So when I started getting the characters stories for Eberron in, one of my players mentioned he worked in the fighting pits and arenas of Sharn, I knew I was going to have to do some stuff with pit fights. My slight disillusionment with downtime in regards to PCs simulating a day to day existence has made it less glamorous, so I set up An Event. A big Tournament, with, idk, 64 entries. Should be easy, right?
Step 1: Getting players involved
When I mentioned the tournament and the work I was doing for it, my brother started asking things about the people forcing the players to participate. That’s not a thing, but tropes make that an easy path to fall towards. And I think the reason for that is that tournament stories tend to happen in the Fiction Space, and coercion is required to get some characters to interact with it.
I, however, and a Gamemaster and I am not a slave to the Fiction Space. It is mine to control. So what if I have over half my group who’s characters would not participate? I’m not going to leave them out. They can describe their characters in the stands just fine, but so they aren’t sitting bored during combat, I have some characters for them to play NPCs who might do well in the contest. Makes all the gambling more exciting. But the players who choose to participate qualify to win the prize money.
I should note, by the way, that the tournament should be mostly decided before it starts. Not in terms of fixing fights, but any thought or random generation should be done before the table. Rolling for each fight at the table is lunacy (as is running each fight as real combat. Doubly so if you want to do that at the table.)
Even though a tournament is a combat and mechanics focused session, that shouldn’t be the end of your prep. There should be story, character development, foreshadowing, all that jazz. And I’ve got that in there. One of the reasons for the size of this thing was so I could place a mystery in as part of the Event. Then I went through and made sure each fight the players had was going to be interesting. Part of that is the change in rules as the tournament progresses. The first rounds are physical-based, no magic allowed. But as it progresses, the rules are less strict and the combat more varied and powerful. This keeps wizards and sorcerers from dominating in round 1, but lets interesting combatants excel in future rounds. Nice balance. (Probably. A lot of this is written before the first session of the tournament.)
So Step 1 for a tournament like this is to build your bracket (assuming you’re using a bracket style. I know there are other types, but I don’t understand them as well.). Randomly spread out the players. You can choose to do full random, but I decided players shouldn’t be fighting each other until rounds 4 or so. My players slots are spaced out throughout the bracket accordingly.
(It occurred to me at like 2am the night before the session, that there’s no reason I couldn’t have warned the players NOT competing that they could make a 2nd character to fight in the arena. I was on a call with one player, so allowed them to make a thing, but I should have given everybody that chance. It annoys me that I didn’t.)
The next thing is to add in the cool fights. I went through the list of all the subclasses that I’ve built recently and built a list of…
Look, I spent a lot of time doing things in stupid ways, because I can do that sometimes. I built 61 NPCs, with names, classes and stats, the works. Then I associated them with slots in my bracket. That means there are 38 NPCs that aren’t needed on my spreadsheet. This was not an efficient way of doing things, but it’s how I did them.
The number of opponents you need to make, btw, depends on your bracket. There’s some fiddly math I don’t know how to describe, but basically, you need to make an NPC per round, until the party starts fighting each other. So if you have 2 hour sessions or so, you should be able to get away with having just round 1 and 2 prepared for the first session, then you can prep the rest for next session.
I screwed up a ruse
One of the players wanted their character to enter in secret, and that’s why I originally was going to let non-participating players play a combatant, but then I realized that it was going to be a better experience to play other things. But I did the charade, and did what I could to keep other players from knowing that the character was incognito.
Then I screwed it up. There were apparently a bunch of things I did, as part of my narration. I’m not super mad at myself, as it’s the type of secret that can be better if the group knows about it while the characters don’t, but I am annoyed that I messed it up after so much work.
I’ve learned a lot
Making a bunch of 3rd level characters has given me interesting insights into the game. For instance, until you have an 18 in one of your stats, the barbarian’s Unarmored Defense is just a ribbon. Medium armor is a better bet. Also, optimum barbarians are super powerful if they only have 1 fight a day. 32 hp, taking half damage, and getting 2 chances at hitting with a d12 weapon that has advantage and deals +5 damage on a hit is very scary.
Need some more words, I guess, if I want to publish this. Let’s talk about the combatant’s I had made up for the party to fight.
Vosem Mudgranite, Battlerager: The battlerager is a really cool, and stupid, idea. It’s a dwarf barbarian that deals most of its damage with it’s spiked armor, throwing itself at the enemy. So I thought “Cool, why not?” and put one in. I decided I would just try and grab the opponent, dealing damage with that and my shoulder spikes. And then my luck was horrible. I had advantage on every roll and couldn’t get above a 10. I probably could have won out over the monk, but at some point the rage would have ended. I gave the player the victory
Glenzest Nicklefist, Drunken Master: I foreshadowed this character a lot, and used the dodge action to react to Ian’s assault. Ian then proceeded to roll 15+ on the die WITH disadvantage and basically ended the fight in 2 quick turns. Monks don’t have the staying power for this fight.
Ghirk Slabtooth, Gnoll Berserker. After reading Queen of Stone, I loved the idea behind Gnolls and their relationship with Byshke. So I wanted to play that up and pitted Ghirk against Jehenine in the first round. Turns out, Ghirk is scary powerful and totally steam-rolled the PC.
Wymtaags Fogspirit, Goblin Monster Slayer: Another case of bad luck giving the players the victory. Not just bad luck, as the player was kitted out in Plate with a shield, so I needed a 16 to hit, but I rolled really low for most of the attacks. But when he hit, he dealt serious damage. That just didn’t happen often.
Risu the Silver, Dragonborn Swashbuckler: I missed with the first attack, didn’t get a second. Enough said.
I think I did what I needed to make it a fun experience. Some of my players were commenting on how great of a time they had and if they should use such a session in their games. That’s a win in my book.
I think the tournament will take most of March. Next session will be aftermath of Round 1 and prep for Round 2, Session 2 will start with Round 3 and deal with the aftermath of that, which might be a decent chunk of story, Session 3 has Round 4, which is where the story is resolved and players start fighting each other, and Session 4 would be the final rounds where anything goes.
That should give me time to prepare the next part of the story. We’ll see if that’s a thing that happens.
This was sent to supporters of my Patreon before it was open to everyone else. Just sayin’