The Final Moments of the Dying Earth Team Tournament

Ālea iacta est: The Final Moments of The DCC Dying Earth Tournament at Gen Con 2023

by Harley Stroh with Terry Olson

The 2023 Gen Con Open was as grand in scope and ambition as the source material from which it was born. Terry Olson, Marc Bruner, and their cadre of designers invited us to take part in the very last moments of Dying Earth, when cabals of rival magicians vied for supremacy across a seemingly endless series of demiplanes, each questing for the means to survive the collapse of the universe.

Judging a DCC tournament games is no small feat, but the task was doubly so with new classes derived from the Dying Earth box setting, mixed with mind-wrenching puzzles, unknown monsters, and the complete freedom of parties to pass between the spheres almost at will — stymying foes and judges alike!

Design and writing began last November, and beginning in March, the tournament underwent a series of rigorous playtests. Sprawling worlds (meriting dedicated adventures of their own) were tightened and focused. Puzzles were written, revised, and written again. Challenges were tested, found wanting, and resubmitted. And in the end, each encounter was honed to a deadly edge fully worthy of challenging the would-be Arch-Daihaks of Dying Earth.

But if the challenges to the judges were daunting, those presented to the players were nothing less than epic. Parties had to contend with some of the most difficult puzzles and deadliest foes yet presented in a tournament setting. A single misstep could (and did!) spiral into to a TPK. Allotting too much time to a single puzzle could cost a team the round. And defaulting to violence as a means to an end was nearly guaranteed to end poorly.

This is Dying Earth after all.

* * *

Round Two of the tournament was a closely held secret. The second half of the round ended in a bloody free-for-all where each cabal was pitted against the others, in real time battle royale. Yes, you read that right: the conclusion of round two was an officially sanctioned Player Vs. Player event, where the five remaining teams discovered that they weren’t navigating a new dungeon level, but were in fact battling one another! A total of twenty-five players, issuing commands through party callers, vied for mastery of Dying Earth!

Early on, the designers agreed that if there wasn’t a lone victor at the end of the round, that there would be no champions. The purpose was two-fold: first, to motivate teams that might otherwise succumb to inaction, and second to hew to the Dying Earth ethos of “last magician standing.”

But as the battle royale kicked off, we realized our error. The game was captivating, but time was not on our side. Rather than making desperate attacks on one another, the teams began plotting increasingly brilliant and byzantine stratagems. Players loomed over the central table like fevered generals. Interparty tensions flared. Command decisions were questioned, confirmed, and then questioned again. Arcane flames rained down across the battlefield; illusory foes sprang to life; the land itself rose up in retribution; and all the while, the slipping sands of the hourglass raised the stakes ever higher.

It was everything a judge could hope for: twenty-five players and five judges, all emotionally invested in what had begun as a mere con game.

But our time had run out. Forsaking our original decision, we did what had never been done before in a DCC open: the tournament went into overtime.

Alas, even this wasn’t enough.

As the final minutes ticked down, it became clear that the tournament would need to end in a roll-off. Bonuses were quickly determined, based upon how well a team had done in the prior round, how many resources had been conserved, and each team’s overall health.

Some, like Vice Squad, were clinging to a cliff edge, desperate to avert disaster. Others, like Team Ramrod (who had cast enlarge early on in the tournament, cleverly amplifying their hit points) had played cautiously, conserved resources, and were heavily favored to win.

The universe, however, evinces no true stability.

The crowd of thirty souls looked on as the final dice of the day spilled out of the mouth of Wizard Wayne’s monstrous dice tower. Los Hermanos Jabronis rolled well. All eyes turned to the final party to roll: Team Ramrod. The die thundered as it traveled down the tower, and when it came to a stop, it captured a reversal of fortunes that was all too fitting for Dying Earth.

Team Ramrod had rolled a 1.

Deafening chants of “Blood! Blood! Blood!” filled the stadium as Los Hermanos Jabronis ascended their mighty god thrones to be crowned Arch-Daihaks of Dying Earth.

* * *

The head-to-head finale of Arch-Daihaks fueled an emotional pitch unique in the history of DCC opens. We have ended tournaments with dice offs before, but this year’s conclusion – a raucous triumph for some, and a heart-breaking loss for others – will not be soon forgotten.

To the mighty Los Hermanos Jabronis, we salute you! We shall scribe your names upon the unholy Doom Gong, inspiring awe and dread in gamers for generations to come.

And to all those players courageous enough to tread the environs of Dying Earth, we salute you! We hope you will join us again for next year’s tournament. For wherever the DCC Open takes us, it will be an adventure to remember.

To see even more of our Gen Con 2023 coverage, visit our Gen Con 2023 headquarters

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