Greetings, ACCers and spectators. While all of my reports are magical snowflakes and not to be missed, this one contains some major announcements. Below you’ll find details on the shiny new ACC rubric, an unusually large Q&A, and the announcement (spoilers!) that both Grot and I are resigning from the ACC staff. It’s also long and wordy, because Arch.
But first, your obligatory New Year’s retrospective.
First off, congratulations to everyone whose ACC performance earned them a title last year. That obviously includes our Champion, Lucine Vasano and our Gladius, Atra Ventus, but I also want to give a quick shoutout to our four Avatars of Strife for 2019: Kordath Bleu (Q1), Lucine Vasano (Q2), Alaisy Tir’eivra (Q3), and Seraine "Erinyes" Ténama (Q4).
Additionally, Karran Val'teo, Appius Wright, Ahsik Warren, Erinyes, Khryso Mallus, Sera Kaern, Aldaric, and Alaisy Tir'eivra all qualified and completed their first matches in 2019.
Citing real life time constraints, Grot has resigned from his judge position. Murderlizard’s spent two years on the ACC staff, during which time he’s judged 28 matches, provided Rule of Two support for at least a dozen more, served as team captain during Coach’s Corner, contributed venue editing for the relaunch of the Scenario Hall, and informed countless staff discussions with his keen intellect and understanding of Star Wars canon. He leaves big shoes to fill.
However, I will not be the person deciding how to fill them. As I’ve mentioned on Telegram, this is my final report, and I will be resigning immediately after its publication. My reasons for leaving are a bit more complicated, but suffice it to say that multiple factors have led me to the conclusion that I cannot be a worthy steward of the ACC going forward, and I hope that getting out of the way will allow someone else to do a better job of it.
I’d like to offer my sincerest thanks to the ACC community and especially to the judges I’ve worked with over the past year and change, as well as my two predecessors, Wally and Atra, who’ve provided excellent support and mentorship for the entirety of my time on the ACC staff.
Now for the big news: as of today, there is a new rubric in effect for ACC matches. Matches prior to 1502 will be graded under the previous rubric; however, going forward all new matches will use the new version. James has the new link and will be updating the referrals on the site shortly.
For the most part, the changes are minor. Matches that scored well or poorly under the old rubric will score well or poorly under this one. The weighting of the categories and the advantage system haven’t changed at all. The main thrust of the changes was to provide better transparency for how scores are generated. But that said, I do want to give a quick overview of the changes and how they impact you.
Many people probably did not realize that the old rubric was two separate tabs. Although the expanded tab wasn’t critical, I chose to move towards a one-page format that included more details under the “Guidelines and Detractors” heading for each category.
Syntax has not changed much. Use of inappropriate profanity moved to Realism, as that’s the category that covered adherence to the Star Wars setting and DB Canon. The relatively meaningless section from the expanded rubric is gone, and an explanation of how we approach terms like “lightsaber” and “Dark Side” has been added along with the established practice for Murican versus other varieties of English.
Story changed the most, although probably less than it might seem at first. For starters, I’ve outlined the focus on combat (“the Turel Rule”) and how that impacts the different halls. Keen-eyed readers will notice that Funderdome has been renamed; this rebranding is to try to break the stereotype that it’s only for comedy writing. I’ve also tried to outline what makes a story strong or weak by adding specific elements. The old rubric, in my opinion, made this almost entirely subjective, providing few details; the details it did provide (“At this level, the writer will succesfully [sic] employ literary techniques such as foreshadowing, dramatic irony, and plot twists”) were rarely, if ever, relevant to the score.
If you want to build a story that will score well, focus on providing strong characterization, using the venue, demonstrating character motivations, being creative in your plot and details, creating suspense, and forming a narrative arc with rising action, a climax, etc. Those elements should sound familiar, as they’ve frequently been highlighted in previous judgments over the years and they’re addressed under Story and Creativity in the established rubrics for fiction and run-ons.
Realism has changed in a few details, e.g. missing a feat is now a minor detractor instead of major to reflect the difference between miswriting something on a snapshot and ignoring the snapshot entirely.
Continuity can now apply to inconsistencies within a writer’s own posts; previously, this category only covered adherence to your opponent’s posts. This moves the definition of a continuity error more in line with how it’s popularly understood. The language on the rubric also differentiates Continuity and Realism a bit better.
Thanks to Erinyes, Kordath, Grot, Mune, Tahiri, Atra, Lucine, Turel, Andrelious, Atty, Appius and Ahsik for their feedback during the development process.
Additionally, the Voice has rolled out a few waves of CS system changes since taking office. They are:
Pulling. It. Off. has been removed.
Slow has been changed. This matches the terminology used in Jedi: Fallen Order, but note that some applications of the Slow power in the game can be functionally duplicated with Telekinesis, e.g. holding a rotating fan blade in place. Stasis, Stun, and Singularity also work on objects.
A new feat, Deflect This, was added to cover folks who want to use the fancy sacramentals and society awards to deflect blaster bolts. Note that, as currently written, you cannot deflect slugs with this the way you can with a lightsaber.
You were lecturing your pals in chat the other dayyyy...
As I mentioned in Fic Chat a little while ago, I strongly encourage people to submit ACC rules questions to [Log in to view e-mail addresses]. That ensures the answer you get is correct and that both you and the staff are on the same page. Likewise, for general fiction questions you can easily reach the Voice staff at [Log in to view e-mail addresses] or the Voice himself at @idrisadenn or [Log in to view e-mail addresses].
For the final section of the report I want to address some of those questions.
These are your granular technical questions.
An Email asks: [We] started our battle before the update released, and I'm not 100% on how the database works so am not sure if the Power text is already changed on the sheets/will be considered by the staff and-- anyway short version, do I adhere to the new format of the power or the old?
Snapshots will preserve deactivated feats/skills/powers, but for active powers the tooltips pull from the current system. The old wording is only preserved on the history tab of the CS Guide wiki page, which should match what was in the system at the time.
You should never be penalized for writing something true to the documentation on the site. In cases where that documentation changed between posts, the ACC staff has to be tracking that and then give the member the benefit of the doubt while grading.
Yes, Disjunction breaks Stasis. Otherwise there's not really a counter, other than the built-in limitation that the feat comes "at the cost of complete focus and concentration, regardless of Force Power level." So the user can't really do anything, making it less useful for ACC than it might first appear. However, it does work for all sorts of cheesy environmental effects, e.g. using Stasis on someone mid-jump.
The main limitation in practice from an ACC perspective is actually the Story score. Because the feat is so debilitating, it can be difficult to avoid a sort of "deus ex machina" or anti-climactic feeling. I'm sure it can be used to great dramatic effect, but we just don't see it that often.
Atty asks (a while ago): What are some of your favorite examples of creative uses of a power or skill in various battles? Favorite moments or descriptions?
I do really enjoy wacky, creative attempts to break the system, such as when Erin reactivated a severed half of a riot baton with Force lightning to block a lightsaber. But it’s important to note that just because I enjoy the clever idea doesn’t mean it will score well--that example was dinged for Realism, both for not fitting in at all with how FL is documented and because I don’t know of a single electronic device that works better when struck by lightning. Probably a better example would be when Turel impersonated Morgan with Illusion, and the other party saw through it because Turel, being the only person who doesn’t gawk at Morgan’s chest, got the tattoos on her boobs wrong. Atra’s rock trick in the championship bout is another good one, and that match also shines in descriptive language in general.
What I would like to see more of is daring ways to frame the conflict, but that can be tricky to do without colluding with your opponent. I’ve long been on record saying that the match that first showed me the potential of the ACC is Selika vs Turel from Rivalries, but I’d also really like to highlight the Selika vs Vyr match in the same event. Vyr framed what could have been an isolated, unrelated match as a direct continuation of the action from a match his opponent had just finished in the same venue. Drawing on external sources is always tricky because you don’t know if the judge will get the reference, but it can pay off if they do. More recently, Terran did something similar in his championship matches.
I’ve read literally hundreds of matches over the years, so this is really only scratching the surface.
This section focuses on advice applicable to most of the ACC community.
Darkhawk asks (a while ago): So I normally dont ask questions just because it shows my ignorance of this vast universe lol. I have read alot of folks fictions to get different views of this topic, and just dont know enough other than what may/may not stand out to me. I am sure this has been asked more than once, but I would like to learn to write and correctly portray a good saber battle....how are these written to stand out to the reader....
If you google “Writing combat”, there’s a ton of advice out there and it’s probably worth your time to go through some of it to see what clicks. Obviously, there’s a lot of different opinions, but as I’ve read through a bunch of them a few common themes pop out. But I think Richie Billing summed it up: “A fight scene should not be a stream of blow after blow until everyone’s dead or retreated. Rather, it ought to be a portrayal of a character’s physical and mental state as they experience danger.”
Trying to do step-by-step descriptions like you’d see in an instruction manual will absolutely destroy your pacing. I found that out first hand when I tried to apply some of my (very very basic) martial arts training to a match. Even a sequence that is easily done by a beginner and only takes a second can sound convoluted and like uninterrupted god modding if described wrong.
Anyway, you didn’t ask about writing combat. You asked about lightsaber duels, and that’s harder to find advice on. I think the main challenge here is that your readers in the DB all know what a good saber fight looks like on screen, but a great deal of what looks good on screen doesn’t translate well in text. If you ask Star Wars fans about their favorite saber fight, usually a few will keep coming up.
The Duel of the Fates is a great example of what not to do. The fight’s epic and usually considered the highlight of the film, but that has a lot to do with the engaging visual design, the athletic choreography, and John William’s soundtrack, and none of that is stuff you can capture in an ACC post. The sequence here that would work here is towards the end: the environment separates the fighters momentarily and we see some characterization as Maul paces like an animal, Qui-Gon meditates calmy, and Obi-Wan is anxious. From that moment on, the sequence becomes much more tense and emotionally driven, and Qui-Gon’s death provides pretty much the only motivation Obi-wan has in the entire movie.
Likewise, the Rogue One sequence is amazing on screen but a dude showing up and mowing down a bunch of nameless mooks is boring as hell in fiction. That’s exactly what not to do in a co-op match.
A fight that I think translates very well is the first duel between Luke and Vader. That fight isn’t about fancy choreography at all. It’s about Luke’s emotional baggage. It’s about how quickly he realizes he’s outclassed and how he continues to fight. It’s about how Vader is toying with him, and ultimately the fight marks a major plot development for the whole trilogy. I think it’s an excellent source of inspiration for your own duels, even if your characters are bringing in completely different baggage in different situations.
While I think it’s much too abstract to work as an ACC post, if you’re interested in a really literary take on a lightsaber fight, I’d suggest reading Matthew Stover’s novelization of Revenge of the Sith. The Dooku fight early on almost completely ignores the saber work to focus on Dooku’s internal thought process, and fight between Sidious and Windu at the end portrays them almost as the embodiments of the light and dark side of the Force. Like I said, I’m not sure I could pull that off in an ACC post myself, but reading that a few years back changed the way I think about writing Star Wars a bit.
Everyone asks: Can I get someone to proof my ACC post?
While asking in big chats isn’t a bad way to get proofers, in my experience it’s more effective to reach out directly. Cultivate a relationship with a few other writers and go to them when you need proofing. Of course, this goes both ways, so be sure to help them out when they need proofing as well.
Blade asks: What's your advice to ACC burnout and how to overcome it?
The only treatment for burnout I know of is to take a break and go do something else for a while.
Blade asks: What advice would you give the younglings who find the prospect of ACC posts high pressure?
The only pressure you should be feeling is what you put on yourself. If you’re nervous about the ACC, I’d suggest chatting with members you know about their experiences. I think the worst case scenario is really just going to be that you tried something new and didn’t like it. It’s slightly more public than submitting to solo fiction, but that’s also true for everyone else, so hopefully that dispels any illusions you might have that everyone else is getting perfect 5/5/5/5 scores and that only you make mistakes.
I’d also like to reiterate to both new and old members that the judge comments are offered as fuel for growth in future matches. That may or may not be the direction you want to take your writing, but regardless of what style or genre you want to write, incorporating peer feedback is going to be an important thing if you want to improve.
A PM asks: What kind of guidance would you offer to our members that want to improve their ACC writing in particular?
This one’s easy: write, then take the judge feedback seriously when you get it. It also doesn’t hurt to read other matches as well as the judge feedback on them. This stuff is all publicly accessible through the site and it’s probably the best way to get a sense for what successful posts look like. The one caveat I’ll add is to try to stay recent, just to make sure you’re learning accurate standards. A lot of my favorite matches are from 2015-2017, but I’m reluctant to use them as teaching matches because they predate the armor policy and possessions system.
I’ve tried to answer these questions thoroughly, and I’m highlighting them specifically because staffing, sustaining the community, timeouts, and organizational roles and responsibilities are key issues that the next Combat Master is going to have to deal with. For those you want to work in the ACC as CM or otherwise, if you agree with my thoughts on these issues, and especially if you don’t, I hope they can serve a springboard when developing your own path forward.
A PM asks: What advice would you give to a member who aspires to become an ACC judge?
Future CMs will have their own hiring criteria, but here are some things that I value or avoid based both on the judges I’ve overseen and the ones I’ve worked alongside:
Get shit done. Judging is work, usually something like two hours uninterrupted or more if you have to constantly pick back up from where you left off. You have a ten-day window in which to do that. Really invaluable judges are the ones who can jump on a match soon after it gets in the queue and turn around a judgment in a day or two. We’ve got systems in place to filter out judge mistakes, but we don’t really have a solution for judge inactivity short of CM nagging and micromanagement. Of course, getting projects done is a strong selling point for every DB position and probably why at least five of the judges I’ve worked with have become CONs during or shortly after their tenure in the ACC.
Syntax skills are much harder for me to teach you than other required skills, if only because English is a bigger and more complex system than the CS system or the DB site. One of the ways I’ve vetted candidates is by looking at their Syntax scores in their previous matches. I don’t expect perfection here, but if I’m seeing 2s and 3s that’s a bad sign.
Be familiar with, at a bare minimum, the Star Wars movies and preferably the animated series and novels. If we’re not sure if something fits with our system, the first thing we do is compare the passage in question with canon media. It’s an asset for the ACC staff if you know off the top of your head that lightsabers vaporize slugs, or if you’re familiar with the creatures in the possessions system.
Be nice to people. Your job is, on some level, to pick people’s writing apart, but that’s specifically so that the scores are accurate and so that the member can grow based on constructive criticism. Our members put a lot of work into their writing, even if it didn’t score well, and they didn’t do it so that some snarky jackass could crap all over it. I’ve seen members get salty because they didn’t agree with judge comments, but I’ve only ever see them get upset when the judge was gratuitously unkind. That’s the sort of thing that can destroy the community.
Be communicative. You took a match because you were supposed to be off, but then you got called in and you’re not going to be able to touch it for a week. That’s fine, but for the love of Baby Yoda please tell the CM that when you got called in and not four days later when they ask you what the status is.
Declan states: Interested in your thoughts on the sustainability of a DB activity that is seldom used in day to day member’s activity and excluded from Vendettas due to staff requirements/grading timelines.
There’s two aspects to this, day to day activity and vendettas, and I don’t think the underlying assumptions are accurate in either.
For years, I’ve heard off and on that the ACC is “niche,” something that only a handful of members care about. Organizationally, I think I’m generally viewed on the same plane as the guy who runs our Twitter account or the people who like Wiki syntax.
Across the matches that started in 2019 (with 9 matches still incomplete), 72 members wrote 273,306 words. That’s not quite a George R.R. Martin book, but it’s slightly longer than the first three Harry Potter books combined, or one of the Lord of the Rings novels combined with The Hobbit, and about 60k words more than Moby Dick. We consistently see participation from all seven clans, and from members ranging in rank from JM1 to EL1. Several of your own clan’s new joins have embraced the ACC both for its own sake and as a pathway to knighthood.
Last quarter, the ACC saw 24 members create a match and then follow through with at least one post. In comparison, the GMRG saw 25 members do at least one comp, and the barrier for entry there was a flash game. A total of 8 members submitted to the quarter’s official Voice comps, Harmonic Growth and All Hallow’s Eve, and no club-wide fic comp received more than 5 entries.
Between March and June last year, the Herald and I both ran bracket tournaments. Shroud War II got 17 participants and 40 subscriptions. The ACC tournament had 31 members complete a match out of 32 entrants, and I had to turn some people away because the bracket was size capped.
So yes, in any given year more members are going to play a video game or throw a stick figure at a clan graphics comp than complete an ACC match. But I think going from that to the idea that the ACC community isn't sustainable, much less that we should denigrate an active form of member activity, is quite a leap in logic and not supported by actual metrics.
The other thing you brought up was vendettas. While the ACC can be and has been a successful component in vendettas, namely a bracket in Fading Light and a ladder and small bracket in GJW XII, there are challenges to running pure ACC events that can make this impractical (more on that in my response to Vyr below). That said, since 2017 there have been efforts to bring the ACC mentality to those events without strictly adhering to the ACC format or site mechanics. The Combat Writing comps judged by the current/former CM are an obvious take, but I’d also include paired writing comps as hewing more closely to the ACC than to ROs or solo fic. I’m sure that there are other ways to incorporate the ACC flavor into future events, and I hope organizers will keep trying to innovate there.
I’ve spent a lot of time fretting over metrics because it’s my job, but in short, I’m not overly concerned with sustainability. As long as the CM and club leadership give this community the tools to thrive, it will do so.
Vyr asks: Timeouts are a common thing in the ACC nowadays. Are there any ideas you have or are implementing that would incentivize finishing the battle, no matter the result, rather than timing out?
So, timeouts are going to happen. One of the cool things about the ACC is that it takes the normally solitary realm of DB fiction and transforms it into a direct interaction with another member, but that comes at the cost of only being as reliable as the other member. Some folks are just flakey; many more end up missing posts because of unexpected issues with work, their health, or their families and/or technical issues with reminder emails.
The all-time average across 1502 matches is that a hair under 50% of matches make it to judgment. That said, the match completion rate varies a lot. In some quarters over 60% of matches make it to judgment, while in two (Q4 2014 and Q4 2018) that rate tanked to below 20%. Some of those incomplete matches are administrative closures, but most are TOs. Needless to say, this drives every CM nuts.
One of the first things I noticed when I started digging into the stats at the beginning of my term is that the completion rate is noticeably better during events than during casual play: 56% for clan events and 60% for club-wide. Running events isn’t a fool-proof way to reduce time-outs (Guests of the Matron’s completion rate was 35%), but it clearly helps and that’s why I jumped on the chance to run the spring championship last year. Sure enough, over 80% of those matches made it to completion, just a few months after the modern ACC’s second-worst quarter. Somebody give me my aircraft carrier and “MIssion Accomplished” banner.
So why not just spam events? Well, there’s a couple of reasons for it. The big one is other events. Since 2017, the DC has gotten into a cycle of doing a club-wide vendetta and a few other club-wide events per year. Additionally, seven different clans are running internal events in the off times on the calendar, often concurrently. We can’t run an ACC event during a vendetta, participation is lower among both competitors and judges if we run one on top of a bunch of other events, and certain times of year are not generally successful due to RL holidays. That still leaves room for at least one ACC event a year, but doing them quarterly isn’t feasible.
Format and scope are also recurring concerns. The default is a “match spamming” ladder, the ACC equivalent of a cluster race, and those events tend to have lower completion rates and other issues, such as having the majority of matches concentrated among two or three people. “Just do what you’re already doing, but more of it” is also, quite frankly, not a compelling premise for an event. Brackets have the best completion rate and a skill focus, but doing one in under two months isn’t feasible so that further restricts the timing. Other events (JMIT, Coach’s Corner) perform well but artificially limit the pool of participants.
Lastly, if the workload for judges is based on very intense spikes twice a year or so, it becomes hard to level set. As I mentioned earlier, judges tend to be the members who seek out DB work, and if they’re confident they can handle more than their current baseline, they tend to look for other jobs. It’s not uncommon to see Judge/Magistrate/QUAs out there. So for the purposes of maintaining coverage, I’d prefer to see a more evenly distributed increase in judgments as opposed to occasional massive spikes in workload that can overwhelm my staff if it hits when somebody has a cold or a business trip or something.
Given all that, one of the things I’ve been chewing on since the end of last year’s tournament is a way to try to bridge that gap between traditional events and open season. That dovetailed with some other discussions I’d been having on how we can do better than Elo, and I’d come up with a new competition format that I was planning to pilot in March and April. I’ll pass the details on that to the next CM and they can steal the idea or scrap it. But the gist is two longer, more low-key “seasons” with unique scoring criteria, and then a small invitational championship bracket at the end of the year based on performance in the year’s seasons.
Mostly unrelated to all that, I got into the habit a while back of pinging people on Telegram when their match was within 12 hours of timing out. That seemed to prevent a lot of timeouts, but of course when I stopped doing it for even a day I’d see several matches immediately crash and burn. That said, most people continued to post or extend on time and I think the main impact of Telegram nudges was to prevent accidental timeouts when the 24 hour email warning got incorrectly filtered or the deadline was at a weird, inconvenient hour.
A PM asks: should the CM/ACC staff be folded back into the Voice staff? Has the quasi-independece of the current arrangement helped or made things less clear?
In many ways, there’s no “quasi.” The CM reports directly to the GM. I haven’t consulted Wally or Xen on staffing issues, events, the rubric, etc. Wally was active in ACC staff chat, Xen’s in it but has never spoken, and both of them have told me that Voice chat is for CS approval/remand discussions and there was no reason for me to be in it. In terms of day to day functions, the ACC and Voice offices are very much independent.
Where things get hairy is the CS system. Obviously, the ACC community is impacted by even subtle wording changes to system documents. I don’t know how every fiction comp organizer grades their submissions, but suffice it to say I doubt many of them are sweating the wording difference between Amplification +2 and Amplification +3. Hell, in most cases we really don’t have to get that hung up on little details, either. But in particularly close matches, or when multiple readers have differing opinions on whether something should fly, we are always going to stick to the strictest possible reading of the language in the CS Guide. Matches where that sort of granularity and, yes, nitpickiness are required are disproportionately high-profile, such as championship finals or GJW brackets.
There’s a similar issue with the Possessions system, actually, but in my experience it’s less of a pain point because there are so many items and thus each one tends to show up much less often than your average Force power or skill.
Now here’s where my RL baggage comes in. I’m a proper swamp creature, I’m an institutionalist, I like clearly defined lanes and authorities and areas of responsibility. It’s not that I don’t like working with people (see the number of folks I pulled into rubric revisions), but I think it’s a recipe for conflict and inefficiency if you don’t know who owns what, clearly define equities, and codify change processes. But that’s not how the DB works in general and it’s not how Mav manages people, so the reality is that everything is based on relationships. As I’m not an equal partner with core DC, even down to the social level of being outside the DC clubhouse on Telegram, I cannot compel anything. The GM may say that one position doesn’t get to monopolize the CS system, but I think if the relationship between the Voice and CM devolves into an open power struggle, nobody expects the CM to be the winner.
Now that system actually works out ok for the most part. A bunch of item descriptions were causing us headaches during the tournament and I passed rewrites to the Regent’s office, when Atra implemented them with minimal fuss. Wally and I, by virtue of long experience, were of the same mind on most policy issues and could hash things out in a couple of PMs. Xen was a definite change of pace at first because we had no preexisting relationship, and that’s been a challenge over the past months. In my opinion, we worked well together on changes to lightsaber forms and blaster bolt deflection to produce something that made a positive impact on both the ACC and general fiction communities. You don’t have to be BFFs to deliver the goods.
That said, without a solid framework for coordination, my ability to protect the ACC’s interests comes down to a delicate balance between coasting on goodwill and aggressively proactive nagging. If that falls through, I have no real recourse. Even if it works, relationship building takes dozens or hundreds of hours and if you’re trying to force it, that means it’s happening at the expense of getting more tangible projects done.
Getting back to the original question, I don’t think moving the CM into the Voice office as a pseudo-praetor would solve that issue. I’ve never been Voice, so I don’t want to mouth off in a report about what I think that position is like, but my two cents is that the best option would be to reallocate the combined responsibilities of Voice and CM across two core DC positions to allow one to focus on developing and managing systems to support fiction, and the other to focus on developing our shared setting and helping to fit member characters into a shared universe.
When I took this job, people warned me about the level of salt. Members complain, members pick at you constantly, etc.
That has not been my experience at all. I’ve tried to do right by the ACC community, and even when they’ve disagreed with judgments or changes, I feel like the members have consistently been appreciative of the ACC staff’s work and respectful of our time and effort. This community has been a pleasure to serve. Thank you all so much for the thousands and thousands of words of magnificent fiction.
I’ll be retiring to the rogues briefly to decompress, so I might be a little scarce in the immediate future. But before too long I’ll be heading home to Odan-Urr and rejoining the fiction community, actually as a participant for a change.
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