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Counter-Disengage 2: On Unbalanced Tournaments

By Don Todde MacDonnell

If this is your first encounter to the Counter-Disengage Forum, please read the Introductory post kindly provided for your convenience.

At a tournament some years ago, as we gathered to hear quarterfinal
pairings, I heard a voice over my shoulder. “What I surprise… Todde
and a bunch of scarves…”

Standard double elim tournies do an excellent job of of consistently
putting the best fighters in the final, and if there was less
variation in prowess across the kingdom, that might work out fine.
But it’s not, and so quarterfinals feature the same six scarves, plus
one or two mid-level fighters having a great day.  Occasionally, one
of the latter makes the finals; but usually, it’s the same final we
saw last month.  Is that boring for you?  Is that boring for the
populace and the crown?  Probably.  It’s awfully boring for me.

So I ask: Who should be in the semis and finals?  The best fighters
present (you know, the same six scarves), or the fighters having the
best day?  If the purpose of our tournaments is to test ourselves and
entertain the populace, then a final of two scarves having an average
day doesn’t cut it.  We need to handicap tournaments so that more
fighters have a shot at the finals, and a scarf having an average day
is out in four (or places third in their pool, or whatever).  From the
scarf end, this is far more satisfying: I have to bring my best fight
each round, not just hide behind a buckler, fight conservatively, and
wait for a safe kill.  But how does the mid-level fencer feel about
being granted an advantage because they’re less of a hot stick?  The
answer I’ve heard is that some of the time, it’s fun, and some of the
time, they want a fair fight.  (And I’m hoping to hear some comments
on what you really think)

Conveniently, some of our tournaments seek to reward the very best
fighters, and will always be fought with even odds.  But more of them,
even baronial championships, should be weighted against the scarves.
Might that result in a third-year fighter being the champion of
Angels?  Absolutely.  Instead of the hot scarf stuffing another cloak and
buckler in his golf case, we give a newer fighter (who only has to
represent one barony, instead of four) the chance to learn to be a
champion.  I submit that at least half our tournaments should be
unbalanced, and preferably not all in silly ways.

Now I come to the nuts and bolts of how to run a handicapped
tournament, and there are a lot possibilities here.  My ground rules
for tourney design:
– Most of the time, both fighters should have a chance (try not to
give too little or too much advantage)
– Try to help the lesser fighters win a fight or two (or at least not
be knocked out in two)
– Some randomness is good, where it varies the advantage given; but
take care that the cards or dice don’t pick the winner
– The fights, and especially the final, should be fun to watch (e.g.
people fighting offhand single aren’t much fun to watch)

One other point worth mentioning, and this is important if you want to give the underdogs a chance: The more “fair” fights a fighter has
to lose to be knocked out, the more this favors the scarf.  Running a
triple elim, or best 2-of-3 matches, makes upsets less likely.  Single
elims have the highest variance, but their own downsides.  A round
robin, however, is more like single or double elim, since the
difference between first and second place in a group is often one win.

And now, some tournament formats, focusing on a few that “smell like” fair tournaments:
Progressive Weapons Triple Elim: Anyone with zero losses must fight
single sword.  Anyone with one loss may use a defensive secondary.
Anyone with two losses may use their choice of weapons.  Scarves are
always required to use single sword against a nonscarf.  Note that
this is more about helping the lower-ranked fighters stay in the
tourney longer.  If you drop the “scarves use single sword” rule, it
strongly favor the scarves, because it’s a triple-elim.

Noble’s Challenge: Enlist your friendly local noble or three, and have
them wander around an otherwise normal tourney, issuing challenges to
fighters who outmatch their opponent. “Say, Don Diego, I wonder if you
can win this next fight with this handpuppet here as an offhand,
instead of your dagger.”  To up the ante, let that noble choose the
winner of the day.

Bonus Round: Not a balancing format, but lets the out-in-two crowd to
fight more.  Take the fighters eliminated in the first 2-3 rounds, and
shuffle them up at lists.  Pair them up with each other so they have
fights in rounds 3 and 4.  You don’t have to record the results, but
it gives them tourney experience with fighters at their level.

As food for thought, here are a few unconventional unbalanced tourneys I’ve run:

Ransom tourney: Killing a scarf is worth $5, a mid-level fighter $2,
and an unscarf $1.  Fight open challenges for a period of time, but
once you lose fights equal to $10, you are out of money and out of the
tourney.  Money is recorded by lists so that you can’t use won money
to finance more lives.

Unbalanced dice tourney: Make up a table of results for 2d6 or a d20.
Include most of the weapons combos, plus “opponent must fight
offhand”, “arms invulnerable”, “ally arrives after 30 seconds”, and so
forth.  The default weapon form is single sword, but you only use it
if you don’t roll specific other weapons.  The fighters roll twice
before fighting.  The less experienced fighter gets first pick of the
results, the most experienced fighter gets the other.  If they
honestly can’t agree who is senior, they just keep their own roll.
You can run this elim, round robin, bearpit, however.  Just please, make dagger-only a very rare outcome.

Called Shot Tourney:
Make up cards for head, upper torso, lower torso,
right torso, left torso, sword arm, sword hand, offhand arm or hand,
either leg, either foot.  For each fight, the marshal draws 3 or 4
cards.  The less experienced fighter looks at all of them and draws
one of them.  The more experienced fighter looks at the other cards
and picks one.  You win by either hitting the target you selected.
Picking first is a strong advantage (especially if only 3 cards are
drawn), so if the two fighters are close to even, just hand out random


Counter-Disengage: An Introduction

By Don Todde MacDonnell

It won’t come as much surprise to many of our readers that I’ve volunteered to write an “alternate viewpoints” column for the caid-rapier website.   But *I* certainly had to stop and think about why I wanted to blog about delicate & contentious topics.   I’m not writing here to start arguments (though that will probably happen).  It’s not because I want a soapbox to be better heard.  It’s not even because I like to argue (though see below).  And only rarely will I be determined to convince you to agree with me.

I think (and I may be wrong) that my goal here is to start conversations on issues that people feel discouraged from discussing.  Some topics have been shot down by an influential scarf in the past, and ought to be revisited.  Some are “minority opinions”, but just maybe the majority agrees, and doesn’t realize it yet.  Some are awkward to talk about without offending someone.  Some are just not the Caidan way of doing things (and I aim to get some guest columnists).   I may not always agree with what I’m proposing, but it may be the best way I can think of to float the idea.

So, with that in mind, some ground rules for this forum:

  • I am fishing for discussion on each and every post I make (if that’s not so, it wouldn’t be posted in Counter-Disengage)
  • In Counter-Disengage comment threads, you, the readers, are explicitly allowed to argue forcefully with me. Naturally, I’d appreciate it if you can back up the rotten fruit with a good counter-argument.
  • However, please don’t be nasty to each other, or take hard feelings outside of the comment threads.  Even hard feelings at me.
  • If you want to send me a private email agreeing or disagreeing or swearing, go right ahead.  I’d prefer to have discussion publicly, where it benefits everyone, but do what you need to do.
  • Some topics have rough edges, and are hard to discuss without generalizing a group of fencers (it could be Westies, short newbies, or older & slower scarves).  When I do that (and I will), I apologize for any offense; try to look at the bigger picture in your reply.  Or don’t, but remember to aim the fruit at me, and not bystanders.
  • I am open to posting guest content in this forum, anonymously or not.  I will probably try to find a Black Tiger to tell us how they train, or an Atenveldter to tell us how they see Caidans, or folks from other organizations to tell us what we’re doing wrong.  Please email me if you have something to say.