Single Strike Duels
Single strike duels are often used to resolve important matters of honor between two samurai. A samurai who feels he has been wronged in some way, can challenged the source of his mistreatment to a duel, by loudly and publicly proclaiming the nature of the offense against him. Challenges may arise from anything as simple as inappropriate treatment of the samurai’s sword (such as bumping into it in passage) to the culmination of a generations long blood feud. There is a certain protocol to be followed when issuing a challenge. First, unless a samurai is prepared to present supporting testimony from a superior, one does not challenge characters of higher Position than himself. Ever. This social courtesy protects ranking samurai from assassination attempts in the form of spurious challenges. Trying to do so anyway is considered a form of slander, and may provoke the offended superior into challenging the lower ranking claimant, but more likely the uncouth challenger will be ignored, left to face the scorn of his peers. Second, the nature of the challenge should give its object some means to withdraw, if not gracefully. A challenged samurai may either apologize for whatever slight he has offered (if the challenger indicates that a simple apology is acceptable) or may publicly admit that the challengers claims are true, facing whatever consequences are appropriate to this revelation and admission. Finally, the challenger must indicate that should the challenged party not yield, whether first blood will be sufficient to settle the complaint, or if a duel to the death is required to assuage his honor.
Refusing a duel is a very difficult proposition. Because samurai are expected to face any challenge bravely, and show no fear of death (or failure), a less than perfectly handled refusal can only result in shame for the samurai. To decline a duel, one needs to thoroughly ridicule the source of the challenge, making it clear that such a person (or group) has no right to make such a challenge. Strident claims that the origin of the challenge is false and groundless are one approach. Indeed, such a refusal may be based on the absolute truth. To make such an argument effectively, requires a contested roll of Awareness + Sincerity or Oration. Either the challenger or one of his supporting witnesses rolls in support of the challenge. Similarly, the challenged samurai might have a friend speak his case. If the challenged party wins the roll, the challenger (or witness) must desist in his claims for the time being. The challenger (and any witnesses who actively argues the point) losses one point of Glory for every five points his opponent’s roll exceeded his own. He may only renew his challenge after finding at least one new person of equal or higher Position rank to support his claims. If the Challenger wins, the challenged samurai must either face the duel or commit a public act of cowardice (losing 3x his Honor Rank in honor points and 5x times his Position Rank in Glory). If a friend spoke up for the challenged samurai, he loses a Glory point for every five points he lost the roll by. This is essentially trial by public opinion, and a samurai must be very aware of the sort of reputation this public scene may give him. The character whom argues poorly may be seen as a coward for even putting up a protest if he always does so. The deft speaker may create the impression that he is simply beset by boorish louts, and is the victim of some failed campaign to ruin his good name.
Deferring a duel is a different matter. The two samurai must agree on the conditions. A one-day delay is almost always acceptable, and attempting to force an unwilling samurai into dueling sooner is in the poorest taste. Delays of ten days to a month are uncommon, but not unheard of. Delays of a season or more are almost unheard of, but not impossible. Such long delays are almost always the result of a duel being arranged through messengers or correspondence.
Tests of skill through dueling are similar, but carry a different social context. These challenges are sporting, rather than based on honor. Challenges based on skill are always to first blood only. A challenge to a test of skill can be made to a character of higher Position rank, but the challenged party may always refuse. Such challenges in a dojo setting will often require the challenger work his way up through the ranks of the school; a process which cannot be gracefully declined. Like duels, the challenged samurai (or school) is expected to meet any challenge without fear. The process for talking your way out of a test of skill is almost identical to avoiding duels. Outright refusal cost 2x Honor Rank in honor and 3x Position Rank in Glory points. In this case the Glory loss is as likely to come from the challenger spreading tales of the character or school’s cowardice as from public humiliation, as seeking a test of skill is commonly done in private.
“Single Strike” Duels are armed contests. Almost all formal duels are fought using katana, but encounters on the battlefield, or contests of skill may call for different weapons. Formal duels fought with a weapon other than a katana are considered rather suspicious, and locating a witness (see below) may prove much more difficult. For katana, there are variety of stances and forms used by the swordsmen of Rokugan. Dueling samurai may fight with a single sword, two swords, drawn blades or sheathed as their own practice of ken-do dictates.
Once the challenge is made and accepted, each participant locates a witness of higher Position Rank than either participant who will observe that the duel was fair and proper. Both parties may agree on a single witness, if one can be found that both parties trust. The magistrate in charge of the area is a suitable witness regardless of Position Ranks. The witnesses take responsibility for the duel if accusations are made afterwards, or the daimyo or family of the deceased questions the conduct of the duel. Unless participants agree to a delay, duels tend to be settled within 1 (Rokugani) hour of the challenge. Witnesses provide a “GM brake” to silly challenges: no responsible NPC of high enough Position Rank will be found who will stake his own reputation on a groundless challenge (noting that characters with high Awareness, Oration, Manipulation, and/or Sincerity can make the grounds seem more compelling than they are). Dueling without witnesses is illegal, though it may be overlooked if the cause was sound and the winner reports himself to the authorities. A duel without witnesses may become murder in the eyes of the law if the deceased’s lord or kin present a strong protest to the magistrate in charge of the region. Murder, naturally can be answered by both police action, and legitimate killing of the offender by the deceased’s kin or friends.
Some of Rokugan’s samurai do not follow the way of the sword. Shugenja, courtiers, some magistrates, and other samurai who do not wear the daisho, are not required to fight in single strike duels personally. Instead they may send a champion in their place. The champion fights the duel, and the samurai whom they represent must face any consequences the duel would normally offer. Both the challenger and the challenged may use champions. If the champion loses a duel to the death, the championed samurai is expected to commit seppuku. Shugenja who challenge shugenja have other methods of settling their disputes.
Characters take their dueling stances, paused in the moment before striking. Characters using katana must decide to use either their Kenjutsu or Iaijutsu skill. Characters using other weapons use the skill appropriate to that weapon. At this point the two duelists begin to study each other for weaknesses. When the moment comes the duelist must strike with such certainty and overwhelming presence that his opponent has no chance to do the same. Each duelist rolls to study their opponent, TN of 15, using Awareness + the character’s skill in the weapon skill the opponent will be using in this duel (if you are using a drawn katana, and your opponent a yari, you will roll Awareness + Yari, and he will roll Awareness + Kenjutsu). Success tells the duelist either the opponents school, Agility, weapon skill, or current void points. Each raise the duelist takes on this roll tells him an additional detail about the opponent. Two raises are required to determine the opponents Void Ring. This roll to study a character can only be made with the subject displaying his best stance. An observer may also try to gauge the abilities of duelists who have taken their stances. The information learned must be the same thing for each of them, letting the observer “compare the two”. This requires a Perception (+ School Rank if a bushi, keeping Perception) roll, TN 30 (40 for Void Ring). An observer may not make raises on this roll.
The character that succeeds on this roll with the highest number of raises gains the advantage. If both characters succeed with the same number of raises then the character with the highest roll gains the advantage. If both characters have the same number of raises and roll the same number then they both roll again the following round (learning new things about their opponent). If both of the duelists fail this roll then repeat the roll next turn. At this point either character may withdraw by conceding. The winner of this rolls Chi is increased by one (for this duel), the loser chooses whether to strike or focus.
Each character is gathering the very forces of his life into this one moment. This chi will determine who strikes with purpose and who strikes ineffectually. Base Chi is equal to the characters Void Ring. Characters who are wounded lose as many points from their Chi as they lose dice for rolls (to a minimum of 0). Characters who are using any weapon except a katana against a duelist who is using a katana face a -1 Chi penalty (again, minimum Chi of 0).
The character tries to purify his Chi for the coming moment. Outwardly a focus can take many forms: a slight correction in stance, shifting the grip on the blade, or remaining perfectly, unblinkingly still. Focusing may take several seconds and is based on both the character’s Fire Ring, Meditation Skill, and skill with the weapon they are using. The samurai’s Fire represents his control and balance of his most dynamic energies, which will be called upon in only moments to defeat his foe. Meditation helps the samurai focus and direct that power, refining it through spiritual discipline. Each character may Focus a number of times up to their weapon skill + 1 (the Balance Advantage adds +2 to this limit). Characters without skill in the weapon they are using may only Focus a single time (even with the Balance Advantage). When the character with advantage chooses to Focus a turn has passed. All of a characters Focusing is considered to be one action, so only one void point may be spent during focusing unless the character has a technique that lets him spend more than one void point. Likewise, techniques or advantages that affect a roll may only be used once while focusing. After a duelist Focuses the opponent receives the choice of ‘Strike!’ or ‘Focus’ (if he is able).
The character declaring he wishes to Focus chooses a number between +0 and +5. The character then rolls Fire + Meditation versus the corresponding TN from the table below. If the samurai succeeds, his Chi is increased by the Focus chosen. If he fails, reduce his Chi by one. If two players are involved they may choose to Focus and roll secretly from each other. If the GM is agreeable a second player may observe a players focus and roll so that the GM (and the NPC) is uncertain about a PCs focuses.
Bushi from schools with an emphasis on dueling may possess techniques that allow them to perform specialized Focuses. Some of these are described below.
TN: 5 1015253550
When a duelist declares Strike he is saying that he is prepared to meet with destiny. Both competitors leap into furious motion. If secret Focusing has been used, all Focuses are revealed and each combatants Chi is calculated. The character with the higher Chi brushes aside his opponents weapon and automatically hits him. If both duelists have the same Chi then both of them hit simultaneously, doing full damage. “Single strike” duels do not result in both characters missing unless some outside force intervenes. The hit that follows the declaration of strike may be considered to be a Normal Attack or a Full Attack at the character discretion (triggering secondary effects and techniques such as the Matsu Fear Check). There is only one attack, and techniques that grant multiple attacks per turn have no effect on this.
Single strike duels are very deadly. Roll damage keeping one extra die and adding the characters Chi (including focuses) from this duel to the damage. Even if the loser is not killed, he does not get an attack this turn, having already struck and missed. If the duelist’s Chi were tied both characters roll damage as described. A character may “pull” a blow if he intends to intimidate rather than kill, by keeping his low dice and dropping the Chi bonus. Fancier tricks like disarming the opponent or performing a ‘sword to throat’ require the samurai to have beaten his opponent by a number of Chi points equal to the number of raises required + 1, and is correspondingly rare. These tricks also do not end a duel to the death, and the opponent may continue to fight on to the best of his ability rather than surrendering. Called shots may also be attempted, but again require a chi advantage one higher than the number of raises normally required, and the samurai’s Chi is not added to the wounds when making a called shot. Regardless, for every point that the winners Chi exceeded the losers, the winner may roll an additional die on his next attempt to intimidate the loser (until the end of that day).
Practice duels or non-lethal challenges are often performed with either the bokken or shinai replacing the katana. Bokken are hardwood practice swords. They are normally 0k2-blunt weapons, but characters with a Kejutsu or Iaijutsu of 2 or more may wield them so as to keep only one die of damage in practice bouts. Shinai are bamboo splints loosely bound together. They make a terrific clacking sound when they hit and can raise terrible welts. They have a DR of 0k1 (always dropping the highest die of damage) and are also blunt.
After the Strike
If both characters strike (tied Chi) and only one character is alive at the end of the duel the victor is clear. If both characters are still alive things can become complicated. In duels to first blood the winner is usually obvious, but if both competitors Chis were equal the duelists will have to decide who was the victor. If the duel was to the death the fight continues as a normal skirmish. The winner of the single strike receives a bonus to his attack rolls until the end of the duel equal to the difference between his Chi and his opponent’s. The loser has an equal penalty to his attack rolls.
Schools & Techniques
Many techniques affect the outcome of “single strike” duels.
- The main Crab bushi school performs passably in duels, with a definite advantage in duels to the death.
*The Mountain Does Not Move (Hida-2):* The Crab may negate the damage, but is still the loser of a duel to “first blood”.
- Few Daidoji techniques directly effect duels, but their ability to absorb punishment in the service of honor gives them surprising staying power in duels to the death.
*Tread Upon the Sword (Daidoji-5)* As all focusing and the Strike are considered a single action, the daidoji need only use this ability once to effect all focus rolls and the Strike.
- The preeminent duelists of Rokugan, the Kakita school has undergone several changes to keep them competitive in the Single Strike system. Full details of the changes to this school may be found in the Crane Dojo.
*The Sudden Strike (Kakita-2):* If the Kakita openly declares his focus and succeeds in making it, the opponent must attempt an equal or higher focus (or strike) on his next opportunity to focus.
*Strike from the Void (Kakita-3):* Each successful focus gives the character an extra point of Chi. This does not increase the value of the focus itself.
*One Strike, Two Cuts (Kakita-4):* This technique (two damage rolls) allows the Crane to roll damage twice, keeping the roll he wants in single strike duels.
- The Mirumoto bushi’s naturally contemplative nature, flexibility in skills and traits, and “no stance” fighting style combine to make those of their number who dedicate themselves to single combat quite formidable.
*Niten (Mirumoto-1):* The opponents TN during the stance roll is increased by his Kenjutsu + School Rank.
- Dedicated to precision, when an Akodo does strike, he blow tends to be extremely fatal. Masters of the Akodo-ryu apply the Final Lesson to duels in a way that is truly frightening.
*Way of the Lion (Akodo-1):* If the Akodo’s Chi is higher when Strike is declared, he is considered to have an additional point of Chi (increasing his damage or options for special attacks/called shots).
*Hand of Destiny (Akodo-4):* The Akodo need only have the highest Chi when Strike is declared to make any called shot, and continues to add his Chi to the damage when doing so.
*The Final Lesson (Akodo-5):* The Lion never fails completely. Missed focus rolls do not give the usual -1 chi penalty.
- Focused more on the demands of the battlefield, the Matsu Bushi’s only significant advantage in duels is the intensity they bring to the successful Strike.
*Fury of the Lion (Matsu-1):* The Matsu may consider the Strike to be a Full Attack, increasing the value of her kept damage dice.
*Roar of 10,000 Lions (Matsu-3):* Again the Strike can be considered a Full Attack, allowing the Matsu to produce a Fear Effect directed towards her opponent.
- Often mocked on the battlefield, the Shiba bushi’s grasp of Fire, Void, and Meditation makes him a dangerous opponent in duels.
*Way of the Phoenix (Shiba 1):* This character may use more than one void point on multiple focuses and/or multiple points on a single roll.
- With their knowledge of both Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu, combined with Intelligence and Sincerity, these Scorpions tend to dictate the social terrain and the skills being used to determine their weaknesses.