Saturday, May 21, 2011
Designing good missions for competitive 40k tournaments
I write for Bells of the Lost Souls and had this article of mine published this week. I would like to share it here...
Lets talk about designing a good and well balanced mission for a competitive track 40k tournament. We'll focus on straight up 40k from the rulebook, not Apocalypse, campaigns or other systems.
The article is based upon my experience as a tournament organizer - I've run many RTTs and several independent GTs as well. As is the case with anything in life its important to learn from both the good and bad. If you simply focus on what worked well for you then you'll probably keep on making the same types of mistakes and this could well diminish your reputation as a tournament organizer!
Keep in mind that the approach to running events changes over time. For example soft scores and the appearance of your army were very popular not too long ago but now it seems most people across the country prefer a competitive track and we see lots of 'counts as' armies cropping up all over the place. Events that use soft scores and put a lot of weight into army appearance are now commonly referred to as hobby events. Probably this will change again to some degree over the next five years. It's hard to say what will be the next big thing.
There are a lot of aspects to designing a good balanced mission that all need to be carefully considered... For example I think it's most important that a mission does not give a big advantage to one type of army build - Night Fight all game for example is hard on shooty armies and can really help assault oriented armies a lot.
Some of the things I'll discuss are actually more related to the overall tournament system rather than a particular aspect of designing a mission (e.g., total game time). I think it's important to touch on these as well since they are for all practical purposes joined at the hip for life - you can't have one without the other in a tournament setting.
Mission Design within the Overall System
The missions should integrate well with the system you choose to decide who are the winners. You can have the best missions ever but if there is some hidden flaw(s) in your overall system then it potentially can lead to some real problems at the end of the event and nobody wants that to happen - most especially the tournament organizers. You need to have a very good idea how many participants will attend and what will be the most prevalent types of armies. Knowing this information ahead of time will help you to design good balanced missions that work well within the overall system.
Play Testing the Missions
One of the most important aspects to designing a good mission is to play test them a lot using as many different armies as possible. Provide your sample missions to top players as well as your participants and openly solicit their feedback. The more people play test your missions the more constructive feedback you'll receive to better improve them. A tournament organizer should completely understand all the mechanics of their missions. If you plan to run a large event then it's a good practice to run some RTTs well in advance - you can then hopefully find the hidden flaws and correct them. The advantage to running an RTT(s) in advance is that you will also be testing your overall system as well.
I think it's important for the tournament organizers to provide some sample missions ahead of time so the players have a good idea of what to expect. If you provide sample missions well enough in advance then you can take the feedback from your participants and refine your missions. Remember though that it's impossible to make everyone completely happy in regards to each mission - that's just the way it is.
Things to Avoid
Based upon my experience here are some things to avoid:
Overly Specialized Rules or Scenario Conditions
The first one that pops up in my mind are special rules. Sure it's a lot of fun when designing a mission to come up with some crazy stuff but if you go overboard you can take the game out of the hands of the players. No one wants to lose a game because some crazy condition boned them hard. The more special rules you include the harder it is for the players to remember them all and there is a greater chance they might not play them correctly. What you want is everyone playing by the exact same set of rules for each mission.
Here is an example of a special rule I don't like - there is one objective marker and it randomly scatters 2d6 inches at the start of each turn plus on a roll of 5+ on 1d6 if a unit is holding it then they lose control (i.e., fumble). This is commonly referred to in some areas as A Pig in a Poke. While this could be fun for a pickup game with a friend I think it can easily lead to some problems in a competitive tournament environment - first there is only one objective marker and second just by the sheer fickleness of this special rule it could be completely random which player wins... For example you go first, gain control of the objective marker during the second turn, then at the top of the fifth turn your squad fumbles it and the objective marker then scatters 12" right in front of an enemy scoring unit... The game then ends after the fifth turn. QQ
Complicated Specialized Rules or Scenario Conditions
This is directly tied to my first example of what to avoid - if a special rule or scenario condition is complicated then there is a greater chance some of the players won't properly interpret it - this leads to players at various tables playing by different sets of rules. I've seen this happen many times at tournaments I've attended in the past. Basically it's unfair - as I've said everyone should be playing by the same exact set of rules and I can't stress that enough here.
If you do decide to include some special rules then a judge should clearly explain them prior to any deployment before the start of the game. Make sure everyone hears you, speak clearly and fully address any questions so there is no chance for any possible confusion on the part of your participants. The judge should also cover all aspects each particular mission during these debriefings. I think it's a good practice to hand out all the missions during onsite registration prior to the start of the first game so that everybody playing has the opportunity to read them from front to back. The players can then start forming up any questions they might have well ahead of time.
Total Game Time per Round
I believe there should be enough time for the players to finish six turns. I have found that 2.5 hours is enough time for 2000 points. (WargamesCon uses 2 hours, but they do play fast down in Texas)
Random Game Length
Random game length (RGL) was introduced to 40k with the release of 5th edition. RGL forces players to make some hard choices in regards to designing their army lists. For example if there was no RGL then I think mech eldar armies would be much more popular - zoom your skimmers around the table each turn then the final turn tank shock enemy units off of the objectives for the win. I do see the virtue to RGL but on the other hand I've seen lots of games that only went five turns and the winner just pulled it off by the skin on their teeth. It's worked for me as well as against - mostly against. That's okay if you can win lots of games as such but on the other hand this result could just be the luck of one roll to end the game... One more turn and it could have been a massacre for the other player.
I like there to be six turns and then a possible seventh turn to end the game. I've seen games where a player held their army in reserve and then only had the bulk of their army actually on the table for no more than two turns - to me that's too much of a kill point denial system.
So ends the first part of this article. I've touched on a lot of aspects to designing a mission properly but there is still a lot more to cover such as your choices for mission objectives.
On a related note I'll be hosting a GT this coming October... Here is the link to the website:
I'll be designing the missions based upon what I've said here and welcome your feedback. : )
So what are things you most like or dislike regarding missions you have played at tournaments? Lets get the community in here and help get out ideas on what a "perfect tourney mission" looks like.