Note: This is an OOC document produced as part of the Purple Monday project, borrowed for the purpose of enhancing Stormwind City's roleplay on Moon Guard US. All credit should be given to the Purple Monday group of the Earthen Ring EU server.
Burr-Hamilton Duel

A Duel of Pistols

'Demand Satisfaction' - A Guide to Duelling

Thought not immediately related to our reforms, we include this document on duelling because it's a good and worldy method of conflict resolution that I think everybody would like to see more of. Too often, characters act with no concern for their lives in the prosecution of grievances and grudges against each other, but I have rarely seen such grievances lead to a challenge.

The Challenge

An acceptable duel begins when one party makes a slight or offence against another party's honour. The offended party makes clear a public and personal grievance against their offender; they “demand satisfaction” with an insulting gesture, such as “throwing down the gauntlet”. When you challenge someone to a duel, the point isn't so much to kill them as to gain “satisfaction” by demonstrating that you are willing to risk your life in order to defend your honour.

To fight a duel, one must have “honour” in the first place; traditionally, this has meant nobility, but many merchants or otherwise successful citizens consider themselves, in emulation of the upper class, to possess honour, and sometimes one party will credit the other with the honour necessary to carry out a proper duel.

So, the challenge is made! The party who's been challenged can, at this point, try to back out of the duel, attempting to make some alternative restitution (like a public apology). But to decline a challenge equals defeat by forfeiture, and some would regard it as dishonourable. If the challenged party accepts, he then has the right to choose the weapon. Rarely the challenger asks for a duel of a specific type but the challenged is under little obligation to accept this; the only exception is magical duels, where both parties must be mages. Both parties must then agree a time and a place where they will step onto the 'field of honour' – usually somewhere and somewhen in which they won't be disturbed or arrested. We hear that just outside the gates of Stormwind is a popular location.

The Field

At the appointed time, the challengers arrive bringing a healer (doctor or priest) and a second. The function of the seconds is to check the fairness of the duel, comparing the weapons, watching for cheating, and suchlike; also to agree to tie up their principals' business should they die; to act as go-betweens for the principals, attempting to negotiate a peaceful reconciliation which, if reached, will be held to be an honourable settlement of the dispute; finally to act as witnesses to everything that happens, to how the fighters put their lives on the line for their honour. Also, if either party shows itself a coward by failing to turn up – in which case the appearing party 'wins' by default – the seconds shall witness and confirm it.

Now, should reconciliation fail, the duel will take place. Throughout, the offended party – ie the challenger – can stop the duel at any time if he deems his honour to be satisfied. However, the duel usually takes one of the following forms:

Duel of Swords

In a Duel of Swords, both parties stand back to back, then take twenty paces away from each other before turning and facing. At an agreed signal to begin, they fight. Their duel might be to various conditions:

  • To first blood. The duel ends as soon as one man is wounded, that is, as soon as he spills a drop of his blood.
  • To disarmament. Also called 'duelling to mercy'. When one man is cornered without a weapon and at the mercy of his opponent (such as kneeling or lying on the ground with a sword-point at his throat), the duel is considered to be finished.
  • To incapacitation: until one man is simply not able to carry on the duel as a result of his injuries. This may be 'called' by the priest or the physician who has been brought along.
  • To the death. Here, there is no satisfaction until either duellist is mortally wounded.

Explicitly deadly duels, however, were rare in history, and the usual practice was to duel to incapacitation; we suggest either that or disarmament for Azerothian bouts.

Duel of Pistols

In a duel of pistols, there are two methods of beginning. In the first, parties stand back to back as before, with loaded pistols in their hands, and then, on an agreed signal, take an agreed number of paces away from each other, in time with one of the seconds, who counts out aloud. When the right number is reached – usually twelve, but can be less or more, depending on the gravity of the insult – the opponents turn, face, and fire.

Alternatively, they agree on a measured distance and mark it by sticking swords in the ground. The duellists then stand at these swords, facing each other with weapons ready. At an agreed signal – traditionally the drop of a hankerchief by one of the seconds – they can advance and fire at will.

In most cases, only one shot is fired, and once both parties have shot of theirs, the duel is considered over, their honour preserved. They could agree to more, but if you're going to fire more than three times, you might as well have a gunfight, and doing so without a hit (possible, with the probable quality of Azeroth's pistols) would be pretty farcical.

Participants in pistol duels can intentionally miss, firing in the air or to the side, in order to end the duel without any loss of life. Some consider this reasonable, and others find it dishonourable; in the latter cases, it might be specifically forbidden before the duel starts.

Duel of Magic

In a Duel of Magic – mages only – the practice becomes less ceremonial, and more like an actual fight. The mages will usually bind themselves to stay within a magic circle, agree on the limits of their conduct – e.g. what spells they can and can't use – and on the conditions of defeat. Magical duels are rarely to the death and almost always end when one party yields to the other. Yielding is usually signified either verbally, and/or with a physical gesture, like throwing away one's wand or staff, and kneeling before one's opponent.

The Law

There's a question as to whether duelling should be legal or not. There are cases for both: it might still be legal in Stormwind, as a remnant of its courtly past and of the power of nobility (when trial by combat was still a viable method of justice). Or it might be outlawed in the new, strong state that was built after the Second War, seeing as it is an offence against the general peace that harms the body politic and destroys potential assets to the state. Note that if it was legal, breaking the terms of a duel (eg killing in a duel of first blood) would have to be an offence.

Our opinion is that it should be technically illegal but that Guards should usually turn a blind eye to the practice, as it offers a safe or at least organised way for citizens to sort out their grievances rather than just fighting one another chaotically. This happened in the real world. As late as the 40s in some American towns, when two young men were angry at each other, the police would give them boxing gloves and let them fight it out in a ring. We get the impression the guards often have to deal with grudges, and having a friendly guard step forward and say "here. take this sword" is a viable option. The duel happens under controlled circumstances and once it has finished the grievance is done with. This gives guards the freedom to then prosecute those who go out of their way to duel people maliciously, who break the rules, or who pursue a grudge despite it being settled in legitimate combat.

Of course, some interesting RP may develop out of whether or not duelling should be outlawed or legalised. But whatever the case, we emphasise that there should never be too many penalties for duellists. It is, after all, behaviour to be encouraged.

The OOC Bit

Players are at liberty to decide amongst themselves how the duel should be won, but we reckon that players always should come to some sort of OOC agreement. They might simply have an actual, in-game duel, with game-mechanics, skill and gear deciding the outcome of the fight. In such cases, they may want to specify gear and weapon limitations.

An alternative is, of course, to emote the fight. There are a number of options here, too: if the players trust each other and esteem each other fine roleplayers, they might simply say “who wins, wins” and emote it all out. Alternatively they might discuss, before the fight, exactly who would be likely to win, based on their own OOC beliefs about the skills of their characters. This estimate could decide the outcome, or inform the requirements for a /roll (for example, clumsy Barlowe must win the roll by 50 more than skilled swordsman Destyen gets in order to achieve victory). Finally, players with a good OOC rapport, and a sense of showmanship, could script the entire affair between them, deciding who would win and putting on a good theatre piece for those who turn up to watch it. If they do so, they must of course abide by the demands of theatre: they must not bore their audience.

Interesting Duels From History

From wikipedia:

  • “In 1808, two Frenchmen are said to have fought in balloons over Paris, each attempting to shoot and puncture the other's balloon; one duellist is said to have been shot down and killed with his second.
  • “Thirty-five years later (1843), two men are said to have fought a duel by means of throwing billiard balls at each other.
  • “Some participants in a duel, given the choice of weapons, are said to have deliberately chosen ridiculous weapons such as howitzers, sledgehammers, or forkfuls of pig dung, in order to show their disdain for duelling.
  • “It is said (though not confirmed) that Otto Von Bismark challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Virchow, as the challenged party had the choice of weapons; he chose two sausages, one of which had been inoculated with cholera. Bismarck is said to have called off the duel.”