The Multicenter Australian Study of Epidural Anesthesia and Analgesia in Major Surgery (The MASTER Trial) was designed to evaluate the possible benefit of epidural block in improving outcome in high-risk patients. The trial began in 1995 and is scheduled to reach the planned sample size of 900 during 2001. This paper describes the trial design and presents data comparing 455 patients randomized in 21 institutions in Australia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, with 237 patients from the same hospitals who were eligible but not randomized. Nine categories of high-risk patients were defined as entry criteria for the trial. Protocols for ethical review, informed consent, randomization, clinical anesthesia and analgesia, and perioperative management were determined following extensive consultation with anesthesiologists throughout Australia. Clinical and research information was collected in participating hospitals by research staff who may not have been blind to allocation. Decisions about the presence or absence of endpoints were made primarily by a computer algorithm, supplemented by blinded clinical experts. Without unblinding the trial, comparison of eligibility criteria and incidence of endpoints between randomized and nonrandomized patients showed only small differences. We conclude that there is no strong evidence of important demographic or clinical differences between randomized and nonrandomized patients eligible for the MASTER Trial. Thus, the trial results are likely to be broadly generalizable.