Amtgard Leadership and Service Archive

My Philosophy of Awards

by Michael Hammer of God


Disclaimer Ė This piece represents only my thoughts on awards, not anything at all official. This should in no way be considered binding. The charts at the end especially show my starting point for awards consideration and I usually start discussions with my regent from there. There is no canon here.

Why We Give Awards

In what ways are awards an important part of the Amtgard experience? Amtgard is at its foundation a fun recreation where we dress up and hit each other with foam sticks. Awards are not required for the recreation. That much is obvious to almost all of us. Groups like Dagorhir do the same basic thing we do without an awards system and have plenty of fun. On the other hand, we are hardly the only medieval organization to give out knighthoods nor are we the only one to give them out following a relatively complete set of rules. Since awards are not required for us to enjoy our recreational activity, they must be designed to somehow enhance our game. Itís no mystery; they exist to reward excellence and thereby to encourage the pursuit of excellence.

The pursuit of excellence is in itself an admirable human activity and encouraging it is noble on that basis. This benefits both the individual and the club. When Amtgarders push themselves and achieve great things inside the scope of our game, they learn self-confidence and discipline. That helps them achieve further success and happiness both inside Amtgard and out. In short, if the possibility of awards often acts as an incentive that drives someone to try something they otherwise would have skipped, and if they enjoy it we have done that person a great service. The classic high school nerd who never touched sports but who has some success in Amtgard may easily decide he wants to be a Warlord. The drive and training needed to work toward that goal has often translated into many other skills. The pursuit of excellence also benefits the game as a whole. Excellence on the field is healthy for us and excellence in the arts makes us look better. Excellence in leadership or service translates even more directly to immediate i mprovement of our organization. That awards actually serve this purpose is relatively evident. The best way to see this is to compare the best of the best from organizations that use awards with the best of the best from similar organizations that do not.

How We Give Awards

If we understand why awards are a good and useful part of our game it is also critical to examine how they are given. Our awards are given according to a loose and subjective standard. Our corporas contain definitions but the details are left blank. Our system is subjective because it has to be, to some extent. It is very hard to objectively compare a piece of court garb to a poem, to say nothing of comparing organizing a workshop to maintaining a web page. Therefore the decision is necessarily left to our park and kingdom leaders. Personal judgment takes the place of a rules based or objective standard. This approach has both dangers and advantages.

The biggest risk of subjective awards is that since criteria canít be entirely fixed, reasonable people may disagree on what merits what. That means that without the least ill intent awards are not always granted evenly or fairly. Add to this the fact that a few Amtgard leaders do hand out awards capriciously and the risks become considerable. Sometimes our friends leave the game or make themselves miserable over awards or more frequently over the lack of them. Sometimes our new players get discouraged or cynical because they see people who receive awards but do not obviously match the corpora criteria for those awards. This is the danger. Every Amtgarder who gets bitter and cynical is lost to the benefits of awards even if they do eventually earn some, and the people who leave our game over awards, while admittedly relatively few, are lost to us forever.

There are also some positive aspects of having a subjective awards system. A leader can make up for awards missed in the past and the system can adapt over time in ways that a regulated and codified system never could. Also, a rules-based system is pretty easy to manipulate or game. Players seek to meet the rules rather then seeking true excellence. This is harder to get away with under a more judgment based system.

To my mind the positive factors do not cancel the inherent risks of losing people and destroying initiative by careless decisions or by intentionally biased ones. If a fair objective awards system were possible I might like to use it. However, it isnít possible. In fact, opinions differ on whether Amtgard awards are a net positive for our game or not. What is clear, even to the biggest supporters of the awards system, is that both sides exist and that we cannot extract the benefits of our system if we do not constantly work to minimize the negatives and accentuate the positives. This job falls mainly to the elected leaders of parks and kingdoms. It is vital to miss as few deserved awards as possible and not to award any outside the standards. While different monarchs are allowed, even encouraged to award within their own opinion of what the standards mean, we have to keep close to them at all times or the system breaks down.

Using the Corpora as a Guide

The first and simplest guide to objective fairness in awards comes directly out of our corpora. While there is some variation between kingdoms, all corporas limit the awards that may be given based on group size. Shires canít give as many awards as baronies or duchies and only kingdoms can grant the top awards. In relatively objective fields like fighting this makes a lot of sense. A shire tourney with four other fighters is a heck of a lot easier to win than a kingdom tourney with 50-100. Likewise running a shire feast where you barbeque for 6 friends isnít the same level of service to our game that cooking mid-reign for hundreds is. Thatís not to say that all work in small groups might not merit higher awards. Certainly it sometimes does and we have a system to deal with that by passing recommendations up to the kingdom level. Still, this can give us a basis for setting up a framework of awards recommendations.

As an example, I will take the most subjective of all awards, the Order of the Rose, look at it in terms of a specific type of service, and break it down based on group size. The type of service I want to examine is running an event. The sheriff of a shire can give Orders of the Rose up to level two or three according to most corporas. A completely average shire has less than twenty players, usually ten to fifteen. Lots of service goes on in such shires. For example, most shires have some kind of coronation celebration, usually something simple. Organizing a shire coronation (even if itís just a barbeque in the park) is an average sort of service that goes on in a shire. Logically running such a celebration well should be something that the local monarch could award you for if she chose to. For the sake of the argument this means that organizing a barbeque in the park for ten to fifteen people is probably worth a second or third Order of the Rose. Of course, this always assumes everything else is average. It could be that you have two large duchies visit for your shire coronation. Hitting a similar level of quality in such a feast would likely merit a higher-level order than just feeding the ten or so natives. Of course that recommendation would have to go to a higher-level monarch.

Itís not like we can make any rules out of this. However, it gives us a basis of similarity in granting awards. Approaching it from the opposite direction, most corporas only allow the King or Queen to grant ninth and tenth orders. Most kingdoms have at least a full-blown camping event for each coronation. Autocrating one of these events well is pretty much an acceptable top level of service within a kingdom. Most monarchs give autocrats of these events consideration for ninth or tenth orders. Again, there are no rules but it gives us an idea of a reasonable top. Most kingdoms also run inter-kingdom events that are even more challenging to autocrat so there is an even higher top in some cases but thatís just one more reason I am only talking about guidelines and not rules. On top of these subjective issues is the fact that we also have Orders of the Lion and Orders of the Smith. Both of these awards have some overlap with Orders of the Rose. Lions in particular are granted for the same kinds of service as roses, with the addition of distinction or leadership, depending on specific corporas. This does give leaders more tools to properly award service. On the other hand, it makes the process even more subjective.

Still, these considerations help us evaluate what we might expect to see at each level of award. A medium-sized duchy might have a feast at a rented hall after a special quest day in the park as their coronation event. If well organized this might merit a seventh or eighth Order of the Rose for the autocrat/feastocrat. Obviously there are many ways to serve our game and many levels of quality within that service. Any attempt to break down awards and the level of excellence that merits them has to be extremely general and will only work when our leaders take it very seriously, garner as much information as they can, and make difficult judgment calls. Given all that, I want to present the following as the starting point I use in granting awards. I believe that the preceding paragraphs explain why I think it is important to have a somewhat objective starting point and how I arrived at this one. For simplicityís sake I am only going to consider Roses, Dragons and Warriors. Extending this logically to Owls, Garbers, Lions and Smiths is pretty obvious. For Warriors this only applies to awards earned via the equivalent success category. Kingdoms that award warriors by a strict wins in a row method already have a very objective system.

There is one further consideration-- that is that most Amtgard awards are ladder awards. That is, you cannot receive a ninth order of the Rose until you already have eight. This means that if the chart of examples suggests that some specific service might be worth a seventh Rose, then the same specific service might be worth a fifth or sixth rose for someone who only had four or five and would very likely merit a first Rose for someone who had none. Also remember that all examples depend on a good job being done. It doesnít matter how big the event is, if the autocrat does a bad job the monarch will know and shouldnít look to give an award to that person.


Level Example
1 Being part of a feast serving team, cleaning up the park once
2 Cooking hot chocolate at the park. Reeving in a normal tourney.
3 Being in charge of a Shire picnic or event. Helping out on a day of recruiting. Running a Baronial tourney or a workshop for one or two students.
4 Running a Baronial workshop. Producing a relatively minor useful item, such as a single issue of a newsletter or a very simple website.
5 Autocrating a major Baronial event. Running a Ducal tourney or small workshop. Doing a vital but challenging minor job like cleaning all the toilets at a Kingdom level event.
6 Organizing a Ducal workshop or a Kingdom tourney. Creating something useful to the club like a reign's worth of Ducal newsletters.
7 Organizing a smaller ducal event or a Kingdom workshop. Organizing a demo or other recruiting opportunity. Creating and maintaining a relatively standard website.
8 Autocrating a large Ducal level event. Serving as Feast-o-crat, Gate-o-crat or some other assistant at a Kingdom level event.
9 Autocrating a Kingdom level event. Creating an ongoing tool that improves the game. Organizing a long term and successful recruiting program
10 Autocrating a major Kingdom or Inter-kingdom event. Creating an important and ongoing tool or project that benefits Amtgard in your Kingdom or Amtgard wide, something like the Amtgard Atlas maybe.

Level Example
1 Any good first effort. Any nice piece.
2 Almost any good first or second effort. Shows improvement.
3 A solid piece. The kind of quality we regularly use. Winning a small A&S tourney (like a Shire event with 15 or so total items) would also qualify as long as some decent entries were included.
4 A pretty good piece. Better than average quality. Winning any small A&S tourney against decent competition also might count.
5 A good piece. A nice piece of art that demonstrates noticeable skill over what a novice could do. Wining a Baronial A&S tourney with around 30 entries would also likely qualify.
6 A very good piece. Something where effort and artistry are both demonstrated. It might benefit from some minor improvements but they should be slight. Winning a Ducal A&S tourney would also likely count if it was reasonably well attended.
7 A quality piece. Something a talented crafter would be proud of. Might easily win best of show in a Ducal A&S tourney. Winning such a tourney would also probably qualify as long as some very good pieces were present.
8 A high quality piece. Something likely to win best in show in a strong Ducal A&S and cool enough to merit a second look. Winning such an A&S tourney might also count but in the absence of a real quality piece, several items with quality close to that would need to be there.
9 An outstanding piece. Probably a best in show in a good A&S tourney. Winning such a tourney might also count but it would be unlikely without such a piece.
10 An outstanding and striking piece. It should make people want to stop and stare. Likely such a piece would easily take best of show in a well-entered Kingdom A&S tourney. Winning a very tight A&S tourney against other top crafters would also be an example but it is unlikely that would happen without such a piece being present.

Level Example
1 A serious showing for a new player. Fighting hard on the field or in tourney.
2 Improvement on the field. Continued low level success.
3 Further improvement. Being the best fighter on a Shire sized field or winning a Shire tourney in an average newish Shire.
4 Placing high in a Baronial tourney. Showing great improvement on the field. Being a serious and recognized threat.
5 Winning a Baronial tourney in an average growing Barony. Placing high in a Ducal tourney. Great showing on the field. This was the traditional top for battlefield commendation Orders of the Warrior. Sixth and higher Warriors might occasionally be granted without tourney success but the ditch and battlefield prowess to earn such awards should be extreme.
6 Placing reasonably in a Kingdom sized tourney or winning a single category in one. Placing high in a Ducal tourney with people of similar skills.
7 Winning a Ducal tourney against people of similar experience and skill. Placing high in a Ducal tourney with people of similar skill. Placing in the top five of a Kingdom tourney with top competition..
8 Winning a Ducal sized tourney against some people of similar experience and skill and some of greater experience and skill. Placing very high in a Kingdom level tourney with top competitors.
9 Winning a Kingdom level tourney against top competition. This presumes that Kingdom level tourneys bring out a decent number of competitors as well as a few top people.
10 Winning a major Kingdom level tourney against the best available competition. This probably means other Warlords competing to win. A very convincing win in such a tourney with few other Warlords might also count.