This is a nice semi-portable rules element. Should be usable in almost all rpgs that measure character skill and have some uncertainty. That is, not Wushu or Amber.
The reason for this rules element is making a shooting contest, or similar event, mechanically interesting to play. An uninteresting method would be having the participants roll opposed checks and the best winning or having everyone roll more and more difficult checks until all but one fail. They are generally uninteresting because there is no player choice inherent in them (a specific game may not have this problem, depending on its rules).
This creates a small tactical minigame out of the situation. Not playtested. You were warned.
The contestants are ordered in some way (preferably something that can be affected before the contest by PCs, like the whim of some important person).
First shot: Everyone sets their own difficulty, the first the first contestant, then the second, …, the last, after which the first can opt to increase her difficulty or keep it static, then the second has the same options, …, until nobody wants to increase her difficulty. Failing this shot means dropping out of the contest. The highest success determines who gets to set universal difficulty of the second shot. If there are multiple highest difficulty successes, the first in the order among them gets to decide.
The second shot: The winner of the first shot sets the difficulty of the second shot to any reasonable number. That is, any number achievable by an expert in the use of the equipment. DC around 15 in d20, obstacle 2 or 3 in Burning Wheel. Any contestant but the one who set the difficulty can voluntarily make the shot more difficult for herself only. Again, failure means utter defeat, while the highest success implies control over the next shot’s minimum/default difficulty. If multiple best successes exist, the one next in order among them gets to decide. (Example to follow).
The following shots: The winner of the previous round may opt to increase the difficulty or keep it as is. It can be increased by significant, but not overwhelming, amount. In d20: by up to +5 (or by 0, +2 or +5 for less granularity). BW: keep as is or +1 Ob. All contestants may again opt to increase their personal difficulties.
The process continues until there is only single contestant left. She is the winner. If all remaining contestants fail at the same round, all get another try at the same or slightly less difficult level (GM’s/governing character’s choice). The reward could be decreased in case this happens.
When to use?
This is an extended resolution system, much like combat. Use only at dramatic situation and when PCs are involved. It is not a bad idea to let any noninvolved players play other contestants or the governing character, if NPC. Or maybe they are busy “adjusting” the result or getting bets or whatever. For less important situations simply roll opposed checks and get on to the important parts of the game.
Athy, Bonaley and Chelae (names ripped from Abulafia) are competing in an archery contest. By totally random chance, their order is alphabetical. First Athy selects her starting difficulty (I’m using BW for no particular reason) as Ob 2, than Bonaley at Ob 3. Chelae could take 4 to get the potential starting position or anything if not trying that. She decides to risk the 4. Athy can increase her difficulty. Increasing it to four is sufficient to get the edge, due to her being first in order. She does so. The others pass their opportunities to further increase their difficulties. Everyone succeeds at the bow rolls, so Athy can decide the next shot’s starting value.
Next shot. Athy is confident and set the difficulty at 4. Bonaley chooses to go for a quick win and increases hers to 5. The others would have to succeed at Ob 6+ to get the decision-making power, which they opt to not try. Everyone rolls: Bonaley barely misses her target.
The two remaining contests, Athy and Chelae, are tied, but Chelae is the next in order after Athy, so she can make her decision regarding the next shot’s difficulty: Remain at four or increase to 5. She decides to keep it at 4, which already has a significant chance of failure, given her formidable bow skill of 6. Athy has little motive to up the ante. Rolls are made, but due to a poor strike of luck (and sudden gusts of wind) both miss. The baron overseeing the contest calms the dismayed crowds by letting half the reward promised to the contest winner be used in place of the taxation of the next year. The common folk is pretty happy after that (the other nobles less so). The baron decides to not make the shots any easier (GM seeing that one ought to be able to succeed).
Athy, surprisingly, sets the baseline difficulty at 5. Her player decided that this is the right occasion to burn some artha (kinda like action points) to ensure a victory. With her artha-boosted skill roll she gets a grand total of seven successes, while Chelae fails again, making Athy the winner (of half the price, if the baron keeps his word) with a particularly spectacular shot.