[This is an article from Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is Copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. For copying details, see the Miscellany Introduction.]

The Enchanted Ground: A Progress Report

"Perhaps a group of friends ... could make a deliberate effort to come to events in persona, support each other in their roles, and gradually ease the people around them into doing the same. ... Perhaps at some mass event such as the Pennsic War a group of true believers could fence in a patch of enchanted ground for their encampment and let it be known that whoever came inside was undertaking to join them while he remained." TI No. 63, Summer 1982

One of the attractions some of us find in the Society is the opportunity to imagine, for at least a few hours, that we are actually medieval people in a medieval world. One problem with doing so is that many other people are playing a different and inconsistent game. It is hard to be a medieval person while answering questions about the sources for my clothes or my food, or even while the people next to me are conducting such a conversation.

Some years ago, I came up with a possible solution for this problem. Set up an encampment within which everyone stays in persona all of the time. Those who wish to discuss D&D or fighter aircraft can do it somewhere else. Those who would like to be medieval people for half an hour but not for a week can visit. If treating the Society as a joint fantasy is, as I believe, more fun than treating it as a costume party, they will enjoy themselves and the idea will spread.

I sketched the idea in a TI article, in the hope that someone would try it. So far as I know nobody did, so eventually my Lady Wife and I decided to try it ourselves. The encampment has now existed at four events-the twentieth year celebration and the last three Pennsic Wars. This article is a report on what we have learned from that experiment.

While our central objective was authentic behavior-being in persona-we felt that it would be easier to achieve that against an authentic background. One does not have to worry about how to deal medievally with Coleman lanterns and boom boxes if there are none. Our first requirement was that participants be willing to stay in persona; our second was that their equipment be reasonably period in appearance.

We located people interested in participating partly by personal contacts and partly by running ads in kingdom newsletters. At TYC, our encampment consisted of the two of us plus one household of our friends. Our first Pennsic encampment consisted of us, two members of that household, and two other couples. The encampment has remained small; at the latest Pennsic it involved fourteen people.

The geography of our encampment is very simple. Our boundary is a gold rope. At the entrance is a sign; the current version reads:

Gentles: Within these bounds the twentieth Century does not exist. You are welcome to join us. We only ask that you restrict your conversation to topics suitable to your persona.

What Works?

The idea of a clearly defined boundary works well in both directions. People who come in usually understand what we are doing and try to be a part of it. Occasionally someone who came in without noticing the sign starts talking about something inappropriate. We cannot explain the problem without ourselves dropping out of persona. The usual solution is to ask the visitor if he will take a walk with us, lead him out of the encampment, and explain the situation there.

For those in the encampment, the boundary provides both a symbol and a safety valve. While we are inside it, it reminds us of what we are doing. If we have to discuss something out of persona, we can always go out of the encampment to do it. We have not yet held an opening ceremony with a formal exorcism of the twentieth century, but I do follow a policy of not putting up the sign until the pavilions are up and the cars gone.

Another thing that works is the bardic circle, which we try to hold most evenings. Darkness hides a lot. Poems, songs, and stories performed by medieval poets, singers, and storytellers help strengthen the illusion. Most important of all, the essence of the encampment is people not tents, and around the fire at the bardic circle we are interacting as medieval people.

What Doesn't Work

My first surprise was how few people chose to participate. The fundamental reason is not the difficulty of producing period tents and gear-there are many more authentic tents outside our boundaries than in. Nor, I think, is it the lack of people interested in being in persona-as witnessed by the number of evening guests at our bardic circles. The real problem comes from one of the great strengths of the Society, the fact that, like any feudal order, it is founded on strong local bonds. Most people at Pennsic want to camp with their friends.

That cuts both ways. We may not be local, but we are friends; our encampment has become its own local group, almost its own household, even if only for one week a year. Our recruitment has been less than I expected, but our stability has been more.

It is sometimes suggested that an authentic encampment should be isolated, located far away from everything else to preserve its purity. In our opinion, that is a serious mistake. People in our encampment, like people in every other encampment, come to Pennsic to do things-help with the Chirurgeons, merchant, fight, herald. They do not intend to simply sit in the encampment looking authentic. The farther the encampment is from where everything is happening, the less willing people will be to participate in it.

A second reason we do not want to be isolated is that the encampment is intended, in part, as a demonstration of how we think the game should be played, a way of convincing other people that being a medieval person is more fun than being a twentieth century person talking about the Middle Ages. The farther away we are, the fewer people drop in for conversation during the day or to visit our bardic circle at night.

The greatest weakness of the encampment is that it tends to die during the day. With most of us off merchanting or heralding, there are not enough people to bring our tiny medieval society to life. At the most recent Pennsic we thought we had a solution-a series of in persona classes and conversations, loosely modelled on the Platonic Academy of Lorenzo de Medici, to be held in the encampment in the afternoons. Unfortunately we arrived only a week early, and as a result found ourselves camped on a hill more than half a mile from the rest of the war. That the bardic circle circle survived despite our isolation is a tribute to the stout hearts and strong legs of those who came to join it, but we gave up on the Academy until next year.

For the Future

Our encampment has survived and slowly grown-to that extent it has been a success. To really succeed, however, it must expand beyond one encampment at one war. The fundamental reason for starting it was to create a pattern that other people could use, develop, improve upon.

You need not come to Pennsic to be part of what we are doing. Get a long piece of rope and dye it gold. Put it around your encampment, wherever that may be, and hang a suitable sign at the entrance, facing out; the people inside do not know what the twentieth century is, and so need not be told that it does not exist. Let your tents be period or nylon as you please. The essential idea of the encampment is not period tents but period people.

(Tournaments Illuminated Summer 1989)

If you want to be part of our encampment at Pennsic, write. If you run your own in persona encampment, let us know how it works out. The badge shown above is registered in my name but intended as the symbol of an in persona encampment. Any such encampment is free to use it. Its blazon is "Azure, a candle inflamed within an annulet or."

After this article was published we made a second and more successful try at running the Academy, and have continued it at later Pennsics.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir