SCA Group Creation 101

or, "Hey, who do we play with?"

by Justin du Coeur


So you want to create a new SCA branch, and you have no idea how to go about it.  Don't panic -- there is quite a bit to do, but none of it is rocket science.  There are several elements you'll have to keep in mind, most importantly: This guide isn't comprehensive, and isn't intended to be.  Instead, it's a look at the realities of the process, and some pointers for how to get started.  Take it as a collection of tips, and use it along with the information you will get from other folks.

(Also, while this talks mostly about the creation of Shires, which are the most common type of new group, most of this advice holds true for Colleges, Cantons, and other variant sorts of branches.)

Note that this is only talking in broad generalities. You should definitely talk to your Kingdom Seneschal, as described below, for information about the process in your Kingdom.

Step 1: Reality-Checking

Okay, this isn't an easy question, but it has to be asked first: are you sure this is a good idea?

There are good and bad reasons to create a new branch.  Let's take a look at the most common scenarios:

I'm already in a branch, but I mostly play with my friends, and we want a group for ourselves.
If this is the case, then you really don't want a new branch.  A formal SCA group is geographically-based; it has to include everyone who lives within its borders.  What you really want is a household.  There are usually few rules on the creation of households; they have little formal power, but they don't have much paperwork either, and you can include whoever you like.  They are usually the right answer for groups of friends.
Well, I technically live within a big Barony (or Shire), but the population center is an hour away, and we feel kinda isolated.
This is a borderline case.  You really should go talk with the folks in the Barony about it; sometimes, nothing more is needed than improving the communication between the center and the border marches of the group.  In other cases, the sensible course of action is a Canton, which is sort of like a Shire that is subordinate to a Barony.  This would allow you to still be part of the Barony, but have a distinct identity for your area within it.  Creating a Canton is similar to creating a Shire, but generally easier, since you have help from the Barony.  In yet other cases, when it's a group of friends who all live in one town, the right way to go is a household (see the previous paragraph).  And yes, sometimes, the right answer is to break a new Shire off from the existing Barony or Shire.
In this case, be aware that you have to tread particularly carefully.  People tend to get -- well, kind of territorial about their territory, and if you come up to them and just say "we're going to take a bunch of land away from you", that may not be well-received.  You will need to work closely with the existing group, and make sure they understand that this isn't anything personal: you just have a group that is too far away to feel that it is part of the existing branch.  It can be done successfully, but be wary of politics and be prepared for some very serious negotiations.
I've looked around, and I don't seem to be within any existing SCA branch.
Okay -- in this case, you're probably right that a new branch is the way to go.  Keep reading...

There are some other aspects of reality-checking that you'll need to think about upfront.  In particular, do you have the necessary critical mass, or do you at least feel that you'll be able to gather it?  You will need at least five paid members, and a healthy Shire should usually have at least ten active participants.  Are some of these people willing to be officers?  Bear in mind that being a branch entails some paperwork.  (Not a huge amount, but what there is can be pretty important; you can't ignore it.)

Also, you should have your feet under you before you try to create a new branch. You can read everything available about the SCA, but it still won't give you the feel of how things are done. I strongly recommend that, if you're new, you travel to a few events before trying to set up a branch yourself.

Assuming you've gotten past this section and it still seems like the right path, we move on to...

Step 2: Getting the Ball Rolling

The next thing to do, pretty much before anything else, is contact your Kingdom Seneschal.

The Kingdom Seneschal is the person in charge of running the day-to-day affairs of the Kingdom.  You can find his or her contact information in your kingdom newsletter.  (You are a paid member, right?  If not, I strongly recommend getting a membership ASAP.  While opinions vary about whether every SCA participant needs to be a member, major officers absolutely have to be.  And you should be a subscribing member, so you get the Kingdom newsletter.) A list of Kingdom Seneschal email addresses can also be found in the Interkingdom Directory.

The Kingdom Seneschal is important in a couple of respects.  First of all, he or she can tell you about the rules peculiar to your kingdom for creating new groups.  The broad outline is pretty consistent around the SCA, but the details can vary a fair bit, so ask the Seneschal for the real meat of the process.  Second, the Kingdom Seneschal is, ultimately, your advocate in this process.  Once you have your act together, and are ready to become official, it will be the Kingdom Seneschal (and maybe the Royalty) who will make the recommendation to the Board to make you a real group.  So be nice to your Kingdom Seneschal -- they're generally overworked, a bit underappreciated, and quite important to all this.

I would generally recommend that you contact your neighboring groups at this point, also.  They may be able to help you get going, providing some additional experience, and maybe loan an officer occasionally to help you start up.  (For example, it can often be useful to import a nearby Knight to help get an armored combat practice going.)

Somewhere along the line, the Kingdom Seneschal will tell you that you are an "Incipient Shire"; basically, that means you're a group in the process of forming.  You don't really need to wait for that in order to keep going, but it's a sign that things are progressing. Depending on the Kingdom, they may require that some of the below steps be taken before you can officially get listed as an Incipient Shire.

Step 3: Looking Like a Shire

It's now time to start really organizing.  There are several ducks you'll have to get in a row before you can progress to being an official Shire: You may also want to consider running an event while you're still in this formative stage.  This isn't required, by any means, but it can be a good way to get your feet wet.  An Incipient Shire can't run an event on its own, but it can run one under the sponsorship of a more established branch.  They deal with the official parts (appointing a legal Autocrat, taking care of the money), while your new group supplies the manpower and organization.  If there's a nearby branch that you are friendly with, consider trying this out.

There are some limits on an Incipient group, especially before you have warranted officers, but there's a lot that you can do in the meantime.  With the exception of combat, you can do most kinds of practices without any need for official status.  Hold some garb workshops, do dance practices, get together and experiment with period cooking; most of this stuff just requires interested participants and someone to run it.  See if you can import some expertise to teach you some of these topics, or look around on the Web (there is introductory material for many arts available off of the SCA Arts and Sciences homepage).

Step 4: Becoming a Shire

Okay, so you've got the members, the officers, the name and device, and you're starting to feel like a branch.  What next?

Now, it's really in the hands of the Kingdom.  Talk with the Kingdom Seneschal, and say that you think you're ready for the big time.  They may want some demonstrations of activity, to have confidence that you're real; work with them on it.  You may need to produce a formal poll or petition, to demonstrate that there is a consensus among the members in the area that they want this group to exist.  (Even if it's not required, having a petition signed by all the local members is a good upfront way of demonstrating unanimity of purpose.)

Once they are satisfied, the Kingdom Seneschal will buck the decision upstairs.  The ultimate approval for the new branch lies in the Board of Directors.  Usually, Board approval is a rubber stamp on the Kingdom's opinion, but it's still an important step -- you aren't real until the Board says that you're real, and that can take some months.

And when they do say so?  Then you're a Shire.  Congratulations!


The most important thing to keep in mind through all of this is patience.  The process isn't fast; it usually takes at least a year, and 2-3 years from starting out to being approved as a full Shire is fairly common.  Don't worry about rushing this; remember, you can do a lot while you're still Incipient.  If you're determined and organized, you'll progress through the steps reasonably smoothly, and at the end, you'll have a new branch you can be proud of.

For the corporate laws on SCA branches, check out the SCA Corpora. This can be obtained from the Member Services Office, or found online at the SCA Homepage. Note that the online version is often a little out-of-date, but is still worth reading.