Topic Leader Guide
So you have just been selected Topic Leader. Congratulations! What now?
First off, you need to realize that the whole project rests on your shoulders. No pressure, huh? Actually, you shouldn't feel too much pressure. Presumably, you asked for this job because you have some ideas of what you want. Well, this is your chance to get it.
Unfortunately, in order to get what you want, you are going to have to direct everyone else to give it to you. You can't be too specific about what you want -- because then other people won't be able to exercise any creativity and will refuse to participate. So, you need to set your goals specific enough to tell people what you want, but vague enough to allow them freedom to be creative in helping you achieve your goals. Does that sound impossible? It isn't.
Before every step in the CAP process, collect your thoughts and tell everyone your current opinion in the OP of the discussion thread. Think of it like you are the director of a movie and you are shouting out directions to the cast and crew. You are not creating the Pokemon yourself, but you are the only person that can assess what we have created at any given point in time. You need to constantly assess the CAP creation up to that point, and determine how to move forward. Don't be afraid to tell people your opinions. Be verbose about your thoughts. People can't read your mind. You are the Topic Leader -- so get out there and LEAD THE TOPICS.
Don't be afraid to be bold. If you really think we can pull off a weird nuanced Pokemon with a strange niche -- then go for it. The worst thing that could happen is we get a Pokemon that doesn't work like you thought it would. So what? We've done that before and it wasn't the end of the world. It will still look cool as hell (because CAP artists are amazing) regardless. The point of the CAP project is to learn. We can't learn anything from a Pokemon with no real distinguishing features. So, we are going to have to take some risks with every creation. No risk, no reward. Welcome to Leadership 101.
Here's a tip: Any time you aren't sure about what you want -- tell people what you are thinking and ask for advice. It's amazing how helpful the community can be at making suggestions. Asking for advice is not an admission of stupidity -- it's good leadership. You don't have to have all the answers, you just have to have a direction -- even if your direction is "I'm trying to figure out the right direction". The only bad direction is NO DIRECTION. In the absence of direction from you, every member of the community will come up with their own direction. Going in a million directions will get us nowhere.
Good luck with the project! It's your show now, for better or for worse.
In the early steps of the process, you need to establish the tone for how you intend to lead the project. You should be very active in the first few discussions. Feel free to comment on almost everything. You may think you are spamming the discussion, but you aren't. You are the only person on the project that CAN'T spam a thread. Posts by the TL are posts that indicate the state of the project overall. And there is no such thing as "too much information" in that regard. Your active participation in the early threads will demonstrate your knowledge and outlook, and will firmly establish that you are "on top of things". An inactive TL is an invitation for people to get out of control. So, right off the bat, show people that you are an active, interested Topic Leader.
Treat the Concept thread like a big brainstorming session. There are tons of concepts that are workable -- so, don't focus too closely on just your favorites. If there are Concepts out there that you think have potential, but they are constructed poorly -- then give the author tips on how to improve it. If they choose to ignore your advice, that's fine. But giving feedback on concepts is a great way to let people know where they stand, and it establishes you as a helpful resource -- not an authoritarian tyrant that will swoop in at the end of the thread and choose his favorites.
There is a general community perception that typing can "make or break" a Pokemon. That isn't true. Just about any typing can support just about any Concept. So, don't worry too much about the typing. People will get into religious wars about the typing, so don't try to prevent those. As TL, just make sure we don't do something really stupid with the typing. The community will tend to desire unique typing for new Pokemon, and that is not a bad thing. It is not a requirement by any means. But, the typing of a CAP Pokemon is one of the first things that newcomers notice when looking at our creations. If the Pokemon has interesting typing, it tends to draw in project participation. Do not force this issue on the community, but keep it in the back of your mind when leading the typing discussions.
Don't be too specific with your directions in the early stages. Be open to lots of ideas. Later on in the project, you will have to be forceful with your opinions -- right now, let others make their case to you. Instead of making an entire Pokemon in your head from the start -- allow other people to convince you of the validity and viability for their suggestions. Give the community plenty of feedback on your initial reactions and impressions, but keep your options open for later steps in the process.
(Style, Build, Stats, Ability)
When you get to the middle of the process, you should have a more solid idea of what the Pokemon will look like in the end. It is important to allow the public to have as much choice as possible, because they could come up with an idea you had never thought of but works even better. However, that's not to say you should be a total pushover, you need to start asserting your opinion in the middle stages, and start to form the Pokemon around your ideas.
The stats are particularly important; you should be especially attentive to detail in that part. Stats make or break the Pokemon, because if the Pokemon doesn't have the stats to support your concept, it won't perform nearly as well. In that regard, choose stat spreads that reflect your overall vision of the final product. Just be sure to consider all avenues; you may be pleasantly surprised in the end!
You should choose several spreads that you like and ask the creators to submit a final spread to you via PM. Make sure you would be comfortable with any of them winning, even if that means choosing a few less spreads. Avoid listing spreads that have a lot of overlap with other spreads. When several spreads are very similar, it makes it hard for voters to make a decision and it dilutes votes. It also makes for a boring poll. If there a several similar spreads, pick the spread that you think best represents the group of spreads and list that one. There is no minimum requirement for the number of spreads in the first poll. List however many spreads you think will present a distinguishable variety of competitively viable choices; 4-5 is usually a good number.
The same philosophy goes for the ability. While you may believe one ability is perfect for your concept, don't neglect other abilities. You may find a hidden gem in the mass of abilities available to you! As for creating new abilities, try to avoid it as much as possible. While it may seem like the easy way out, it can easily go way too far - and after all, there's nothing to be learned from taking the easy way out. Make sure there isn't an ability that can do what you envision first, and make sure that you need a specific ability to carry out your vision.
At this stage, you should become more forceful in your opinions. This is where the Topic Leader really needs to "take control" of the creation. But remember that this is still a community project. Listen to others' opinions and come to a conclusion thereafter. That said, if you feel strongly that a move is too powerful on a given creation, the community must accept your decision; we did, after all, select you to make these decisions. Too many limitations will, of course, reduce the movepool creators' potential for creativity, which in turn could possibly lower the overall quality of our CAP creation. Try to maintain a healthy balance between allowing for maximum imagination, and not letting ingenuity run wild to create something clearly (in your eyes, of course) broken.
To begin the move discussions, you need to take the initiative to provide a good foundation for discussion. Accomplish this by selecting a base of Pending moves. Look at the full competitive move lists posted in the CAP reference threads, and then use your best judgement to select the initial list. Don't overload the Pending list by including every single move that might be interesting. You may think that is the best way to give everyone a wide range of things to talk about -- but, it's not. That's the best way to create a chaotic mess, where everyone discusses a million different things, and we don't get anywhere. Pick out the key moves that you think really need to be discussed.
In your first list, don't include several moves with a lot of overlap. If you think a strong special Fire move should be discussed, don't include Flamethrower, Fire Blast, Overheat, Lava Plume, and Heat Wave all together. Pick one that you think is best. Perhaps indicate that other strong Fire moves may be considered later. If you list all the moves at the beginning, you are inviting the community to immediately get into a pedantic discussion of the various subtleties of fire moves, and that's not very productive at this stage. Later in the move discussion, you can hammer out details. In the beginning, you need to shape the discussion in broad terms.
As discussion progresses, add Pending moves as needed, and transfer Pending moves to the Allowed, Unallowed, or Controversial categories. You have to step up and make many judgement calls when categorizing moves to Allowed or Unallowed -- and yes, you have to do it. There is going to be dispute on virtually every move discussed -- but that doesn't mean you should put every move in the Controversial category. Be a strong Topic Leader, and make an assessment based on the good arguments presented by intelligent community members, and based on your own personal judgement of what is best for the creation. Very few moves are controversial enough to go to a vote, but there will be some on every CAP. While your categorization decisions should be based on the discussion and feedback, it is your prerogative to overturn popular opinion if you deem it unacceptable for the Pokemon at hand.
The game of Pokemon has a wide variety of moves, which means that almost all of your Pokemon's needs should be covered by existing moves. However, it is sometimes necessary to go beyond the limits of the game and create a new move solely for the CAP project. That is acceptable, but should be avoided if at all possible. New moves are sometimes hard to implement on the server, and they skirt close to the line of changing game mechanics. Do not encourage open discussion of new moves or invite people to throw out ideas for new moves. A new move should be created in cases where you, the Topic Leader, honestly feel there is a crucial need that cannot be satisfied with existing ingame moves. If you feel like a new move is warranted, then clearly map out the competitive goal of the move, and proceed to discuss it with the community. When creating a new move, don't get too hung up on minor details such as the name. That can be worked out later.
The last part of creating a CAP Pokemon's movepool is the full movepool. There will be a discussion thread starting from the pool of Allowed moves. Make sure people follow the movepool guidelines; if they don't conform, be sure to let them know early. After discussion has gone on for a few days, you should pick several people to submit a final movepool. This is your final chance to influence the Pokemon, so make sure the movepools you select fit your vision. Again, like with stat spreads, make sure you would be comfortable with any of them winning, and avoid too much overlap between submissions.
Most of the learning associated with a CAP project comes from discussion threads. It is your job to make sure the discussion stays on topic, is interesting and informative, and allows many different members of the community to participate.
It isn't necessarily your job to do all the talking, but there may be times where you need to get on your soapbox. In general, you should not allow any individual user to dominate a discussion. Some members of the community feel like they need to respond and comment on almost every post in a discussion. That isn't good for the project. The forum has a rule against "thread hogging", and you should remind some of the project blowhards that they are just one voice amongst many on the project.
You are the only member of the community that is allowed to "hog a thread" -- and sometimes you will be EXPECTED to do so. Otherwise, your primary job is to start the discussion off on the right track, and then post frequently during the discussion, letting people know what you think. Your posts serve to tell everyone the "official" state of the discussion. At the end of a thread, be sure to post any final conclusions before closing the thread.
If a discussion dies for some reason because there is a lack of interest, attempt to revive it by any means necessary. Stir up whatever you can, no matter how controversial you think it will be. The important thing is to keep the project moving. If everything you do fails, threaten to move on if things don't get discussed. Usually that will do the trick. If that for some reason fails, just move on, knowing that it is the community's loss.
Your ability to control poll slates is by far your most powerful asset in leading a CAP project. Do not hesitate to use this power judiciously. It is your job to make sure that all voting options are good, viable choices for the Pokemon, and that they are consistent with the concept and direction of the Pokemon. Do not simply collect all the options thrown out by the community, and include them in the first poll. Except for Art, Sprites, and to an extent Typing, all poll slates need to be subjectively evaluated and controlled by you.
Don't include poll options that are similar to each other. It makes the poll boring and unclear to users. When users are forced to choose from similar options, 1) it becomes a popularity contest between submitters, and/or 2) the similar options split votes, thus allowing a different, but overall less-popular, option to win. Poll slates should provide a clear choice for the community. If you need to, combine similar submissions and just attribute the submission to both people.
Every initial poll does not have to contain the maximum of seven options. In fact, very rarely are there seven truly distinct options for a poll. Only allow options that are distinctive AND that you honestly believe are viable to win -- however many that may be. Never include other options, just to be fair or to present a wide slate. It is far better to have a small slate of good, clear-cut choices -- rather than a big, confusing slate with many low-quality options.
Hopefully, you'll never need to use any of the advice in this section. In an ideal world, your project will go exactly according to your plan, with no significant problems. Unfortunately, the world is rarely as ideal as we would like. That's what this section is for: what to do when something goes wrong.
One of the most common problems you will face is the community itself; some people just don't know how to get along with others. You need to respect everyone's right to an opinion, while still pushing your vision. Don't back down because a few people disagree with your ideas. It's natural for people to have differing opinions, and a healthy debate brings interest in the project. However, if someone is consistently doubting your ability and vision, or making personal attacks, it's best to just ignore them than trying to fight with them. If they are really trying to disrupt the discussion, alert a moderator to the problem. It's not your place to call out people, but you don't have to sit there and take it. However, this is totally different from when the majority disagrees with you. If this happens, make sure to be firm, but don't try to be the juggernaut. Listen to the majority opinion, and take some time to regroup. More often than not, you'll be able to work whatever their ideas are into your vision!Real-Life Complications
Another common issue is what to do if you have real life issues during your project. I'm going to assume you don't have any pre-planned issues that conflict with the project; if you do, you shouldn't have signed up and just waited a turn! For spontaneous events and problems, rely on the forum moderation staff. Don't just disappear without telling anyone, if you can avoid it. There are a ton of people you can tell. Just a quick PM on the forum to the moderators, and they can take care of everything. That way, the project can continue to run smoothly. It is therefore important that you are on the same page with the moderators about your vision, so they can make an informed decision that is consistent with your overall direction of the project.
In hotly-contested CAP polls, sometimes people cheat the vote totals. The most common way people do this is by making alternate accounts and voting multiple times. If, for whatever reason, you believe there is cheating going on in a poll, speak to the CAP forum moderators about it. The moderators can investigate the voter accounts, and try to determine if there is tangible evidence of cheating. They may solicit your help in looking for suspicious accounts. However, there are many other ways to cheat that are almost impossible to prove. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do about it.
There are some forms of unethical behavior, that are not directly cheating, but are not allowed. Privileged users, such as forum staff or server mods, should not use their privileges to influence polls. This includes posting forum announcements, walling server messages that encourage certain polling options, and the like. If this happens, notify the Head of the CAP Project to handle it. Also, no users should engage in "buying votes" of any kind. This includes doing favors or otherwise compensating others for votes. This behavior is incredibly difficult to catch, but if discovered, the votes should be excluded and the offenders should be moderated.
A lot of time and effort has gone into the CAP process guide, but it's not perfect. Sometimes, the process may need to be tweaked in order to help better bring off a concept. Not all CAP projects are expected to be the same, so if a certain concept asks for something that may not be handled by the current process, it's not entirely taboo for you to make a thread or two somewhere that wasn't mentioned in the process guide to help keep things organized and productive. There is, however, a fine line between bending the rules and breaking them. So, while you do have a little creative license in how you can handle the process, you shouldn't go off on a wildly different tangent.
Everyone makes mistakes, including the CAP Topic Leader. Since this is a community project, with a lot of eyes on every thread, most mistakes are caught quickly and resolved with no fuss. But sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks, and are not caught until it is too late to do anything about it. For example, in the past, there have been miscounts of votes, or certain polling options have been erroneously advanced or dropped in subsequent polls. If a mistake is made, the big question is, "Is it too late to correct it?"
If the mistake was caught quickly, then you can put a halt to the subsequent thread, and re-make it in corrected form. Contact a member of forum staff as soon as possible, to have them lock/delete the old thread. It does not need to be a CAP forum moderator, you can reach out to any supermod or admin as well. For quick communication, the CAP server chat and/or IRC is almost always the fastest way to get something done. If the mistake is corrected quickly, then it is usually only a minor inconvenience to the project.
Unfortunately, since CAP polls move very quickly, unless the mistake is caught almost immediately, you probably can't fix the mistake. If an erroneous poll has been open for a while (even a few hours can be a long time on the CAP project), then you normally should not re-make it. Publicly and privately apologize to any affected parties, and move on. You may catch some flak early on, and people may bust you for it later; but hey, you're human. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while.
Topic Leader is a tough job, but it is also very rewarding. For the duration of the CAP project, you are literally the most important member of the CAP community. On the CAP forum and server, people will watch your every move, and listen closely to everything you say. Throughout the rest of Smogon, most people will know three things about any current CAP project -- the typing of the Pokemon being built, the artwork, and the name of the Topic Leader. Yes, there is some pressure that comes with the e-fame; but be sure to enjoy the limelight! It is an opportunity to show people what you know and what you can do. After you are done, you will always be regarded as a knowledgeable "senior" member of the CAP community. And whether the pokemon we create is a success or failure, it will forever be associated with your name. So, make the most of the opportunity, and do everything you can to make it a success. Everyone is rooting for you -- GOOD LUCK!