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Bar Fights

Whether or not the player characters start it, an evening of drunken antics can often culminate in a chaotic brawl. Most times such a fight can be handled with the standard combat rules, especially when deadly weapons or harmful spells are brought to bear.

However, the following system can be used to simulate an out-and-out slugfest where battlefield positions are essentially irrelevant and the participants are merely trying to knock one another out, not kill each other.

Setting Up a Bar Fight

More so than many other optional systems, these bar fight rules require the players’ and their characters’ buy-in.

A bar fight represents a riotous clashing among the entire (usually) drunken clientèle of a tavern. Friends are sometimes difficult to tell from foes, and a local boozehound could land a lucky blow with a chair to knock out a champion brawler. If the PCs are out for blood (or the moment they draw a weapon or cast a big, flashy spell), use the normal combat rules instead. Remember that dealing hit point damage indiscriminately to a crowd might have alignment repercussions, at the GM’s discretion. Also, if a confrontation like this takes place in an empty (or nearly empty) tavern, use the normal combat rules.

These brawling rules rely on the concepts below.

Tenacity: Tenacity is an abstract representation of a character’s physical health and ability to duck and weave through a tumultuous melee. Each major participant in a bar fight starts with a pool of tenacity. A major participant is any player character or NPC with full statistics. In addition, the general crowd of the bar gains its own pool of tenacity. As the bar fight progresses, the participants slowly lose tenacity as punches and bottles fly. When a major participant’s tenacity is reduced to 0 or below, she either is knocked out or flees the scene of the fight. When the crowd’s tenacity is reduced to 0 or below, most of the nameless tavern-goers have fallen to the floor, groaning and clutching their heads. Usually, this ends the bar fight, but major participants can continue among themselves if they wish… at least until local law enforcement arrives! A major participant’s starting tenacity is the total of her Strength and Constitution scores + her total Hit Dice.

The crowd’s tenacity is determined by the GM.

Brawling Checks: Some bar fight tactics require a character to attempt a brawling check, which is an attack roll with an unarmed strike against a target’s touch AC (or the defense score listed in a crowd’s stat block). Any feats or class abilities a character has that improve her unarmed attack rolls can aid a brawling check. Rolling a natural 20 on a brawling check functions as a critical threat. If the character confirms the critical threat by succeeding at a second brawling check with all the same modifiers (this takes no additional time), the resulting tenacity reduction is doubled. Conversely, a character who rolls a natural 1 on a brawling check automatically fails, and the crowd’s tenacity increases by 1d6 points (no matter the attacker’s original target), as she accidentally riles up the bar patrons by spilling a tray of drinks or damaging a beloved feature of the tavern.

Brawling Damage: A successful brawling check reduces the target’s tenacity by an amount based on the attacking character’s statistics. A character with the Improved Unarmed Strike feat reduces the target’s tenacity by 1d10 + her Strength modifier. If she doesn’t have that feat but has a total base attack bonus equal to her character level, she reduces the target’s tenacity by 1d6 + her Strength modifier. Otherwise, she reduces the target’s tenacity by 1d3 + her Strength modifier. Damage Reduction against nonlethal damage applies to any reduction of tenacity.

Running a Bar Fight

A bar fight begins much like a normal combat, with all the major participants rolling for initiative and characters acting in initiative order. On a participant’s turn, she can perform one of the actions listed below. Relative positions don’t matter between major participants, as it is assumed any participant can reach any other in a given round. At initiative count 0, the crowd reduces the tenacity of all major participants by the amount listed in its stat block.

Bow Out

You flee the fight entirely.

Action: Attempt either an Acrobatics or Stealth check (DC = 15 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, you are no longer part of the bar fight and cannot reenter it.

Cast a Spell

You perform some magic amid the melee.

Action: Being in a bar fight makes it difficult to focus, so you must succeed at a concentration check (DC = 15 + the spell level) to cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action or less; casting spells with longer casting times is impossible. You are assumed to be in range of any target you wish to affect.

Special: Casting damaging spells immediately turns the bar fight into a normal combat. Healing magic doesn’t help a participant regain tenacity. The crowd is treated as a swarm for the purpose of what spells can affect it.

Spells and the Crowd

Players are incredibly resourceful and endlessly innovative, and this game features a host of spells, feats, and class options that this system can’t fully take into account. A spellcaster might figure out a way to use a spell against the crowd without directly harming it (such as a spell that deals nonlethal damage in an area).

When this happens, the GM should treat the crowd as if it failed its saving throw and apply the effects as best she can. Any nonlethal damage should reduce the crowd’s tenacity (add an additional 50% reduction in tenacity if it is an area effect). Remember that the crowd doesn’t take actions, so it can’t be affected by conditions that impose penalties on attack rolls or reduce the number of actions the target can take. At the GM’s discretion, a flashy spell cast at the crowd could catch the eye of local law enforcement.

Hunker Down

You duck behind a turned-over table or the bar to get a respite from the tumult.

Action: Attempt either an Acrobatics or Stealth check (DC = 10 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, the crowd doesn’t reduce your tenacity this round and you gain a +2 bonus to your touch AC until the beginning of your next turn.

Improvise a Weapon

You grab a chair to smash over someone’s head or a bottle to throw into someone’s face.

Action: Attempt a Perception check (DC = 15 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, the next brawling check you attempt for a mix it up or take a swing action can be a basic ranged attack (use your Dexterity modifier for the brawling check). Alternatively, the next time you succeed at a brawling check, you reduce the tenacity of the target by 1d8 + your Strength modifier.

Special: If you have the Catch Off-Guard or Throw Anything feat, you automatically succeed at the Perception check.

Mix It Up

You wade into the crowd to knock some skulls.

Action: Attempt a brawling check against the crowd’s defense. If you are successful, you reduce the crowd’s tenacity by an amount determined by your statistics (see Brawling Damage).


You divert part of the crowd’s attention to another person.

Action: Attempt either a Bluff or Intimidate check (DC = 15 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, the amount the crowd reduces your tenacity by is halved and the amount the crowd reduces the tenacity of a major participant of your choice by is multiplied by 1-1/2.

Special: For each character who successfully redirects the crowd’s attention against the same major participant in 1 round, the multiplier increases by half (from 1-1/2 to 2, to 2-1/2, to 3, and so forth).

Set Up a Strike

You perform a fancy maneuver to take advantage of the bar’s furnishings, such as leaping onto the bar to get higher ground or swinging from a light fixture.

Action: Attempt either an Acrobatics or Climb check (DC = 12 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, you gain a +2 bonus on brawling checks and threaten a critical hit on a natural 19 or 20 until the end of your next turn. If you roll a natural 1 on this check, you take a ?2 penalty to your touch AC until the beginning of your next turn.

Spread Rumors

With choice words, you get the crowd to turn on itself.

Action: Attempt a Bluff or Knowledge (local) check (DC = 15 + the crowd’s CR). If you are successful, the crowd’s tenacity is reduced by the same amount it reduces your tenacity.

Take a Swing

You strike out against a particular person.

Action: Attempt a brawling check against a major participant’s touch AC. If you are successful, you reduce the target’s tenacity by an amount determined by your statistics (see Brawling Damage).

Experience for Bar Fights

The PCs should receive XP for each major participant they reduce to 0 tenacity, as well as for the crowd if they reduce its tenacity to 0. They shouldn’t receive any XP for the bar fight if they all bow out or are all knocked out by having their tenacity pools reduced to 0.

Sample Crowds

The following are just a few examples of crowds. On average, a crowd has a defense score equal to 10 + its CR, a tenacity equal to 40 + twice its CR, and a brawling damage of 1d6 plus half its CR (minimum 0). If necessary, a crowd’s saving throw bonus is equal to its CR + 1.

Rowdy Patrons CR 1 (XP 400)

Defense 11; Tenacity 42; Brawling Damage 1d6

This group of drunken farmers, sailors, or laborers can be found in just about any tavern.

Ornery Pirates CR 5 (XP 1,600)

Defense 15; Tenacity 55; Brawling Damage 1d6+2

These old salts have been made tough by life on the open sea. They have an additional amount of tenacity equal to their CR (already included in their statistics).

Monstrous Posse CR 10 (XP 9,600)

Defense 20; Tenacity 60; Brawling Damage 1d8+5

Suitable for a bar whose clientèle includes a number of monstrous humanoids, this group packs a punch. They deal 1d8 points of brawling damage instead of 1d6.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Taverns © 2018, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Kate Baker, Eleanor Ferron, Michelle Jones, Jason Keeley, Luis Loza, Jacob W. Michaels, Joe Pasini, and David N. Ross.