As I mentioned in my last blog I wouldn’t be going to Amtgard last weekend. I was part of a wedding of a dear friend this last Saturday. With that in mind I still wanted to share a blog about Amtgard so I thought I would take the chance to talk about my Amtgard service household, House Gravy.
House Gravy started around 2001 with three people Agrajag, Vincent and myself. Our primary function was feasts for the majority of the House’s incarnation. In fact for the majority of the House’s life it was just Vincent and I doing all the work. Agrajag didn’t stay in the game as long as us and we didn’t take on any new members. It was really just a house of two people.
Early in in the 2000s, I don’t remember the exact year, Vincent and I ran a House Gravy campout for Amtgard. By all measures, other than financially, it was a success. I personally lost around $400 on the event, but everyone who went sounded like they really enjoyed it. I it was our first experience running a campout.
Outside of Vincent and I we had no actual crats. We kind of just winged gate. For actual events it was basically just a Norse God themed quest and ditching. The quest went pretty well, It wasn’t my first quest but it was one of the more complicated ones I ran. Then there was food, which I cooked over an open fire pit, it was very rustic. It was either corn on the cob or baked potatoes, I don’t remember which; either way they were cooked in the coals. While the main protean was grilled ham, with a special rub I made myself.
As I said the event was a success, despite being pretty limited, especially by today’s standers. I think part of the success was the people who attended and the good night atmosphere we had. I hate using the term “back in the old days” but it applies here. Back in the old days smaller campouts were more common and this one was one of the last of those experiences. I think it could still work now a days but it’s financially a lot more difficult and I think it would be harder to get people hyped about it.
We tried to do another campout years later but as the day approached it looked like there wasn’t much interest so I cut my losses and canceled the site, saving me from losing a lot more money. Other than this one campout we only focused on feasts.
Vincent and I ran countless feasts over the years as House Gravy, even if people didn’t realize it was a household. Many of the feasts were Kingdom Level Events. One notable summer, the summer of 2015 we ran the main feast at two of the biggest campouts in the northwest, Rosewood and Pacific War. We also did the Thursday feast at the first Shattered Kingdoms, although I did that one without Vincent.
2015 was the last year we only had two members. At the end of 2015 we decided we would start taking new members and shift our focus from feast events to all service. To boost our numbers I offered all members of the fighting company the Harbingers a one time deal to become full members without having to go through any initiation process. Several of them took me up on the offer and that was the start of the revitalization of House Gravy.
The new focus of the House goes beyond service and also includes learning. We broke service down into five basic areas, or schools. The five schools are Events, Feasts, Games, Leadership and Support. Part of the process to become a Full Member of House Gravy is to focus on one school. There is a teacher, known as Gravy Master, for each school and at one point along the process the Apprentice will need to take one or more tests to prove their mastery in that area.
Along with the focus on learning I wanted to instantiate a new symbolic system to help identify us as a House Hold. Once you become an Apprentice, you get a House Gravy Tabard or tunic. I wanted the tabard or tunic to mean more than just a show of house pride, I wanted it to mean you are on duty. While wearing it, it actually means you are either currently doing your duties and volunteering, or you are showing your willingness to volunteer.
With the revitalization of House Gravy came a new set of bylaws and an initiation process I’m fairly proud of. There are several tiers of membership, the first is the Roux or Initiate. To become a Roux it takes a simple majority vote of the active full members. At this stage you are mostly proving your willingness to do service and be active in the House.
The second tier is the Gravy Spoon or Apprentice. To get to this tier you must be active, have helped at a certain number House Gravy volunteer projects and passed a unanimous vote of all active Full Members. At this level you are there to learn. The Gravy Spoons choose a school they wish to focus on and the Gravy Master of that school supervises them and helps them learn.
The next tier is the Gravy Boat or Full Member. To become a Gravy Boat the person needs to do a few different things. First they must pass a test related to their school. Secondly they must pass an unanimous vote from the Council of Gravy Masters. Thirdly they must participate in a hazing ritual, however this isn’t the typical hazing ritual, it take the form of a fundraiser.
The first time we did this was for Vincent. While he is now considered a founding member, technically he was our first initiate. We tied him to a tree, filled water balloons full of gravy and had people pay per balloon to throw them at him. It was an effort to raise money for the House. It went poorly and on top of that it gave Vincent a decades long aversion to gravy. We no longer use gravy. Usually it takes the form of a pie in the face auction but ultimately it’s a discussion between the the Initiate Master and the person being initiated. The Gravy Spoon needs to feel comfortable doing the fundraiser activity.
Once the initiation is over the person is now a Gravy Boat and gains voting rights. We are just now getting to the point where people who started as Initiates are becoming Full Members. It’s taken about a year and a half to two years to become a Full Member. That’s mostly due to the frequency that we volunteer for events. If we did more events then the process might be quicker.
In fact the first two people to go through the whole process are going to have their hazing fundraiser next weekend at the Kingdom Level Event in Silvermoon (Salem, OR). We are raising money for Food Fight. Fritz and Darb are going to be pied in the face and become the first two members to go through the whole initiation process. I’m very proud that they stuck with it and have participated so fully in the household.
The fourth and last tier of membership is the Gravy Train. This is reserved for the founding members which are Vincent, Agrajag and Myself. Of the three of us, I’m the only one who is still active.
With our first wave of new Gravy Boats, I’m excitedly looking towards the future. I have high hopes for the House. While the process is slow I have faith it is the right way to go. The goal is to have a large house full of knowledgeable people to pull from. At the time of this writing we are sitting at only 13 members but I hope it expands in the near future.
I think I set up a good structure to allow the House to achieve it’s goals and to grow. We already have a few people in Northern Lights, but I’d like more. I’d like to expand our service efforts beyond just Blackspire but it requires some extra effort to get our members to travel. I hope to do at least one service project in Northern Lights before next summer.
One project I’d like to tackle is showing which people have focused on which areas. Once the pool of Active Gravy Boats is large enough I’d like to institute a new policy in regards to belt favors. Each member would have a House Gravy belt favor and on that belt favor they would have a patch for each area they are specialized in, very similar to boy-scout merit badges. I think it would be a useful and fun way to identify people. People might event get special badges for doing special projects or services. Maybe if we get a Flame Award, all members that were in the House at the time might get a special badge to denote that. They sky is the limit.
I’m very happy with House Gravy and it’s future. We are always on the look out for new initiates. We are looking for people who are honest, trustworthy, hard workers, willing to learn and teach and are dedicated to the goals of the House. Sometimes we will reach out to individuals but we are also happy to have people reach out to us. If you’re interested in joining please reach out, any of our members would be willing to discuss the house with you.