As a chatelain I often get asked about households, guilds and other similar kinds of associations in the SCA. Basically put households and guilds are not recognized by SCA, inc as official entities. They have no power to create or enforce SCA or kingdom rules. They are officially separate and unofficial from the SCA.
"E. Unofficial Entities
In many kingdoms, there are groups in which many people participate but which are not formally recognized
by the Society. These can range from highly structured guilds to loosely associated camping groups. Entities
that fall into this category can have many names, including but not limited to households, guilds, ships, and
clans. Although these entities are not recognized by the Society in any formal way, some kingdoms have
awards that can be given to these groups. Because they are not official Society groups, unofficial entities
cannot sponsor Society events."
That said, households and guilds are pretty common in the SCA. They are a way for people of similar purposes to get together with others that share their interests. A simple, and not entirely accurate, way to think of households and guilds is that they are clubs.
The difference between a guild and a household is one of focus. Guilds are supposedly focused on teaching something to anyone who wishes to learn. They hold meetings that are open to others for the purpose of learning. They may have their own internal hierarchy and may not. Households generally focus internally working with the members to achieve the goals of the household whatever they might be.
A household or a guild will have different focuses from other households and guilds. Some are focused on martial arts. Some are focused on service. Some are focused on one kind of art or science or a group of them. Some don't seem to have a focus but are just a conglomeration of people who seem to get along really well.
I am a member of the household called the Thieves of Hearts. We are a fencing household. We happily teach anyone who wishes to learn but in the end we are a household That tells you how easy it is for one to look like the other. We have group awards for service and for archery but none for rapier or fighting.
Before you join any household, especially as a watchee, probee or whatever they call a prospective member, (and especially before if you go directly into joining the household,) ask questions!
What is the purpose of the household?
What are the internal policies of the household?
Do they themselves actually follow the written (if any) rules/processes?
Do they have written documents on how things are done such as voting, commanding, leadership, internal recognition?
What if any code of conduct they may have?
What are the formal and informal expectations do they have of members and prospective members?
What does it take to get kicked out?
What kinds of activities do they do?
What is expected of you at events and outside of events?
How much "drama" do they have and how do they deal with it when it crops up?
Are they an exclusive household? Meaning once you join them, would you be able to join another household that focuses on something you enjoy doing? This does happen. My "guild" specifically does NOT have this stipulation but some fighting households do. And for good reason. You don't want a member to be a part of two households that end up facing each other on the field of battle. That creates all sorts of problems that just aren't needed. The household may be partially exclusive. Meaning you can't join another fighting household but you could join a service household without any problems. Or vice versa for that matter.
But most of all ask yourself
Do you like the people in the household?
Will you be able to live/work with them in the SCA for extended periods of time?
Do you want to be associated with the reputation of that household whatever it is? (Ask other people what the reputation of the household is to make sure you have a good general idea what it is.)
Will joining in with them change anything for you either for the better or for the worse?
Do they do the things you like to do or would be interested in doing?
Will they try to take over your SCA life?
Will they try to tell you what to do?
Will they help you achieve whatever you wish to achieve in the SCA regardless if it is what they do or not?
Something else to find out about
What is the norm for the area you are in?
Are there a lot of households?
It is normal for people to join households?
Why are several households recruiting you at once? (If there are. If there aren't why is this household recruiting you?)
Is that normal where you are?
Yes, it is a lot of questions, but as my "Don't Speech," points out. If they are a solid household they can answer all of these questions. Wait to join up until you have the questions answered to your satisfaction. Ask them of the members of the household and the leaders of the household. Because really, if they are cool people now and a good household, they will be cool people later and a good household later.
You may find they are exactly the kind of people you love to be around and will fit right in. You may find that while they are awesome people doing awesome things you like to do, you just don't want to join. And you may find out just about anything. In the end only you can determine if you want to join or not.
I always caution newcomers against joining any household that seems to purposefully go out of their way to recruit newcomers. Not that it is always a bad thing. There are households whose purpose is to help newcomers (they do exist and most are pretty cool in my experience.) But why is the household recruiting the least knowledgeable and least skilled people in the SCA? Often this is because they have a high turn over (for whatever reason,) and experienced people may know to stay away from the household. Obviously this is not always the case but it is something to think about.
And remember just because they are talking to you and you happen to be a newcomer doesn't mean they are recruiting you because you are a newcomer. It could just as easily be coincidence.
Most of all don't make a decision to join any household because they are putting pressure on you to join EG giving you the hard sell. And if they give you a time limit for which their offer is good. That's fine, but don't fret over it. And however they are treating you now, how does that bode for how they will treat you later?
Households can be wonderful and very fulfilling places. They can also be breeding grounds for nothing but drama and strife. I've seen both. Just make a well informed decision whatever you do.