THE SCENARIO JURY AT FASTAVAL
Each year at Fastaval a jury is assembled to decide which of the scenarios premiering are nominated to and win the Otto awards. For many participants it can be difficult to see through the process of reading, evaluating and shortlisting the scenarios, and how much work and effort the judges put into being fair and balanced to both the scenarios and the writers. In the following text you can read about the judging- and the evaluation process at Fastaval.
The chief judge is appointed by ALEA, and they go on to select a jury of five co-judges for a total of six. It is generally priority to assemble a balanced jury with many different perspectives on role playing and also with varied levels of experience. Writers, game masters and players with different preferences are almost always represented. The jury typically meet up once before to the scenarios are submitted, to agree on their process and to discuss and clarify the different Otto categories. But the real work starts after the scenario deadline. All the scenarios are read thoroughly by the jury and they typically include around 1500 pages of written material. Every scenario is analyzed and discussed on the jury’s internal forum and these form the basis of the feedback that writers receive after Fastaval.
A week or two prior to Fastaval the jury meet up for a long working weekend. Here they examine all the scenarios and the written feedback again and they lay down a shortlist of potential nominees in the different categories. They might even have a tentative idea about possible winners, but nothing is final before Fastaval. Even though the judges primarily examine the written texts it is still very important for them to get a sense of what actually happens when the scenario is played. There can also be elements of a scenario that are hard to visualize through the text alone but might emerge in playing the game and the jury is aware of this.
A significant part of being a Fastaval judge is to talk to both writers, game masters and participants about the scenarios when they have been played. It is also the jury’s job to collect and read all the feedback forms that is handed in by participants during Fastaval. The conversations and especially the feedback forms are important tools for the jury to understand how the written scenarios work in practice – and is very much viewed as such. Saturday at Fastaval the jury retreats from early in the morning and begins the final deliberation. Again, the starting point is the written scenario text but now the jury is much more aware of how the scenarios works in real life because of conversations and feedback from players and game masters. In total five nominees are selected in each award category (minus the jury’s Special Award which can vary). Saturday evening the lists of nominees are posted all over Fastaval as well as on the webpage. Sunday the jury prepares for the Otto award show. They make diplomas for each nominee as well as write the award presentation in the show. After the Otto-award show the jury is available for writers and participants who might have questions about the awards.
SHORTLISTING AND THE AWARD CATEGORIES
Each Otto category has a written definition (read them here) which is finalized by the jury before the scenarios are turned in. It is only these criteria that the jury rely on when selecting scenarios to be shortlisted for nominations and the winners. In short, the award for e.g. Best Characters goes to the scenario that most clearly excels within the criteria for that award. Even so it takes many, long discussions to agree upon which scenario that is. Especially since it is also very important to the judges that each scenario is analyzed on its own premises. An action-based scenario is always evaluated on how well it performs within not just the action-genre but its own internal framework and rules. Not whether or not it might e.g. be good drama or comedy.
The judges have four principles when shortlisting the nominees and choosing the final winners. Consensus, discussion, no veto and no bargaining. The first two points are connected in the sense that the entire jury has to agree, and agreement can only be reached through open and informed debate. No Otto is awarded based on a vote, as only sound arguments count in the selection process. No veto means that it is not allowed for a jury member to block the nomination of a scenario if they don’t have any solid arguments, even if they might have another favorite for the spot. No bargaining means that the judges are not allowed to ‘strike deals’ or ‘owe each’ other anything. For instance, if a jury member really loves a scenario and it is not shortlisted in a category (like Best Roles), the scenario cannot be “compensated” in another category (like the Jury’s Special Award). Every category is approached as a clean slate.
Two of the Awards are a bit different from the rest. These are the Jury’s Special Award and the Participants Award. In the Special Award the jury can nominate as many or as few scenarios as they want. A scenario can be singled out for an overall idea or a particularly strong element. With this award the judges typically have more freedom to follow their heart and reward scenarios that might not fit into the other categories. The Participants award is based on a vote by the participants, to celebrate a scenario that has given many people a memorable experience. If two scenarios are tied for the vote they both get the award.
When Fastaval is over the jury begins the substantial task of composing feedback to all the Fastaval writers. This feedback is based both on the jury’s many written and oral conversations about the scenario but also on the feedback forms that the participants filed out. This feedback is mailed to the writers a few months after Fastaval is over, so the writers have it available if they should consider writing for Fastaval again.