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Archery Contests

A staple of medieval tournaments, the archery contest draws bow experts from far and wide to test their skill and accuracy. The rules are simple: competitors fire at a target and score points depending on how close to the center of the target the arrow strikes. The archer with the most points wins. These contests can attract dozens of competitors, and the usual prize is cash, jewelry, a fine bow, or a quiver of masterfully crafted arrows. In traditional archery contests, competitors fire arrows at a stationary target, but some tournaments use moving targets or have the archers fire from horseback. Usually the target is divided into locations worth different points, though some contests require competitors simply to hit the target to progress.

These mechanics assume an archery contest whose target has different locations worth different amounts of points. Each archer gets a certain number of shots, usually one or three, and winners are determined by who gets the most points in either an elimination or round robin tournament. For each shot, the archer makes an attack roll, and their total attack roll determines how many points they get. In the case of ties, the target is moved back 100 feet in any round where there is no winner.

The first thing you, as the GM, need to do is determine how difficult this tournament is. If it’s a simple village affair, the shots may be quite easy for seasoned adventurers; but a tournament involving the cream of a mighty empire might begin with very difficult targets— and many more contestants!

The Archery Contest Table below shows the attack bonuses of the contestants at each round of a contest. The AC of the target at each contest level is the attack bonus of the competitors +10 (thus giving the average competitor at a given tier of the tournament a 50% chance to succeed). The attack bonuses at the final represent the best of the region, country, world, or even multiverse! You, as the GM, are free to adjust these numbers of course.

Example

A competition spanning a whole country begins with The Masses. In the first three rounds, the target’s AC is 12 and the competitors have an attack bonus of +2. The following round involves a target with AC 13 and 128 competitors with attack bonuses of +3. By the semi-final, there are 4 competitors with bonuses of +9 shooting at a target with AC 19, and the final involves two competitors with attack bonuses of +10 shooting at a target with AC 20.

Scoring Points

Competitors score 1 point if they hit the target’s AC. If they beat the AC by 4, they hit the middle ring and score 2 points; if they beat it by 8, they hit the bullseye and score 3 points. In each round, half the competitors progress (the half who scored the most points).

But There Are 512 Competitors!

You’re not expected to roll attack rolls and tally the points for each of 512 competitors in a world-wide tournament. In fact, above 4 competitors, a PC will progress to the next round simply by scoring higher than the average number of points. Starting with the semi-finals, you should handle each competitor individually to increase the drama of the occasion.

The average is easy to determine: 1 point per shot. Thus, given three shots, the average competitor is expected to score 3 points, so a PC who scores more than 3 points progresses to the next round.

Of course, there aren’t always 512 competitors. The dashes in the table represent tournament sizes that don’t occur in rural areas. A village will only provide 8 competitors of note, a town only 64.

Archery Contest Table
Tier Competitors Village Town Region Country World Planar
Final 2 +3 +5 +8 +10 +12 +15
Semi-Final 4 +2 +4 +6 +9 +11 +14
Quarter-Final 8 +1 +3 +5 +8 +10 +13
Fourth 16 +2 +4 +7 +9 +11
Fifth 32 +1 +3 +6 +8 +10
Sixth 64 +1 +2 +5 +7 +9
Seventh 128 +2 +3 +6 +8
Eighth 256 +1 +2 +4 +6
Ninth 512 +2 +3 +5
Lowest of note The Masses +2 +3 +4

Always Include a Nemesis

You should create an individual nemesis for the PC in order to personalize the whole process. This nemesis provides narrative background for most of the competitions—jeers, insults, challenges, bets, and the like—but should be rolled for directly once the semi-finals are reached. The nemesis will have the attack bonus for the top rating level for the region size used, ensuring that the nemesis reaches the final round.*

Example

Robin Fairfoot, an elven ranger, is competing in a town archery tournament. Her nemesis in this tournament is Boris the Blue, an obnoxious man and the current favorite. Boris’ attack bonus is +6. Up until the semi-final, Boris interacts with the PC in a non-mechanical way (the GM plays him taunting Robin); at the semi-final, with 4 competitors, two are regular competitors, one is the PC, and the last is Boris. At this point, the GM starts rolling Boris’ attack rolls against the target. He and Robin will likely progress.

Variants & Optional Rules

You can also use these rules for darts, horseshoes, crossbows, clay pigeons, or any other type of contest involving throwing or shooting. Halflings favor slings or javelins, gnomes enjoy watching blindfolded archery, and dwarves are renowned for throwing hand axes through kegs of ale.

For example, in orcish Punctureshot contests, the goal might be to shoot through archery targets. Each target is a sheet of painted paper attached to a thin sheet of wood. For every 5 points of damage the competitor deals, the arrow punctures one target and hits the next. Magical arrows are forbidden, but most orcs won’t know the difference unless the arrows are obviously enchanted (the target takes energy damage, for example). For every target punctured, 1 point is earned. Sometimes, instead of archery targets, orcs line up prisoners of war. Assume it takes 10 points of damage to to puncture through a helpless torso.

* Well, of course the PC’s nemesis reaches the final round! Where would the drama be otherwise? Indeed, would an NPC even qualify as a nemesis in this situation without being next to the PC the whole way through?

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