by Terence Jason Dorman, Manager of Awesome Writings
Judging at Gen Con in 2010 was my first major judging experience. I had judged hundreds of local events and a handful of regional/state events, but nothing that would see players from all around the world traveling to one event. It was a bit daunting to think about, but I think I handled the pressure well and performed admirably.
One of the most important things I learned, though, is that there will be players in the tournament breaking the rules without knowing it. They aren’t doing it on purpose, and they usually aren’t “big” rules, but they are doing it nonetheless.
These players are breaking the rules because of what I call “playgroup errors.”
Nearly every playgroup out there, regardless of which game they are playing, suffers from playgroup errors. Playgroup errors are, in short, misunderstandings of the rules because that is how everyone in the group was told it worked or how they all interpreted it as a group.
These are completely innocent mistakes and can happen to everyone. They are so innocent, in fact, that when I correct these playgroup errors in tournaments, the reaction is usually “Ohhhhh. We’ve been doing that wrong” and then the game continues without a hitch.
The issue with playgroup errors, though, is that they are hard to spot. If two members of the same playgroup face off in a tournament, they will play their game with these incorrect rulings and be none the wiser.
Even if one member of the playgroup squares off against a stranger, judges likely won’t catch any playgroup errors unless that specific error/ruling comes up in the game. Considering most games don’t require a judge to be called, it is going to be pretty hard for the tournament judge to spot these types of problems.
There is a way to cure playgroup errors, though, and thankfully it is a preventative measure. It is also a simple cure: become better acquainted with the rules.
In my experience, it seems many players learn the game, play a lot, and never look back at the rules unless a very specific question comes up. This is what usually causes playgroup errors as the players never look at the rules because they don’t think they have to.
Instead, though, try to glance at them every now and again or check out the forums for rules discussions. Even if you don’t have a particular question, someone else may pose one and the answer may surprise you.
I am not advocating that every Spoils player should become intimate with the Comprehensive Rules Reference. Instead, I am suggesting that each playgroup (or at least one member of each playgroup) take the time to read over the rules a bit more carefully or browse the forums.
Also, be sure to make sure the answers on the forums are coming from a judge or Arcane Tinmen employee. We certainly wouldn’t want you to read a ruling that was incorrect and then inform your playgroup of your recent find.
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