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That’s the Pits: Some Down-and-Dirty Pit Fighting Rules

That’s the Pits: Some Down-and-Dirty Pit Fighting Rules

My players and I love using the 5E sourcebook’s downtime rules in our campaigns, and the downtime activity they seem to like the most is pit fighting. It seems to be the most profitable for them, and they like the idea of it a lot. But it’s only downtime, so it’s what the characters get up to between games.

For one special adventure though—“The Scorpion’s Shadow” from Warlock Lairs 12, to be exact—I wanted to use a fighting pit during the actual session. I had the idea to take the NPC Ganbataar the trollkin barbarian and build up some animosity and personal connection to him beforehand by introducing him as a rival fighter in the pits. So I needed a way to handle the pit fighting.

Now, I didn’t want to use the downtime rules, which weren’t dramatic enough for “live action.” And I didn’t like the “knockout” option in 5E either, which is just combat until the killing blow. And I certainly didn’t want to have the opponents just “unarm strike each other to death,” which could have taken quite a while, and again didn’t feel even marginally different from combat.

So after a little thought, I came up with a quick pit fighting mechanic that didn’t bog play down and that proved to be fast and fun. In fact, it proved so fun that we’ve gone back to it several times now. It has the advantage of letting characters of different levels compete on a more even footing as well. So because we’ve enjoyed it so much and because the first rule of Lou’s Fight Club is that we talk about Fight Club, I’m sharing it here for you.

Lou’s Down and Dirty Pit Fighting Rules

  • The match is 5 rounds.
  • Contestants choose STR (Athletics) or DEX (Acrobatics) as their fighting style.
  • They roll against each other. Winner wins the round.
  • A critical hit or a win by more than 5 points is a possible knockout with the loser making a CON roll to avoid being rendered unconscious—either DC equal to the knockout roll or DC 15 (GM preference).
  • Between rounds, players can choose to make a CHA (Intimidation) or DEX (Sleight of Hand) roll to try to gain an advantage in the next round (angering or frightening the opponent, slipping a rock into a glove unnoticed, etc.). They could even make a CHA (Performance) roll to try to get the crowd on their side for that extra boost of confidence.
  • Those with the Tavern Brawler feat can add a d4 to their roll. The Battle Master subclass can spend a superiority die to add it to a check. A barbarian can rage for advantage on a STR check.
  • A knock out wins automatically; otherwise it’s 3 of 5 rounds.

And that’s it. I hope you have as much fun with these rules as we have. Happy fighting!


Lou Anders is the author of Frostborn, Nightborn, and Skyborn, the three books of the Thrones & Bones series of middle grade epic fantasy adventure novels, as well as the novel Star Wars: Pirate’s Price. You can visit him at louanders.com, on Twitter at @LouAnders, and on Facebook.

7 thoughts on “That’s the Pits: Some Down-and-Dirty Pit Fighting Rules”

  1. Thanks, that is great for adding a fun contest, and nice and quick. I’d probably want to give the Rogue a bonus to the knockout chance with their backstab ability.

  2. Playing around with this a little further, I’d want to increased DC to the between round actions each time they are repeated.

  3. Seems weird that Monks, who are supposed to be the most proficient unarmed combatants (lore-wise, if not game-wise), don’t get to add anything. Maybe give Monks the option to spend ki points to add to the roll? Or perhaps they get to add their martial arts die to the roll?

    1. I agree, but I would also add something more to account for their unarmed strikes. I would say that they can add their martial arts die to each check and spend a ki point to add and additional martial arts die on top of this, but they can only use one ki point per round. I would also allow people with the unarmed fighting style or natural weapons the ability to add their damage die to the roll. I’m going to test these rules in my next session.

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