hey community! I wrote this today, mostly to get it out of my system, but thought I'd share it for posterity. a bit longer than your average FFG forum fare, apologies in advance. cheers
Yesterday something happened to me that I’ve managed to avoid for a long time: not only did I get sucked into a bitter and painful fight on the Internet (Facebook, no less), I also started it. It ended up with my apologizing the the person I called out in public, but I don’t think it really helped, and the damage had been done. An X-wing celebratory whom I’ve known for years called me “disgusting”, and lots of people told me to chill the @#$% out.
The whole experience was eye-opening. I’ve tried for years to be a positive and responsible member of the community. What the **** happened?
Today I avoided social media for most the day, and thought about what happened. Tonight I decided to write everything down and try to make sense of it all. To try to figure out if I was wrong, right, misguided, or poorly communicating, or all of the above.
The Judge Illuminati
One of the hardest and thankless jobs in the X-wing ecosystem is that of the Tournament Organizer, or the “TO”. The TO goes the tournament, but almost never gets to play. Being a TO is a real servant leader type role: you are there to serve the players and make sure the tournament goes smoothly, but also lead the way in terms of making spot judgements on the many complex and strange rules that can occur in the game of X-Wing. It’s an incredibly unselfish role, giving up your own gaming time so others can game.
Over the course of X-wing history, six people in particular have emerged as real leaders in this space in the United States. They are lovingly called the “Judge Illuminati”:
Sean Dorcy, who doesn’t judge much anymore but was a real trailblazer over the first half of the game
Ron and Andrea Longhi, who’ve done of a ton of judging and marshalling in Chicago and have judged Worlds
Brent Wong of Houston, TX, who has also judged a Worlds, many Regionals, and System Opens, and a glowingly awesome guy to boot
Chris “Chico” Brown, author of Cryodex, who I worked with very closely in 2014/2015 to get List Juggler off the ground, and who has since emerged as a wonderful TO and volunteer
And finally Iain Hamp, out of Arizona, who has also TO’d tons of high level volunteers, organized his community into one of the best X-Wing groups in the states, created public guidance and documentation for other TOs and Marshalls.
There are probably at least a few other people that I’m missing, but this crew is the one that I’ve always been aware of, and grateful to, for leading the TO/marshall community forward.
And the powers-that-be have noticed. This is the crew that gets brought in to judge Worlds. Brent, Chico, and Iain are the goto guys for the System Opens.
RAW versus RAI
If you talk to the the Judge Illuminati about RAW (“Rules as Written”) versus RAI (“Rules as Intended”), and which one they lean on while judging X-Wing events, they’ll tell you RAW every time. Trying to figure out intent, especially with the X-Wing rules, would drive you crazy. So instead the judges stare at the cards, read them literally, and construct a mental model to explain how something works.
Using RAW over RAI has worked for the TOs, and our community, for years. In conjunction with the FAQ, the TOs had enough tools (hopefully) to navigate the very complicated set of rules interactions featured in the game.
Until one fateful day
I write and run a website called X-Wing List Juggler. It’s going to be almost four years old this year. It collects tournament results and lists, or squads, and (along with MetaWing, which uses List Juggler’s RESTful API to present a user friendly view on the data) has become a key tool used to analyze the “meta” of the game. It also hosts and runs Vassal League, a 350+ world-wide, online X-wing league. I’ve probably put several hundred hours (and dollars) of my life into it, and that time once again into the overall X-Wing technology stack.
Last week the whole community sat up and took notice when one particular list showed up 7 times in the top 8 of a big UK regional (and 4 out of the top 4). And won another regional. And jumped right to the top of MetaWing’s list ranking overnight. The list was dubbed “Final Form” by me (taking a nod from Dee Yun at the excellent Mynock Squadron podcast). The list is a murderer’s row of upgrades cards that are at the top of the X-Wing intelligentsias’ “overpowered list”: Twin Laser Turret, Harpoon Missiles, Sabine Wren, and “rebel regen” via the K-Wing pilot Miranda. And to top it off, the community had discovered a particularly lethal new combination: the Genius astromech droid, and the new Trajectory Simulator upgrade, just recently released.
It’s a pretty brutal list, the optimal set of upgrades assembled into the optimal list: the Final Form. It can be beaten, for sure, but for players who really want to do well in a tournament, it is most probably the optimal choice.
And it didn’t just freak out the players and podcasters. It must have freaked out FFG as well, because two days ago Kyle D, FFG employee and Marshall of the FFG HQ Regional coming up, announced that the combination of Genius and Trajectory Simulator would not be allowed for their tournament. (The Mynock’s guess is that they didn’t want the top 16 tables of that tournament to be all, or mostly, one list?) To make matters more interesting, the reasoning given for banning the combo seemed tenuous, and not at all consistent with RAW. And finally, no guidance was given on whether or not the rest of the Marshalls and TOs should use this ruling for their Regionals (there are about thirty coming up in the next four months).
FFG’s normal style of dealing with things like this is to mushroom manage it (keep the community in the dark for as long as possible, and feed it bullsh*t). The FAQ process itself is tortuously long -- apparently because of LFL approvals, but only FFG knows why -- so on one hand it was refreshing to actually get some guidance here.
On the other hand, it was a pretty terrible thing to do to the judge/marshall community. They were given quite the devil’s dilemma. Either:
Go along with a unofficial, non-FAQ ruling that didn’t make any sense at all from a RAW perspective, and risk pissing off a big chunk of the community that had gotten used to a consistent and successful RAW approach, or
Not go with the ruling, and risk pissing off a big chunk of the community that did not want to spend the next 4-6 months playing (or being beaten) by the the same freakish list over and over again.
Going through the debates on the forums and Reddit and Facebook, it is pretty clear that no-one was going to be happy with any decision the Illuminati Judges made. They had been completely hung up to dry and forced into the bad guy role by FFG. And they had to make the call on this, because the System Opens are coming up.
Krayts on Top
After talking to Chris Allen about the situation, we decided that the least we could do was create a spreadsheet that tracked which big events were going with which ruleset, so players would know what to expect (or plan which events they would go to based on how excited they were about fighting Final Form over and over again). So I created it, from the Scum and Villainy Podcast shared google drive.
It became immediately clear that it wasn’t going to be clear. The Indianapolis Regional guys immediately announced that they were going to follow FFG HQ’s lead. So did Vancouver, and then New York. The Maryland Regional put it to player vote, and the vote went 80-5 to go with the FFG HQ rules. Anchorage, Montreal, and Colorado were going to go RAW.
And the System Open team hadn’t announced yet what they were going to do.
Heavy is the Head that Wears The Crown
This was my take on it: FFG HQ had thrown all of us a lifeline. Maybe they felt bad about subjecting us to Jumpmaster **** for almost two years, or maybe they didn’t want to be embarrassed in their own Regional by having their own Frankenstein trashing the place, or maybe they felt like the issue needed to be fixed quickly without waiting for the 4-6 month FAQ process. Ok, so the explanation didn’t make much sense according to RAW, but did it have to? Chewbacca is Han’s lost twin brother, so Genius and Trajectory Simulator don’t work together. Got it. I like RAW, but I like a healthy meta and a happy community more, and if it is good enough for FFG HQ, then (I felt) it should be good enough for everyone.
So around 8 pm last night -- after the S&V team had published its own hard edge take on the situation -- I realized a few things. One, it was going to be super annoying if I had to make code changes to List Juggler to track multiple rulesets going around for multiple regionals. Two, this was going to drive a huge wedge into our nice little community. Three, maybe there is a way out of this mess. What if I could convince the Illuminati Judges to go with the FFG HQ Ruling? They whole judging/marshall community looks up to those guys -- they’d certainly earned the leadership role -- probably 90% of of the judges/marshalls would fall in line if the Illuminati Judges. Problem solved, right?
All I had to do was convince Iain (the natural leader of the group, as far as I could tell) to “do the right thing”, and the crisis would be averted. Maybe … maybe … the community could make lemonade from FFG’s hang-’em-out-to-dry solution to the problem and actually make things better.
So I chatted him up on Facebook that night.
I didn’t do a great job presenting the above idea. He said that until official word from FFG was received, he (and all the System Open Marshalls) felt they had to go with RAW. I told him that this was a chance for them to take a leadership position, to do the right thing, to unite the community. That he personally could fix this situation. He disagreed, saying it would just make the situation worse. That it would set a horrible precedent. I pushed too hard, and when he unequivocally told me to stop, I told him that I was going to hold him publicly accountable for what happened after this -- that he would wear it.
It was a **** thing to say, but I was pissed. Maybe I’m crazy to think that the community would rally behind the Illuminati Judges if they went with FFG HQ, and it is pretty stupid to think that they would just abandon RAW on a crazy gamble.
Besides, even if they could have changed it, is it really their job to do it? Especially after being hung up to dry so badly by FFG? After cooling down, a day later, I’m not so sure. Going back and reading what he wrote, his position is totally reasonable, especially given that he and his crew worked for years getting their platform in place.
But the next morning I had the “Hold my Beer” moment. I’d heard through the grapevine that the System Open team had decided to go with RAW. So I did what I said I was going to do: I went onto Facebook and wrote: “Breaking News: System Open is going with RAW. I tried to convince @IainHamp, but he didn’t think it was his job to take a leadership position on this.” (Or something very close to that -- I’ve since edited the post with an apology to Iain.)
Pissed off response was swift. “You’re increasing toxicity” (true). “That’s completely out of context” (true). “You’re disgusting and your podcast is a mess.” (Partially true?)
I edited the response to this: “EDIT: removing the negative language in the original post below. While I do feel a leadership opportunity was missed, that's not on @Iain Hamp. Iain, I apologize for that - you have alway been a real force for good in this community, and I know that you are doing what you think is right!”
You’ll note that I left a line in there about thinking that a leadership opportunity was missed. This prompted the following response from a community member:
“First, leaving the missed leadership thing in there is still a direct attack and fermenting a toxic community. He is simply following the rules. You should attack FFG, not Iain.
Iain doesn’t deserve to be attacked on this. He’s acted consistently with his values in a **** situation. And there was no guarantee that the all the various Regionals would have toppled into the FFG HQ Ruling had the Illuminati Judges pushed the System Open that way.
So going with RAW was a leadership move, based on real values and years of positively reinforced experience. But was it the right leadership move? If it is four months from now, and half the regionals have gone one way, and half the other, and everyone is still fighting about it, and we don’t have a FAQ, and our community is flooded with salt, I will have to look back and think that this move -- going with RAW -- was a key moment in the timeline, a real missed opportunity.
On the other hand, I’ve already heard a rumor that FFG is going to announce something on Monday about this. So it is entirely possible that by sticking to his guns, Iain’s called FFG’s bluff and has forced them to get off their asses and actually take the real leadership role -- the role they should have been taking all along, instead of passing the buck to the community. And, having written these words, this is actually the scenario I really hope plays out.
And so I’m going to say it once more: hey Iain, I’m sorry for saying what I did. Had I been in your shoes, I would have gone with the FFG HQ ruling, but then, I’d never actually be in your shoes, because I’m too selfish to actually put in the miles and miles of volunteer TO and marshalling work like you. I haven’t earned right to make that call -- but you, and Chico, and Brent, have.
Thank you for standing up for what you believe in.
I remember a book - I think it's one of Scott Adams' ones? - which was talking about conspiracy theories, and it said something like:
"Given how inutterably incompetent most governments appear to be at managing healthcare, trade, law and justice, social services, and most other basic facets of actually being a government, it's surprising what infinite ability and skill people seem prepared to credit them with for running vast secret programmes with breathtaking resources and funding carefully hidden from public view."
Whether or not the Empire managed to 'make the trains run on time' is not really recorded. The republic (old) certainly didn't, and it's implied that the republic (new) didn't really either, given how sizeable chunks of the republic (senators, corporations and star systems alike) seem to be tripping over one another to join the First Order instead.
No, that's still ordinance ordnance. Legislation about legislation written in explosive ink would be an ordnance ordinance.
Well, technically it'd be an ordinance ordnance ordinance. But let's not start down that road.
Madness lies that way. And it's a short road.
Because it's not a navigational hazard - after all, there's no reason through that part of the star system anymore, is there?
Ultimately, though, yes. You can complain about an imperial officer to his or her superior. Nobles, corporations, and influential crime bosses do do that and it often ends badly for the junior trying to do what he thought was the right thing in various "look, not every imperial officer was a [censored]!" stories.
Unfortunately, if the person you're complaining about is a Grand Moff, this doesn't leave you with many options - and certainly not one whose time you want to waste unless you're reeeaally sure they're going to agree with you that your complaint is justified.
Ok, let's see if I'm the only one: who amongst you fetched their pre-orders, gleefully got back home... and then quickly unwrapped them in a rush in the basement (or other solitary room) before anyone could suggest: "Oh, maybe you could put them under the Christmas tree!"