[Editor's note: Originally published in The View From Valehaven, 2nd Ed, Vol. 2, Issue 9 - September 2005]
Tried and True Tourney Tips #1
Start Together, End Together
By Steve Johnson (Sir Duncan of Rhiassa)
One of the things I will tell a prospective tournament holder is that they need to have the players start together and end together. You might think that's easy, because you have a reading of the rules and an awards ceremony, so most everyone will be together at the beginning and end of the event, right?
While that’s true, it's also missing the point.
You want your event to be entertaining and fun for everyone in attendance. Your standard tourney event will go from the Reading of the Rules right into tourney signups and the start of individual tourneys, and will often end with the end of the last individual tourney and then the awards ceremony. This kind of approach works fine for a laid back, hang-out-with-your-buddies style of tourney event, but those events are rarely the ones that get remembered for years and years and that are in the running for Best Tourneys awards at year's end.
Some players will want to hit the tourneys that are run first, and will be good enough to last deep into the later rounds of the last few tourneys of the day, but many players will take home the memory of sitting around with nothing to do for the first hour or more and possibly the last hour or more of the event. Instead of having lots of players sitting around waiting for their name to be called, I learned early on that starting your tourneys with an exciting, high-energy activity that gets everyone's blood pumping is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the day. You probably want that first activity to be optional, so latecomers aren't screwed and players that are still setting up tents or checking in don’t get stressed out, but I would definitely try to get as many people involved as possible.
As for the end of the event, you will have lots of players who will walk away feeling like they could have left several hours before the end of the awards ceremony if you don't actively try to engage all of your players. Those who didn‘t win awards and who didn‘t participate in or do well in the final tourneys of the afternoon may wish they had hit the road, especially if they have a long drive ahead of them. Giving people a reason to stay for the last group tourney or war maneuver may result in more people being at the awards ceremony and event wrap-up.
Over the years, throwing Tourneys of Chiron, Feast of Min and the Queen of Hearts events, I've tried to tackle this issue in a lot of different ways. Most of the time my efforts seemed to work and some of the excuses for having everyone participate were really popular and have been used again both at my events and by others.
One of the earliest instances of trying to get players to start together was at one of the first Tournaments of Chiron back at UMass Amherst in 1993 or 1994. I wanted to start with a Grand Melee.
Rather than have one Grand Melee that would last just a few minutes followed by the usual business of sitting around waiting to be called for your tourney, I figured we would have the winner have to win two Grand Melees. To make it harder, we marked everyone who had won one and made them start in the middle. The marshals then called attention to the "winners" and we did our best to make sure that players were aware of who they should be gunning for if they wanted to have a chance at winning. I called it a “Grand Melee from Hell" and it's been seen now and then in the Realms ever since.
At the Tournaments of Rhiassa, held by my squire, Cedric of Rhiassa, I helped him develop a set of tourneys that would keep players engaged from the Reading of the Rules right up to the Awards Ceremony. I think we started with the GMFH and we ended with something I heard about from the SCA called the Warlords Tourney. The Warlords Tourney is simple. Everyone on site lines up and the line is doubled back on itself so that every player is faced with an opponent. Those pairs all fight, and the loser of each fight becomes the follower of the person that beat them. The teams of two you just formed now have to fight each other, with the losing pair of each fight becoming the follower of the leader of the winning team. Your teams of two become teams of four, then teams of eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. The winning Warlord is the person who was on the winning side of every single round of the tourney. Pretty much anyone can win, and you get a lot of interesting groups and teams.
For our Warlords Tourney, we tried to make the levels interesting. The one on one fights and the pairs were straightforward, but for the eight and sixteen player teams we had bridges and capture the flag. I don't recall how many rounds we went or exactly what we did for each level, but the result was pretty good. Players enjoyed rallying around someone different, and fun was had by all. The chaotic nature of the genesis of the teams left players less invested in winning and more invested in having fun because they lost the clique-based competitiveness that comes with so many group tourneys.
I could actually imagine having Queen of Hearts run a Warlords Tourney where teams would fight each other in the early rounds and by the later rounds be hopelessly mixed together. The winning warlord would win the War Maneuver for their team. It might not be feasible because some players would throw fights if their teammate was the opposing warlord in the tourney, but it's worth thinking about. It would be a good thing to give players the chance to break down the barriers that develop between the teams during Queen of Hearts, that’s for sure.
In the early days of Queen of Hearts we went to great lengths to provide fun and interesting War Maneuvers for everyone to participate in at the start of the event. We always made them optional, as players tend to straggle in and need to set up their tents and check in their magic, but it was important to us to provide the opportunity for them to do something as soon as the rules were read and the teams were introduced.
Our early attempts were called "Quests," and the most memorable was the Maiden Quest. As soon as the rules were read, we told the teams’ seneschals that a maiden had been abducted by a local troll and needed to be rescued. The team that brought her back would win. The excitement generated by dozens of young adventurers tearing off to get their equipment and start searching the woods was always a great way to energize the event site, and you generally always knew when the event had started because chaos erupted and people were running everywhere. For the Maiden Quest we had a woman guarded by a troll deep in the woods. However, halfway down to the woods, on the other side of a field, we planted a guy with long hair wearing a dress and standing with his back to the path the players would be walking on. One team actually tore across the field, turned the false “Maiden" around to discover a dude with a beard, and brought him back to the marshals anyways.
Over the years we also had “Fetch” war maneuvers where the team that brought a specific item back to the marshals would win. For Queen of Hearts X we had the players fetch the flagpole for the castle. Fortunately, they managed to suppress the urge to use it as a weapon.
Ending together at Queen of Hearts is something we figured out early and have been doing it the same way since the very first year. We run a Team Grand Melee, so that everyone is on the field at once. If we have enough time and interest from players, we run it until a team wins twice consecutively, but with less than four teams, I've always felt it was a little lacking. After TGM, we run “Queen's War", which is a tourney designed to encourage everyone to enjoy both as participants and as an audience. All of the teams gather around and send players into the middle to fight. Winners can add an extra player to their line of players that are still “active” and when only one team is left, it‘s over. The amount of cheering, wise-cracking and audience participation I’ve seen at Queen's War is something I'd never seen before in the Realms, and is something I will sorely miss. It‘s a huge part of what makes Queen of Hearts a special, if not magical experience, and is the best example I can think of for a way to “end together" at a tourney event.
If you are thinking of planning a tourney event, think about the experience of your players first. You can’t cater to them all, but if you want to throw a good one you have to try.
What better way to do that than to start together and end together?
It sure beats starting alone and ending alone.