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Basic Information

A tournament (or tourney) was a medieval festival centred around one or more contests of skill-at-arms.
The archetypal tournament seems to be a jousting contest, but this was actually quite a late entrant to the scene and was preceeded by several centuries by the melee (from the medieval French "to mix") which was effective a (barely) simulated battle. Quite feasibly any given tournament might have both.

Whatever the main even is, it will probably be a contest for knights only - although there may be parrallel contests for squires and maybe even pages. Besides that, there are likely to be other competitions such as archery contests and other weapon bouts (for example for quarterstaff, one or more types of sword and polearm and the like1) and possibly also a foot-melee for commoners. Also probable are other sports and athletic events - weight lifting, horse and foot races, wrestling and boxing and whatever else the locals do to compete.

Non-feudal tournaments are also possible - city states and similar things with a militia in which they wish to foster a tradition of skill-at-arms might well arrange such events regularly (many Swiss, German and Italian cities have precisely such traditions), focusing on whichever weapons seem most appropriate to their style of warfare.

Some tournaments may also have non-physical competitions such as arts contests or even agricultural shows.

Depending on the culture in which it takes place a tournament may offer lucrative prizes or mainly prestige - and there may also be money to be made by forfeits paid by defeated opponents2 and by gambling on the outcomes of bouts.

Besides the sports there will also be something of a fair going on with travelling merchants (and not just those catering to the fighters), entertainers, caterers and probably preachers as well.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Of course these things can vary greatly in scale, from a joust held mainly for the local knights by a minor noble to an international contest sponsored by an emperor, and in frequency from a celebration of a birth or marriage to an annual fixture.
  • A big, regular tournament is likely to be a high spot in the calendar year.
  • Properly set up, these things should be fun for the entire party - and can be used as a springboard for all kinds of adventures.
  • These are likely to be a key opportunity for all kinds of social interaction and intrigue - like any other fair, but involving the nobility as well.
  • In peacetime, these are often a good opportunity for a squire to win his spurs.
  • An ahistorical tournament might also include a parrallel contest for women - possibly in "suitable" sports and possibly in arts and crafts.
    • There may even be gender-appropriate weapons such as the Japanese traditions around the Naginata.
  • The non-physical contests might also include magic contests, theological debating competitions and other things for non-martial "classes".
  • A tournament could also serve as a job fair for men at arms - obviously the top jobs are likely to go to the victors in the various events, but other employers might well have to settle for less highly placed recruits.
    • PCs could be on either side of this, depending on status.
  • With professionalisation, a tournament could turn into more of a military pageant and display of the kingdom's armed forces than a serious contest - or become a far more civilian sporting event as participation in the combat aspects becomes less widespread.
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