The fifth Champion Voter I'm interviewing is William Ward. Like myself, he's a member of the Freelance Forge, a community of freelance designers.
1. When you think about it, 5,000 votes means that you put in a minimum of 83 hours and 20 minutes, which is roughly equal to a part time job. What drove you to put in that kind of time?
It was on somewhat of a whim that I participated in RPG Superstar 2014. Until that point I was playing in a rules-light version of Pathfinder in my home games, and rarely ventured into the more detailed aspects of the system. When I started participating in the message boards, the community surprised me with the level of support they offered me as a newcomer. While I can't recall everyone that offered advice and assistance understanding the rules and the community, I remember that Mamaursula went out of her way an sent a private message to make sure that I wouldn't reveal too much about my item.
While I didn't make the top 100 that year, it was an excellent learning experience. That combined with a couple of people mentioning my item (The Sewing Form) was on their keep list was enough to encourage me to learn more about the system and try again this year. I took part in Sean K Reynold's design class and joined Freelance Forge in an effort to make myself a better designer. I knew that I wanted to put in a serious effort this year.
That combined with having a vacation during part of the voting period is why I put in so much time this year. I doubt that I would have been able to reach Champion if I was working during the entire voting period.
2. What makes an item Superstar for you? What were some of your deal breakers that made you vote against an item rather that for its competitor?
I think the most important elements in a Superstar item are utilizing a mechanic and a clever or unexpected way and evoking some sort of response (the flavor, or mojo factor). The Quicksand Cloak is the best example that I can think of from the contest. It utilized a mechanic in a clever way and was bursting with flavor. One of the judges (I think it was a judge) noted that it felt like an item missing from an old 1st Edition adventure.
I'm not extremely strict when it comes to format, but if an item has multiple format issues, for me, that is a deal-breaker. Someone not including commas in the item price, or accidentally using code in their title isn't a (big) problem, but when you have 3-4 errors in the formatting it will hurt your chances.
3. What did you think of this year's twist? If you voted last year, do you think the quality of the items was better or worse than prior years?
I thought that the twist in the first round made sense. When someone has an entire year to work on an item, it is less likely to show what a freelancer can create on deadline. I'm not sure if my sample size was large enough last year (Star Voter) to know for sure. I think that that the average item has improved (from what I remember).
4. This year's cull was controversial, what did you think of it? How much did it affect your voting?
The cull was certainly more intense than in past years. There were items that I felt were solid that didn't make it into the post-cull vote. The first few days after the cull the voting process was much slower for me. It was much more difficult to make decisions. Most of my votes were cast pre-cull.
5. If you could change one thing for next year's competition, what would it be?
It might be interesting to introduce something during the post-vote, pre-reveal time period to engage the voters. Perhaps a review of a culled item with advice from one of the judges (from the future rounds, or just a professional game designer).