Duelists and Bladerunes

Copyright Cory Magel © 2006

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"A Duelist will never willingly be parted from his weapon."


There are two major groups in my world that add a lot of flavor to things and are, potentially, great plot hooks. The first group is described in this two part article. The first part describes the Duelist, and the second part describes a new Bladerune system that can be used with or without the Duelist.

You'll see an inkling of Highlander fandom in this, but it also has other inspirations... a campaign I once played in a long, long ago where Warlocks would battle each other to the death for a magical stone imbedded in their foe's blade, which they would absorb into their own. Also a little of the "Silver Daggers" in the Deverry novels by Katherine Kerr and maybe even a little of the Heron marked swords from Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series. As gamers, we get our inspiration from all kinds of places and I always like to give a little credit where mine come from.


Duelists as Characters

A Duelist is not a profession, but rather a society or guild. A member of any profession can become a Duelist, but normally only a Semi or Pure Arms user would take on such a title. This is because their main focus is on skill in melee combat.

Duelists belong to a quasi-official guild that governs itself via a counsel and guild officers or elders. There is no actual guild hall or building at which they meet. Rather, they rely largely on Fighter Guilds or public halls to hold their official meetings when needed.

The Duelists' Guild enforces its own laws, which are independent of any local laws. A Duelist who flagrantly abuses his status becomes a "Marked Duelist" and is actively hunted down by other Duelists (in addition to any authorities who may want to see the Duelist punished). Because there are very few laws, the typical punishment is death. The laws that do exist are therefore taken seriously (see Laws below).

Duelists are neither intrinsically good nor evil. They have no professional motivations, as Duelists, other than to challenge other Duelists in a competition to determine who the greater swordsman is. How and why they do so may be influenced by their own motivations, but so long as they abide by the dueling rules set by the guild there are normally no legal repercussions, even in the case of a death. However, duels to the death are quite rare and normally only occur in unusual circumstances. If a Duelist gains a reputation for death duels he or she will likely have a short career, as other Duelists will track him down specifically for the purpose of removing him from the guild... by way of a death duel. Basically, Duelists regularly wanting to fight to the death are generally seen as bad for the guild's reputation.

To become a Duelist one must first come into possession of a Duelist's weapon. How this is accomplished depends on the person. Sometimes a weapon is inherited, passed on to a student, found, stolen, taken from a dead Duelist, or granted by the Duelists' Guild itself. These weapons are quite valuable, being fashioned from a semi-magical alloy that is known to no normal weapon-smith (outside of the Duelists' Guild). The magic of these swords appears to be tied specifically to the dueling process and no other magic, good or bad, will function directly upon them. These weapons are, as a result, virtually indestructible.

A candidate must then be sponsored by at least two existing Duelists who will vouch for his skill in combat. The Duelist is then inducted into the guild during a ceremony that bonds him with his weapon and grants him his own personal rune, which appears on the pommel or hilt and at the base of the blade.

A Duelist will never willingly be parted from his weapon. Special arrangements have been made with most cities that do not normally allow its inhabitants to carry weapons openly. Duelists are often allowed to wear their weapon in places that most citizens are not. Part of this is simply due to the reputation that the Duelists' Guild has established over the years. A second reason is due to the great value of the weapons themselves. Duelists are actually hunted by some people who simply want the weapons for either the magical alloy from which they are constructed or simply the weapon itself. No Duelist would ever give his weapon up to the town guard, or anyone short of a King or possibly an extremely trustworthy Prince. Some Kings will overlook a Duelist wearing a weapon openly in their courts. Most of the rest make careful arrangements to ensure the safety of a Duelist's weapon if he is not allowed to wear it in the King's presence. But there are Kings who simply will not afford any special treatment within their courts. Such Kings will likely never see a Duelist, even if they issue a summons for one.

Normally, for obvious reasons, Duelists are travelers and wanderers. There are exceptions to this, such as a highly skilled Duelist who has no interest in pursuing others because he has already proven himself to be a true master and his reputation will draw Duelists to him. But normally a Duelist roams the lands, traveling from city to city and even to other kingdoms. Some will hire themselves out as mercenaries or bodyguards, some will serve a stint in the local military (usually as a master swordsman training the other soldiers) and some are wealthy enough to simply travel the world, in need of no outside income.

Duelist's Weapon

The origins of the first Duelist's Weapon is uncertain. These weapons appear to be magical weapons made from a distinctive alloy of unknown composition. A Duelist's Weapon manifests no powers until after the Duelist completes the initiation ritual as detailed by the laws of the guild.

As noted before, these weapons can not be directly affected by any magic other than their own. Casting a spell intended to break a weapon or teleport it away (Leaving for example) or even cause it to glow with light will have no result. The weapons are, as a result, virtually indestructible. The mechanism for destroying a Duelist's Weapon is known only to the weapon's original crafter. Note that beneficial spells that target the weapon will also have no effect. For example, a spell that causes the weapon to burst into flame (to inflict a secondary critical) will not work. Spells such as the paladin's "Holy Attack" are up to GM interpretation. Are these spells granting a bonus to the weapon, or to the paladin? GMs will need to take into account the spirit and intent of the spell in these cases.

It is possible to indirectly target these weapons. For example, a spell that lifts an item using the surrounding air is allowed. Bladeturn (and similarly spells) will also function against a Duelist's Weapon. For play balance, these spells are assumed to generate a force that pushes the weapon aside.

Each Duelist, upon completion of the initiation ceremony, is given a personal sigil or rune. This rune is engraved onto the hilt, pommel or handle of his weapon and also on the base of the weapon's 'blade' (whatever portion of the weapon inflicts damage). Each rune has a magical property, selected by an unknown force, that relates somehow to the Duelist.

When a Duelist is defeated in an official duel his personal rune disappears from the blade. Because a Duelist's rune is never erased from the pommel, he always has access to the power of his own rune. A copy of the defeated Duelist's rune appears on the blade of the victorious Duelist, who can now use the powers of that rune. Losing one's personal rune is matter of pride and honor. A Duelist will take every opportunity to reclaim his personal rune. Whenever a Duelist loses a duel, a copy of his rune appears on the victor's blade, even if he has already lost the rune from his blade in a previous duel. If the losing Duelist has a copy of the victor's rune, that rune disappears from the loser's blade.

To regain a personal rune the Duelist must defeat every Duelist with a copy of his rune. Only then will his own personal rune appear at the base of his weapon's blade. In other words, if a Duelist has his personal rune on his blade, no other Duelist has a copy of his rune.

It must be noted that other forms of Bladerunes (other then Duelist runes) cannot be placed on a Duelist's Weapon. However, the apparently unlimited rune capacity of a Duelist's Weapon more then makes up for this restriction. A Duelist will have as many runes on his blade as he has recent victories; Duelist swords have been observed with as many as forty runes on the blade.


When a duel is fought there is a set of rules that all Duelists must adhere to.

1.) To begin, one Duelist must issue a challenge to another Duelist.

2.) The Duelist receiving the challenge must decide the terms of the duel: first blood, death, half-hits, unconsciousness, to surrender, etc.

3.) The Duelist issuing the challenge will decide what magic will be allowed: spells, items, etc. The stipulations are up to him (but weapon runes are always allowed—they can't be deactivated).

4.) The challenged Duelist then selects when and where the duel is to be fought: immediately, in a day, a week, a month etc. While "ten years from now" is technically allowed, it is considered cowardly. A month is fairly common, three months is not uncommon, six months is rare and up to a year is frowned upon. More then a year and a Duelist risks his reputation. Recovering from wounds is the most common reason for delaying a duel, but most duels will be fought on the spot or the next day. Virtually all duels are fought within the week.

This process ensures some semblance of fairness. In order to challenge someone the Duelist must allow that person to decide how dangerous the combat will be, and when and it will take place.

Most Duels are fought on neutral ground, with no magic other than the Duelists' runes, and are not fought to the death. However, in the case of bitter rivalry, the rules are usually more lax. Duels to the death normally have no restrictions (with the stipulation there be no outside interference).

Typically a 25' radius circle is drawn out and the two Duelists initially stand on opposite sides. In some cases there may be no designated fighting area (such as in the midst of battle) and the two will simply have to avoid receiving outside assistance. When assistance is accidentally received, the duel is declared a draw and is re-fought once both parties have fully recovered. In the case of intentional help, the party being helped automatically forfeits the duel. The Duelists' Weapons determine whether or not any assistance is intentional (i.e., it's up to the GM).

The terms of a Duel expire as soon as it is over. If the duel was to the death, the loser (who is now dead) can be resurrected, albeit without his personal rune. Fighting someone to the death may not be a good idea if they have a bunch of friends around and you don't! (Note that the rune from a dead Duelist is much more deeply etched than that of a live Duelist; the victor can easily determine if his opponent comes back to life.)

A Duelist will always use his Duelist's Weapon in an official duel. Two weapon combinations are allowed (and even common), but using two Duelist's Weapons is not possible. Each Duelist has a single Duelist's Weapon that is attuned to him until he passes it on or dies. Shields are rarely used in duels and armor is even rarer. But a buckler or a suit of rigid leather is not unheard of. There are no rules against using full plate and a wall shield, it just isn't practical.

No two Duelists may fight each other more than once in a one month period. This is so that a Duelist who has just lost a match and wants his rune back cannot immediately challenge the winner of the recently complete duel.

Duelist Weapon Runes

Duelists' runes have a wide variety of powers and effects. Some are constantly active while others must be triggered. Runes that require activation may have a duration (Haste), an instanteous effect (Firebolt), require concentration (Detect Spells), etc.

Spell effects are common, enabling the wielder to cast a spell from the weapon a given number of times per day (or using the weapon's power points). These runes normally require Read Runes maneuver.

Special effects are more uncommon, but not overly rare. Examples include raising a specific stat (when the sword is worn or wielded) or providing a bonus to certain skills or categories. Normally, these effects are continually active.

Special abilities are also rare, but not unheard of. Examples include telepathy, a permanent mental barrier, and second sight (the ability to see with one's eyes closed). Some of these abilities require concentration (for example, telepathy) while others have a set duration (for example, second sight) and others may be continually active (such as the mental barrier).

The rarest runes are those that create powerful permanent effects such as a Sword of Sharpness or a Vorpal Blade. Longevity (long life) is another example of an extremely rare rune.

Duelist Guild Laws

There are few laws that Duelists must abide by. The law that dictates how challenges are issued and duels fought is the main law. Additional laws include the following.

  1. No Duelist may use his status as a Duelist to contribute to the death of a non-Duelist. For example, a Duelist may not use his status to appear before royalty or a public official with the intent of performing (or even abetting) an assassination attempt.
  2. No Duelist will ever provide any information concerning the creation, destruction, or repair of a Duelist's Weapon.
  3. All Duelists will follow the established process for dueling and any Duelist who willingly disregards agreed upon conditions of a duel will automatically forfeit said duel.


The following is a new system for using Bladerunes in RM2 and RMSS. This system was originally developed for use with the Duelist, but there is no reason it could not replace the current system. The system is very flexible and could easily be adapted to HARP or another rule system.

I have included a few runes that are not intended to be used in conjunction with the Duelist. If you plan to use both standard Bladerunes and Duelists, then to avoid confusion it may be convenient to refer to the runes described below as Bloodrunes.

Contrary to the runes in RMSS, in which a single rune can fill multiple slots, these runes only occupy one slot each regardless of their powers or properties.

A successful Read Runes maneuver is necessary to trigger a rune (with the exception of Permanent and Contingency runes). Thus, anyone who develops the Read Runes skill can use Bladerunes.

Despite their name, Bladerunes can be placed on any melee weapon, missile weapon, or shield. They cannot be placed on armor or helmets.

Martial Artists can also choose to inscribe Bladerunes as tattoos. The advantage of this option is that the martial artist has room for more than twenty Bladerunes (see Rune Capacity, below). The disadvantage is that tattooed Bladerunes must be Branded or Written (see below). This restriction means that tattoos are not intended to be used with Duelists.

A smooth wooden or metal ball can hold a single Bladerune containing an area effect spell. The wielder first triggers the Bladerune, but its effect is delayed until the ball is thrown. A metal ball is reusable, whereas a wooden ball can only contain a Written Bladerune.

A few additional notes:

  • Any number of Bladerunes can be triggered each round.
  • Triggering a Bladerune that contains an instantaneous spell is a 10% action.
  • Triggering a Bladerune that contains a normal spell is a 75% action.
  • There is no need to trigger a Permanent or Constant Bladerune.
  • To trigger a Bladerune on an item, that item must currently be held.

Types of Bladerunes

A Bladerune's type determines how often its wielder can attempt to trigger the Bladerune (using Read Runes). The power of a Bladerune depends on both its effect and its type. For example, a Permanent rune might seem quite powerful, but if it is merely a Darkvision effect, it's not all that strong. On the other hand, an Imprinted rune, which is only useable once a month (seemingly rather weak), could be a Wish spell. Very strong indeed! Powerful runes should be correspondingly rare.

Permanent = Permanent (and need not be triggered)

Embedded = Once each round

Engraved = Once every minute

Etched = Once every hour

Embossed = Once each day

Inscribed = Once each week

Imprinted = Once each month

Branded = 25 charges

Each charge allows the wielder to attempt to trigger the rune once. The GM must determine if a Branded Bladerune can be recharged. If not, once the charges are expended, the rune disappears from the blade (i.e., that space can be reused).

Note: Duelists should be able to recharge a Branded Bladerune.

Written = Single use

Unlike other Bladerunes, this rune remains on the item until it is successfully triggered. Once triggered, the rune disappears from the blade (i.e., that space can be reused).

Note: Written Runes are cannot be placed on a Duelist's Weapon.

Dispel Magic:

When an item with Bladerunes on it is subjected to Dispel Magic, and the item fails its resistance roll, the runes are rendered useless for one day for every 10 points the RR is failed by. In the case of Written and Branded runes, one charge is also lost for every 25 points the RR is failed by. If the RR is failed by 100 or more, all runes are permanently destroyed. Runes that have been destroyed continue to occupy space on the item, and can be restored.

Note: A Duelist's runes cannot be deactivated by Dispel Magic.

Example Runes for the Bladerunes system:

Weapon Bonus Runes: These runes provide the indicated bonus to the character's Offensive Bonus (OB). This bonus could be anywhere from +5 to as high as +25. Non-permanent Weapon Bonus runes are treated as instantaneous spells.

Weapon Bonus I: +5 Weapon Bonus IV: +20

Weapon Bonus II: +10 Weapon Bonus V: +25

Weapon Bonus III: +15

Skill Bonus Runes: These provide the indicated bonus to a specific skill. This bonus could be anywhere from +5 to +25. Non-permanent Skill Bonus runes are treated as instantaneous spells.

Skill Bonus I: +5 Skill Bonus IV: +20

Skill Bonus II: +10 Skill Bonus V: +25

Skill Bonus III: +15

Skill Category Bonus Runes: As the Skill Bonus Rune, but these provide the indicated bonus to a skill category. This bonus could be anywhere from +2 to +10. Non-permanent Skill Category Bonus runes are treated as instantaneous spells.

Category Bonus I: +2 Category Bonus IV: +8

Category Bonus II: +4 Category Bonus V: +10

Category Bonus III: +6

Stat Bonus Runes: These runes provide a bonus to specific statistic and are always Permanent.

Stat Bonus I: +1 Stat Bonus IV: +4

Stat Bonus II: +2 Stat Bonus V: +5

Stat Bonus III: +3

Rune of Parrying: This rune increases the amount of parry defense a character gains by dedicating part of his OB to parrying. The parry multiplier is increased by 0.5 (i.e., OB from a one-handed weapon devoted to parrying is multiplied by 1.5 and OB from a two-handed weapon is multiplied by 1.0).

Rune of Returning: This rune causes the item to return to the casters hand via Leaving effect. The effect is triggered at the user's will, it is not automatic.

Rune of Returning I: Range of 50' Rune of Returning III: Range of 100'

Rune of Returning II: Range of 75'

Contingency Rune: This is a rune that, as any rune, occupies one rune slot on an item. Its purpose is to define a situation that will cause another rune to trigger. For example, a contingency rune can be defined such that should the wielder fall from a certain height, a Levitate or Landing will be triggered; or if a player is knocked unconscious, a rune intended to heal or awaken them is triggered. When the contingency is created, the activation situation must be duplicated. The contingency can be set to a new situation at any time (by exposing it to the new situation). If the weapon is intelligent, exposure is not required.

Contingency Rune I: This rune will cause another rune to activate automatically.

Contingency Rune II: This rune is able to trigger two different runes either in succession or simultaneously.

Contingency Rune III: As Contingency Rune II but it triggers up to three effects.

Critical Type Runes: These runes cause a secondary critical of a specific type, such as Fire, Cold, Electricity, Acid, etc. The severity of the secondary crit depends on the power of the rune. It will be visually obvious when one of these runes is active (e.g., flames, frost, or electricity dancing along the blade, acid dripping from the blade, etc.).

Lesser: Two severities lower Major: Equal severity

Greater: One severity lower

Power Multiplier Rune: This rune increases the amount of Power Points a given character has access to. Essentially it acts as an amplifier.

Mana Rune I: x1.25 Multiplier Mana Rune III: x2.0 Multiplier

Mana Rune II: x1.5 Multiplier

Power Store Rune: This rune possesses its own reserve of Power Points. Essentially it acts as a battery for Mana. Someone must place Mana into the rune to charge it. This need not necessarily be the wielder/owner of the weapon. This rune is always either Permanent (and can be recharged) or Written (and fades once the PP are expended).

Mana Rune I: 25 Power Points Mana Rune III: 75 Power Points

Mana Rune II: 50 Power Points Mana Rune IV: 100 Power Points

Powered Rune: This rune provides a mechanism for restricting an otherwise overly powerful rune. The rune with which it is linked requires Power Points to be activated. For example, a powerful constant Weapon Bonus Rune might require 2PP every round. This rune takes no space; it is super-imposed on the rune with which it is linked.

Scavenger Rune: This is a rare rune that is used to magically take (absorb) a rune from another weapon. Both weapons must be in the possession of the scavenger. Is it possible to take a Bladerune from a bound weapon (see below), provided the person to whom it is bound is dead (that's dead dead, not undead—you can't Scavenge a Lich's Bladerune from his bound weapon). This rune will never be better than Embossed (extremely rare); only rarely will it be Inscribed. Normally this rune will be Imprinted, Branded or Written. Good luck finding someone that is trustworthy who will readily admit to being capable of creating this rune.

Note: This rune does not apply to Duelist Weapons, Duelists may only take the rune from a foe they have defeated—and that process is automatic.

Binding Rune: This rune binds the item to its wielder, so any runes or other magical effects the item possesses can only be triggered by the character to whom it is bound. This rune is always Permanent.

Note: Duelist Weapons are always bonded to the owner, this rune in not needed.

Rune Adder: This rune increases the number of runes a given item can hold by magically shrinking the size of all runes on the item. Note that this rune does require the use of one slot. A rune adder increases the item's capacity by +2 to +10 and is always Permanent.

Note: Duelist Weapons hold as many runes as foes the Duelist has defeated; there is no other way to add runes to the blade.

Rune capacity by weapon

Lance (Mounted) 12

Two Handed Sword 10

Lance (Foot) 10

Battle Hammer 10 Arms Comp RM2

Tetsubo 10 MA Comp

Battle Axe 9

Pole Arm 9

War Mattock 9

Bastard Sword 8

Flail 8

Quarterstaff 8

Shield (Body) 8

Broadsword 7

Falchion 7

Katana 6 MA Comp

Scimitar 6

Shield (Tower) 6

Spear 6

Three-Section Staff 6 MA Comp

Rapier 5

Club 5

Javelin 5

Shield (Large) 5

Short Sword 5

Chigiriki 4 MA Comp

Longbow 4

Mace 4

Morning Star 4

Nunchaku 4 MA Comp

Shield (Medium) 4

Wakizahsi 4 MA Comp

War Hammer 4

Composite Bow 3

Hand Axe 3

Heavy Crossbow 3

Kama 3 MA Comp

Main Gauche 3

Shield (Buckler) 3

Bola 2

Dagger 2

Light Crossbow 2

Metal Whip 2 MA Comp

Shortbow 2

Sling 2

Gauntlet (Punching) 1

Arrow/Bolt/Bullet 1

Chest 4

Back 4

Head 2

Arm 2 each (4 total)

Leg 2 each (4 total)

Hand 1 each (2 total)

Foot 1 each (2 total)

Note: This chart is not needed for Duelists and is included for the purpose of using the Bladerune system with non-Duelists.

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