Undertaking events for the public is not all we’re about. We are also into a new style of historical re-enactment – Woodland based skirmishes, with no public and pure fun!

We were recently interviewed for a magazine regarding these, and you may find the following of interest:

1)      Where did the idea of starting the “skirmish” come from (LARP), or can you take the credit for it ?

It’s a bit of both.  Re-enactment has been around in one form or another for about 30 years now. Over this time, the heritage industry has become more professional, and the British public has become better educated via TV programmes such as Time Team, and the good work undertaken by historical re-enactment groups like us.  This in turn means the heritage bodies that control a lot of the premium locations and who employ re-enactment groups are becoming more demanding about what they expect as they rise to meet that challenge.

This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that where we are entertaining and educating the public we have to put the audience at the heart of what we do  – and  battles and other activities can sacrifice tactics & realism in order to ‘put on a good show’.

We started the skirmishes as a “private event” where we can put re-enactor enjoyment slap bang square and centre. Introducing a competitive element also increases the fun level without organisers worrying too much if it’s all over in ten seconds flat and leaving the public asking for their money back!

Secondly, without the constraints of a viewing arena and moving instead to a large wooded game area it allows teams to experiment with different tactics, different ways of using cover and other obstacles – all of which wouldn’t really be feasible at your average arena event.

Lastly , archers seem to have a raw deal these days. They are limited on what they can do in an arena type environment when public safety is paramount. Giving the archers a freer hand has made them extremely effective killing machines – in a skirmish game they become really quite scary if you are a man at arms advancing into the unknown and you know they are out there somewhere!

We’ve been asked a lot if it’s similar to LARP, on balance I think it bears more resemblance to a medieval version of paintball! But with a melee element as much as a missile combat element for that extra spice. So, like paintball yes – but with fixed bayonets as well!

We still retain the historical element, and will often research 15th tactics on how our ancestors attempted to deal with the differing scenarios and warfare styles we throw at our players. Some we have found to be highly effective during play testing – in some respects this really is experimental archaeology at its finest.

2)  From the basic idea, how has the script developed, by feed back or what ?

Like all gamesystems, the rules have evolved over time to ensure a good level of gameplay.  We have a number of scripts.  We created a few basic ones, which were a real success and then we let people’s creative juices flow. We’re a great believer in player led design, and others have suggested differing historical scenarios we’ve then assessed for inclusion. It’s not LARP in that we are still undertaking historical re-enactment and will try and tailor a game to what we know about the late 15th Century.

3)  Have you tried various scripts or is it a basic one with changed details?

Initially, we started with the idea of one or two dispatch runners delivering messages through enemy picket lines. This was great fun, but we quickly developed this to other scenarios.  Examples of current favourites are “Take and Hold”, where Pioneers must identify a number of strongpoints in the woods, which must then be secured for a set time by the advancing main force ; and Base capture – where each team has to capture an enemy strongpoint whilst not losing control of their own.

Some scenarios depend on the amount of participants you have that given day. What is so attractive about this setup though is that even if you have only a few people braving the winter weather then you can always find something to keep people interested &having fun, whereas two lines just slugging it out in a cold & wet field quickly becomes boring – and an incentive to find a warm pub instead.

4)  How is the winning team decided, by number of saved “hits” ?

This depends on the scenario, which will have a predefined success criteria for game end. Individual participants will have a set number of hit points depending on armour level. This is a nod to live role play in this regard and would be pretty familiar to experienced players of those sorts of systems. We also experimented with a number of different methods which we occasionally reprise as game variants just to add variety (for example, you may ignore any hit from a single handed weapon direct to plate harness) but generally we have reverted to the hit point system for speed.

Anyone familiar with 15th Century re-enactors will be aware controversy rages about the effectiveness of various melee and missile weapons against plate armour, we’ve found the hit point system works best in this regard to give those in full plate a competitive incentive to wear it in the woods, and to remove the incentive for accurate archers to shoot into the gaps in the plate on those who consider themselves to be Captain Scarlet!
5)  How do you intend to involve other members of the MSS.   a) Households against each other with league table ? b) Gradually involve members in other areas ? d) Or how ?

The MSS has a number of households within it which are essentially groups of friends. When the skirmishes first started we found we attracted a few participants from many different households, and for game balance reasons people found themselves in multi household teams from event to event, even sometimes from game to game. This was a fantastic way of breaking down barriers between households and became a highly effective social lubricant.

As more people are attending, and larger household groups are now turning out en masse we do intend for some games to be household based. We intend to keep a healthy balance, so everyone who turns up will feel fully involved – and there will always be the opportunity for some cross household dream teams to be formed!
6)  Is there a set time for the game ?

Funny you should mention this! It depends on the game and in keeping participants interested. Whilst we want the combat and tactics to be authentic, we also need to make it so if people are eliminated from the game then it’s not too long to wait before they can take part again. We have found certain scenarios to be over quicker (e.g. take and hold) whereas the dispatch runner game can go on a while if the target goes to ground (or hides up a tree!) and wants to be really sneaky.

7)  Approx  how many skirmishes would you like to run in the winter ?

We  find that a lot of re-enactors use the winter periods to catch up on home life (and all those decorating jobs they put off in the summer) so we try and find a fun/life balance for our members. We are targeting one a month between September and Easter, spread across a few locations to make it fairer on our member’s fuel bills.

8) Any other comments at present ?

If you are the sort of person who enjoys the combat at larp – this is for you!

If you are paintballer or laserquest player but have wondered if your skirmish tactics would work in a different arena of warfare – this is for you!

If you are an existing re-enactor who enjoys the medieval period but finds putting on a show a bit stale  – this is for you!

Lastly,  if you are a tabletop warrior, but have wondered how your strategies would work with real people as opposed to the roll of a dice – this is for you!

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