My ENnies 2018 Judge Application

July 7, 2017 gen_con ennies rpgs

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who voted for me, I can now say that I am a judge for the 2018 ENnies - I’m super excited and feel incredibly honored to get to participate in the process and to get to read and play all the great submissions (and you know, probably some stinkers).

I decided to toss my hat in the ring to be a judge in the 2018 ENnies, which if you don’t know, is the pre-eminent RPG awards in our tiny little pocket industry. You can see my application here, and I’ve copied and pasted all my answers here after the jump as well if you don’t feel like clicking on the link and risk seeing an uglier website).

Nothing really boils down why I’d like to be an ENnies judge more than it just sounds like a lot of fun and I feel like it’s a small way that I can help the community. Voting opens up on July 11th and I’d love for you to vote for me! Let me know if you have any questions 🙂

Introduction and Platform

My name’s Sean McCoy. I co-founded Tuesday Knight Games along with my friend Alan Gerding, and together we publish party games like Two Rooms and a Boom and World Championship Russian Roulette. I’ve worked in the game industry for about 5 years, starting out as the Director of Operations at Arcane Wonders, when they first launched Mage Wars. I’d love to be an ENnies Judge and I think what you guys do is amazing, and I would be honored to be a part of it.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

First and foremost, it’s to have fun and connect with my friends and family. As a player, I love to be challenged, both intellectually, through things like difficult combat or head-scratcher puzzles, but also creatively, through creative improv or group world building.

Recently, I’ve had a newer players join my table that have been shy or struggled with social anxiety or some other issues. What has been really fun for me has been to provide a safe environment for them to play and work through some of these issues in an imaginative space.

I feel like RPGs in general are a force for good in the world, and that’s why I’m always excited to run games for old or new friends.

The ENnies requires a major commitment of time and energy. What resources do you have that will help you discharge these responsibilities? Will your gaming group or other individuals be assisting you? Does your family support you?

I have a weekly gaming group that is always down to try new games and regularly helps me playtest and discuss games I’m working on. My girlfriend is incredibly supportive, and we often play games with her niece and nephew, which has been really exciting. I’m a part of the Dallas gaming scene and have lots of circles I bounce around between, so I’m never at a loss for players. Beyond this, I have a dedicated gaming space at my office, as well as ample storage space in our warehouse, so hosting is never a problem.

Judging requires a great deal of critical thinking skills, communication with other judges, deadline management, organization, and storage space for the product received. What interests, experience, and skills do you bring that will make you a more effective judge?

I’m the project manager at Tuesday Knight Games, which means I basically live in e-mails, excel sheets, Google Drive, and Basecamp (our project management software). I have office space and warehousing space, so I have ample room to keep product organized and catalogued. I’m a relentless note-taker (my wallet is a notebook) and I read voraciously.

On top of that, I read submissions from game designers every week as a part of my job, so I’m accustomed to working through designs, looking at them from all angles, and keeping a running tally of my thoughts on our submissions

What styles and genres of RPGs do you enjoy most? Are there any styles or genres that you do not enjoy? Which games best exemplify what you like? Do you consider yourself a particular system’s, publisher’s, or genre’s fanboy/fangirl”?

My favorite systems tend to be elegant, or built by a single author. I grew up playing D&D and that will always be one of my favorite systems. But the game that truly unlocked the RPG world for me was a (now out-of-print, I believe) game called Mountain Witch.” It combined narrative elements, with creativity, problem solving, and deep table immersion through its trust system. From there I got into weirder games like Polaris or My Life With Master.

I love immersive systems like Burning Wheel or Traveller, where every rule seems to draw you deeper into the world. But I also love stripped down bare-bones games like Fiasco, where the only thing you bring to the table is a sense of humor and funny accents.

These days I’ve been scouring the internet for the weird stuff, print-on-demand, half-baked clones of forgotten ancient systems (like Empire of the Petal Throne). I don’t consider myself a fanboy of any particular publisher, but a lot of that is because we’re in a golden age for RPGs and there’s so much good material coming out.

What games have you played in the past year? List up to 10 RPGs you have played the most. Which ones, if any, have you loved or hated?

This past year I played:

  1. Monster of the Week
  2. Apocalypse World
  3. Burning Wheel
  4. Dungeon Crawl Classics
  5. Runequest (1e)
  6. Dungeons & Dragons (1974)
  7. Blades in the Dark
  8. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  9. Eclipse Phase
  10. Fall of Magic

I really enjoyed Fall of Magic, particularly with my girlfriend’s niece and nephew. It’s stripped down rules and its beautiful tactile components really immersed us in the world we’d collectively designed. It felt like falling into a beautiful bed time story, where you wanted to just let yourself drift into the fairytale.

Apocalypse World I struggled with. I played with a lot of good writers, which you would think would have helped things, but what we found was that every scene opened up dozens of threads, all of which were awesome, but none of which led back into a cohesive story. The moves and playbooks we found unintuitive, so as opposed to saying something like I hit him with a hammer,” we were always translating our actions into the game terms: Okay, well that’s either Going Aggro’ or Doing battle.’ Which does that sound more like to you?”

Blades in the Dark was a lot of fun, and basically like living through the Lies of Locke Lamorra or The Black Company novels all over again, so I can’t wait to get that game on my table some more.

Briefly summarize the criteria you will use for judging products in the different categories.

Judges’ Spotlight

Here I’m looking for products, that while they may not have been the best overall, they signal a good trend in the way the authors were thinking or approaching the problem of RPG design. This is sort of a best practices award, where I’d want to say Be more like this, people.”

Best Adventure

Hands down this will be about fun and how quickly I was able to parse and run the adventure. Cool narrative and art would be great, but a good adventure should be able to be picked up at 6 for people coming over at 7.

Best Aid/Accessory

The best aid or accessory would need to be useful at the table. I love a cthuloid beer koozie as much as the next guy, but I’m looking for something that shaves time off my prep, or deepens immersion at the table.

Best Art, Cover

Cover art’s tough, because ultimately a cover has to sell books, that’s its main job. I’ll be looking at covers through the lens of if I was walking through a store, would this cover get me to pick up this game?”

Best Art, Interior

The best interior art would make me daydream about playing the game I’m reading about. I’m not looking for static shots of characters standing around looking pretty, I’m looking to be put into the action, to be drawn into the world and go Whoa, that’s what’s happening in the game? I want to go to there.”

Best Blog

The best blog to me is someone who consistently puts out material that ends up on my table. I’ve approached the blogosphere as my own personal college in becoming a better GM, so blogs that explain how to make the game more fun get big points from me. Also, I’m a huge nerd for the history of RPGs, so if anyone is doing a good job at that, expect me to pay attention.

Best Cartography

I love a beautiful map, but I hate when they don’t get used for anything other than illustration. For Best Cartography me and the players should be using the maps at the table to make interesting decisions during play. Should we go into the Vestigian Slums?” I don’t know, Mount Glorgothol looks cool.” This would be ideal

Best Electronic Book

I hate most PDFs and I’m a pretty tech-saavy guy. For this category I’d have my iPad available for all play sessions where I have a print and PDF available. The game where I find myself using the iPad more than the physical book is going to get my vote.

Best Family Game

My criteria here will be How long did we play this game before my niece asked to play with my phone and my nephew started babbling about Top Gun?” Seriously, the game that the kids talk about days from now is gonna get my vote.

Best Free Game

I’ll be looking for content that I would have paid money for. But beyond that I’ll be looking for a unique voice. People put out free product as a passion, and occasionally for exposure. I want to see who put in the effort even when they knew there wouldn’t be and money for them down the road. Someone who didn’t hold back their good ideas for a for-pay project.

Best Free Product

Again I’ll be looking for content that I would have paid money for. Free games can draw a lot of half-finished ideas, but here I want to see someone who just said, You know what, this doesn’t exist and should. Here it is. Go and have more fun.” One thousand ruins? Awesome. 45 Cyberpunk NPC drug dealers to haggle with? Perfect.

Best Game

I’ll be asking myself What game would I take off the shelf and replace with this submission?” In a world where we’re almost oversaturated with gaming content, new games, to survive, must be better than what came before, not just a re-skin and retread. A game that accomplishes that deserves Best Game.

Best Miniature Product

The miniature world and the RPG world are never too far apart. I’m looking for ways to get more miniatures into my games. I want a good miniature product have a great tactical feel without having to spend my whole day on it.

Best Monster/Adversary

What I’m looking for here isn’t necessarily the coolest monster, though I’m sure that’ll play a part. What I’m looking for is a monster that changes the way the players approach the game. A monster with a great backstory that just has AC 19 and 240 HP isn’t going to do much for me. I want my monsters to be puzzles. Horrible, terrifying, man-eating puzzles.

Best Podcast

Most podcasts just summarize the information that’s already available on the web. So what I’ll be looking for here is a podcast that brings me either better information than I could find on my own, or does it in a way that’s much more entertaining that doing it on my own. Bonus points if they don’t mumble constantly.

Best Production Values

I think a lot of people view this category as prettiest hardcover book,” but to me it’s more best book whose production is most inline with the content.” A useful book that makes innovative use of its form (drop tables, end papers, fold outs, etc.) or that matches the content of the book within its presentation (like, was glossy full-color hardcover the best use for your horror game? Or would a black and white crummy booklet have served your tone better?) is likely to get this vote from me.

Best RPG Related Product

This is a place to unabashedly just let your inner fanboy out. I’m looking for a product that makes me want to play more than I already do.

Best Rules

Creative and unique are great — but here I’m looking for that elusive marriage of theme and mechanics. I want to feel like a thief when I play your thiefy game, not feel like an accountant. I don’t mind retreated of old mechanics, but again, they have to fit. Use the right tool for the right job, not the most interesting tool.

Best Setting

Best setting is tricky, it needs good writing, but can’t be overwrought. The game is still a game, and a good setting should make me want to play there, not just keep reading about it all night, though it doesn’t hurt.

Best Software

Software should make my life easier, because RPGs have been played with pen and paper for basically forever, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. User Interface and intuitiveness will be huge here.

Best Supplement

Supplements differ from adventures in that they aren’t necessarily contained to one event. They tread that line sometimes between toolkit, adventure, and setting. Here I want to see how good a reference this is for use at the table. I love great writing, but a supplement is a unique document in our culture in that its expected to be read, not wholly understood, and then referenced casually while players are munching Cheetohs and begging to kill an unarmed Goblin. If I can’t look up a spell, item, rule quickly at the table because of some layout or graphic design issue, it’ll stick out to me.

Best Website

Oh man, as a graphic designer, there are so many bad websites out there. And I don’t mean outdated, though there is that too. Here I want to see someone who is actually using the web to do something useful and interesting. There are so many untapped ideas in the RPG world that internet can help with. I’ll be looking for those ideas here.

Best Writing

I’ll be judging how quickly can the game be read, parsed, and then taught to a new group of players. The biggest disadvantage tabletop games have against every other form of entertainment, is that tabletop games require active, as opposed to passive, engagement. Someone has to read the game’s rules, internalize them, then teach them to other people before you even get started. It’s incredibly important to me that good RPGs showcase an ability to easily teach a new GM how to play their game.

Product of the Year

Product of the Year is a kind of you know it when you see it category,” but what I’ll be looking for here is something that signals to me what would be a positive move for RPGs as a whole. I’ll be asking myself if every product that came out was like this, would that make our world better or worse?”

How will you judge supplements or adventures for game systems whose core rules you are unfamiliar with or you believe are badly designed?

Roger Ebert has this great quote about exactly this. He says:

When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you’re not asking if it’s any good compared to Mystic River, you’re asking if it’s any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.”

When I’m looking at games I don’t like or think the rules aren’t very good, what I’m asking myself is, If this is my kind of game, how much is the supplement or adventure living up to the promise of the original?”

How would you like to see the ENnies change? What should remain inviolate?

I’d love a bigger portion of our community to get involved, for sure. Beyond highlighting the work, I’d like to see some more people specifically called out for their positive contributions to the hobby. I think a bigger education campaign about what the ENnies are and how they work would be great as well. I think they sneak up on everyone all too often.

BONUS: (optional) If you were an RPG, what would it be and would you play it?

If I were an RPG I’d be a Fiasco-esque RPG about a sitcom like Friends. Just a buncha coffee geeks getting into low stakes trouble. And I would play the hell out of it.

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