D&D Miniatures
Judging a D&D Minis Tournament, pt. 2
Lessons from Gencon '06
By Guy Fullerton

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.

Last week, we covered recruiting, check-in, announcements, and dress code. This 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 …

The Head Judge Doesn't Answer Rules Questions

In an event where there are enough other judges to handle the expected number of rules questions (typically, that means at least two other judges), the head judge shouldn't act as a floor judge. That is, he or she shouldn't walk the floor answering rules questions. Instead, the head judge should act purely as a resource for appeals. This gives players the chance to appeal a ruling that they disagree with, which can go a long way toward heading off disputes or bad feelings (even if the ruling doesn't change). It also gives newer judges more practice than they might otherwise get. (Because of my position as the D&D Miniatures Net Rep, if I'm walking the floor as a judge, some players will call for me explicitly by shouting, "Guy!" instead of "Judge!" Aside from being somewhat disrespectful of the other judges, this deprives those other judges of the chance to answer questions, which is why they volunteered in the first place. If the head judge stands apart from this level of questions, the other judges get to do what they came for and, at the same time, reinforce their confidence by fielding more answers.)

This was a bit strange for me at first, because I've always walked the floor and answered questions, even as head judge. I got used to it quickly, however, and found plenty of other work to do between appeals and consultations -- writing up penalties, tracking how many games finished at various time increments, making announcements, coordinating judge breaks, taking notes, and registering people for other events.

No One Answers "How Much Time Before the Next Round?" Questions

Sometimes a player wants to know how much time he has before the next swiss round starts. In general, it's best for judges not to answer that question directly. Too many factors are beyond a judge's control, and the last thing a judge needs is for a player to arrive late and then blame the judge for guessing the start time wrong.

Nine times out of ten, when a player asks, "How much time do I have before the next round of the event starts," he really wants to know if he has time to do something very specific, such as use the restroom. Find out what the player really wants to do, and let them know whether you think they'll have time to do it. But if you are not the person in charge of the tournament clock, be sure to let the player know that it is their responsibility to be back by the start of the next round regardless of when that might be.

Issue Strict Penalties

She has loosed the fateful lightning of her terrible, swift sword!The D&D Minis judging staff handed out more penalties at Gencon Indy 2006 compared to previous Gencons. Not only did we run the championships at Rules Enforcement Level 3 (REL 3), but we were also intentionally stricter when we had discretion over whether to assign a penalty.

For example, if a player moved a creature one square too far in a way that didn't affect the outcome of subsequent actions, in previous years, we probably wouldn't have assigned a penalty at all. We would have moved the creature back one square and allowed play to continue. This year, we generally corrected the mistake and issued a caution for a Minor Procedural Error. Similarly, we were quick to issue more cautions for Slow Play -- Playing Slowly than we had in prior years.

We did this despite the (very cool!) fact that the D&D Minis community is somewhat more casual than that of other tournament games, and it comes down to one main reason -- the player base is becoming more sophisticated. As local tournaments grow in attendance, importance, and prize support (consider the large and well attended Opens that many regions run), the players and judges have begun asking more complex questions regarding procedures and penalties. Players want to know whether it's acceptable to hold an opponent to a declared action. Judges want to know the right way to handle contentious situations when a lot of money or a significant prize is on the line. We wanted to raise the rules enforcement standard across the entire player base by showing players (many of whom judge at their local events) how a big event should be run.

An important side benefit is that players learn better from strict penalties than they do from lax penalties. Many players have never been issued a penalty before, so they're not likely to make the same mistake twice if they get a caution or warning. This is especially true considering that penalties increase in severity if you commit the same infraction later in the event. A player that gets a warning for Slow Play -- Playing Slowly is very likely to play faster if they know they're going to get a match loss for any future Slow Play penalties in that same tournament.

If you're a judge and you're not already following the DCI Penalty Guidelines closely, start doing so in your next event. When penalties are justified, assign them early and often. This allows the penalty escalation structure (section 40 of the DCI Penalty Guidelines) to do the hard work of assigning match losses and disqualifications for you.

Chair-off the Play Area

For the Top 8 of the championships, we restricted the play area to just the players and the judges. We blocked the aisles and the ends of the tables with chairs so that spectators could see but couldn't get closer than about 5 feet from each match. Our goal was to keep the volume level down so players and judges could communicate more easily. Because we had at least one judge per match, this also gave judges a quiet place to sit and watch each match. (With that high judge/match ratio for the Top 8, we didn't need to keep judges walking around the way we did during the swiss portion.)

Blocking off the play area also gave us a few side perks. With only a handful people in the aisle, there was enough room to set up a camera for a webcast of the event with an unobstructed view of all four matches. Additionally, with the closest spectators being about 5 feet away from the tables, more spectators were able to get clear views of the matches. It felt a bit like a sports arena, where the players and judges had a clear playing field surrounded at a distance by a ring of eager onlookers. I will definitely continue doing this for the Top 8 (or Top 4) matches at all major events I help run in the future.

What Should You Do Now?

If you're a player, talk to your local organizers and judges about instituting some of these ideas. If you're a judge or organizer, try using some of these tips at the next event you run. If you were a D&D Minis player at Gencon Indy 2006 and you have feedback about how the events were judged, or if you have more good tips, I'd love to hear about them on the message boards!

Finally, I'd like to thank a few of the people that made Gencon (and my post-Gencon vacation) a great experience for me:

  • Francis Delisle and Christopher Groves for being perfect gentlemen.
  • Alan Hochman for helping me become a better head judge, and, in turn, making all of the other judges better, too.
  • Mark Kelly for his willingness to put personal commitments on hold in order to get me home after the show.
  • Peter Lee and Chris Tulach for squeezing me into Peter's car.
  • ... and the entire midwestern United States for supporting a wide range of buffets and comfort-food restaurants. Yum!

Useful Links

Just about every resource needed to run a tournament or other event is available online.

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.

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