Thursday, August 28, 2014

Expanded Notes on Rapier Fox & Hound

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I was at Baron Wars, an SCA event, in June this year.  This is another great event for rapier melee - one of the best held near south-eastern Michigan all year, with about four dozen fencers fighting in the melee games in the morning.  Baron Wars is held at Fort Meigs near Toledo, Ohio, and is a fun event whether you want to hit people with swords, shoot some archery, do shopping at the many merchants, or just camp and hang out with lots of friends in a fun rustic environment.  For those who have never been, I highly recommend it.

The melee was run in part by our General Peter, and in part by the North Oaken Commander, Zatarra. They did a wonderful job setting up several interesting scenarios. Here I expand my previous notes on Fox and Hound with the new things I learned that day.

"Creepy Killer" Fox & Hound

Earlier this summer I talked about the melee game Fox & Hound, which is used to teach battlefield awareness and communication skills.  Quick synopsis of the mechanics of the game:

On the field: 1 fox and 2 hounds.  If a fox kills a hound, a new hound comes off the line to replace the one that died.  If the fox gets killed, though, the hound that killed the fox immediately becomes the new fox.  A new hound comes in off the line.

Go read my post from Border War to see more of my advice for succeeding at Fox & Hound. Running it again at Baron Wars brought out a few more tips, and also a fun twist on the game that the General put in called the "Creepy Killer" technique.

Tips learned from this game:
  • Communicate early and often! Lone hounds need to both yell for reinforcements quickly to get another hound to them off the line, and they need to talk to their teammates during the fighting.  You can work with your teammate better by telling them when to attack if you've bound the fox's blades. You can tell them to "move left" or "move right" in order to get the most advantageous spacing.  Coordinate!  It's effective!
  • Spacing:  Often the most effective spacing for two fencers attacking a lone fencer is to engage at roughly a 90 degree angle from you to your opponent to your teammate.  This means that you are both still in the front 180 of your opponent and they cannot afford to ignore either one of you.  It also means that you are far enough apart that the fox has to turn significantly to try and truly engage with either one of you.  Fencers untrained in this tend to fight too close to their teammate, which gives the fox more of "one bigger target" than "two separate targets."  Two separate targets is much more deadly!
  • Dead! Dead!  Yell "dead!" loudly when you die in a melee scenario.  Don't say "good" or "okay," like you often would in a one-on-one tournament.  Two reasons for this:
    • Your own teammates need to know that you're no longer there in order to make the best battle decisions.  They are often facing the same direction as you are, and everyone is wearing a mask (which muffles sound) in a chaotic environment - which means you should yell louder than you think you need to.
    • To alert your opponents to stop stabbing you!  Especially as one often raises their arms to indicate with their swords they are no longer alive, which exposes soft armpits - it can hurt to get repeatedly stabbed there.  Once your opponents register you are dead, though, they stop stabbing!
  • Don't ask your enemy for information!  Your enemy has no inclination to help you in a melee fight.  In fact, in large melees, it can occasionally be fun to trick your opponents with false commands if you make it into their backfield.  Thankfully, in a small fight like Fox & Hound, all of our fencers are honorable enough not to outright lie to our opponents' faces.  That doesn't mean that they will be forthcoming with helpful info, though!  The point of this: when coming in as a new hound off the line, don't ask who the fox is.  The fox has no reason to tell you, and it can get confusing when the other hound starts speaking.  Instead, ask your teammates for info about them and their strategies - which can start by asking who the hound is, because the hound will want to supply that information.

The "Creepy Killer" twist gives two separate jobs to the two hounds in the fight.  The hound that reaches engagement with the fox first is automatically the "creep," also known as the "distractor."  The second hound, trailing behind the other, is the "killer."
  • Creep/Distrator: It is your job to stay alive and keep the fox occupied.  Don't bind the fox's blades, because then you have no defense left (your blades also being bound at the time).  Keep your blades moving to keep the fox's eyes on you!  Don't focus on killing the fox, because that raises the chances of dying yourself.  Just distract distract distract!  It can take a lot of practice to figure out how to just be a suitable nuisance on the outside of an opponent's range - it's not as simple as it sounds.
  • Silent Killer:  Don't make noise!  Practice coming up at an unobtrusive angle - walk calmly, swords in a non-threatening position (gently pointed towards the ground, perhaps), way out to the side of the fox, coming in towards her/him just inside their front 180.  You don't want to grab the fox's attention.  Your job is to let the creep/distractor distract the fox, and then kill from an angle - just as if you were zipping a line in a bigger melee fight.

This teaches two very important skills: how to distract opponents without dying yourself, and how to come up on opponents without being noticed.  

At Pennsic just a few weeks ago, I used the distracting method several times!  Whenever our line of fighters got weakened - there was only a few fighters on our side fighting a much larger line, and we were defending a target so we didn't want to be budged - I would use the distracting methods to make myself appear larger and more threatening. I did this by batting people's blades a lot out at the end of their range, all whilst yelling loudly and repeatedly for reinforcements (don't dismiss yelling as a suitable distraction device!  It intimidates people and holds their attention while making them pause!).  It gave our fighters just long enough time to get back from the resurrection line and make our line strong again.  Being able to distract and intimidate opponents can mean that your people get the crucial three-second delay they needed to get themselves back into formation or get to the right spots on the field.

I don't think I have to point out how useful it can be to learn how to approach opponents without being noticed.  Many battles have been won because fighters were able to demolish half a line of fencers by "zipping" or "zippering" it from the side, killing one fighter and then the next, because they were able to move unobtrusively and quickly.

More rapier notes to come in the future!
~Birke die Jägerin
Order of the Cavendish Knot
Dragon Army Pentamere XO

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