Tips for Dueling in Session 7

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In session 7 (stage 6) one or more of the PCs may end up in a duel. The winner of the duel is the one who draws first blood. In game mechanics I choose to interpret this as the combatant who damages their opponent first. Once first blood is drawn the loser can concede the duel or they can keep fighting. If they keep fighting the duel is then to the death.

If we run a one-on-one combat normally, the PC/NPC with a highest initiative has a huge advantage. In order to make dueling a bit more interesting I’m going to use active defenses during duels. I’ve written on this before in the article Let Players Roll More Dice. Here’s the nuts and bolts of how it works.

Defenses in 4e & D&D Next all begin at 10 and go up from there. Have you ever wondered why the system was set up this way? In the 3.5e PHB it explained that the base 10 represented an average defense roll, a “take 10” mentality to keep combat simple and eliminate unnecessary defensive rolls. But what if we make defending an active part of combat, at least for the PCs?

Rather than have an AC of 17, you’d have an AC of 7+1d20. Whenever anything attacked your AC you’d have to roll your defense. This means that your AC could be as low as 8 or as high as 27 in this example. On average your defenses would still round out in the 17 ballpark that you’re used to, but now the act of defending falls on your shoulders and required you to make a roll (or multiple rolls).

So to sum up, the defender takes their normal AC and subtracts 10. Whatever’s left is what they add to their d20 defense roll. The one thing to remember is that a tie goes to the attacker. If you want the tie to go to the defender then you have to subtract 11 from the starting AC. It may sound complicated but I ran a group through this week’s encounter already and tested this mechanic and it worked great. It does draw out combat but it makes the fight a lot more exciting, especially if the players describe their attacks and defenses.

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I like the idea of letting the players roll more dice but this still doesn't address the fact that whomever wins initiative will still have a big advantage.  Rolling a d20 for my active defense is no better than taking 10.  I would propose that first blood either refers to whomever is bloodied first or takes their healing surge worth of damage.  The main problem would be that NPCs/monsters tend to have significantly more hit points than PCs of equivalent level.  You could address this by letting the players benefit from creative use of skills.  Perhaps a moderate Endurance check as a minor action gives them resist 2 all for 1 round or a hard Endurance check would be resist 5 all.  They could use Acrobatics for a +1/+2 to AC/Reflex for 1 round, again based on moderate/hard check result.  I would make the level of the skill check equal to the level of their opponent.  


Another option would be to play the duel out entirely through opposed skill checks, which wouldn't have to be the same on both sides. i.e. one person may make an Acrobatics check to dance around behind their opponent to get the drop on them and the other side opposes it with an intimidate check to cause them to stumble.  I would say the best 2 out of 3.  You could develop a simple or elaborate system or simply make it up on the fly, encouraging the players to describe how they are using their skill checks.  Most players will tend to use their best skills, so I would let them use a particular skill no more than once per duel.  Also, you may need to give the NPC a couple of trained skills since many will not list any.

The duelist PCs are generally lower or equal in hit points than most 2nd level PCs, from what I remember I think they're at 11 or 14. And their AC is low. And the PCs should be getting close to 3rd level by then. I'm not worried about them overshadowing the PCs too much; I expect to give them a challenge, but not a boss-level challenge.

On the other hand, if your PCs get into it, I'd pump up one of the duelists to 4 hit dice and give him another ability or two to give the PCs a run for the money.

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