College of Necromancy Formal Duels
Since the founding of the College of Necromancy some five centuries ago, the fraternal oaths taken by its members demand that while within the grounds of the school, no member may do harm to another. While of course there tends to be something of a significant gray area when considering how this oath is observed by Magi in concerns to their discipline of non-Magi students, nonetheless when two members of the College find themselves at an impasse, their disputes are expected to be resolved using an ancient dueling custom that traces its roots back to the Old Empire of Nekross. As such, these sorts of formal duels are the primary means of determining advancement up or down the ranks of Magnus 3rd Class and above, and are practiced by the various Dueling Clubs of the College.
While technically any member of the College can challenge any other member to a duel at any time for any reason (with the exception of the Ultima-Magi who upon obtaining this rank earns a 100 year grace period from defending it), it is considered distasteful to challenge another of more than two ranks below, and fool-hearty to challenge one more than two ranks above. Additionally one can never Duel another for a position that is more than one rank above one’s own, and regardless this only applies the Magnuses or above. Regardless of their ranks however, if both parties agree to a Duel, and there are at least two witnesses to the agreement, the specifics of the competition can be negotiated.
While there is no set decorum between opponents when proposing the Terms of a Duel, if during the challenge one of the two opponents proposes a more severe condition (especially the one being challenged), it is considered cowardly to insist on a less severe condition afterwards or therefore refuse to duel. A specific day and hour for the fight are agreed upon, and while again any date in the future can be agreed upon, it is considered cowardly to insist on date farther than seven days from the moment of the challenge. Failing to appear at the designated place at the appointed time is grounds for forfeit, which is the equivalent of a loss by Surrender.
There is one further caveat to challenging another to a Formal Duel. While in essence every facet of the Terms of a Duel are up for negotiation and require a mutual accord between opponents before the challenge need be accepted, the opponent who is the actual recipient of the challenge has the right to demand a single article of the agreement (called an “Intractable Term”) which if the challenger refuses to agree to, the Duel can be refused without shame. This can be anything from demanding the opponent offer up a particular Ante, choosing a specific Field of Battle, or even requiring the fight be to the death.
Once a challenge between College members has been issued, the Duel either commences at the agreed upon time, or it is rescinded/refused by one party (which concerning one’s Reputation is still considered a Surrender, but comes with no further penalties or rank adjustment). In the event an opponent should demand a rematch, either for a defeat in a Duel, or after rescinding a previous challenge, it is not unusual for the challenged party to demand two or more Intractable Terms before agreeing to said rematch. Challenging an opponent to a rematch, either inside the span of a year’s time, or for a third bout gives the challenged person veritable free reign to name any number of Intractable Terms they desire before agreeing to Formerly Duel the challenging opponent.
In addition to each duelist’s Second, who serve as official witnesses to a Formal Duel, there is often enough a third impartial witness, who serves as judge and essentially referee of the competition. While this role has no real roots in Old Nekross, nonetheless this position has grown over the years to take on almost a sacred status within the College. These experts on Formal Dueling carry the title of Arbiter and have the authority to judge and make the final rulings on any Formal Duel they oversee. Each Arbiter also keeps a personal log of the results of these competitions, which are eventually added to the Library for posterity. Such records often enough also contain the original signed documents where the specific Terms were agreed upon by the opponents when the challenge to Formally Duel was issued (as having these accords “in writing” has become generally standard practice in the past centuries). These signed documents are originally then delivered to the Grand Arbiter who will assign an Arbiter to oversee said Formal Duel regardless of the time and location of the agreed upon fight. Vashus Roth himself has been known to personally oversee even the most inconsequential of Duels if no other Arbiter is available.
Duels are traditionally fought to either First Blood (as we use the Vitality/Wound point system, this means to the first Wound point scored), To Surrender, or To The Death. While lapsing into unconsciousness during the fight is deemed a tacit Surrender it is scored as an honorable Defeat (as is First Blood). However, while still conscious, a duelist may indicate Surrender at any time during the Duel by kneeling, bowing, or otherwise genuflecting before their opponent and offering up their wand, staff, ring, familiar, or similar item that symbolizes their power. If the opponents have agreed to an Ante this item could be offered up instead. Some opponents may demand their foe actually vocalize their Surrender before actually accepting it. While causing further harm to an opponent that has offered Surrender is generally frowned upon, causing the death of the same could very well be grounds for expulsion from the College (or worse).
When fighting to the Death however, opponents are under no obligation to offer such clemency to each other. If during a fight to the Death one opponent should suddenly beg for Surrender, it is at the victor’s discretion whether or not to grant it (especially if they are the lower ranked opponent and/or the challenged party). It is not uncommon to extract any matter of oaths, payments, or promises from one’s opponent before formally sparing them in such an event. This also typically occurs in front of a host of witnesses watching the Duel as spectators, leaving promises made in such situations difficult to later shirk.
Also of note, the use of spells from the Illusion school of magic is generally strongly discouraged. While spells such as Invisibility and Mirror Image invariably find their use, despite the final outcome of these Duels there will always be those who snigger that the victor had “cheated”. In this same vein, the use of Enchantments or Charms that cause an opponent to deliberately disqualify themselves in some way are likewise severely frowned upon, though depending on the Arbiter of the match doing this may actually be grounds for disqualification rather than actual victory. It is unusual, but not unheard of, to even prohibit entire schools of magic (or even the use of magic items in general) from a Formal Duel.
Many Duels require each opponent to offer up a wager to be risked on the outcome of the fight. This can be anything from actual sum of gold, to any item of value from a simple magic item to a priceless heirloom, or even something like a business deed or a marriage contract. One’s rank in the upper hierarchy of the school is another wager opponents technically Ante to one another in the case of Formal Duels for position.
In addition to this, when dueling to the Death, it is understood that any item one brings with them onto the Field of Battle is forfeit to the victor by a sacred right that in the eyes of the school supersedes any bill of sale, will and testament, or familial inheritance. When opponents instead risk a consumable item like a potion or a wand as part of their Ante, it is widely accepted that item will not be brought onto the Field of Battle (at the risk of it being consumed during the fight). Additionally, any opponent is well within their rights to demand a full magical identification/hex screening for any item an opponent puts forth as Ante before agreeing to Duel for it.
While the final decision ultimately lies with the victor, it is considered good form to allow a defeated party to ransom back their lost Anted item at fair market value (adjusted for Reputation of course). One somewhat rarely utilized Ante is to compete under a mutually agreed upon “Right of Conquest” meaning the victor of a Duel may claim any one item from the defeated that was brought onto the Field of Battle in the same manner (and rights) as if they had been dueling to the Death. Items claimed in this manner are typically never ransomed back.
The Field of Battle
While technically opponents may agree on any location to hold their Formal Duel, many centuries of treachery has lead to a generally universal consensus that all Formal Duels shall take place upon a “regulation” Cruxix. Comprised of two opposing ankh-shaped platforms, each Cruxix is a raised platform comprised of two sections: the Tau and the Auctor.
The Tau cross consists of a set of Arms and a Tail. These are each 30′ across on a Lesser Cruxix, 60′ on a standard Cruxix, and 90′ long for a Greater Cruxix. The gap between the platforms is either five, ten, or fifteen feet respectively, and that also indicates the standard height of said platforms off the ground. Some Greater Cruxix have an additional barrel vaulted gap beneath the cross of the Tau that flying opponents can attempt to pass through or gain temporary cover underneath. Any portion of one’s body touching the ground anywhere but the surface of the platform however is grounds for immediate disqualification.
The Auctor is the circular section at the top of each Tau’s cross. It is specially enchanted with anti-magic to immediately and automatically dispel any non-permanent magical effects of those passing through its spherical membrane inwards (though any spells cast on oneself while inside the circle are not disenchanted upon exiting). This membrane of anti-magic also prevents any spell energy from passing into our out of the Auctor. Opponents begin the Duel in their respective Auctors, and once they have exited the circle, crossing back over the edge of one is considered an act of immediate Surrender (even of one crossed said threshold unwillingly).
The College of Necromancy boasts a regulation Cruxix of each size (with rumors of others with more unique magical alterations spread about the campus… and wider city at large) but only its Lesser Cruxix is actually indoors, within its own hall in the Martial Studies wing. The other larger platform arrangements exist on the Dueling Fields upon exterior grounds of the school, and have played host to countless legendary Duels over the centuries, which despite the potential danger to onlookers most competitions have anywhere from a handful to hundreds of spectators there to come witness nearly any Formally declared Duel.
Considered something of a “house-rule” but common enough that most opponents feel the need to specify “Rooks” of “No Rooks” when setting the terms of a Duel. While flying magic is naturally permitted in Duels, the rule of Rooks states that an opponent cannot advance past an opponent’s flank unless that opponent has first been defeated or has otherwise surrendered. To violate this either while standing on the ground or in the air is deemed a disqualifying action. This naturally further complicates competitions where there are more than one opponent to a side. “No Rooks” duels allow free movement by opponents anywhere on the Cruxix, regardless of their relative positions.
Opponents also agree on the number of Chimes to be sounded to begin the Duel. This is usually a number between three and seven, with the fewer the number the more challenging the competition is considered. Opponents begin each Duel standing in opposing Auctors (fully disenchanted), and the Chimes sound once every six seconds until the selected number is reached. The final Chime is always different, usually a repeating tone, and at the end of its sounding each opponent must have fully exited their Auctor or are disqualified by Surrender.
NOTE: opponents who “play chicken” with each other trying to delay exiting with one another until the last possible moment (leaving the other disqualified) can resolve this with opposed initiative checks.
While in the past some legendary Duels have utilized more than seven, and even up to as many as eleven Chimes before the fight began, to demand such terms is to imply one is of the caliber of an Arch-Magi. The most daring demand is for “Random Chimes” meaning they will sound anywhere from two to seven times (1d6+1) and the opponents will not know the true number until they hear the final Chime sound.
Additionally, once the fight has begun, the Chime will sound again once per minute. While flying is permitted, opponents are still expected to touch ground on a platform at least once each minute between these Chimes. Failing to do so is considered the same as touching the ground, the Auctor, or any other surface not the platform, resulting in Surrender. Judgment in this manner is left to the supervising Arbiter, who is also usually responsible for the sounding of the competition’s Chimes.
Seconds and Teams
While the impartiality of an Arbiter technically supersedes the need, tradition still dictates each opponent arrive to a Duel accompanied by their own Second, a person of good standing within the College to bear witness to the competition’s results. This becomes far more important if the Duel is to occur somewhere “non-regulation” (and particularly somewhere off-campus). A duelist who cannot produce a Second may still compete, but they are at the sole mercy of their opponent’s ally to corroborate the outcome of the Duel. Additional witnesses are usually easy to come by as spectator interest in Formal Dueling is high, and in fact a competitor who would desire fewer witnesses to a fight are considered highly suspicious.
Seconds are not permitted to assist the Duel in any way, and while they are permitted to watch the magical battle from within the safety of the Auctor, a Second entering into the circle before the duelist has exited is grounds for disqualification.
It is also not unusual for Formal Duels to be fought by more than one opponent to a side. Pairs, Triads, Quartets, and even Quintet groups are not unusual. Historically there have even been grand Duels that have boasted seven necromancers to a side, but such a thing has not occurred in recent memory. Additional numbers naturally complicate any Ante negotiation, and can range from anything from teammates supporting a singular wager between two main opponents, to each and every member of both sides risking all their lives (and Collegiate ranks) on the outcome. Regardless of the events of any Duel, there can only ever be one clear victor (the last man standing) who claims victory for their entire side (even if for some teammates that victory is a posthumous one).
While there is an entire plethora of uniquely colored and shaped tokens which inscribed with a competitor’s rank next to their Arcane Mark indicates the circumstances of one’s victory or loss to the bearer of that mark. These lacquered tokens are hung from hooked placards bearing a Duelist’s name (and mark) within the fabled Hall of Accolades which serves as the main congregation place for the various Dueling Clubs. Hundreds of placards adorn the walls floor to ceiling and each array of tokens displays at a glance each member’s dueling history stretching back to the earliest days of the College. While there are all manner of small technical variations to shape and color of tokens awarded for situations concerning things like forfeit and disqualification, generally speaking a white token indicates an honorable Defeat, a yellow token indicates Surrender, a black token indicates a Victory, and a red token indicates a Fatal Victory.
Benjamin Raspbone’s placard, for instance, boasts an incredibly numerous amount of Victory tokens (especially from his time in the lower ranks) and nearly every single one of them is red…