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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt2)

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt2)
So if you read my post yesterday you'd probably think that I really don't like tournaments, and really, that wasn't quite my point. What I largely don't like is how most tournaments are run. To me the amount of work involved on the organization side really wasn't worth what the hosting company gets out of it.

Really it's a basic risk/reward ratio. Sure the company (in my case KenzerCo) really didn't have much skin in the game since the real costs (time, money, and more time.....) were borne by volunteers, but if players/fans go to a convention and have a bad experience, or observe problems, then they might not be so apt to keep on playing. Some players I couldn't care less about (like we had one group of players come in second, bitch and moan insanely on the company forum boards, and made a big deal about never coming back......with the huge amount of crunchy record keeping the game had it was clear these guys hadn't interacted with the company, or other fans, in years so their absence would be felt just as much as their participation was!), BUT......games need new players and generally need to keep old players. The hardcore fans will generally ride the waves.

When I came on to the tournament scene I inherited the situation as-is and nothing was really going to change except the continued requests for power creep to take care of what others thought were "problem groups or players". One of my buddies ran a real one-trick pony Magic User, a Double-Specialist Divinator. If you needed to figure out who, what why.....he was your guy. If you ran a tournament where the objective was only to figure out who killed somebody, this PC would have it figured out before most of the table were able to pick up their dice. Trying to write an entire adventure to thwart this guys was recockulus, but an expectation. The thing is, the guy was literally a one-trick pony. He wasn't going to contribute jack-squat to combat...and the game was called HackMaster for pete's sake!

Anyway I dealt the hand I was given and did the best to my level of ability, which wasn't more than the status quo.....until the new edition of the game was coming out. The KenzerCo D-Team still wanted some type of competitive tournament, but the writing on the wall was that the old way really wasn't going to work.

So here I am having the opportunity to create some real change when it came to HackMaster (well, at least HackMaster Basic.....the beginning of 5th Edition HackMaster). I came up with a short list of requirements for "my" tournament:

  • The tournament had to be competitive....for those that wanted to compete.
  • Players had to be able to drop-in/drop-out of the tournament rounds should they choose
  • Scoring had to be "fair"
  • After-tournament drama needed to be minimized/no longer an issue
What I envisioned, and was able to execute, was a three round tournament  that accomplished all these things, well as much as possible.

The very first thing I did was layout the general format of three rounds, but instead of an elimination tournament, each round was different. Round one was what we called a traditional Roll-n-Run where players had 30' to create a character from scratch (This version of HackMaster was still kind of crunchy and 30' could be a challenge). Want to play, but really don't want to learn to roll up (or bother with) a character? No problem, here's a huge stack of 1st level pregens....take your pick. Round two was a pre-gen only game where the pregens were actually leveled-up versions of those 1st level pre-gens from the previous round, making it easier for new players that had also played earlier. Round three was a home-PC "only" round where you could play with the same PC you have hopefully been playing with for some time, as it was a higher-level game. No PC, again no problem....here's those same pre-gens leveled up some more.

That took care of my 1st requirement, and pretty much the second requirement as well. Play one round, play all three rounds if you want. Now there was technically still a potential issue with new, inexperienced players wanting to sit down and play the higher-level Home PC game, and they were welcome to do so. One way around keeping this from being an issue was to have that round listed as only for experienced players. The other way was by having a GM ready to run a group of inexperienced players as their own group. If they had shown up to the previous two rounds, then they wouldn't have needed there own group. That 1st year we did have an entire table of newbs, but they just wanted pre-gens and didn't care for the tournament, which was fine, they still got to check out the game and leave happy.

Now for scoring fair........that took me a while to get my head around. Previous scoring was how well the group did and the best table appointing a Most Valuable Player (MVP) who would be the winner. Heck some groups had decided who their MVP would be before they started play, should they win, so the wealth of Serialed Number Items would be spread out in the group. My initial thoughts were to break scoring into three broad parts, and try to minimize some of the potential cheats/tweaks/undue influence from people trying to work the system. The three broad scoring areas were 1) progress as a table (how the group did), 2) how the players thought the other players did, and 3) how the GM thought the players did. Now #2 & #3 had a LOT of potential for abuse, but I was abe to come up with some tweaks:
  • Scoring as a group was easy.....how far along did the group progress, factored in by how many players/PCs there were. A table of 8 players could undoubtedly get farther than a group of 6 players (we did our best to have equal table sizes). That wasn't much of a change from the old HackMaster tournaments, although we did reduce the number of encounters so that every group should have a chance at finishing the adventure, where that wasn't necessarily a thing before.
  • In order to reduce playing favorites to an extent instead of having a MVP vote or even a simple rating system (which I'd seen before as well), players had to rank the rest of the table. If there were 8 players, then you stacked and racked the other players from best being #1 to relative worst being #7. You did not rank yourself. This was a bit of a pain, record keeping, but I made a quick Excel sheet before hand that factored in table size so the resulting score could be compared across all players and tables.
  • For the GM scoring players at their table that ended up being a lot easier as expected because HackMaster revealed the solution. In the HackMaster Basic book (which is free btw) there are two ratings for the GM to apply to a player's role-playing and have to do with the award of Honor, something I'll not get into. The first rating is for the player's ability to adhere to the PC's race and class. Playing a Violent Priest of the Caregiver (a Pacifist Deity).....yeah, that's going to cost you. The other rating is for adhering to the character's Quirks, Flaws, & Honor. Together it's basically "Did you play the character on your sheet, or just do whatever sounded good at the time?" Granted that is an over simplification, but easy-peasy for a HackMaster GM.
HackMaster Basic GM Rating Charts
Scoring basically was just adding up the player's score from every round they participated in. Person with the highest score wins. The 1st time I did this nobody was surprised at who won, probably because everyone was involved in the process......

Now a smart reader will notice I hadn't touched the last requirement, which was basically to try and nip potential problems in the bud so we didn't have the traditional post-tournament whining. This was actually easy, but also probably a bit overkill since at this point the vast majority of players were either not interested in the tournament as a competition or not the bitch & moan type......but since we didn't have a problem in this area that's just speculation. What I basically did was simply publish the tournament rules. The rules had a clear-cut defined resolution process for IF a problem occurred and made it clear that issues would be taken care of at tournament and only at the tournament. The rules were posted and each table was given a copy, along with a simple read & sign for all players to acknowledge that they not only understood the rules, but agreed to abide by them.

I really wish I still had these assorted documents so I could share them for the maybe one reader who might be someday considering a tournament. Was this setup perfect? I'm certain it wasn't, but did it accomplish my goals and facilitate players being able to game as much as they wanted during the games we had running at the convention? Yes, yes it did.

Really, the posts for these last two days aren't a gripe about tournaments and definitely not me patting myself on the back for running a successful tournament. Personally I'd love to see more tournaments at conventions. I think most gamers are competitive at heart, even if they are real role-players and just want to have fun. A tournament can put a little bit of different pressure on not only individual players, but on a table as a group and that pressure can change things up a little bit. Depending on the adventure the outside pressure of a tournament might actually heighten some in-game pressures, like if the adventure needs to finished within a specified amount of in-game time.....

Besides, if you have some cool company swag to award to a player, do you simply want a MVP or maybe make the player work for it? I'm kidding......or am I?

Truth though, if I managed to give one person an idea they can use....worth it. 

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