Old School Fisticuffs: Bar Brawls in D&D 5e and OSR RPGs

Samuel Bennett of Tales of the Lunar Lands wrote two neat blog posts about bar brawls in TTRPGs. I couldn’t agree more with “In a way, bar brawls could be considered a sort of mini-sandbox” – so here are some mechanics I personally use to spice up tavern-centered conflict! These rules are pretty generic, and can be bolted on to D&D 5e, B/X, Into the Odd without any issue.

Barfight Rules

These rules strive to capture the tone of wild barfight: the piano player stopping his tune the moment the first punch lands, pausing for a moment, and then continuing as everyone in the bar starts to air their grievances in a violent percussive manner.

Therefore, all blows are assumed to be non-lethal.

Improvised Weapons

Anything is a weapon!

  • Small items such as bottles deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
  • Medium items such as chairs deal 1d8 bludgeoning damage.
  • Large items such as benches deal 1d10 bludgeoning damage.

An improvised weapon breaks once it deals its max damage: A bottle breaks when rolling a 6 on its d6, a chair when rolling an 8, etc.

Throwing Improvised Weapons

Improvised weapons can also be thrown. You do not apply proficiency.

  • Small items use DEX, deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage, and have a range of 20/30.
  • Medium items use DEX or STR, deal 1d8 bludgeoning damage and have a range of 15/25.
  • Large items use STR, deal 1d10 bludgeoning damage and have a range of 10/20.

Dramatic Maneuvers

Want to do something flashy and cool that’s not within the rules? The DM decides the relevant skill and DC. Roll twice; if you succeed twice, it goes as planned, if you succeed once, it succeeds partially, if you fail twice, it goes wrong in a horrible way and then some.

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