Saturday, February 9, 2019

Wrestling Rules and Wrestling Tournaments

Whenever people ask me how present authentic feeling steppe cultures in D&D settings I tell them they need 2 things: kumis and wrestling. While kumis is basically a universal across the Eurasian steppe (the Ghuzz Turks of Ibn Fadlan's time certainly drank it), wrestling is more of a Mongolian pastime. From what I've read, there is no evidence that there was any wrestling going on along the banks of the 10th century Volga river, but that should not be a barrier to putting Mongolian-style wrestling in the Meager Country or in any setting where nomads abound.

I've had great success running wrestling tournaments with the rules below. They're adapted (mostly verbatim) for 5e from Joseph Manola's Mongolian wrestling rules (read the whole post if you want to learn more about Mongolian wrestling). It's a great deal more interesting than resolving wrestling matches with contested athletics rolls and provides a fun minigame, a break from the drudgery of combat and negotiations.

Image result for mongolian wrestling art
A painting of the eriin gurvan naadam

Wrestling Rules

To resolve a wrestling bout, each wrestler rolls 1d6 and adds their Wrestling Rating.

-Your basic Wrestling Rating is equal to the sum of your Strength modifier, your Dexterity modifier, and your proficiency bonus if you're trained in athletics and/or acrobatics. 

-Trained wrestlers add an extra +1 to their Wrestling Rating. Being an expert wrestler increases this bonus to +2. Most natives of the steppe are trained wrestlers. 

-If you've studied the technique of your opponent, you may add your Wisdom modifier to your Wrestling Rating. To study an opponent's technique, you must wrestle with them once or watch them compete in two bouts. 

-If you are substantially larger and heavier than your opponent, add +1 to your Wrestling Rating.

-You are expected to have a Supporter (called a zasuul) to yell advice at you, offer encouragement, dispense all-purpose smack talk for the audience. If your Supporter has a positive Charisma or Wisdom modifier, you may add an extra +1 to your Wrestling Rating. If your Supporter is an expert wrestler, you may add an extra +1 to your Wrestling Rating. 

 If one wrestler beats the other's score by 3 or more, then they score a quick victory and their opponent goes down within minutes. 

If the wrestlers' scores differ by less than 3, the match goes long. When the match goes long, each wrestler rolls 1d6 again and adds a modified Wrestling Rating.

-Unless their scores are tied, the wrestler who scored the lowest in the first roll has their Wrestling Rating reduced by 1, to represent their dented confidence. 

-Each wrestler adds their Constitution modifier to their Wrestling Rating, to represent the importance of stamina in the long bout

In the long bout, the highest score wins and a tie indicates a draw, probably because someone bungled a throw and ended up hitting the ground at the same time as their opponent.

Rule Variant: The long, long bout (for those who want more attrition in their wrestling)
In the long bout, you must beat your opponent's score by 3 or more to win. Ties do not result in draws.
If nobody wins the first long bout, repeat the process until one wrestler is victorious.

-As per the first bout, unless the their scores are tied, the wrestler with the lowest score has their Wrestling Rating reduced by 1. This effect stacks

-In the long bout, draws only occur if the competing wrestlers have the same Wrestling Rating and their scores tie.

Tournament Rule Variants
From my limited research, I've gleaned that Mongolian wrestling matches are usually best of 1 affairs, but I find that it's more interesting for the whole party if they all can participate in winning the tournament. 

Teams: Wrestlers do not compete individually, but as part of teams, who take turns in best of 1 matches. The wrestlers who aren't in the match can watch the bouts of their competition to study their technique. If you decide to be one of your team's supporters, you cannot participate as a wrestler. (We may imagine that because the party is made of foreigners they're allowed to compete in a team as a crutch)

Best of 3: Matches consist of 3 bouts instead of 1. (This gives wise wrestler a chance to study their opponent's technique)

But why would you want to compete in a wrestling tournament? Here are some possibilities:

1. Loot. Some local khagan or war leader is offering the spoils of war, perhaps an item the party needs, as the grand prize in a wrestling tournament

2. Respect. The party may have the khagan on their side but they'll never win the trust of the whole community unless they compete in the upcoming wrestling tournament

3. Assassination. A notable person, a thorn in the party's side, is competing in a wrestling tournament. It would be so easy to snap their neck if you can just get a good pin.

Wrestling Titles
You should make sure there are some good titles up for grabs in your tournament. Roll 2d10, one for an adjective and one for a noun to generate a simple title. Let your players write it on their character sheet if they win it for themselves (maybe the opponent they got it from will come to win it back later).

1. Wide
2. Weighty
3. Brazen
4. Mighty
5. Stout
6. Steady
7. Hardy
8. Unstoppable
9. Firm
10. Raging

1. Elephant
2. Falcon
3. Lion
4. Bear
5. Horse
6. Champion
7. Hero
8. Bull
9. Wall
10. Yak

Further reading: Here's a clip from the reality tv show Last Man Standing, it shows what a Mongolian wrestling tournament looks like and what a bout between a trained wrestler and a novice looks like.

This post is dedicated to Borte, first empress of the world


  1. Perfect! I recently made a Dwarven monk that I modeled after Tuvan wrestler, only to then realize that the 5e monk path would never result in a decent wrestler with the rules-as-written. These rules look like a lot more fun.

  2. What a fascinating essay. This "sense of strangeness" is very difficult to create, but I believe that it is worth it, in the end, for the right players that is (some will never be moved by it).

    1. curses, this is posted on the wrong post for some reason! Will copy paste. (sorry!)