An Introduction to Pennsic War

This one's for all the first-time Pennsic-goers, originally posted on Squidoo before the site changed hands. This post has nothing to do with body paint, I just go there every summer that I can, and sometimes body paint happens.

The Pennsic Wars cannot be defined as "Renaissance Festival" nor "Living History." The best description I've heard in my few years would be "Medieval Summer Camp." We dress in period clothing to the best of our ability and camp for two weeks. We teach and attend classes, compete (both athletically and academically), shop, volunteer, and party with approximately 12,000 of our coolest friends.

Pennsic is held annually during late July and early August at Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock, PA. The event is hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), drawing thousands from around the globe. The name itself is a play on words, combining "Pennsylvania" with "Punic Wars." The "War" is between the SCA Kingdom of the East and the Kingdom of the Middle (Think East Coast vs. Inlanders). Designated competitions earn points for either side, the one with the most points at the end of the war, wins.

*One does not need to be a member of the SCA to attend though members receive a slightly discounted gate fee.

Things to Do at Pennsic

There's something for everybody. Ugh...I can't say that, it's so campy. There's something for the multiple personalities in me. How's that?
There's something to satisfy MY many facets. Classes and demos of freakin' sweet medieval arts and sciences? Check! Medieval weaponry and combat, the hands-on kind not the stage kind? Check. Yeah, come throw some axes. Masquerade Balls and Middle Eastern Haflas? Yep. Performing Arts? Drum Circles? Strolling minstrals? Stilt Walkers? Coffee? Yes, it's all there. OH and mother of God, the shopping there is to be done. There are so many vendors, it may take you a couple days to see everything.

The University

Let's not gloss over the classes and demonstrations. Sounds boring. It's not. 
Generally speaking, all classes advertised in the Pennsic Book are free of charge and open to all Pennsic attendees unless otherwise noted. Some classes may offer materials and handouts at cost, but these are optional and participants are not required to buy anything to attend classes or performances.

Some class categories to wet your appetite:
Archery, Astronomy, Brewing, Calligraphy, Cooking, Dance, Equestrian, Fencing, Fabrics, Herbalism, Henna, Ironwork, Kumihimo, Lacework, Leatherwork, Minting, and I'm only half way through the alphabet. The full class listing is posted a couple of months in advance for us to drool over.

To my knowledge: All of the teachers, performers, and exhibitors do so as volunteers and none of these people receive any compensation for their skills. Please take the time to thank them for THEIR time, effort, knowledge, and skills whenever you can.

Arts & Sciences (A&S) Display
This is an opportunity for artists to show their talents and research that they've dedicated to a particular period art form. Imagine a medieval science fair. Not so much a competition, more of a social and educational roundup. Exhibitors are looking to educate and/or receive feedback. We're not talking just calligraphy and felting, we're also talking bows and arrows and glasswork to name a few.

Balls (as in dancing)

There are a couple of large dances that take place during War Week. The first is a formal Masquerade Ball, held in the evening, where you are encouraged to wear your finest medieval clothing, be social, and participate in period dance. The second is called "The Blue Feather Ball" a low-key low-brow masquerade thrown by the epic LGBT community of the war.


There are three official venues (and several unofficial) for the performing arts. There's a stage specifically for theater, an amphitheater, and a Middle Eastern pavilion. Each has its own event schedule that will be posted with the classes.

Honestly, if you have the spare time, search Youtube with "Pennsic Performing Arts"

Martial Activities

Everyone knows the Field Battle, its probably the most popular on youtube. You've already seen it if you watched some of the videos above. It is awesome to behold a sea of people clash on the battlefield. There's even a mock naval battle that takes place on the field, complete with makeshift ships. I wish I had a picture of that to show you!
There are so many tournaments worth spectating too; heavy weapons, fencing, archery, and thrown weapons.
As a first-timer and non-member, you will be limited to spectator for most martial activities. However, the archery and thrown weapons ranges hold beginner classes with loner gear and are open to those with weapons that pass safety inspection. 

If you're looking to volunteer around combat, look into Water-Bearing. The Water Bearers carry gallons of water out to the fighters. Remember, we're talking about people in full armor in the summer heat! Its one of the most important volunteer jobs and its a great way to meet people.   


Which leads me to the list of possibilites open to volunteers. When I attend any festival for the first time, I look for the opportunity to volunteer. Chances are, you'll make friends and learn your way around the venue pretty quickly. At Pennsic, lending a hand at security is a cool way to help out and get your lay of the land. Help is always needed at the university, Chirurgeon (first aid), setup and teardown for battlefield events, performance pavillions, etc. The coolest thing you can do, is ask somebody if they need an extra hand. 

For the Kids

Pennsic is definitely family friendly with a myriad of children's activities.
Arts and crafts type classes are listed in the on-site book and online under Pennsic University. Special activities like scavenger hunts are printed in the on-site newspaper, The Pennsic Independent. 

Youth Combat- classes and practices in fencing, archery, and such are held frequently. There are also events like the Children's Fete and the Children's Water Battle.
Teen Nights- Each kingdom sponsors a Teen night, which is a supervised youth social event.
Youth Theater Program- Children's theater practices and performances
Private camps also run fun activities for the little ones.

As the sun sets, the summer heat begins to dissipate and Children have to adhere to the curfew. :)

Performances geared toward the older crowd begin and the fire dancers come out. Drums can be heard in the distance as the Hafla at the Middle Eastern Dance Pavillion picks up. The cool night air ruffles the silky curtains of the Turkish coffee house.

On certain nights of the week there are scheduled Dances and Haflas (Middle Eastern Themed Parties) and there are always impromptu get-togethers. I believe the term Amoeba Party was born at Pennsic. Wandering crowds party-hop together dressed as pirates or fools. Similarly, performers (dancers, musicians, entertainers) wander from camp to camp.

Midnight Madness

A certain night at war is sure to leave everyone with at least one good story. A long standing tradition has made Wednesday night of War week, Midnight Madness. 
The story goes that, one year, Pennsic was just too hot and unbearable. Folks weren't leaving camp and merchants struggled. They decided to reopen at midnight so that people would have a chance to shop without risk of heat stroke. Midnight Madness became a staple. Everyone comes out to the marketplace to take in the entertainment (out in full force) and take advantage of the sales. I can't say more than that, you really just have to experience it!

And those were all the structured activities. I haven't even touched on the annual, well known-camp parties, the slave auction (it's a charity thing), the fool's parade, the moose parade, the list goes on.
I can't even... How many people can say they almost got run over by a Viking long ship on their vacation? No, really.

Newcomer Notes

Pennsic Courtesy

If you're chilling in someone elses camp and there's a tip jar or they're taking donations, don't be a douche.

If you're out and about in the evening, don't assume everybody wants their picture taken. Ask kindly and don't be a douche.

If you're attending a small gathering, try not to arrive empty handed...don't be a douche.

Have fun, be safe. Don't drink more than you can handle and don't drink it if you don't know what it is.

What to Wear     

The first thing I want to stress is that you have to make an attempt at period clothing. If you spent the time to learn how to sew and make you're own period attire, then you'd know how disappointing it is to see people walking around in sundresses and Utilikilts.
Any attempt at garb is appreciated and there's no garb police. Its like an honor system and I expect you to try because I try and we all know that nobody's perfect.
I've put together a rambling on all the things I wish I knew about garb for the first time Pennsic Go-er. It doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to break the bank.

Because I've said this, I've been accused of being a "garb Nazi" which is bullshit. I have a sack of loner garb and it's hardly accurate, period anything. 


Camping, it doesn't have to be in period. In my opinion, period camps are hard to pull off! If not technically, then maybe on the transportation end of things, at the very least!
Our group encampment is entirely mundane, hidden by a facade of sheet walls.

Some may ask, why bother pre-registering? Now we're going to go a bit into land allotment. If its you're first Pennsic and you're camping with a group (which I highly advise), you're pre-registration determines how much land the group gets. The allotment is 250 sq ft per pre-registered member. That's guaranteed (to an extent) space for you and the group. If you do not pre-reg and go the singles camping route, its first come first serve. Singles camping space goes up for grabs the day after *Land Grab, which is to say, after the group campers stake their claim. If you're singles camping and you're not planning on coming out til the second week, you're options could be very slim.

*Land Grab is the first day of war. Land Agents, those who are designated by their camps to stake out the camp's land, are required to be on site to negotiate with their neighbors and agree on their allotted space for the event

*Parking is also first come, first serve.

and last but not least...

Welcome Home

Upon arrival you will "troll in," as we like to say. Check-in is called Troll, for serious. You will be given the site booklet I've referenced multiple times, a merchant guide, and a medallion. DO NOT LOSE THE MEDALLION. Then, you will be told, "Welcome Home."

The Official Pennsic Website

Shire of Hartshorn Dale Newcomer's Guide

Pennsic Prep- A Wandering Elf

The SCA for Newcomers - A really detailed site. Extensive courtesy notes.

What is the SCA? 

The Society for Creative Anachronism is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our Known World consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes, workshops, and more.
Learn more and find your local group at


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