The Guy That Wrote This (uhlrik) wrote in roleplayers,
The Guy That Wrote This

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Tell Me A Story: Dynamic Duels

Fights in roleplaying games tend to be small-unit skirmishes for the most part, and one-on-one duels are a bit on the rare side. Duels certainly happen, but they seem to be a minority of in-game combats. There's a great deal of dramatic potential in duels, though, and I feel like talking about them. Whether it's two old rivals squaring off in the middle of a much larger maelstrom of destruction which seems to vanish around them as they cross blades or whether it's a pair of samurai at winter court having an iaijutsu duel over a point of honor, or whether it's two greybearded wizards throwing down to show whose brand of sorcery is most potent, there's a lot of dramatic grist to be sent to the mill.

Of course, interference and dirty tricks from outside parties trying to sway the fight one way or the other do not invalidate this as a duel - it's a staple of the topic after all: a disarmed hero is thrown a new sword (or chainsaw) by an ally, a dastardly villain poisons his champion's blade or arranges for a sniper to take a shot at the hero when he has his opponent in a corner, or a horde of minions/guardsmen rush, forcing one side or the other to break off the duel right when they had the upper hand or what have you. Great stuff, potentially.

What is the most dramatic (or alternately, most disappointing) mano-a-mano fight that you can remember occurring in one of your games? What made it so great, and what was the outcome? How might it have been handled better in the context of the game? Let's talk.

There've been some great duels in my games, and I'd be remiss if I weren't to share at least one or two.

One standout occurred in a Dark Ages: Vampire game. A big PC bruiser of an English brujah  named Giles (based not-so-loosely on Guts from Berserk) on the Road of Heaven who saw himself as a force of God's vengeance was squaring off against his much-smaller sire, a spanish swordsman who was even stronger and faster than himself. The PC had encountered his sire for the first time in years and witnessed him murdering another Cainite as part of his furore campaign against the elders of their society. Giles got into a verbal altercation with his sire, questioning his commitment to his Road (it was from his sire that Giles had learned the Road to begin with) and accusing him of having lost himself in a haze of bloodshed.

Naturally, swords were drawn and blows were exchanged. The duel included the sire being kicked and sent flying down a scree slope, then Potence-leaping back up the entire distance he had been hurled to land a return blow and continue the fight, and several other extremely cinematic moments. They continued their argument as their blades clashed, as well. Though Giles was a powerful warrior, his sire was more powerful still and he gradually wore Giles down. Our game session switched from tabletop mode to live-action at this moment as Giles knelt defeated but filled with righteous fury before his sire, who held his damascus scimitar poised to behead him (so with me as the ST standing over Giles' player). As Giles acknowledged that he was beaten by force of arms, he went on to state that his sire was about to prove the truth of the accusations that had been leveled against him.

I thought for several moments on how his sire would react to this, and decided that would get through to this particular Cainite. He stayed his hand and bade Giles to rise. He reversed his blade and offered it hilt-first to Giles, who looked at it with some confusion so the elder vampire thumped him hard in the chest and bellowed at him to take it. The moment the sword was in Giles' hands, his sire knelt down in turn. Giles and his player immediately and without need for verbal explanation understood what was going on: the sire was wordlessly acknowledging that Giles was in fact correct and that he desired absolution. He granted this by beheading his sire on the spot.

The descriptions, back-and-forth and verbal sparring paired with swordplay made the earlier parts of the duel great, but the live-action at the end was what really sealed the deal. It enabled Peter (Giles' player) and I to communicate deep things about the characters' relationships very, very quickly and wordlessly. Plus, the look of surprise, confusion and shock on his face as I literally shouted "take it!" and thumped him (gently, though he got that the actual in-game thump was anything but)  in the chest and the expression of realization that came over him as I went down to one knee were huge payoffs. The look on somebody's face when they really connect is fantastic. I also love that while the PC lost the literal sword-fight, he won the debate that was the conflict of which the duel was a part and came out the ultimate victor. To me, that's huge.

Another great duel was one in ADnD1e where my PC was an interfering third party. The PC paladin and the villainous antipaladin had an extended duel and the PC appeared to have gained the upper hand so the baddie took a knee and removed his helm, apparently submitting as the defeated party. Of course he was setting up a dastardly strike on the paladin who was naturally stepping forward to magnanimously accept his surrender. My gnome fighter saw what was going on and was having none of that: he whipped out the Helm of Opposite Alignment that he was carrying around with him (random treasure is wierd), ran up behind the antipallie just as he was moving to strike and jammed the helm onto his head, causing him to turn Lawful Good and actually surrender himself to face the music for his numerous crimes. He tossed his unholy avenger in a nearby lava pit and ended up dying heroically later in the final battle of the same adventure, leading a charge against the pirate band of which he had once been one of the leaders. I really like this duel though there are others that have been better in a lot of ways. Why? Because it's just so much fun using a Helm of Opposite Alignment as an offensive weapon on a bad guy that's about to do some bad guy stuff.

Please tell me your own stories. I love this stuff.

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