|Re-Inventing Events: Reflections on The G.A.M.E.
(This article was originally submitted in July 2010. Due to the scope of the article, it has been broken into sections that will be posted over the course of several days. Part one of the article is available here, part two is available here, and part three here. -- Randall)
I. The Worst of the Worst
It's said, "hope for the best, plan for the worst." Evidently, there are some problems which, if not prevented, really make an event unenjoyable or awkward for everyone. Here's a breakdown of the top five worst offenders:
1. "Amtgard Standard Time"
In the storied history of Amtgard, events were run on a very loose schedule, with activities beginning pretty much whenever the person in charge was ready. This practice created a culture within Amtgard where the timing of a particular activity was not as important as its happening sequentially as posted on the gate fliers. Unfortunately, this caused items later on the schedule to be pushed even further back, leading to some activities cancelled due to safety issues, very late feasts, and bad feelings all around. If you run an event, be very specific about your scheduled activity times and note that items will be running on-time. Do your best to assure your staff begins their tasks on time. If something may be starting late, make active schedule adjustments and associated verbal announcements to the public. Some items may have to purposely be cut short if they run long or get started late. Some items may even need to be cancelled or a substitute activity run in their place. Our current game atmosphere demands a well-scheduled, smoothly-run series of activities; Amtgard Standard Time is unacceptable.
2. Medical issues and other emergencies
These are difficult to avoid, but some anticipatory measures can be taken to minimize negative effects. It's very easy to look up contact information for all local emergency services for your site's location and have that information on file at the gate, or otherwise on hand. Just knowing who to call can be immensely helpful. Your first line of defense, however, is a designated medical officer and a security team, linked to you, the Autocrat, by portable hand radios or cellular phones. Linked communication allows folks to be on site where needed ASAP. The idea is to simply keep an active eye out and address troubles as they arise, before things get out of hand.
3. Mishandled money and other legal liabilities
Cash in hand is an intense temptation to even the most upright of individuals. When you have a front gate with a cash box manned by a whole series of volunteers, the risk of disappearing funds is remarkable. The ideal way to handle this is to delegate someone to be the financial point of contact for all incoming monies. The Autocrat could certainly do this, or another could be designated to provide another layer of security. That person is the sole point of liability, and should actively check in several times a day with the gate staff, and set up a specified end-of-shift handover procedure to account for each shift's cash and participant intake. If there are any other legal problems which occur, the best thing an Autocrat can do is document the occurrences copiously and verify with witnesses the truth of the incident. If required, remember to get authorities involved in order to legalize any potential outcome. The worst thing you can do is ignore a potential lawsuit!
4. Bad food
There's a good chance that each and every person who reads this article has been to a feast with bad food. Some folks who host feasts have planned inadequately, are in a hurry for some reason, or simply are not good cooks. Some fine cooks don't have the right ingredients, or their staff is poorly supervised. Most egregious are those times we've been served food which is simply not cooked thoroughly enough to eat. These examples have led to a host of upset stomachs, grumpy participants, and individuals who just won't eat "Amtgard food". Again, good planning and reliable, well-informed staff, along with direct supervision by the autocrat can truly save the day here, allowing your armies to march without worrying about their empty bellies.
A terrible meal could easily make or break your event; there are a few steps taken by the G.A.M.E. staff you can use. Choose menu items which can be prepared ahead of time and stored, or items that are easy to assemble from onsite ingredients. Do NOT choose items which, if served uncooked can sicken people. Make sure your ingredients are the freshest available in order to avoid toxins developing while stuff is in storage. Stick dutifully to your Feast/Court mini-schedule [see Section G] to work out the timing issues, focused on getting that fresh, fully-cooked food to your attendees while it's still perfect. If you can't staff servers, don't hesitate to go buffet style, serving straight off the grill or out of the deep-fryer. Remember your staples: meat, bread, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, and cold water.
5. Embarrassing Court Incidents
Have you ever attended an Amtgard Royal Court which seemed to go on forever? It's a real drag when you have a whole night of diversions yawning ahead of you, and the Monarchs just can't seem to close things up. Several things may contribute to this and they can all be addressed with good planning. First of all, the Monarch of the host land should have a basic written outline of what to include in their presentation. About ten minutes before Court begins, have the Herald go amongst the populace and offer announcement time for anyone who needs it, but limit each speaker to three minutes. These two actions can cut down on a good deal of rambling by all parties as well as discouraging random outbursts. Second, monitor your attendees as they arrive. If you see someone who is intoxicated or already acting rowdy and inappropriate, discreetly request they choose to sit in the back or leave altogether. Your security team can do this, and subsequently monitor their behavior. Parents of children should kindly be informed as well about court decorum. If you provide a family-friendly area specifically for them, it may help parents manage better during Feast and Court.
Last but not least, the Autocrat should coordinate with the Monarch and Regent regarding awards: if there is a glut of items, make arrangements for group presentations, or make award announcements only for minor achievements (distribution in private later). Having another individual look at the intended awards beforehand could also prevent inexperienced Monarchs from giving out items which are wholly inappropriate. For instance, consider the first-time Monarch at the G.A.M.E. who distributed not only one, but three once-in-a-lifetime, master-level awards to members of his land for a single episode of intense work. Consider also the Monarch who chose to give out a single award only, to a person in his beltline. The first incident created anger and resentment within the senior ranks who knew the magnitude of the award did not match the effort given, and the second incident created an impression of favoritism. Neither of these things are productive and both make a Monarch look unprofessional at the least.
To conclude this basic guide to event planning, allow me to commend you regarding your efforts. An Event Autocrat's path is a difficult one, fraught with stumbling blocks all along the path to greatness. In the end, the goal is to have run an event which keeps people talking for years, reminiscing on the individual experiences they had and complimenting the land that hosted it in public forums. Even better, if you do well enough, others will imitate your techniques and perhaps be inspired to think of new and interesting ways to keep their own populace entertained. If you are able to fully cut down on negative experiences, the folks who attended your event will be encouraged to attend future Amtgard gatherings of all sorts, leading to better attendance and more enjoyable moments all around. In other words, well-planned and executed events lead to better Amtgard everywhere. Your role in that is to plan ahead using basic techniques with a local twist, keep communications flowing, and stick to your developed protocol.
The author is currently developing a Comprehensive Guide to Amtgard Event Planning. If you have event planning ideas you would like to include for consideration, please feel free to contact her at email@example.com.
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