Recreational Violence: Variant Rules for Bar Fights and Brawls

After the quest is done, every adventurer has their own way of unwinding. Some settle into the nearest inn for well-deserved rest while others head to the local shops to spend the gold that’s already burning a hole in their purse. But there are always those members of every party that can only truly relax after indulging in a little recreational violence – and the best source is always a bare-knuckle brawl.

Design Note

The following are variant options for your players’ non-lethal and (typically) unarmed fights and should generally only apply in a downtime or contest setting. They are meant to supplement the standard rules of combat and – as always – all rules and abilities discussed in this article are entirely up to GM discretion.

Non-lethal Damage

Damage taken during an average fistfight is not as deadly as damage taken in the field of battle, so the damage is considered non-lethal. A character will still go unconscious if their accumulated non-lethal damage drops them to 0 hit points, but the after-effects are much less severe. A character is fully healed of all non-lethal damage after a long rest and magical sources of healing heal twice as much non-lethal damage. However, although there is less true physical fallout from a bar brawl, it’s still possible to take enough non-lethal damage to be hurt. For every 5 points of non-lethal damage dealt to a character, they are also dealt 1 point of real damage.

Knockouts

In addition to beating their opponent into submission, characters have the option of attempting a knockout. A critical roll of a 20 is an automatic success, but it isn’t the only opportunity that the character might have to incapacitate their opponent. For every point that their Strength ability modifier is above 0, the character improves their chance of achieving a K.O. A character with a Strength ability score of 16 and an ability modifier of +3 would force their opponent to make a Constitution saving throw to remain conscious on a roll of 17, 18, or 19 (a roll of a 20 is an automatic knockout). The Constitution saving throw necessary to avoid going unconscious is equal to 10 + the attacking character’s Strength modifier.

Improvised Weapons

It’s not uncommon for someone to grab a tankard, chair, or other bar-related paraphernalia in the heat of a brawl to use against an unsuspecting character. Using an improvised bludgeoning weapon increases a character’s chance to knock out their opponent as though their Strength ability modifier was one point higher and does an extra 1 point of real damage.

Brawler Feats

The following are feats that compliment the variant bar fighting options and reflect characters who immerse themselves in this particular brand of violence.

Thick Headed

Your skull, as well as your other bones, are stronger and denser than a typical person’s, making it harder for you to be knocked out. You gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Strength or Constitution by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • You gain advantage on Constitution saving throws against being knocked out
  • If you would suffer fall damage, you take 1d4 bludgeoning damage per 10 feet instead of the normal 1d6.

Heavy Handed

You are very good with your fists and have learned to make every swing count. You gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Strength by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Your chance to knock out your opponent increases as though your Strength modifier were 1 point higher.
  • When a creature you hit with a successful melee attack falls unconscious, you may immediately take a bonus attack action against an adjacent creature.

Dodgy

You don’t mind being in the thick of it, but you really prefer not to be hit. You gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Dexterity by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • As long as you are not surprised, if a roll from an opponent would force you to make a Consitution saving throw or be knocked out, you can instead roll your Dexterity saving throw to “slip” the blow and avoid being knocked unconscious.
  • When you make a successful melee attack against a creature, you may immediately use your reaction to Dodge.

You can download this free PDF on DriveThruRpg.


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