I'd like to run a jousting tournament within a D&D game as a nonlethal (but nevertheless dangerous) sporting event, rather than as an actual combat. Specifically, two mounted contestants with lances should ride past one another in parallel lanes, attempting to strike one another's shields with lances, seeking to knock the opponent from the mount.

How does this work within the 5e rules?

Example of the sort of answer I'm seeking:

  • Each pass is considered a separate combat.
  • The duration between the passes comprising a match is not long enough for a short rest.

While the rules of D&D determine what the contestants are practically capable of doing, the in-game rules of the joust add further social constraints. The contestants may choose to break these rules, but if detected by the judges/onlookers, they will be considered cheats/unsportsmanlike and subject to disqualification/scandal.

  • On a signal, the contestants are expected to charge at and past each other from opposite ends of the lists. They're not allowed to be "creative" about their movement.
  • The contestants are expected to use a Readied action to shove (PH p.195) the opponent prone with the lance, rather than making a melee weapon attack for damage. Being knocked prone while mounted requires a DC 10 Dexterity check to avoid falling off the mount (PH p.198).

Contestants score 1 point from a pass in which the opponent is knocked prone but remains mounted, or 3 points (and the match ends) if the opponent falls.

Note that there's no homebrewed features added to the D&D rules here, just what people in-game think is acceptable during a joust.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is the GOAL of doing this jousting tournament? There are many different approaches, but I think the key point is thinking about why you and your players want to run it in the first place :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Sep 21, 2015 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I vote to close this question, since there can be virtually infinite different answers for this questions, each exactly like and the only difference being on how OP likes them. I think this question needs more rigorous criteria for the answerers to adhere and, to ultimately, be able to more-or-less objectively chose the best answer - meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/5782/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Maurycy
    Sep 21, 2015 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Maurycy I'm writing an objective answer that would satisfy any requirement. It can be done. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs I agree that providing specific rules would be a lot easier with an end goal in mind for the whole thing. You'll notice that I actually had to make assumptions in the body of my answer. Unfortunately I like talking about things at length too much to have waited for him to post a better question. Will edit if/when the OP edits. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2015 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sebkha What you've provided and seem to be requesting is a jousting procedure that utilises existing RAW. That jousting system is homebrew, and stuff we provide will be homebrew, because we craft the procedure ourselves. (Whether or not it uses extant RAW mechanics is immaterial.) I'm adding the homebrew tag back. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22, 2015 at 14:16

4 Answers 4


Unfortunately, like most sporting competitions, jousting is a test of skill, namely the skill of the two characters involved. What this means is that you can't, by definition, make the rules for this give agency to the player without taking some of that agency away from your character. These skills such as combat along with the conventional game-defined skills like Stealth are abstracted away because we, modern laypersons, generally don't know how to do any of that stuff correctly. You can certainly shoot for a more-involved lance combat system and that's fine, but I will write this post under the assumption that you won't choose that option, because it causes inconsistency in how the rules are designed (which again, isn't necessarily bad if your players are willing to handle that, just a choice).

I will try to explain with an analogy briefly in the next paragraph.

Imagine a "more detailed" combat system where you decide exactly how hard you swing your weapons. The system, besides being overbearing by many accounts, would remove some of the abstraction of rolling a die to hit. This abstraction is what "allows" your character to "make decisions" on their own, specifically the things that they are good at in place of you -- combat, for instance. In the example I'm using now, a player might say that they hit someone "with all their strength," to which the GM counters with "Haha! Now you've left yourself wide open for the enemy's attack," to which the player might ask "But aren't I an expert warrior?" By simply rolling the dice, you're leaving the "decision" up to your character, who is the "expert". Those "decisions" are luck-based with influence from your character's rated abilities, but that's just due to the limitations of the medium. You usually have a higher chance of success rolling the dice with your character's modifiers than knowing exactly what to do out-of-character.

The Solution

As @Lohoris mentions, decision-making is where all the fun of the game is, unless you really like rolling dice. With all that in mind, the approach I recommend is one where all the decision-making happens before and after the joust, not during. Maybe allow the players to choose from different lengths of lance (shorter lances being easier to aim, while longer lances allow you to roll-to-hit first perhaps), different kinds of horse, maybe the house or nation they represent during the joust will cause the crowd to cheer differently which sways the judges' opinions. However, the joust will still come down to either two rolls or an opposed check of some kind -- the details of that are mostly up to you and what accomodates the "meta-joust" rules better.

Within the joust itself, there isn't much of a decision to make, unless you're trying to decide whether or not you should kill your opponent and make it look like an accident, or whether or not you should take the fall for a bribe. Those things aren't actually involved with the game's rules, either -- they dictate one strategy, which is aim your lance at the small crest slightly below the opponent's shoulder and attempt to knock them off their horse. There is no decision there, only your skill in attempting the plan of action. Therefore the logical course of action is to avoid that part entirely and build rules around it, which is where the meta-game comes into play.

Real-life Relation / Rationale

Meta-game, despite being a bad thing in a role-playing game, is key to victory in normal sporting-type competitions. The suggestions I've provided focus on the player making decisions in the "joust meta-game," so-to-speak. They are elements that are not actually part of the competition itself, but have a substantial impact on it, whether intentionally by design or not. This layer of decision-making outside of the actual game is a good place for the player to make lots of decisions (obviously), hopefully adding depth to the game in a fun way.


A Simple Rule Set

For simple Jousting rules with D&D origins that you can plug into your campaign, you can use Chainmail, Third Edition. On pages 26 and 27 are easy-to-use rules for a jousting tournament. Appendix C, on page 42, provides a jousting combat table. It is a diceless system that you can use in any campaign, 5e included. Since 5e has no specific jousting rules, this fills that niche with no need to for homebrew.

  • The Jousting Table compares the attack and defensive stances each participant chooses, and provides the result of that combination. During play, the way I saw it work was for both combatants to choose their attack and defense in secret (written on a 3x5 card), then submit the card to the referee who then adjudicated the result. Playability is a strength of using this tool.

Victory/defeat: "make three (or X) passes and see who gets unhorsed." This may be enough to meet your needs.

What this won't do by itself

Apply Ability score, level/proficiency, or feat bonuses to attack and defense when both combatants are mounted. (You don't need them). The joust is "skill-versus-skill" in that "what is my best offense and defense combination for this pass?" becomes the character's decision point, as well as his opponent's.

5e Mechanics Considerations

Some granular details of the joust can be added with opposed Ability checks per 5e. A contestant succeeding on a Dexterity (or Athletics) check on top of the joust table result could avoid being unhorsed (from a raw result of "unhorsed"). This retains your desired non-lethal character, and provides some differentiation between contestants.

The risk: this will extend combat/the match considerably for each pair, and it will become increasingly difficult to unhorse anyone at higher character levels. This folding in of ability scores, while making slight differences for each jouster's chances, can lead to ...

Potential Balance Problems

Are you interested in unequal combats? That may fit your story, or it may not. Some knights are much, much better than others at the joust.

  • In a joust, if a Fighter had a Proficiency in Mounted Combat, or a Mounted Combatant Feat (PHB p. 168), the results would be significantly skewed in one direction.
  • Paladins on their summoned mounts (Find Steed) "fight as one." All other mounted combatants, and their steeds, behave as two discrete creatures during combat.

    "Your {Paladin} steed serves you as a mount, both in combat and out, and you have an instinctive bond with it that allow you to fight as a seamless unit. (From 5e PHB Summon Steed spell description)"

Do you want combat beyond being unhorsed?

If both fighters are unhorsed during a given pass, or one combatant is unhorsed during a pass, the transition to standard 5e melee combat is the simple way to see who wins the fight if being unhorsed isn't the sole victory condition. To keep it non-lethal, default to the final blow being "knock out" per 5e rules.

(PHB, p. 198): When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.


(1) In re Chainmail, Third Edition: I still have my original copy of Chainmail. The .pdf I found on-line is of dubious provenance. Links to non-legit reproduction violates SE rules, so no link. (Not hard to find with a Google search).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it worth mentioning, for those who may not know, that Chainmail is the progenitor of D&D itself and, thus, a particularly-appropriate "outside" source to consult? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:54

Just writing you a set of rules would be out of the scope of the site, so what I'm trying to do is to give you the tools to make up your own rules.

It must be fun

Combat is a very dynamic and varied tactical event. It's fun because there are so many possibilities that the obvious choice is rarely known, and you have to think about what to do, coordinate with the other Players, try to foresee what the enemies will do, etc.

Jousting is… dull. It may be fun in real life because there is the real component, but its core is extremely simple, so when you condense it in an RPG there's not much to do: throw dice, stuff happens. Zero decisions. Extremely boring.

Compare it with an arm wrestling competition. You, uh, throw dice? How many decisions do you pick? None. Arm wrestling competitions might be fun in real life because people are using their actual muscles to win, but in an RPG you need more: Players need to pick decisions, not just roll dice!

Direct approach

You have to make up some rules to do that, which will allow Players to actually pick decisions which will influence the outcome of the match.

To do that, you might have to:

  • study in depth how jousts actually worked, try to understand which were the factors involved
  • try to abstract them in a way that would also be fun to play in an abstract form (i.e. just the decisions and the eventual relative dice rolls, without all the descriptions etc.)

Indirect approach

There is this jousting event, the Characters will have to somehow assist or contribute behind the scenes or whatever, but they won't be directly involved: make it a pure storytelling Chapter.

There are many interesting things that can happen within such a tournament, it might be really great!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please, please go read the meta question linked in the question comments about what homebrew request questions & answers should look like. The question still needs work, and your answer is not going to pass the test. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I apologize, because I approached this in a manner that was much too confrontational. I am not challenging the wisdom/quality of your advice. What I am saying is that we, as a community, have a set of standards for both questions asking for homebrew and the answers to those questions. This question currently does not meet those standards. Your answer does not meet those standards and probably can't without being completely rewritten (among other things, answers should present homebrew that the answerer has personally tried using). \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage I appreciate that. In this case, I won't touch anything until the OP comes back and clarifies. Once this happens, I'll decide what to do (which might be nothing, sorry). \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice answer. Just a comment that in the USA I think what you mean by "strongarm" goes by the more common term "arm wrestling." \$\endgroup\$
    – Lexible
    Sep 21, 2015 at 16:32

If I understand correctly, points were scored in jousting by breaking your lance tip on the opponent and by dismounting your opponent.

Let's say it's 1 point for a lance break and 3 points for dismounting. Highest score at the end of 3 rounds wins.

I would have each contestant make an attack roll against their opponent's AC. On a hit, their lance breaks. Damage is not rolled. Each contestant then makes a dexterity saving throw against their opponent's attack roll to remain mounted. This saving throw is made with disadvantage if the opponent rolled a critical hit. As most participants will have military saddles, they should have advantage on the check except in the case of the crit as the disadvantage would cancel out the advantage.

Initiative is not rolled as both occur simultaneously.

Now here's the problem with my method. If two opponents had the same stats, you might as well flip a coin to see who wins. Class abilities aren't used, and only one action is possible. This is only going to be fun once or twice. After that, the players are just rolling more dice to do the same thing. In order to have an interesting system, you'd need a complete rewrite of the entire combat system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you used this approach? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:55

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