Duelling is widely considered a key method of mastering Martial and Protective magic, but it is also a sport in and of itself. Most members of the Guard have at least a basic level of skill at it, and some of them are very good indeed. There are multiple rule sets, depending on the circumstances and training goals (as relevant.) In general, the goal of a skilled duellist is to disable their opponent without causing lasting unmendable harm. Using more force than is actually necessary is considered both clumsy and against the Guard oaths. But of course in actual combat all bets are off.
Of recurring characters, Claudio Warren, Orion Sisley, several of the Guards, and the late Peredur Judson are all skilled duellists A number of the Council Members are also competent duellists, as noted in their information.
Duelling is taught by the Protective magics professor at Schola (with several others helping train duellists depending on need). Once people reach apprenticeship age, they usually work with a suitable duelling master as part of their training, either privately or through the Guard (Magni Torham was the chief Duelling Master for much of his career.) The Guard are encouraged not to duel outside of duty or training, due to some of the magical implications and risk of injury.
Duelling (outside of direct combat) is a negotiated contest. Informal practice bouts don't need a referee if both parties are competent (at school or with younger apprentices, someone is there to keep things within the rules and resolve urgent issues.) In a formal duel, the duellist and referee agree on a rule set. The two commonly used rules sets are:
- Gorham: Three touches, no charms that would do lasting damage.
- Richardian: Any tool is permitted, so long as it is not used directly as a weapon. Usually a bout under these rules goes until one party yields.
Most planned duelling takes place in a salle, a prepared space of some size (usually at least 20 by 20 yards, often more like 20 by 40). There may be seats for spectators (such as at the Guard Hall) or a smaller seating area (in a private salle). In either case, the seating is heavily shielded by protective charms that are checked regularly. The salle customarily has a packed dirt floor, which is infused with Materia and charms to help absorb stray charms and the large amount of magic that can be tossed about during a lengthy or powerful duel. The wood framework (rafters, structural pieces under plaster, etc.) is also charmed to contain the magic. All of these need to be renewed regularly. (Isembard does this during Eclipse). There are often storage spaces for practice gear, options for basic refreshements (a cold box, cool water, etc.) and emergency healing kits.
The basic format is as follows:
- Agreement on rules.
- Proposal of purpose.
- Agreement on terms (time limit, winning conditions, etc.)
- Participants withdraw to their places (20 feet apart)
- They salute (to land, sky, and a hand across the heart with a bow)
- A count of three (three, two, go)
- At the conclusion of the duel, it is common to send the excess magic into the salle to reinforce the protections (especially at Schola or the Guard Hall.)
A wide variety of techniques and magical applications are fair game. They can include:
- Stinging or mildly painful shots (to make someone move, duck, hop, etc.)
- Positioning someone where the light can get their eyes (often a combination of physical position and magical reflection)
- Making the ground under their feet slippery, boggy, uneven, etc. to make the person fall.
- Shielding charms of many kinds.
- Distractions to get in under someone's guard.
- Charms that make someone's arm or leg numb (the effect of hitting your funny bone.)
Books that include significant duelling content include:
- Pastiche (1906)
- Tea and Meetings (preparation for duelling)
- Eclipse (duelling training, 1924-1925)
- The Fossil Door (1922, not in a salle)
- Three Tales of Gabe and Rathna (the final section, in 1922)
- An upcoming extra related to Best Foot Forward (1935)