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Let Them Run
[01/20/2002] [Randall]

Power to the People! It's a revolutionary battle cry, a defiant shout against the established order, and the bane of elitists everywhere. It taps into the democratic foundation of our club and feeds the paranoia of Amtgard's autocracy. It's about the little guy and giving him a say.

I am the little guy and this is my column.

Here at Power to the People, we recognize that there's a broad gap between the powerful and the rest of us. We also recognize that healthy Amtgard politics is a cyclical beast, changing every few years as older members move on and younger members move up. The key to success in any group is to bridge the gap to the younger generation and ensure that your land has future leaders. Failed lands often stagnate as the same individuals hold office time and time again. Successful lands bring the bright and the new into the fold.

In this, the first in this series of columns, we'll be examining the fundamental aspect of Amtgard's future -- the newbie.

Who is this newbie guy, and why is he important?

Imagine this: you're at the park and there's forty or so guys running around with foam sticks and neat garb. They're beating on each other, throwing spellballs at each other, and generally having a good time. Nearly all of 'em have been in the club long enough that they've been to Clan, have their own gear, and are capable of fighting without looking foolish. They are your land.

Now look around the outskirts of the battle. You'll see him standing there -- the awkward, oddly-garbed guy with someone else's swords. Or the girl who isn't sure if she's supposed to be fighting or not. They fight funny, their garb looks weird because it belongs to someone else, and they don't really know more than a person or two at the park. You can tell they're having fun, and they seem to have potential, but compared to all those fast-swinging, hard-sticking guys who make up the land, they just don't seem to make the cut.

They are the newbies.

He's important because he's playing and having fun. She's important because she hasn't been in the game for a decade and still has new ideas and new enthusiasm. Ignore them at your peril, for one day they will be your kings and queens.

But newbies suck, Mr. Power to the People Man!

I know, I know. They're unfamiliar with the game, they fight with this funky fu, and they don't have garb or weapons. But weren't you the same when you were a newbie? Only Aramithris sprung to life fully-clad with four white belts, florentine swords and a bad knee. The rest of us had to learn. To make the most of your newbies, you must have people they can learn from -- and that person could be you.

And where there's one newbie, there's more. Ignoring a newbie means you've deprived yourself of the two, five, ten or more people he knows who could've been part of your club. Why shoot yourself in the foot like that?

Ok, ok. How do I make them un-suck?

Ok. I want you to close your eyes and imagine your first weeks at Amtgard. I want you to feel the heft of loaned swords in your hands and the feel of badly-made garb on your back. Look around. See that guy over there? The loud one who belittles everybody? The arrogant jerk who thinks he's awesome because he hurts people? The guy who was the first one to make Amtgard not fun for you?

Don't be that guy.

If you want your newbies to feel like they're part of Amtgard, you need to create an atmosphere where they'll want to be part of Amtgard. Amtgard is pretty weird by most people's standards, and we tend to be a pretty insular, cliquish lot. While we might be used to the boorish ass always shouting at people over trivial things, the poor newbie isn't.

There's more to integrating the newbies than protecting them from jerks. They must become a part of the social circles that make up your land. Something that worked very well in Dragonspine's earliest days was our Arts & Sciences night. Every Tuesday, we'd get together at someone's house to work on garb or weapons... at least, that's what we said we'd be doing. What actually occurred was a social gathering of Dragonspine's citizens, but because it was an open house and we actively invited the newbies, it was also a way for the newbies to become part of our social circle.

A final key to making newbies part of your land is to make them part of your belted circle. There's nothing quite like a yellow or red belt to make someone feel like they are part of something.

Ok, so the newbie feels welcome, but he still sucks.

There are many things to learn in Amtgard. Sewing, fighting, serving, and much more. Most of these skills can be learned in a short period of time -- the basics of sewing and fighting can be picked up in a few weeks of regular exposure. Make sure the new folk are always ditching between battlegames, and see if you can invite them over to sewing seminars at the regent's house. Other, more qualified people than I have explained how to learn to be a better fighter or garber... ask around, and you'll get a lot of easy advice.

The basics of running the land can also be picked up at this time. Invite newbies to come to your feasts so they can see how court works -- they may even want to serve at the feast, and if they do, let them! When it comes time to count votes in elections, get one of the newer people to help out with counting the votes.

Do not underestimate the importance of this kind of learning. While direct teaching is useful, hands-on experience and exposure to other people doing the work of running the kingdom is a powerful teaching tool. Giving people a chance to help out and work side-by-side with your club officers is not only a socializing tool, it's also one of the fastest ways people can learn.

I trained my newbie and he's not really a newbie anymore... now what?

This is the most critical lesson of this column, so listen carefully.

By now, your newbie has been in the game for a few years and has turned into a decently-clad, competent participant of your land. He helps at feasts and comes to your parties. He's just become your friend's squire, and has his eye on running for an office -- champion, or maybe regent. You're kind of worried, because you've been regent before and know how much work it is, and while you know you do a good job, you aren't so sure about these new guys. What do you do when he wants to be one of the powers that be?

Let him. Hell, encourage him.

Amtgard is ideally structured towards letting new people into the highest offices, but few groups take advantage of this structure out of fear. They trust the old members, and are afraid that these new upstarts will destroy their kingdom. But isn't this an unfounded fear? One of the complaints most people have about holding office is that it's six months, and you can't really do much in six months. The flip side of this is the newbie's boon -- if you can't do much, then you can't mess that much up. This means you can rest easy as the regent's assistant at feasts, and let the new guy be the one on the throne.

And most of the time, things will turn out fine.

It takes time to establish a tradition of helping and integrating your newbies, but once in place, it will be one of your land's greatest assets. Such a tradition will teach your newbies -- your land's future officers -- how to take care of the next generation of Amtgard when you're retired. Newbies learn much more than you think when you teach them how to fight, sew and serve. Don't teach them to be the bad guy. Teach them how they, too, can bring Power to the People.

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