When it comes to awards, competitions, and standards, what does it mean to be kingdom-level? The term is used in the Rules of Play to describe what makes a tournament count for the upper Orders of the Warrior. The language on fighting is useful, because it's something we can expand upon for contests and awards in general:
Major kingdom-level tournament is defined as Weaponmaster, Warmaster (Crown Quals tournament), Olympiad, and/or an inter-kingdom event tournament. The level of competition and number of entrants in all tournaments must be considered before handing out Orders of the Warrior above seven. The difficulty of the tournament must warrant the level of order awarded.
Heck, go back and read the full section on Orders of the Warrior. The rules have kingdom-level tournaments, major kingdom-level tournaments, any tournament, plus a mandate that any order after the seventh must have competition considered before it's granted. What this tells me is that "kingdom-level" is a difficult term, and a term that brought about misunderstanding with fighting in particular. That's why it's so carefully defined by the rules—to correct earlier assumptions about what "kingdom-level" means.
And yet those earlier assumptions persist. We have a situation where people who know what it means know what it means, and people who don't don't. That's not simply tautology. It's a question of people being inexperienced and not recognizing the difference. I'm familiar with a few of the philosophies and concepts of kingdom-levelness, and my hope is that spelling 'em out will help—and help keep standards high across the game. The points on fighting apply equally well to A&S contests, so my discussion will apply to both.
"It's Warmaster or Dragonmaster, so it's kingdom-level."
This one is first because it's the easiest. Let's say I win a kingdom dragonmaster or warmaster. Technically, this contest was held at the kingdom level. Does that mean I have a kingdom-level win? Some would argue that it does because of the technicality, but the answer is, "It depends."
Competition matters. Winning a contest where the next-best people are mid-tier is not necessarily a kingdom level victory—it's more similar to winning at the local level, because the expectation is that a smaller pool of competition will present fewer challenges. A kingdom-level win should at least mean you're at the top of the game—Amtgard good versus local good—and should usually mean you defeated people who are also at the top.
This can be more stark in A&S contests. Being number one with a 3.8 is within the realm of possibility for an intermediate artisan who isn't facing major competition. It's worth celebrating, but it's also worth keeping things in perspective if you want to chase the big leagues—if you want to compete with the kingdom-level artisans. Remember, you might be number one with a 3.8, but you'd be number two (by some distance) behind a master. Fighters ask who else attended to know if a tournament was legit; the artisan equivalent might be asking about the score.
This is key: don't confuse a contest with all the characteristics of a local competition with "kingdom-level" just because it is hosted by the kingdom. It doesn't matter if it's a kingdom-level event in name. Strip away the title of the event and imagine what it would be called if someone had no idea it was held by a kingdom. No masters, no warlords, some competition but not enough for the big leagues? Sounds like a local contest with people potentially training up for the big time, doesn't it? If so, that's how it should be regarded.
"There are warlords and masters in it, so it's kingdom-level."
This is good, and works for most people and places—provided y'all are aware of the risks.
The first risk is that the competition brings the title of master, but doesn't bring the threat of a master. Raising the bar involves beating those who have come before you—but be sure they're not a dead horse by the time it's your turn to take a whack. A person whose last victory was last century might not be a valid notch in your gun-belt, if you know what I mean. Beating the masters who are winning now is more meaningful than beating the masters those people have already surpassed. This isn't to say people can't be competitive for decades—they can, and many are—but rather that you wanna beat the competitive ones if you want your wins to be solid.
(As an aside, yes, up-and-comers could bring the threat before they bring the title—but be cautious about counting them unless they've been repeatedly beating some serious tail. Maybe it's legit if someone wins a tournament against the 9th-level Order of the Warrior fighter who swept the last three. Maybe. Ask a warlord. And think carefully before granting a 10th for such a feat.)
There is also the risk that the structure of the contest is lousy. Perhaps it's built so that shotgunning a lot of so-so items will let you beat someone who enters master-level work. Perhaps it's mismanaged. Perhaps it's a single-elimination, unseeded tournament and all the warlords neutralize each other in the first bracket before getting scrubbed out, and Randall gets first place. These things can happen.
So remember this: A well-designed contest is one in which the best comes out on top, second-best gets second, and third-best gets third. Not all contests do that. (After third? Mazel tov.)
"It was declared kingdom-level, so it's kingdom-level."
If the kingdom monarch declares a tournament as a kingdom-level contest, does that mean it counts? Well... again, that depends. This can be a bit fiddly. What if a tournament in a duchy has the best fighters in the kingdom—warlords in good interkingdom standing—randomly show up? Does that mean it's kingdom-level? Not quite, although the competition certainly is. The reason it's not a kingdom-level tournament, is because not everyone knew in advance that they had anything to defend. That means it could be kingdom-level if a) serious competition knows it's being regarded by the kingdom as a serious contest and has an opportunity to attend and b) serious competition attends. This is useful to know, because it shows that the quality of the tournament rather than the label of the tournament is what matters.
"It's Warmaster or Dragonmaster, the people competing in it are competitive anywhere, it's well-designed and well-run, so it's kingdom-level."
Bingo. Weaponmaster, Crown Qualications, Olympiad... yes. For a serious win, you want serious competition in a serious contest. And this is how you get that.
So why? Why bother with all this? Well, it's important not just for standards, but also because it's healthy in an organization like our—where awards are granted for reaching certain thresholds—to make sure expectations match reality. If someone wins a few low-key contests, we don't want them to start wondering where their Master Garber or sword belt is—no, we want 'em to know they have mountains yet to climb. A person who expects only hills will be disappointed, confused, or upset. We also want Amtgarders to broadly realize, when someone does triumph in a serious contest, what that triumph means—so it can be appropriately celebrated across the game.
[ discuss on forums ]