Dueling is supposed to happen with both contestants wielding a katana, and it is dishonorable to do otherwise (Hida Yakamo fought and won a duel using a tetsubo but you know, Crab clan).

When fighting field battles, on the other hand, samurai just pick their weapons of choice, e.g. the certainly honorable Lion daimyo Akodo Arasou is described to wield a nodachi when assaulting Toshi Ranbo, during his last battle.

So what happens when a duel sparks in the middle of a battle and one of the contestants is wielding an 'improper' weapon? Does he lay his weapon of choice down temporarily and disputes the duel with his katana, or is he allowed to fight with his weapon of choice?


2 Answers 2


When in a "mass combat" setting, there's really only one thing to consider: does either combatant challenge the other? If you are fighting for/against the Crane clan, it is extremely likely to have a proper challenge issued. It also varies about the challenged. A Scorpion might only pretend to drop into a stance, they might not just to prove something. A crab or a Mantis might not care enough for the challenge to put themselves at risk and cast aside a weapon they are strong with against a foe that is renowned for such combat. A Phoenix might go to it because it is a peaceful way to settled a dispute. Unicorn likely won't take the time to dismount. A Lion could go either way - they likely won't turn down a challenge but it might be hard to prove (especially with a Matsu) that they openly did so in the heat of battle. Ronin, bandits, inhumans, etc. could all be targeted with a glib effect like "duel" and each item in that list is half as likely to properly duel.

Attitudes aside, an individual samurai might seek the glory of winning a duel. There is the inherent gain depending on edition, but the tougher the opponent you fell, the greater the glory and the more likely to demoralize the enemy. Even in the grand melee, an official duel will bring spectators keeping one eye on each other and the spectacle.

Lastly, an iaijutsu duel can be a sound tactic. Striking down an opponent without proper warning is dishonorable (although in war, all soldiers are considered fair game as they should be ready/alert at all times). But if you are on the smaller side of a battle, forcing an honorable foe to duel your forces and whittle them down could be potent.

Etiquette aside, first and second editions say that the "duel" is just an open challenge and you can fight it as a skirmish if you choose. Third and fourth editions say you are challenged to a duel, but don't explicitly state if this is iaijutsu or just a one on one skirmish. The reason for this terminology is because in third edition, instead of a blanket damage for being there, you would fight a skirmish with a handful of foes openly and your allies in that level of engagement could tag along. Fourth edition just copied over because it sounded good.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well this is awkward: I just double-checked the core rulebook of the first edition and it clearly states the the duel is a skirmish, as you said. Thank you for pointing it out for me. ^^' \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Aug 27, 2016 at 8:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not awkward in the least. As always it's GM caveat, and the ones I tended to play for would make a big show of the enemy taking a stance to show how tough they were. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Aug 27, 2016 at 21:37

This is a tricky question that somewhat depends on how you define 'duel'. In a non-battle situation the duel is the entire reason the two samurai are fighting; without the duel challenge, they're still just calling each other honorless pig-dogs.

On the battlefield, the samurai are already trying to kill each other. So what makes the fight become a duel? A couple options, not mutually exclusive:

  1. The fight becomes personal for some reason; the two samurai perhaps know and hate each other and have personal grudge to settle.
  2. Two significant figures (say the commanders of the opposing sides) happen to find themselves next to each other and formality is thus called for; the fight becomes a duel for the simple reason of assuming duel protocol.

If #2 is true, then by definition (unless, you know, Crab) it would be fought with katana. If only #1 is true, then the 'duel' may consist entirely of a shouted challenge before continuing the ongoing attempt to kill each other.

The difference would likely be in the eye of the spectator; if the samurai lay down their battle weapons and assume iaijutsu stance, then everyone's going to know they're dueling. If they just shout the challenges, maybe only they consider themselves to be dueling.

The honor level of battlefield dueling with non-katana should also be considered in the context of armor. Outside battle duels are not fought in armor, but in battle it's extremely impractical to remove one's armor and then find a way to get it back on after winning the duel. So honor standards are going to be different than for non-battle duels.

In the end 'allowed' might not be the right term. I'd consider the attitudes of the observers when determining how the characters' circumstances change as a result of the duel. Different observers care about formality to different degrees. If it's a Crab v Mantis battle, no one may care.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, let's talk rules: I'm a honorable samurai wielding my weapon of choice into the fray, and I roll the 'Duel' event in the battle table. I don't know the other contestant if not by name, and we start dueling because that's what samurai do. You're then suggesting that this is case #2 and therefore we should, unless we're Crab-like people, make use of our katana? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Aug 26, 2016 at 23:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Considering a duel as a random event rolled on the battle table makes it loose most of its interest. The GM has to make some context, like "You see Yoshimoto the Red, the one who executed your wife's cousin. The melee becomes more widespread, there is an opportunity for a duel if you want" "Ok, I take it." \$\endgroup\$ Aug 29, 2016 at 11:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tom I agree with AnneAunyme here, a roll of 'duel' on the battle table should be given some sort of context, otherwise there's no plausible reason for the duel to happen \$\endgroup\$
    – Rominus
    Aug 29, 2016 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree, duels are FAR more tasty if a context is given (after all, it's the difference between roleplaying and racing at who rolls higher). That being said, 'Duel' IS an outcome on the battle table, and there should be clear rules for handling that outcome. The handbook says it's a skirmish, and I like it as a rule: in a skirmish samurai can talk and eventually decide that they are going to duel in a formal way, the opposite sounds much less likely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Aug 30, 2016 at 9:20

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