Welcome to the barony

Society for Creative Anachronism is more than LARPing

By Tammy Newsom

Photo: The Society for Creative Anachronism partakes in activities including armored combat, fencing and archery as well as embroidery, weaving and dyeing

In Civil War and World War II reenactments, each costumed actor recreates famous battles. In an Adrian Empire reenactment, players can dress up in medieval period costume and role-play a historic fictional character from pre-seventeenth century Europe. There are English Regency reenactments and Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) of games, such as Knight Realms and HeroQuest. Cos-players can attend festivals like the Waynesville, Ohio, Renaissance Festival, held annually in September.

But of all the LARPs and Role-Playing Games (RPGs), there is not one so comprehensive, so highly regarded as the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). The SCA was started by University of California Berkley students as a medieval-themed fencing and jousting graduation party in 1966—decades before online role-playing games were ever invented. The party host had majored in medieval studies at Berkley and wanted to commemorate graduation with a backyard joust.

The SCA, named by the science fiction author and one-time participant Marion Zimmer Bradley, measures time from the starting date of that graduation party, as the year A.S. 1 (Anno Societatis, “in the year of the society”).

The difference between SCA and other LARP or RPG fantasy games is that much of the details, the garb, the events and activities are developed through careful preparation and study. The SCA is part reenactment group, part medieval learning group, teaching and learning what people did and how they lived in the medieval times.

For the benefit of newcomers, the SCA put out a reference guide early on called “A complete guide to the Middle Ages.”

“You learn, you pick up as you go along,” long-time member Mary Garrett says. “[If] you don’t have perfect pre-17th century garb, a Gold Key, a person who has the extra garb, can loan you something, so you won’t feel out of place.”

As the SCA spread across the country, three kingdoms, or realms, were established: the Eastern Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and The Western Kingdom, which aligns the eastern, middle and western United States and Canada, respectively. Ohio is located in the Middle Kingdom or Midrealm. As the society grew more complex, so did the anachronism.

Given the list of baronies and shires (smaller regions) in the state of Ohio today, participants can inhabit any choice of region and character from any period throughout the timetable in most major cities. The SCA is ruled for six months at a time by a king and queen, who travel throughout the three kingdoms’ baronies to hold court and to enhance authenticity of SCA activities.

The Barony of the Flaming Gryphon, which encompasses west-central Ohio, was started in 1979. The barony produces a newsletter of scheduled events entitled “The Gryphon’s Tale” and a directory called “The Gryphon Pages.” Activities range from armored combat, fencing, archery and equestrian activities to arts, science, heraldry and calligraphy. Each participant can register a coat of arms and a medieval name to reflect one’s unique persona.

The barony started with a group from Middletown, Ohio, called the Flaming Sword, now disbanded. A barony is ruled by a baron and baroness, and must contain a minimum membership of 25. As the group expanded, more shires were formed at Wright State University (Winged Hills) and at Miami University (Unicorn). Next came University of Dayton’s St. Joan, Butler County’s Hawkes’ Keye, Clark County’s Havenholde and Miami County’s Norborough.

As encouragement, a member is given awards for their service, creativity and/or martial prowess to the barony and kingdom and presented with a calligraphed and illuminated award scroll by the king and queen. The device or coat of arms can be a personal statement of that participant’s talents and personality. The only real guideline is that participants should refrain from creating a persona based on a famous person, like William the Conqueror, or a fictional character, such as Robin of Loxley (Robin Hood).

At the events, classes are taught on almost every medieval subject: embroidery, the Anglo-Saxon mead hall experience, spinning and weaving, dyeing, crafting garb, learning archery or building armory. Participants, often called SCAdians, can also practice English country dancing.

The research behind the 21st century groups tends to be more true to life since the advent of the Internet. In the beginning, the SCA society relied entirely on books that were not often readily available. Now, there are trusted websites and Facebook pages to help participants get informed and involved. Knowledge on various subjects and historical periods has become cumulative, so participants won’t have to keep reinventing themselves when they travel back in time. And now more participants have the chance to.

For more information on SCA activities or to inquire about new membership, please visit flaminggryphon.midrealm.org. Recommended sites for research in creating a persona or reenactment are: florilegium.org, greydragon.org and regia.org.


Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at TammyNewsom@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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