Monday, September 24, 2012

The Bar Fight Matrix - A Way to Handle Fantasy Slugfests

The bar fight – classic stuff, and a pain in the ass to run. Try this …

First and foremost - how big is this thing? Either find the number of combatants on the table below, or roll randomly:

“Hit Points” refers to the total hit points of the faceless crowd. When hit points are down to zero, the fight is over because all the non-PC combatants have either fled or are unconscious.

Each round, PC’s can choose one of the following actions:

FIGHT: The character jumps into the fight with feet and fists flying – he’ll take all comers

FLEE: The character tries to scramble out of the fight

HIDE: The character is hiding under a table or hiding behind the bar

LOOT: The character wades through the fight picking pockets or stealing drinks

SEEK: The character wades through the fight looking for a specific target; the target could be a person or an item

The Referee rolls 1d10 and checks the matrix below, cross-referencing with each character’s stated action. Any time a character suffers damage, they must pass a saving throw (Fortitude, or vs. petrifiation) with a penalty equal to the damage to avoid being either stunned (lose turn for 1d3 rounds) or knocked unconscious for 1d10 minutes. There is a 50% chance of either. A stunned character is considered to have chosen “Hide” as his action each round he is stunned.

A is for “Attacked”
The PC is attacked by other combatants, and can attack them back, roll 1d6

1 = AC 10, Attacks with +0 bonus for 1d2 points of damage
2 = AC 11, Attacks with +1 bonus for 1d3 points of damage
3 = AC 12, Attacks with +2 bonus for 1d4 points of damage
4 = AC 13, Attacks with a +3 bonus for 1d6 points of damage
5 = AC 14, Attacks with a +4 bonus for 1d8 points of damage OR attacked by a special combatant who happens to be in the bar (an ogre, minotaur, mind flayer, flumph - whatever)
6 = Attacked by two combatants, roll 1d5 to determine each one; if struck by both of these combatants, the PC must make a save (Fortitude or vs. petrification) or be lifted and thrown:
     / 1-2 = Slid down bar for additional 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
     / 3-4 = Thrown out door and into street for 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
     / 5 = Thrown out window and into street for 2d4 points of damage and knocked prone
     / 6 = Thrown off balcony or stairs onto a table, suffering 2d6 points of damage and knocked prone; if this doesn’t make sense, re-roll

B is for “Bystander”

The PC catches sight of an innocent (or not) bystander

1-2 = Child (or maybe a halfling) hiding from the fight; lawfuls must attempt to save them, first by seeking and then by fleeing
3-4 = A dancing girl or guy (we’re urbane and sophisticated in the Land of Nod) motions you over to a door; you must “Move” to get there (it is 2d10 feet away), and once there are pulled inside and either:
     / 1-2 = Quit the fight and do some more enjoyable wrestling (50% chance of being slipped a Mickey or simply being pick pocketed, 10% chance you are hunted down by a jealous lover afterwards) – either way, you earn XP per a 3 HD monster you dog!
     / 3-4 = Suckered into an ambush, roll as per “A” above, but roll 1d3+3, and you don’t get to hit back
     / 5-6 = Punched by the girl/guy (AC 10, attack at +1, 1d2 points of damage) - this is a surprise attack, so you don't get to hit back
5-6 = See a damsel faint, roll attack vs. AC 15 to catch her for XP (per a 1 HD monster) and now must fight with a -2 penalty to hit

F is or “Flying Debris”

The PC is struck by flying debris; monks can make a deflect arrows roll to avoid this, but for everyone else it is just the luck of the draw. Roll 1d6

1-3 = Hit by bottle for 1d3 points of damage; save vs. stunning or unconscious
4 = Hit by chair for 1d6 points of damage; save vs. stunning or unconscious
5 = Hit by a flying body for 2d4 points of damage; save vs. stunning or unconscious; if a compatriot was thrown this round, you were hit by them
6 = Hit by a random spell (1st or 2nd level), type depends on what spell casters are present; if no spell caster is present, roll again.

L is for “Looting”

The PC acquires some loot – roll 1d6

1 = Acquire a single mug of ale or a shot of whiskey
2 = Make pick pocket roll to acquire 1d10 cp worth of goods
3 = Make pick pocket roll at -5% to acquire 1d10 sp worth of goods
4 = Make pick pocket roll at -10% to acquire 1d10 gp worth of goods
5 = Make pick pocket roll at -15% to acquire 1d10 pp worth of goods
6 = Make pick pocket roll at -20% to acquire a treasure map or some other plot-driver
On a failed pick pockets roll, you are attacked (see “A” above)

M is for “Movement”

The PC moves 1d10 feet towards his chosen exit (door, stairs to second floor, etc.)

N is for “Nothing”

Nothing happens to you this round, nor do you get to do anything

R is for “Reach Target”

PC reaches the target they were looking for!


"Okay, Break it up!"
Each round of the fight, there is a 1 in 20 chance that the town guard shows up in force to break up the fight. Assume a number of men-at-arms equal to the number of PCs, plus 1 man-at-arms per 3 hit points worth of crowd remaining. Combatants, including the PC's, will be arrested (unless they fight their way out or find a way to sneak out). If the guard is on its way, there is a 50% chance that the round before they arrive some bystander yells "Cheese it! The Cops!" to give the combatants a warning.

Bringing a Knife to a Fist Fight
Pulling a weapon or casting a damage-dealing spell during a bar fight is a chaotic act (small "c" chaotic, not big "C" summoning-Cthulhu-to-destroy-the-world chaotic - i.e. you're a dick); and results in you being avoided by other combatants for the duration, but suffering a -4 penalty to reaction checks in this settlement forevermore. Also, it just isn’t any fun.

Death and Dismemberment
Bar fights shouldn’t really result in PC death – death just isn’t the point of these things – but your mileage may vary. At 0 hit points, assume that a PC has been knocked out and will awaken in jail (or the stocks) if not rescued by a compatriot.


  1. Now that's a useful table of stuff right there, yep. Consider it stolen : )

  2. Great stuff that you bet I'll be using!

  3. Fun, and lots of room for more bystanders!

  4. That's nice. I can't see an entry on the table for 'B' though.

  5. By jove, you're right! I'll need to make a correction tomorrow.

  6. Engaging mini-game, not afraid to zoom out a little or use a different subsystem where the genre calls for it. That's pretty nice. Bet the basic setup would work in other genres too, gangster, western, etc. I might have to set up a brawl for my players to give it a try.

  7. Yeah, I was mostly trying to duplicate an Old West bar fight, since D&D is, to some extent, just the Old West in medieval costume.

  8. Anything with the expression "kerfuffle" is good in my book.


  9. I'm passing this down the line to a fellow GM who loves himself a pirate game. And it's not really a pirate game without a bit of bar fighting now is it?

  10. This is awesome John. The way the table and rolls are set up, there is (at least from reading it) just the right feeling of anxiety vs. result. I'm very eager to try it out in my Nicodemus campaign!

  11. Good stuff. It gave me some further ideas and I'd love to hear what you think:


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