Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | January 21, 2011

Musings of a Rennie – “WAIT…You mean there’s a guild handbook?!?”

Disclaimer:  If someone takes issue with what I write here, please understand that I can only speak about what I have experienced over the last few years.  I don’t know much about the politics or history of the various guilds, performers, or faires.  No disrespect is intended. Remember, people, this is my personal experience and opinion, not gospel.  Oh, yeah…and be forewarned that I have a distinct bias for the historically focused vs. what is convenient or trendy for showing at faire.   Let’s share what we think and discuss it friendly-like.

You know how it is…or maybe you are learning…Rennies function (in part) according to two seasons – faire season and off season.  Following the last Ren faire of the season, we start thinking about how to repair and restore and regroup for the upcoming season.

Well, a few months ago, my guildmaster asked me if I’d work on revising the guild handbook for the upcoming year.  We’ve had an influx of new members and over the last year I’d kinda brought to attention of the guild leaders that newbies are sometimes left at their own devices to fit in and find their way.  The Chief took the chance to make me…I mean, offer me the opportunity to revise the handbook so that it would be more useful for people to get a picture of what we do and where we want to go as a guild.

So, for the last few months I’ve been reading the old versions and learning about things that used to be done in our guild.  There were a LOT of outdated things in the old handbook.  There was a lot of extra stuff too…like the tirade against people who didn’t clean up after themselves, or the meandering history of the guild.  But all in all, it was a good experience.  There was a ton of information that finally answered the fuzzy areas about the guild operations.

But updating the manual brought up a bunch of questions…questions that really boiled down to “What are the things that people really need to know about joining and playing with our guild?”

Now, there are some people who read the manual and there are some people who just plug things in where it looks right and start pushing buttons.  I’m a manual reader.  I like to at least skim a manual for the more important points and the pages that talk about shortcuts.  What I wanted to do was make a manual that would help the Newbie even those who finally resorted to reading it because pushing buttons wasn’t working.

As I’ve said before, when I come across something that I think is useful, I try to share it in this forum.   I think perhaps this information is helpful to the Newbie because it helps to bring up what information you probably need to transition into your guild.   But it may be more important to Guild Masters and Guild Mistresses and assorted guild leaders because it lists what is useful for someone who is joining your group.  So here you go.

The handbook has the following contents:

  1. A definition of the guild, its charter, structure and mission – the legal body (if you are a nonprofit, this means you) and the operations/member side.  It also has a minimal description of the history of the guild.  (I really edited it down.)  Yes, this was the driest section of the whole thing.  But it gives a picture of how the group is organized, and that helps a newbie to understand how a group functions – sometimes.
  2. A definition of Membership, what’s required (dues, attendance, etc.) and how to sign up for events, and what is and isn’t appropriate behavior.  (This section is also a bit dry, but it really covers important stuff.)
  3. A schedule for the year, including fairs we usually attend and how a typical day at faire goes.
  4. Ren Faire Camping 101, because it can be a part of the Rennie experience to be a resident of Actors’ Camp.
  5. First Aid 101, because it can come in handy at faire to at least recognize a situation that demands first aid.  (Yes, we allow edged and pointed metal items and cook over fire.)  But we tell people to always call Faire Security first and dial 911 if it is serious.
  6. Character Development 101- ah, the meat of the thing!  This is where we talked about how to fit into the illusion that the guild is building for the patrons.  This section goes into depth about how to create a character and think about how that character can fit into the group. “Who are you in the Laird’s household?  Why are you at faire? What do you look like?  Sound like? What is your character’s name? What’s you character’s job? What does your character do for fun? What can you do with this information and character with the patron? And please stay in character!!!”  This chapter is totally new to the handbook and helps a Newbie figure out how to fit in as a performer.
  7. Costuming 101 – Basic rules and requirements, with sensitivity to historical accuracy, including styles, fabrics and colors.  We give lists of the basics for Men, Women, Children and Infants.  We talk about how to deal with non-natural hair colors, tattoos, etc.  We also give tips about making costumes (including patterns and links) and provide images to help the newbie plan outfits.
  8. Instructions and diagram of how to set up the pavillion, and a description what the encampment looks like and how to set that stage.
  9. Weapons Policies and Safety – because we allow them in the encampment.  Including how to be safe, do a demonstrations, and descriptions of the shiny metal stuff.
  10. Rules of the Kitchen – We talk about the public kitchen and back area food areas, historically appropriate recipes, equipment and foods.  And how to clean up after yourself . (Or else!)
  11. Roles in Camp / Members of the Household – this is a list of characters that are part of the Laird’s household that we try to have filled by members.  It includes a description of what those characters “do” as part of their gigs.
  12. Common Gigs – in other words, little skits we use to interact with the public (and other performers for the benefit of the patrons and our own entertainment)
  13. Basic history (We called it Highlander History for Dummies)

And here’s the kicker: we’re going to post it on our website and our group’s yahoo group so that all of our members and prospective members can get information to work with.  It won’t be lost in a cabinet or drawer or computer file where it will age and become a secret again.

Okay, so now we need to think about how a handbook makes any difference to you, the Rennie who happens to read this blog.

Hey, guildmasters and guildmistresses and assorted guild leaders – this is aimed at you. Consider your group a volunteer organization.  Now ask yourself: how do you nurture your volunteers to a level that makes them passionate about supporting your group and returning season to season.  Information and communication is critical to keeping volunteers linked and informed of standards of the group.  I think that many of my “Musings” posts are because I don’t want other Ren Newbies to feel like they aren’t meant to play at faire because they haven’t been properly oriented, welcomed or trained.  When I was a Newbie I noticed groups that had a cohesive look.  That is what a handbook can do for a guild…help build a cohesive group and look.  Do you have a handbook for your guild?

You Rennies and Newbies, here’s a point for you to consider: have you ever wondered why your group does things the way they do?  Have you lurched around looking for pointers or help, but never seem to get a unified answer?  Ask for the handbook.   At the very least, asking for the handbook will get the guild leaders thinking (hopefully) about how the information is shared.

And for the bonus for reading today, here are some points that I explored while researching guilds and updating the handbook.  In the interest of faire community building, it’s worth discussing in your group.

Fun: I know that I’m fairly blunt.  Sometimes I think my guild leaders can get a little uncomfortable with my questions about why we do things; but I tend to ask questions because I want to see how playing at faire can be more fun than hassle.  I mean, I know that if I’m not positively engaged with the guild, I could be doing better things with my time.  If I’m not having fun, why should I come back?

But, man oh man, I really don’t think I want to be in a group where someone is going to insist that it’s my job to be the scullery maid for two days.  If it’s my character, they’d better find a way to make scullery work fun for me…and NOT really expect me to be the scullery maid for the group.  I’ve talked to some migratory Rennies who have turned independent because the group they were playing with had some serious issues with rank in the group.  One of the things I made sure to say in the new handbook was that having a faire character is about playing a role…emphasis on playing.

And to be fair, there is a level of commitment to making sure members know that there is a certain amount of work that has to be done to make sure the guild has the means to present their show.  This means work days making or repairing guild encampments or tents and props, planning gigs, developing character interactions, or whatever grunt work necessary to “set the stage” properly.

There are quite a few people who have mentioned that they are looking for places to have fun, not grinding work.  I mean, we have our day jobs or mundane work that we do – faire is a place for us to have fun.  This means that you, the potential guild member, really need to decide what fun is for yourself.  And yes, if that means you want to drink yourself into silliness, there are groups for you.  If you thrive on historical sensitivity and getting the patrons to play into the illusion of the 16th century, there are some groups that would love to adopt you.  (Go read the old posts, I go on ad nauseum about that stuff.)

Window dressing: What to do, what to wear, what to be?  Which one is most important?  If you’ve read my blogs before you know that I think that the most important is creating a fair character and using that character to interact with fellow guildmembers and the public.  No surprise there.  I’ve said it before.  If you have a strong faire persona, then you will be forgiven a lot.  No one will really care that you don’t quite have the most authentic clothing…They are going to remember that you really were the man at arms who gave everyone the third degree before you could get to the gate of the encampment – Or you were the servant who was looking for the runaway chicken that you had just bought for the Lord’s evening meal and were totally freaking out because it was the fourth time that you’d managed to forget to tie the chicken’s legs securely before putting it in the basket.   The patron is going to remember you for who you have become!

But you need to decide how you like the window dressing of the guild you consider.  If you really like the trendy pirate stuff (vs. the more correct privateer groups), get honest and play with them.  If you want to look cute in a fantasy outfit including wings, you may not be a good fit for a court or crafters group.  If you are a history snob, you’re gonna have to consider how the standards of a group harmonize with your own level of snobbiness.  Looking at the window dressing is a good way to assess these things.

Cost and time:  Yes, there are some costs for playing at faire.  But each Rennie has to decide what they can afford in dollars and time.  My family couldn’t (and still can’t) afford nobles garb (besides, we’re a bit suspicious of the comfort level of the outfits).  We still won’t participate in the earliest faire that is known for snow and rain – we’re just not into camping in extreme weather, much less justifying the cost and time of driving there and paying for the alternative motel.  Aside from the personal comfort levels, someone considering joining a guild need to consider that some groups have a requisite number of events members must attend and fees can range from very reasonable to serious disposable income.

So.  Here we are.  It’s almost the end of the off season.  I’m starting to think about faires and how my household is going to participate this year. But I’m so thrilled that now we have a guidebook to the season…at least as far as how our group works.

If you are a born button pusher instead of manual reader, just disregard the above.

Aunt Magaidh

(Former technical writer and editor)

Bonus:  See this great exercise in thinking about who your faire character is –



  1. I am glad you worked on this project. Somewhere I have an old copy of your guild’s handbook, given long ago (late 80s?) to help my old Scots guild get started. I am sure lots of things have changed, and am glad you are there to help give your guild more cohesion and direction.

  2. As a past guildmistress I was interested in what you wrote. But now that I have many years behind me I have a different outlook on Guild praticipation. My 7 year old Grandson started Taekwando lessons a year ago. At the time it was a way to divert his 6 year old energy. Now he has taken on challenges that he has been able to choose. It is his own incentives that keep him going. But the class/organization make available the chances to create our own goals/incentive. I think Guilds should do the same. Boy/girl Scouts have patches. Small, yes, but an incentive. What can a guild provide to have newbies as well as old Rennies stay in and contribute? ie. 3 job turns gets you 1 get out of jail free pass. EVen at work we have reward programs that are like Atta Boys. To keep a Guild alive and growing you need to be creative with the members. Even if you consider this Play time, you still need to have more than one goal.
    Good luck.

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