For the campaign I’m running, I wanted to try something a little bit different from the combat-heavy adventures that had dominated the last few sessions. I knew that the party had to head back to the main settlement of the region where they adventure to press a claim for a keep they are trying to establish. There was a Ducal council scheduled in the near future and the players had already indicated that they were going to take a break from their heroic deeds to return to the town for the meeting. This gave me the perfect opportunity to try something different as the town setting is, at least usually, not quite as conducive to dungeon delves and epic monster battles.
I still wanted the players to feel that their characters had significant challenges to overcome, and to retain the sense of excitement that is generated by rolling dice to determine whether your character achieves a brilliant success or fails tragically in his endeavor. So I decided that, along with the political councils and meetings there would also be a festival going on. Over the festival’s five days, a number of contests would be held in which the players could participate.
Ideally, I wanted to have at least one or two contests that each player could enter. I stacked the deck a bit to feature events that would appeal particularly to the various character types in the party, but I also tried to keep them reasonable and within the scope of what one might find in a pseudo-medieval tournament.
I’ll go into more details below and in the next few addendums to this article on how each of the events went, but overall it was a huge success in the game. Several players told me that these sessions were some of the most fun they’d had in the campaign or in their recent gaming experience. I was concerned that the simple contests might seem tame in comparison with the heroics they’d been performing in the course of their more traditional adventures, but that wasn’t the case at all. I think the change of pace revitalized the campaign and significantly deepened both the personalities of the individual characters and the cohesion of the party as a group.
Setting It Up
First off, I had to come up with a variety of events. I staggered them over the course of the five days of council meetings. I tried to create a balance of a few major tournaments that consisted of elimination rounds covering three days of trials, mixed in with more frequent one-shot events.
The party consisted of …
- Torlak, a traditional fighter who is the party tank;
- Deosil, a multiclass bard/wizard;
- Volse, a bounty hunter rogue who dishes out impressive damage;
- Cuiran, an archery focused ranger;
- Maragal, a vengeance paladin;
- Lahm, an elemental focused monk;
- Harbeck, a dwarven cleric healing machine;
- and Sutton, a slightly feral druid.
You’ll notice that means I have eight players in the group. Logistics and life being what they are, I’m almost always short one player (something I’ll discuss in a later column, and which I think I’ve discovered some interesting ways to deal with), but nevertheless, that’s a lot of players to work in and keep involved. I was worried that the various events might create too much down time for those characters not participating in the events, but I needn’t’ have worried. The contests became a spectator sport as much as anything, and many of the players themselves seemed almost more entertained watching their fellows struggle on to victory or defeat.
So, I set up two main tournaments–the archery contest and the joust–each of which would consist of elimination rounds over the course of three days. I filled in the rest of the calendar with one-shot events, spread out as best I could to give a variety of activities over the course of the overall tourney.
I even made a chart:
|Day||Time||Events Political||Events Tournament|
|Gleaning 4||Morning||Duke’s Reception in the Keep||Opening Celebration|
|Evening||Duke’s Invitational Dinner||Bardic Song Contest|
|Gleaning 5||Morning||Undercouncil Meeting||First Archery Round|
|Midday||First Jousting List|
|Evening||Common’s Feast||Obstacle Course|
|Gleaning 6||Morning||Lord’s Council Meeting||Second Archery Round|
|Midday||Second Jousting List|
|Evening||The Grand Ball||Dwarven Stone Bash|
|Gleaning 7||Morning||High Council Meeting||Third Archery Round|
|Midday||Third Jousting List|
|Evening||Duke’s Feast||Award of Prizes|
|Gleaning 8||Morning||Full Council Meeting||Village Green Tug of War|
|Evening||Duke’s Masque||Bardic Composition Contest|
Now all that was left was to come up with the mechanics for these events. I started with the two big events, the joust and the archery contest.
Lord Endelman’s Joust. Lord Endleman is a wealthy knight of the Grange with a particular passion for jousting. He has agreed to set the prize for the tourney this year. First prize is a suit of silvered plate made by the noted dwarven smith, Gezhroul Blackhammer. Second prize is a lovely roan stallion destrier named Sanguine. Third prize is a silver shield worth 500 GP.
Equipment. Jousters must have a horse, at least a helm, a breastplate or better armor, and a shield. Additionally, each jouster must bring a supply of tilting lances.
The Tilting Lance. This is a long spear tipped with a coronel (a blunt end) and does only subdual damage, except as noted in the table below. This damage may still be significant and knock out an opponent. It does 1d8 blunt damage. It is considered a martial weapon.
Overview of the Joust. Each contest takes place between two jousters who are given allowed three lances each. At the marshal’s signal they Charge at each other and attempt to strike each other on the shield. If one jouster is unhorsed, he or she loses the round, regardless of how many points have been awarded. If both are unhorsed, they may continue the combat with melee weapons. If neither of the jousters are unhorsed, then points are awarded based on what happened to the lances: 1 point is awarded for a hit without breaking the lance, 2 points are granted for a broken lance, and 3 points for a completely shivered – or shattered – lance. After the third pass the points are tallied up and the victor is the jouster with the most points. He or she then advances to the next bracket of the contest.
The Charge. Each jouster makes an Animal Handling skill check vs. DC 10 to be able to get into position to make an attack. For each point above a DC of 15 the jouster may add one to his or her attack roll. On a critical success (or on a roll of 19 or 20 if proficient) jouster gets advantage on attack roll.
The Tilt. Make an attack roll against AC 12 to hit. If you hit, roll damage (1d8 plus Strength or Dexterity bonus) and consult the table below. If the attack roll would hit above an AC of 15, add any amount over 15 to the damage roll. For instance, if a jouster rolls a 14, he hits. If the jouster has a proficiency bonus of +3 and a strength bonus of +4, he will have hit an AC of 21. That is 6 points over 15, so he or she will roll 1d8, add +4 for Strength and then add an additional +6 for the points scored over an AC 15.
*Staying Horsed: The struck jouster must make a skill check using either Animal Handling or Athletics (may use either strength, Dexterity or Constitution as the stat bonus for athletics) with a DC equal to the damage done or become unhorsed. If a jouster is unhorsed, his opponent immediately wins the joust, unless they are both unhorsed, in which case they may continue the battle as a melee.
Design and Playtest Notes: This actually worked much better than I had feared. My rationale for the mechanics, based on my professional study of medieval history and literature and from my own (very limited and probably woefully inauthentic!) participation in one pseudo joust, was to replicate the relative uncertainty and potential for vast and destructive damage that characterized the medieval joust. The fact is, people did this all the time, as a sport, but they also died doing it, or received terrible wounds. I put in the Animal Handling check because positioning really is critical in jousting and, at least for me, harder than the actual hitting of stuff once you are in the right place. Hitting a shield isn’t really all that difficult, but hitting it squarely on and getting a real impact is a bit of a challenge. Even a glancing blow can pack a significant wallop. But I wanted to recognize the possibility for catastrophic damage that can be achieved when two people rush at each other with spears, propelled by hundreds of pounds of thundering horseflesh.
In the actual event of the tourney in my game, these rules served very well. Some jousters were unhorsed, while others succumbed to subdual damage. One of the party members did actually manage to win the joust, though there were some very close and tense moments. Spacing the jousts over 3 days allowed him to recover from the damage he was taking and also kept the joust from totally dominating multiple hours of play.
Archery. Three shots are taken at a single target at each of the following ranges 50 feet, 100 feet and 200 feet. Only the two best shots for each target distance are counted. Determine how well the target is struck by consulting the following table.
|Rings||50 feet||Points||100 feet||Points||200 feet||Points|
|Outer White||AC 10||1||AC 12||2||AC 15||5|
|Large Blue||AC 12||2||AC 15||4||AC 18||10|
|Medium Yellow||AC 15||3||AC 18||6||AC 22||25|
|Small Red||AC 18||4||AC 22||8||AC 25||50|
|Black Bullseye||AC 20||5||AC 25||10||AC 30||100|
All archers in the competition shoot at the first target distance at 50 feet. The top 20 archers then move to the second round and shoot at the 100-foot target. The top five scoring archers from the first two rounds (totaled together) then move on to the third and final round. Remember that only the two best scoring arrows for each round are counted. At the end of the shooting, the archer with the highest overall score wins the tournament. In the case of a tie, each of the archers shoot one arrow each until one of them achieves a higher score.
Prizes. 1st prize is a +1 Moonwood Longbow, 2nd prize is a sheaf (20) of +1 silver arrows, 3rd prize is a single (decorative) golden arrow (100 GP).
Design and Playtest Notes: The ranges were set so that longbows would have a significant advantage in the second round. This was much simpler to run, and in retrospect, I think I might have included a few more stages to increase the excitement. Still, it worked fairly well and the party ranger won second prize in the contest.
Overall, these two events provided a great competitive backbone for the tournament; the players are still talking about them and reliving their victories and defeats. I can’t replicate the tournament again in the near future, but I’ll definitely be thinking of more ways to incorporate other less traditional challenges into the game. In the next part of this series I’ll detail the incredible antics that occurred when some of the players attempted to meddle with the obstacle course, and also relate how the two bardic competitions generated a real sense of party purpose and camaraderie.†