an article by: yakface
Why a tournament FAQ is Important
A tournament FAQ is a fan-made document that informs players how grey areas of the rules not covered by GW’s official FAQs will be handled at the event they’re planning on attending. There are some players and tournament organizers out there who feel that tournament FAQs are not needed and even worse, that these FAQs (such as the INAT FAQ) actually alter the way the game is ‘supposed’ to be played.
As the author of the INAT FAQ (Independent National Warhammer 40,000 Tournament FAQ) it’s obvious that I strongly believe in the use of tournament FAQs, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain exactly why that is. But first, I’d like to address the assertions against the use of tournament FAQs.
The arguments against tournament FAQs
By far the two most common arguments made against tournament FAQs are that the rules are ‘clear enough’, as long as you have intelligent and well-briefed judges on staff, and that the use of a tournament FAQ changes the rules of the game into something that isn’t 40K anymore.
There is a really big conceit hidden at the center of both these claims: That there is a ‘right’ way to play the rules as written (RAW) which is clear to any intelligent player and only those who are rules lawyers (intentionally misinterpreting the rules for their own benefit) or are unintelligent get the rules ‘wrong’. Unfortunately this is a fallacy, as the pure ideal of the ‘RAW’ doesn’t exist.
Language is not an exact science like mathematics. Words frequently have several applicable definitions and the formatting and syntax of text creates different interpretations dependent upon the understanding of each reader. We only need look at how laws are parsed and argued about by highly educated judges and lawyers to realize that language is inherently vague. This is especially true considering the rules for 40K are written for ease of reading often at the expense of covering technical minutiae.
Having played 40K for nearly 20 years, attended dozens of large national (US) tournaments and been involved with worldwide forums dedicated to the game I can safely say that in many, many cases two reasonable and highly intelligent gamers can, and do read the same rules passages and on their own come up with two completely different interpretations of how the game should be played. Again, what this means is that there is no such perfect ideal as the ‘RAW’, but rather only the rules as you personally interpret them. If both you and your opponent interpret a particular rule the same way, then the RAW converges as one unified concept. But if you and your opponent interpret it differently, then the RAW diverges into two potentially correct interpretations. In short, the RAW are only the RAW when both players actually agree what they say!
Moreover, my experience has taught me that nobody plays purely by what they think the RAW actually says in every case, even those players that think they do. Often when the rules are broken down into their most literal interpretation you find incredibly ludicrous situations that even players who say they play ‘by the RAW' brush off with statements like: ‘only an idiot would try to play that way when it obviously doesn’t work like that’. However, the exact dividing line between where a player feels the RAW (as they interpret it) must be obeyed and where following the RAW creates an obviously ludicrous situation is often not the same from one player to the next. That means between the difference in language interpretation and what constitutes a ludicrous situation there really is a huge chasm of potential discrepancy of what any two players can believe the ‘correct’ way to play 40K is, even when following the supposed standard of the RAW.
Of course, the rulebook for 40K actually covers this issue and tells players who can’t agree to simply ‘dice-off’ to make a decision. I’ve even heard some tournaments actually eschew the use of rules judges and instead command players to resolve their disputes exactly this way. Since this is how the rulebook says to play, why shouldn’t all tournaments be run this way?
Random rules resolutions
A good tournament is designed to pit player skill against player skill as much as possible and avoids placing additional random elements into the tournament experience. If a tournament uses a purely random method to determine all rules disputes, then each game at the tournament can easily wind up having a very different game experience and outcome based solely on how the roll for a rules dispute falls.
For example, many players believe that the RAW allow a unit comprised of only a single model (like a Monstrous Creature) to assault into base contact with more than one enemy unit in some circumstances, while many others believe the exact opposite is true (that a unit comprised of a single model may never assault more than one enemy unit).
If a tournament randomizes solutions to rules disputes, on one table the deciding die roll may dictate that a Tyranid Trygon can indeed assault multiple enemy units and this one model can then go on to rampage the enemy army and secure a Tyranid victory. But on another table, the deciding die roll could go against the Tyranid player making his Trygon much, much less effective then it is on the other table. In other words, the random dispute resolution can actually end up having a major impact on the outcome of the games!
Another reason this resolution method doesn’t work for tournaments is because players can easily abuse the system. When a player recognizes that a random ruling can potentially hurt their opponent’s army much worse than their own, there is no downside for them to attempt to dispute the rule at that point in the game.
For example, if a player doesn’t have any units comprised of a single model but his opponent does, he can wait until his opponent with a Trygon is about to attempt to assault several of his units and then dispute the rule. If the random ruling happens to go in his favor, not only does he greatly reduce the lethality of his opponent’s Trygon, but he also deals a devastating blow to his opponent’s overall game plan, who up until that point had deployed and moved his army under the pretense that the RAW allowed his Trygon to assault multiple units.
Because of these serious issues, I believe that random solutions to rules disputes are not appropriate at tournaments. Of course, if both players want to resolve their disputes this way they can (and will), but if either player is not satisfied with this type of resolution, every tournament should have rules judges available to provide a consistent ruling to every table throughout the event.
The problem with tournament judges
Of course, the vast majority of tournaments do utilize tournament judges and most of these judges in my experience (thankfully) do always give a ruling (as opposed to just telling players to roll-off when the rules are unclear). Which brings us back to that other claim: that tournaments don’t need a tournament FAQ if they have intelligent and well-trained tournament judges.
However, as discussed before, there is no such thing as the RAW that everyone agrees on. Therefore, even if a tournament says its judges are only going to follow the RAW, how do players know exactly what this will mean in a particular situation? What are each judge’s biases and tendencies when interpreting the RAW and at what point do they consider something to be ludicrous? If there is no set of public guidelines that judges adhere to (i.e. a tournament FAQ), then from a player’s perspective every time they ask for a ruling the result they get is effectively random. Not that the judge answers randomly, but since they don’t know the judge’s bias, calling one over to make a ruling is essentially a gamble of which player’s interpretation of the rules will match that of the judge’s.
The lack of a tournament FAQ also allows players to abuse the system by only calling over a judge when the situation is favorable to them. To use the example from before, if a player is about to have several of his units assaulted by a Trygon he can wait until that exact moment to call over the judge to make a ruling. If the judge happens to rule in his favor not only has he reduced the effectiveness of his opponent’s Trygon, but again, this ruling can end up completely disrupting his opponent’s game plan (as he was operating under the belief that he was playing by the RAW).
Many events try to circumvent these issues by allowing players to contact the organizer by email and get rulings to specific questions beforehand. However, players cannot possibly hope to think of every potential question they may or may not encounter in a tournament, so they end up asking questions only about the army they plan to bring. The result is players with knowledge on how judges will rule that their opponents do not have. This actually worsens the potential for abuse because players can use this ‘inside information’ as a weapon of sorts: to be revealed to their opponent only if and when it suits them.
A tournament FAQ helps to alleviate these issues by providing events with consistency and transparency. Transparency because all players attending the event know exactly how tournament judges will be ruling on particular situations involving both their army and every potential enemy army they may face. Since this information is provided in advance of the event, players are therefore able to adjust their army or strategy to compensate for any rulings that don’t match how they typically play.
Consistency is created by the fact that every ruling by every judge on every table will be exactly the same across the entire event. Therefore, every table that seeks a judge’s ruling will be playing a given situation exactly the same way, meaning player skill, not a random judge’s bias, will be deciding the outcome of games. It also takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of the tournament judges to always be perfect lest they make a game-altering incorrect ruling. Not only can a judge go double-check the FAQ when he’s not sure of a ruling, but players that are well versed in the FAQ can also request that a judge double-check their ruling.
Of course, even with a tournament FAQ players are still potentially able to abuse the system by calling over a judge over to enforce a ruling in the FAQ only when it benefits them. While this criticism is valid, you may have noticed that it is just a variation of the same issue that exists no matter how a tournament handles its rules disputes. The only difference is that with a tournament FAQ, every player at least has the OPTION to learn the information ahead of time. While some players may show up to the event having memorized more of the FAQ than others, ultimately that information is available for all players interested in accessing it.
When 40K isn't 40k?
The final issue that has to be addressed is the ever-present claim that using a tournament FAQ changes the game into something other than 40K. This argument is first and foremost predicated upon the false assumption I previously addressed that there is one 'right' way to play 40K. Of course, as long as both players in a game agree on the way to play, no tournament judge or FAQ can force them to play differently. It is ONLY when two players disagree on the rules and require an outside party to make a ruling that their game is changed by including the decision of the tournament judge. The difference is that when a tournament FAQ is not being used, the game is changed solely by the bias of the tournament judge's opinion; something neither player knows before they get the ruling. Whereas when a tournament FAQ changes the game from how an individual naturally plays, at least those changes are transparent (publicly accessible before the event).
Of course, it’s obviously possible for a tournament FAQ to go over the line of addressing grey areas and literally change the rules of the game. Unfortunately, because of the different way people interpret rules, exactly when a FAQ stops clarifying and starts changing rules will always be a matter of contention. When it comes to the INAT FAQ in particular, I know many people feel it steps over that line too often. To that criticism I stand pat by the belief that all of our rulings represent how at least some portion of the gaming populace naturally interprets the rules and plays the game; if we find this not to be the case for a particular published ruling, then we strive to change it in subsequent iterations of the INAT.
To those players and organizers out there who don’t want to use a tournament FAQ because you feel it changes the game, I challenge you to reconsider the idea that your particular interpretation of the rules is so important that it is worth giving up the consistency and transparency that utilizing a tournament FAQ provides. And lest you think I’m trying to sell you on the particular rulings in the INAT FAQ, first let me remind you that there is not a single player on the planet (myself included) that agrees with every ruling in the INAT. It is not humanly possible to create a fan-made FAQ with rulings that everyone could agree on. Second, if you feel that the INAT has just too many incorrect rulings to use, please remember that the INAT freely grants anyone and everyone access to use its questions as a base to create your own tournament FAQ.
Tournament FAQs offer such tremendous benefits to participants, organizers and judges that it is really a disservice to both attendees and rules judges to run an event without using one.