Friday, January 30, 2015

On Failed Squireships- by Stephen "Elder Sir Duncan" Johnson

Over the years I have squired many people and even knighted a few of them. As Sir Gunnar of Fairhaven, founder of Eagle’s Rook, I squired Myriel and Pyr Thalax, both of the Eclipse. I knighted Myriel, but my character was gone before I was able to knight Pyr. As Sir Duncan of Rhiassa I squired Cedric, Da’oud, Nagilum, and Aeston, all of Rhiassa. I hope in the coming year to become more active and maybe even take another squire or two. I have also worked with many people over the years where I felt like I was something of a mentor to them. In those relationships I tried to act as if they were my squire even if it was not a formal squireship, at least in terms of my responsibility towards them.

Perhaps it is appropriate that I start by saying that I have a hard time saying any of these squireships was a “failure”. I try not to fault others unnecessarily, as that goes hand in hand with not taking responsibility for your own actions. In the interest of taking responsibility for the times I have not done enough for my squires, I’m going to tell you a little bit about times I have failed each of them.


The player who played Myriel was the only woman I ever squired. We trained together at UMass Amherst’s Pioneer Valley Combat Club and she became a pretty good fighter over that time. Myriel, Sir Callin of Folkestone and I all wound up going on a quest into Faerie that was thrown just for me as part of the fallout from Sir Gunnar publicly questioning a Faerie Prince’s honor and challenging him. Squireships are somewhat intimate relationships, but Myriel and I certainly never crossed that line either IC or OOC. My failure, however, was a simple one. I found her very attractive and at one point I basically told her as much. We were both single at the time, and it was a line I danced along that should never be crossed. Nothing ever happened and I don’t think it affected our friendship or our squireship, but it was an awkward moment.

The lesson from that squireship I’d leave you with is that you just be careful squiring people of the gender you are attracted to. It should be a process that brings you closer but I think it is also one that should obviously stay platonic.


Pry started out in the Realms like many of us - full of boundless potential but somewhat rough around the edges. I never wound up knighting him. I set up a plot where my character had been turned into a gatekeeper in Hades and had to be rescued. Save the prince/princess/knight/maiden plots are as old as the Realms and some of the greatest stories we have ever had come from that particular trope. The quest I set up would up being so difficult that all the players that went on it were killed. It was Sunday morning of the very first Queen of Hearts event. In the wake of that “failure”, Pyr, myself and the event went on to have two decades of amazing success. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but Pyr became a Knight of the Realms like me, and a King - which was an honor I never managed to earn. I became someone Kelly Bonci once referred to as a “Legend”. That’s a word I wouldn’t have dreamed anyone would ever use to describe me. I don’t *think* she was being facetious, though I suppose she might have been drunk. Queen of Hearts has become a staple of the Realms calendar and successfully picked up the tradition of Glendale and carried it on.

The lesson from that squireship is a complicated one. I feel like I failed him as a Knight and as a friend. I effectively abandoned him when he might have really wanted to have been knighted by me and have helped make Eagle’s Rook into a long-lived and successful nation. Did I think that at the time he didn’t have what it took to be a knight? At this point given all he has accomplished that seems ludicrous but I think I had lost the ability to “see the knight in him” at that time. Did his “failure” on the quest to save Sir Gunnar help propel him to all of his later successes? If so, he didn’t fail alone (everyone died), so in reality I failed to create a quest that could be completed. He was knighted by Sir Myriel and eventually became a KoEF, a KoR, a shining examples of Knighthood in the southern Realms (if not the entire Realms) and a King.


Cedric is been gone from the Realms for many years. His squireship involved lots of combat training as well as learning how to organize and run events and how to lead. I remember Sir Blade once telling me he could easily see Cedric becoming a whitebelt if he kept up his level of involvement in the community. He wound up getting involved in the SCA and also became a dad, so Realms became less and less of a priority for him. The time I feel I may have failed him was probably at his knighting. It was really an excellent squireship but we were gearing up for QH5 - an event where we would defend Rhiassa against a Drow invasion. A knighting ceremony is something the squire should remember for the rest of their lives. Cedric’s knighting was the first one I’m aware of where the squire was killed as part of the ceremony. I also sang. I don’t have a good singing voice. The song was carefully written and afterwards Blak came up to me to tell me that it was amazing. He also said I should never ever sing in public again. I have taken that advice. I have always wondered if my attempt to create such a dramatic squiring ceremony was something Cedric in any way regretted or resented. I doubt he’d ever tell me if he did, but I’ll always wonder.

The lesson is a simple one - not all good ideas on paper are good ideas in real life. If you’re going to do something overly dramatic, be willing to run it by someone else and get their opinion first. Then if you are told that it isn’t going to work - listen. I wasn’t ever told by anyone that my plan for Cedric’s knighting was a bad idea, and I’m not sure I would have listened if I had been told. In retrospect I should have gotten someone else (maybe Sir Pyr, who is an amazing singer) to perform the song I had written.


He inherited my lands, turned into one of the top fighters in the entire community, became a Knight of the Eternal Flame and created bridges between the South and the North at a time when those were rarer than they should have been. I think if he had wanted to, he could have been a Knight of the Realms and probably even a King - though the idea might seem a little crazy to those who know him well. I don’t think there is anything he coudn’t have done if he set his mind to it. When Da’oud was my squire I suspect we both would have benefited a great deal from doing more questing and tourneying together. We have our stories, but his level of activity in the community was ramping up at a point when mine was dropping down a bit. I don’t think he ever faulted me for not playing as much as I had in earlier years, but I still feel like I let him down. Sometimes you can learn a lot more from your knight outside of events than you ever learn running around with your garb on, but it is nowhere near as much fun.

The lesson from Da’oud’s squireship is just that you really should prioritize spending time at events together. Quest. Tourney. Feast. Go to War. We did that, but I’ll always feel like I didn’t do enough. Maybe that’s because his ceiling was so high it took both Rhiassa AND Folkestone (he is a member) to fully feed his appetite for learning, growing, leading and partying.


In the second age of New Rhiassa, when Da’oud was Lord, I took Nagilum as a squire. It was a time where I was not as active as I wanted to be and felt a fair amount of guilt about not doing enough with him. One day he sent me an email with the text of some internet chat that showed some young members of Grimloch writing some deeply offensive stuff to him and about me. I was livid and shared it with the entire community. I felt it brought up legitimate questions about player safety at events if these kids meant the stuff they had written. I mostly don’t regret sharing it, but I deeply regret not driving up to New Hampshire to meet with these guys to talk about what had gone down. I felt I was too angry and the choice between spending an evening with my family or with these little shitheads was an easy one at the time. It was an overreaction. I passed up the chance to actually resolve the conflict face to face. The kids stayed in the Realms and in Grimloch and they probably still think the whole incident was pretty funny. It affects me to this day and is a major reason my wife (EH of many Feast of Rhiassas and Queen of Hearts) no longer participates in the community. I took a break from Realms for a while and pretty much left Nagilum in the lurch. I felt like nobody else cared about the issues that had come up or was willing to do anything to actively discourage the kind of bad behavior the Grimloch kids had shown. The squireship was never completed. I eventually came back, but Nagilum no longer plays. Grimloch is now a close ally of Rhiassa, thanks to Aeston’s friendships with members of that nation. The Grimloch kids even grew up a little. Funny how things turn out.

The lesson is this. Meet with people when you are angry with them. Talk with them. Work things out. If I had, it’s possible the squireship of Nagilum would have continued and been a success. Arguing that I chose family first is tempting, but the reality is that my involvement in Realms has been lessened for over a decade because my OOC wife no longer wants to be involved as an indirect result of that bad choice I made. Also - as knight you WILL make mistakes and let people down. Thinking about that now will help you to better see it later on when you are in the process of making those bad decisions. If you’re lucky you might even correct one or two of them before they get out of hand.


My last squire was Aeston. He had sworn off every squiring to anyone but somehow we were able to work together and find a way to have a successful one anyways. He wound up becoming a Knight of the Eternal Flame, a Knight of the Realms and the third Lord of New Rhiassa. Every time I thought there was no longer any way he could impress me more, he always found a way to do it. He even found a career (OOC) that I have always wanted to pursue - that of a teacher. My problem was that I took him as a squire when I was no longer active enough (see above). There was way too much that I was not there for during his rise to prominence in the Realms and there is no way I can go back and change that. The funny thing is that sometimes you have to step away to give others the room to grow. Personalities take up a kind of space, and it takes one stepping away to give others the opportunity to achieve everything they are capable of achieving. Aeston runs things differently than I run things, both in Rhiassa and in the practices we each helped to found (UConn for him, UMass Lowell for myself), but I don’t think those differences represent any failure on my part to properly teach him what I had to teach. I do think I should have found a way to be more active during those years without putting a damper on all he was doing for Rhiassa and for the community as a whole.

So am I just saying what I want to read, or am I touching upon some age-old truths in the stuff I’ve written?

I’ll leave that for you to decide.

I’ve had a long and storied career with some amazing achievements and even more amazing memories. I’ve had the honor of squiring some of the most incredible people and have supported them, mentored them, taught them and let them down. I’ve got my share of regrets. I don’t think anyone can honestly claim they don’t, but I think it is rare to see people talk honestly about them.

Let’s hope maybe I can help to change that. That’s what I have to share about failed squireships. This wasn’t super-fun to write but I hope someone out there will get something from reading it. Maybe some future squire will have a better experience with their knight because of something I was able to share here.

In service to the Realms,

 - Stephen Johnson, KoEF, KoR

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