Monday, July 16, 2012

Ennies judge, part 3

Nominees have been announced!  So now I can talk freely without breaking any rules, right?

Well, to some degree, yes.  I’m not going to disclose information about an individual judge’s likes or dislikes.  (At GenCon, there is a Ennies Judge Panel – feel free to come out and ask us all pointed questions there!)

Now that the judging portion of the program is done, where do the Ennies stand?  Well, judges have selected the nominees for the Ennies.  However, the public (you!) actually decides who the winners are.  Everyone gets to vote among the nominees – so the judges are just as curious about who will win as the rest of the gaming public!  (Voting starts this Friday, July 20).

First off, let me address some of the commentary I’ve seen on the nominations.

I am quite pleased with the nominations.  The final list reflects the collaborative process that the judges went through – no individual judge had all of these nominated products on his or her list.  But, all of us are satisfied with the list on the whole.  Would I change anything on the list of nominees?  Yes, there are a couple of changes I personally would make to the list, but that is due to my taste.  The reason there is a judging panel is so that the nominees represent a spectrum of gamers’ opinions, rather than anyone’s individual taste.

There has been some drama around the Best Free Product nominations, with some individuals feeling that the list of nominees is questionable.  Specifically, the complaint I’ve seen is that most of the nominees are not games in and of themselves, but rather products that require additional purchases to use.  (For example – We Be Goblins! is a free Pathfinder module, but it benefits from having the Pathfinder core rule book, which is not free.)  The judges were evaluating quality of work – not what sort of product was submitted.  I think this variation in product is what creates gamer frustration.  “Why didn’t my game get nominated, when it’s a full game, and you nominated something that is just an adventure” questions inevitably lead to the not-so-popular answer:  because collectively the judges felt the 12 page adventure was of higher quality.  Not comforting, but there you have it. 

Another interesting point I’ve seen floating around the web is that “the judges are clearly fans of <insert publisher / system here>.”  Nope.  In fact, without going into detail, the five judges have somewhat different gaming palates.  For myself, I will say that I tend to be more interested in “fluff” – that is, setting or characterizations or things related to role-playing.  A couple of the other judges are more interested in rules or “crunch,” and then the other two I would characterize as hybrids – interested in both.  As for systems, we each have systems we like, and systems we don’t particularly care for.  But none of that was as important as the quality of individual products.  Pelgrane Press, Wizards of the Coast and Paizo products received the most nominations because we respected the quality of their products.  The quality of the work speaks for itself, regardless of the system.

Overall, my response to all of these sorts of questions has been and will continue to be -- run for Ennies judge yourself!  Obviously you’re passionate about gaming.  If you don’t agree with the nominations, the only way to change them is to participate in the process!  It’s not the reason I myself ran for judge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be yours.

Also, I’m sure we will discuss all this and more at the Ennies Judging Panel at GenCon, Saturday afternoon at 2pm.  judges panel info

Moving on…

Though I heartily congratulate all nominees, I would like to highlight a couple of particular products that were nominated.  (After the Ennies awards, I plan to do this with a couple of products that were not nominated, but I can’t go giving away my judge’s pick just yet!)  All comments below are simply my opinions, and not meant to detract from the worthiness of other nominees.

Dragon Age: Set 2
·         Nomination:  Best Interior Art

This is a supplement to the Dragon Age RPG.  It is a dark fantasy setting, and if you enjoy the Dragon Age video games, then you will most likely enjoy the RPG.  This supplement did a great job at re-invigorating the fan base of the Dragon Age RPG after the lackluster fan-reception for the Dragon Age II video game (which I happened to enjoy).

Panopticon (Eclipse Phase)
·         Nomination:  Best Writing

This is a supplement for Eclipse Phase.  The Eclipse Phase team consistently produces some of the most well-written books in the RPG industry.  The hard-core Sci-Fi setting may not be everyone’s cup of tea (I’m looking at you, fantasy fans), but if you want to be inspired by high quality work, look no further.  (Plus, the pdf is only $10!)

Lorefinder (GUMSHOE/Pathfinder mash-up)
·         Nomination:  Best Rules

Want some more sleuthing in your fantasy campaign?  This book has you covered.  A well-designed way to add some spice to a Pathfinder campaign – or a way to set a mystery in a fantasy world – this is a clever combination that should serve GMs and players well.

Invasive Procedures  (Trail of Cthulhu or Fear Itself GUMSHOE)
·         Nomination:  Best Adventure

This adventure scared me.  I have not done much horror role-playing, but this adventure was one of the handful I wished I had played before reading, so that I could experience that fear as a player.  Maybe one day I’ll run it for others.  Definitely creep-tastic.

There are approximately 100 Ennie nominations – see the full list here: list of 2012 ennie nominees.

And don’t forget to vote – voting starts on Friday, July 20 and runs to Sunday, July 29.  The Ennies ceremony will be held on Friday, August 17 at GenCon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ennies judge, part 2

Have you ever been a part of a book club?  Where you read a book, and then meet to discuss the book?  Maybe one book a month?  Or remember in college or high school when your entire class read a book, and then would discuss in class what you thought of the book and so forth?

Well, judging for the Ennies is not quite like that.

First, the scale is such that there is no way we could discuss every single submission in detail.  We received 366 submissions – most of which were books that arrived at my doorstep and probably made my mail carrier and UPS driver cry a lot.  There were a lot of e-submissions as well, which arrived in PDF format (searchable – yay!).  And then there were podcasts to download, websites to peruse, and the occasional piece of software.

Second, the judges for the Ennies do not meet like you would with a book club or a class.  I have yet to meet any of the others in person, for one thing.  For another, the vast majority of our year was spent in solitary efforts to read and form opinions about submissions.  It was punctuated with the occasional email with questions or comments.  But 95% of the effort involved is individual and self-motivated.

The Ennies organizers let the judges be – aside from answering the occasional question or helping with problems – to maintain the independence of the judges.  We had an agreed-upon deadline to provide our list of nominations to them, but they in no way stepped in to shape our opinions.

So what does all of this mean?  It means the vast majority of my judging duties was sitting in a quiet place, reading reading reading.  I would use my lunch hours at work to read.  I would read on the weekends.  Not every day, but in May and June pretty darn close to it. 

We kept a spreadsheet where each judge could note his or her personal candidates for nomination in each category.  I changed mine frequently, as I read more things.  I would revisit items another judge ranked highly but I hadn’t cared for particularly.  It was an ever shifting process.

Occasionally, I would have to remind myself that the Ennies were not about what my “favorite” products were, but what the “best” products were.  It didn’t happen too often, but there are still a couple of products that I loved that didn’t make the cut for other judges.  And that’s okay.

So … after lots of preparation and re-evaluation, the actual judging process went fairly smoothly.  It consisted of the judges in a Google Hangout, looking over the list of items each judge would put forward for nomination.  There were many products that overlapped between judges, and that made selection easy.  But once past those initial items, we would essentially debate amongst ourselves – very respectfully and politely I might add – what deserved to be nominated.  It took a few hours, and then after further consideration in the following days we changed two of the 100ish nominations.  It sounds simple because it was simple.  There were some categories where a judge or two would have very strong opinions, and then other judges had strong opinions in other categories.  It worked out because we were all prepared, we listened to each other, and we kept emotions out of it for the most part.

That in and of itself was a revelation to me.  I had been anxious about the judging process because I didn’t know the other judges (you can’t read tone into emails), and I didn’t know how being the only girl on the panel would go.  What I learned was that the judging process in and of itself was all about building consensus.  It was almost like a group of five people mediating themselves.  I will give you a (fake) example.  Say, judges 1-3 really liked Book Lasagna, but judges 4-5 really liked Book Enchiladas.  Well, perhaps the negotiated result of that conflict would be nominating Book Lasagna in this particular category, but recognizing that Book Enchiladas was also a quality product by putting it on the short list for nominee discussion in a different category that would be discussed a bit later.  It worked out rather well.

So after a few hours, we had a list of nominations.  We slept on it, and further refined a couple of nominations, but all in all we are very satisfied with our decisions. 

Ennies nominations will be announced July 13, after which I will give you some details to chew on (though not gossipy who-liked-what stuff – just my opinions or products I want to highlight).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ennies judge, part 1

This year, I had the unique opportunity to judge for the Ennies.  What are the Ennies?  Well, short-version, they are awards to Role-Playing Game related products that are given annually at Gen Con. 

Anyone can run to be a judge, and judges are elected for one year by the same fans voting on the awards.  The judges’ job is then to read / view all entries and select the nominations for the Ennies.  Those nominations are then put to fan vote, which decides the winners.

So, long story short (too late), I have had over 300 books/websites/podcasts/etc to read and evaluate since Gen Con of last year.  The vast majority of submissions were received in April and May, so I’ve been a bit busy!

Though at times I felt overwhelmed by this process (and had the resultant whining to my friends), overall it has been very gratifying.  I wanted to share some things with you, and also document them for myself.

So why did I get involved in judging?

First, my main goal in this process was to learn more about Role Playing Games.  I play and enjoy them.  I like GMing.  But I don’t have a breadth of knowledge about the games available.  Most of my experience has been with systems that my friends know and enjoy playing.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But I like to learn, and I wanted to educate myself about other systems and basically come to a more holistic understanding and appreciation for the industry.

Second, I really enjoy reading.  I wanted to see what inspired me about different worlds and settings.  I wanted to learn more about myself through discovering what I gravitated to.  I hoped to spark creative thinking within myself by taking this journey.

Third, I am a girl (duh) in a hobby that is male-dominated.  Now, I am not male-bashing.  But there are a couple of underlying issues here. 

One, the RPG community tends to be viewed by “outsiders” as a bunch of nerds without social skills being dorks together.  While some of that is true (I’m a nerd and a dork), there is more to the community – and role-playing – than awkward people trying to have a good time.  [Aside --The couple who introduced me to role-playing consist of a brilliant, beautiful woman and perhaps the most socially adept man I’ve ever known.  Hard to beat that for non-stereotypical.]   So, being a woman in this hobby, I was hoping that by being a female judge I could draw attention to some products that might be more female-friendly so to speak.  Did I succeed?  Who knows.  But it was a thought in my head.

Two, when I applied to be a judge candidate, there were zero other females who had done so.  None.  But about 15 guys had applied.  Now, a couple of other women applied before the end, but it really pushed my buttons at the time.  I had hesitated about applying, knowing how much work would be involved – and how seriously I take my commitments.  But this basically pushed me over the edge from “thinking about it” to “okay, do it.”   Does that mean I was the token girl on the judges panel?  Probably.  But I will take that and run with it.

So this documents why I decided to apply.  And low and behold, I got elected!  (And totally yelled “Holy Crap” in a restaurant full of people in Indianapolis when I found out.)

To be continued with a post about judging itself, and then eventually discussion of the nominees (which will be announced July 13).