Running a Dragon Chess Tournament

Last year, I ran a Dragon Chess Tournament in my D&D 5e game, and it was a lot of fun. The event was a huge tournament that attracted people and powerful monsters from across the land to compete for fabulous treasures. I created an abstract system to simulate several days of play in the tournament, culminating in an epic final match. The rules I used are below:

Dragon Chess Tournament

Premise: A Dragon Chess Tournament is being hosted in the Crystal City, an ancient Metropolis of crystal spires whose best days are behind it. Hundreds of challengers have journeyed across the lands to compete for the grand prize, a mysterious and valuable treasure.

What is Dragon Chess?

Structure of Tournament:

  • 500 GP Entry Fee
  • 8 Rounds of Swiss Pairings
  • 1 Point for a Win
  • ½ Point for a Draw
  • Only players with greater than 6 points at the end of 8 rounds proceed to the Top 8 Finals.
  • Top 8 is single elimination (with the top players paired against the bottom players)

Prize Payout:

  • 5+ Points: Roll on Individual Challenge 11-16 (pg 136)
  • 5th-8th Place: Roll on Treasure Hoard Challenge 0-4
  • 3rd and 4th Place: Roll on Treasure Hoard Challenge 5-10
  • 2nd Place: Roll on Treasure Hoard Challenge 11-16
  • 1st Place: Roll on Treasure Hoard Challenge 17+


  • Players play 1 game of Dragon Chess a day.
    • Each game begins at noon and ends at sun down (about 8 hours)
    • Place a chess piece in the middle of 5 spaces on a track. The goal is to advance the chess piece towards your opponent’s side of the board.
    • Players roll Luck checks to determine initiative (see optional rule in DMG, or just roll an unmodified d20).
    • Players take turns taking actions against each other.
      • Each player can take one action an hour.
      • The player with initiative goes first each round.
      • If an action is successful, the player advances the piece one space towards the opponent’s board. If it fails, nothing happens.
      • Actions include the following:
        • Intelligence Check to make good moves. Dragon Chess proficiency bonus may be added to this roll.
        • History Check to remember famous plays (1/game since these opportunities only rarely present themselves). Player must name move they attempted (the more colorful the better; think “The Green Dragon’s Gamble”, “Melf’s Horizontal Shuffle”, stuff like that.)
        • Sleight of Hand to cheat. Note, your opponent will notice you cheating if you fail by 5 or more points.
        • Persuasion Check to argue legitimate infractions to a judge, as Dragon Chess is an arcane game that is played in many different regions (1/game since most opponents tighten their play after the first infraction and judges get tired of nitpickers).
        • Bluff check to argue trumped up infractions to a judge. Note, the judge will realize you are lying if you fail by 5 or more points.
        • Other skills, abilities, and tricks may be attempted as desired, subject to DM approval.
        • For the Swiss Rounds, the mechanics are simplified:
          • For rounds 1-4, to simplify things, just have PCs roll vs DC 15. Opponents do not take an action, and failure sets you back.
          • For rounds 5-8, for PCs who have or maintain a positive record, the competition becomes more challenging each round:
            • Round 5: DC 16
            • Round 6: DC 17
            • Round 7: DC 18
            • Round 8: DC 19
    • Further into the tournament, players have a chance of encountering Premier Players, in which case a match is played out using opposed rolls. Rolls are always opposed with Intelligence checks (modified by Dragon Chess Proficiency if they have it).
    • Finals are played on life sized chess boards with enslaved and enchanted creatures. As such, there are some additional considerations:
      • As opponents are Premier Players, all rolls are opposed.
      • Initiative is determined by placement in top 8.
      • No time limit, though no rest is allowed during matches.
      • Players may nominate a KILLER who attacks pieces on the Dragon Chess Board.
      • Players may nominate a WALL who defends against pieces on the Dragon Chess Board.
      • No one else may participate in the match.
      • A player or their proxy may attack a chess piece in place of one of the other actions. The player takes a turn of combat against the piece on the board (randomly determined, as per below). If the piece is destroyed, they advance.
      • If a player loses a defensive roll or if one of their pieces is being attached, they or their proxy may stand in for one of their pieces to avoid moving back a space. If they are dropped to 0HP, however, they still move back.
      • When determining which piece you are facing for attack or defense, roll a d6. A 1 is a pawn, a 2 is a Knight, a 3 is a Bishop, a 4 is a Rook, a 5 is a King, and a 6 is a Queen.
      • If a King is destroyed, the game is over immediately.
      • Dragon Chess Pieces have the following base stats (Die Roll refers to the roll used to select a piece, so a Pawn is +1 and a Queen is +6): Attack: +5 + Die Roll. Damage: 4d10 + Die Roll. AC: 15 + Die Roll. Saving Throws: +2 Bonus + Die Roll if proficient. HP: 10 + 2 X Die Roll.
        • Pawns are proficient in Dex ST
        • Knights are proficient in Str ST
        • Bishops are proficient in Wis ST
        • Rooks are proficient in Con ST
        • Kings are proficient in Cha ST
        • Queen is proficient in ALL ST
    • Cheating is much more commonplace, and famous players are known for specific dirty tricks. Judges are generally tolerant as long as the crowd is having a good time.

Finals: The following NPCs will be making it to the finals, assuming the PCs themselves do not place or absent any other trickery. If a PC does place, the lowest placing NPC is removed from the finals. If the PCs are not competing in a match, generally you can assume the more skilled player will beat the less skilled one:

  1. Grim the Mighty (Archmage, Proficient: +11 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  2. Adult Red Dragon (Proficient: +9 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  3. Mindflayer (Proficient: +9 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  4. Bugbear Warchief (Expertise: +8 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  5. Lich (+5 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  6. Assassin (Proficient: +5 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  7. Unicorn (Proficient: +4 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)
  8. Githzerai Zerth (+3 to Dragon Chess Int Checks)





4 Responses to “Running a Dragon Chess Tournament”

  1. Sam Anderson says:

    As a player in this tournament; I can confirm that it was super dope.

  2. Rory Rory says:

    Thanks, Dude!

  3. Xaos says:


    …Wasn’t a tier 4 (17+) hoard what you said that NOBODY needed because back in your 5e xp for gp post?

    …I mean, even if we don’t worry about xp since its not from a megadungeon, that’s still a LOT of gold. And the entry fee is only 500gp?

  4. Rory Rory says:

    I think that was probably Paul who wrote that article, not me :)! I don’t play with the GP for XP rule.

    But yeah, it’s a TON of gold, and in a world where you don’t let PCs buy magic items (or make it REALLY hard to do so), that kind of money can only be used to like buy castles and build kingdoms and crazy stuff like that.

    Also, yes, logistically the 500GP entry fee doesn’t cover the cost of the treasure for an 8 round Swiss event, which is typically appropriate for 200 players or so. In my game, I hand waved that away by imagining this tournament as a display of grandiose and power by the monarch of the city. So the Crystal Queen wasn’t really looking to recoup her money, just keep most of the riff-raff out. And on a practical level, I wanted to make it relatively easy for the PCs to join.

    If you want to make it more realistic, up the entry fee to 2,500 GP or so or increase the number of Swiss rounds to 15 or so to reflect thousands of players being the tournament.

    I will note that unless the PCs are reasonably high level, it is unlikely they will actually win the top prize. In the game I ran, the PCs faced off against the Red Dragon in the finals. The Dragon was its own KILLER and WALL, which meant it was very difficult for the PCs to make any traction. They ended up getting the 2nd place reward and insulting the Red Dragon in the process, so they barely escaped with their lives.

    Like any encounter, it may make sense to adjust this event for higher level PCs, such as by substituting higher level monsters in the top 8. Or just let the PCs feel like bad-asses; your call!

Leave a Reply