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Running a Tournament

by Avian

Having run more than a dozen tournaments over the years, I thought it was time for me to share my experience with others. What follows is a fairly comprehensive guide which contains what I hope are useful hints and tips on everything from planning done months in advance to how to select the best painted army.

Stuff I use when running tournaments:






Best General



The first step in organising a tournament is wanting to have one. Perhaps the number of players locally have been growing lately and you want a tournament of your own, or perhaps there is a local tournie held the same time every year and this time you ended up with the responsibility. In any case, I would recommend finding someone to organise it with - it is much easier if you have someone to help you out. This can range from helping to play test scenarios, to setting up the terrain, to organising the voting for best painted army. Or you could be two or more people who share the work load equally. At the very least, having someone to bounce ideas off of is recommended, to make sure you don't plan on something that just won't work. This is doubly true if you are relatively new to running tournaments - when I was new at it, I would frequently come up with wacky special rules that were not balanced at all and it was good to have friends around to help me realise this (obviously not easy, as I am very stubborn).

When you have gotten yourself one or more people to organise things with you, there are some main things to consider. You should discuss these and inform about them a good time in advance:


What kind of people do you want?

This first decision will dictate a lot of the other decisions that come later. If you want a tournament for players in your local club, you can tool the restrictions accordingly after what you know they prefer. You should have a good idea of the number of participants and you may even have a place to hold the tournament. Such a tournament requires little in the way of preparation and is easy to set up a short time in advance. On the other end of the scale you have a larger tournament that hopes to attract players from further away, possibly many hundreds of kilometres. In this case you don't really know what people prefer and you will have to make an estimated guess.

The number of participants you think you will have will influence a lot of things, such as how expensive a location you can rent. Thus if you want an expensive place, you need to make sure you can get enough people to pay for it (if you don't need to pay for the place you can of course do pretty much what you like). That means either more work put into advertising or fewer restrictions so more people will attend. Of course, some restrictions will get more people to attend, but in my experience the more "out of the box", the more players.



Advertising should be started as soon as possible, preferably as soon as you have decided to run the event. I would recommend at least two months in advance of the actual tournament. Fixing the date and letting people know about this is then the second highest priority. I can heartily recommend having a website for the tournament where people can easily find updated information about it, along with an email address they can send questions to. It's not difficult to make a simple website, but it is much easier for people from out of town who may want to attend.

The full scenario and rules package should be online at least a month in advance, to give people a chance to prepare. If possible, you should consider publishing a preliminary package first which people can comment on, and then a final package later. If you are relatively new to organising and have a lot of fresh ideas, you should expect that some people will disagree. If you are discussing the tournament setup on a forum where not everybody know each other, you should also expect that some people will be less than polite when saying what they think. Whether or not they have a point, try not to take critisism personally. What I recommend is allowing people to say what they like, and then discussing the issues with the other organisers at a meeting. If necessary you can vote over things. The most important thing, as I see it, is that while everybody can say what they think, only those who actually help make the tournament happen get to make the decisions. If people are not happy, they can help out next time.

Good places to advertise are in game stores, on forums where you know people who might attend post and on emailing lists (which seem to be dropping more and more out of fashion). If you think that people from other towns may be interested in attending, getting in contact with someone there and asking them to spread the word is helpful. If possible, having one or more people in the organising committee who just work on advertising is highly recommended. These can then forward any questions they can't answers to the appropriate other committee member.



Finding a good place to hold the tournament is often the most important task in holding the tournament, if you haven't gotten this you are in deep trouble regardless of other factors. As I see it, a good location has the following properties:

In my experience, schools are often good places to hold tournaments, as they tend to have a lot of tables and are designed to accommodate a lot of smelly youths. They also tend to be relatively cheap to rent, especially if one of the organizers studies there. Game stores are not recommended as a place to hold a tournament, as they very rarely have enough space and very rarely have good enough ventilation. Additionally, their opening hours are often not suited to a tournament.

If you are running a somewhat longer tournament, you can also consider having a mini snack bar and selling some sodas and chocolate to the players. You should probably not try to aim for too big a profit, but you can get a bit of extra cash in this way. We also give away unlimited free coffee and tea as part of the entry fee.



Obviously, the schedule must be adapted to the people you hope to get. If people work or study, then starting the tournament in the morning on a workday is a certain way of getting very few players (one local store tried to start a tournament at 11 in the morning, and got next to no people showing up). Similarly, if people will commute by bus, you can't start before the buses start running in the morning. Buses here in Trondheim don't start running till around ten on Sundays, which means that the day's battles cannot start until eleven. Twice I have had people from Oslo (who want to start early so they can get home earlier) suggest that we start before people can actually get there, and that it would not be our problem if local people could not show up. Apparently their schedule is our problem while everyone else's schedules isn't. I guess living in a capital long enough does that to your head.

Given the option to choose, I prefer three hours per battle, as this gives most player enough time to finish, even at a relatively leisurely pace (and the quicker players have some time to wander around and chat with each other). You can shorten the time to around two and a half hours if you must, but I prefer not to as you can end up punishing those players unlucky enough to end up fighting against slow opponents and you get more moves that have not been thought through. You can say that being able to play well under time pressure is a valuable skill, but in my opinion you get better results and happier participants with a decent amount of time. Sometimes, though, you have less flexibility than you'd have liked, for example if you run a tournament as part of a larger gaming event, and in those cases you'll just have to do the best you can and hope the players will be understanding.

As mentioned above, I prefer three battles per (full) day. I tend to schedule the first two back-to-back, with around 90 minutes between the second and third battle. This gives players enough time to get something to eat and you have a buffer if either of the first two battles get delayed. As delays are something that tends to happen for a wide range of reasons I would advise you to set up two time schedules, one official one and one for you where you reckon that everything on the schedule will take 15 minutes longer than you'd hoped.



Usually, the better the players at the tournament know each other, the fewer restrictions will be needed, as a group of people who know each other well tends to arrive at some concensus of what is acceptable by themselves. For a less local tournament, people will not all know each other and what is considered acceptable. To make some effort at standardisation, some issues should be clarified:

For a long time those tournaments I ran got along okay with the above. However, eventually the players got sick of a those few who brought very one-trick armies that were very dull to fight against. Usually, the players had figured out (either by themselves or by reading on the internet) which units were the best and had maxed out those. This dullness was limited somewhat by the composition restrictions below:

These were fairly minimal and though they did not prevent all the one-trick ponies, they helped a lot. Some armies restrict how many magic dice a player can use per round, though I am not a fan of that, as the value of Power Dice varies a lot from army to army - an army with very effective spells but which has difficulty getting a lot of dice is not affected much, while an army with a lot of dice but not very good spells will be. I think that restrictions on character choices help a lot on this anyway.

Related to restrictions, special rules that apply throughout the tournament and the scenarios will (or at least should) also go some way in encouraging more varied army lists.


Proxy miniatures

Your tournament rule set should include some rules or guidelines about proxies - using a model as something it isn't. We are quite liberal here and have the following restrictions:


Determining the winner

I prefer the maximum number of points you can get in a tournament to be two thirds battle points, one sixth painting and one sixth "best general" (see below). The maximum score will then depend on the number of battles, since it will be one and a half times the maximum battle score. The maximum battle score is in turn four or five times the maximum score of a single battle, depending on how many battles the tournament is. With the average maximum battle score being 12 points (see below), a four-battle tournament has a maximum score of 72 pts (48 battle, 12 painting and 12 best general) and a five-battle tournament a maximum score of 90 pts.

With painting points being relatively easy to get I feel that fully-painted armies are encouraged and by giving out relatively high "best general" scores I think that idiots are kept out of the top three. Of course, with so high generalship scores, the system needs to be very difficult to abuse.

The winner of the tournament is (surprise, surprise) the one with the highest tournament score. In case of a tie, the player with the highest battle points score wins. If it is still a tie, the highest Best General score wins.



While shops are mostly rubbish as places to hold a tournament, they can often be helpful in sponsoring prizes. It certainly helps if you know some of the people who work there and offer them some advertising in return. Prizes should be something most players (or at least most players who win tournaments) can use, so try to stay away from overly limited models. Dragons, Giants and Regiments of Renown are all good stuff. Painting kits and so on are a bit more limited. Gift certificates in local stores are also an option, but are generally better for smaller, local tournaments.

Of course, you do not strictly speaking need prizes, but people tend to appreciate them, even if they don't win. You can also consider a separate prize for the best painted army.



One thing you should consider in advance is whether or not you, the organizer, will play in the tournament. I would suggest that you do not, and that if you do, you add the limitation that you can't win and that your points will not be counted. At least I would not recommend playing if there is an even number of players (except you), since that would just complicate things. Instead I find that having time to go around answering rules questions is a better way of doing it and I play so often anyway that I don't mind not participating myself.


The number of battles

With regards to the number of battles, I would say that if you want to get a good indication of who is actually the best player, four is enough. You can do five or more if you want to, but four is about as accurate as you are going to get anyway. The diagram below illustrates what I mean. It shows how far players on average jump in the rankings, measured in percentages, where a 100% jump would mean a jump from the top to the bottom position (or vice-versa). You can see that from the first to the fifth round, the average player jumps more than a quarter of the length of the table. After the third round, the average number is down to about 10% and it doesn't get much better than this. Thus we see that the ranking after the third turn is about equally different from the final scoring as the ranking after the fourth turn is. Given that the differences doesn't go noticeably down, a five-round tournament therefore gives you just as "accurate" (or "fair") results as a four-round tournament.

Of course, tournaments are never going to be completely "fair" (for a given value of fair). Let's for example say that the two best players face each other in the last round. Either one player will lose, in which case people lower in the ranking will probably go past him, or the battle will be a draw, in which case both players may be passed by players lower in the ranking. There is no easy way of avoiding this and most people seem to accept it anyway.

Thus, whether to run four or more battles should be a matter of how much time you have. I would recommend not having more than three battles per day. Any more than that and you tend to get very tired players. One tournament I attended had hoped to get in five battles in a single day and needless to say, the fourth saw some very tired players and some very bad playing. People start to forget things, they make mistakes, they get cranky and you get results that in general say very little about how good players they are normally.


Who fights whom?

The way we do it, and the way I guess it is mostly done, is to randomly select opponents in the first turn and then in later rounds people face players with roughly the same number of tournament points as themselves. Going into a bit more detail, I prefer to keep a record of the tournament on pieces of paper instead of using a laptop. This is partly because I find it is easier to allocate random opponents with pieces of paper, partly because at one time the laptop crashed halfway through the event, but mostly because a friend of mine got his laptop stolen while it was used in this manner!

So now, upon registration, players are asked to roll a D100 (that is two D10s, one being the tens and the other then ones) and the lowest rolling player fights the second-lowest player, and so on. I tend to say that if people get drawn against people they fight very often, they can notify me and I will randomly allocate a different opponent, but only in the first turn. This is simply because it is no fun travelling hundreds of kilometres and then fighting the same guy you play against every week. In later turns people don't have this option and will have to fight whomever they get. In later turns, people fight opponents with roughly the same tournament score as themselves, with the guy with the most points fighting the second-highest, and so on. I keep a record of who has fought whom and if people would end up fighting an opponent twice, they will instead get the next guy on the list.

If there is an even number of players everything is fine, but if you have an uneven number, you must have some plan for what to do. The most obvious alternative is to have a "spare" player (which can be you) who can step in on these occasions, though often this is not convenient or possible. Generally, the best and easiest solution is to give the player on the bottom of the result table a walkover (no more than one walkover per person), giving him points equal to a draw. A draw result is what I use because that is better than most of his battle results anyway and you are not excessively rewarding him for something he had nothing to do with. Another alternative is to give him points equal to his average result so far.



When it comes to which scenarios to use, there are a couple of rules of thumb I would suggest you keep in mind:

Personally, my tournament scenarios try to encourage decently large blocked combat infantry, as they are generally suffering in this edition. Thus I have one general rule which defines scoring units as a concept, a scoring unit being any non-fleeing unit with a Unit Strength of 10+, an initial cost of 50+ pts which is not a swarm. You need a scoring unit to hold or contest table quarters, and some of the scenarios also make use of this.

I use three special scenarios and have standard Pitched Battle scenarios for the first and last battles. I have found that you should at least have a standard battle for the first game of the tournament, since it lets people get on with playing right away without needing to check up on a lot of special scenario rules. Having the last battle be a standard one also works well in my opinion, as it makes the "decisive" battle a standard one. At one tournament I ran, one player (Wood Elves, naturally) complained the whole weekend about how the special scenarios favoured all armies except his and then he would have won the whole thing if he hadn't lost a bog standard Pitched Battle in the last round. Some people!

This scenario uses diagonal deployment and more points for holding table quarters. The result is that a gun line army that just hangs back and shoots tends to end up in a single quarter, leaving the other army to hold three quarters and contest the last, earning them a lot of extra VPs. Gun line players who want a decent chance must therefore include units that can advance and grab quarters.

Another scenario that uses diagonal deployment, this time more to get some variation into it and make range estimation a little bit trickier. This scenario rewards buying a lot of standards, whereas other scenarios that give extra points for standards generally rewards taking few. This is probably unintentional in most cases, but by giving a lot of extra VPs to the player who captured the most banners from his opponent, you make it less interesting to take a lot of banners. Thus my scenario adds the number of banners you capture to the number of your own you manage to keep and gives a bonus to the player with the greatest number of standards in total.

Take and Hold
One thing I don't like about most capture-type scenarios is that you don't have to think about the victory conditions, you can just beat up the enemy army and then get the objective by default at the end. My version forces players to start concentrating about the objective from the start, by giving VPs for holding it starting with the third turn onward. This is also a scenario that focuses on scoring units, so people need those if they want to do well.
If the tournament is only four battles, this scenario is not used.



It is highly recommended that terrain on the tables is not influenced by the players, it should all be pre-determined in advance and people can not move it around as they wish. This obviously takes a bit of time before the start of the tournament and having one or two sensible and experienced people tasked with this is recommended. I prefer around five to six medium-sized pieces of terrain per table, set up to provide a challenge for most armies. You are never going to satisfy everybody with regards to terrain, though a good rule of thumb is that if the horde players thinks there is a bit too much terrain while the Wood Elf players thinks there is a bit too little terrain, you have gotten a good compromise. If you are in doubt, a bit too little is generally better than a bit too much - once I fought on a table where we were essentially limited to using half the table because the other half was too cluttered.

Some people like tables to be themed (i.e. some tables with a jungle theme, some with a mountain theme, and so on). I am not a fan of this, as I think the table you end up fighting on should not make that much of a difference. Thus tables should be somewhat equal in the amount and type of terrain, though often what terrain you have at your disposal will limit this. Borrowing terrain from local game clubs and stores is highly recommended and probably necessary, though you can also have terrain making nights before the tournament, possibly with a discount on the entry fee for those who help make terrain.

I let people bring their own terrain if they wish, but this terrain must first be approved by the organisers, it will still be set up by them and people have no kind of guarantee that they will ever get to fight on tables with their own terrain.
A note of caution: At one tournament some friends of mine attended, the organiser was not only playing, he was always fighting on the same table and the terrain on that table was set up to give him the greatest possible advantage. Suffice to say, that gave him quite a bad reputation.

Which table people fight on should be randomly determined and I use much the same method for allocating tables as for allocating opponents. All the tables are numbered and I have a stack of notes with the same numbers on, so after opponents are determined, a table is randomly allocated. People will not fight on the same table twice whenever possible and if it isn't all add up, it is the people lowest on the ranking that must fight on a table they've already been on. Needless to say, you must also keep a record of which tables a player has fought on.


Victory Points

Using the standard limitations for what constitutes a Draw, Minor Victory, Solid Victory and Massacre doesn't work well in my opinion, especially not in a tournament. With the way tournament lists are often built and with a limit on massacres in a 2,000 pt game being a ridiculously low 1,200 pt difference, most battles will be massacres. I don't find this very interesting and so I have altered the table accordingly. Thus the limit for a massacre is a difference of about the same number of points as the armies are. For example you need to win by 2,500 pts in a 2,500 pt tournament in order to score a massacre.

2500 pt tournament
VP difference Equates to % of army size
0 - 699 Draw 0 - 28 %
700 - 1499 Minor Victory 28 - 60 %
1500 - 2499 Solid Victory 60 - 100 %
2500+ Massacre 100 % +


Tournament Points

In addition to altering the VP table, I have found that giving the same number of tournament points for all battles in the event doesn't work all that well. In the first round, for example, you will meet a random opponent and so a good player who happens to meet a newbie will get a very easy match, whereas a player that faces someone on his own level gets a much more difficult battle. To make the luck of the draw less of a factor, I give less tournament points for a victory in the first round, and more points for a loss. Related to this, players get more points for a win in the last turn, since it keeps the excitement for longer, with players being able to jump higher on the table in a battle against someone that should be pretty much equally good as themselves.

Degree of victory First battle Middle ones Last battle
Draw 6 - 6 6 - 6 6 - 6
Minor Victory 7 - 5 8 - 4 9 - 4
Solid Victory 8 - 4 10 - 2 12 - 2
Massacre 9 - 3 12 - 0 15 - 0

As you can see, I use 12 as the basic number of points you can get per battle, which I find is the best given the degrees of victory / loss you can get (there are 7 degrees, so something divisible by one less than 7 is the easiest to work with).



The tournaments I run do not require people to have a fully painted army - we just would not get enough players if we required this to pay the rent. If you think you can get enough players with painted armies then you can require this, but that isn't an option for us. Instead we give out quite high scores for a painted army, without requiring it to be well painted, hoping to encourage players to put a bit of effort into painting.


Painting Score

As mentioned above, the maximum paint score is one sixth of the maximum score for the tournament (or one fourth of the maximum battle score). For a four-battle tournament this gives up to 12 pts for painting, while in a five-battle tournament, the max score for painting is 15. I prefer a simple system for giving out paint scores, simply counting how many quarters of his army a player has painted. In a four-battle tournament you get 2 pts for each quarter painted and in a five-battle tournament you get 3. For armies that are not fully painted you can get one or two extra points (only one extra for a four-battle tournament) if the judge(s) think you have put extra effort into the painting.

The requirements I use for when a model is painted is a minimum of four colours on the model itself, plus a painted base. Shading / highlighting does not count towards the number of colours. For some models, it would not be natural to use that many colours (Spirit Hosts, for example) and those can be counted as painted with fewer colours. I count borrowed models and proxies as unpainted.


Best painted army

After having tried out some various methods for finding the best painted army according to what the players seemed to want, I have now settled on everybody voting. Players can vote for any player with a fully painted army other than themselves and can nominate up to three people in order from best to third-best painted. This seems to cause the least about of complaints.

Voting is done at some convenient point in the tournament (if you have a long break for food, that is a good time a people can set up their army and display it properly), when everybody gets a note and an explanation of what to do with it. If you have no convenient break, divide out the notes at the start of one round and tell people to go around and have a look when they have a moment free. If the players don't all know each other, having notes with the names written on them placed beside the army is a great help in voting.

When votes have been collected, each first place is worth 4 points, each second place 2 points and each third place worth 1 point. If people just write one name, count it as first place. Bonus points are then given out as follows:

Place Four battles Five battles
First +4 +3
Second +2 +2
Third +1 +1

As you can see, the difference between an army that is painted to barely minimum standard and the best in the tournament is quite small compared to how many points the minimal player is getting, which I think is the proper way of doing it in an event with no paint requirement. One consequence is that a player with a well-painted army is very unlikely to be beaten by a player with an unpainted army.


Best General

I feel that some way of rewarding players who are an enjoyment to play against, along with some way of punishing those who are a pain to fight, is desireable. I chose the term "Best General" because I didn't like the term "Sportsmanship", which is often equated with simply being nice. While being nice is of course important in a player, I wanted something a bit more meaningful. Thus the definition of "Best General" is essentially: "What you would like more players to be like". So it includes things such as a good knowledge of the rules (for your army and the Warhammer game in general), not making the most abusive army possible and not being an asshole to play against. Some tournament organizers like to have two categories you rate your opponents in (player behaviour and army list setup), but in my experience people tend often tend to mix the two anyway and two different categories isn't really needed - it is much easier to just have a single category that is a combination of the two.

There are essentially two ways of abusing sportsmanship scores in a tournament. The first and most obvious is to give all your opponents the same score, regardless of what you thought of them. This need not be the lowest score to all, it could be top scores to everybody or average scores to everybody. My method makes this impossible as you simply do not have the option to give all opponents the same score. You are forced to rank them relative to each other, which of course means that you can only score your opponents after you have fought all your battles.

The second way of abusing a system is to give low scores to people who defeat you and high scores to people you defeat. Again the problems here are reduced somewhat by having to rank everybody relative to each other and further reduced as the lowest score you get is disregarded (in a five-battle tournament, the highest score is also disregarded), which means that the effect of any single opponent's ranking is reduced. Completely eliminating the potential for abuse is sadly not possible, though it can be limited quite a bit with a few simple tricks.

My method involves each player being given a sheet with a number of slots at the start of the tournament which is filled out and returned at the end of it. The slots are of different degrees, each degree being better or worse than the others and then players have to place the people they have fought against in the slots they find most appropriate. The types of slots are as follows:

Grade Description
A This player stood out as a shining example of a good general and he / she should be given first prize for good generalship.
B This player stood out as a player above average and he / she should be awarded for it.
C This player was completely OK to play against.
D I did not enjoy fighting against this player and I don't think he / she should be awarded for good generalship.

There are only a given number of slots available of each type, each player must be assigned to one (and only one) slot and each slot can only contain one player. As there are always two slots more than the number of opponents you will have during the tournament, two slots will not be used and it is up to you to decide which two this is. So with one A slot available, only one player can get the highest rank. Similarly, there are not enough slots to rank all players badly or all players average. To date, I have yet to meet a player who has filled both his D slots.


4-battle tournaments

In a four-battle tournament the number of the various grades and how many points they are worth are as follows:

Grade Number of slots Points
A 1 4
B 1 3
C 2 1
D 2 0

If you have not received all the sheets, because people have dropped out, left without handing them in or whatever, fill in the blanks using the average score of the values you do have. So if a player has received two second-best votes and one OK vote while the last vote is missing, you fill in the average for the other three (3+3+1=7, 7/3=2.33, rounded off to 2) for the missing value. Disregard the lowest score and add the other three together, with modifications as listed below:


5-battle tournament

In a five-battle tournament the number of the various grades and how many points they are worth are as follows:

Grade Number of slots Points
A 1 8
B 1 4
C 3 2
D 2 0

This time you discard both the highest and the lowest score, and then add the last three together. The top three scores follow the same system as before and only the bonus points are different:


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