Too many chiefs, not enough indians

30 Jan

Today I’m running around preparing to leave in the afternoon for a medieval immersion event. Myself, along with a couple of other buddies, will be camping out in the woods for 2 days in full 15th century kit. No public, just us.

One of the things that I love about these types of events is that the “hierarchy” is really reduced. Sure there are the event coordinators in charge, but everyone there is from mix-match groups.

One of the problems my current group has, and that I think a LOT of medieval living history groups have is “Too many chiefs, not enough indians”. Lets face it. Life back then sucked. The social hierarchy sucked. There was a reason for the French revolution, and the execution of all the nobles. It was just really awful to be lower class.

Well the problem for the later period groups is the social pyramid. Unlike more modern groups where only the military hierarchy is really rigid and the social is more loose, the medieval hierarchy is extremely stiff. “You are a peasant! And you will serve my table, polish my armor, and generally kiss my ass! This is your place in life determined by GOD!” Yeah, not much wiggle room there. Nobody likes being stuck with the crappy impressions. Everyone loves putting on the expensive armor, picking up polearms, and looking badass.

Ideally, the system should work a bit like a Ponzi scheme. As long as the base keeps getting bigger things are fine.

If the group kept adding new members, at the same rate that current members move up from one kit level to another, the pyramid stays stable and just grows. Entry level people move up to level 2, level 2 people to level 3, etc. This would make it so people who were in entry kit level, who had to play the shitty parts of being a peasant, could at least look forward to building their kit up and getting to play something cooler.

Unfortunately, this is never how it really works in reality. The above method requires everyone to be working on their kits equally, and assumes a steady supply of new members. In reality people have lots of other things that need their attention. They can’t spend all the time working on their kit, and as everybody knows, it’s hard to get new people that stick. So what ends up happening is this:

Without a steady flow of new members, the pyramid stagnates. People who have put in the time and effort to move up to the next level are forced to stay in their current level for the sake of preserving the historically correct pyramid. This in turn breads resentment and increases the chance someone will stop coming out to events, which only further exacerbates the problem.

Eventually people will get tired of having to spend money to go kiss someone else’s ass for a weekend. It becomes a job that you put everything into, and don’t get what you want out of. These people will inevitably either quit the hobby altogether, or break off into splinter groups with them at the top. (In the 10 years I’ve done living history, I’ve seen this happen a LOT)

In living history individuality can be a great thing and a horrible thing. On one had, it is awesome to have unique items in camp; anything that makes you stand out from the rest of the people out there who might be doing similar but different stuff. On the other hand, the individuality has a tendency to make everyone a one man/woman show. Yes they all have to work as a unit, but people love you show off their stuff. While some groups might not be overly affected by this, it can turn into dick waving contests in other groups. (Which in turn also fuels splintering of a group into smaller groups where other people want to take their cool “stuff” and be the center of their own group.
I really don’t see any other option than the continuous cycle of group forms, group eventually breaks, splinters of old group form new group, only for that one to splinter and break. That is unless the group is pulling in enough new members regularly. Thoughts?

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