Tonight, as usual, we have the Legend of the Five Rings game. Now, it looks like there may be some formal duels coming up, since the situation is entering a political phase – and we haven’t had much in the way of formal dueling for the last 40 sessions or so. Last time we did, the dueling rules weren’t particularly satisfactory.

   Now, here we have a dueling system proposed by one of the players: It has some useful ideas, but hasn’t yet had much playtesting and has some spots I’m a bit doubtful about – such as where does the extra void come from? Nevertheless, it’s had a good deal more effort put into it then I’ve yet had time to devote to duel mechanics.

Shigure’s Dueling System:

Duel Masters  

Rule One: When in a duel, both participants must face with skill. You get to use one and only one bonus from your School and no more. This bonus must be a numerical bonus added to either attack, defense, or damage, though the specific number may vary according to school rank, honor, ring, trait, etc. (Duel-specific abilities, such as extra Focus attempts, remain in play).

   Any school, spell, kiho, skill, ability, or other effect which affects Void does not function in a duel. The Shiba Bushi school, for example, does not double Void effect or regain Void in a duel. The only exceptions are abilities specifically noted to work in a duel or abilities which increase Focus (but not Void in general). Focus bonuses add to your effective Void score and available Void points in a duel.

   Rule Two: Both players secretly write down their Stance, Style, and or Strategy, as well as the Void spent and how it is spent (about which more below). They can use some special options at this point, but once they say they are done, the choices CANNOT be changed. No school ability, skill, or spell will let you do this barring time travel.

   Rule Three: Characters act according to Order. Order starts at +0 for both and is modified by Void and Stance, Style, and Strategy (see below). Characters can go at the same time, and it’s possibly for two lethal duelists to kill each other in one exchange of blows.

    Rule Four: Unless stated in the ability or option, there is no limit to the amount of Void which can spent on actions or bonuses in the duel, as long as the character’s personal Void reserve holds out.


   Characters all start out at Rank 1 with Normal Stance. You get one additional Stance, Style, or Strategy each time you raise your Rank.

   Characters may take Stances early on. At Rank 3, they may take one Style, and another at Rank 5 and higher. They may gain one Strategy at rank 5, and another at rank 7.

Normal Stance grants you +1 rolled die when attacking and has no penalty.

Weird Stance lets you make an opposed Initiative check when attacked. If you win, you attack first. Cut your Defense in half.

Aggressive Stance grants +1 Order. You receive -10 penalty to Defense.

Fierce Stance grants +2 Order. You receive -10 penalty to attack and Defense.

Passive Stance grants +10 to attack. You receive -1 Order.

Timid Stance grants +10 to attack and Defense. You receive -2 Order.

The available Styles include:

Canny: Opposes Normal and Weird stances. +1 Order against that stance.

Soft: Opposes Aggressive and Fierce stances. +1 Order against that stance.

Hard: Opposes Passive and Timid stances. +1 Order against that stance.

The Strategies include:

Tactician: You may lie about how many Void you have assigned to something written down on your sheet when asked. (See the I Spy option, below.)

Observer: Your opponent must tell you one thing written down on his or her sheet, be it the stance, style, or strategy, or how much Void is pending on a given bonus. You may declare Observer before writing other options, styles, etc.

Reserved for Playtest.


    Every character can use every option. They need not purchased and are not limited by Rank, although they have a Void point cost. You don’t need to write down these unless otherwise specified. Options are always used after writing stances, styles, and strategies, except for I Spy. You may use I Spy as your would the Observer Strategy.

Do Over: provided the action hasn’t started yet, you may rewrite one thing you’ve written down. Write an X beside the original choice, but do not erase or scratch over it. This costs 1 Void.

I Spy: As with the Observer Strategy, your opponent must tell you one thing written down on his or her sheet per Void spent. The opponent cannot tell you the SAME thing more than once, but can use Void for Do Over.

Order Up: You increase your Order by +1 per Void spent. You must write this.

Evasion: You can spend as many Void as you wish to counter damage from an incoming attack (after the damage is rolled). Each point so spent counters damage modified by the character’s rank. If you counter all damage from an attack, that attack missed cleanly.

Character Rank and Evasion

Rank Damage Blocked

1, 2, 3………. 10 per Void spent

4, 5, 6 15 per Void spent

7, 8…………..20 per Void spent

The Next Round:

   If the characters have failed to kill each other, strike the first blow in a duel to first blood, have not surrendered, come to an agreement with Honor satisfied, or otherwise haven’t ended the duel, they each regain ½ of their total Void for the next round. No, you can’t do this and then quit the duel to get Void back; you have to keep going if you took the Void. No, this cannot give you a higher Void than you actually have. Numbers always round down. The GM is allowed to shoot your Void with a shotgun if he or she thinks you’re trying to game the system.

   After the duel, the winner gets ½ his or her total Void back.

   Example: Miko is dueling with Roy and spends only 1 Void of the 5 total Void score she has. The next round, Miko regains 2 Void, but this can’t put her over her normal 5. She only goes up to 5 and the excess is lost.

Optional: All-Rings Dueling:

    Each Ring grants bonuses equal to its number. These never refresh during the duel but refresh whenever the character has time to rest.

  • Earth Ring: Grants points for Evasion as if it were Void.
  • Water Ring: Grants points for use with the I Spy and Do Over options as if it were Void.
  • Fire Ring: Grants points to spend on attack rolls as if it were Void.
  • Air Ring: Grants points to spend on Order as if it were Void.

    Now this definitely has its points: it involves a lot more decision-making, offers more strategies, and drastically de-emphasizes schools for most lower-end and midlevel duelists (making it far less vital for every group and delegation to involve a dueling specialist). On the other hand, it introduces several entirely new mechanics for what is essentially just a sword fight which simply happens to be (1) formalized and (2) may or may not be starting with a fast draw, only covers duels with weapons (and seems to imply swords), and (3) involves several unexplained effects, such as where that rush of new Void Points comes from and just what about a standing start negates so many techniques.


   Personally, I suspect that the mechanics of a formal duel start a good deal earlier – hence here are some of my ideas on the matter:

Step 1) The Challenge: This is an opposed etiquette test. Unfortunately, the Defender – the one being challenged – gets to use the defensive aspects of his or her Etiquette skill. You failed badly? The Defender has the option of setting ridiculousterms without loss of face, of ignoring you as unworthy (and thus inflictinga social hit on the challenger without having to fight), or otherwise pretty much has things all his or her own way. A modest failure? The terms will be greatly to your disadvantage, and the challenged party may choose an exotic duel with little social opprobrium. A modest success? your victim will suffer serious loss of face if they either opt not to duel or set exotic terms for doing so, but may still choose advantageous weapons and situations. A strong success? They will suffer great loss of face if they fail to fight or set odd terms; to avoid such penalties they will have to accept a more-or-less conventional duel. An overwhelming success? You have socially cornered your target and virtually forced him or her to challenge you and allow you to set the terms. They may still withdraw in shame or avoid such a fate through retirement, seppuke, or producing some valid social excuse – such as a summons or command from their daimyo – but there will be whispers about their failure for some time. As usual, allies, techniques, status, and other social influences can be brought into play.

Step 2) The Negotiation: This step sets the details of the battle – just where, when, the stakes, and the details of the engagement. This is an opposed Courtier check, and is similar to the check described above. 

Step 3) The Acceptance: After all of this, either side can withdraw – either acknowledging defeat in being outmaneuvered. arranging for the battle to be forbidden by someone of higher rank, simply arranging to dispose of an opponent before the duel – or choose to field a champion (if one can be found). Failing any of that, we can proceed to…

Step 4) Relaxation. The duelists must compose themselves, seek serenity, and attempt to rest well before their meeting. Ideally, they will also deal with any relevant handicaps – such as injuries – whether through steely determination to ignore them or through other aid. Relaxation can be handled with an opposed Meditation check (although one or both sides may opt to cheat by attempting to disturb each others relaxation). The winner gains some bonus dice, focus attempts, or bonus void points to use during the duel.

Step 5) The Ceremony: Both sides must obey the forms they have chosen – attempting to avoid any Faux Pas – and properly greet each other. Over the centuries, this has become as intricate as any formal dance, and requires an opposed Ceremony roll (In basic L5R use Tea Ceremony or a relevant Perform skill) to avoid any missteps. The winner will unsettle his or her opponent, again gaining some dice, focus attempts, or bonus void points to use during the duel.

Step 6) The Seal: Most formal duels are witnessed by other samurai and by at least one priest – who’s job is to conduct the formal ritual which seals the conditions of the duel. If you have agreed that secondary Void Pools may not be used, or that secondary weapons may not be drawn unless one or the other combatant has been disarmed, it is the job of such witnesses to be sure that such conditions are obeyed – the priest will ritually invoke the Kami to block the use of the selected supernatural talents – whether those are listed specifically or designated in broad terms – while the samurai may notice more physical cheating. It is always possible for the Priest to miss his ceremony check, or for the samurai to miss their investigate/notice checks – but the participants will never know it unless one or more attempts to cheat. Naturally enough, the officiating priest or priests have also been known to yield to pressure – either intentionally leaving a banned ability unblocked or blocking abilities which have not been banned – but this is grossly dishonorable (that doesn’t mean that it never happens of course).

Step 7) Focusing on the Opponent: At this point the opponents may attempt to evaluate each other, searching for weaknesses. Both may roll Investigate/Notice, as well as any relevant Know The School skills to attempt to spot a weakness (gaining bonus dice again, which may be spent to hit, on damage, or to increase their own AC). Each opponent gets one free roll: each roll after that counts as a Focus attempt, requiring either spending a Void Point or a bonus Focus attempt. Either opponent may attempt to put an end to the rolling, moving on to step eight – but this requires the expenditure of two Void Points.

Step 8: The Test of Wills: This is an opposed Deceit/Intimidation check. While all men know doubt, this is an attempt to convince your opponent that you do not – and thus shake his or her confidence even more. The winner, once again, gains bonus dice to expend during the duel.

Step 9: Perfecting Your Stance/Looking for Weakness: Both participants may make a Defense check (for weapons duels) or make opposed checks with a relevant Lore skill. Note that either opponent in an armed duel may opt to Feign a Weakness– reducing their Defense result by 5 while stating a reduction of 10. To facilitate this, both rolls should be made in secret.  In other forms of duels, the winner simply – again – gets bonus dice.

Step 10) Attacking: You may now attack each other (Finally!): If you agreed to start with unreadied weapons, opposed fast-draw duels are in order – unless your weapons need to be assembled first (opposed catapult duel anyone?). If not, its time to go to standard skirmish rules or a dedicated duel system. If you’re dueling with other skills, it’s pretty much down to an opposed check – although any influence you can exert on the judges may complicate matters.

2 Responses

  1. Note/Suggestion re: #8: There are many more ways to psych out an opponent than that.

    One particularly setting-appropriate ones I can think of are, for a monk-type or Buddhist-type, attempting to genuinely remove all fear and doubt by emotionally removing oneself from the situation. That wouldn’t be Deceit (because it’s not lying) or Intimidate (because you’re not doing it, IC at least, primarily to fuck with the other guy).

    Alternately, going with the violent-crazy option and putting oneself in the mindset that it doesn’t matter whether you win, because either way there will be lots of blood coming from somebody, which could be anything from Intimidate to Ecstatic Dance to a Theology roll to mumbling incoherently and stabbing yourself in the hand like you normally do and forgetting the dice.

    You could reduce them all to those two rolls if you insisted, but… well, I’d think that would be kind of an annoying way to respond to something more creative than “I grr at him and possibly boast and/or insult his ancestors”.

  2. Oh there are more ways – but I already used meditation. Now the characters may respond in all sorts of ways (and this system isn’t done yet) – but, unfortunately, it all does have to boil down to a skill or ring check in the system because that’s what the game runs on. Now, an Ecstatic Dance check can measure the technical quality and expressiveness of your dance so you could use it to deliver your intimidation attempt instead of words – but the game system handles all attempts at Intimidation as “Deceit/Intimiadation – an attempt to manipulate somone by creating an overwhelmin impression. I would like to rope in a few more skills though. What’s left that I haven’t used?…

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