Principles of Growth:
From Shire, To Duchy, To Principality
by Celdic Fitz Caliston
This article has been on my list of things to do for quite a long time. It really owes its existence to Sir Michael for pushing me to complete it. Michael asked me, as a favor, to write an article about how the Principality of Desert Winds came to be, what hurdles we had to clear, and how we accomplished it; to thus share the methods and ideas we?d implemented in our journey with other groups to help them along their respective journeys.
To really grasp where we are now and just how far weíve come it is important to know where we came from. Rivers End was started back in June of 2000 in Salt Lake City by a group of friends lead by a young Esmar Tueke. Just when and how Esmar and his band got Imperial attention and acceptance into the Iron Mountains I still donít know. Esmar and his friends did, however, manage to keep the group going for years even though it struggled at times.
Fast forward to November of 2002 when I came into the picture and can report first hand:
At this point the Shire of Rivers End was just about dead. Population, while never great, was dismal. The few core players were drifting away from the game for many reasons. A few new recruits seemed to help renew the spirits for a month or so and then Esmar announced he would be going into the military and leaving the shire. This news killed off all the old players since Esmar had run everything for years and as his last act he named the only other remaining player Sheriff, handed over the records and poof! He was gone.
As the only remaining Amtgarder with any experience whatsoever I had a lot of challenges at that moment. What to do? What to do?
For me the answer was simple. I had to get help, and I had to find it fast. Looking back Iím really thankful to Esmar for keeping the records as he had, and even more importantly our group owes its current existence to the creator of the ORK. Without it I doubt I would have found the help I needed. As it was, I was able to call up the records for everyone that had ever been to the shire. I sent out massive emails to any contact with an address and called everyone with numbers trying to generate interest. I received a few non-committal responses and one response that complained about the location. Since the location was one of my pet peeves I quickly responded asking for suggestions.
The location of your park, "where you play" should really be addressed. Many folks wish to have an exotic, terrain-rich atmosphere where we can be dorks away from public scrutiny. While having such a place to play is great, the worst thing for a park is to be away from the public eye. Let me say that again. The worst thing for a park is to be away from the public eye.
For every 100 jeers, cat-calls, horn beeps, and loud-mouth punks that drive by giving you attitude for being geeks, one genuinely interested newbie will see you and think "That looks like fun!"
Highland Park, where Rivers End had met for years, was definitely not in the public eye. It was a park in the middle of an upper-class neighborhood far away from any major side streets. The playing area was over to 600 yards from the nearest street on top of a hill and behind a line of trees. The first time I went there it took me almost 30 minutes to find the group, definitely not in the public eye.
So what did we do? We went looking. I grabbed my wifeís two brothers, who were from the area, and we went looking. We searched and searched for weeks for the perfect park but never found it. In the end we settled for public eye, rather then terrain-rich. We found A Park with a large flat grass area right next to a major thru street and we called around again.
It was fortunate that all those interested in giving the group a trial run also lived much closer to the new park than the old (which was across town from most of us). We set a time to meet a week later.
That first meeting is where Rivers End really became a group in my eyes. We showed up and fought on the only piece of ground not covered in 6 inches of snow, the tennis courts. It was at that meeting with only 7 players scrapped together that Amtgard in Salt Lake City actually stood a chance. Seven young guys, out hitting each other with beastly weapons, slipping on icy tennis courts had such a blast that even though half of us had just met we had a bond that would see us through the next few years to make something great.
The park was great in the spring and fall, icy cold in the winter with no wind breaks, and blistering hot in the summer with very little shade. But it had the public eye!
That public eye paid off the very next week when our first public recruits drove up and asked if they could check it out. And they kept coming! Just a few lucky implants and lots of drive-ups improved our numbers to Barony size in a little over a month.
To have a successful park it needs to have goals. Goals on a personal level and those for the group should reach in the same direction. I remember when first moving to Salt Lake thinking "we only have a SHIRE!?" Having started Amtgard in a Ducal park, in a city much smaller the Salt Lake, I was floored! I made it my personal goal to build a Kingdom here before I moved away. That personal goal flavored a lot of what has happened here since. That first meeting I talked to the other 6 guys about that goal, and we all wanted it to happen. We each made it a personal goal to work on together. Each time a new player came in we introduced them to the goal and helped them make it just as personal to them.
My other goal was to help each new player have a sense of ownership in the game, but Iíll talk about that later.
Whether your park is just starting out or it's been around for ages its longevity will depend on recruitment. Players grow up, move away, get involved with mundania, etc. Without a steady influx of new blood your park will shrivel and die. And without a higher recruitment rate then departure rate your group will never advance to the next level. Here are some of the things we used:
1. Incentive credits - There are few things more dear to a newbie then their credits. They canít wait to make it to their next level. To encourage this we instituted incentive credits for recruiting new players. Bring a friend to Amtgard and keep them coming. When your recruit has been there six times you get one bonus credit. When your friend gets their 12th credit you get a second bonus credit. The PM will work the Bonus credits into months that you donít max out on normal credits. You may do this as many times as you have friends.
2. Fliers - Nothing ground-breaking here, make a neat flier with your meeting times and a blurb about what Amtgard is. Give contact info, a website if you have it, etc.
3. Demos - While Demos havenít been a large part of what our group owes itís success to, they have helped.
Along with recruitment goes the ability to provide your newbies with loaners. Often itís just every vet having a few extras, but having a group loaner bag with lots of different gear to try helps out a lot. Make sure that you explain to your newbies how to properly make weapons if they show any desire to do so. One great idea we implemented was explaining that they should gather their materials and bring them next week to be supervised in assembling them correctly the first time. Explain that youíd hate for them to put weapons together that wouldnít pass and assure them that itíll take very little time the following week to build them correctly and get playing. If possible invite them to a midweek fighters practice where youíll "just happen to be holding a weapon-making workshop". If they show theyíll be hooked, I guarantee it! Note: make sure all your walk-ins fill out a waiver, not just for waiver purposes but so that you can contact them later, preferably by email so you can send them links to amt-related sites.
For many of us "social outcasts" we donít have to work to feel a sense of ownership to Amtgard. That feeling of belonging comes natural to us. Though for every newbie that gets dead hooked there are two that try the game and are either too shy or embarrassed to dress up in garb or get out and swing a sword. Yeah, they have fun, when they are out with their friends swinging swords in their backyard, but dress up? In public? Youíve got to be joking right? Eventually those that stick around are as comfortable, or more comfortable in their garb then their street cloths. That, however, is just part of the issue.
If your populace doesnít feel like their day spent at the park is worth the time away from normal life then they wonít stay. If they donít stay you donít have a group. So youíve got to cater to their needs. What attracts them to the game? For some, itís the fighting, for some itís the role play, for some itís the A&S. Whatever it is youíve got to make sure you have enough of it to keep everyone interested.
Generally speaking on an average day youíve got make sure you battle game. Newbies need to see their skills and classes improving. Theyíve got to be able to at least help take out that vet through whatever means they can, be it magic, skill, cunning, wits, or a bit of all of the above. No newbie wants to get pounded into the ground in a ditch battle everyday, all day long.
In addition to just having battle games you need to make sure the battle games "mean something". Mutual annihilation can be fun, but game after game after gameÖ. It gets boring. Make the games have some kind of meaning. Whether an ongoing themed plot or campaign, team based games like Amtrisk (www.theriversend.com has details) or tournament style games, company battles, provincial battles, they all give your populace reason for showing up and playing.
Companies/Households - Companies and households are a great way to help with your retention. What better way to get that apprehensive player out to the field week after week then having half a dozen buddies calling them all week long about Amtgard and the battles theyíre preparing for?
The reward or "award" system of Amtgard is generally a topic left for behind closed doors. But it shouldnít be. It's part of the game and it works so long as the Monarchy is doing their job. Few things make people more happy then being recognized for the contributions they make in life. When you're happy and feeling appreciated you tend to want to help out even more. It takes a lot of hands to build a Kingdom, one person canít do it alone.
Make sure you are recognizing everyone fairly. Remember that you can't always see everything. Ask the populace to suggest/nominate people for things they think are award worthy. Often youíll already have notes for things people bring up, but every now and then something pops up that you'd never have considered because you havenít seen it.
In addition, I highly suggest that your groups start Crown Quals and Dragon Master/Weapon Master for your group as early as you can. If you're a Shire find out what your Kingdom's requirements for Baronial Quals are and adopt them (this will also help your group when petitioning your kingdom for advancement). Competitions, both A&S and Fighting are a great way for people to showcase what theyíve accomplished, and they are great excuses to award people and give them that "sense of ownership". They help the populace grow and mature as they recognize each others skills and talents and share them. A&S Tourneys are also a great excuse to get people to start producing Amt-gear that helps to advertise to the populace and they help focus certain players on group advancement. After all, how are they going to get another order of the X if their group doesnít advance and have their award cap moved higher?
And letís face it, competition breeds ownership in the game. Many people will make it their goal to beat player X "next time".
One of the keys to a successful land is open communication with more senior lands, especially your kingdom. Young parks come and go, without communication and interaction with other parks youíll wither and die or youíll remain locked into a certain size and never progress. Often youíll stagnate into a backyard boffer club that only loosely resembles Amtgard. Open communication will help keep your group up to speed on mainstream Amtgard.
Correct Communication - Here's another biggy. Be conscious of the image you portray of your group to other lands. Make sure you address your comments and questions to the correct people. If your're having administrative issues take them to your kingdom officers and not to mailing groups in general. Follow the "chain of command". Send rules questions to the Kingdom officers, GMR or other experienced players directly. Don't be a whiney problem child, try to be a responsible inquisitive one.
Be appreciative of the help you receive, return favors when you can (waves at Mikey). Invite other groups to play with you and genuinely accept their help. Don't be offended when they say youíre doing something wrong, just get it right.
Throughout this process make contacts and friends. Find the people you can trust and hold onto them for dear life! All too often it's who you know in life that makes the difference.
Delegation and the Leadership Cycle
Yeah, it's fun being top dog at your park and running everything your way, but eventually it'll fall if left that way. One person can only do it so long before they burn out or mundania reaches up and bites them in the tail. If you've been the only person ever running the group, and continue to be, eventually you're not going to be playing Amtgard, you'll be playing Robertgard, or Marygard, or whatever your persona name may be.
Amtgard's leadership cycle of elected Monarchies and limited Reigns is a time-tested system. Make sure you elect good officers. Make sure they know their responsibilities. As Monarch, make sure your officers are all accountable for their responsibilities and help them when they need it, be ready to assist with the ball if it looks like it's going to be dropped. But don't do everything for them!!! There are so many potential offices and leadership responsibilities that every member of your group could have, and should have, one of them. Give people a job to do, make them accountable for it, give them something they can own. Itís about ownership of the game individually and collectively.
When at all possible travel to other groups and interact with them. Go to any event you can, especially in your own kingdom. Introduce yourself and get to know other players. Fight with them, party with them, join the family. Encourage other groups to come to you and your events, and make certain they have a good time.
If a group is nearby and you can visit, do so. Help others around/near you as much or more then youíve been helped. Work together as good-natured siblings. These days your mutual successes will make you stronger than individual success and individual failure. Kingdoms in Amtgard are moving away from central core groups into confederacies and floating crowns. Those around you can be your greatest assets at later stages.
In this day and age keeping abreast of the rules is as easy as getting online. There are so many forums and lists out there that any question can be answered at the click of a button. Donít be afraid of the rules, use the rules. Play nice, play fair. And above all remember that this game is here to have fun.
Well, there ya have it, the principles that, from my perspective, helped our group grow from a shire of three players to a Barony in under 6 months, a Duchy in a little over eight months from then, and then one year after Duchy helping to form a Principality with the sibling groups weíd helped along the way. Iíd love to break down the process in more detail and include the struggles and history of the other groups as well, but I think Iíll leave that up to Desert Rose, Truevale, and West Gate Pass. After all I wasnít there for everything they did.
Viscount Squire Celdic Fitz Caliston
House De Masque Os