I had a fantastic time judging the D&D Miniatures events at Gencon Indy this year, in large part because the events ran smoothly. In order to help foster the D&D Miniatures judging community, I'd like to share some of the ways the organizers and judges contributed to the great experience. Some of these tidbits are relevant only for large events, but many are still applicable for smaller-scale, local events.
Before diving into specifics, I want to give credit where credit is due. Only one of these tidbits -- chair-off the play area -- was my own idea (and not a very original one at that!) The rest of these guidelines came from other members of the event staff or grew out of discussions with various folks in the D&D Minis community.
This week, we cover recruiting, check-in, announcements, and dress code. Next week, we'll wrap up with advice about who should answer questions and how, penalties, and arranging the playing space.
Now, on to the advice …
Use Top-Notch Event Staff
Admittedly, I'm putting this tidbit first so I can gush a bit about my co-workers at Gencon Indy. They were awesome. (Yes, Derry, awesome.) This was by far the most skilled and competent event staff we've ever had running the D&D Miniatures events at Gencon. From the judges down on the floor to the folks up on the stage, everyone was professional, knowledgeable, helpful, enthusiastic, and friendly. The same is true of the Dreamblade, Star Wars, and Axis & Allies minis staff.
This isn't just gushing. It's good advice. The more experienced your organizers and judges are, the more smoothly your event will run. Experience translates into making the right rulings, using the tools properly, saying the right things, and keeping the event moving. More experienced staff also help your newer staff members learn and grow.
Validate Warbands at Signup
In the past, several judges spent a significant portion of the first swiss round validating warbands. A few of us would sit with calculators and go through the warband registration sheets one-by-one to make sure no player was using an illegal warband. This is a necessary task, but it's also error prone and time consuming. Players would be much better served if all of the judges were walking the floor answering rules questions during the early part of the first round.
In order to improve the warband validation process, take a cue from the European D&D Minis Championship -- validate each player's warband as he signs up for each event. At Gencon, this slowed down the overall registration process a little bit, but the payoff was a much more accurate validation process. Because we caught mistakes before the first round matches started, we were able to hand out illegal warband penalties without giving a first round match loss to each penalized player. This also made sure we had all of the judges walking the floor during the entire first round.
To speed up this process, I wrote my own D&D Minis database software that allowed me to quickly check warbands. Several warband building programs area available freely that you can use for this task, including the official D&D Miniatures Warband Generator
Make Important Announcements Before Matches Begin
Currently, there isn't always consistent handling of logistics and enforcement of penalties among all the venues that host DCI sanctioned D&D Minis tournaments. Organizers and judges with a long history of DCI sanctioned games probably run events more strictly than newer organizers and judges. As a result, different players often have different understandings of what is or isn't acceptable at a DCI sanctioned tournament. To ensure that no player is surprised by the enforcement of certain tournament rules that their local venue doesn't enforce, make some announcements before the first round of the championships started.
First, introduce the judging staff for the event. At Gencon, even though the judges all wore easily identifiable judge shirts, our goal was to make sure all the players saw what the shirts looked like so they could find us with a glance. This seems like a minor thing, but it was important because the D&D Minis judging staff wore a different style of shirt earlier in the convention.
Remind players that their opponents, neighboring players, and spectators are not judges. It doesn't matter if the player/spectator has been a judge before. If they are playing in an event or if they are just watching an event, they are not a judge for that event. Players should not ask them rules questions. That's what judges are for. Be sure to tell and show players the proper way to summon a judge -- by raising your hand and loudly saying, "judge!" Point out that getting into a rules discussion with your opponent wastes time, can become heated, and sometimes ends up with both players playing incorrectly. What's worse, communicating with neighboring players and spectators could be construed as getting outside help, which can lead to disqualification -- and that brings us to ...
Remind spectators that they must not communicate with players during matches. Most players know that they shouldn't communicate with spectators, but many spectators don't know this. Even a simple word of encouragement from a friend can be construed as outside advice, regardless of whether the player responds. Because the Gencon judging staff wouldn't tolerate any amount of outside advice during a match, we wanted to make sure a spectator didn't accidentally ruin the tournament for one of the players.
Finally, a word of caution -- One of the championship maps included forest, so I announced a few rules clarifications for forest terrain. In hindsight, this was a bad idea. Not only was it difficult to communicate the clarification without a diagram, but the players' followup questions delayed the start of the matches by 10-15 minutes. Besides, this particular clarification wasn't anything new -- details had been on my clarifications page for some time, and it's each player's responsibility to stay on top of any relevant rules. Limit any pre-match clarifications to brand-new rulings only.
The most important thing pre-match announcements is to keep them short. The players are eager to get started, and long announcements can wreck some of the enthusiasm.
Judges Must Be Identifiable and Accessible
In order to make it easier for players to find them, all judges (with one exception) wore matching, easily-identifiable judge shirts -- Bright red on some days, and with two-colored, diagonal stripes on other days. I know the matching shirts worked well because of the one exception -- I chose to wear a DCI judge shirt (black & white vertical stripes) on one of the days when the rest of the judges wore the bright red shirts. On that day, when I ran to help players looking for a judge, the first words out of some of their mouths were, "oh, you're a judge?" They were looking for somebody in a red shirt. I wore the different shirt so that I would stand out as the head judge, but my plan backfired. I made sure to wear a matching shirt for the rest of the convention.
All of the judges made an effort to keep moving during matches. This made them easier for players to spot -- moving people stand out more than static ones -- and allowed them to monitor a larger number of matches. As each one-hour time limit wound down, each judge took responsibility for a section of tables where matches were still in progress. This put them in good position monitor matches that needed extra time to finish. An exception to this was how we handled the Top 8 championship matches --
And that will be covered next week!
About the Author
Guy Fullerton is a software engineer, husband, and father in the San Jose area. Guy is also the Official D&D Miniatures Net Rep. As the Net Rep, he answers rules questions on the D&D Miniatures forums, writes the FAQ, and works with R&D to iron out rules problems. When Guy isn't working, you might find him spending time with his family, playing ice hockey, and -- of course -- playing D&D Miniatures.