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Lilies vs Gulf Wars: Which is the Better Vacation?

A few weeks ago I was asked what Gulf Wars was like, and if I could compare it to the Lilies War, since my correspondent was familiar with Lilies. I am veteran of six Lilies Wars and ten Gulf Wars and both events are on my “must do, even if I eat Ramen the rest of the month” list, and for different reasons. If I had to choose just one war, it would be difficult, because each war has its own attractions and advantages.

The main reason we go to War is to Do Stuff, so perhaps we should begin with a discussion of the Stuff to Do. And since the spirit of SCA war is the fighting, we'll look at that first. Gulf Wars is an inter-kingdom war with negotiated war points, a winner and a loser. The Lilies is a war is internal to the Kingdom of Calontir and has with made up opponents. One year it was "Baronies vs. Shires.” The next year it was “Dukes vs. Counts.” Anything you want can be a war point, as long as you are willing to track it and can talk the autocrat into it. I remember a lilies war point for beach volley ball and cross-country bocce. (The midnight jello-wresting point was ruled out by the Autocrat.) With nothing on the line, fighting at Lilies is quite relaxed. The schedule has been known to slide more than a little bit, either later into the day, or later into the week. With Kingdom pride on the line, fighting at Gulf Wars can be a little more intense than at Lilies.

The Lilies site has a centrally located battlefield where almost all of the fighting takes place. Careful strategic selection of a campsite means no more than a 5 minute walk to the fighting field for most participants, although some campers out on the point have been known to row over to the battlefield. The Gulf Wars site is long and skinny, and the fighting field is at one end. There's almost no camping available close to the fighting. It can be a long walk if you're camping down past bathhouse number two. The Lilies main battlefield is sufficiently small such that a shield wall can cover it end to end, eliminating classic flanking maneuvers. The Gulf Wars site has a permanent fort large enough to hold approximately 200 Deridians, maybe more, all hollering “Come get some, fat boy!” in the most courteous of manners. The Lilies site has no permanent structures to fight around, but does offer some of the most creative use of hay bales and landscaping timbers you've ever seen. The Gulf Wars schedule is full of fighting, staring at 9AM some days. The Lilies War makes it a point to never fight until after lunch. There's rapier and combat archery at Gulf Wars. There's no rapier activity in Calontir at all. Calontir also restricts archery to tube-style arrows made from plastic plumbing pipe. I'll keep my shafted arrow bias out of the comparisons and just say that they're different. If you're into siege warfare, Gulf Wars is superior; of that there is no question. I've seen upwards of 22 siege engines at Gulf Wars in a good year. Off the top of my head, I can't say that I've ever seen an engine at Lilies of any type. On the other hand, if you like heavy combat, Lilies has a lot going for it. A main battle every day, creative and unusual scenarios, and an utter lack of emotional involvement tied up in the victory make for interesting and fun battles. In point of fact, it's only been at the Lilies War that I have seen combined Target (Live) Archery / Heavy Combat events. There tends to also be a more standard tourney every couple of days as well, although these are rarely part of the war, but instead are sponsored by various groups. Oh, because of the heat Down South, Meridies and Trimaris armor lighter and take lighter shots than anywhere in the known Worlde. I've discovered I have to kick it up a notch when at Lilies. Folks from plate armor kingdoms will want to have a few calibration bouts and kick it down a notch before the melee if they are fighting down at Gulf Wars.

After the fighting, most people tend to be interested in the facilities. What is the site like? What are the accommodations like? To begin, SCA wars are just camping events. The first visit to an SCA war can be jarring to someone coming from the Meridian “cabin culture.” There are some very, very few cabins available down at the Gulf Wars site. But you have to pre-register, and do it very, very early to get space in them. They are large, dorm-style cabins, so if you want a bed, you must either get twelve of your closest friends to commit to the War very, very far in advance, or resign yourself to sharing a room with eleven strangers for a week. All of whom snore. You can also find a teeny, tiny hotel in fairly poor repair just outside of the Lilies site. It's not close enough to walk to; you'll be driving back and forth, but if you are willing to make your reservations a year in advance, you can also stay there. Folks do, and it seems to work for them, but I'm told that the amenities are very slender. The Lilies War has no nearby hotel or cabin accommodation at all. So if you're going to War, you're going to be learning to camp. That brings to mind the nature of the ground. Out in Calontir, you're on the prairie. You drive your tent stakes into soil. That soil is anchored by prairie grass. Your tent stakes don't just hook up with the ground there. They have a relationship. A serious, long term relationship that occasionally leads to marriage. At Gulf Wars, you drive your tent stakes into sand. That sand is anchored by positive thoughts and wishful fantasies. Not only can you not count on your stakes to hold on to the sand, you can't even count on them to respect them in the morning.

The Lilies site has one shower-house located within walking distance. It's centrally located at the Merchant Area. There are roughly six stalls per gender, and never the twain shall meet. Lukewarm water is available between the hours of 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM , otherwise expect a cold shower. For all of that, the event staff cleans them well and often, so though it's chilly, it's hygienic. If you must have a hot shower, go get your car and head to the Marina . There are hot showers and a laundry available there for the use of people attending the War. For all that it's a pain in the neck to get to it, it never seems to run out of hot water, and you can wash your clothes. There are no flush toilets on site, but the event staff plan accordingly, and there are lots of port-a-johns, and they are kept very hygienic. Gulf Wars rents sufficient porta-johns and has those serviced promptly, such that they are to be preferred over the bath-house flush toilets. At Gulf Wars there are two main bath houses. Both the King's Arrow Ranch staff and the Gulf Wars staff make heroic efforts, but these bath houses are simply insufficient for the number of people at Gulf Wars, and I've never been in either of them after Tuesday that they weren't disgusting. So in the personal hygiene area, Lilies is simply the superior war.

The Lilies War not a shopping war. While there have been a few quality merchants in recent years, the Merchant Area of Lilies is more of a place to buy materials to make stuff, rather than stuff itself. The Gulf Wars merchant area is about 2/3 that of Pennsic, with almost anything available to he who has the means. I want to say that basic amenities (Wal-mart, fast food, liquor stores) are closer to the Lilies site than Gulf Wars, but I try to pack for the entire war so that I only have one town run. So I'm not sure. While there are a couple of food merchants at Lilies, for the most part you'd better plan to cook in camp. Gulf Wars boasts a “food court” in the merchant area and the King's Arrow Ranch runs a chowhall that offers a meal plan for the entire war. I find dining in the merchant area to be pricey and the chowhall food to be about on a level with a high school cafeteria, so I cook in camp and am the happier for it. Your mileage may vary.

The Lilies War is on federal property, and while deadfall may be broken up, cutting live timber is verboten. Cutting live timber is also verboten at Gulf Wars, but the site just got pounded by a Category Four hurricane. I anticipate a windfall of fresh deadfall for the next couple of years.

You can swim in the lake at Lilies, and while it may not be official, clothing-optional behavior has been noted down by the lake after midnight . In fact, the lake is conveniently located to the battlefield. I tend to make it a practice to go there immediately after fighting, shed my steel, and walk straight into the lake, gambeson and all. It cools me off and removes the worst of that “fighter funk” that makes it so unpleasant to be downwind of a armored warrior. You can swim in the pool at Gulf Wars. I'm unaware of any clothing optional occasions at Gulf Wars. The Lilies War has no official land-grab. But God help you if you set up on someone holy-traditional-land. The Gulf Wars land-grab requires a minimum of 20 people in camp pre-registered to hold your land. The weather of the two Wars is actually comparable. It can be both hot and cold, and wet and dry. If Lilies has more dramatic storms on occasions, Gulf Wars has managed to deliver sleet on at least one occasion.

There are many, many formal A&S classes at Gulf Wars. The Lilies War, while it has formal classes, tends to be more of a seminar or open studio format for many art forms. It's been said that the “arts bar” for Lilies is set lower. I don't know that that's quite fair. But as a regular attendee to Meridian classes, I am prone to expect a five to ten page handout with a bibliography of sources. While you find some of that at Lilies, classes there tend to be more of the “here's how I did this, and you can do it too” variety. Think of it as the “DIY channel” of SCA A&S. They also occasionally have the “Rat Out Your Friends A&S Competition,” where you bring a static arts project someone else made, and say nice things about it. Documentation optional, prize for the combination of best item with best story. There are several blacksmiths on site, at least one woodworker, and a potter. All set up shop and respond best to “ooh, that's neat. Can you teach me to do that?” I've also seen elaborate setups for spinning, weaving, paper-making, and falconry. Those vary from year to year.

Of the two wars, Lilies is the smaller. At Gulf Wars, in the evenings, there are often several choices for your evening's entertainment. At Lilies, you can go to The Party (location varies), The Bardic Fire, or stay in camp.

Gulf Wars is a four kingdom war, and has a resulting polyglot of SCA culture, time periods, fighting styles, and areas of study. Calontir as a kingdom tends toward the Anglo-Saxon/Norse approach, and has a look and feel that's more uniform. (Not that they're snobby or anything. I've seen purple and gold doublets and plumes. Just not so many.) Calontir is also geographically rather small, and Lilies is centrally located, so the population can “saddle.” That is, some folks treat it as two weekend events, so the population actually drops in the middle of the week, and comes back up the last weekend. Gulf Wars dangles down at the extreme bottom of Gleann Abhann. And with all due respect to the Barony in New Orleans , it's in the middle of nowhere. So with the exception of the one local group, everybody tends to come to site, and stay there, so the population swells toward the end of the week.

Each war also has it's unique features. The Lilies War boasts the only functioning Viking longship I've ever run into at an SCA war. Not a silly bus with a dragonhead prow. Not a modern boat with some regalia bolted on. Not even a wheeled cart with a “Flintstone” power train. But an actual, floating, you-can-go-for-a-ride-if-you're-willing-to-row longship. If memory serves, it's five oars to a side, and has a sailing rig as well. Lilies has also had a professional quality fireworks exhibition for the last few years. Alas, Baron Wulfgar Skypainter passed away recently, and I am unsure that they will continue without him.

On the other hand, I think that Gulf Wars offers more combat archery than Lilies. The number of archers varies depending on the state of the economy out in Ansteorra, but I've never seen fewer than at least 50 archers to a side. Gulf Wars has also developed into one of the premier rapier events in the SCA, with a number of unique scenarios, tourneys, and battles. The plumed-hat set has been known to drive in from as far away as Canada to participate. As a ranch, the Gulf Wars site also offers stable space and room to ride horses. Like both heavy and rapier combat, equestrian activities in the SCA require training and authorization. People who would like to bring horses have to pass certain paperwork and riding requirements. But if you just want to learn to ride, there are rental horses available during certain times.

Master Will

E-mail: mcnutt -at-