Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt1)

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt1)
If you haven't figured out already I like(d) HackMaster and I've spent a LOT of effort on the game and it's publisher Kenzer & Company. I've done a few things for KenzerCo and one of them was working as their "Tournament Manager". I really don't recall the official title, but I've never been one for titles, unless having one makes it easier to get something done.

Basically I helped set up organized play at the two big cons of Origins (my favorite) and GenCon. Solicited authors, arranged for play-testing, wrangled GMs, and usually had to run a table to three myself. It was a fun, terrible, costly job that went largely unappreciated. Something about spending my vacation time, and a lot of money, attending a convention to work for free took its toll. I considered it a good year if I got to play one game a year at a con.


My history with tournaments goes way back to 2nd Edition AD&D when I was stationed in Germany. In 1995 and 1996 I got to take place in what was billed as the "National AD&D Tournament". I should have won the tourney in 1995 and I was given the tournament in 1996.....both of these are my opinions (duh) and you can skip this story text easily enough:

In 1995 I made it to the final table of the tournament and I got to play a Magic User, which is probably my preferred class. I can say without a shred of doubt that the only reason my party completed the task at hand was a lot of creative spell-casting, but the winner....determined by MVP vote, went to the elf that had some cheap table theatrics. It didn't help that I really pissed off a husband and wife pair that was at the table. The thing is that along with the randomly assigned PCs, each player got a one paragraph statement of how the felt about each other character at the table. My MU didn't like the fighter Solamnus (or something like that) and was 110% confident the idiot would get him killed someday. The husband was playing who I affectionately called "Salami" pretty much throughout the game.....and I know I threw in "meat-head" once or twice. The player and his wife, took it seriously.....seriously?

The next year at the final table I ended up playing the Paladin....in an adventure revolving around the Paladin questing for his Holy Sword. Again....seriously? The entire adventure revolved around my character......MVP was already titled in my favor before even picking up the dice.

Anyway IF your convention had a tournament in the 90's odds are it was a relatively simple affair. Depending on the number of initial players and the pre-determined number of rounds, you advance enough players to make the needed number of tables and end with one table. Usually advancement is determined by the players, often by a simple MVP vote. This methodology is simple, but easily skewed by the players.

There were earlier tournaments, that I did not take place in, that advanced parties through the tournament rounds and the determining factor of which tables/parties advanced was based on a oint system where if the party took action A they got X points and if they did B they made...or possibly lost, Y points. Party deaths may or may not be a factor in awarding points, but in almost all cases, advancing further netted more points. A badly designed adventure could reward parties that simply pushed harder and not smarter.

When HackMaster was getting off the ground, and really all the way through to the end, they had tournaments. HackMaster was already pretty crunchy and there were a lot of records to keep. Part of the serious parody had to do with being a "Certified" or "Leveled" Game Master. There was an actual test to take (and pass) to be considered a bonafide GM. If you wanted to increase your GM level one thing you had to do was run so many local tournaments. This might be fine if you lived in an urban area, but I can tell you that even in the City of Boise City (literally it's legal name) you could get folks to maybe play, but to get enough folks to meet the two table sized requirement......major PITA. I tried running games, er....tournaments at conventions, at game stores.....we had good games, but not enough to qualify as a tournament.

So tournaments could kind of suck at the local level.......and on the national level I come to find out.

This über-crunchy game with the insane amounts of record keeping did have one potentially cool side-benefit: you could play your home character at a convention tournament. At the two big cons we'd have the "Tournament of Champions" or the "Wurld Championship". Groups would bring their home PCs to the convention and strive to win. Depending on the tournament the winning table and/or winning table MVP would win a "Serial Numbered Item", basically a tracked super special magic item. The idea was great and a lot of people enjoyed themselves, but these HackMaster tournaments had a lot of problems as well:

  • If you didn't play as a group, especially a well-rounded group used to working together, you were at a SEVERE disadvantage
  • These well-rounded, experienced groups added a steady power-creep and absurd over-reaction in needing to create deadly adventures
    • To this day if I hear someone tell me I need to write to counter one specific player's PC or to "hit them sideways" to mess with a certain party, Imma gonna hit that bastard sideways.....with a shovel....which I will use to bury them in the nearest patch of dirt...dead or alive.
  • Nothing like travelling cross country to attend a tournament, having to block out HUGE chunks of convention time only to be knocked out of the tournament in the 1st round.
  • The competitive nature of these tournaments.......I'm just going to say it....lead to cheaters with PCs that were just jacked. I swear players would find a pushover GM and go fucking nuts. Sorry, but when every one of your PCs has 98% or 99% of potential hit points at 7th level (a statistical anomaly with one PC, but an entire group of PCs? Also, even with the best magic gear in the game, your 6th level non-specialist Magic User isn't casting 37 spells a day.
  • Every year, or at least every year I wasn't in charge ('cause I got the head's up) inevitably there would be some problems, some sour grapes, and weeks or months of bitching/griping/moaning how one group was robbed. Of course there weren't issues at the damn convention where they could be addressed, but once groups got home after the con.
Now add in these inherent problems into the joy that is trying to get volunteers on board months before the convention, getting folks to put in 10's to 100's of hours into tournament prep.......it really sounds like tournaments aren't worth it.....

.....and you might be right.

When HackMaster 4th Edition was going away and the new edition was coming in, it was clear the crunchy days and over-the-top competitive tournaments needed to go as well. Tomorrow in pt 2 I'll lay out what I did to change tournaments and maybe it'll inspire someone to run/organize a convention tournament series.

1 comment:

  1. In my experience, GM moderated advancement worked no better for tournaments.

    In 1994 I was at an AD+D tournament where people role-played their heart out but the advance was given to the fighter because he had "done the most damage" in the two combat encounters.


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