The tournament will last for 5 days and will be viewed by the nobles, most business owners, and a couple of the most talented artists of a small kingdom (12-20 hexes), as well as some lower-classmen working as groundskeepers, and will take place when the players hit APL 3. Competitors will enter as teams of 4, with most of them comprised of a martial, blaster, healer, and a wild card. I might throw in an Elf or a Dwarf, and I will put 1-2 Taninim from Company of Dragons, but the rest of the native combatants will be humans. The native teams should be roughly the same power level as the players (I'd welcome some minor variation). I will make a team of foreigners, but I'll save that for later. Anyways, here's how the tournament will work:
Two teams enter the arena from opposite ends.
When a combatant would be reduced to 0 HP or fewer, they will instantly get a full restore (full HP, remove all conditions, buffs, and debuffs, cure all poisons, diseases, and ability damage and drain, and refresh spells per day) instead, and is teleported to join the audience on the benches.
The match ends when only one team is left standing, who will receive a full restore upon leaving the arena.
Anyways, I would like some help regarding how many teams (excluding the players and the foreign team) to feature, what level and class to make the combatants, and the dimensions of the arena.
This is the list of books I will use for the tournament:
Advanced Player's Guide
Advanced Class Guide
Advanced Race Guide
Spheres of Power
In the Company of Dragons
Legacy of Dragons
New Paths Compendium (will use the new edition when it comes out)
Genius Guide to the Dracomancer
Genius Guide to the Dragonrider
I'm completely replacing Vanican Magic with Spheres of Power, and am in the process of converting classes to be compatible. To keep the bookwork down, I'm only using the books mentioned above.
Sounds like this is a single elimination, so the simplest way is to set up a 16 team bracket, which also means at most your PCs will fight 4 other teams, which simplifies the amount of bookwork you have to do to prepare since I don't expect you plan on actually rolling out fights that your PCs are not involved with. Since I expect the 'foriegn team' is important thematically, having them be on the opposite side of the bracket, and thus facing the PCs in the final (should the PCs make it that far) would probably be the most interesting.
Personally, I wouldn't have spells per day refresh. 4 encounters shouldn't drain them dry, but having to manage resources and not necessarily always just throw their best spells right off would make things more interesting in my opinion. I'd probably also impose a cost for any team members that were removed from the field of battle. I'd certainly let them continue in later matches (if for no other reason than you don't want a player going down in the first match and then not being able to join in the rest of the tournament.) It could be as simple as a reduction of their eventual prize money, but I'd probably look at something more interesting. Giving their next opponent a benefit for each team member that was removed before the end of the match would be fun, I'd probably go with single use healing items with an immediate action trigger that scaled up, so from the first round (to be used in the second round) they would get a cure light wounds item, the second a cure moderate and the third (for the final) either cure serious or cure critical. This would increase the tactical puzzle by making it important to keep your entire team alive, as well as making an interesting question of what PCs to give any healing items the party gets as a result of their opponents having lost team members in the previous bout (obviously you would just determine this, I'd guess a couple from the first round, either one or none from the second and not getting any in the final, when they are presumably facing their stiffest competition).
Is the competition 100% safe? If someone his hit hard enough that they actually drop all the way to negative con are they still healed and alive, or can they die? What about a death effect? Going to zero con? Personally, I think it would be more interesting if their was a chance of death in those conditions, and one of the teams was evil enough to take be focused on that. I'd probably have that be the team the PCs would fight in the semi-finals, that way they could hear about an actual death or two resulting from teams facing this one . If combatants are allowed to watch the events they aren't part of they could even witness the killing themselves but as well as this it would also mean the bad guys and PCs would know more and more about their competitors abilities as they went to succeed matches, but you would have to provide more flavor text for the matches the PCs aren't in.
I would probably have the area be a standard size (50 x 100 squares would be about the biggest i could see I think, and of course it would need to be a size that would be convenient for you play environment, if you use a battlemat, the size of the mat would be a good place to start) but I think having varied terrain for each match would make it more interesting. Different placement of walls, water hazards, chokepoint, difficult terrain and stuff like that could add a lot of interest to the battlefield. I'd probably have the two teams not be able to immediately see one another to allow more choices, do you throw up round/level buffs right off, expecting to encounter the enemy quick, do you charge to find them before they buff themselves, do you cautiously scout etc. etc.
Lastly, I'd think about an alternate victory condition. Something along the lines of capture the flag where if you can get a hold of a the enemies flag (which they can't touch or move) and get it back to your 'base' you win. Probably I'd also make the flag not be able to be teleported etc. This would make the competition a lot less straight forward, and figuring out how to defend ones flag, take out the enemy and/or get their flag would make a quite a puzzle. Not knowing exactly where the enemies flag was would also increase the difficulty. Part of why I'd want this, or at least something similar, is it makes it not just a DPR race, and highlights abilities that don't directly relate to combat. It also makes different team compositions and strategies viable for example, a team with one defender and 3 fast stealthy types that doesn't even try to beat down the other team, just get the flag first would be an interesting challenge, especially if there are multiple routes to flag positions.
As to specific team builds and level I don't have any particular advice, obviously they need to be close to your PCs for it to be a challenge. I would suggest you at least come up with interesting and memorable team names, since that will help a lot with the flavor text for the matches the PCs are not involved in.
Going off what Dave Justus has said:
I would caution against making competitors completely immortal (with I assume unlimited gear as well). It removes risk, and removes excitement and costs associated with fighting. Maybe have players trade in weapons for blunted ones, or have a contingency healing spell cast on them (Or item like Aegis of Recovery) as a buffer against death - then evil teams/assassins can kill opponents to thin competition.
For the other teams: I would suggest setting them up as more specialized rather than as more balanced teams. Have some heavy armor tanks, some blaster, some ranged, etc. This will then make each fight unique to the party and force them to adopt new spells and tactics.
Build teams on a theme or a tactic; One team uses whips to stay at range and disarms. One is of heavy armor chargers that attempt to bullrush. One is a team of archers and a single spearman. One is a blaster wizard and shield fighters who hold the line while the wizard blasts. maybe a group of dagger throwing thieves who steal and dirty trick to victory. maybe a party of debuffers and a rogue backstabber.
Their gear, names, and watching matches should help the party come up with defenses. At lvl 3 you are a little limited in what you can throw out though - one crit and your player is done. Try mixing APL 2, 3, 4 teams in.
Do you want them to be able to prepare? Then give them a fixed bracket of 2 fights a day to advance through (Last day can be 2, or just the 1 big fight).
If you want it to be a surprise, then have it a rolling bracket, so they never quite know who they will face (But still have a chance to see the days options).
A large arena with adjustable terrain and obstacles is a must. Barriers, cover, water hazards, obvious spikes/pits, and difficult terrain (slippery sand?). This lets the party and their enemies make better tactical maneuvers and feel less like a slugfest (Wizard and rangers open as martials close, then everyone stands still and smacks away). You wouldn't have to do much - have fixed water/sand hazards, then move pillars/single walls around for variant cover/elevation. This also lets players use skill checks in addition to combat checks.
Perhaps have a shrinking arena, remove 5-10ft from the roll mat border every bracket to increase tension and speed up fights.
Having a teammate fall (or breaking a tourny rule) should have some drawback too, maybe a shackle that reduces movement speed by 5, or they start with an hp penalty each fight. Thus forcing the expenditure of resources, rounds to disable device shackle, or maybe they just miss the first round and need to catch up.
Having goal oriented fights could be good too for variety. Capture the flag and return it to your stand, king of the hill (one team defends, the other needs to have a player ring the bell at the top to signal victory).
The kingdom is the only civilized area for miles around, so skilled combatants are a bit of a valuable resource deserving of a certain level of protection.
I'd counter that in a rough environment, people would understand that having an element of risk in training (which this competition is after a fashion) is worth it. I'd certainly agree that the risk be mitigated, but reduced to nothing seems both undesirable as well as somewhat unbelievable requiring in effect multiple contingency spells on all the combatants.
However, the flavor of the tournament and what you think your players will enjoy is your call. I just think that limiting it for the reason you say is certainly not definitive.
Personally, I think the tournament you describe, and empty arena with no reason to do anything but pound on your opponents and no risk would be pretty boring to play out even one fight, let alone multiples, but if you think your players would enjoy it, go for it.
Maybe I'll remove the protection and instead penalize combatants who kill opponents, ranging from a restitution payment to the victim's team for accidental kills, to a prison sentence for the offending individual, who might even be executed after the tournament is over, for a purposeful and malicious kills. For prizes, teams might get a bonus for close matches and comebacks in a match, as those matches are more exciting to watch. If there are other ways to thrill the audience in a match, those grant a bonus as well. The default prize for winning the tournament will be a sum of money (I haven't decided how much), a lunch with the king, and some affluent clients who will now give quests to the victors.
Depending on the outcome, the face of the foreign team (a human symbiat who used to live in the kingdom under another name, but was exiled for trying to expose the king as a devil in disguise) will either give the players a Scroll of Break Enchantment along with tempting them to use it on the king (if the players win the tournament; he still suspects the king of being a devil in disguise), reintroduce himself with his old name and go on to dispel the king's disguise (if the players make it to the finals, but loses to the foreign team), or directs his team to soundly overpower their opponents in the finals and later dispels the king's disguise (if the players don't make it to the finals). He will also invite the players to a tour of the lands he now lives in as a nomad no matter what happens, and the devil-king will be sent back to Hell by a priest and replaced with a normal noble.
I will probably convert all damage into nonlethal after factoring in DR, resistances, and immunities. As for the foreign team, there will be 3 gestalts and one non-gestalt:
The Aridian Rescue Force
Sybiat(the non-gestalt wild card)
Unchained Scout Rogue/Unchained Monk(the martial)
Lunar Mystery Oracle/something else(the blaster and only non-lycanthropic child in a family of five; his magic reflects his family's nature)
Incanter(Channel Energy Specialization)/something else(the healer who sneaks up to heal her allies)
Slightly off-topic but your post inspired some ideas. Instead of the simple arena based knockout contest you are suggesting how about something along the following:
The tournament is a capture the flag tournament spread across several different arenas, each with a different terrain and with each flag having guardians. Two points are scored by capturing the flag and exiting the arena by your entrance and one point is gained by defeating the guardian. Each round has the two opposing teams and the guardians are a roughly CR3 +/- encounter appropriate for the terrain.
Some tactical thinking would be required, as defeating the guardians may mean that the party is too weak to stop the other team capturing the flag.
The terrains and guardians could be:
Plains - Featureless, guardians are warrior humanoid types such as Ogres, Bugbears or Goblins or some magical beast
Dense Forest - Lots of cover, possibility of moving in branches, guardians could be twigjacks, apes or similar
Rocky Spider web - lots of narrow ledges, ravines, rope bridges etc - like an ape's playground at the zoo. Lots of use of acrobatics and climb skills. Guardians could be spiders or winged creatures
Swamp - Lots of quicksand, some cover, some water and difficult terrain throughout. Guardians are Giant Frogs or similar.
Lake - Contestants start in a rowing boat. Flag is at the bottom of the lake and the guardian is a Shark or Giant Turtle.
Gestalt Tournament with Spheres of Power? Sign me up!
But yeah, power level shouldn't be too worrisome at APL 3 with Spherecasting instead of Vancian Magic. That said, healing might not be that powerful, and focusing ENTIRELY on healing (quite possible with Spheres of Power) may be a bit...boring, especially if you don't use the Vivomancer's Handbook for the Life Sphere, currently in playtest.
You can see it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wTv7VGj2qzjGnReD1lLRwC8iNG_G6f-a6XzMQlT B1yM/edit#
If you need an idea for the healer, I STRONGLY suggest the Dual Channeler Archetype for the Soul Weaver. It gains the ability to Channel both Positive and Negative Energy, meaning it's great both offensively and defensively. Combine it with feats like "Channel Surge" as well as the myriad of Channel options in Spheres of Power, and you can get a frighteningly powerful and versatile character without need for Gestalt.
You'll also want a party buffer, which Spheres of Power is VERY good at with the War Sphere (especially after it's Handbook went live). Get a single totem you like, then focus on Momentum talents, turning your character into a veritable bastion of team goodies without even spending many actions for them to do so.
If you can fit some battlefield control, Warp & it's ability to teleport allies is amazing for almost any team composition, though can require quite a few talents to fully pull off. Nature Sphere is also a good choice to shape the battlefield.
The best part about Spheres of Power however, is that any class can use any Sphere. Feel free to make the Martial class also the main healer if you wish. Then you could make the healer the blaster (Dual Channeler can literally do both) and whatever other interesting combination you can think of.