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Norman "nbperp" Barth was selected as the new HeroClix Rules Arbitrator, and remained so until HeroClix went into hiatus in late 2008. I managed to track him down, where we talked about HeroClix, comic books, and more.
The Le: Tell us a little about how you got involved in HeroClix at home and eventually as the rules Arbitrator for HeroClix.
Norman: I had played OverPower, the super hero CCG from the late 90s and had been collecting comics since the early 80s. My collection was fairly robust, at least in terms of DC. I saw Infinity [Challenge] when it came out, even had the Spider-Man promo figure but wasn't going to invest in a new collectible game because when I played OverPower, it was something of an obsession. I'd travel around the country to play in major events. All of that was before my kids were born. Now I had 2 kids and while the mechanics seemed interesting, I just wasn't going to let myself go there.
Then Hypertime came out. Superman #380 was my first comic and reading Superman has influenced me in ways I can still see in myself today. So when a DC set came out, I decided I'd buy into it. “But only so that I can have the sculpts” I told my wife. She rolled her eyes at me.
Sure enough, one of each sculpt wasn't enough for the collector in me. I had to have the whole set. I had to have the “Our Worlds at War” limited edition. I had to figure out how to get those cool LEs. So I started to play. I can still remember many of my earliest events. I was able to warrant fellowship of a fairly regular basis, but it took me a while to figure out the strategy of playing the game well. To this day I will never forget how my Darkseid Unique was paralyzed for 6 turns because he kept failing to roll breakaway from an opposing Lackey and then resting (rather than just smacking the Lackey to kingdom come).
Once I started playing, I found a few venues in my area that hosted games. Some were large, like Dream Wizards, in which the people were friendly but competition was fierce. Others were quite small, like Realms of Fantasy, where a typical event had 2 or 3 of us showing up to play. One of the owners of the store was a big MechWarrior player and he was an excellent source for learning core strategies. After a while I was able to hold my own at Realms and was able to finish respectably at Dream Wizards as well.
The judge at Realms told me about how generous WizKids was with its volunteers at conventions, so when the next Wizard World Philly rolled around I signed up as a judge (there were no tests back then, you just needed a sponsor) and volunteered. I had a great time at the con and looked around for a venue needing a judge so that I could keep my status active. I found a nearby store (Other Realms) that had some games on the docket with no judge and within a few weeks I had met with the owner and worked out a plan for building a Heroclix community in the store.
During this time, I spent a lot of time lurking on the internet, particularly in the Judges and Rules forums (at the time, there was one of each of these on both the HCRealms and the WizKids websites). By now, feats were starting to rear their heads so there were a number of debates that raged.
At one of the pre-release events, I had the chance to meet one of the faces behind the name of one of the big posters online. He had a strong grasp of the rules, had a very logical mind, and was a big proponent for rulings that made sense. Often, his posts and those of people arguing with him would go long enough that a relative newbie like me was intimidated to intercede in the discussion, on either side. When I met him, I told him how I respected his opinion and how I nearly always agreed with his view. He asked why I didn't say that online. He felt that he was too often the lone voice in the crowd shouting for consistency and that no one backed him up. I explained as how I had nothing much to say in addition to his opinion. He asked me for a favor – to at least reply with a “Ditto” so that people will know that there was someone who agreed with him.
I took his advice to heart and started posting. At first it was the simple “ditto” to indicate my agreement, but that started drawing me out. In addition, at this time in my life, in the real world, my job had significantly changed. In short, I was being paid to sit at a cubicle for 8 hours a day. If something came up on my project, I had what to do. But other than an emergency situation like that, there was nothing for me to work on and my employer was contractually obligated to not feed me any other work. So now I had lots of time online, besides hitting “dittos” I would also answer questions. I'd start to say more than just ditto, providing other reasons/sources for why the opinion I was agreeing with was right. I even started to disagree with the guy who had asked me to get more involved and we had some wonderful debates. In short, I got involved.
Meanwhile, my venue was growing nicely. It was not (nor would it ever really be) as large as the big players like Dream Wizards where the Premiere Events were being held. But I had gotten involved there too. Never as a judge, but as a facilitator. For those big events, when 60 plus people would be showing up, they had been using an excel spreadsheet to manage player's records. It took anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes between rounds to gather all the scores, enter the data, deal with oddities, seat the next round, pair up the sheets, etc. I spoke with the head judge about me putting together a simple program that could be used to run events. We talked about the necessary features and I went to work on it. I had it in place for its maiden voyage before the next event (apologies – I don't remember what it was, but I think this was just before summer of 2004). During that event, the time between rounds shrunk to about 15 minutes. People were very vocal in their noticing how smoothly it ran. And there were also suggestions for how to make it better, all of which I noted and incorporated into the next version.
Meanwhile, summer-time was rolling around and the head judge from DW had heard through the grapevine that WK was having issues with its tournament software. He asked me if I was planning on going to Wizard World Philly that year and I explained that I was. Using whatever connections he had, he proposed to WK that they give my software a try. While their initial feedback was not positive, apparently the weekend before Philly, the organizer from WK had been at another convention and the existing software performed so poorly that they were willing to give anything else a try. So 4 days before the con, I get a call from the head judge telling me that I should report to the tournament hall in Philly and bring any/everything I needed to run the tournaments running there. Because of the great reception I got from WK, I made the trip that year to most if not all of the following conventions.
By the time the RA posting became available (November 2006, as I recall) I had a decent reputation online as someone knowledgeable about the rules. I had an excellent reputation with many of the WK staffers, as they had seen me at so many of the conventions through the previous years. I simply submitted an application like anyone else. As I recall, they culled the applications down to 4 individuals that were interviewed over the phone. A few weeks later, they called to tell me that I was the selected person.
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