Keeping Watch

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Manveruon
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Keeping Watch

Postby Manveruon » Wed Jun 17, 2020 12:23 am

Okay, I’ve got a question that I keep meaning to ask but forgetting for whatever reason:

When you camp, particularly with other people, do you keep a night watch? And if you do, what is your normal procedure?

I unfortunately don’t get out to actually go camping overnight very often, and almost never as a Ranger, but I’d like to do more of it, and while I have been considering various aspects of the practice it occurred to me that the one time I ever did a multi-day Ranger camping trek, neither my companion nor myself kept any sort of watch overnight - which, in retrospect, seems rather foolish. Of course, in modern America one probably isn’t likely to encounter bandits or marauders in the woods (although I suppose there IS always a possibility), let alone orcs or trolls - but bears, cougars, and other nocturnal predators are still a pretty real danger.

So setting a watch does seem practical, but how do you generally plan out trading off shifts between your camping party? And for that matter, how do you determine the time in the pitch black of night in the wilderness? Do you use a modern timepiece? An hourglass? Or is there a better method for judging the passage of time overnight while also packing light?
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Greg » Wed Jun 17, 2020 2:16 am

The MERS folks have discussed it a few times, both online and in person on various trips, and the general consensus has been thus far to simply enjoy ourselves and get our rest. Though it seems to shirk realism, it could be said that such a group is "Reenacting a camp during peacetime or well within known safe lands". This does, of course, reek of cheating...but then again, we're putting ourselves through much hardship already by the miles put underfoot and sleeping on the ground. The only true watch we've put into practice is the unspoken rule that "He who waketh to darkness and silence must stoketh yonder fire lest it be out cold, and breakfast become the same."

Can it be done? Absolutely! Should we? Absolutely! Will we on some upcoming trip? You bet!

The things to remember going in to such a task:

How many people are present? If you're only two trekkers strong, you're intending to cut the watch in half...which means (conservatively) four hours alone in the pitch black starting at nothing...each. ...And the watches will only get longer every single night after June until Yule. In the case of the MERS group, we'd be looking at 3-6 people to split it amongst, which lightens the load considerably and makes it much more reasonable. The trick is keeping steady track of the time so nobody does a short shift, forcing someone else to stay up through an extremely long one...without a modern timepiece for aid.

All the same, that's what you're signing up for...countless hours of boredom in the dark. In the case of a fall-winter trekking, the unwritten rule as a minimum is needed, and at most should be set as a watch in shifts to ensure it doesn't go out in severe cold.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Peter Remling » Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:21 am

Technically we are not a military presence so instead of the strict "guard duty" each person should bring along a task related hobby to help while away the hours. Whittling wooden animals as toys for children or embroidering on a piece of fabric or leather come to mind. Stitch up something that is already precut or repair some leather goods. Practice your honing skills fletch arrows that you've been making. Anything along these lines that are light weight and don't add bulk to your pack.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Eofor » Wed Jun 17, 2020 1:18 pm

We've discussed it for both living history and Ranger camps but have always come up with the same set of problems that Greg listed, the biggest one being that you are really guarding against nothing. If there was genuinely a chance that a troop of goblins may pass then I think the watch would be more bearable.

There is a European event called Mannfall (link below) run by the excellent living history group Marobud which involves period trekking but also attacks from bandits and so they are forced to actually keep a guard. They sleep in ruined castles and all sorts of amazing things.

MANNFALL is a new, educational-experimental concept of early medieval events that aims to a more intensive and progressive reenactment. Every event will be held at a different place with a different scenerio. Here are photos from the second try that took place on November 16th-19th 2017. In total, there were 10 players, 5 fighting members of caravan, 3 attackers and 3 dogs. Players had to protect the caravan on the way to Křivoklát castle. During the journey, they all had to sleep in the nature, protect themself from bandits and cross the river. Finally, players bound hands of the bandits and brought them to the castle. Then the game was over, and a banquet was held.


https://www.facebook.com/mannfallgame/
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Eofor » Wed Jun 17, 2020 1:27 pm

I'm trying to think of times when watches are kept in the books. Balin is the watchman in the Hobbit and it is he who spots the Troll fire, the Elves feasting fires in Mirkwood and spots Bilbo after he escapes the Goblin tunnels although he seems to be snoozing on duty when they get jumped in the Goblins front porch.

In the Lord of the rings there are only a handful of mentions of watches being kept and those seem to be when there is a clear danger. Butterbur and Nob guard the Prancing Pony once the Black Riders are revealed, Sam guards Frodo against Gollum and Pippin is punished with the first watch in Moria.

When the company feels free from danger it doesn't seem to set a watch - Sam to Frodo upon realising that Gollum is following their boats down Anduin
No need to trouble Strider or the others tonight. I'll keep watch. I can sleep tomorrow, being no more than luggage in a boat as you might say.
I might, said Frodo and I might say luggage with eyes. You shall watch; but only if you promise to wake me half way towards morning if nothing happens between then


We later find out that Aragorn knew Gollum was about and yet he set no watch.
There may be something in this, I imagine a ranger of his experience would sleep very lightly and have the skill to conceal the camp to all but the most prying of eyes. Sam and Frodo rely on the same technique in the last stretch to Mt Doom where they sleep in craters and under thorn bushes.

Perhaps rather than set a watch we could add concealment to our list of requirements when selecting a campsite?
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Udwin » Wed Jun 17, 2020 1:30 pm

Don't feel bad about not setting a watch, folks. Isildur might not have, either!
The first account (Of the Rings of Power) of his defeat at the Gladden tells us he
"was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains; and they descended upon him at unawares in his camp between the Greenwood and the Great River, nigh to Loeg Ningloron, the Gladden Fields, for he was heedless and set no guard, deeming that all his foes were overthrown." Of course, this contradicts the more detailed description of his defeat in Unfinished Tales but if we presume that the former source at least records his attitude correctly, then not setting a watch during time of apparent peace is Okay!

I understand that there are ways to tell time by the moon, but they require memorizing tables of information depending on phase. I think it would be possible to roughly judge by the position of known stars, but you would need a set landmark to measure how far they travel. Otherwise, since stars rotate around a point in the sky, it's much trickier than judging time by the sun, when you can just measure handspans to the horizon.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Taurinor » Wed Jun 17, 2020 1:51 pm

Like a lot of other folks in this thread, it's something I've thought about and discussed with others, but not done (yet).

Like Greg said, I think it would be quite difficult for a 2 person trek; my guess is you'd want at least 3 folks, and 4 or more would be better. You could rotate who has first and last watch with who has the middle watch(es), so folks can get an uninterrupted stretch of sleep every other night.

This blog post about keeping watch in a 15th century camp made the rounds a little while back, but I can't remember which of the overlapping versions of this hobby that I play at discussed it. They had four watches and four watchers and used two turns of an hourglass to mark the time. That would certainly work, but I can't really imagine rangers carrying an hourglass. The same goes for a candle clock; it would work, but again, I can't see rangers using one (or even anyone in our own pre-modern history; candles, especially beeswax ones, were expensive!). Might be a good option for folks playing at keeping watch without the real danger of giving your camp location away, though, and it would provide some light to help with Pete's suggestion of small tasks to pass the time.

Like Udwin said, there are natural ways of timekeeping at night that I've read a little about (but don't understand), but I don't know how those would mix with tree cover, let alone clouds. I think Eofor might have the right idea about sleeping lightly and concealing the camp, and I don't wonder if pre-industrial segmented/biphasic/bimodal sleep patterns might have helped. If everyone naturally wakes up for a couple of hours every night, you could hypothetically stagger when every goes to sleep initially and rely on the natural rhythms of the body to help with changing watches. That doesn't help us at all, of course, but the thought occurred to me.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby wulfgar » Wed Jun 17, 2020 2:03 pm

I have done it for immersive Civil War events, but those were events that 30-40 people in attendance. Even then, there is often hesitation about setting our pickets on the last night of an event due to safety purposes of people not getting enough sleep to make the trip home the next day. Having done a couple of solo overnights in the woods, I find that you are much more aware of things when you are by yourself and sleep much lighter.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby theowl » Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:58 pm

Many years ago me and 2 friends were backpacking across the foothills near us on a 3 day trek. On day two we ended up setting up a night watch because we discovered a meth lab about 300 ft from where we set up camp for the night. We each did 3 hour shifts and got out of there at dawn. thankfully we didn't run afoul of any cooks..
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Cimrandir » Thu Jun 18, 2020 2:36 am

To be honest, I enjoy and need my sleep too much to go that far. It would definitely get you more immersion but at what cost? :lol: Also, I've always thought Rangers to be pragmatic folk. If they didn't need to set a watch, why would they? So if we don't need to in our modern times, why bother? Find a secure sleeping spot and lay on down. That said -

theowl wrote:Many years ago me and 2 friends were backpacking across the foothills near us on a 3 day trek. On day two we ended up setting up a night watch because we discovered a meth lab about 300 ft from where we set up camp for the night. We each did 3 hour shifts and got out of there at dawn. thankfully we didn't run afoul of any cooks..


That's creepy as hell. Glad to that things didn't go poorly!

Eofor wrote:We've discussed it for both living history and Ranger camps but have always come up with the same set of problems that Greg listed, the biggest one being that you are really guarding against nothing. If there was genuinely a chance that a troop of goblins may pass then I think the watch would be more bearable.

There is a European event called Mannfall (link below) run by the excellent living history group Marobud which involves period trekking but also attacks from bandits and so they are forced to actually keep a guard. They sleep in ruined castles and all sorts of amazing things.

MANNFALL is a new, educational-experimental concept of early medieval events that aims to a more intensive and progressive reenactment. Every event will be held at a different place with a different scenerio. Here are photos from the second try that took place on November 16th-19th 2017. In total, there were 10 players, 5 fighting members of caravan, 3 attackers and 3 dogs. Players had to protect the caravan on the way to Křivoklát castle. During the journey, they all had to sleep in the nature, protect themself from bandits and cross the river. Finally, players bound hands of the bandits and brought them to the castle. Then the game was over, and a banquet was held.


https://www.facebook.com/mannfallgame/


That's so cool! Man, why can't we do things like that in the states?
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby theowl » Thu Jun 18, 2020 4:05 am

Cimrandir wrote:
That's creepy as hell. Glad to that things didn't go poorly!



Indeed. We called the cops when we got back to civilization, but I dont know if anything ever came of it.

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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Eofor » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:46 am

Cimrandir wrote:That's so cool! Man, why can't we do things like that in the states?


I've thought the same thing about Australia and I think it boils down to three things.

- Finding enough people who want the same level of immersion and the sacrifices that come with it. You'd need to vet potential applicants to make sure they had sufficient kit to survive in the wild.

- The distance involved. Their whole country is smaller than some of our states.

- The organisation. Someone has to do it which means that at least that person and the bandits have to miss out on the full experience.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby wulfgar » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:05 pm

Eofor wrote:
Cimrandir wrote:That's so cool! Man, why can't we do things like that in the states?


I've thought the same thing about Australia and I think it boils down to three things.

- Finding enough people who want the same level of immersion and the sacrifices that come with it. You'd need to vet potential applicants to make sure they had sufficient kit to survive in the wild.

- The distance involved. Their whole country is smaller than some of our states.

- The organisation. Someone has to do it which means that at least that person and the bandits have to miss out on the full experience.


I have done events like this, and they are the ones I was talking about in my post above. They were immersive Civil War events. We showed up to the event, usually on a Thursday night, and were usually issued rations that night or on Monday morning. The events usually involved marching from one location to another and there would be engagements along the way, both sides usually starting in different locations. One event had the Federals permanently stationed in a fortified are as the Confederates moved through the area. another event involved the Confederates abandoning a position and having to do a two day march to a new location, all the while being chased by Federal Calvary. Sometimes there are even encounters with civilians.
These events are much smaller than the big public reenactments, usually 30-40 people. The logistics that go into them even with that small number is mind boggling but it would be awesome to see something like that for a Middle Earth setting.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby wulfgar » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:12 pm

Just to add, I was actually going to try to put and event like this together in Arkansas, but there are insurance issues with the place I wanted to ues.
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Re: Keeping Watch

Postby Ghostsoldier » Thu Jun 18, 2020 6:03 pm

My background has been World War 2 reenacting, and I have done several 'total immersion' events in the past; even though we all knew the reality was that the 'Germans' we were battling were fellow hobbyists, the mental thrill of hopefully surviving until morning in occupied territory...we also had sentries on duty all night....was quite exhilarating.

Of course, we had 12-man squads, which made taking watches a lot easier on everyone involved; we would rotate out sentry duty so that each man had a stint at the job for the three days we were there...I've never listened to the darkness so hard before in my life, imagining all kinds of hidden terrors. :P

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