Academy Blog: What Dark Souls Taught Me About Judging

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This is gonna be one of the goofier ones (Samma apologizes for letting me have free rein*).

A friend of mine recently (okay, like, a year and a half ago) has started to “encourage” (peer pressure) me into playing Dark Souls (and Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne and Sekiro and Demon Souls and Elden Ring). So, I’ve been playing them and enjoying them quite a lot, and then I’m told that I have to stop playing them and write an article, but I’m going to continue to think about them, so now you get to read some words**.

1) You’re Going to Die. A Lot

If you’re not familiar with Dark Souls (or any of the souls-like games) the premise is that you’re going to die quite a lot, and it’s a key element of both the story and the game mechanics.

In any case, the point here is that failure is expected. There are very challenging enemies, but there are also very simple enemies who just surprise you.

You’re not expected to be able to beat them on your first attempt, or even your second. And that’s true of judging as well. When you’re in a new role, it’s expected to be a challenge and you might not succeed, but failure is where learning comes in! Similarly, sometimes you get blindsided by something easy that you simply weren’t prepared for. Next time, you’ll definitely be prepared!

2) Parrying is Hard

There are a few ways to defend yourself. You can dodge attacks, just rolling out of the way, and taking no damage. You can block attacks, where you take some damage, and lose some stamina, or you can parry attacks.

There’s a window wherein you can perform the parry, and if you screw it up, you take the full hit, on the other hand, if you land it, you take no damage, but also can counter-attack your enemy for a massive hit.

This is a straightforward risk/reward metaphor. However, with practice, you can get the timing perfect and mitigate the risk. The same is true for judging – you can push yourself a little bit more, put yourself out there, try a new presentation (or article format) and see if it works, and you can try again if it doesn’t work. It may result in failure, but it’s equally possible for it to be a massive success. And even if your next attempt isn’t perfect, you can give it another shot.

3) Shields Are for Cowards

Look, we’re going to stretch some metaphors here and either you can go along with it or not. Anyway… sometimes you get something you don’t like coming your way, whether it be a massive flaming dragon axe or some critical feedback.

Don’t block it and try to pretend it’s not there. Acknowledge it, deal with it dynamically, by understanding it and responding to it, and then move on once you’ve processed it.

4) Practice Makes Perfect

Your first attempt at most things is going to be very far from perfect. It may be successful, but it won’t be ideal, and that’s okay. You’ll do many things over and over again, whether it be making announcements or performing a deck check or running end-of-round, but each time you do it, if you’re keeping an eye out for any small failures, you’ll get better over time, even if it’s in small increments.

5) Asking For Help Can Be Intimidating

For many bosses, you’re able to summon assistance, sometimes from NPCs but always from other players. However, somebody has to be there, waiting for you, so it doesn’t always happen naturally, and you have to go out of your way to ask for help for something you know that other people have handled without issue. It can feel weird to put yourself into a new space and turn to experts.

But that’s okay – there are communities of people who are there because they like helping others whether it be a judge Discord or r/SummonSign

6) People Wanna Help

And that leads us to our next point. People are passionate about both their games and judging (which I guess is just an extra nerdy way of being passionate about Magic so…) and they like seeing other people succeed, and are willing to put in the effort to help you.

Give people the opportunity to support you, show that you’re trying your best, and you’ll be rewarded.

7) Different People Can Enjoy the Same Thing in Different Ways

Some people like to play Dark Souls with deathless runs, where if they die once, they restart from the beginning. Others play hitless, where if they get hit even once, they restart from the beginning. Then again, I like working coverage and end of round, and there are plenty of people who think I’m bonkers for enjoying that.

It’s okay to enjoy different aspects of the same thing, and it’s even good! It allows the whole community to flourish and for events to have people who are excited about their particular neck of the woods.

8) It’s Stressful!

On the other hand, both Judging and Dark Souls can be very intense. There can be a fair amount of stress in being the person that a call is resting on, especially if there are stakes and the players are invested. It’s okay to not like competitive judging or to take a step back after you’ve had some intense events. If you still love judging, it’s better to take some time to yourself than to push yourself into judging or playing when you’re not excited about it and getting frustrated and burnt out as a consequence.

9) The Story Is There… If You Look For It

Okay, I’m definitely stretching the metaphor here, but in case you couldn’t tell, I’m not too worried about the defensibility of my stylistic choices. 

In any case, there’s a story about every judge and every player. Every NPC and every item. You don’t have to understand it to have fun or to enjoy the game, but that knowledge can bring about new depths.

Knowing why a judge loves working on-demands or why a player really wants to win this RCQ can make your experience something more, and can also help you interact with other people in ways that are beneficial to you both. You can talk to the new player about this “crazy new combo” involving Channel and Fireball that they just discovered or share your strategies for single-judge deck checks when talking to a judge interested in L2 certification to help run competitive events for their LGS. 

Knowing the story helps you become a part of it.

10) Coming to Something Later Isn’t a Bad Thing

I started playing Soulslikes about a decade after they came out. Many of my friends who have played them have long since completed them, but that means that they get to relive the excitement and joy of experiencing them for the first time, and I have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and knowledge.

Similarly, even if you haven’t been judging for that long, you bring a fresh outlook and perspective on events, and you may question why things are done a certain way, when the reasons for doing so have faded away. In that way, you can help the program innovate and grow. On the other hand, perhaps the reasons have become so ingrained that they’re never explained, and by asking, you learn a bit about the why behind logistical decisions, and you’re better able to improvise when things go wrong.

11) People Are Trolls

In Soulslikes, you can write simple notes on the ground, like “be wary of ambush” or “treasure ahead.” Sometimes, these notes are incredibly helpful. Other times, they lead you over the edge of a cliff in a vain attempt to find mythical loot.

Judges also like to have fun. I have nonsense questions that I enjoy (consensually) torturing people with, and coming up with ludicrous scenarios to poke fun at people. Being able to laugh at your own misfortune (especially when you earn it yourself) is a key talent.

12) Fashion Matters to Some People

The uniform of a judge has changed over the years, and many TOs have their own uniform for judges to wear. The uniform is a powerful tool of inclusivity for bringing in new judges and helps players identify who they can turn to when they need help.

In Fashion Souls, cool armor just looks sweet. I really mostly wanted an excuse to post my current gear.

*I’m disappointed that the phrase is not “free reign”

**For those who want a Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars article, I’ve got ideas…

Keep the conversation going!
Talk about quirky judge metaphors with all of us over on the Judge Academy Discord server.


  1. Wendel Lemos

    **For those who want a Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars article, I’ve got ideas…

    Oh yes please!

    Also, incredible article. I’ve know quite a few people that really NEED to read it. Just forwarded the word =)