Tired of fighting all morning? Feel like doing something else for a bit while partner is off having fun smacking people? Come check out to the Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences smörgåsbord! Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences will have the whole second floor to themselves to hang out with fellow artisans! Once again, Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences has numerous arts & sciences activities on the menu, including the Kingdom Ministry of Arts & Sciences Consultation Table with an on-site library to peruse, as well as Arts & Sciences social circles, each devoted to a particular arts or science topic.
Come check out the:
–Costuming Social: planning on updating your look or fighting clothes? We might be able to help! Sewing machines, books, and advice available to help your persona look top-notch. Accessories included!
–Fiber Arts Social: Learn more about the variety of Fiber Arts available in period and how to incorporate them in your persona.
–Viking Age Social: Are you a beginning Viking persona and want to be more authentic? Are you an experienced Viking and want to show others how you pulled it off? Come join the Viking Circle and share in current research on this fascinating historical period.
–Medieval Sciences Social: The Medieval Sciences are often under-represented but no less fascinating. From Chemicals to feats of Engineering, bring your specialty to help share the love! Books and research on a variety of subjects should be available.
If the Roaming Library does not have what you need, perhaps the merchant book shelves do – and bring your precious home!
And don’t forget the…
KMOAS Consultation table, hosted by the Kingdom minister of Arts & Sciences Hrólfr á Fjárfelli. He welcomes anyone with questions about Arts & Sciences! Like, how do I enter an A&S display or competition? What do I need to do to enter an A&S display or competition? What is this thingy called documentation? Can I get some feedback on a project I’m working on? I have trouble (re)searching online, do you have any suggestions? …? For this, and more, visit the KMOAS Consultation table.
Roaming Library, also hosted by Master Hrólfr á Fjárfelli. He will bring two book cases, and a couple crates of books on Costuming, including Viking and Anglo-Saxon eras. Bring a camera if you hope to bring back a chapter or two for research. And if you have something you think others would enjoy to take a peek at, please bring and share too (with name) – he and his minions will stand guard all day to protect the Hoard!
Region 3 Brewing Round Table, hosted by Master Gille MacDhonuill. Want to talk about making brews of all types stop by and share your recipes, ideas, or learn more about the art of alcohol? Then this is where you want to be, starting at 3 pm – home brews not required but always welcome, of course.
As you attend your first events and marvel at all the wonders this society provides you- keep a few thoughts close to your heart.
Firstly, you don’t have to rush, there’s time to relax and I encourage you to relax often. There’s no need to choose a name today, and it doesn’t matter what you wear so long as you are happy. Most importantly you don’t need to define who you want to be, use this time to explore who you can be. Take years if you want and try everything, let no person tell you who you are!
This society is a wondrous entity with something for everyone. Don’t worry if your “thing” isn’t obvious in the beginning − that’s ok.
Secondly, try something new and scary! There is more to the SCA than can be imagined at first glance. At your fingertips there are fighting, the arts, and the sciences. While you’re learning, takes notes, you’ll never know when someone will want that knowledge. Don’t be afraid to speak up, no matter how new you are, YOUR voice matters. Like everywhere in life, there will be people you love and some you can’t stand. Wherever individuals fall on that scale and no matter what title they hold, treat all your fellow SCAdians with respect and expect nothing less than the same.
Thirdly, be cautious with your words and actions. As life has taught us, words hold weight and actions cannot be undone. We all make mistakes; to be human is to err, but remember: when mistakes inevitably happen, be honest, own up, and never be afraid to reach out. Your fellow SCAdians have all been new to the society at one time in their lives, from Kings and Queens to merchants and teachers and all of us in between. We know it can get overwhelming and we are all here for you, rooting for you. All of us from every part of the Known World want you here, we want you to enjoy yourself and to grow within the society for that purpose. Your local Chatelaine is an ocean of knowledge, a fantastic guide through your first days, and any questions you have that they can’t answer, they definitely know a member who can.
Lastly, speaking for all of us, if ever you need, we are here.
Merchant’s Row near the Mid-East pavilion. Photo credit, Aoife.
Hello, readers! Here in Æthelmearc, we have been attending Pennsic so long that for Pennsic veterans, attending it is a matter of routine. After all, Pennsic was born here, on our home turf, before the Kingdom of Æthelmearc was a twinkle in the eye of Mamma East Kingdom. If someone travels from a great distance or is attending for the first time, or even is hearing about the event for the first time however, Pennsic is a huge and mysterious event fraught with pitfalls, conundrums, and unanticipated needs. If you ever listened to the CB radio chatter off I-79 during Pennsic, you’d understand just how confusing the event is for the uninitiated. Every year, about 10,000 guests from around the world visit our kingdom in search of the ultimate Pennsic War experience, be it martial activities, classes, parties, visiting friends, people watching, pageantry, or the perfect combination of all of these. From the outside, it must look mighty strange.
There is no reason to fret about this odd thing we medieval history buffs do, which we call the Great Pennsic War. Even if you simply need to explain the SCA’s largest event to your friends and family, this Links List is for you. Today’s article will deal with what it is, when it is, what to do to get ready, and what to do while there. As always, we SCAdians are so well documented that all you need for a perfect Pennsic can be found in handy links on the Internet.
Read on, enjoy, and drive safe. I will see you there!
Dame Aoife Finn
Barony of the Endless Hills, Kingdom of Æthelmearc.
Modernly known as Lisbeth Gelatt
Terrific Gypsy Vardo wagon with beautiful tromp l’oiel horses and dogs, is always a favorite of children. The arrangement is changed every day to make a story of animal life, as Pennsic unfolds. Photo credit, Aoife.
What is this Pennsic thing?
For Glory and Honor: Medieval Reenactors go to Battle (NBC News) This article that appeared on American national news neatly sums up what it is that we do at Pennsic. With terrific footage and picturesque scenes, you mint want to see if you appear in the background before you show it to your friends. You might be (almost) famous!
In It’s Own Light, a Night-Owl’s view of Pennsic War 33, a photographic essay by Rowan. This gorgeous photo essay of Pennsic was caught at the perfect intersection of wispy fog and moonlight, and is incredibly beautiful. If you happen to catch just a moment of such a night at any Pennsic you attend, you are one lucky gentleperson.
This photo appears as the wallpaper to the Facebook Pennsic page, sadly uncredited since it is a great shot. Do you recognize anyone in this picture?
Pennsic Facebook Page This is the place to go to ask general questions about Pennsic. Folks from all over the globe will happily answer. While not an official forum, it is a good resource to have when you need to know if there is a pediatrician onsite or what merchants sell the best raw material, or where to find the coffee houses.
Newcomer’s Pennsic Guide (unofficial) The title says it all. What can you expect if you’ve never been to Pennsic before? Find out here.
Atlas Obscura: Largest Medieval War of Modern Times Includes the Voice of America footage at this link. A couple of years ago, Voice of America did a world-audience piece on Pennsic. It is truly well done, and is a great place to point your mom, when she wants to know what, exactly, you will be doing on your vacation.
Pennsic, explained on Wikipedia. What did Wiki get wrong? I can spot one or two boo-boos, but it is generally a good resource for the uninitiated Pennsic-curious.
Pennsic, the unofficial popular website. Self-billed as an interactive “All things Pennsic,” this site is older than you think, but chock full of good advice, interesting commentary, and terrific photos.
Æthelmearc Royal encampment, a few years past. Photo credit, Aoife
Paying for Pennsic: The Registration Office. If you are reading this article, it is already past deadline for your registration to count towards allocation of land for your group or household. You can still attend Pennsic, but your location will be surprise until you arrive and pick out a space from the areas allocated to individual campers. However, there are other benefits to pre-registration besides knowing your neighborhood in advance. Chief amongst them is the shorter time spent checking in.
The Pennsic War Street Map. This map provides bus-stop locations, and streets are labeled. It is a good idea to print a copy before you leave, so that you can hit the ground running (or bus riding) once your tent is up.
A Pennsic Newcomer’s Packing Guide from Hartshorndale. No guide will have everything you need listed, but this packing list is a great jumping-off point. It covers all the basics.
Once You Are On Site:
Where to go for answers? Information Point! The folks at information point are there to answer questions. No question is too big or too small for their attention. Find them near the Cooper store, in the small grassy island created by the road in front of the old barn. Nearby will also be the post office, the previously mentioned store, and many, many merchants and food vendors. I like to call this area the heart of Pennsic.
First Aid onsite. There are usually trained medical folks right onsite, who can evaluate your condition and take appropriate action, be it writing a prescription, referring you to a specialist (many local doctors such as dentists agree to take emergency visits during Pennsic), or calling the med-evac helicopter unit to life-flight severe cases to the appropriate facility. There is no reason to tough it out if you have a health issue at Pennsic. Please do not expect that your normal doctor visits can be covered here, though. This is strictly a first aid station.
Classes: Pennsic University. If you want to know about historical anything, chances are that someone at Pennsic is teaching a class on the subject. A special area with its own tent classrooms is set aside specifically for these classes, and a master schedule is provided. In addition, there are special classes taught in individual encampments, and a last-minute additions and schedule changes board each day. Learn everything from culture-specific dance to historic cooking to metal smelting to fighting techniques, all neatly arranged and supported by the Pennsic University master schedule and the University Staff.
Youth Activities Schedule. If you attend Pennsic with children, this schedule is your best friend. Seriously. There is no reason for bored children at Pennsic. Your biggest trouble will be deciding what to do, and when. Trust me, a veteran Pennsic Parent whose children thrived, when I tell you to bring rain ponchos and wellies for your kids, because they will still want to go to play practice when it is raining.
Battlefield Schedule. You will need this schedule if you fight or fence, and if you do not, it will help you decide when the best combat photo opportunities will happen. It will also tell you when to witness the many other martial activities, specialty tournaments, fencing activities, and battlefield meetings, and when to get your kit inspected.
Performing Arts Schedule, and Cultural arts by type. There are hundreds of cultural arts activities to attend at Pennsic. Want to see live theatre? Hear the Known World Choir? Watch a display of foolery? A belly-dance exhibition? Find excellent suggestions here, and reap the benefits of the year-round planning and practice of the talented folks of Pennsic.
Known World A&S Display. Our medieval modern world relies on artists to function, because there is almost nothing mass-produced about the history we are trying to emulate. This display, open to everyone from any area of the world, is a showcase for artists and craftsmen of all kinds to show and tell about their works, meet like-minded artist, and to see what aspects of medieval and renaissance life others have chosen to honor. Anyone can enter, and anyone can come see what’s new in the world of re-creation. Pre-registration is strongly suggested for those wishing to show their artwork. Such show and tell activities are widely believed to be the most inspiring and encouraging aspect for hands-on craftspeople in the SCA.
The Legendary Pennsic Parties (A Schedule). While this schedule is unofficial, it is a handy guide to which group is hosting a party, and when. For some folks, Pennsic means parties, so here’s your guide to the colorful Pennsic nightlife. Please note that ID will be required for everyone attending many of these parties to prove you’re over 21, for those parties that serve alcohol.
UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 48! About to attend her 41st Pennsic, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has compiled an array of tips and ideas on how to have the best possible experience at the War. In part three, we’ll look at how to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at Pennsic, and we’ll also learn a little SCA/Pennsic etiquette. If you haven’t already done so, check out Part 1 and Part 2.
Comfort and Safety
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Cinnamon is a good organic bug repellent. Cheap at the dollar store, spread it around the perimeter of your tent to keep ants and other pests out.
Keep food out of your tent if possible, or at least well sealed up. Food draws mice, bugs, etc.
Don’t put an air mattress directly on the ground – it will get cold! If you must put it on the ground, bring quilts/blankets to put on the mattress under your sleeping bag, and/or on the ground under the air mattress.
When you get up in the morning, make your bed and pull the blankets over your pillow (or tuck your pillow inside the sleeping bag). This keeps pillows etc. from getting damp or dusty.
Bring a roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Only use it if the portajohns run out.
Go easy on caffeinated beverages – they are a diuretic, which means they’ll dehydrate you.
Drink alcohol in moderation, or if you expect to over-imbibe, bring temperate friends to help you get back to camp safely. Waking up face down in the mud may make for a good story later, but it’s no fun while it’s happening.
The First Aid station has a misting tent and water buffaloes. Use them when it’s hot.
Go to Moraine State Park for a swim. Swimming is not permitted in the lake at Pennsic, and is also no longer allowed at the old swimming holes (no matter what old-timers tell you), but Moraine has beautiful sandy beaches and is only a 5 minute drive east on Rt. 422. There is no admission fee, just drive right in and enjoy.
Ride the bus. At over 450 acres, Cooper’s Lake is huge, which can make getting around very tiring, especially in armor. Buses run during daylight and into the evenings, with routes that go from the lake to the battlefield, the parking lot, and archery range. Some of the buses are air conditioned. When using the buses, thank the drivers! They have a pretty boring job, and if they are running late, it’s probably because of road conditions or people blocking the way. Bus stops are marked on the map in the middle of the site booklet.
Do not use an open flame inside your tent. This is very dangerous. Tents have burned down and people have died at camping events. Use a flashlight or electric lantern instead. If your camp uses tiki torches or lanterns powered by candles or oil, situate them so they cannot set tents on fire if they are knocked over.
If you become overheated, two quick ways to cool down are to place a wet cloth around your neck and put your feet in a basin of cold water. Save the water you drain from your cooler when replacing the ice for this purpose. It may sound terrible, but it’s amazing on a hot day. You can also get ice cream at the food court or the Coopers’ store. That said, if you feel disoriented, or you stop sweating, get to First Aid immediately, as you may have heat exhaustion. It can turn into heat stroke, which can be fatal. Some people buy battery operated fans for their tents; you can also get a spray bottle for water with a small fan attached if you overheat easily.
Tiny deer ticks can carry Lyme disease.
Bring and use bug spray with Deet and check yourself and your kids regularly for ticks. This is another very bad year for ticks and Lyme disease is a major concern.
Check the side effects of your medications before Pennsic. Some cause photo sensitivity that can result in sun poisoning.
If you have kids, make sure they know camp rules (especially the meaning of “Hold!”), the name and block of their camp in case they get lost, and who to ask for help (Coopers’ employees in scrubs, staff members, and other mothers with children are good candidates). What to do with kids at Pennsic could be a whole article of its own… in fact, here it is!
Bring a hand fan, especially for classes, performances, court, or any other stationary activities. You can buy fans from a variety of merchants on site. Wicker fans are more durable than paper ones.
Keep valuable/important items hidden away or leave them at home. Unfortunately, there are occasional thieves at Pennsic.
Lines at the Pennsic showers are shortest during battles, and longest right afterward.
The legal drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21. Do not give alcohol to minors. When in doubt, card them. Plenty of parties at Pennsic do it.
Remember that a lot of teenagers look older than they really are. Enough said?
Be wary when walking around at night. On the whole, Pennsic is pretty safe, but remember that you’re basically living in a very compact town of 10,000 people (or more). If you’re going to less populated or poorly lit parts of the site, take an escort or travel in groups. When partying, make sure you are with someone you know and trust, and be cautious about taking alcohol from strangers. Most Scadians are nice people. A very small number of them at Pennsic are not.
Duke Khalek. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Not everyone at Pennsic is a Scadian. There are bunny fur bikini barbarians, vampires, elves, and other weirdnesses. Just smile and be understanding. Most of them are friendly and harmless.
When driving through the campsite, go slow. 5 mph is the limit, and they mean it, not only for safety but also to avoid kicking up a lot of dust.
When arriving at night, drive with your headlights on. Some people will tell you to only use parking lights to preserve others’ night vision, but too many drivers have run over tents and other things they couldn’t see in the dark.
When walking with a flashlight, point it at the ground, not in people’s faces. On clear nights when the moon is out, try going without the flashlight. As long as you have decent vision, there are plenty of lanterns at most camps to light your way. Most experienced Scadians don’t use flashlights at Pennsic. The major exception is when going to the portajohns at night – you want to see what you’re getting into….
Before entering a camp that’s not your own, even if you know its inhabitants well, greet them (“Hail the camp” or even “knock-knock” will do) and request permission to enter. It’s the equivalent of knocking on the door instead of barging into someone’s home.
Mug your camp’s gate if you like bards. Hanging a mug by the entrance to your camp is a sign that you welcome bards. Wandering minstrels will know there’s an appreciative audience in your camp, and stop in. You can tip them if you like, but at least offer them a drink. Some may have CDs to sell.
Do not borrow or handle other people’s stuff without permission, and always return borrowed items promptly.
Don’t put your fingers on a real blade. Whether checking out the merchandise at a knife or sword seller, or admiring a friend’s new steel weapon, don’t touch the blade – the oil in your fingers can damage the surface and promote rust.
It’s ok to haggle with the merchants. Especially toward the end of the war, merchants are eager to get rid of excess merchandise so they don’t have to haul it home. Be respectful, but it’s ok to say “Would you take $12?” for an item marked $15. If they say no, well, hey, you tried.
Canvas or nylon walls do not block sound or light. “Nocturnal activities” and even changing your clothes may unintentionally provide your campmates with shadow puppet entertainment, so turn the light out first, and try to keep it down, please.
Move your car to the parking lot after unloading. Don’t leave it in your camp or on the road where it’s in the way and reduces the medieval ambiance. Cars left on the road too long may be towed. When parking to load/unload, if you can’t pull into your camping area, park on the EAST (towards I-79) or NORTH (towards the main parking lot) side of the street to ensure that the roads are passable for emergency vehicles as well as other cars.
In the portajohns, shut the lid when you’re done. It sends the smell out the vent pipe instead of letting it build up inside. Eeeeewwwwww. And use the hand sanitizer or wash your hands at the next opportunity if you don’t want to end up with the “Pennsic Plague.”
King Gareth and Queen Juliana. Photo by Master Alaxandair o Conchobhair.
Don’t try to bow to every tin hat that walks by. You’ll just tire yourself out, because they’re all over the place. Learn to recognize different types of coronets (6 pearls = baron/baroness, 8-16 pearls = viscount/viscountess, crenellations like a castle = count/countess, strawberry leaves = duke/duchess) but expect to see some you can’t categorize. Rule of thumb – if the people with crowns/coronets have an obvious retinue following them around, then they’re probably Royalty and you should bow. Otherwise, a nod is sufficient but probably unnecessary. Of course, if you recognize OUR King and Queen, Gareth and Juliana, it’s polite to bow.
Offer water to any visitors to your camp.
Help your neighbors. Offer to pick up ice for them, help them set up tents or load/unload their cars, watch their kids, feed them soup when it’s cold, help them put things back together if their tent blows down in a storm. They are likely to do the same for you. Pennsic is a community.
Try to keep mundanities out of sight. Put your watch in your pouch instead of on your wrist, for instance, or cover your cooler with cloth.
Observe Quiet Hours. Everyone likes to party, but remember that there are families with kids, morning people, and some of us who are just plain older. Official quiet hours are from 2 am to 7 am. If you’re camping in an area with a lot of kids, please consider extending that back to 10 or 11 pm out of courtesy. And if a neighbor comes to you and politely asks you to keep it down, try to be gracious and comply. That said, some areas of the camp are rowdier than others, and as long as the noise isn’t a nightly thing, try to be tolerant of your neighbors’ partying. Non-compliance during Quiet Hours may result in a visit by The Watch, aka Pennsic Security.
Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your trash for others to deal with at venues like University tents, the Food Court, and the Cooper’s store. There are trash cans and dumpsters at various locations around the camp.
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
At the end of Pennsic
Friday afternoon, start packing up what you can. Expect rain on the last day of Pennsic.
Leave your camp site cleaner than you found it. This is a cardinal rule for every SCA event, but it goes double for Pennsic. Take all trash to the dumpsters. Fill in all sumps and firepits completely. Scan the grass for stray refuse. Not only is it polite, but your ability to camp in that area next year depends on it, as groups that do not clean up may have their camping rights revoked by the Coopers.
Plan to set your tent up at home after Pennsic to dry out. Also expect to do 3-5 loads of laundry per person and a day or two of unpacking, take three hot soaking baths to get the grime out of your feet and fingernails, and sleep about 12 hours straight.
To reduce post-Pennsic let down, schedule something fun for the following week/weekend. Go to an amusement park or a movie, or do something else relaxing. A massage is a great thing when returning home.
UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 48! About to attend her 41st Pennsic, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has compiled an array of tips and ideas on how to have the best possible experience at the War. In part two, we’ll look at what you should do while traveling to Pennsic and once you’re on site.
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Arrival and Setup
Try not to arrive Friday evening of the middle weekend. The troll is at its busiest that day from late afternoon into the evening, so you will wait in line a long while to check in. Similarly, if you’re coming for Land Grab weekend (July 26-28), expect lines much of Friday and Saturday from 9am to 6pm, possibly over an hour long. Troll opens for check-in on Friday, July 26 at 9 am but no one will be allowed to camp on their land until their block has been signed off. Check with your land agent to find out when they expect to arrive. DO NOT ARRIVE ON THURSDAY. You will not be permitted on site, and there will be no camping or parking on the battlefield overnight. If your block’s land isn’t resolved, you can camp overnight on the battlefield on Friday once you’ve checked in.
Single Campers cannot check-in and set up camp until SUNDAY of Land Grab weekend. That’s July 28th.
Bring cash or a credit card. The troll does not take personal checks. Never has, probably never will. They also don’t take Travelers Checks or money orders.
Bring a photo ID. Required at check-in for all adults.
Bring Proof of SCA membership. Members save $25 on admission. That’s worth a little pre-planning.
Land Agents – Troll has an express lane just for you! Troll opens on Friday, July 26th at 9 am. That said, if you are not a Land Agent, it would be courteous for you to wait until afternoon to troll in.
Arrive early in the day. The earlier in the day you arrive, the less stress you will have setting up because you won’t be racing the sun to get your tent up and gear stowed before dark. Corollary: try not to arrive in the dark. Setting up a tent, especially if it’s new to you, is best done when you can see. If you have to arrive after dark, consider getting a hotel for that night; however, hotels close to Pennsic are usually fully booked months in advance, so you might want to find some place an hour or so away.
Do not arrive between midnight and 6am on a weekday. The Troll is open overnight on Friday and Saturday, but is closed from midnight to 6 am Sunday night through Thursday night. If you arrive when the troll is closed, you cannot check in or go to your camp; you must stay in your car in the parking lanes on the battlefield until Troll opens or else find a hotel (see above about hotel availability).
Check the site map. There’s usually a map tent near the troll as well as in the site booklet. If you’re camping with a group and you’re not familiar with the site, you’ll need it to find your camp. If you are camping in “single camping” space (not camping with a group, has no bearing on marital status!), available spots will be marked in the map tent so you can go find them. Just be sure to select several good prospects, because sites are sometimes taken but not updated on the map.
Have your sunscreen and wide-brimmed hat handy, along with some water. You’ll be out in the hot sun setting up before you really get unpacked, so don’t bury them where you can’t get at them quickly. Slather on the sunscreen immediately! Repeat every 4-5 hours as needed. Drink water frequently.
Do not face your tent door toward the west if at all possible. Bad weather comes primarily from that direction, and you don’t want wind-driven rain coming through your tent door. That said, if possible, orient your tents and flies with the long sides on the north and south to reduce the amount of wind load they take in a storm. Hint: the highway is east.
Tie/stake everything down. If your tent has loops at ground level for tent stakes, use them. Don’t assume that your tent poles or ropes will hold your tent in place. Western PA is subject to occasional ferocious thunderstorms with winds as high as 40-50 mph. You may want to replace thin tent ropes with thicker ones to ensure that they don’t snap in a storm.
Trench your tent. If you’re camping in a low-lying area or on a slope where water might drain downhill through your tent, consider digging a shallow trench to direct water away from your tent in case of heavy rains.
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Take it easy, especially the first day or two. Get acclimated, and don’t push yourself too hard. This is probably the most physically grueling thing most of us do all year, especially fighters/fencers, and you don’t want to end up at First Aid with heat exhaustion.
Avoid sensory overload. If you hate crowds, Pennsic may not be for you. At the very least, schedule yourself for some down time mid-day when it’s hottest. Sit in a chair in the shade, with a cool drink and a fan, in a quiet place.
Expect bad weather. Temperatures can swing from 90 degree days to 40 degree nights in the same day. Winds and rain WILL come. Western PA is known for occasional epic thunderstorms. If a storm blows up while you’re in camp, do your campmates a favor and close up any tents with open doors. If (when) a thunderstorm hits, do not hold onto or even stand too close to any metal objects. People have been knocked over by lightning strikes on a few occasions. If a really bad storm comes in, you may want to drop any canopies so they don’t blow away and potentially damage themselves or other tents.
Protect your belongings against rain. As previously noted, keep clothes dry in plastic bags or totes. Keep anything you buy that’s vulnerable to water protected as well. Wouldn’t you be sad to find your iPad or the new book you just spent $75 on lying waterlogged in a puddle on your tent floor?
Baby powder can be your friend, any place you have body parts touching without cloth between them, to prevent chafing.
Wear shorts under your skirts or long tunics to prevent chafing. Plain t-shirt-cotton shorts are cheap and easy to wash, or you can go period with linen braies. Alternatively, you can use antiperspirant (yes, on your thighs, but NOT your whole body; it can cause you to overheat).
Bring baby wipes for cleaning grime off your feet before crawling into bed, wiping sweat from face and back of neck, and quick hand cleaning. Keep them in a cooler for even more refreshing cleanups in hot weather.
Replenish the ice in your cooler daily. Chuck any meat/egg/dairy items that are more than 3 days old or haven’t been iced as often as they should. Block ice lasts longer than cube; the Coopers’ store sells both. Keep your cooler out of the sun to make the ice last even longer. Since the sun moves over the course of the day, cover the cooler if you don’t want to have to move it twice daily. A cloth cover will do, or you can put it under a table covered in a tablecloth. Bonus: it looks more medieval!
Drink water. A lot of it. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Carry a mug or goblet with you, or a water bottle if you’ll be away from water sources. If someone offers you water, drink it even if you don’t think you’re thirsty. Dehydration is your biggest enemy at Pennsic regardless of whether you’re a fighter or non-combatant.
Æthelmearc Royal Camp, now-King Gareth at left. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Things to do
Check the schedule and newspaper every day and find at least one new thing to try – a class, a tourney, an archery shoot, a performance, a merchant, a bardic circle, a party, dancing, whatever. Be open to new experiences, go with the flow, don’t schedule yourself too tightly. Don’t expect everything you try to be to your liking, but enjoy the things that are.
Participate in a War Point. Even if you’re not a fighter or a fencer, anyone can contribute to the archery and thrown weapons war points. If you don’t have a bow or throwing weapons, ask friends in your camp if you can borrow. Even if you don’t score a single point, at least you gave it a try and maybe you’ll find it’s something you want to do more of at home.
Go to the A&S Display. It’s on the middle Sunday from 1-5pm in the Great Hall. You’ll be astounded by the artistic talent of the Known World, and you’ll also find artisans who are eager to talk about their entries and teach you what they know.
Check out all the merchants BEFORE Midnight Madness (which is on Wednesday night of War week) so you know where you want to go. Go in daylight and make a note in your site book of the places you want to return to. It’s easy to miss things in the dark. Many merchants offer bargains at Midnight Madness.
Midnight Madness – shopping and entertainment all rolled into one. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Volunteer for at least one shift of something: troll, royal retaining, the Pennsic Independent (newspaper), Kingdom gate guard, water bearer, list runner, Information Point, the Pennsic University, whatever. You’ll meet new people and be doing your part to help out.
Attend Opening Ceremonies on Saturday evening at 6pm near the Fort on the battlefield (or in the Great Hall if it’s rainy), and get there early to watch all the Kingdoms process in, many with singing or musical instruments like bagpipes, drums, or trumpets. It’s awe-inspiring.
Opening Ceremonies at Pennsic 43. Photo by Mistress Rowena ni Dhonnchaidh.
Go the AEthelmearc Kingdom Party. It’s on Thursday night of War weekend from 9 pm to midnight at AEthelmearc Royal camp, located on Brewers Road one block north of the Troll. Bring a mug for free drinks and food, entertainment, and schmoozing. Make sure to have ID since you may be asked to prove that you are 21 or over before being served alcohol.
Keep a positive outlook. Camping is hard on us couch potatoes, so think of it as an adventure and try to take discomfort and setbacks in stride. Be tolerant of noise and stupidity, especially at night, because there’ll be a lot of both. If someone’s annoying you, try being polite in your request first. You can always call Security to intervene later if polite discourse doesn’t work. Be forgiving of others who lose their cool. They’re hot and tired and thirsty and a little hung over, just like you. And be open to silliness as entertainment instead of annoyance.
Go up on Mount Eislinn to watch a battle (but beware of the cannons!), or just look at the surrounding countryside. It’s gorgeous.
Photo by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope.
Go down to the lake and walk around it. Especially around twilight, it can be very lovely. Just make sure to put on some bug spray. You can even fish in the lake, but swimming is not permitted (and trust me, you don’t want to swim in it – can you say leeches?).
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato.
On a clear night, look up at a gazillion stars. If you’re patient, you might see some Perseid meteor showers.
Visit Heralds Point. The worst that can happen is that you walk away with some ideas. You might walk away with your name and device submitted.
Buy post cards and take pictures to show your family, friends, co-workers, etc.
Ride the Bus. It’s a nice way to see the site without wearing yourself out.
In the final installment, we’ll have tips about safety and comfort, Pennsic etiquette, and how to handle the end of Pennsic and your trip home.
UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 48! About to attend her 41st Pennsic, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has compiled an array of tips and ideas on how to have the best possible experience at the War. In part one, she’ll list some things you can do now to prepare for Pennsic, including what to bring along and how to ensure that you’re ready.
Photo by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope
Pre-Pennsic Things to Do
Walk. Get used to it beforehand because you’ll do a lot of walking at Pennsic. A WHOLE lot. Walk at lunch or before/after work, and wear the shoes (you do have at least 2 pair, right?) that you’ll be wearing at Pennsic so you get them well broken in. Blisters do not a happy camper make.
We’re walking, we’re walking…. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Make lists. Keep a running list of the things you need to do, make, and pack. You’d be surprised at the things you forget at first that pop up later, and you’ll need those lists to ensure that you have everything at packing time.
Sew. Concentrate on light-weight simple underclothes (shirts, shifts) of breathable, natural fabric, preferably linen or lightweight wool, though cotton will do. Silk is also a natural fiber but tends to be warm. Make as many as you can (one for every day you’ll be at Pennsic, if you don’t want/plan to do laundry). Overtunics/gowns can be worn more than once if you have underclothes to soak up the perspiration. You can get cheap cotton at those Wal-Marts that still sell fabric or from the bargain racks at JoAnn Fabrics. In general, you want solid colors in non-neon shades.
New fighters and fencers: it’s better to get your first authorization before Pennsic. For the first time in many years, for Pennsic 48 there is no deadline for authorizing in your first weapons form for rattan fighting; you can authorize at Pennsic. That said, it’s smart to practice ahead of the war and get comfortable fighting before jumping straight into the chaos of melees with hundreds of fighters all buzzed on adrenaline and too little sleep.
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato.
Repair any damaged gear. If you’ve been in the SCA long enough for your armor, weapons, clothing, or other equipment to have some wear, check it for any needed repairs and then make them. Don’t wait until you get to Pennsic to discover that the buckle on your cuisses needs to be replaced or there’s a seam coming apart in your favorite gown. While you’re at it, set your tent up in the back yard and check it for any issues. If you’ve just bought a new tent, set it up at home in daylight and good weather so you know how it goes together. This will make it far easier if (when) you have to set it up in the dark and/or rain when you get to Pennsic.
Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Shop wisely. To avoid spending a fortune, keep an eye out for sales and/or shop at thrift stores and dollar stores.
Photo by Lady Aine ny Allane
Thrift stores: candles, goblets/tankards and other feast gear, baskets, bedding, sometimes even camp stoves, bota bags, candle lanterns and hats.
Dollar stores: plastic totes, candles, sunscreen, toiletries, flashlights, canned and vacuum-sealed food items, small plastic tables for your tent, towel racks and sometimes folding chairs.
Some items become cheaper in late July, like folding camp chairs, while others become hard to find, like small propane canisters or inflatable wading pools.
Some things should not be economized on:
Buy a good sleeping bag or you may freeze if (when!) it gets really cold at night.
Get heavy tent stakes – not those rinky-dink little plastic ones, but 12-18″ long ones, preferably metal, so your tent doesn’t go rolling across the field in a strong wind.
Buy sturdy leather shoes and break them in before Pennsic, though flip-flops or crocs for midnight porta-john runs or showering are useful too.
Get a wool cloak. It will stay warm even when it’s wet. To economize, you can buy a big wool blanket or two at the thrift store to make into a cloak.
Heat train. Not everyone likes this idea, but many people turn their AC down or even off a few weeks before Pennsic so they’re used to the heat when they get there. Bonus: you’ll save money on your energy bill.
Pack as much as you can as far in advance as you can. Don’t make yourself crazy packing at the last minute. As soon as you’ve attended your last pre-Pennsic event, pack the items you won’t use again until Pennsic in a tote and stick it in a corner until it’s time to load the car. Then check those items off your list. That way you won’t be wondering later whether you packed something or not.
Pre-register with a group. Go to the Pennsic website at http://www.pennsicwar.org and select Registrations > Pre-Register for Pennsic. You must pay for at least one week now; you can pay for two weeks if you expect to be there for both Peace week and War week, or you can pay the difference if you arrive before midnight on August 2nd. The deadline is Wednesday, June 19 [Update: the Coopers extended the deadline to Friday, June 21] by midnight. Make sure to talk to your group’s Land Agent first to verify that they’re ok with you camping with them, and let them know your tent size. If you don’t pre-register, you can camp in single-camping space (it’s not for “single” (unmarried) people, it’s for people who did not pre-register with a group), but I strongly recommend camping with a group like a household, shire, or barony. Camping with a group often gives you access to amenities like an in-camp hot shower, a communal canopy, and a fire pit, as well as neighbors who can lend a hand when needed. Random Scadians usually help each other in emergencies or when they see a need, but when you’re not feeling well or need a small favor, it’s easier to get assistance when you’re part of a group.
Pick your campmates very carefully. This is your vacation, do not spend it with people who will annoy you.
Check the Pennsic website, www.pennsicwar.org. Look at it frequently, because its content changes all the time! Study the map of the campground. Read the schedules, event booklet, and list of classes. Create your own schedule (or even day planner) listing the events and activities you want to attend. There will be too many things to do, and it will be easy to forget the ones you want most if you don’t write them down or add them to your phone’s calendar.
Budget. Save ahead of time for Pennsic, remembering that you can apply grocery and entertainment money that you would have spent back home. Decide how much you are willing/able to spend on Pennsic, and stick to your budget or you will be paying for Pennsic until Christmas! Consider all the costs: entry fee, meals, drinks, gas, entertainment, and shopping. Decide what one or two big purchases you want to make AT Pennsic (A sword? Armor? A new gown or tunic? A particular book? A musical instrument?), and save up for them.
Helms for sale at Pennsic. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
Waterproof. This includes your tent, the hem of your cloak, and your shoes. Even in the unlikely event that it doesn’t rain, there’s always dew. Scotchguard and Mink Oil are your friends. Pack socks and undies in ziplock bags, line all suitcases with plastic bags or use those plastic totes. Leave a full change of clothing, both warm and cold, locked in your car in case of monsoons. That way, if you have to drag wet stuff to a laundromat off-site, at least you’ll do it in dry clothes.
Photo by THLord Juan Miguel Cezar
Protect yourself from your own stupidity. Almost every first-timer overspends. Leave enough money for gas/food to get you home locked in the glove compartment of your car, or make sure you have a credit card with room on it. And lock your car while it’s in the parking lot so your cash can’t be stolen!
Trim your fingernails short immediately before leaving. They’ll probably get broken and dirty anyway, especially during set up/tear down of your camp. If you can’t bear the thought of trimming them, apply a thick coat of polish and/or acrylic nails to protect them.
Refill your medications. Check that you have enough to last through the War and a little beyond. If you need refills sooner than you usually would be allowed to get them, ask your pharmacy for a “vacation refill” which lets you get them early and still be covered by your health insurance, if you have it.
Put a Hold on your Mail. Unless you have someone collecting your mail for you while you’re at Pennsic, you want to ensure that mail isn’t overflowing your mailbox, cluing strangers in that you are away. You can do this online by going to the USPS website and entering the start and end dates of the Hold period. You might want to have them deliver the held mail the day before you return, or if your mailbox won’t hold a large volume of mail, you can choose to pick it up at your local post office.
What Amenities are Available On Site?
Cooper’s Lake has been hosting Pennsic for decades, and has a lot of infrastructure that makes things comfortable. Here are some of the amenities you can expect to find:
The Coopers’ Store has everything from camping supplies, lumber, firewood, and souvenirs to snacks, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and meat. They even charge reasonable prices instead of gouging like a tourist trap. There are also vending machines with water and soft drinks in the area near the store, the bathhouse, and the square near the Troll. If you don’t find what you need on-site, there are shopping plazas 20 minutes away with Wal-Mart, grocery stores, and liquor stores in New Castle, Butler, and Slippery Rock.
Most blocks have a water spigot somewhere on them, but it could be many yards from your camp. If you intend to set up an in-camp shower, bring a hose with a Y-splitter and backflow preventer to run water to your camp. Hoses that cross roads must be buried to avoid being a trip hazard or getting damaged by cars. You must leave at least one faucet open on all spigots so others can access the water.
Electrical outlets are available in a few select areas around the camp but these are only really available to the people camping in that block. Outlets in the bathhouse, Great Hall, and other buildings may not be used for cell phone charging, though it’s fine to use a hair dryer at the bathhouse. However, some venues with electric service will allow people volunteering for shifts working there to charge their cell phones, including Performing Arts, Information Point, and Heralds’ Point.
Need an Internet connection to check in with work, keep up with family or customers, or just get an occasional modern world fix? The Coopers’ Lake Internet Cafe (CLIC) located next to the ice sales counter has computers, printers, Wi-Fi, spots to hook up your own laptop, and charging services for a fee. It’s open 8 am to 9 pm but it’s small, so there may be a wait during busy times. Wi-Fi connections cost $12/day; the signal extends around the barn and into the battlefield and Serengetti.
Coin-operated washers and dryers are available in the basement of the bathhouse, but there are only a few machines and they are in constant demand so you may have a long wait. The best time to use them is in the wee hours of the night or very early in the morning, typically before 7 am. Bring lots of quarters, as well as laundry detergent (though you can buy that at the Coopers’ store, there are no vending machines with it in the laundromat). Many people either hand wash and line dry clothing in their camps, or go off-site.
Flush toilets are located in the bathhouses near the Coopers’ store and at the bottom of Runestone Hill. Portajohns with hand sanitizer are available throughout the site and are generally pretty well maintained, but in areas where camps hold parties that involve a lot of heavy drinking, the portajohns can become a little… ripe… overnight. The “honey wagon” services the portajohns twice a day during war week, and once a day during peace week.
The bathhouse near the Coopers’ store. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
The Food Court across from the troll offers everything from Italian, Greek, and Chinese to burgers or meat and potatoes. One popular eatery, the Beast and Boar, also does breakfast. On hot days, the ice cream stand does brisk business. There are picnic tables in the main areas and a few smaller seating areas under tents for individual restaurants. There’s also a small cafe and ice cream stand in the barn next to the Coopers’ store.
ATMs are available at the Coopers’ store and in the food court.
Propane, ice, and bottled water are sold at the Coopers’ store on the east side of the building. There’s usually a semi-trailer there since they bring in a LOT of water and ice.
Dumpsters are available on the battlefield, across from Security near the Troll, at the north end of the Serengetti, and other spots around the site. There are recycling bins available as well.
Buses. There are three bus routes around the camp, but only one or two buses, which follow all three routes sequentially. The buses do not have a specific schedule because there are too many factors that can cause delays, like bad weather making certain roads impassible. Just find a spot on the route and wait for a bus to come by. Information on routes is available here.
Disabilities services. Pennsic has a variety of disability services, but many of them must be requested in advance and reservations for things like charging time can go quickly. A special camp is available for people with disabilities and their family, but you must sign up early (this year’s date is already past) and space is limited. Other disability services include:
Handicapped parking with a state-issued handicapped sign on your vehicle
Signing services on request
“DART” or Disability Assistance Road Transportation carts. These are golf carts to assist the disabled in getting around the camp; they are intended only for those who cannot use the buses.
Charging stations for electric wheelchairs, scooters, CPAP machines, etc.
Service animals must be registered with Pennsic personnel and must meet certain criteria. Emotional support animals are not permitted. As always, please clean up after your animal and be courteous. There is a dog run if your dog needs exercise.
More information on Disability Services is available here.
What to Bring
Some cash. Yes, there are ATMs on site, but lines can be long and they charge a hefty fee. And while most merchants take credit cards, not all do, and you may need cash for things like paying your sump digger or tipping the newspaper carriers and ice delivery kids.
Don’t stress too much about little stuff. The Coopers’ store carries most of the things you’re likely to forget, including toiletries, snacks, and camping supplies.
Drinking water.Pennsic water is safe to drink (don’t believe people who tell you otherwise; it’s been tested) but it is filled with a lot of minerals, especially iron, so it doesn’t taste good, doesn’t look appetizing as it turns orange in the sun or when heated as the iron precipitates out, and could upset your stomach if you’re sensitive. You can buy bottled water on site, but to save money, save up empty water jugs before Pennsic and fill them from the tap at home, making sure they’re tightly capped to prevent spillage en route. Don’t try to clean milk jugs – it’s almost impossible to get them clean enough to avoid the sour milk smell and taste. Note that the Coopers are adding filtration to the water system but it hasn’t made it to all regions of the campground yet, and it may not do much for the iron issue.
Solar cell phone/tablet charger. If you rely on your cell phone or tablet, you’re going to need to charge it at some point. If your camp doesn’t have electricity and you don’t want to pay to charge your phone or volunteer at a venue that allows charging, then you probably want to pick up a solar charger. Make sure to get one with a battery so you can hang it from the south side of your tent or place it on a table in the sun during the day to charge, then plug your phone into it overnight. All that said, do try to be discreet about your cell phone or tablet use. Consider buying a leather or faux-wood case to make it look like a medieval book, and/or keeping it stowed in your pouch. When you must use it, try to be unobtrusive; please don’t walk around the merchants or through the camp yakking on your phone.
Lots of people have packing lists, and they vary widely from person to person. There’s a pretty good one on the Pennsic website here.
Group your packing list by type of object, to make it easier to avoid missing items. I use the following categories:
Shelter (tent, tarp, dining fly, ropes, poles, stakes, hammer, etc.) It doesn’t need to be a pretty medieval pavilion; a modern nylon tent will do.
Bedding (air mattress or cot, sleeping bag, pillow, blankets, sheets)
Clothes (garb, modern clothes, hats, shoes, fans, and other accessories)
Cooking equipment (pots, pans, camp stove, dish detergent and sponge, feast gear including a mug on a strap to hang from your belt)
Food (cooler items including fruit, veggies and cold cuts, boxed/canned non-perishables, drinks including water and alcohol). The camp store has real food, so don’t bring a week’s worth – it’ll only spoil in the heat and rain anyway. And yes, you can eat at the food court instead of cooking, but it will cost a lot more than making it yourself.
The food court at Pennsic. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato.
Toiletries (soap & shampoo, towels, medications, 1st aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, earplugs for light sleepers, safety pins, plastic trash bags, clothes pins to hang wet clothes, tissues)
Misc. (basket or tote bag, blank book or note book with a pen/pencil, folding table, candles, flashlight, batteries, phone charger, banner, book to read, plastic basin for washing your clothes, dishes, and feet!)
Leave room for the stuff you’ll buyat Pennsic to come home! If possible, come with your suitcases/totes about 1/4 empty – even if you don’t buy much, stuff never packs as tightly going home as it did getting there.
Yes, you can buy socks at Pennsic, in every color of the rainbow. Photo by Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato
People with female anatomy, expect your monthly cycle to get out of whack, so you may want to bring supplies even if you’re not expecting to need them, or plan on a quick trip to the Coopers’ store. It has feminine hygiene supplies but with limited options, so you may not find your preferred brand or type. Note: a friend who did the math told me that, if you are at Pennsic for two weeks, there is a 70% chance you will have your period while there.