Playing By The Rules
Protocols for prizes in the Royal Guild of Defence
By Provost Secretary Owain Cantor ap Hughe
Originally published in Punta Dritta July AS XL (2005)
Playing a Prize is the most important event to take place under the auspices of the Royal Guild of Defence. Certainly, it is a significant moment for the candidates that offer themselves for examination, whether they are seeking to carry away a Free Scholar's Prize or to join the body of Guildmasters. For the Guild, each Prize is an affirmation of its purpose, an opportunity to recognise and reward those who have worked to develop period skills. Playing a Prize is also an opportunity for the Guild to promote the practice of combat as a period art and to achieve wider recognition of its work within the SCA.
Prizes need to be played properly and are subject to rules in the Guild Ordinances, to ensure that candidates are examined and receive rightful recognition within a rigorous and credible system.
Sponsoring the Prize
Once a candidate has decided to play a Prize, they need the approval of a sponsor. Any Guildmaster or Provost is able to sponsor candidates for the rank of Free Scholar or Journeyman. A Provost's Prize requires the approval of two Provosts or a Guildmaster, while a Guildmaster's Prize is only played at the invitation of the body of Guildmasters.
The sponsor's first responsibility is to satisfy themselves that the candidate is ready to attempt the Prize and to advise them on the selection of weapons forms. The sponsor is then responsible for announcing, conducting and reporting the results of the Prize.
Announcing the Prize
According to the Guild Ordinances, "no Prize may be fought unless the Guild receives one full month's notice of intention to Play the Prize". The Lord Guildmaster has been notable for his flexibility in allowing Prizes to proceed on less than a month's notice, particularly when Prizes are being planned for Crown events or Rowany Festival (the most popular time to play a Prize). But the intention is to give ranking members of the Guild the opportunity to take part and, in a Kingdom as large as Lochac, advance notice is a boon for members who may wish to examine a particular candidate, but have to travel some distance to do so.
So, with at least five weeks to go, the sponsor should prepare a Prize announcement and send it to the Lord Guildmaster. The form of announcement is generally well-known, but it should include the names and ranks of the sponsor and the candidate, the rank sought, the weapons forms to be played and the date and location of the Prize. To assist the Lord Guildmaster, contact details should also be included for the sponsor and candidate.
The Lord Guildmaster examines the announcement to ensure it meets the Guild's requirements, before giving approval for the Prize to be announced.
Conducting the Prize
It is the sponsor's responsibility to arrange and conduct the playing of the Prize on the day. This may include setting up the list field or, at major events, liaising with the designated Rapier Marshal in Charge for time and space.
At the designated hour, the sponsor takes the field to declare the candidate ready to Play the Prize and generally serves as Marshal for the following bouts. This enables the sponsor to consult the examiners and to observe the conduct and skill of the candidate at close quarters.
When all examiners are satisfied, the sponsor should gather the examiners and facilitate their discussion as to the candidate's suitability to the rank sought. Depending on the outcome, the sponsor then reports the findings of the examiners to the candidate and, if they have been successful, announces the result and presents them with the insignia of their new rank (the sponsor should also ensure they have a sash prepared for the presentation).
Reporting the Prize
Last, but far from least, the sponsor must report the results of the Prize to the Lord Guildmaster and the Provost Secretary. The report should include the date and location of the Prize, the names and ranks of the sponsor(s) and candidate, the rank sought and the weapons forms selected, as outlined in the announcement. The sponsor should then report the names and ranks of all examiners, any relevant comments by the examiners and the result of the Prize.
This is not simply a formality. The Guild Ordinances state that "this notification must be delivered within 30 days of the Prize being played; otherwise the Playing of the Prize shall be declared unsuccessful by the Lord Guildmaster". From a practical point of view, the report also provides a form of words to announce the results of the Prize on the Fencers List, for the benefit of those who were unable to attend and want to know how things went.
Any enquiries about the protocols for Playing a Prize can be directed to the Lord Guildmaster or the Provost Secretary.