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    Default Build Competition Judging Handbook

    The GitP Build Competition Judging Handbook



    By Inevitability, Who Finally Got Around To The Thing They Said They'd Get Around To Several Months Ago

    Index:
    There are six build competitions currently active on these forums, which use similar but subtly different judging systems. I'll be covering all six. They are, in no particular order:

    Iron Chef: Builds are made around a particular 'ingredient', almost always a 10-level prestige class, and scored on originality, power, elegance, and proper use of the ingredient. The archetypal build competition on here.

    Iron Chef E6: As above, but the E6 rule variant is in play, meaning that characters consist of six 'normal' levels with ten feats tacked on at the end. E6 worlds are often assumed to lack high-level magic and monsters. The secret ingredients in this competition are very varied, ranging from a base class to a particular form of offense to a type or subtype to a basic facet of the game.

    Junkyard Wars: Similar to Iron Chef, except there are two secret ingredients that range from 5-level prestige classes to feats to racial restrictions, as well as a forbidden ingredient that would otherwise be an easy way of satisfying a requirement or smoothly combining the two. Examples include Spellcasting + Rage - Rage Mage or Smite + Mounted Combat - Paladin.

    Zinc Saucier: A competition where the secret ingredient must be emulated, not used. For instance, in a round based around the duskblade, build submissions include spellswords, a mystic theurge ordained champion, a runesmith swiftblade, two jade phoenix mages - but not a single actual duskblade, of course.

    Monster Mash: A competition making use of the reassigned monster LA thread (which some random hack came up with a number of years ago) to build PCs. Rounds tend to be loosely themed around a capability (spreading fear, emulating the sun) or very broad mechanical restriction (no monsters with hands, must level in one of four disparate classes).

    Villainous Competition: The only competition that builds monsters, rather than PCs, and thus works with CR rather than ECL. Rounds are typically themed around an antagonist archetype (like "Fairy Queen" or "Gate Guardian"), or a mechanical restriction like construct typing or swallow whole.

    So what's this about judging?
    All these competitions are made possible by judges: those brave and noble individuals who answer when duty calls, who neither hosted nor participated in a round but who want to contribute to it anyway.

    Maybe you're interested in being one: you should be! Judges typically get to influence the theme of the next competition, they get to hone their optimization skills and learn new useful things by studying the creations of other builders up close, and they are, to the last, extremely cool. Also, competitions are struggling with a bit of a shortage, and some rounds go months before someone steps up and judges. It's a tough situation for the hosts who put in effort to keep everything running, the builders themselves, and anyone waiting for the next round to drop.

    So where do I start?
    With this handbook, hopefully!

    The only thing you need to judge is something that everyone has in spades: an opinion. With this guide's help, figure out what makes a build Original to you, what makes it Powerful, what makes it Elegant, and so on. Maybe read some old judgements - I've got a few linked at the bottom of my extended signature, and you can find others by simply looking through the last few iterations of the contest you want to judge. Ultimately, though, all that matters is that you figure out what you are looking for in a build, and are able to apply those standards consistently.

    You don't really need a rigid by-the-numbers system where every category has X sub-categories that can earn you Y points each - a general sense of what you want to encourage or discourage in builds is enough.

    Still, the thought of being solely responsible for a competition's final scores can be daunting. If that concerns you, you can always try and form a judging pact with someone who's in a similar boat! Two inexperienced judgements are likely to be better and less biased than one experienced one anyway.

    And the actual judging?
    That's easy once you've figured out what the categories mean to you. Judging a build is as simple as assigning it four little numbers between 1 and 5 and including a basic explanation for why points were lost. If you can do that consistently, you can judge.

    Don't worry too much about making mistakes or overlooking errors: that happens to everyone. The dispute process exists for a reason, and it doesn't really matter that your initial scoring contained some little mistakes if the entrants can point them out for you. The only disputes I'd truly call 'tricky' are those that come down to your subjective assessment, where you're going to have to seriously consider the other side's arguments and then decide whether or not to stand your ground - but those are a minority.

    And if you have any comments, questions, or other remarks, feel free to share them! If you read any part of my personal judging rules and disagree with them: that's perfectly fine. The point is to get people thinking about how they would judge a competition, and hopefully getting some more frequent judgements out of it.

    Good reading!


    Base categories:
    The three categories outlined here exist in nearly any of the competitions, and advice for them is chiefly found in this place. The final category is more specific for each of the competitions, and I'll go into detail on those separately.

    Don't think of this as a checklist for your own judging: think of it as examples of questions that'll help you decide on appropriate scores. If you think a build can get off the ground late and still deserve a perfect score in Power, or can be utterly inelegant despite not making a single rules error, score accordingly!

    Spoiler
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    Originality:
    Probably the easiest category to judge. For every build element, ask yourself: how much would I have expected this given the secret ingredient or contest theme, and how common is it at all?

    To figure out what classes are generally common, the list below forms a good starting point.

    Spoiler: Inevitability's list of common classes
    Show

    Fighter 1 or 2
    Monk 1 or 2
    Martial (Fighter Bonus Feat) Rogue 2
    Barbarian 1 (Spiritual Lion Totem especially)
    Binder 1 (Binding Naberius especially)
    Crusader/Swordsage 1 or 2
    Warblade 1
    Battle Dancer 1
    Cleric 1 (the dip so good it has its own handbook)
    Totemist 2
    Rogue 1 (changeling substitution level especially)
    Ranger 1 or 2

    An edge case is Human Paragon, which shows up with some regularity but is hardly a 'typical' base class.


    Is the chosen race original? I consider the least original races to be the four bonus feat-granting ones: Human, Silverbrow Human, Azurin, and Strongheart Halfling. A completely unrestricted bonus feat is almost always the best choice for a PC, and their usage far outstrips that of other racial options. Again, the iron chef spreadsheet is your friend here. Other than that, no race is truly 'expected', but I'd be more surprised seeing a half-orc or dwarf in a round centered around illusions than an elf or gnome.

    Are the chosen skills and feats original? It could be helpful to look at handbooks for the build's component classes, and seeing how much overlap there is between what the chef used and what the handbook recommends.

    Are the build's tactics interesting? Does it use some novel trick? Something as simple as putting the two core elements of a combo within quotation marks and googling should tell you if people have been discussing or using it before. (for instance, "Thrall of Juiblex"+"Warforged" gets a fair number of results, but "Mold Touch"+"Oozemaster" doesn't really).

    If a judge considers fluff and backstory, that's typically done here. I recommend keeping the overall impact on your scores low (this is a character building competition, not a creative writing one), but do not discourage awarding some points.

    I strongly advise against penalizing originality for builds that share classes/race with other entries (which some competitions ban outright anyway). Doing this adds irrelevant factors into any particular build's rating (the choices of other builders, obviously, but round size as well) and creates a chilling effect where builders will refuse to pursue genuinely interesting ideas out of fear of doing the same as someone else. Fostering round diversity is all well and good, but if two people simultaneously discover the same trick, they should both be rewarded instead of both being penalized.

    Lastly, never forget that "Yes, you have X, which would be original except you do not actually make use of it." is a perfectly valid thing to say! I'd be very intrigued if I saw a goblin build - and quite disappointed if I were to discover that any +2 dexterity small-sized race could replace it. That said, be careful here - sometimes a race gives only small bonuses relative to some other option, but is the better choice for a build nonetheless (for instance, a build that needs a +2 dexterity small-sized race that boosts Ride would be a perfectly fine use of goblin).

    If you would like some additional help figuring out what is or isn't common, the following resources can be a lot of help:

    Spoiler
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    The Lists of Stuff can quickly tell you how a certain ability can be obtained, while also providing a bit of an indication how difficult each method is.

    The Iron Chef Spreadsheet tells you what races and classes have been used over the many iterations of the Iron Chef competition - these numbers should be reasonably useful when judging other competitions as well. Note that you can search for specific levels taken as well as raw classes. For instance, with a simple ctrl+f I can determine that the competition has seen 22 battle dancers, of which 18 took only the first level of the class.

    To find common feat suggestions for certain strategies and classes, a helpful resource might be the index of handbooks and guides.


    Power:
    There's two main views on power. In the first, it's just that - a measure of raw power, with Theoretical Optimization shenanigans at the top, tier 1 casters beneath them, and so on until we get to monks and fighters on the lower rungs. This method relies on penalties in other categories to even the playing field again. I can understand this view: it makes for simple judging, it intuitively corresponds to what people think of when they hear 'Power', and in rounds with a SI you can easily peg your metric to the secret ingredient's implied power level.

    That said, I find myself judging differently. Turning a swashbuckler into a competent acrobatic damage dealer is a lot harder than doing the same for a swordsage. Cranking a ninja up to all-around competence is a lot more impressive than being a wizard 20 who's exactly as powerful as you'd expect a wizard 20 to be. My own power metrics thus tend to factor in how much you improved on your classes, which is no less of a valid path to take.

    Regardless, if you have no idea how to even start judging power, a good first step is to make sure you have a good understanding of what this build wants to do on a given round of combat. Next, simply evaluate how well it pulls that off: you could compare its numbers to those of some randomly chosen at-level monsters, or pull up the List of Average Monster Stats.

    Other questions you could ask here are:
    -Does the build cover its weaknesses? Does it have low Fortitude and no way to avoid Disintegrates? Does it desperately rely on line-of-sight, leaving it useless against invisible or concealed foes? Is it reliant on single-target effects and notably weak against large hordes of weak enemies, can it still hurt the many creatures immune to sneak attack damage? Generally you should leave some room here for generic items to fix the problems (unless the build has Vow of Poverty) - I wouldn't come down on every mundane for lacking flight or every rogue for not having True Seeing.

    -Can the build keep itself going throughout the day? It's worth looking at how quickly the build will have to be spending resources throughout a day of 3-5 encounters. Some builds have an opposite problem, where reliance on abilities with cooldown timers (like a binder's vestige abilities or most breath weapons) leaves them struggling to do much in the later rounds of an encounter.

    -Does the build become viable early enough? Are near-mandatory feats like Weapon Finesse for rogues or Precise Shot for archers taken as soon as possible? Does the wizard/fighter spend an awkwardly long time with AC in the gutter until Arcane Spell Failure chance mitigation comes online and it can finally wear heavy armor again?

    -What's the build's utility look like? How well can it contribute in social or exploration contexts, as opposed to combat and combat alone? Example roles a build could fulfill outside of combat are trapfinder, scout, party face, knowledge source, or tracker; casters often bring utility spells and healing to the table, which also fall in this category. More narrow contributions, like a dungeoncrasher's ability to break down doors or a wizard's Decipher Script ranks, might warrant a small bonus here too.

    Elegance:
    The biggest thing to realize here is that SIMPLICITY IS NOT NECESSARILY ELEGANCE. Elegance is about more than just avoiding errors - a build should be able to distinguish itself from the pack positively. If a commoner 20 who only takes Skill Focus (Profession) is maximally elegant by your criteria, something has gone wrong (it's fine if such builds would still score pretty high - but anything above a 4 is cause for concern in my book).

    This is where violations of the game or contest rules go. If build elements aren't properly sourced, or essential information is missing from the entry, the elegance score should reflect that. If prerequisites aren't met, likewise. It's wise to check the prerequisites of every feat and class in the build.

    Item reliance (like needing a particular armor enchantment to meet prerequisites, or requiring a +4 Wisdom item to cast your highest-level spells) is penalized in this category. Flaws and traits typically come at a set penalty of one point per flaw and half a point per trait.

    You may penalize builds for ill-fitting fluff and crunch, or reward them for matching the two particularly well.

    A lot of judges penalize dips (taking only one or two levels of a class). I don't - in my opinion, such things are an issue for originality, but not necessarily elegance. Similarly, rewarding builds for finishing the prestige classes they enter isn't something I personally do - PrCs rarely grant their most powerful abilities upfront, so finishing one is its own reward. As always, feel free to decide against this for your own judgements, assuming contest rules permit.

    But to restate: your elegance metric should include positive categories as well. Personally, I'm a big fan of builds that are efficient and synergistic. Efficient means it's using components in more than one way - like taking Iron Will to qualify for Vengeance Knight and Menacing Brute both, or entering Heir of Siberys both for the bonus feats and to get a ton of power out of your Dragonmark Smite feat. Synergistic means that the individual components are playing nice with each other, that you can make good use of all your class and racial features (as opposed to, say, a warblade/warlock who wants to use his standard action for two very different things).

    Some judges penalize mechanically required alignment shifts; for example, starting off as a LG monk and shifting to NG later so you can also level in barbarian. Similarly, some judges penalize characters who enter a prestige class and cease to meet its prerequisites later (RAW, only Complete Arcane/Warrior classes are subject to this rule, and applying it rigidly breaks things like Ur-Priest and Dragon Disciple, but leaving it out entirely allows for some notorious cheese).

    Lastly: multiclass XP penalties. They're used rarely at actual tables, but quite a few judges (including me) penalize builds that incur them. Penalizing multiclass XP penalties encourages more use of favored classes (and thus serves as a minor nudge in the direction of human), encourages either low-level dipfests (taking one or two levels in a number of base classes, never more) or committed single-class builds, and results in some more PrC use. It's up to you to decide whether that's something you want.

    Realistically, Elegance is going to be the trickiest section, the most subjective one, and the one with the most moving parts. There is no 'perfect' elegance measure, and what you deem elegant might not seem that way to someone else. All you can do is aim to consider as many of the things that are important to you as possible, and to be consistent in your scoring.



    Iron Chef
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    The above sections were chiefly written with Iron Chef in mind. That competition's fourth category is Use of the Secret Ingredient. Some questions you could ask include:

    Use of the Secret Ingredient (IC):
    Does the build qualify? Builds that don't qualify typically receive an automatic 1 here.

    Does the build use the SI's prerequisites for more than just entering the class? Are they re-used elsewhere, or genuinely useful to the build in its own right, or are the feat taxes paid with no illusion of further utility?

    How well are the SI's class features used? It's up to you to decide whether you want contestants to use all features to some extent, or would be equally fine with heavy use of single class features. It's also worth thinking about how hard any given feature is to use, and adjusting your points accordingly - the trickier it is to make a feature work, the more its use should be rewarded!

    How early is the SI entered? The minimum level a class can be entered is typically determined by its BAB, skill ranks, or casting requirements - builds that don't take levels until they're significantly past this point might deserve a penalty.

    Are the contradictions of the class resolved? A class that expects you to be in melee range while giving only 1d4 HD (looking at you, pale master), would be used much better by someone who can mitigate this frailty somehow (say, by becoming undead, or gaining a ton of AC or DR, or having permanent concealment). A class that demands high Charisma despite being aimed at rangers or monks would be much more elegantly used by someone who manages to sneak a high-Cha class in there... or who builds a Charisma-based ranger.

    Are all levels of the SI taken? A scaling penalty (say, starting at 1 and removing 0.25 for every missed level, to a minimum of 0) is the best way to handle this question.

    Is the build, as a whole, made better by taking the SI? Or is there an obvious alternate path that'd have resulted in a more capable character overall? Be careful with this one - few nonmagical PrCs are stronger than ten levels of cleric, but you presumably don't want to penalize everyone for not being a cleric. A safer option is to compare advancement in the SI to advancement in the classes the build was already taking levels in - as far as I'm concerned, if your warblade 10 / SI 10 would've been better off staying a warblade, that implies you're not making great use of the SI.


    Iron Chef E6
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    Judging is a little different for Iron Chef E6, but not very much, and I'd say it's arguably easier than judging Iron Chef proper.

    Originality
    Obviously, seeing prestige classes at all in E6 is a bit surprising, so you might want to weigh those heavier for originality purposes. Other than that, the spectrum of races and classes used is remarkably close to regular iron chef.

    Power
    Because the early game is such a big part of E6, most judges expect a build to be playable by level 3 - or even from first level on. I'd advise against the latter, because too often the game simply does not allow this (archer rangers can only get Precise Shot at level 1 by being a human, rogues need to wait for level 3 to get weapon finesse), but level 3 is a nice natural breakpoint that each character should've been able to get the most essential feats by.

    It's important to note that in E6, foes top out around CR 6-8. Immunities will be rarer, enemies will be smaller and weaker, flight will be less ubiquitous, and magic like Freedom of Movement or Death Ward simply does not exist. Several strategies that would fall of at higher levels thus remain perpetually viable in this context, and do not deserve (as large) power penalties.

    Elegance
    Just because I know this question will come up if you judge E6 - the diablerie classes are legal. Yeah. I know they're weird and don't work quite right but it's first party and WotC published, nothing to do about it.

    Use of Secret Ingredient
    If the secret ingredient is a base class, the above rules for judging PrC-UoSI can be used with minimal adaptation. Earliness of entry is no longer very important, class abilities used moreso, and 'taking all levels of the SI' comes at a much greater opportunity cost and should not be expected to the same extent.

    If the secret ingredient is something more amorphous, some good questions to ask are:
    -From what level on can this build make use of the SI?
    -How essential is the SI to this build's strategy?
    -Does this build use the SI in any unexpected or innovative ways?
    -Does this build's other elements complement the SI, or do they clash?


    Junkyard Wars
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    Originality, Power, and Elegance work about identically to Iron Chef here.

    Use of Secret Ingredient
    The first and simplest thing to do here is establish whether the forbidden ingredient was used. There's a few conceivable edge cases here (if spellcasting is forbidden, does a karsite with a level in wizard get a pass? How about a cleric with 9 wisdom?), in which case I'd err on the side of not immediately disqualifying the whole build, but use your own judgement there.

    Ingredients that are prestige classes can be judged much like in IC. For feats, races, types, or weapons, things get a bit more complicated. Repeating the E6 advice, good questions to ask are:
    -From what level on can this build make use of the SI?
    -How essential is the SI to this build's strategy?
    -Does this build use the SI in any unexpected or innovative ways?
    -Does this build's other elements complement the SI, or do they clash?

    Finally, it's good to look at the synergy between the ingredients. For things that are naturally in tension (like Rage + Casting), determine whether the build actually managed to remove the antisynergy inherent in the restrictions. At any rate, determine whether the two ingredients are complementing each other, or jointly contributing to a single goal, rather than existing boringly parallel to one another.


    Zinc Saucier
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    Again, a competition very similar to default iron chef in most aspects.

    Originality
    It's worth asking yourself what you feel are the most obvious ways to replicate the class, and whether those deserve a score penalty. Pious Templar, Holy Liberator, and Blackguard are all PrC-ified versions of the paladin - do you think their use in a paladin-emulation round is 'unoriginal', or does their low base use balance things out?

    Ingredient
    Only two questions to answer here. Did the build avoid the forbidden ingredient (usually unambiguous, but sometimes you end up with, say, a Prestige Paladin in a round that bans paladins and you have to decide how you feel about that). And did the build successfully replicate the forbidden ingredient's abilities?

    It's up to you what you want to look for here: whether you care about overall 'feel' (any mounted armored warrior with divine magic counts as a paladin) or specific abilities (a paladin is someone with Lay on Hands and Divine Grace and Aura of Courage), or merely the effects of specific abilities (a paladin is someone who can heal, who has good saving throws, and who is immune to fear). You can even base your metric on multiple of these!

    I suggest against punishing people for 'overdoing' features (like having spells above 4th-level on a build meant to emulate paladin) - nobody likes to hear they lost points for building too well. On the other hand, it's perfectly legitimate to argue that a 20th-level cleric's mounted combat and smiting is getting overshadowed by his regular use of Gate and Miracle.

    Lastly, a basic awareness of how easy every feature of the base class is to obtain might be useful (the lists of stuff are helpful). Getting at-will Detect Evil without using paladin is impressive but hardly impossible, getting down-to-the-letter-identical Lay On Hands is much harder. Successfully replicating a feature should be proportionally rewarded to how hard it is to do so.



    Monster Mash
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    The only 'homebrewed' competition on the site, but not to a particularly complicated extent. Just make sure builds use the correct amount of LA as listed in the archive.

    Originality
    I typically eliminate racial originality bonuses when judging monster mash - if someone for some reason brings a hobgoblin or other boring humanoid, they're already going to be feeling the pain in the monstrosity section. That said, if something feels like a particularly obvious choice for you (like being a plain human ghost in an incorporeal undead round), feel free to penalize it.

    Furthermore, Vow of Poverty shows up very commonly (I swear there's a VoP build every round), typically to get around the hassle of having to wrangle equipment for a nonhumanoid entry. I'd come down on it harsher than I would in a normal competition. On the other end of the alignment spectrum, Soul Eater is a very commonly dipped class as well, owing to the plethora of nonhumanoid races.

    Elegance
    I personally assign minor penalties to elegance for monsters that fail to compensate for the issues created by their monstrosity - think creatures that cannot walk around town without getting chased down by fearful mobs, creatures too big to fit through doors or narrow hallways, creatures that can't speak common, that lack thumbs, that struggle to use typical loot, etc. Of course, the right class features can compensate for this, and you might very well decide that you'd rather not punish builds for being atypical adventurers.

    Some monster PCs might have more fundamental issues: a vampire PC who cannot guarantee his access to fresh blood, a sahuagin who can't breathe air, or a construct who lacks the means to heal. I'd suggest penalizing those cases, if nothing else.

    Monstrosity
    Broadly speaking, this category covers two things. How essential is the monster race to your build, and how well did you stick to the round's theme or restrictions? Good questions to ask are:

    -Is there a humanoid race that could do the same thing as your monster race, perhaps even better? Good comparison points are water orcs and goliaths (for melee brutes), kobolds (for precision damage flurry builds), and humans (for dang near everything but casters especially). The outsider type can be obtained via Neraph, dragonwrought kobold can make you a dragon, necropolitan works if you need to be undead, Mindbender can give any caster telepathy, a level in Barbarian puts Improved Grab and Pounce on the table - always check the list of stuff when you're not sure whether a given ability really needs to be obtained via a monster race.

    -How much of the monster race do you use? Did you choose to be an Aranea just for the casting and ability boosts, or are you also getting use out of the webs, Iron Will, and alternate forms?

    -How central is the round's theme to your character and your preferred round-to-round actions?

    -Does the round's theme enhance your character, or drag it down? Could you have been notably stronger if you'd let it go entirely?

    -How impressive is your 'take' on the round's theme? In a round based around fire damage, adding a point of fire damage to your melee attacks is probably not as useful as a red dragon's breath.


    Villainous Competition
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    VC is the most unconventional competition out of the ones hosted on here, being targeted at the other side of the DM's screen and centered around CR rather than ECL. Be sure to read its rules as outlined in the first post!

    Originality
    Soul Eater is pretty common for the frequently-nonhumanoid entries, so keep an eye out for that - I consider it one of the most unoriginal PrC dips in a Villainous Competition context. Incarnate Construct shows up with moderate regularity for its shenanigan-inviting CR line, and Beast of Xvim/Bane gets used pretty frequently to get around RHD advancement caps.

    Power
    VC's wording on this point can lead to some confusion regarding power judging. If Bob the single-classed Monk and Pyxxxyv the urpriest are both pitted against parties with a 'similar optimization level', does their difference in power even matter? Should they receive different power scores, and if so, based on what? To make matters worse, CR is easier to break than ECL, and builds are more likely to delve into gamebreaking TO here.

    However, most of the usual measuring sticks for power remain perfectly useful here. Given the villain's base classes, does it succesfully improve on them? Does the villain leave obvious power on the table? How versatile is the villain, and how many different kinds of 'similarly optimized' PC can it defeat? Does the villain have notable weaknesses, or fail against a particular common type of PC? Or if you prefer to judge power chiefly in terms of raw power, nothing is keeping you from doing so - the 'more power to you' section was mostly written in the context of a villain receiving power penalties for being 'too strong' or memorable villainy penalties for being 'too weak'.

    Keep in mind that a villain will face very different circumstances from a PC. Instead of several weak encounters per day, villains will face down only a single 'encounter', which pits them against near-overwhelming odds. Furthermore, villains chiefly face medium-sized humanoid enemies with access to a variety of magic, which affects the viability of some strategies (A vampire's dominating gaze would be ridiculously strong for a PC to have - against a party pre-buffed with Protection From Evil, it's all but useless). 1/day abilities are likewise much more impactful on power than they'd ordinarily be.

    Speaking of which, how well can the villain get around the action economy issue inherent in boss fights? If they get dazed, stunned, or locked down by Solid Fog, will minions or passive effects carry on the fight? Can they protect themselves against those conditions somehow? Or are they so offensively threatening that the PCs will quickly find their numbers reduced?

    Elegance
    As these builds are made for DM use, multiclass XP penalties aren't a factor and a lot of ambiguous rules can simply be comfortably resolved in whatever way is most convenient for the build.

    I still think some ambiguous build elements deserve a penalty. A DM can interpret ambiguous rulings in whatever way they like, but must still do so consistently for everyone at the table - if your table has already decided that dragonwrought kobolds aren't true dragons, you can't just go against that to make a particular build work, and forcing the issue on DM authority means handing your PCs options that nobody wants them to have.

    Villains who need to violate or ignore the fluff implied by their mechanical content might be deserving of an elegance penalty.

    I also want to particularly point out the DMGII NPC traits here - several of them do not increase CR, but it'd presumably be undesirable if every submission took all of them at no meaningful cost, so perceived (over)use should get slapped down with a penalty. This goes for 'something for nothing' material in general, this is just one of the most prominent examples.

    Ultimately, elegance in villain builds is a bit harder to judge than for most other entries, so I suggest weighing efficiency and internal synergy more heavily than you otherwise would.

    Memorable Villainy
    Here we find, of course, the obvious questions about sticking to the theme of a particular round (Does the theme fit what the villain wants to do? Does the villain embody the theme sufficiently? Will the PCs be able to pick up on this theme?

    An important question here is: does the villain feel like a villain, rather than a random encounter? Factors to consider here are:
    -Does the villain have the means and motivation to enact some complex plot?
    --Is that plot innovative and interesting? Will the PCs have reason to care about it?
    -Can the villain escape an encounter with the PCs to fight another day?
    -Can the villain endure after dying to the PCs, just in case that escape plan doesn't work out?
    -Can the villain change tactics or cover prior weaknesses as it increases in CR? Will every new encounter with the PCs bring something surprising to the table? How many such encounters could you viable slot in a single adventure, arc or campaign?
    -Can the villain create or cause smaller encounters and obstacles, whether by summoning/calling monsters, creating spawn, threatening or persuading humanoids, or stirring up the local wildlife?
    -Can the villain engage with PCs who avoid a confrontation? That doesn't necessarily mean tracking them down - creating a problem big enough that it's bound to affect the characters also works.

    Does the villain have a memorable appearance or ability that the PCs are sure to remember?

    And lastly, it's worth looking into the villain's scope, broadly defined as 'the number of situations that the villain can meaningfully affect'. A villain with social capabilities and melee combat prowess and great overland mobility should be easier to introduce in a situation than a big scary monster stuck in a cave, making them easier to use and consequently more memorable. Having a default plan or use case doesn't detract from this - being totally unable to pivot away from it does.


    Miscellaneous Difficult Situations
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    The build I'm judging has a serious error, and it doesn't work!
    That's always awkward. Generally, competitions on here operate by 'One Mistake, One Penalty' - if an entry miscalculates its skill points and ends up not qualifying for the SI, either penalize in elegance or UoSI - not both. If a build relies on a genuinely ambiguous ruling, penalize the ambiguity as harshly as you want in elegance, but don't double down and penalize power as well.

    Note that there are limits to this. You can't hand in a build with Epic Spellcasting and angle for a 5 power 1 elegance ranking - as far as I'm concerned, ignoring illegal parts of the build for the purpose of originality/power/UoSI is different from penalizing those categories as long as a perfect score is still possible. A build with illegal feats isn't going to get originality points for the illegal feats, but can still get them for its other feats just fine.

    That said, 'ignore' shouldn't be taken too literally. A little history lesson: One Mistake One Penalty came about because of a judge who would quite literally cascade every error in every way - if there's a missing skill rank at level 5, and this prevents you from entering a PrC at level 6, then you weren't considered to have all the skills and feats obtained during that PrC either, and so on, with the final result that a build was getting bottom scores in originality, elegance, UoSI, and Power because the judgement would treat it like an incomplete 5-level build. This is not a good or constructive way to judge. Penalize mistakes, but smooth over them where possible, and don't discard a whole build over a fixable error.

    And lastly, note that OMoP does not apply to builds that straight up cannot do what they claim! A build that levels in a melee Secret Ingredient but suffers from incredibly poor to-hit can be penalized in Power and UoSI both. That's not 'one mistake', that's the build-as-presented simply falling short of your standards.

    Help, this build is actually two builds!
    Competitors very commonly include variant entries, throwing in little lines like 'but if your DM rules X not to work then feel free to take Y instead'. If it's all contained in a little side section clearly marked as variant, then carry on and simply ignore it in your judgement. But sometimes, the variants are interwoven with the main text, or presented alongside it, and the builder will expect you to go with whichever interpretation gets them more points.

    In my personal opinion, this sort of hedging is best discouraged. It gives the judges more work to do, it's a soft violation of the 'one entry one build' rule, and it encourages contestants to cover elegance errors with variants rather than good building. If you encounter such hedging, pick the first option presented, or go with the more favorable choice but apply a small penalty for making you pick, or do -anything- that'll discourage this behavior.

    Help, I don't understand this part of the build!
    That's fine! Your job isn't to present a perfect first judgement (if it was, we wouldn't have disputes), but to kick off a discussion between the builder and you. If you don't get where a certain feat came from, how a qualification is met, how a combo works exactly, that's as much the builder's job to explain as it's your job to understand. In such cases, it's not wrong to refrain from giving points. A simple "I don't know how you're doing X, please explain it in more detail if you want me to give you points for it" should cause the builder to explain their build in a dispute. If that explanation resolves the matter, grant the points; it's as simple as that.

    How do I deal with disputes?
    Most disputes are quite straightforward; I'm talking builders pointing out objective errors in your assessment or directing your attention to spells or feats that cover a weakness you complained about. Builders explaining their build in more detail (see above) also fall in this category.

    Some argue with your rating more directly. This is stuff like "Why do I only get a 3 in originality despite using the obscure Doomdreamer class" or "I got penalized for relying on full-round action spells, but the Summon Monster spammer didn't". In my view, these are the disputes that deserve the most thought and have the greatest chance of bringing about a change in score. Consistently judging a bunch of builds isn't the easiest thing, and you might genuinely have made errors in applying your criteria. Think long and hard about what kind of build should get what kind of score for each category to minimize these issues. Also, I strongly advice against resolving these kinds of disputes by reducing the other builder's score, instead of increasing the disputer's.

    And lastly, some are simply the builder asserting a fundamentally different view of the game and game rules. If you think that it's 'inelegant' when the wildshaped druid lacks thumbs for 15 hours a day, and the builder thinks it'll be just fine, you should obviously listen to their arguments but this is ultimately not something where you should expect to find unanimous agreement. These differences in opinion are a natural part of playing a game with ambiguities and uncertainties.

    Note that taking away points as result of a dispute is frowned upon - though if you become aware of an error after the initial judgement, it's awkward but not unacceptable to edit the judgement retroactively.

    Also, if a dispute causes you to re-evaluate your judging criteria, apply your new standards to everyone consistently: even to people who haven't disputed! Yes, that might mean a build increases in score, or even in place, without its builder disputing. That happens sometimes.


    I hope some of this has been helpful to anyone who's been thinking about judging but isn't sure yet. I assure you: builders will always appreciate more judges signing up - so if you're still on the fence, give it a try anyway! If you just have some questions, remarks, feedback, suggestions, criticisms, or other things to say: share them in the thread!

    Finally, if you have experience judging build competitions on this forum and would like to share your experience/advice with others, the next post will be reserved for exactly that! I'm not expecting entire formal essays: a few paragraphs of basic advice are fine. Or you could write your own in-depth guide that tells people to ignore everything I just said: I'll post it anyway.

    A final thanks to everyone in this community who hosts, builds, or judges for the competitions, which have me brought a ton of fun over the years and led me to learn a bunch of new things about this game I so love. Here's to many more rounds!
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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Reserved for judges' perspectives. You may post now.
    Last edited by Inevitability; 2023-11-18 at 09:01 AM.
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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Three points:

    First: Judging a contest is a lot easier than you think. As long as you have some basic foundational knowledge and the willingness to do research on what you don't know, you'll do fine.

    Second: judging a contest, particularly a contest you are interested in entering in the future, is a good way of improving your chances of winning when you want to enter. As a judge, you evaluate multiple entries and see what makes each entry good and bad. You get a judge's perspective on what you should be putting into you entries, you see what common mistakes are made, you're seeing how entrants present and format their entries for a stranger to best understand their build, and seeing what you think works best and what doesn't. This is all great experience that you can use to help with crafting and formatting your entry, and I think it can make the difference between a passable entry and a potential comp winner.

    Third: There's a lot to like about our community here, and part of that is the fun and interesting comps that people can enter. To have these comps, we need people willing to take time out of their schedule to judge. If you think competitions are a great part of the community here, and you have the time to spare, taking the time to judge is a great way to help contribute.

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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    This looks really helpful. I'm preparing to judge Iron Chef right now, so this is a great source of inspiration/clarification. I think including a link to it in competitions could be a great use for beginner judges like me, depending on how chairs feel about it. This handbook seems like a great way to make judging less daunting and hopefully encourage more participation.

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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Thank you so much for this, Inevitability! This is definitely getting linked in the OP of every VC round from now on, and I think other chairs would be wise to do the same, if you haven't discussed that with them already.
    Quote Originally Posted by pabelfly View Post
    First: Judging a contest is a lot easier than you think.

    Second: judging a contest, particularly a contest you are interested in entering in the future, is a good way of improving your chances of winning when you want to enter.

    Third: you think competitions are a great part of the community here, and you have the time to spare, taking the time to judge is a great way to help contribute.
    I'd like to echo these sentiments, I agree with everything said here. My first time judging I had 0 familiarity with most splatbooks, I've never done anything like that before, and I judged a subsystem that I learned from the ground up while judging. Judging is an excellent way to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of 3.5.

    I'd like to reemphasize what I feel is one of this guide's main points: Different judges judge differently, and that's good. This handbook gives you an absolutely sufficient starting point, and you'll develop your own approach as time goes by.
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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Infrequent judge for VC here.

    Spoiler: My thoughts when judging Villainous Competition
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    Originality

    Build a monster. Build a monster.

    This isn't a requirement by any means, of course. It's just something that gets stuck in my craw. We have a contest that opens up a whole side of the game that rarely gets optimization attention because it's not available to players, and what do people do? They ignore it and just build normal characters because "lol just make a T1 caster like always" is the easy way to score points in Power. Yes you could probably make a wizard or artificer build and just reuse it for half of these competitions, but have you maybe considered growing a pair and stretching your optimization wings into unfamiliar territory? Make a monster. Find some creature that normally has "LA -" and slap class levels on it anyway. Advance something by HD. Find weird templates that players never get to screw around with. Find something that combos well, or just combos weirdly, with existing PC material and run with it!

    Again, not a requirement. There's plenty of normal character builds that are still pretty original and out there by virtue of not having as many handbooks. Your totemists, your ardents, your jesters. Maybe they'll be powerful, maybe they'll be weak, but they'd at least still be original. Good marks! Probably not full ones from me though, not unless you've dug up some MM4 monster to use as the base.

    Power

    The first post addresses most of my thoughts on this category, but I will also add: a villain can be thrown at a bunch of different parties, each of which can be difficult to deal with in very different ways and to very different degrees. How optimal a party you're facing dictates how optimal you yourself have to be in order to provide the intended experience. It is within a DM's prerogative to cheat the numbers if that's what needed to make sure everyone is having fun, but in the context of a contest like this, it's far better to make a build that's capable of adjusting itself to the party. This is easiest with casters, who can adjust themselves between having flavorful-but-weak spells and having handbook-worthy-optimal spells. For most other things, adaption notes are your friend. If you think your build would do okay against a standard IRL party without items but would struggle against an average forum PbP party, including an adaption section with suggested magic items could be helpful. If you have a particular rules interaction where there's a couple different interpretations that make a huge difference in power, have one be the standard (likely the stronger one), and make an adaption note that you can use the other ruling if the party is too weak to handle it.

    Additionally: far moreso than players/PC ever do, DMs/BBEGs get choose the stage upon which the final fight is set. Make use of that opportunity. Describe the arena you imagine for your villain and how it favors their approach to combat. Provide tactics and strategies they might employ against common PC tactics. Tell us what info you would want us to have if we plagiarized your entry for our home game, so we didn't make your build look embarrassing to our players.

    Elegance

    OP says all my thoughts on Elegance. It's weird to drag someone for cheating on the DM side of the screen, but also we can't have a contest where entries blatantly ignore the rules of the game because "it'd be legal since I'd be the DM".

    Memorability

    One of the weirdnesses of this contest is that you make this whole build progression for your villain, but the default expectation is that the player is only going to face them once. Because obviously, if the PCs fight the villain, the villain will lose, and die. That's just how the story goes in this game. Does your villain have a way to come back, or to avoid their demise? If not, then you need to make your one fight count. You need to make the players care about them prior to the fight. You need to make them remember this person. The only crime greater than being unfun is being forgettable. To that end...

    Make the villain. Not a villain. The villain.

    Sometimes the specific round discourages this. That's okay, you don't have to make the villain for those rounds. But generally speaking? I'm not coming here for your "here's a mini-boss tucked away in a side dungeon that I think would make a neat fight". I want a BBEG. There are campaigns where dealing with an archfey is something you do as part of a side-quest for acquiring the McGuffin to defeat the real bad guy, even if the archfey in question is also a pretty bad person. But if we're doing a Fairy Queen round, your archfey should not be "the affable villain we have to deal with to eliminate the real threat". Your archfey should be the main threat. This is her story. Are you making a pyromaniac who first becomes a viable BBEG at lvl 5, and you built him out to 20th? Well the party is only gonna fight em once. Is your lvl 8 build a worthwhile BBEG for a low-level campaign? If that was the boss fight in an E6 campaign, would you be satisfied with how they're built, or are they not quite done cooking until lvl 12? Is the fight interesting? Fun? Aggravating? Or just another roadbump on their path to power, and they'll forget his name by next session? It's very easy to make a powerful build, out of a rare monster, who doesn't need to break any rules. It's hard to make a proper villain. You don't have to be some megomaniacal bastard plotting to take over the world, although that's a good way to go about getting high marks here.

    Another good way is to find a way to fight the party over and over and over again. The pyromaniac round had a number of dragons, as you can imagine. I don't remember their names or their builds. But I remember Ben, the rat that won't die. Ben was a fire rat the party fought at very low level. He had an interesting feat that causes him to blow up when he dies. A neat fight, but nothing memorable. But Ben came back as a ghost, because he had unfinished business: revenge on the party that killed him. So he rose, and haunted the party. He came back and they killed him, and he exploded. He came back again as a Spellthief, stole their spell slots, hurled magic at them, died, and exploded again. He came back again, belching fire, stealing spells, exploding. Over and over. Just this low-level monster, abusing the stickiest self-rezzing in the game, to haunt the party for the rest of the campaign. I remember Ben the rat. The party will too.
    Last edited by AvatarVecna; 2023-11-18 at 10:24 AM.


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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Good handbook.
    I don't agree with 100%, but my disagreements are about my personal preference. I like numbers, I like to divide power into subcategories, I like to evaluate usage of every SI ability in UoSI.
    But overall handbook is useful. Thank you!

    About 'overdoing' power for Zinc Saucier. I mostly agree with you. Ability to cast 5th level spells doesn't deserve penalty when we build "paladin". But it's really possible to make something that could emulate paladin, but also could do many more powerful things. This shouldn't be a good idea.
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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Excellent thread. I hope it will prompt more judging vocations!

    I've been judge only once, in a VC round, and I took away from it the following. I decided to judge all the builds at the same time, a single category at a time. I'd figured it'd make my judgement fairer across all builds by having the same judging criteria in mind at a given time. It was a horrible mistake. There were a lot of submissions in that round, and it gave me the feeling I was making no progress whatsoever.

    So: don't do that, and judge builds as a whole, a few at a time.

    (also AvatarVecna I'm pretty sad you don't remember my dragon for the pyromaniacal round, who got the gold medal! )
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    DrowGuy

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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    I have a couple of words to add. It is based on my experience of judging and especially competing.
    Maybe part (or all) of that is repetition of someone’s earlier words.

    Sometimes I read judge's verdict and... I agree with all or almost all. Here I made a mistake, this is ambiguity, this part isn't very original, but... then I look at total points, mine and my competitors' and... don't understand.. How? How did you get these numbers? I fully agree with your words, but your numbers... are weird.


    1) If you judge and it ends up with all or almost all entries above 15 (or more) points, it could be wise to give another look at your metrics. It's not normal. Please, understand me correctly, it's possible to make great entries without mistakes and issues, with cool ideas, great SI/theme using, and isn't weak. But... We are humans after all. We make mistakes sometimes, we have ideas which aren't as good as we thought sometimes, we could come up with just bad entry sometimes. It's okay. It's normal. This should happen. Opposite (when all is perfect) isn't and shouldn't. That's why we're competing.

    1A) Also you could give some overpoints in a particular category. If all entries have Originality above 4.5 it's also a reason to reflect.

    2) If you give "multiclass XP penalty" weight of 1 point and "not qualify for PrC" weight of 0.25 points there is something wrong.

    3) If you judge VC or MM you should be ready for entries without classes at all or at least with very few levels. "Multiclass XP penalty" shouldn't have the same weight here as in IC, JW and ZS. Also avoiding the penalty for "not qualify for PrC/feats" via not taking it at all or taking some without prerequisites isn't great merit, you shouldn't reward this as much as you reward real avoiding.

    4) If some paragraph which all entries fully and equally complete exists in your judging metrics it'd be better if this paragraph will not have big weight. If you give too many points in areas where all entries are equal this automatically increases the value of differences and could lead to unexpected and undesirable distortion in the ratings.
    Last edited by loky1109; 2024-01-19 at 03:33 AM.
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    Default Re: Build Competition Judging Handbook

    Great handbook!

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