D&D Single Combat House Rules

This is a draft of thoughts. Everything is subject to change.

The basic assumption in D&D combat is that the fighters want to kill each other as quickly as possible. Each attack is meant to cause maximum damage and the sooner the enemy is dead the better.

There are situations when this is not quite true. I have in mind single combat governed by rules (the rules might be that the first fighter to leave the fight zone loses, that the fight ends at first blood, or similar).

Another aspect of this is that such a fight, using standard rules, would perhaps be very quick. However from a storytelling perspective it could be desirable with a long fight to allow for side events, drama, hope and despair and betting.

Also, even if two fighters want to kill each other, they may (perhaps for no other reason than tactical and self preservation) not want to rush it.

These house rules apply to situations when two champions, in single combat, want to compete in fighting or compare their fighting skills.

House rules for Combat Threat Levels

I propose house rules (for D&D 5e, but I don’t see why they could not work with other systems) with 4 different threat levels of combat:

  1. Display (trying to impress, reading your enemy)
  2. Competetive (trying to win, following set rules)
  3. Aggressive (trying to cause injury, not quite a controlled fight)
  4. Deadly (trying to cause death, the standard D&D rules)

Combat Sets

The way these rules work is that an entire single combat is divided into sets (using the tennis term for lack of a better). Each set is resolved at an agreed threat level (1-4) and is expected to take a few rounds (standard rules). Between the sets other roleplaying can take place with other characters. There may or may not be breaks of no fighting between the sets in the fight.

Typically the threat level is raised as the single combat goes on. However, just as nobody can be forced to fight at all, nobody can be forced to fight at a particular threat level. If one champion goes for Deadly, then Deadly it is.

A common criteria for ending such single combat could be first blood (an outcome at Competitive level). The DM could decide that such single combat will start with a set at Display level. Then things get serious with a set at Competetive level. If the loser does not accept to lose he may raise the stakes to Aggressive level (if context allows).

Anyway, a single combat could go on for any number of sets, at any set level (less than 4), that makes sense given the story and the context. Five rounds of display combat and a jury deciding winner is possible. Two gladiators fighting set after set at aggressive is also possible.

Rules for one Set

These rules obviously do not apply to Deadly combat.

Set Points: Each champion starts every set with Set Points equal to his current Hit Points. For hi-level champions, the DM may decided that 1/2 or 1/4 Set Points are used (to make the set shorter). During the set, damage is dealt in set points instead of hit points.

Initiative: Each set starts with a new initiative roll. The loser of the last set has disadvantage. The champion with initiative in the last set has advantage. A champion surrendering a set automatically loses initiative for the next set.

A combat set: Fighting follows the normal rules, except all damage is dealt as set points, not hit points. A set is lost when a champion reaches 0 set points. I champion can also choose to surrender a set, in his turn as his only action, after he just lost set points.

Domination points for winning a set

The winner of a set receives domination points equal to the threat level (1-3). If an impartial jury or spectator would decide the winner, the champion who has won the most domination points (regardless if they are spent) wins the fight.

A domination point can be spent later in the single combat, giving advantage to one of your own rolls, or disadvantage to one roll of your enemy.

Surrendering a set

Surrendering a set is about getting out before you openly lose a set (which has more severe consequences). The penalties follow per threat level:

  1. Lose 1d4-3 HP
  2. Lose 1d4-2 HP
  3. Lose 1d4 HP

Losing a set

The loser of a set rolls below based on threat level (reroll if not applicable):

  1. Lose 1 HP and roll 1d8
    1. Reroll for Threat Level 2 (lose no more HP)
    2. Almost fell, knee in ground
    3. Lost position, almost stepped out of fight zone
    4. Weapon mishandling (hit ground or similar)
    5. Clearly hit by attack
    6. Cought off guard
    7. Damage to clothes or similar
    8. Inbalanced after being attacked
  2. Lose 1d4 HP and roll 1d12
    1. Reroll for Threat Level 3 (lose no more HP)
    2. Laying on the ground, pruned
    3. Partly/shortly broke the boundaries of the fight zone
    4. Disarmed
    5. Piece of armor removed (-1d2 AC until refitted)
    6. Grappled, possibly on knees
    7. Outmaneuvered in humiliating way (+1 domination to opponent)
    8. and over: Hit and bleeding (Lose 1d4 HP if already Hit and bleeding)
  3. Lose 1d8 HP and roll 1d12
    1. Roll once for Lingering Injury
    2. Unconcious for 1d6 rounds, disadvantage for entire next set
    3. Weapon broken (if magical or superior just badly disarmed)
    4. Armor broken (-1d4 AC until repaired)
    5. Grappled and disarmed on the ground
    6. Blade to neck, or similar
    7. Far out of fight zone
    8. and over: Massively bleeding, gory (Lose 1d8 HP if already Massively bleeding)

The circumstances surrounding the single combat decide if the fight is over or not. The intention of these rules is that the loser of one set should be allowed to compose himself shortly before the fight goes on.


Obviously a PC or NPC may decide in the middle of such a single combat fight set to attempt to harm or kill the enemy. D&D is after all a RPG so it cant just be against the rules. Such PC or NPC can take one single Escallation action in his turn, which starts a new set at the new desired level. The opponent wins initiative automatically and gets 1 domination point.

Magic, poison and other effects

These rules are intended for normal fights. A sword +1 or an armor +1 can work just normally. But something like a flaming sword that cause extra fire damage may not be allowed. And these rules are clearly not written with magic missile in mind. If in doubt, don’t use these rules.

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