Houses in Amtgard can take many different forms and serve several different purposes. A House could be created for the purpose of fostering leadership, or positive change. A House could be created for something as simple as the promotion of a healthy diet, and exercise; one could be created for the dedication of service in the game.
There really is no limit for why a House could be created. The only possible limitation could be for fighting, as that is in Amtgard, traditionally, the job of a Fighting Company. Still, you could, for example, have a House dedicated to the teaching of fighting. The sky’s the limit.
For this article I will be talking about Service Households, although many of the principles could apply to any type of House or even Fighting companies. I will be discussing the various forms a Service Household could take, what they could focus on, how they can function and how they could be organized. This article only gives my thoughts on the matter and should not be taken as all inclusive. There are countless ways a Service Household could function and I can’t cover them all. Often I’ll be using my Service Household, House Gravy as the example.
The Example House
House Gravy is going to be the typical example I’ll be using for this article. It’s the Household I built and I learned a lot from running it. I figured a little background would be useful. It’s located in Northwest Amtgard and it started in 2001 as a House dedicated to feasts. It had no structure and only three members. In 2015 we decided to revamp the House. We changed the focus to all service and added a teaching element. We also created a system to incorporate new members and opened the House up to new people.
When we talk about the various elements of Service Households I’ll go into more detail about House Gravy. If you’d like additional details about House Gravy I wrote a blog talking about it’s history, initiation practices and its future; that blog entry was the inspiration for this article, you can read it here.
Service and Goals
Narrowing down a Household to a Service Household does eliminate some of the possibilities of what the House could be, but there are still several options. You could be hyper focused and just focus on one element. House Gravy used to fall into that category, focusing only on Feasts. You could also go to the other end and focus on all aspects of service in Amtgard, which is House Gravy’s current focus. There is lots of room in between these two extremes.
There are countless service options. The best bet is to narrow down your focus to specifics. You want to inspire leadership, what type of leadership? Leadership in office or leadership out of office? If it is in office do you want to focus on specific roles such as the holders and their responsibilities or do you want to open it up to the other offices such as regent, prime minister and champion?
Once you’ve decided on the service it’s important to distill it down to its simplest form, when asked what your House does you shouldn’t have to give a complicated explanation. If it’s just feasts, you don’t have to elaborate more. If you say all service it might be a good idea to break service down into different elements.
For example House Gravy have broken down all service into five categories, Feasts, Events, Games, Leadership, Support. Having all service broken down into five different categories informs the House how they approach the different services within Amtgard. It also allows me to describe the House in a concise manner.
Along with deciding which service or services you wish to focus on you should also think about your goals. They pretty much go hand in hand. If your focus is Feasts, your goal could be just to do quality feasts. It could be to elevate the feasts in your area, or it could be to create reliable feasting crews. It could be one or more of these. These goals can be concrete goals, targeting something specific or more open ended, or a mixture of the two.
For House Gravy we currently only have one goal, it’s fairly broad and open ended. It’s to create a group of informed individuals capable of volunteering and running volunteer positions.
Once you’ve decided on the service you wish to focus on and the goal or goals you wish to accomplish, it’s time to decide on the direction you want to take with you House. It’s time to create a Mission Statement.
The next important thing you should focus on is a mission statement. What is the philosophy of the House? What is your guiding principle or principles? It should be basic, it should be narrowed down to one or two sentences. This should be your guiding principle that directs you in all things.
House Gravy’s Mission Statement: House Gravy is a learning and services oriented Household with a heavy focus on food related activities and aims to continually elevate the quality of LARP events wherever possible.
In the example above there are a few good elements and a few unnecessary elements. For example the comment about the focus on food related activities is probably unnecessary. I mostly put it in the mission statement as a nod to our past but as it’s included it makes us focus on the food aspect. It’s something I should consider changing. The two key elements are the “learning and services” and “aims to continually elevate the quality of LARP events”. Those are two actionable philosophies.
Those elements are guiding principles. It states we are dedicated to learning and to service. It also highlights that we are striving to raise the status quo in those areas wherever and whenever possible. Those are principles that can guide a House in all that they do.
The next thing that should be considered is what structure the House should take. This can be as simple or as complicated as you would like. The key thing is to be consistent. To start you on this process you should create a list of questions to which you will answer. For example, how do you handle new members? Is there an initiate process? Are there levels of membership? How fast do you want your House to grow?
For example, Apex, a Household in the Pacific Northwest which is dedicated to health and fitness has little to no structure. Anyone can join, provided they follow the group’s rules and guidelines. There is no initiation or levels of membership. They can grow as fast as they would like. House Gravy, on the other hand is more complicated.
In House Gravy there are four different levels of membership. There are the Initiates, Apprentices, Full Members and Founders. Not including active and inactive status. When creating these different levels I kept in mind the Mission Statement. For example to advance from Apprentice to a Full Member they are required to join one of the five schools and pass a test, the goal at that level is to learn.
Furthermore to keep active status in the Household individuals have to volunteer at various service activities throughout the year. It advances our goal of service listed in our Mission Statement. It helps make sure members are actively serving in Amtgard.
There is a lot going on with the House Gravy initiation process that I’d like to unpack. How it’s structured naturally limits it’s membership and slows down it’s growth, which was intentional. We don’t limit the amount of initiates we take, it’s a simple vote of Active Full Members. However the requirements to move up in status increases the amount of time it takes to become a full member. The average time as of the writing of this article is 18 to 24 months.
Why do this? There are a few reasons, it gives a chance for our members to grow and learn before they become a Full Member. It also insures that the people who are pledging the house are a right fit. It gives time for all the members to get to know each other and creates a stronger bond, making us a stronger house in the process.
When creating the structure of your House it’s important to envision what kind of Household you’d like. It helps informs the members as to the culture you’d like to create and it helps dictate the House’s growth.
You should also consider if you have voting members and what the requirements are to vote. These requirements can help dictate the culture of your House. It also helps reinforce your mission statement. For example for House Gravy one element to keep active status, which is required to vote, is to participate in volunteer activities. The other requirement is to attend House Gravy Business Meetings. To vote, you also need to be a Full Member.
By making one of the requirements to vote to volunteer, it helps fulfill the Mission Statement. The second requirement, attending business meetings, is to help make sure that the members keep involved with the House and its goals. The third requirement to vote, that of being a Full Member, is there to make sure that the people who are able to vote have gone through the learning process and are more fully invested in the House.
The example of the House Gravy structure is just that, an example. It’s discussed so you can see the thought process behind the structure. It’s up to the person or people constructing the service house to decide what kind of structure is best for their house. Throughout the process it’s important to go back to you goals and mission statement and see if the structure is inline with them.
Once you’ve got your goals, mission statement and structure it’s time to think about what your Household actually does. I’m sure by this point you’ve already put some thought into but now it’s time to outline it.
For some households you don’t have to put too much thought into it. For example Apex is basically just a discussion group. They maintain a Facebook group dedicated to people sharing their personal fitness journeys, sharing resources and being an open community for positive feedback.
House Gravy on the other hand is a lot more complicated with their activities. When it comes to targeted volunteering they pick an activity such as gate and try to get as many of their members to volunteer for gate. The targeted activities tie into their active status of the group. They can target any activity. Another example would be targeting tournaments at an event. Provided a member is running the tournament, they’d help organize it, keep scores, and reeve. If a member isn’t running it they would volunteer to keep score and reeve.
It’s up to you to decide how to organize the activities of your House. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like. You can tie it into your how your House is structured or you can keep it slightly divorced from the structure. The key is to keep it organized and in line with your goals and mission statement.
One thing I didn’t plan on spending much time on is gaining members. That should be something built into the structure of your house. I think recruiting people is rather personal to every household and it’s really down to philosophy of the House. Each House will have their own criteria and it’s pretty individual but I have a few thoughts.
When you are looking for people to join your house it’s important to choose people who you believe will hold to the values of your house and further the mission statement. It’s important that they understand what your household is about.
I can’t count the number of households that have just created a Facebook group and said “join it”. Those are a dime a dozen. They often didn’t put in the thought to create a foundation for growth, they just assumed people would join it. They usually haven’t taken the time to create something of quality and don’t quality check the people joining their House.
Another factor of growth is finding a niche. If you’re doing something other Households are doing it will be harder to convince people to join your House over another person’s House. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but if you are able to fill some sort of niche, then people are more likely to take notice of your House and therefore have more people interested in joining.
Service Households can be a great addition to Amtgard. Each one brings a little bit of life to the game and helps create a backbone for the community. The better organized they are the better they can help the community.
No matter if you are creating something formal or something more informal you can create something worthwhile. By keeping in mind the goals, mission statement and structure of your service household you can create something focused and longer lasting.