Stocking a Medieval Games Box

Open games box
My medieval games box with Glückhaus board on lid… and I just noticed that the dice showing include my “naughty” dice! Whoops!

The SCA is not a spectator sport, you have to make your own fun. I am not much of a gamer in modern life, but I love having historical games to play at events. I have collected some of my favorites in a box (see previous post for information about the painted Glückhaus board on the lid!) — Nine Men’s Morris, Alquerque (the ancestor of checkers), knucklebones, assorted dice, and a tarot deck, plus tokens and such for game play and pouches to store things in.

Here’s a photo of the full collection all spread out:

A bounty of medieval games!

There are lots of resources online about medieval and renaissance games — I really like this simple yet comprehensive guide that includes ball games, running games, throwing games, board games, card games, dice games… lots of games! The best way to find out what games you like to play is to play some, so I suggest you either make/buy yourself some stuff to get you started or find games to join at events to see what strikes your fancy.

To create a general-purpose historical games set, you’ll need:

  • Game boards that are easy to roll up and transport (so, sewn/drawn/painted on cloth or leather)
  • Dice
  • Knucklebones (either the real deal or resin replicas)
  • Flat marbles, colorful stones, wooden pieces, or other markers in at least two colors
  • Replica coins or other tokens to gamble with
  • Card decks

There’s a great online resource for all manner of historical games, MacGregor Historic Games. This is where I got my dice sets and knucklebones, and they also sell instruction booklets and some coins/tokens. I also found a set of tiny bone dice and weirdly colorful knucklebones while I was hunting for game supplies on Amazon, but I can’t personally vouch for them.

I made the nine men’s morris and alquerque boards the better part of a decade ago with some scrap leather, a ruler, and a permanent marker. To make your own, find some smooth, garment-weight leather pieces big enough to be worth using (I think mine are about 8 inches square), look up images of the game boards you want to make, measure and mark. For playing pieces, flat marbles are easy or get some wood discs and paint / mark them. Or go historical and gather some pebbles 🙂

When it comes to card games, I really, really like tarocchi / tarock / triumph / tarot. You can learn more about how to play and the history of tarot cards on Wikipedia. (As an aside, do I lose all credibility forever by admitting that I think Wikipedia is a great resource for stuff like this? I wouldn’t use it as documentation for an A&S championship, but to quickly learn a little about a topic it can’t be beat. I digress.) My personal preference is to use a Tarot de Marseilles deck, as it has a historical look and doesn’t have the “occult” connotation that many modern people associate with tarot decks. I also like the mini version, as it’s easier to hold the cards (and keep them secret!) during game play.

I recommend getting some pouches to keep everything organized. I personally like the inexpensive muslin ones that they sell for things like wedding favors, because then when I inevitably lose a few it’s not a big deal. Plus, I always need more tiny bags.

One thing that’s been challenging for me to find for my games box was coins or tokens to use for gambling games that weren’t terribly expensive and looked at least passably historical. I’ve played a lot of rounds of Glückshaus with standard modern pennies, honestly, because the price can’t be beaten. I have some replica groats that I purchased when I got laureled, but now the maker seems to not have his site up anymore so I can’t send you to him. One option that I’m considering are some replica “dubloons” — I suppose I could call them gold marks, but the idea of gambling with gold marks is OUTRAGEOUS from a historical perspective; nobody has that kind of money! But look how shiny they are, and 19 bucks for 50 coins is about the best price you’ll find.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started assembling your own set of games. These are all “indoor” games, of course; I’m working on making some equipment for simple outdoor games like quoits and battledore, and you can probably look forward to posts about those as I get them finished.


To Speak and To Keep Silent

You might have noticed I didn’t post here for a year. I thought a lot about just letting that slide past without acknowledging it. After all, I had a baby — of course I have less time for the SCA and to blog! But that would be a lie by omission. It’s true that having a child has totally shifted my world and that I’ve been so busy that I hardly have time for anything, but that’s not the whole truth. And I think I want to talk about some of the rest of that truth.

A lot of it is deeply personal — I’m recovering from some very intense and frightening experiences around my pregnancy and my son’s earliest weeks, and have turned inward to process. The energy I normally turn outward has been directed toward healing myself and caring for my loved ones. Everything else faded into the background. I feel zero shame about that, and in fact I am intensely proud of the work I’m doing; I’m the best version of myself that I’ve been in a very long time (maybe ever!). I also have been open about all this because I believe strongly in ending all stigma around mental health, especially postpartum/for new parents.

But there’s more on top of that. The truth is, I am really questioning this whole hobby. I’ve been open about all this in my own social circles, but I want to talk about it here.

(There are cusses in what follows.)

Let’s go back a few years, first. Many of the responses to the push for inspirational equality were shitty to the point where I questioned if there really was a place for me in this organization. It’s pretty fucking demoralizing to have have to ask for a seat at the table, to have a large number of people argue with the very idea of your request, and then to have your request put to a popular vote. The final “compromise” language added to Corpora still bothers me, and while it’s heartening to know it’s finally being revisited, the whole experience really left a mark on me.

Now events over the last year (and change) have made me question my place in this game far more urgently. First, I’ve been personally struggling with what it means to devote my time and energy to playing pretend when the real world I really live in is in such peril. The political reality in the US right now is horrifying and I want to give all the energy I have to making things better. I’ve gotten active politically in new and exciting ways, and that has taken over the time and brain power I used to have available for taking on SCA service. Not to put too fine a point on it, but right now I can’t justify running a medieval nerd club event or holding a medieval nerd club office when I could be working to get children out of concentration camps.

On top of that, some of y’all in this game have never done equity work and it shows. That whole CAID swastika trim situation was… depressing. Most folks in my circles came around eventually, but damn, it never should have been that hard. Even if we had gotten to the point of someone not really realizing that, hey, maybe let’s not wear swastikas, especially in the midst of a terrifying global rise of white nationalism, there’s this simple rule that a lot of folks seem not to get that when marginalized folks say “this harms me,” the correct response is to listen.

That was not what happened. Every comment and Facebook post defending the wearing and display of swastikas stood as a statement that this game isn’t safe for everyone. Every comment and Facebook post decrying the “angry internet mob” told me that many of us can make room for symbols that are inextricably linked with violence more readily than we can make room for dissent. Anger at an outcry over a hate symbol is not brave, it is in fact exactly what allows marginalization to persist. It’s the oldest tool in the bag. If we are so fragile that we cannot withstand criticism of those in positions of power, we are doomed. If we do not have a place for indignation, I can’t stay, because I just can’t be silent when social justice is at stake. I’m not trying to be insufferable, I mean I literally can’t shut up, even when it harms me to speak up.

There is a fundamental disconnect between different parts of this big conversation, the same disconnect that I see writ large on our social and political landscape. I know where I’ve chosen to stand in the real world, and I am honestly no longer sure if standing there is safe or even possible in this dream we claim to be building together. Things have calmed down since first this broke, but for me the damage may be too deep to move on. (I know it was for others — I have friends who left the SCA over all of this. There is no neutral, you either support marginalized people’s safety or you don’t, and too many of us didn’t and we lost good people as a result.)

Maybe I was wrong to think there was really a place for an outspoken antiracist dyke in a hobby devoted to recreating medieval Western Europe. I have struggled for years with this hobby being the whitest part of my life and I have feared becoming an accidental mouthpiece for white power. I am heartened by many of the institutional actions taken in response — the BoD statements, updated Corpora, etc. all gave me hope that we can make this work. I can also choose to take solace in the how many people have spoken up — it must have been a lot to get a response from the BoD so quickly — and focus on everyone in my sphere who has actively taken a stand for safety.

But is this really a place where I can raise my kid? Can I really engage with the parts I like and overlook the rest of it? The CAID trim incident was not isolated. There have been other deeply troubling issues that have come to light, individual and institutional racism, sexual violence overlooked and predators allowed to stay and play… These aren’t questions any of you can help me answer, sadly, and I’m not even sure what would help me find answers. I’m pretty invested in this dumb game, but I feel like I need to get serious about figuring out if it’s worth the investment, and how much it’s really invested in me.

I’ve been reasonably open about wanting to bail, as have others. The response hasn’t always been what I would have hoped. To be perfectly frank, I AM being dramatic! I DO want to get a reaction from people when I say I might quit! I want people to be outraged, I want those with privilege to leverage it to fix these issues! My participation in this organization is conditional, and should be more valuable than the participation of racists, white supremacy apologists, misogynists, sexism apologists, homophobes, trans exclusionists, and other people actively doing harm.

Also don’t tell me I can’t quit. I’m tired of seeing cis, straight, white folks say anything along the lines of “If the good people all leave the assholes win! You can’t quit, you have to stay and fight!”

Here’s the deal:

1) Marginalized people don’t owe you shit, if folks have to bail for their own well being do not grump at them about it.

2) This is supposed to be fun. If it’s work, it’s not fun.

3) If you have the will and energy and privilege and patience to fix it, thank you! Not everyone does.

As a queer woman, my enthusiasm for fixing this game is very, very low. I have to fight for my space in this world already. I am already allocating my world betterment energy; when I come to an SCA event it’s to get my medieval geek on and have fun, not to do the same social justice activism that, while fulfilling, is also draining. I don’t owe the SCA shit. If the assholes win, we can start a new and better game. If you build me a place where I can play dress up and make historical food and not have to put up with bigotry, I’ll be there with bells on; I’m no longer sure the SCA is capable of being that.

I also want to point out that I’m able to say this stuff out loud in part because I know I’ll probably get a lot of words of support. I’d like to challenge each of you to consider who in our community is also questioning if they belong but won’t speak up about it. What are we doing for them?

I found the SCA when I was 17. If I were 17 today and found the SCA, I don’t know that I’d stick around. If we want to make it to AS C, we as an organization must do some major work to become more attractive to new (young) participants. Our choice is whether we want to attract the ones who carry tiki torches and chant “blood and soil!” or the ones who want to wear rainbow armor with their multiethnic friends and already know their way around gender pronouns.

Time to choose.

An Tir West War Reflections

Update: I have enabled Amazon affiliate links on this blog; I figure I shill for Amazon for free, maybe it’s time to let them give me a cut! If my enthusiasm for my new camp bed persuades you, please use the links in this post so I can keep the candles lit. 

We made our annual pilgrimage to An Tir West War for the Cooks’ Playdate last week. It was our first major SCA excursion as a family of three, and all in all was a wonderful adventure. We have a new tourney vehicle — A VAN!!! — that I am very much in love with. We panicked and overpacked, but that’s a learning process too. Kiddo had a great time, and so did moms.

We stopped at some of our favorite places along the Oregon coast on the way down and back, and got to drink in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We also introduced the kid to tasty shellfish — he is a bay shrimp fan! — and he had his first ice cream. So fun!

Two women and a baby sitting outdoors at a table for a medieval feast
Two mom energy! Photo by Mercy Neumark

I cooked very little at the Playdate, which I anticipated because I know how much it takes to wrangle a small human. I threw together spring greens and herb salads for a couple of dinners, which were well received; I used walnut oil and white balsamic vinegar for dressing, and put some big flake salt on the side. I cooked some shelled peas from my garden with cheese rinds for flavor, and they were fine but not spectacular. I made Iron Age Celtic Glop, with beef, fresh favas and fat-hen from my garden, and oats. It was quite tasty, although I should have used whole oat groats instead of stone milled oats. I love the flavor of fat-hen, it’s got this rich earthiness that’s just amazing.

I also did some grilling experiments not anchored in research but that turned out phenomenal and that I’ll definitely repeat. At my wife’s suggestion, I grilled peach halves, then topped them with a little mint, some thinly sliced matos cheese, and a drizzle of honey. They were utterly divine. On our last day there I went a little wild trying to use up some of the excess food we had brought and wrapped various cured meats (salami, coppa, prosciutto) around pitted dates, then skewered and roasted them. If you’ve made bacon dates, you know the magic of sweet dates and salty pig. These were better than bacon dates in my opinion! So crispy and delicious. Will definitely add both of these discoveries to the regular rotation.

Cook at work, photo by Mercy Neumark
If anyone finds a grill basket like this, I need one! Photo by Mercy Neumark


We got some new gear for this trip that was absolutely game-changing, knowing we had the space to bring some larger things for comfort. I keep learning that the secret is to pack heavy on infrastructure and pack light on everything else. The big thing that totally made this long weekend awesome was our new camp bed from Amazon — a folding bed frame and a summer-weight futon. Most comfortable sleep I’ve ever gotten while camping! Seriously, these are so, so awesome.

The bed set up. I cannot capture how truly wonderful this was.

We also brought our fancy camping privy (and refill bags) and it made getting up to pee in the middle of the night (with a sleeping baby) much less of a production. Plus, it’s a great seat in the tent during the day with the lid closed and a sheepskin on top! The surprising hit of the weekend was our cow skin from Ikea. It was great to sit on in the grass with the kiddo, much more versatile in damp or slippery grass than a blanket. Oh, and not a large item, but I’m glad we brought a pile of folding seagrass baskets, also from Ikea, because they’re great to bring empty and then use to organize small things (like baby toys and snacks).

I came away with a better sense of what I want at events. We packed way too many snacks and brought lots of clothes and supplies for the baby that we just didn’t end up using. I didn’t wear all the garb I brought and I ended up wearing modern shoes because the ground was a little too challenging to manage when I needed to also be able to hold and chase after a kid. I came away from this event ready to get rid of a lot of SCA stuff that I think I’m just done with and streamlining / optimizing the rest of it. And I’ve accepted that I need to get some unobtrusive modern shoes.

It was great to get to see people who we don’t get to spend time with often enough. I wish I had made more time to get out of camp and be social. The people are what keep me coming back to this game.

Eventing with a kid is an adjustment for sure. I’m still having a lot of conflicting feelings and thoughts about how much time / money / effort I really want to spend on the SCA right now. But all in all, it was a good experience and we had some magical moments. Taking kiddo to see the creek, pulling him in a wagon, watching him “help” in the tent… lots of good things.

One night after the baby went to sleep, my wife and I spread out the cow skin and lay under the stars together. We watched satellites and identified constellations and talked and cuddled. Just as humans have done for as long as we’ve existed.

My latest arts and sciences project

I haven’t had much to say here lately and probably won’t be posting much for a while because I’ve been busy baking something very special, and it’s finally out of the oven:

Surprise! It’s a baby!

Fun aside: I made a truly absurd number of SCA clothes for him during the tail end of my pregnancy (I had to go on bedrest, I got really bored, it was a whole thing) so in theory at some point I’ll have cute pictures of him in garb :}

An SCA Resume Template (for Arty People)

One of the tasks I give to my students and apprentices is to keep an updated resume. I have a specific format that I use for these that I really like. After attending a local get together tonight and talking about this with some other folks, it seems like this is a tool that other people might find useful. So, here are my suggestions of what to put in an SCA A&S resume:

Continue reading “An SCA Resume Template (for Arty People)”

Eulalia’s Shamefully Easy Cheater’s Method for Zero Stress Vigil Snacks

This is not a post about how to recreate a complicated medieval meal, or a review of fancy heirloom stone-ground flours, or a story about doing something awesome and inspiring and historical. Rather, this is a post for anyone who is planning food for a vigil and who wants a great, crowd-pleasing spread that can be set up in a field or in a hotel room (so, when you don’t have access to a kitchen) with a minimum of misery while still maximizing the wow-factor. Basically, this is how to prepare vigil food that people will like and that is period-ish while relying almost exclusively on pre-made ingredients from Costco and Trader Joe’s. And now you know my shameful secret: I say I love cooking, but apparently if you ask me to do your vigil food I won’t actually cook a damn thing for you. (Okay, that’s not really true: I’ll probably bake some pies.) If that’s enough self-flagellation on my part, let’s begin.

“I can’t believe she got this marzipan at IKEA!”

Continue reading “Eulalia’s Shamefully Easy Cheater’s Method for Zero Stress Vigil Snacks”

I have an apprentice!

Tullia has officially graduated from my student to my apprentice! We had a brief ceremony at Collegium, exchanging words (and gifts) and then signing a contract.

Photo by Maestra Raffaella di Contino, OP

I’m really excited to see where Tullia takes her research next. In addition to her All The Roman Things! adventures, she’s also been doing lots of cool (okay, mostly Roman!) jewelry.

We stuck with my persona for our ceremony. We did a contract that I very loosely based on some period apprenticeship contract examples that I was able to find online, which we read and signed (and then invited witnesses to sign as well).

[This post is still in progress, I need to find my copy of our contract and post the language of it here.]

Eulalia’s Words to Live By

Striving to be a Peer helped me become a better version of myself. I became more introspective and got better at asking myself tough questions. Through all that, I came to some pretty good rules for living. There are some great guides already out there about working toward Peerage; I don’t think this is that, necessarily… but it also probably won’t hurt. But more than that, these rules pretty much sum up my life philosophy:

Rule Number 1: Quit whining or fix it.

Everyone’s a critic and we all love to complain, me especially. When things don’t go the way I think they should, I have a lot to say about that (as you have no doubt observed if you’ve read any of my previous posts here). But complaining is easy; actually doing something is hard. I often use this rule as a metric to gauge how much I really care about an issue: Am I willing to take any action? If I’m not, it’s time to shut my trap.

Rule Number 2: Volunteers are heroes. 

Actually, this is kind of a corollary to that first one. Without getting too deep into the weeds, I have had my share of really unpleasant experiences as a volunteer in the SCA; if I were treated at work (where they pay me) the way I have been treated at events (where I was giving my time), I would not keep working there. As an organization, we have to do better. So, here’s my rule to live by: if someone is stepping up to do the work, you don’t get to criticize how they do it (unless you are, say, the branch seneschal or exchequer, and the way the volunteer is doing the thing is no good / very bad / omg stop). If you think something should be done differently, step up and do it.

Rule Number 3: Use your words.

This might seem like it contradicts the first two, but bear with me. Using your words doesn’t mean complaining or criticizing, but using direct, clear, effective communication to get your needs met. I will admit that I have shamelessly borrowed this guiding principle from Captain Awkward. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Advocate for your needs, and set boundaries; enforce those boundaries firmly and without drama when needed. When you have a problem with someone, speak to them directly or engage a formal dispute process by taking it to the appropriate people.

Rule Number 4: When in doubt, just be nice.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I’m still working on it.

All of these rules stem from the same root: your words have power. Wield them carefully.

Bonus rule, just for those trying to become Peers: If you want to be a Peer, you probably shouldn’t badmouth Peers. This is really just a corollary of all the above rules, but I think it needs to be called out directly. Don’t tell everyone you know that [whatever Peerage order] is [a bunch of assholes, too stupid to see how great you are, not as awesome as they think they are, stuck-up, rude, out of touch, delusional, etc. etc. etc.] Listen, I get it: I know what it feels like to feel like no one sees you; but I also know that we do see you, and we hear you. I think that the hardest part of the quest for Peerage is that Peers are actually really good at making sure you don’t notice that they’re watching you. You are allowed to be human and you are allowed to get frustrated. But we are human too, and if a Peerage order’s strongest impression of you is something horrible you’ve said about them, that is not doing you any favors.

What about you, readers? What are your rules to live by? What guidelines would you give someone when it comes to the ill-defined parts of being a Peer?

Laurel Stuff: my Approach to Students and Apprentices, and my Apprentice Questionnaire

As I ramp up my involvement in the work of being a Laurel, I’ve been really enjoying developing formal and informal mentoring relationships. I thought I would share some of what I do that might be helpful to both peers and those interested in working with peers.

SCAheraldryRight now, I have a few people whom I think of as “associates” — we haven’t formalized our relationship, but I think they’re cool and I give them as much active help and advice as they’ll accept (and I have time for). (Conchobhar was strongly in this category, incidentally.) This might be help and advice around specific topics (how to do research, making pies, fire cooking) or it might be more general (demystifying the Laurels’ council, A&S competition coaching). Associates have no obligation to me, they’re just people I have taken a shine to.

Continue reading “Laurel Stuff: my Approach to Students and Apprentices, and my Apprentice Questionnaire”