The Unblinking Eye
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Dueling is a custom practiced almost exclusively by the nobility, though there are some non-nobles who know a dueling style because they were instructors for noble youths. Each house has it’s own style, that grants special abilities and a general feel to the way those duelists fight. In addition, duels have some special circumstances that are listed below. Learning a style is done by buying merit points, with each dot of the style a prerequisite for the next.
Most of the abilities in a style have something that can be done in a normal combat melee, and something that only works in a duel. Any fight with more than 2 combatants is not a duel, and the special duel abilities cannot be used. On the other hand, a fight with 2 combatants using swords may be enough of a duel to use those abilities, even if it is not an official duel.
Though the Church officially frowns on dueling, and tries to discourage it, it doesn’t usually take any action against known duelists, nor try to stop duels that have been agreed upon.
Duels are a ritualized form of combat, and as such nobles who participate in them have to worry about a few more things. First of all, there is the setup of the duel where the parties agree to certain rules. These rules must be vetted by the local lord, if there is one where the duel is taking place. This often gives more weight to the preferred rules of a particular house, while in that house’s territory. While actual, in-character discussions of the allowable rules of a duel would require a long, combative conversation, there are some basic things that get decided that can be quickly established for the sake of moving the game along. These are enumerated below. Anything else will have little effect on the mechanics of the duel, and can be discussed for flavor purposes or cut to keep the pace of the game moving.
- Weapons Allowed: Some participants may wish to restrict weapons, or weapon mods. Poison is considered off-limits by most, but it’s worth mentioning if you’re dueling a Decados. The most common restriction is if the parties are allowed to carry an off-hand dagger or not. Other common restrictions include no shock-mods on swords, though contentious duelists may try to restrict the weapons to a single narrow definition of a fencing blade.
- Shields: Both energy shields and physical shields might be allowed or disallowed in a duel. The Hazat are famous for dueling without energy shields, putting their opponents at a huge disadvantage against them on their own worlds, but it has made their style difficult to use against shielded opponents.
- Fisticuffs: In most duels, the combatants are not allowed to strike each other with fists or slam bodies together, but some duels allow this.
- Out of Bounds: Some duels end in a loss for a participant who allows himself to be forced out of the dueling area, but not all. If this rule is in force then the size of the area, and its exact boundaries must also be stated.
- Ending Conditions: At some point the duel has to end.
- First Blood – Many duels where the offense is not great end at first blood. The first party to suffer a wound loses. Duels where this is the rule, and the out of bounds rule are in effect tend to be fast, tense affairs.
- Timed – More commonly duels are fought for a specific time-frame and then judged by (hopefully neutral) observing duelists. A standard time for a duel is either five or ten minutes. Often the combatants wear some kind of protective padding, especially if the duel is being held due to friendly competition rather than some offense. The winner of the duel is the one the judges pick, the point-system for the judging is yet another thing to decide but a ‘standard’ one exists.
- Yield – More serious duels are fought until one party yields or until one party feels ‘satisfied’. These can be bloody duels indeed, and are strongly objected to by the Church. Many lords will not allow these duels unless they don’t have the authority to stop the duelists, or feel it’s the only way to get the issue resolved.
- Death – Duels to the death are extremely rare. These duels are the only ones that priests will routinely threaten religious sanctions over. It’s not often that the Church has to do that, however, because very few lords want a blood feud to begin on their territory. Consequently, duels to the death are either fought away from any authority figures (and often called murders), or become extremely famous affairs that begin or end a vendetta.
The “Standard” Duel:
- A normal duel has the following rules.
- Allows any sword as the primary weapon (but no poison or shock-mods)
- Allows energy shields (no bulky armor or physical shields, synthsilk is usually fine)
- Has an out of bounds (Of size 3)
- Lasts 5 minutes to be judged on points.
- Each hit is worth 1 point, ‘maximum’ hits are worth 2, and spending most of the duel in positive position is worth 1
Duels with and without secondary weapons are equally common. If two combatants don’t hate each other and simply wish to have a quick duel, those are the most likely rules for them to use. Indeed, one can agree to a ‘standard’ duel with those rules, though it’s best to do a quick check to make sure that the host or other duelist is using the normal definition of a ‘standard’ duel, especially on Hazat or Decados worlds.
Special Dueling Rules
Players who’s characters are involved in a duel also have a few extra things to keep in mind. Because of the ritual nature of duels there is much emphasis on certain kinds of attacks, each of which can give some advantage or disadvantage when employed against an enemy. Also, the rules of the duel may impose special conditions, like what gear the character may equip.
- Most duels begin simultaniously. Some special dueling styles may allow one combatant or the other to get the jump right away, but in general when the start of the duel is called, both combatants start fighting.
- Simultanious actions can make for some interesting situations for as long as they last. Both duelists must guess what the other will do, and prepare what they think is the best response.
- Some actions force a character on the back foot. If one combatant has the intiative, he can take advantage of that to be aggressive and force his opponent to respond. The conditions for a loss of initiative are listed below.
- Dodging; Taking the first hit; Being forced to Give Ground; Withdrawing; Being stunned or dazed.
- Other actions may restore things to simultanious actions again.
- Striking for the maximum the opponent’s shield will allow; Parry that completely blocks a Special attack from the opponent’s House Style; Opponent suffers a loss of initiative condition.
- In a duel with out of bounds, the concept of ‘position’ is the abstract way that the rules deal with forcing someone out of the duel. Both combatants begin at 0 position. If one combatant is forced back, he’s at -1 position and his opponent is at +1. Position is always a zero-sum, if the combatants run off and separate the duel is likely going to be ended by the judges as a fouled duel. Even if it’s not, when they next come together, positions reset to 0.
- Actions that reference “Giving Ground” indicate that the combatant in question has lost 1 point of position.
- Actions that reference “Restoring Position” indicate that the combatant has gained 1 position, but only to a maximum of 0. Restoring position can’t force the opponent back past the midpoint.
- The ‘standard’ duel circle has a size of 3. That is, a duelist can be pushed to -3 before he’s about to be pushed out of the ring. Going to a negative position that’s greater than the duel’s size in absolute terms means a loss.
- Dueling circles or areas can be of any size, but ones smaller than size 2 or larger than size 5 are very rare. Larger than size 5 and spectators will wonder why there’s a size restriction at all, while a size 1 duel arena is pitifully small and becomes a churlish shoving match.
Basic Dueling Actions:
- Attack – Attacks proceed as normal, the combatants are using their Weaponry pool, of course. In a duel with shields, a combatant can choose to remove as many dice as he likes from his pool in order to get a result that will slip in under his opponent’s protection.
- Parry – Dodging is uncommon in duels, both because it makes one look weak, and because it forces the duelist to give ground to his opponent which is bad in a duel with an out of bounds. Parrying works mechanically the same as dodging, and can be used with the Weaponry Dodge merit. (but not the Brawling dodge merit)
Special Dueling Actions:
- Baffle – The character uses his cloak, a nearby improvised object, or offhand item to try and tangle up the opponent’s sword. The idea is to shore up one’s defense, especially against fancy attacks which are very hard to do with a cloak over your sword.
- Baffle is a Defensive action that uses up the character’s standard action, like Parry.
- The Baffling character gains +2 Defense against the incoming attack.
- The Baffling character gains an additional +2 Defense (total +4) against special attacks from a Dueling Style.
- Close – The character using this action moves in to attack his opponent and cuts the distance down from sword-length to face to face. A potentially dangerous maneuver but one that’s useful when your back is against the wall, or are good with your offhand dagger.
- Closing is an attack action that requires movement.
- Both combatants get -2 defense
- The Closing duelist restores 1 Position.
- The Closing duelist gains +3 to attack if using a dagger or other short blade.
- Short-blade attacks continue to get +2 to attack on subsequent rounds, for both combatants. This persists until one combatant Withdraws or is forced to Give Ground.
- Players in Close positions can Press but they cannot Lunge.
- Fancy Footwork – The character moves quickly, with intricate steps to get around his opponent without opening up a weak spot. It’s good for not getting hit, but it doesn’t always work, and the concentration on movement makes attacking difficult.
- Fancy Footwork is a Move action
- The player rolls Dexterity + Weaponry, resisted by the opponent’s Weaponry.
- If successful, the character gets +1 Defense, and restores 1 Position.
- Successful or not, the character gets -2 to his attack pool that round, and cannot use a Dueling Style technique.
- Feint – The character pretends to attack, setting his opponent up for a much more devastating attack later. It’s a gamble that the actual attack will be worth not attacking now, but against an opponent who’s focusing heavily on defense, it can be very worth it.
- Feint is an attack action.
- The player rolls Manipulation or Intelligence, plus his Weaponry. It is resisted by the opponent’s Wits.
- Feint deals no damage.
- If the Feint is successful, the character’s next attack gets +2 to the pool.
- Hold Ground – The character stops moving, rooted to the spot and unwilling to be forced back. This makes the character easier to hit, but stops him from being pushed back, short of actual body-to-body contact, which most duels forbid.
- Hold Ground is a move action, specifically, the character chooses not to move.
- The character gets -1 Defense.
- The character cannot be forced to Give Ground.
- Lunge – The character leans in for a long smooth stabbing motion. This quick attack with a small profile often fools shields, and can force an opponent back. It does over-extend the lunging duelist though, so there’s some danger.
- Lunge is an attack action with no modifiers to the dice pool.
- The lunging character gets -2 to his Defense.
- The lunging character may choose to reduce the damage of his attack by 1 after the roll result is known, to avoid shield activation.
- A character who responds to a Lunge by Parrying or Dodging is forced to Give Ground.
- A Lunge negates the Defense bonuses of Baffle.
- Press – The character presses forward, attacking strongly! Both combatants are more likely to score an attack as things heat up. Those who respond defensively to this maneuver are often forced backwards.
- Press is an attack action that grants a +2 bonus to the pool. The character must move forward.
- The Pressing character gets -2 to his Defense.
- If the opponent Parries or Dodges he must also Give Ground.
- If the opponent doesn’t Hold Ground, and is wounded, he must Give Ground.
- Withdraw – The character pulls back, extending the distance between himself and his adversary. This can be to open up distance after someone has closed, or it can be to get additional space to move. Either way, it improves the character’s ability to defend but often results in a loss of position.
- Withdraw is a Move action.
- The Withdrawing character Gives Ground.
- The only exception to this is if the character Closed on his last action.
- The Withdrawing character gets +2 Defense.
- If the duelists are currently in close combat, Withdraw restores them to normal range.