Justus Productions

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Final Rounds

The last few rounds were the hardest.  Getting from 8 to 4 and then 4 to 2 were some hard decisions.  I thought my efforts to make this a collaborative effort would make it difficult to judge and create patchwork settings with inconsistent visions.  However, much of the opposite happened.  The writers communicated with each other enough to keep the vision and theme, while subtlety adding new ideas and original concepts.  However, this was a curse as well as a blessing and made things very hard towards the end for the judges.

Judging in general was difficult.  Do we judge the setting as a whole or do we judge on the entries individually.  In the beginning, we focused more on the entries. But as time went on, it became more apparent that our focus was going to be on the setting in general.  The entries continued to be a factor but the setting was more important.  Our end result is to come up with a good setting that exemplifies JustUs Productions, and MACE, so the setting gradually became more and more important.

It was amazing how similar many of the settings ended up being.  And perhaps that was the nature of the collaboration.  What we did not end up with was a platypus-setting like many suspected would happened.  Because of good collaboration as well as the nature of the contest, I think that was easily avoided.  The contest started with a macro vision in the first round, with the contestants submitting a general pitch for the world.  Then we asked them to focus down to a sub-continent level.  Then, they had to focus on a major kingdom or province region.  Finally they had to come up with a location that will be the center of the adventure.  This telescoping of focus prevented a lot of the potential for weird amalgamations.  It was interesting to see each writer’s interpretations of what a sub-continent, kingdom/region/province and location were.  There were some differences, telling me that we need to be more specific in requirements.

However, there is still a risk of a platypus-setting as we move forward.  Our plan is to run another contest using the final setting.  What makes that difficult is that while we have the setting, now we are expanding off of it.  Now we have to worry about maintaining the theme and the concept of the original setting, while at the same time allowing for new ideas that take it outside the original boundaries. So as this contest grows, the more challenging it will get.

Never mind the whole living campaign nature of this, which I personally have not completely thought out yet.  My experience with living campaigns are minimal but we have resources that can help us on that end.

Now we head into the final round which takes place at MACE in Charlotte.  The judges are out of it.  It’s up to those that play the setting.  My end game plan was to have 2 settings with at least two tables of players playing in an adventure written by the final writer – which is the original writer of the setting.  I have a list of criteria each player will score the setting on and I hope to average them out.  I encouraged the GMs to work with the other writers on their setting to perhaps schedule other tables, and that is working out pretty well.  So we will have multiple tables of each setting with hopefully enough players to get a good overall opinion of each setting.

Overall, I am very pleased how this worked out, despite the problems and missteps.  We had some very good writers volunteering and some very good input from all of them.  Going in, I was afraid that some egos may have been bruised and in fact, some may have, but I hope everyone understands the motivation and intent of the contest.  It was a blast.  I feel we were consistent enough, fair enough and everyone came out of it for the better.  I look forward to doing a more extended one next year.

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Complications

The model we set up where writers are creating for different settings is a rather precarious one.  It relied heavily on the contestants staying in the contest.  What I did not plan for was contestants dropping out without writing their entry for the current phase.  Life happens as well all know, so I could not do anything to change it, but with one person dropping out, it not only took out the one person’s setting but also left another setting without an entry for that particular phase.

My choices were few.  One option was to drop both settings.   Of course the setting that  the person who is quitting will be dropped.  However, the setting missing that phase’s entry was also in trouble and that would not be fair to that writer.  It put me, in particular, in a very difficult situation.  Not only did one person write for a setting that has to be dropped, wasting a lot of time and effort the writer brought in, but now a setting is not going to get its fair shake because it was incomplete.

Another option was that I could write the entry really quickly.  That kind of blurs the lines of my impartialness as a judge, let alone the fact that I only had a day and a half to do it.  I wasn’t even sure I could do it justice.  The original setting writer also did not feel comfortable with me writing it.  I knew that was a bad option up front, but like I said, my options were few.

Finally, the other option came to me out of the blue.  Find another willing writer that could do it in a short time frame.  One of the other contestants volunteered to write something for the setting to at least give it a chance.  He also agreed to write it anonymously.  That was awesome!  It all worked out.

To avoid this in the future, I may have to restructure the contest.  One idea I had requires a forum where all writers can communicate with each other.  Facebook has worked to some degree but not all the contestants are on Facebook.  There are some people within my circles that vehemently object to social networking sites, which gets into a whole new level of anti-social, I suppose.  So a PHPBB forum or WordPress forum may be the solution.  This allows for more collaboration which is at the heart of this contest.  Given more time, I may be able to structure it o that for a week, all writers will comment on each setting and add their own short idea to it.  The writer will then be required to pick at least one idea for his addition during that phase.

Or I can just find more reliable writers.

Entering into the fourth phase of this contest and it has been really fun so far.  The settings are definitely developing really well, and with a little work, the final product will be incredible.

The Living MACE Campaign – Genesis

This year, MACE and JustUs Productions is trying something new to add to our experience.  Inspired by the Paizo RPG Superstar contest as well as a contest we ran at MACE called the Iron MACE Chef contest (where writers wrote an RPG given a certain number of parameters), the Living MACE campaign setting seeks to create a role playing game living campaign setting that will be exclusive to MACE events.

We knew this was going to be very involved for the contestants but we thought perhaps the rewards would outweigh some of the challenges.  We also hoped that some of our more loyal friends, as passionate gamers, would see it as an opportunity. We saw it as an opportunity to make something uniquely MACE and be a part of that.

The contest will be to create core aspects of the campaign setting, independent of a rule system.  Eventually by the final round or rounds we will have a complete enough setting to present to all the gamers at the 20th anniversary of MACE (2016).  For the system,  we plan to use generic systems like Savage Worlds, Pathfinder and a local favorite, Bare Bones Fantasy, assuming we handle all the licensing and rights before hand.

The basic parameters are:

Genre: Fantasy

System:  As mentioned, this would not be system specific.

The First Round encompasses the writers submitting a Name, Tagline, Elevator Pitch, and Designer notes.  This would give us the baselines of the setting.  It would give us the theme, the key plot elements and the general idea of the history of the setting.  From there, we would narrow down the scope, from world to subcontinent, to kingdom to location.  In the end, an adventure will be written.

Assuming we get at least 16, we will eliminate half each round.  After narrowing down the initial group of entries down to 16, it will be narrowed down to 8, then 4 and then 2, etc.   However, the difference between our contest and the one that inspired it is that the contestant may not be writing for their own setting after the first round.   We wanted to get an amalgamation of ideas in each entry.  Each entry will be a collective work between 4 of the contestants.

We realized that there is a risk of creating the “Platypus setting” but we thought we could avoid this by encouraging collaboration using tools at our disposal (social network and email) as well as relying on the participants’ imaginations to keep each setting relatively intact.   This kind of simulates common circumstances in the industry where writers on occasion are writing for other people’s settings. So it will be important for all involved to pay attention to other participants’ work.  The winning setting will represent a number of writers’ work.

The final round will have two adventures written for the top two settings.  These will be run in whatever system the authors prefer.  The players will score it and choose the winner based on the score.

I plan to have updates on this contest as we go along.  As of this writing, we are headed into Phase 3 with 8 writers.  So I am somehwat behind.  We have learned  a lot from the first time trying this.  I will document what I can and welcome comments.  I encourage other events to try this.  It’s is an amazing and enlightening experience

Living MACE Campaign Contest – Eliminations

Going into this, I knew the elimination process was going to be difficult.  With authors writing for settings other than their own, the decision to decide what and who gets dropped presented an extra challenge.  Who do you eliminate?  The original writer and the setting?  Or the writer of the current phase?  There was a risk of killing a good setting just because of a bad entry.  Also there was a risk of a writer’s setting being eliminated while they stay in the contest.  All this had to be considered and in truth was fleshed out as we went along.

No matter what, a number of people had to be eliminated each phase.  The question was who and what setting would also be eliminated.  The original setting they wrote or the setting they were currently writing for.  If you think about it, it is a real challenge based on the model we created. However, my central goal was not only to have a setting created but make it a collaborative work between some of the best of our writers.

The one option was to eliminate the writer and the current setting they were writing for.  The logic behind that is that the eliminated writer has “corrupted” (for lack of a better term) this setting with a sub-par addition.  In an effort to avoid ham-stringing the next writer, the bad entry had to be eliminated.  The problem with that is good settings could be killed by one bad entry.  On top of that, it could be contestant A’s setting that gets eliminated, and he/she is still in contest.  What motivation does that person have to stay in the contest now that his or her setting is out of the running?  You can probably see my dilemma.

Despite all the questions and “wonkiness” of that option, that was what I was planning to do.  I thought it better to keep the good written entries in and avoid the “corruption” problem that would occur.  Why keep them in if it is only going to hinder future phases of writing, regardless of how good the setting is?

Another option was obviously to simply eliminate the writer with his or her setting.  The problem with that is that leaves some “bad entries” in the mix, which ends up causing problems for the next writer.  What do you do with the entry that the eliminated player wrote for somebody else’s setting?  Admittedly, it may not be all that bad, but there has to be a reason why the writer was eliminated.

Both elimination options have their merits but also have their issues.  I also fully recognize that the problems stem from the nature of our model – the collaborative nature.  Unfortunately, you can’t have everything.

One statement from a friend and one of our judges made it all clear to me.  Good writers will write good settings.  So no matter what, if you eliminate the writers based on what they wrote and the setting they wrote along with them, you are going to still have good writers and good settings.  That helped us see things a lot clearer and the end result was that we went with the second option.

One option to deal with the “bad apples in the mix” was to let the original writer of the setting fix it.  That’s the most ideal solution.  Unfortunately, with the time constraint I had set for the first time we tried this, I could not do that.  What I finally decided to do was edit them myself while consulting with the original author.  I reserved the right to do this for any “bad apple” that might fall in our bucket, in an effort to make sure the next writer was not at a disadvantage going into the next stage.  Not the most ideal method but it worked within our time constraints. What I am considering for future iterations of this is to allow an extra week for re-writes – send the entry back to the original writer so he or she can fix it.

So far this contest has been amazing.  Great ideas are coming out of it.  We did not get the initial 16 contestants but we did get 11.  One was dropped initially and then we had 10.  We have gone from phase 2 into phase 3, where we whittled it down to 8.  Eliminating people is hard.  I know it’s not a good feeling to be told that what you wrote is not what we like or not good enough.  But I heard one writer say at some point – you have to take criticism well to be a writer.  So I hope they take it well.