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Of Chains and Rules
[05/10/2011] [Randall]

Having written this post in the forums, it dawned on me that the topic, depth of analysis, content, and length really made it more suited to be an article. The original post can be found here, where you can also check out the original thread. It's about chains of fealty, and whether or not it's okay to allow exceptions to the rule reserving them to knights. It's also about whether it's smart to even have the rule.

The chain of fealty has significance to me. When I wear no outward knightly symbols at Amtgard, which is not uncommon, I still wear a chain. I feel it is my duty to wear one. I was also on the committee that wrote into our corpora Dragonspine's tradition of allowing some non-knights to wear some chains, a tradition that predated my time as a knight. The committee felt, and the populace agreed, that the guidelines regarding knightly garb belonged in the corpora alongside the exception.

There are many reasons for having a rule reserving the use of chains.

  1. Amtgarders have a desired aesthetic when it comes to how they want the game to look and feel. We have therefore written and approved rules designed to achieve that aesthetic. These rules go beyond safety or game balance. Garb is required to play a class. There are specific guidelines for how armor and weapons should look. There have previously been similar rules regarding masks and instruments. Amtgarders similarly want a certain aesthetic for knighthood, and have written and approved of rules to achieve that. Establishing that certain costume elements may be worn by knights but not by others is how that has been done. This has power beyond tradition, as shown by those people who only wear garb because they have to wear garb to play a class. It therefore has utility beyond what tradition can manage.
  2. Amtgarders see value in sacralizing symbols. Chains are but one example of this, as are orders of the warrior favors, gold phoenixes on red background, crowns, red belts, diagonal slashes on favors, and so on. Amtgarders believe, and I agree, that rules restricting the use of these items contributes to transforming them into symbols. It is the nature of sacred things that they are special, reserved, not commonplace. Rules restricting the use of Amtgard's prized symbols help keep the symbols this way.
  3. Amtgarder believe that exclusive garb makes for an effective award. The gold phoenix is a good example of this. Amtgarders place high value on tournament success, so we have an award for being skilled at fighting. Part of being recognized as a warlord is being given the right to wear a warlord favor. Restricting the use of the favor to only warlords is Amtgard's way of conveying the esteem with which they hold the achievement, and also Amtgard's way of recognizing and rewarding those who achieve it. Exclusivity transforms the favor into an award, since giving someone the right to wear the favor is a gesture with little meaning if they already had that right. The warlord is thus told that he is entitled to wear the favor by virtue of his accomplishments, and our society is told, through our common and shared symbol, that this person is a warlord.
  4. Amtgarders believe that knighthood confers upon the bearer a role within Amtgard society that in many kingdoms amounts to an office. At a general level, a knight has a responsibility to review and vote on candidates for knighthood. In the past, knights of the Iron Mountains were considered officers of the kingdom charged with contacing the authoritities when mundane laws were broken. At the most basic level, knights are designated as representatives of the values of their respective kingdoms, and have the power to bestow specific titles. And in a manner not unlike other officers, knights can be removed from their station by a process of impeachment. The reserved symbols thus become symbols of the office.

Some of these reasons are more compelling, some less compelling. Individually, arguments may be made against them. Collectively, they present a strong case for the rule as written. Tradition could accomplish some of the same goals, but history shows that the exclusivity of the symbols and their increasingly-detailed definitions crept into the rules because tradition enough was deemed by Amtgarders as insufficient to accomplishing the goals listed above. The rule has the benefit of greater efficacy than tradition, and also passes when tested for harm and general effectiveness.

Exceptions to the rule need not undermine it. In our case, those wearing chains with personal significance, and who prompted the exception, were and are not wearing chains typically understood to be chains of fealty. The exception is not going to grant confusion except to literal-minded people: they're wearing jewelry, or heirlooms, or similar items. Because there are people who approach the rules in a literal-minded fashion and would therefore incorrectly construe from the rule that all chains are intended to be proscribed, we spelled out an exception. Because of those same literal-minded individuals, the exception was offered up in general terms that could be understood by reasonable people rather than specific ones that could be tested with calipers; nobody wanted Amtgarders with rulers measuring the links of the jewelry around the necks of prospective members to see if they're within specs. As it happens, in our experience, this balanced approach has offended no-one and has resolved every issue swiftly and with no hurt feelings. It helps that the issues are rare to begin with, but it also helps that our officers are charged with acting like, and act like, grownups.

It thus makes sense to me to assign enforcement to elected officers in lieu of explicit guidelines. This is why we elect officers in the first place, versus being governed by rules-checking automatons. As members of Amtgard, we want a lot of complex and often contradictory things. We write rules as best we can to accomplish those things. And we elect those who we believe have the judgment to act in the best interests of the group to sort it all out.

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