This encounter is intended for any number of PCs of any level
I’m no medieval scholar (though I know a handful of them!) but I admit it’s always nice to inject one’s D&D game with some of the actual quirks and wrinkles from our real world age(s) of swords and chainmail. One thing that caught my attention while doing some research on tourneys was the Pas d’armes. It’s not the sort of thing you usually find cropping up in your campaign and it certainly provides for an unexpected and potentially exciting encounter!
At the gates of a city or in the middle of a bridge on a well travelled road stand (# of PCs) knights in full armor, their tunics bright and their shields recently polished. These men have established a Pas d’armes. They challenge any armed and able-looking traveller to a duel. If the knights are defeated by any challengers, they will agree to give up their game and go home. Each challenger they defeat, however, is allowed to pass – though he leaves behind his pride.
Under the normal rules of honor; if the challenged warrior should decline, the knights would claim his spurs and shame him as he passes. These knights, however, have chosen a more aggressive tact. Stating that anyone who turns them down is a coward, and seeing as how armed cowards tend to get themselves in trouble, the knights will “preserve the conscientious objections” of the passerby by relieving him of his weapons – which they will then keep to either use, sell, or outfit their pages and squires. They are particularly interested in acquiring any magical or well crafted weapons this way.
Because this is a duel of a sort, the knights impart a few rules upon the PCs. The sparring is to be one on one, and non-lethal blows are expected. Anyone engaged in the fight must accept the request to yield, and those that do yield admit defeat and quit the field. If the PCs violate the rules of decorum, such as making attacks that hit multiple targets, making opportunity attacks (considered poor sport here) or ganging up on an opponent the knights will get quite irate. They will switch targets, all of them focusing on the offending PC to bring him down first, defending their own violation of the rules with shouts of “Honor demands it!”
Though competitive and forceful, the knights are not without honor. They don’t attempt to kill any of the PCs, instead knocking unconscious any PC who drops to 0 HP. Should the PCs opt to kill any of the knights, this restraint, and any rules of decorum are dropped as the sparring becomes an all out skirmish.
For all their bravado the knights are hard losers, and will only keep to the gentlemanly standards of the duel while they are winning. When bloodied, any of the knights will begin ganging up on the single strongest melee PC. At that point, the fracas becomes an all out melee – albeit still a civil and ideally non-lethal one. For all their talk of following the rules of one-on-one combat the knights are eager to give this up.
In defeat however, the knights retain their gracious attitude, and politely congratulate the PCs before leaving and allowing the challengers to pass.
Page 186 of the Player’s Handbook governs the use of the Intimidate skill during combat to convince bloodied opponents to surrender. While nominally errata or ignored by some DMs, this rule makes a lot of sense for given the encounter’s curicumstances. Point this out to your players as it may keep the goals of the fight fresh and prevent it from dragging on.
Talking Your Way Out
D&D is all about options, of course. Though the knights who have set up this Pas d’armes are hot-blooded and itching for a fight; they are still governed by their other goals: behaving like proper nobles, getting richer, wowing the crowds, and impressing potential courtship partners. Drawing on this knowledge, the players could just as easily avoid the confrontation by convincing the knights this is not the fight to pick. If your players wish to avoid the confrontation, they’ll need to pass a skill challenge to do so.
Goal: Convince the knights of the Pas d’armes to let you pas over the bridge/through the gates unhindered.
Complexity: 4 Successes before 3 Failures
Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate (all Moderate)
History (Hard): Citing times when emergencies have permitted knights to forgo challenges without losing face might convince the eager champions to let the PC’s pass…seeing as how it won’t besmirch their honor. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.
Arcana (Hard or Easy): Can be used in place of Intimidate to warn the knights of the consequences of dealing with such a powerful foe. If the knights have no training or little familiarity with magic, this becomes an Easy DC. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.
Insight (Moderate): Studying the knight’s personalities grants an advantage in the negotiation, providing a +2 bonus for the next Diplomacy, Bluff, or Intimidate roll. A failure incurs a -2 to the same rolls.
Perception (Hard): Pointing out flaws in the knight’s weapons, armor, and position might make them disinclined to fight. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.
Athletics (Moderate): An open demonstration of strength and prowess might make the knights reconsider picking this fight. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.
I’m leaving this one up to you, Gm. I’m sure you have plenty of city gate or bridge or tunnel or town square locations in your stock of map tiles and poster maps. And if you do not, well, there’s always the battlemat! This encounter doesn’t depend much on terrain and is instead a straight up fight, so map choice is not critical (though knocking an opponent off a bridge would render that combatant “defeated” in the duel, if this condition comes up in your game). Your goal in this case is immersion of character in the world and depth of the situation, not providing a tactical obstacle course.
To represent the knights, choose a Natural Humanoid Soldier of the player’s level. Look over the creature’s stat block to make certain that it makes sense for this encounter – simpler creatures are better. Since this fight is intended to be a series of one-on-one matches (at first) consider the following modifications to whatever monster you use to represent the knights:
•Change the ‘Marked’ condition to the ‘Hard Pressed’ condition: this one-off status effect imposes a -2 on attacks employing Encounter or Daily powers (thus the Essential’s Fighter’s “Power Strike” would fall under this category, even though it is activated after making a melee basic attack).
•Typed Damage: Unless you want the knights to be arcanely talented or paladins of an order, change any damage of an elemental type to normal damage (representative of shield bashes, thrown elbows, kicks, etc.)
Some good options include:
-Dwarf Clan Guard (Monster Vault pg. 101)
-Knight of the Eye (Dungeon Magazine Issue 171, Pg. 93)
-Warforged Soldier [Ignoring Battlefield Tactics while still fighting honorably] (Monster Manual pg. 261)
-Warforged captain [See above] (Monster Manual pg. 261)
-Eladrin Fey Knight (Monster Vault pg. 114)
-Human Duelist (Monster Vault pg. 173)