The Greatest Thieves in Lankhmar brought the Gen Con Team Tournament to the infamous City of the Black Toga. The tournament ranged from the hot cellars beneath Thieves’ House, to the sooty rooftops, and concluded with a mad dash through the palace of the Overlord.
Characters died alone, lost beneath Thieves’ House, as their torches burnt out, one by one. Slayers stalked the city in search of the PCs, even as washer-mongers took up arms (undies?) in the party’s defense. A fête of masked dancers was rudely interrupted by a band of bloodied alley-bashers, and polar bears were spotted on Cheap Street, near Death’s Alley.
PCs died, judges cursed, players wailed, and a grand time was had by all.
In short, it was just another game of DCC. But what a game….
The 2019 Gen Con DCC Team Tournament saw our largest crew of judges to date. Several new stalwarts stepped up to assume the mantle of tournament judge, and all acquitted themselves with honor.
For those of us that haven’t ever judged a tournament adventure, let alone one at Gen Con, it is a high wire act with no net. Judges met the night before Gen Con, and then every night following, to review rounds, come to a consensus on rulings, and work through logistics. When the entire Goodman tribe comes together but once a year, this is no small sacrifice. To sit amongst the gathering of this year’s judges was humbling – all that they do is for the love of the game.
For all our prep, brilliant players still managed to stymie judges and break their brains. At a home game, you might call a five-minute recess to sort out just what the hell is going on, but the tournament offers no such respite.
Instead, judges had to adjudicate on the fly, in situations like these: If I use fleeting Luck to max out animal summoning, just how many polar bears or lions do I get? (Twenty-five. Let’s bust out some stats.) I cast levitate to crush a room of foes against the ceiling at a rate of 20’ per round, how much damage does that inflict? (Uh, 2d6 per round.) I pickpocketed that Slayer, does he have a vial of poison in his belt pouch? (Give me a Luck check.) Max levitate says I can move castles, does that mean the Overlord’s Palace, too? (No. Ningauble can’t afford the attention.) If I change my Patron to Brendan LaSalle, does that mean he will come to my aid? (Only if you promise to back his next Kickstarter.)
And what if my table does all this at once?
Fortunately, our judges are among the best. But this year—as a back-up—we also appointed a roving pit boss whose sole job was to float between tables, ensuring that similar situations received similar adjudications, that stat blocks for lions reflected those for polar bears and other such nuances.
At best, it made us 3rd level tournament judges, but every little bit helps.
The second defining element of this year’s tournament was the puzzles. All the while the PCs were crawling through dusty cellars, scrambling across tiled rooftops, and plunging through palaces, they were also expected to solve increasingly maddening puzzles. The consequences for any misstep was dire – if not fatal – as more than one team discovered when a “helpful” teammate opted to reset the challenge.
Good puzzle writing is a unique challenge for RPG designers. Goad’s Second Law puts it best:
If the players can solve a puzzle it is too easy.
If the players can’t solve a puzzle it is too hard.
(For those keeping score at home, Goad’s First Law is that wizards are able to cast cleric spells.)
The trick to a good puzzle is in ensuring that the solution doesn’t hinge on the players thinking the way the designer thinks. Much liked the apocryphal locked door at the entrance to the dungeon, a good puzzle needs multiple solutions – each with unique consequences for the PCs to weigh.
While we didn’t succeed in meeting these design goals in every puzzle this year, it is sure to inform the designs of future tournaments.
When the dust finally settled on the streets of Lankhmar, the blood washed from the cobbles, the tenement fires doused, the guards returned to their stations, and the thieves abed, we can say with full confidence that this was our most enjoyable tournament to date. (For judges and players alike.)
…For those unable to get tickets, please accept our apologies. We look forward to more tables and more judges next Gen Con!
…For those brave teams that perished beneath Thieves’ House, atop the roofs of Lankhmar, or bleeding against a certain pillar in the Overlords Palace: We salute you. You made every game memorable, and we hope to see your smiling faces next year.
…And to Consolidated Arson and Stabbing LLC, Sponsored by Mace Hardware, and Oh, God! – three fabulous teams whose scores were the highest –we hope you can rest well, satisfied by your accomplishments, and reveling in your accolades.
But not for too long. A grim specter beckons from Origins and Gen Con 2020, and there is but a single year to prepare.
See you in the pits!
– Judges Marc & Harley