This weekend there was a lot of interesting events going on. First of all, there was a meeting of the local Belegarth group. Belegarth is a lot like Amtgard except that there are no character classes, levels, or magic - just fighting. You can, however, still use archery, which I did. I prefer archery to melee fighting in these games because:
1. Since there are far fewer archers than melee fighters, it allows me to have a unique role on the field.
2. It requires tactics and battlefield awareness rather than just raw fighting ability, because you have to scan the battlefield to identify good targets.
3. It's less frustrating, because I'm never up face to face with someone who is much better than me and that I can't beat. If someone charges me then I can run away and find another location.
4. It means that I don't have any problems with identifying where and when someone hit me. This is also harder in Belegarth than it is in Amtgard because in Belegarth, shots must strike with "sufficient force" in order to count.
So far I have been to three Belegarth practices. There are two per week - one on Wednesdays on the UIUC south quad (no archery is allowed there) and one on Saturdays. So far, after playing the game for a while, there are a lot of interesting differences between Amtgard and Belegarth in terms of archery.
Reasons why archery is more effective in Belegarth than in Amtgard:
1. There tend to be more people on a side and battle lines tend to be tighter, so it is easier to find targets and to find allies to hide behind.
2. Since there is no magic, archers are the only people on the field who have any kind of ranged fighting ability (except javelin throwers but those aren't usually that big of a threat). Thus as long as our battle line holds and nobody's snuck around it I don't have to worry about anyone except enemy archers.
3. With the exception of shields (see below) and dodging, there is no way to defend against incoming arrows - there's no "protection from projectile" spells, immunities, armor (actually there is armor, but arrows go right through it), etc., and you're not allowed to block arrows with weapons.
4. Head shots are legal in Belegarth, but not in Amtgard.
Reasons why archery is less effective in Belegarth than in Amtgard:
1. Shields are far more prevalent in Belegarth, and shields are very effective as a defense against arrows. (And unlike in Amtgard, there are no "specialty arrows") that can damage shields.
2. The safety requirements on arrows are far more stringent in Belegarth than in Amtgard, making the arrows heavier (due to the extra foam) and less aerodynamic.
3. At least in our group, arrows are not reusable. So once you're out of arrows, you have to switch to a melee weapon.
(1) and (2) combined make it so that it is very hard to hit someone who has a shield, is aware of you, and is not distracted. And if that is the case I don't want to waste an arrow on him, because of (3). That means that lots of times my teammates try to point out specific people on the other team to shoot at, but of course all that does is alert them to the fact that there's an archer there. And then my teammates wonder why I'm not shooting them, when the answer is that I know I won't be able to hit them. (Usually the people my teammates point out is one of the more experienced fighters on the other team - that's why they want them dead - so he is going to be better at blocking.)
Another problem is in figuring out who is on which team. Since there are so many people that can be hard to keep track of, so a couple times so far I have ended up shooting people on my own team. And of course, if I ask someone whose team they are on, all I am doing is alerting them to the fact that I am about to shoot them, and giving them the chance to put their shield up or defend. They actually did try to solve this problem last practice by giving people colored strips of fabric to wear. However, this didn't work very well because the pieces weren't that big and could be placed anywhere on the body, making it so that you had to look around for it. The strips were also easily concealed behind shields.
In one battle last session, it was a "capture the flag" battle, and I saw someone rushing toward our flag, with no visible "team sash". I asked him twice what team he was on, with no response. I let loose with the arrow, and it was a hit. The target turned out to be my own teammate, bringing the enemy flag back to our base! I couldn't see his sash because it was hidden behind his shield. Fortunately by the time he got hit he had already got back to our base, so we still one, and he was okay with it afterwards.
I suggested that they require that the "team sash" be worn on the head to eliminate the problems mentioned above. I don't know yet whether they will implement this suggestion next time. I do know, however, that I am not the only person who has trouble with the teams, because at a previous battle (at the quad so it was melee only) I observed lots of people asking each other what team they are on.