Tournament Archery

I like archery, I like tournaments in D&D, and I like having a good concise rule for both of those things. There was an article in &-Magazine #7, this past January, by Len Lakofka on the "Archer/Archer-Ranger PC Class" -- an update to his article originally in Dragon #45. I was tickled to see at the end of that article that Len included rules for a tournament archery competition:

Cool idea, although it's not exactly how I'd do it. One: it's another of these big table-based mechanics from the old days, which generally turn out to be unnecessary, and requires another page of paper at your table just for this. Two: The game-world target that Len presents has just 4 rings, as opposed to real-world targets with 5. Third: Len doesn't include any points-scoring system (which wouldn't be bad if the target was the same as real-world, but it isn't, so it's unclear to what resource we should turn).

A Second Shot

So here's my take on it. An initial, maximally-concise option would be this: just have the archers roll d20's and add their attack bonuses, and add the totals all up as their "points" (however many rolls you like). That's in line with the core mechanic and requires nothing to look up or memorize, really. However, maybe that's a little too abstract.

A more concrete option would be this: Say in-game targets are the same as real-world ones, viewed by Imperial scoring rules -- the targets have five concentric regions on them: white, black, blue, red, and gold, for point values 1-3-5-7-9 respectively (in Metric scoring the regions are subdivided into two halves each, for point-values from 1 to 10). Roll an attack as normal against the target, and for each +5 increment, say that an improved scoring region has been hit (i.e., each smaller region has +5 better armor class).

Based on our model of archery for D&D from last week (link), the effective AC for a large, immobile tournament target is approximately 10 (base AC) + 4 (size) + 6 (immobile) = 20. Note that this exactly cancels out the normal "Target 20" requirement for a hit, so we can simplify matters by just looking at the raw roll from the player, d20 + attack bonus (including level, Dexterity, equipment, etc.) and not even bothering with the normal AC or to-hit requirement. Say the levels of success are then as follows, for convenience:

Again, this is just standard real-world archery scoring. I would have each archer in the competition shoot perhaps 12 times (real-world tournament have contestants shoot 2-3 dozen arrows per round, but you'll probably have other players at the table waiting to do something). Also: this is at very short range (10 yards; Lakofka sets his at 40 feet) -- if you run a longer-range competition at a distance of 20, 40, or 80 yards (as in real life), then subtract a penalty of -4 from the attack roll for each doubling increment of range. (Optional simplification: just say hits are one ring worse per range increment.)

So I think that mechanic is pretty attractive, and you can probably memorize it for use without any table lookups -- Just make a standard attack roll for each archer, and remember that each increment of 5 is an improved hit location (with real-world Imperial scoring of 1-3-5-7-9 points). Easy!


  1. That worked out nicely. Inspiring and interesting stuff.

    Thinking about your solution, I think there's a problem, though.

    An archer with <= 0 modifier can shoot a thousand arrows and never hit a bull's eye. The D&D way is to make a nat 20 do something. It seems worse to get around as they modifier goes even more negative and progressively larger area of the targets become unhittable, and eventually the odds of hitting the white ring become more likely than hitting the rest of the target even though the rest of the target has more total surface area.

    The effect is an ability to actually aim at the target, i.e. accuracy is hurt, not precision/variance.

    After some thought, here's another tack:

    Say the worst possible success is a flat probability distribution of where the arrow lands on the target. You hit the target but had no control over where. The chance of hitting a given ring is its proportional area (4%/12%/20%/28%/36%), which could give a table like this:

    1-7 White
    8-14 Black
    14-17 Blue
    18-19 Red
    20 Yellow

    So, you roll to-hit. If you miss, you miss. If you hit, roll 1d20 on this "hit location" chart, but add the number you made the to-hit roll by. (I.e. subtract range mod, I believe, because the base case is an exact auto-hit.)

    The extra step is a little janky. Maybe simpler to play (but harder to analyze) would be to roll 1d20 with your system and another 1d20 on the hit location table and take the better of the two results.

    One interesting thing about this: for a pure luck shot, the average points per arrow is 3.4. If you take the GNAS 3rd class bowman from last week, shooting the "York" targets, his chances of hitting 60, 80, and 100 yard targets is 5%/5%/35% If we say his hit location is all luck, he's shooting 6/4/2 dozen arrows at those ranges, for 14.4 hits, and with 3.4 points per hit he's getting about 49 points -- very close to the 46 points in the real-world document you gave.

  2. As a separate comment, most of the in-gameworld competitions/races I have played in RPGs have not been very exciting. They usually involve lots of skill rolls and play out somewhat like a combat where there are no tactics, you just roll to-hit over and over. The result is often my pet peeve degenerate form of D&D where the range of results seems huge, and it feels like 85% luck, 15% due to relative character ability, and 0% player decisions.

    So I'd be tempted to get more gamism in there.

    You could represent fatigue. E.g. have a fatigue pool of STR+CON points. A normal shot uses 1 fatigue, but you can shoot "soft" at -4 to-hit for 0 fatigue. (On dungeon adventures this doesn't come up because something something adrenaline.)

    You could have match structures that allow strategic expenditure of fatigue.

    In the last summer Olympics they created a more competitive match structure, where two opponents alternate shots, for a set of three arrows. Winner gets 2 points, ties get 1 each, first to 6 points wins the match.

    It seems like archery calls for a press your luck mechanic; when you are aiming you are passing up what you think are good shots hoping for a better shot, but you can't do that forever because it is fatiguing to hold at ready.

    One way you could represent that is to let the player get rerolls of a 1d20. It could go like this:
    1. Roll 1d20.
    2. If you accept it, take the shot with that roll.
    3. You may spend a fatigue point to reroll it.
    4. If you accept the new roll, take the shot with that roll.
    5. Or you can abort the shot (go back to 1), this annoys spectators (Charisma matters!) or maybe uses a time point, you only get one of those per set of 3 arrows or something.
    6. Or you can reroll again, but if you do, you must take that result.

    That's probably too detailed, but I agree with your philosophy as I understand it: that a deeper simulation will often usually increase the gameplay element if you do it right.

    In my own DMing to suit my own tastes/abilities, I have abandoned simulation quickly for things that go out of scope of the main adventure, like having players play chess against a computer to represent a war they were in, or do sudoku to decipher a magic text. If I were having an in-game tournament now, I'd be tempted to map events to smart phone games.

    Of course it's works out well if the in-game situation is your character is handed a tavern puzzle with 10 minutes to solve it, and so at the table you can just give the player the puzzle and say, "go". I had a DM who had an in-game world dungeoneering/puzzle competition (the "Omniventure"that was full of that kind of stuff and various other challenges.

  3. i think lakofka was trying to simulate the old french "beursault" style archery contest: four rings (worth point values of 1-4), targets 50 yards apart, each contestant getting one shot per volley, best score after forty volleys. oh, and i always enjoy your analysis, thanks.

    1. Cool, I would have never known that, thank you!

  4. Here's the contest I have in my current campaign. It's a specific tournament modeled off medieval ones popular in the home village of the characters.

    The contest is Roving Marks, with the target is a wand, a post about 6’ tall and 3” wide. Marks along the want measure distance to the top of the wand, with more points awarded to shots that strike the wand closer to the top. Each mark then becomes the firing point against the next mark. The marks are often concealed by weeds and brush as the trail of 12 marks winds its way through both clear and wooded terrain, and are a mix of clear, partial concealment, and short and long range.
    Shots within 18’ are worth 3 points, within 9’ are 7 points, within 3’ are 12 points, and the wand ranges from 15 to 20 points depending on how high it is struck.
    The AC of the wand is 25, with each line of the wand another 1 AC (thus the top is AC 30). The distance from the wand on a miss is 25 – the attack roll. The normal rules for concealment apply.

    Being an amateur archer, I can tell you my daughter and I who go to a local wooded range in a park using bag targets instead of wands, we miss the target bag a lot. Particularly as you get beyond 20 yards. I only took a couple of shots at the target that is 80 yards (and uphill) so we could actually find the arrows. We're using recurve bows, no sights, so the guys with compound bows and sights are better shots, but on the other hand they miss a lot more than you'd think as well.


  5. Another possible simplification: Using the Metric scoring system (10 regions for points 1-10), you could possibly say that the archer scores points as per their attack roll divided by 2 (round down; max 10 points). That's briefer but maybe takes out the narrative description of what color target they hit.

    Also looking at this right now I'd probably make the contest just 6 shots (see rule: magic number 7+/-2).