Every race course has a start line, various checkpoints that the riders have to pass, and a finish line. Each of these should be easy to see, simple to understand, and difficult to cheat.
The best start and finish lines are straight and open. A judge can take accurate screenshots of the lead riders as they complete the race if there are two thin, visual markers on either side of the finish line. Flag poles, fence posts, tent poles, and lamp posts make excellent markers. Two posts can be lined up by adjusting camera angle to draw a straight line on the judge’s screen. When deciding where to draw the virtual start line, try to make sure that riders on both ends of the start line will be facing the right direction and be equally distant from the first checkpoint.
Avoid start and finish areas that are narrow. If the riders are too close together and overlap visually, it is very difficult to tell who is in front. There is often a large crowd gathered around start and finish lines, so give some consideration to where they can stand and watch, without getting in the way. The start and finish lines can be the same. This is more entertaining and convenient for the crowd.
Checkpoint markers should not be moving objects, such as animals or people. It is easier for the riders to avoid making mistakes if the markers are objects that cannot be passed through or run over. The taller the object, the less likely that a rider can cheat by jumping over it. Walls, trees, large boulders, tunnels, buildings, wagons, gates, statues, and high ruins make excellent checkpoints. A low fountain, bush, stone dais, or chest makes a poor checkpoint.
Markers should not be ambiguous. If there are several identical objects in the same area, make sure it is obvious which of them will be the checkpoint marker. For example, if a tree is used as a marker, make sure that there is something distinctive about it. A pine tree near a wagon is much easier to identify than an elm tree surrounded by other elms.
Avoid designing checkpoints that require a rider to touch, or avoid touching, a low object. Ground markers such as cobblestones, roads, dirt paths, creeks, or staircase edges are bad checkpoints. The rider may have passed it correctly from their own perspective, but may appear to have touched it (or not) from the judges point of view. Few things frustrate a rider more than being disqualified for what appeared to them to be a fair run.
Decide ahead of time if each checkpoint must be run through, passed clockwise, or passed counter-clockwise. Passing a marker clockwise means that the riders will gallop by with the marker on their right.
Be careful when including water as an obstacle in your course. Horses are able to pass through deeper water than ponies without dismounting their riders. A course that offers an advantage to riders who can run through shallow water will be very difficult for hobbits and dwarves to win.
Look at your race course on the map. Watch out for any stables, camp sites and milestones positioned near the checkpoints and the routes between them. If the wayfaring points are far away, there is no advantage for cheaters to use them. If they are a reasonable distance away, the judge watching the riders progress on the map will be able to spot a cheater. (Their green dot on the map will suddenly pop up at the wayfaring site.)
Ride the course and pay attention to the type of enemies encountered along the way. Some creatures, such as boars and bears, give a warning before they attack and are less likely to disrupt a race. High level enemies will be a serious disadvantage to low level riders. Powerful enemies with ranged attacks are particularly troublesome on a race course.
When designing long-distance courses, check the map for points of interest. Map markers can help prevent riders from galloping off into the wilderness and missing a checkpoint completely. Placing race checkpoints near points of interest or other labeled areas on the map will help riders avoid getting lost.
All standard mounts run at the same speed. In order to prevent your riders from crossing the finish line all at once, you will need to put obstacles in their path. Low stone walls, fences, gentle cliffs, stairs, and narrow crossings (such a broken bridges) will separate the skilled riders from the merely enthusiastic ones. In cross country races, riders can be challenged to find the shortest path between checkpoints that they cannot see in the distance.
A race course requires judges to monitor the checkpoints and evaluate the progress of riders. The number of volunteers you will need to act as judges depends on how you have designed your course. At a minimum, you will need one judge per checkpoint, two at the finish line, and one at the start line (if it isn’t the same as the finish line). Two judges are required at the finish line at different positions. This is to avoid problems from a blocked camera view or a sudden bout of lag. You will also need a judge at any wayfaring point that is near the course. Unless you have many friends who would rather judge than race, try to avoid designing a course that needs more than five volunteers.
It is possible to run a course with fewer volunteers by asking the first checkpoint judges to move to later checkpoints (or the finish line) before the riders arrive. If you want your judges to evaluate two checkpoints, make sure that they can get to their second checkpoint with plenty of time to spare. At least one judge needs to be watching the progress of the riders on the map to watch for wayfaring. Another judge needs to monitor the raid to make sure that no riders activate speed enhancements. Keep in mind that judges who are busy moving from one checkpoint to another won’t be able to monitor the map or the raid group.
Your first line of defense against cheaters is your judges. Your second line of defense is the riders themselves. They can take screenshots of other riders between checkpoints and email them to the race master. If your race course offers many different paths between checkpoints, keep in mind that you may lose this advantage against cheaters. A rider may go off on a slightly longer path alone, switch to a faster mount, and then switch back again before rejoining the main route.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Have fun designing your course!