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Awards: Too easy?
[02/13/2014] [Randall]

This is contemplation in article form, so enter this article forewarned.

I’ve been thinking lately how awards work—specifically, how they work from 7th-level awards on up. I feel like the top awards should be for top performance, but that doesn’t always happen. We sometimes see people receive those high-level awards for weird things. Sometimes, an award is granted for mid-level performance done several times. Sometimes, higher-level awards are granted for work that is decent or good, but not the best. (Heck, sometimes, top-level work is just overlooked and gets no award at all, but that’s a whole other article.)This made me wonder why it happens, if it’s bad, and whether there’s a coherent philosophy we can come up with about how to confer high-level awards—one that can help us going forward, and help monarchs make better decisions about what to grant and when. That’s what I am trying to do in the contemplation typed up here.

Specifically, I’m focusing on 7th-10th-level awards. This isn’t an article about masterhood or knighthood, but rather the building blocks that lead up to them. It isn’t about the 1st-6th level awards either, except to say this: if 7th+ is for winning, many of the 1st-6th should be for second place. I’m also going to say a few things about being over-rewarded or under-rewarded. I also want to say a few things (about all award tracks, including sword) over whether a competitive structure is valid in an age where masters have stayed relevant for decades, versus the 90s where a master might only have 2-3 years of knowledge over a newbie. But first things first: what should merit a 7th-level-plus award?

My point of entry here is the Order of the Warrior. This is a useful place to start, because there’s a natural split between six and seven: you can’t get a 7th-level Order of the Warrior without winning a credible kingdom-level tournament. (By “kingdom-level,” I don’t mean any tournament that happens to be hosted or sanctioned by a group called a kingdom. That’s infantile. No, I mean a tournament where high-end combatants participate, which is to say folks who could win or place in any kingdom. I am also ignoring wins a row for this article, which is probably okay since 15+ wins typically indicates you won the tournament anyway.) A 7th-level Order of the Warrior appropriately granted indicates that you, on that day, were the brightest star in your entire kingdom—and (if the officers are doing their jobs) would be the brightest star in any kingdom.

Let’s apply that standard to the other awards. What if we only confer 7th-level-plus Roses, Lions, or Smiths to those whose service is equal to winning a tournament of service, if such things existed? The service required would have to be so good that it eclipsed all other service in the kingdom.

There isn’t a perfect match. Unlike a tournament, you could have two people of equal output simultaneously performing at the 7th+ level. There’s not an actual tournament of service with winners and losers. Because the kingdom receives the benefit of both contributions, it should recognize both. The key here is to verify that the work seems equal to the requirements—that it would be the best or among the best in any kingdom of the game. Not just any park in the game, but any collection of a dozen parks. That’s a big standard, but it’s the one we use for Orders of the Warrior.

With A&S awards, the match is clearer. Monarchs could strive to reserve 7th+ awards for those who win kingdom-level contests. At the bare minimum, the work should be of a quality that could win kingdom-level contests if it were entered (and, frankly, the highest-level A&S awards should only be granted to those who compete and win.) Again, the officers should ask—is this work winning-quality, not just in this kingdom but in any kingdom in the game? If the answer is yes, then perhaps an award is merited.

I had to think through the A&S situation for a while, because I can conceive of a scenario (like with service) in which a person wins a contest with a 4.4 or so, and second place is a 4.38, and feel like both may deserve a 7th-level-plus award. At first, it seemed a little unfair to me to give one a 7th-level award but not the other. With A&S, we’re often measuring against a (theoretically) objective standard rather than whether one person beats another, which lets us look at a person’s output and say yes, this is work (regardless of how it placed) that deserves a high-level award. That’s why it made me wonder if not recognizing a person who does well but places second would be appropriate. Then I thought back to Dragonspine’s most successful artisans in recent years, and realized they are all winners at both the kingdom and interkingdom levels. That tells me my concern over fairness may be regarding a situation that doesn’t actually occur, because the successful artisans—just like the fighters—work not just to score well but to beat those who came before them.

Applying the Order of the Warrior standard to all awards also exposes some oddities. For example, let us imagine a hard worker who is reliable, dedicated, and competent—not exceptional, but still good. There is one philosophy that says we should recognize such work with progressively higher-level service awards, all the way up to ten—that continuous service stacked together is equal to singular acts of exceptional service.

But what would that mean if we applied the same standard to sword? Let’s imagine a competent fighter who always gets first place in single sword, always gets second place in pole, always fights in every tournament, but never places overall. They do this for years, always getting those points, always winning or placing in those same categories. Should we give them a 7th-10th-level Order of the Warrior? I don’t believe we would. I don’t believe we’d even consider it.

And what if try it with A&S? A person makes mid-level armor, and then does it again, and again, and again, always earning 3.7s in quals, always making reliably-decent armor, always dedicated, always prolific. Maybe they even win one particular event now and then—but never place overall, and not when serious competition is present. Would we add these accomplishments together and confer 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Orders of the Garber for it? Again, I don’t think we’d do should—although we sometimes do.

This isn’t a perfect philosophy in either direction. As I said earlier, we might imagine two people producing equal levels of service, and feel like they both merit a 7th Rose. That makes me wonder if we should grant awards to two people who are equal in the arts even though one (by the vagaries of chance) wins and the other loses. Maybe? But then I can imagine a similar situation in a tournament: two fighters, totally matched in every way, except one (purely out of chance) happens to be the guy who wins the last four tournaments and the other happens to be the guy who doesn’t. Should we turn the system around and say what’s good for service and sometimes A&S should count for fighting too? Or should all tracks be held to the same lofty standard?

Furthermore, it’s imperfect because we expect (compared to an objective scale) greater levels of service for greater levels of recognition. There is a minimum level of work we expect for a 7th-level award, and a greater minimum for an 8th, and so on. That’s not true for fighting—except it sort of is, because we require more victories for additional levels. That’s a standard that can be applied equally to all awards. The problem with service and arts is we don’t think of the higher level awards in terms of them requiring more victories, but rather more output (and sometimes more skill), and that’s harder to measure. Frankly, I think it’s easier to say to a service person or an artisan (just as we do with fighters), “Wow, you did it again” rather than “Hey, there’s an external measurement of what we expect for this level of award, and you seem to be there, so here’s an award.” In actuality, I think we should say both things, just like we do with warriors.

But we shouldn’t say what we sometimes do now: “This isn’t the best work in this kingdom and many others. Here’s an award that, if you were a fighter, you’d only get for being the best.” That approach admits that fighting is superior to arts and service, that it’s harder, that the awards mean more. I don’t believe that’s the way it should be, and I don’t believe we should have an award system that supports such a philosophy.

We should also be careful about saying something else we do now: “This isn’t the best work in this kingdom and many others, but it’s pretty good and you do a lot of it. That’d be worth a 6th-level Order of the Warrior if you were a fighter, but you’re not, so here’s a 9th Rose.” Again, that feels to me like it cheapens arts and service by holding it to a lesser standard than we use for fighting.

The benefit is that all forms of contribution to Amtgard would be equal. We'd also have clearer standards for the granting of awards, with all the benefits clarity grants. I think it would lastly up our game across all areas of service, provided we could surmount the challenges of keeping volunteers excited and teach people to take the steps they need to succeed (as the fighters have.)

And that’s kind of long, so I’ll save the rest of the conversation for later. In the meantime, I’m curious what y’all think.

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