Duels: the how’s and why’s

I spent part of last evening thinking about duels in the context of the game, or how to integrate them in a fashion that wouldn’t seem out of place. The reason for this is that duels can be fun, I can write you a nice set of rules to handle duels in different ways and you can builds all kinds of stories around duels, either fighting them or avoiding them.

Nicklas Eriksson’s book “Mord i Stockholm” or Murder in Stockholm, give a view of how violent society was before modern times.

A major cause for violence, which includes duels, is that there’s an idea that there’s honor. In the past, honor was external and you could lose it by acting dishonorably. In today’s society, honor largely doesn’t exist or it’s not valid as a concept. Instead, we have internalized honor: you are who you are, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Since I dislike the idea of transplanting 16th century cultural mores into a society that’s largely based on today’s ideals, I came up with something to justify duels. There’s no such thing as a duel for honor. Instead, duels largely serve as a way to repay actual slights. A wife who’s husband got beat up unfairly at an inn might challenge the culprit to a duel. A merchant who feels that he got cheated over a business deal might challenge the rival to a duel. However,  there’s no fighting “defending the lady’s honor”, the women in Lions of the North can take care of themselves, thank you very much.

Why would this make sense? Simple: the world of Lions of the North Ho doesn’t have a modern system of courts or laws, especially something like tort law is in it’s infancy. You can’t sue someone over damages mostly anywhere, but you can go and fight someone over these kind of things.

Culturally, duels also serve as a formalized way of releasing tensions. Once the fight is over, it’s over. No relatives or friends are allowed to intervene or take revenge after a duel has been fought.

As of this phase of writing, the rules to duels are fairly simple. Firearms are generally not used (or approved by the authorities), duels can be fought to the death (rarely) or to other agreed-upon conditions. Duels need to happen on neutral ground and outside intervention is forbidden. The upper classes prefer to fight with swords, the lower classes fight with spear, fist, knife or axe. A challenge for a duel can be disregarded for various common-sense reasons, for example if the challenger is clearly superior to the challenged or if the challenger seeks to profit from the duel. Likewise, refusing to fight to the death over a mug of spilled cider is no big thing. People do have common sense.



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