A somewhat unusual situation has come up in my campaign, several characters have been coerced into entering a race with a large sum of money -- and more importantly the honor of one of their noble patrons -- at stake. This is one of the few cases where some times of neither player planning nor a single skill roll really seem to be a good way to resolve the situation in both an interesting and fair manner. I thought about this on and off for most of this week. I finally came up with the following "Contest of Skills" rules based on the skill system used in my Microlite74 game.
Contest of Skills
A contest of skills is handled similar to combat, except the opponents aren’t trying to kill one another; they are trying to defeat their opponent with their skills. Like in a combat, opponents in a contest of skills make an initiative roll for each round to determine who "attacks" first in the round. Instead of making a roll of attack bonus vs. Armor Class, each contestant makes the appropriate M74 skill roll based on his class and background. If the attacker’s result is equal or higher than the defender’s result, he causes “skill damage” equal to 1d6 + stat bonus of the stat used by the skill. Skill Damage is removed from a set of Contest Points. At the beginning of the contest, each contestant's Contest Points which are set equal to the score of the stat used by the skill plus the character's level. When a character’s Contest Points fall to 0 (zero) or less, the contest of skills is over, and the loser is defeated (knocked unconscious, humiliated, loses the bet, etc). Contest Points cannot normally be increased during a Contest of Skills – unless someone successfully cheats.
This system is general enough that it could be used for just about any non-lethal contest from the foot race to the top of Dorset's Hill and back in my game this afternoon to a poker game, a singing contest, or even a boxing match. However, it's also very simple and easy to modify if needed to fit a specific contest. For example, in a multi-player poker game, the winner of a round (a hand of cards in this case) could roll "damage" separately against each opponent as different opponents might have dropped out of the hand at different times losing different amounts of poker chips.
I have no idea how well this system will work in play, but I will get a first impression this afternoon. I know it has worked fairly well in my solo testing.