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Crown Quals on a Budget
[04/07/2011] [Egil Njalsson]

(This article was originally an Arts and Sciences workshop. In March of 1997, the author posted it to his personal website as an article. Although the website is no longer there, I occasionally dig this article out for newbies to read. With the author's permission, I am reposting it unedited here. -- Randall)

The Order of the Hydra is one in which I place a lot of value. To clarify this statement: there are no orders which I consider trivial; but the Hydra is one which shows you are knowledgeable about the rules of Amtgard (as indicated by passing the reeve's test), willing to duel on a wide variety of weapon combinations, and at least competent (if not downright excellent) in a variety of the arts and sciences, as judged by a group of your peers. Yet the Hydra is one order which many people look at longingly, thinking "I could probably earn one, but I just don't have enough money to make the required entries." The Hydra and, more generally, success at Crown Quals are commonly viewed as things which can only be earned at a great expenditure of money; and indeed many people do spend comparatively large amounts on the items they construct. Yet it is quite possible to earn a Hydra at an expense of just a few dollars, or even less (even free!), though this means being very selective about the categories you enter, and very attentive to the quality of your entries.

Remember that Crown Quals (in which the Hydra is up for grabs) are a place to show off your talents, rather than your bank account. The judging is meant to be based on the quality of the skills involved in producing the projects, rather than the amount of money spent. The amount of time, energy, creativity, and skill used to complete the project should overbalance the monetary cost. This is not an excuse for shoddy workmanship -- garbage is garbage, whether it costs nothing or hundreds of dollars -- but well-made inexpensive items should score higher than expensive, badly-made ones. (Do not be tempted to substitute high-costing materials for skill or effort!)

Several categories invite everyone to produce them for, at the most, pennies. For example, in Dragonspine we have four categories of bardic entries: singing, recitation, instrumental, and dance. As performance arts, they take time and energy to prepare and to perform, but money is largely inconsequential to success in these categories. You may point out that sheet music, background tapes, books, and the like cost money; but these things can easily be borrowed, or done without -- the performance itself is free.

There are three categories of literature: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. You may need to pay the costs of reproducing copies for the judges, but hand-writing the copies is always an option, and indeed may lead to more authentic-looking entries. Those of us with access to university or other computers may also be able to print our five copies (provided they are short) for free. The expenditure here is of your time, energy, and creativity.

The "rose" is a category inviting service to the club. Sometime during the reign, you could come up with some way of serving the club, and enter a record of that service as a rose entry in the next Crown Quals. Examples might be putting together an Amtgard publication, performing community service in the name of Amtgard, or assembling music to use in the background at feasts. A brief written description would provide a record of the service done, and could be entered in the rose category.

Flat art can be done with paper and pen -- essentially free. Even if you feel you are not artistic, you can probably still design a geometric border design for a publication, imitate the art of a more primitive period (such as Viking, Celtic, or Egyptian), or spend a lot of time honing your latent artistic skills to create the work you truly want to produce. You will probably need to do rough drafts before you finalize the work, but this will be time well spent in developing your skills.

Thus far I have described nine categories, each of which can potentially be done at virtually no cost whatsoever. To get a Hydra in Dragonspine, you need to qualify in seven categories -- even at this point, you have categories to spare, and can afford to pick and choose! If you feel unworthy in some of the categories, don't panic. Start early -- perhaps several months ahead of time. Pick categories you feel you are at least "competent" in, and work to improve yourself. By the time Crown Quals rolls around, you may surprise yourself in the things you can accomplish in these areas. And don't worry about "who you are up against:" each Crown Qual entry is intended to be judged on its own merits, and is not compared to the rest of the competition. If you have done a good job, you don't need to worry about the "professional" entry sitting next to yours -- they may indeed score higher than you, but you will still qualify.

The number of free or inexpensive categories does not by any means stop at nine. Next we have the three strategic games of chess, pente, and backgammon. Your participation in these events is free, but I will offer one word of caution: only the top placers in each tournament will receive the qualification for that game, and you never know who you will be up against or what strange twists may happen during the games. Therefore, when preparing for Crown Quals, never take it for granted that you will win. If you do win, that's a nice bonus; but be prepared to qualify without those victories.

The accessory garb category can be satisfied by making such things as belt favors or belt pouches out of scraps of cloth and thread. The secret here is not to spend a lot of money, but to enhance the aesthetic quality of these items through creative decoration. A little applique or embroidery can greatly improve the overall appeal of your entry. Again, you are spending more time than money, but the results can be wonderful.

Along the same lines, the needlework category can be satisfied by an embroidered design on a piece of formerly scrap cloth. Regular sewing thread can be used, but will not show up very well -- embroidery floss (thread) is recommended, and you can probably get floss at two for a dollar (on sale) in fabric or craft stores. Or, with a single skein of yarn you should be able to knit or crochet something interesting.

Most shirts use less than three yards of cloth. If you find nice-looking dollar-a-yard cloth, that means an initial expense of under three dollars per shirt. You will probably want to make the basic shirt, then decorate it to your heart's content. The value added by the decoration will probably raise your score significantly.

If you are inventive with your materials, you should be able to come up with 3-D art for less than three dollars. Perhaps you can even make something from scraps found around the house, and a little glue and paint. Creativity is a big plus here.

If you feel like making a weapon, a flail can be made with a 12" remnant of PVC pipe, scrap foam (some shredded), less than 1/4 yard of cloth, and some glue, tape, and thread. If you have bigger scraps of foam, you could make a dagger instead.

Thus, I have covered nine categories which can be completely free; five more which would each cost (if not free) less than $3 each; and the three strategic games -- seventeen categories; and you only need seven for a Hydra.

Of course, it is quite possible to spend much more money on most of these categories, and indeed, some do. Some judges may even be captivated by the expensive materials; but I think that most judges would ignore cost, and judge the workmanship instead. Even if a judge is lured into scoring someone else's entry inappropriately, it should not affect your own score. Your work is judged on its own merits. Skill (which can be developed), time (which you must be willing to spend) and creativity (a must!) are the crucial factors.

Entering Crown Quals on a budget may not be the simplest thing you have ever done, but it is definitely possible. In fact, it may force you to spend more time and effort than you would have used had you started with expensive-looking materials; and thus your skill will improve through practice of your art. By focussing on quality and skill, you will improve the characteristics that the Crown Quals procedure, and the Order of the Hydra, were meant to encourage: the traits of a true, well-rounded, artisan.

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