29
8) Grebinar: 17
12) Rillan: 9
16) Kirk: 3

Round Two

The second round consisted of tournaments that were a little more involved. These fights were done round-robin style and included Single Competitor, Grimloch Grudge Match, Three Lives, Ones and Twos, and Five Points to Victory. All fights were unlimited with the exception of Five Points to Victory and parts of Grimloch Grudge Match. Some were three-out-of-five, and some were two-out-of-three.  The winners of each tournament in round two:

Single Competitor: Wrath
Ones and Twos: Wrath
Grimloch Grudge Match: Wrath
Five Points to Victory: XT
Three Lives: Wrath

The points totals at the end of the second round, with the top three in these standings advancing to the third level of competition:

1) Wrath: 62
4) Guilliam: 34
7) Vuel: 21
2) William: 40
5) XT: 31
8) Grebinar: 16
3) Graham: 39
6) Dygen: 30


All eliminated competitors now had a chance to get back into the standings. This was a limited fight that was done in large grand-melee style, with competitors garnering a point for each kill he or she made. The results were very close, with Dygen edging out XT by one point and clinching the wildcard slot. So the Top Three became the Top Four, and advanced into the third round.

Dygen: 59
Grebinar: 51
Saegan: 31
Kirk: 22
XT: 58
Nos: 46
Drike: 29

Guilliam: 54
Illy: 37
Vex: 27

Vuel: 51
Quayloth: 33
Rillan: 24

Round Three

The third round was fully unlimited and consisted of five fights: Duncan's Challenge, Three Lives, One Man Unlimited, First Seed's Choice (Sword & Marn) and Wildcard's Revenge (Sword & Dagger).  The winners of each:

One Man Unlimited: William
Three Lives: Wrath
First Seed's Choice: Wrath
Wildcard's Revenge: Dygen
Duncan's Challenge: William

The point scores at the end of round three, with the top two competitors moving on to the final round of competition: 

1) Wrath: 18*
3) Dygen: 11
2) William: 18
4) Graham: 7

*this score was tied, but as Wrath was first-seed overall going into the day, he was given the first-place slot in this round

Round Four (The "Grand Slam")

This round consisted of straight one-on-one fights between the top two; the fights were limited (by choice of the competitors) and weapon-styles were swapped after each fight.  The first competitor to win two "sets" would become the winner of round four and thus, the winner of the tournament; the first competitor to reach seven wins would win that particular "set." 

Set  1 (# of wins)
Set 2 (# of wins)

 Throughout a grueling day of non-stop fighting, Wrath emerges as the winner of the 2014 Order of the List Invitational, with William coming in second as the runner-up.  It must be pointed out that both of these combatants fought fiercely and competitively in the final round, especially in the face of some crippling leg cramps.  William and Wrath truly displayed some exceptional talent on the field. In addition, all sixteen competitors must be recognized not only for their performance during the Invitational, but also for the dedication and effort that each has put in throughout this past tournament year. Earning a spot in the Invitational is an honor that must be constantly fought for, and does not come easy. It is a testament to the impact that the Order of the List has had upon fighter culture that the competition is always so stiff each year.

Newbie Tourney

This was fought similar to the first round of the actual competition; players with three or less years in the game faced off against each other in a series of different weapon-style tournaments.  Critiques were offered by Syruss and Eldritch after each round, and the newer players were given a chance to ask questions at the end of the tournament.  The  top four finishers:

1) Crispin
3) Luke-John
2) Kwido
4) Zodiark

So that's what you missed at the Order of the List Invitational this year! Plenty of good fights to watch, plenty of time to socialize, and plenty of time to cheer on your favorite combatant! Great atmosphere, great skills on display, and great non-fighting content as well.  So don't you think you should go next year?

[Editor's note: for more information on the Order of the List, you can visit the official website at]