[Let’s Study: Legend of the Five Rings] Part 5b: Duels

Given its inspirations, it’s no surprise that Legend of the Five Rings has specific mechanics for Dueling. Over the past few editions, the Dueling mechanics have always stood separately from standard combat, and this one is no exception.

Today we’ll be taking a look at the basic framework of the Duel and how it works with the Strife Mechanics of the game.

Setting the Terms

Dueling is a stylized activity meant to resolve dispute, and so the characters entering into a duel must come to an agreement on the terms of the match. This edition acknowledges several types:

  • Iaijutsu Duels (First Strike or First Blood / To the Death)
  • Sparring Bout (To Incapacitation)
  • Warriors Duel (To Defeat)
  • Taryu-Jiai (To Incapacitation)

But in addition to these, some clans might have further consideration. The book goes into how the Crab Clan scoff at dueling without armor and how they avoid duels to the Death as it’s wasteful to die not defending the wall. These cultural touches make for interesting texture for the setting.


Duels follow a similar structure to the Conflicts discussed in the prior article, but with some interesting new twists.


The Staredown takes place at the beginning of each Phase 2: Taking Turns. During this step, each character gains Strife equal to the number of the round (1 on the first, 2 on the second and so on.)

In addition, the player characters who are not yet Compromised make secret bids of a value from 0 to their focus attribute. These are simultaneously revealed, and the amount they bid is added to their Strife as well as their Initiative for the round.

Finishing Blow

If an opponent becomes Compromised or Unmasks for the first time in the duel, then the character has an opportunity to make a Finishing Blow. This is a special action that can happen at any time as an interruption to the standard turn order.

A Finishing Blow is essentially an attack action that deals a Critical Strike with a Deadliness of 2x their weapon or attack’s Deadliness score PLUS extra successes!

For appreciation, a Katana’s Deadliness is 5 when held one-handed, which is likely the case in an Iaijutsu Duel. The entry for a 10 Deadliness blow reads:

“The character suffers the Bleeding condition, then chooses one of the following scar disadvantages for the ring they used for their check to resist: Air (Deafness or Muteness), Earth (Damaged Heart or Damaged Organ), Fire (Lost Arm or Lost Hand), Water (Blindness or Lost Leg), Void (Cognitive Lapses)”

That’s pretty ugly, and with higher Deadliness ratings (such as if someone was dueling you with a two hand grip on the katana, you’d be looking at the entries relating to bleeding out and dying.


Unlike the chaos of a Skirmish, a Duel tends to involve a lot of trying to outsmart the opponent. As such, there are special actions that can be taken within a Duel, such as Center, which allows you to make a roll and stow desirable dice outcomes for the next roll or Predict, which allows you to secretly guess the stance that your opponent will take on their turn. On a successful guess, your opponent suffers 4 strife and has to switch out of the stance.

Overall the Dueling minigame feels like it’s got a lot more depth here. Ultimately it’s about Strife management, and goading your opponent into being Compromised first so that you can interrupt with a Finishing Blow.

That said, even if you’re on the losing end of the Strife race, being able to take a Strike action ahead helps as well because a dead opponent (no matter how calm) can’t pull off a Finishing Strike.

The Predict action in particular is amusing to me, as it does represent a good deal of “mind gaming” that occurs in a duel.

I feel that I’ll need to spend a lot of time on mock duels first to get a better appreciation of the systems behind it, but I do think that it will definitely benefit a lot of duelist characters to pay attention to it so that they can build a character that can perform consistently in duels given the value of the tradition as a means of resolving disputes and settling matters of honor.

Next up, we’ll be taking a peek at the Mass Combat rules!

For those that would like to read along, you can get a copy of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG on PDF over at DrivethruRPG for only $24.95

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