Should You Be A Warlord?

Whether or not someone is qualified to be a warlord is something I’ve given a lot of thought. When I was coming up, I was constantly assessing myself and trying to answer that question. Both before and after I became a warlord, I’ve had up-and-comers who felt they were close to that achievement ask me if I though they were ready and deserving.

I’ve developed a list of eleven criteria I use to answer that question. I am not a believer in “bare minimum” approaches, and my standards are higher than the minimums listed in the rulebook. I want new warlords to be figures of respect and fear on the battlefield, not min-maxers who found a way to number-crunch a marginal minimum benchmark. I’ve held myself to this same standard; I streaked past 21 several times but judged the opposition insufficient to merit a strong warlord argument, and I had more than twice the required number of wins when I finally became a warlord. I don’t expect everyone to do as much to become a warlord, but I’m not going to hold others to a standard I myself have not exceeded.

I use Sword Knight and Warlord synonymously in my criteria, even though there are some Sword Knights who are not actually warlords.

1) Have you earned at least four decent kingdom wins in the last couple of years?

Earning warlord is about being good now, relative to fighters now. It is your job to raise the bar; if you got some of your wins ten years ago, that doesn’t mean diddly as to whether you are any good now. I also won’t accept people who squeeze in a win by coming in second and third a lot while the better fighters keep knocking each other out of the brackets. You better have some first places in that tournament to show you won it by yourself, not with the blessings of the Bracket Gods.

Ideally, I want you to exceed the bare minimum of four wins. I’m happier with six or eight, but I will count lesser wins towards that number if you have four really solid wins to go with them.

There is no number of extremely weak wins that counts as a solid win. If you won seventeen kingdom tourneys where the best fighter was my grandmother, your qual is weak as her aged arms. You can definitely count those for bragging rights after you accumulate four solid wins and tell people you warlorded on tournament wins before you got your warlord, but you can’t convince me you deserve to be a warlord on the strength of those seventeen weak wins.

2) Where did you get your wins? A warlord is not just “the best guy at his park.”

A warlord is one of the best fighters in the game. If you got all your wins in the same kingdom, there is a chance your are just a big fish in a small pond. This is especially problematic if you’re in a kingdom that doesn’t get a lot of visiting warlords. The last Wetlands tournament had five warlords from three different kingdoms, all of whom have won tournaments recently; that’s a pretty deep pool. Other tournaments I’ve seen are all locals, with one local warlord; those wins are less impressive when you start repeating them. I expect new warlords to not just win in their kingdom, but to be competitive across Amtgard. You should have won something in at least one other kingdom. The more kingdoms, the better.

3) Did you win in your home kingdom?

This is the “Glen Rule.” At one point I had five or six wins in four or five different kingdoms, but I had moved to a new kingdom and hadn’t won there yet. If you can’t win at home, you don’t deserve to be their warlord.

4) Have you won tournaments over a variety of warlords?

I don’t want a warlord who is just specialized in beating one guy. If you’ve gotten all your wins beating the same warlord, you need to get out more. A warlord should have defeated a variety of warlords who use a variety of fighting styles. I think the minimum number is four. Five is gravy. Ten is showing off. There should also be at least one “A-List” warlord on your list of defeated candidates. Defeated warlords only count if you won the tournament; just placing higher than a warlord means nothing if you didn’t win.

5) Have you won multiple categories?

This seems like a gimme, but I don’t want a warlord who wins S&B and Open (using S&B), sucks at everything else, and wins because there are only four categories in the tournaments he fights in. A warlord should be better than non-warlords with any weapon he picks up; I once streaked to 21 with a foam guitar. Everything should be a deadly weapon to non-warlords in your hands.

6) Are you better than some of the active warlords?

You don’t have to be the best fighter in Amtgard, or even in the top ten, but a new warlord should at least start out in the middle of the pack when it comes to active warlords. The new guy is training hard and working to improve; some of the still active warlords, while still good, are no longer training hard and fighting 4-5 times a week like they did when they were coming up. If you’re going to be the worst warlord, or even in the bottom 10%, you don’t deserve to be a warlord. Warlords should only get to the bottom 10% by starting out in the middle, and then the next generation improving past them.

7) Do you flank the meat counter?

“You don’t understand what it is like with warlords: when Brennon goes grocery shopping he is figuring out how to flank the meat counter.” (Dame Squeak!)

Part of being a warlord is excelling at the mental game of Amtgard fighting. You must think intelligently and analytically about fighting on a regular basis. You must possess, and constantly utilize, the ability to adapt to strange and unusual circumstances and fighting styles quickly and easily. A warlord can encounter something new, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of it, devise a counter, and execute the new maneuver successfully, all in the space of a couple rounds of sparring. Afterwards, the warlord should be able to explain to his opponent what he did, why, and how his opponent could counter the warlord’s new move. This requires a complete understanding of the fighting space. Part of this comes from fighting being a constant preoccupation for the impending warlord.

This is one of the most critical aspects of being a warlord, and anyone who doesn’t do it shouldn’t be a warlord. In a very real sense, gaining this ability is what makes people into warlords.

8) How do you do on an off day?

On a good day, a warlord can beat almost anyone else in the game. On a bad day, a warlord can beat any non-warlord in the game. Your “off-day” skill level is a key differentiator between people who should be warlords and people who are not yet ready to be warlords.

The not-yet-ready up-and-comers often start thinking they’re warlord material because, on their best days, they can beat a warlord, maybe even win a tournament. They manage to get up to seven, maybe even eight orders of the warrior, and feel like they’re really ready to be warlords. However, on their off days, they lose to other up-and-comers as well as the warlords, place behind non-warlords, and may even fail to place at all.

Conversely, a warlord beats all the up-and-comers even on his off days. When I was coming up, I won some tournaments and took an amazing number of second places. On my “off days”, I just wasn’t able to deliver that win against the other up-and-comers. My last tournament before I received my warlord, out of four limbs only my off-hand had a non-debilitating injury I was rehabbing; I won anyway. Brennon once won a tournament with a fever, and having to take a break to vomit after every round.

To a large degree, it doesn’t matter how well you do on your best days; it matters how well you do on your worst.

9) Would I be embarrassed to be grouped with you?

Is it going to be embarrassing or bothersome if people look at your fighting, note you’re a warlord, and use that to set an expectation of my fighting or credibility? Being a warlord is being part of an elite club, and we’re jealous of our membership. We don’t want people in it who we don’t feel are worthy. You can show us really easily if you’re worthy or not, just by fighting us and demonstrating your skills. As a side note, please don’t blow off shots to try to make yourself look like a better fighter than you are. We’re warlords: we can tell when you’re cheating and we really hate cheaters.

10) Are you a dominant fighter?

A warlord should be a dominant fighter, both in tournaments and on the battlefield. You should be able to mow down opponents and dominate any space you stand in. Some good fighters get sloppy when they’re not doing one-on-one fighting, and they fail to have a dominating presence on the field because they continually die to lesser fighters because their technique is sloppy.

11) Do you have doubts?

This last criteria is not about “should you be a warlord?”, but rather “should you accept a warlord title?” Being the newest warlord puts a big target on you. Everyone is judging you and second guessing your shiny new title. Worse, if you’re really dedicated to excellence, you’re also judging and second-guessing yourself.

This means every time you lose to a lesser fighter, and everyone does at some point, the question will occur to you or them, “Should this guy be a warlord?” If you go less than 60-40 with another warlord, you will start to doubt your worthiness. (Sparring with JLee right after getting my warlord was hard on my ego.)

When you “level up” to warlord, you will put a lot more pressure on yourself to win and demonstrate that you deserve to be a warlord. If you had doubts about getting the title in the first place, this stress will be increased tenfold. All this pressure makes fighting a lot less fun.

The best way to alleviate this problem is to have no doubts (or at least very few) about your worthiness *before* you accept a Warlord title. There are three ways to accomplish this. First, you could be a narcissist who is completely out of touch with reality. I don’t recommend this approach at all, but I have seen a few up-and-comers who are clearly taking this approach. Second, you can get the approval of someone who is notoriously honest and hard to please. This provides you with quality control, so you know you’re not being blinded by your own desire to be a warlord. I recommend Brennon. If Brennon tells you that you deserve to be a warlord, you are definitely worthy. Third, smother your doubts with victories. It is a lot easier to smother your doubts if you have a dozen kingdom wins to bury them under.