A violent post but not a martial one. The Ravnivori and the two other Empires on their home planet were all warrior cultures so dueling has been an important part of their society. And gladiators have been an important part of their entertainment.
It’s possible this is a duplicate and I posted this information before I created the Ravnivori tag for this blog. If so, I apologize. I try not to duplicate content.
The Ravnivori Empire is a vast conglomeration of societies and nations. As such, it has a diverse culture and set of traditions. Some of these traditions remain true to the history and culture of the people who originated them while others have adapted to the influence of other cultures over the years.
One area that is especially indicative of both these types of changes is the wide variety of Dueling Traditions. Almost every society inducted into the Empire had some set of behavior and or rules that were considered honorable. It is little surprise then that each had its own manner of dealing with situations where one person challenged the honor of another. It should also not be surprising that the traditions and rules surrounding these challenges have changed both as new societies have been introduced to each other and as the semi-cohesive society of the overall Empire has grown and become more stable.
It should be noted that in all cases it is the purview of the person challenged to chose the terms and conditions of the duel. Thus, most people consider carefully before challenging someone that they know is very adept at one of the dueling styles. Especially if they are not as proficient in that field. In fact, it is not unheard of for a pair of foes to exchange insults for weeks before one of them finally snaps and makes a challenge, allowing the other person to pick more favorable terms. In a way, this has become its own sort of dueling.
Ravnivori: Duels in Ravnivori society have their origins in the challenges of one chieftain by another in the ancient, barbaric tribalism of their past. After years of intertribal warfare decimating the population of the Ravnivori continent, the practice of having the chiefs of opposing tribes challenge each other grew. Whichever man proved the victor gained the territory or supplies or tribe or whatever else the two groups might have been warring over with a minimum of bloodloss. While this method was not always used and large and small scale battles continued to occur, it did lessen the losses.
Originally, these duels were fought with whatever weapons were most favored by the combatants and were not required to match. This usually meant a shield and hand weapon such as a sword, battle axe or mace, but paired weapons, two handed weapons and spears were not uncommon. For that matter, the two opponents were wielding entirely different weapons more often than not.
However, many times, one of the duelists would fight underarmed. As a show of disdain for their opponent’s fighting ability they would use weapons clearly inferior to their opponent’s arms. For instance, they might fight with only a short sword and buckler when their opponent was using a full sized shield and longsword. Occasionally, this was a strategy that depended on speed over reach and protection, but more often it was a not so subtle insult.
This ploy backfired with shocking regularity and the person offering the insult often died for his or her pride. It worked often enough, however, that a trend of using smaller and smaller weapons developed. Many of the duelists would rather suffer injuries to their bodies than their prides so no one wanted to be out done by using a to large or effective weapon.
By the time the Possessed had consolidated the Ravnivori continent under there rule, the generally accepted weapons were a full-sized shield and a short sword. On the positive side, both parties in a duel were far more likely to survive when these weapons were used than when the more brutal ones of the past were utilized.
The escalation (or de-escalation) did not end there, however. As the fighting to conquer the Almatian Confederation grew, the fighting amongst the fighting amongst the Ravnivori hardly decreased. Especially since the Ravnivori nobles and noble families fought to claim domains in the new lands. By the time Ravnivorous and his fellow Possessed slew Sunchaser, the Ravnivori duelists used only a dirk and short sword.
And, of course, the infighting continued even when the still shaky Ravnivori Empire faced the powerful Shan dynasty. By this time, however, the weapons were small enough that few duels were to the death, though any number of scars and maimings occurred. Still, the movement towards smaller weapons continued and by the time the Shan Emperor pledged the loyalty of his people to Ravnivorous, no respectable Ravnivori Duellist would fight with more than paired daggers.
Dueling in the Ravnivori courts has become pretty stable. There are several unwritten rules revolving around it. The most important is that only daggers, knives, dirks and katars are acceptable weapons. In all cases, a total length for the weapon can be no more than twelve inches. In most cases, this means that the hilts are approximately 4 inches long with 8 inch blades, although the blades are commonly longer with katars and shorter with Minotaurs and other species with large hands (which is why many Minotaurs fight with katars.) Most nobles and aspiring nobles wear a pair of daggers at all times, though these are for show as often as not, a way of showing one’s status. And of course, any number of methods of ornamenting these weapons to show wealth and power have also grown up over the years.
Almatian: Almatian duels have their origins in very similar situations as the Ravnivori. Originally a way for nobles and generals to settle their differences with little loss of life.
However, there has always been a more uniform set of arms and armor in the Almatian Confederation than there was amongst the Ravnivori. From very early in their history, most of the Almatian warriors were armed with a shortsword, shield, dagger, spear, javelins and a bow. While each race and nation might focus on one of these weapons or weapon combinations more than another, in the end, they had a fairly standardized method of fighting and skill with certain of the weapons was respected more than others.
Thus, the most commmon duel amongst the Almatians takes place with each combantant having several javelins and a shield. Each combatant takes up a position 150 yards apart. Then, taking turns as determined by lots, they hurl one of their javelins at their opponent. The short run necessary to properly throw a javelin draws them closer to each other with each round, making it both more likely that they’ll hit their opponent and that they’ll penetrate their opponent’s shield with each throw. It also means that the number of steps to be taken has been set at exactly 5.
In it’s simplest form, such a duel just comes down to which person can throw with the most accuracy and power. However, centuries of practice have made things much more complex. A number of factors go into the honor surrounding such a duel including strength, bravery and accuracy.
Thus, it is quite common for the first throw from both individuals to far overshoot their marks as each person attempts to prove that they are stronger.
Then, for the next several throws the two challengers will often purposefully miss. Ironically, this proves their accuracy as each tries to hit as close to his opponent as possible without hitting him. It also allows them to prove their bravery as the chance of getting hit and injured increases dramatically with each round of the two opponents getting closer. There have been several times when a pair of duelists have been less than 20 yards apart before the first javelin hit a shield.
In fact, it is often considered a mark against a person’s honor to be the first to hit the other person’s shield. While not so grievous as losing outright, any victor who was the first to strike is considered slightly tainted and it is the height of disgrace to both be the first to hit and lose a duel.
In the end, it is possible for a stronger, more accurate and braver duelist to technically lose a duel and yet win honor for him or herself.
Shan: Unsurprisingly, a society as conscious and focused on honor and duty as the Shan have developed dueling to a very rigid structure. While the Ravnivori and Almatians have settled on one set of weapons that are commonly used to duel, the Shan will not duel with any weapon but one: the katana.
However, it is not the weapon that is strictly regulated, but all aspects of the duel from how far apart the two people should stand to the way in which the challenge should be presented to the types of cuts allowed.
This type of duel demands amazing skill and speed and most Shan duellists begin training at an early age and continue until they die.
Numerous philosophical and practical works have been written on the art. However, almost all modern duellists are students of a few schools of thought. One of the most common is the style based on the writings of Ishihara No Siki.
Ishihara’s focus was in rapid, well aimed strikes coupled with often complex and agile foot work to avoid enemy’s blows. The woman is legendary for fighting in more than 4 dozen duels without ever losing or even suffering a wound, thus earning her epithet of “The Iron Maiden.”
Ishihara’s collection of philosophy’s and training techniques were combined into a single text known as “The Path of the Blade.” It is prized not just by iajatsu duellists, but by people in all walks of life for its ideals.
In Shan, a person always has the option to allow someone else to defend their honor. Thus, very few people of power fight their own duels. Instead, most noble families and clans of any note include a duelist in their ranks. Sometimes this is a member of the family who has been trained since a young age for this duty, sometimes it is a ronin who has similar training who has been adopted into the family or clan. The most powerful clans have entire stables of duellists and schools for the express purpose of training duellists. Lesser families often send their prospective duellists to these schools for proper training.
Most Shan duels are to first blood. This has led to the quest for single stroke victories. Quite often, a Shan duel will go no longer than the draw of each duelist’s katana. More rarely, one of the duelists will not even get a chance to draw before he or she is defeated.
A few duels are to death or unconciousness, usually chosen by the rare duelists who depend on their toughness or defensive abilities more than their speed and dexterity. Even these duels are often shockingly short and single stroke victories are far from unheard of.
In all cases, the duelists begin just far enough apart that they cannot quite reach each other with their swords. There is no official start to the duel with each duelist simply standing until one draws. Drawing first is considered an admission that one’s opponent is a better swordsman and many times the prelude to a duel will last minutes before one person loses his or her nerve and draws. It is not unheard of for this part of the duel to last hours as each person refuses to the the first to draw.
Duelling is a very public and popular event in Shan lands and skilled duelists can gain more honor and admiration than many nobles. As such, the abilities of most duellists and their duelling styles are generally well known. This is especially true since there are a limited number of schools that teach the duelling arts and the style and methods of each have remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Because of this many duels do not run to completion. Previous to the first draw, each duellist is allowed to back out of the duel with only a small loss of face. The loss of honor associated with actually losing a duel is much higher as it is considered a demonstration of unsupported arrogance in one’s abilities to lose to a superior opponent. Thus, it is more commmon to see a pair of duellists study each other for several minutes before one calmly bows out (literally bowing to his or her opponent to indicate their acknowledgement of his or her superior abilities) without ever coming to blows.
Imperial: Although all types of duels have been altered by the advent of the Empire in any number of ways, at least one form has developed because of the rise of the Empire.
Gladiatorial duels have their origins in the traditions of dog and cock fighting and bear and bull baiting. While these bloodsports were originally created and fostered simply for entertainment, it was often only the rich upper class who could truly dedicate the resources necessary to the endeavors to produce effective bloodlines.
With the shift of the ruling class of the Ravnivori Empire from warrior chiefs to dedicated nobility, the appeal of fighting for one’s own honor and risking death and/or dismemberment declined in proportion with the interest in learning how to fight. Thus, alternative methods of settling disputes were sought out. The usage of animals fighting each other was struck on rather early in the birth of the Empire.
Since that time, Gladiatorial Duels have enjoyed an explosion in popularity and diversity. As time went on, it grew cliched to use a dog or cock to fight in such a duel and more exotic animals were sought out. It was not long before all manner of unusual and rare creatures were being collected, bred and trained for this express purpose.
Of course, the advent of slaves who’s express purpose was fighting brought a whole new dimension to the practice of gladiatorial dueling. Well skilled kazyas brought top dollar, the greatest of them earning a king’s ransom for their services. Unfortunately, unlike that animals kept for the purpose, kazyas could not be bred and their bloodlines could not be controlled, at least not by the kazyas’ masters. More than one kazya has started a bloodline of kazyas that voluntarily bred themselves to be skilled gladiators. The children of these families are often raised as warriors from a young age and taught the family business early. A number of free warriors have also made a living offering their services for those who needed a gladiatorial champion.
Unlike the other dueling styles which have become highly stylized and organizes, gladiatorial dueling is essentially a free for all. There are no standardized rules regarding the practice. Often, there is no more agreement between the two challengers than where to meet and when. This means that completely unbalanced contests are shockingly common, especially if one of the challengers does not have resources on par with the other.
Of course, any stipulations that can be agreed to by both parties can be enforced and any number of limitations are possible. This can include what type of species are involved, weapons used, size and weight limitations and even number of participants on a side.
Many wealthy people amass stables of warriors of all types simply to have a viable option under as many circumstances as possible. Others simply focus on having the most dangerous or deadly creature they can own and do their best to avoid any limitations in their duels.
Another industry has arisen around this type of dueling. It is highly profitable to own and maintain arenas where such duels can be enacted. Not only do the proprietors often charge the duellists a nominal fee for using their location, but also they charge admittance to the crowds that gather to watch the bloodsports. Since they have little overhead other than keeping their arenas in working order, the coin they make is almost pure profit.
The most successful of these arenas have waiting lists and draw capacity crowds for several hours every day. Many operate continuously, offering night battles involving a variety of the nocturnal beasts that are sometimes used in such duels. Refreshments are generally offered at these arenas and many citizens will make a day of it, arriving when the arena opens and staying until the last battle is settled.
For the most part, the type of duel used and the rules governing it are determined more by national identity than by racial identity. For example, a True Ravnivori human and a True Ravnivori Elf are both likely to choose to settle their differences by the knife rather than by any other method.
However, the exact weapons used are often different depending on race, as outlined below:
Elves: True Ravnivori elves use knives just as their human kin do. However, these knives, while limited in the usual way as far as length goes, are small in other manners. Very thin, sometimes with rounded blades that are only useful for stabbing, they are fast and elegant weapons, often with broad tangs that can be used to block and catch opponents’ blades.
Duels amongst Almatian Elves are generally archery contests rather than any form of face to face confrontations. The opposed parties simply try to outdo each other with ever more difficult and/or flashy demonstrations of their accuracy and skills with bows.
Dwarves: Ravnivori Dwarves favor thick, cleaver-like blades for their duels. The use of these weapons lead to farm more lost digits and broken bones in relation to the more elegant, cutting blades of Ravnivori humans and stabbing blades of Ravnivori Elves. Only the impressive sturdiness and durability of the dwarves keep these wounds from being more dangerous.
Shan Dwarves use the broad-bladed Daitana that all of their samurai and nobles carry. Although they are as prone to determining the winner of a duel simply by a silent contest of bravery and repuation before a blade is ever drawn as their human counterparts, Dwarven Shan duels are even more steeped in ritual. It is not unusual for it to take a full day of preparation before a pair of duelists are ready to face each other. Perhaps this is the reason why these duels very rarely end at first blood. More often, they last until one opponent yields or is slain. Considering the stamina and durability of Dwarves, and the fact that heavy armor is not only allowed, but encouraged in these duels, they can last quite a long time. Anything less than an hour is rare and there are legends and apocryphal accounts of duels lasting a week or more.
Amazons: Amazons excell at both horsewomanship and archery and these combat skills are those most exalted by the race. Therefore, these are also the two that are tested in duels. They resemble Almatian elven duels in the fact that they are essentially archery contests. However, these contests take place on the backs of galloping horses. Another difference is that accuracy is only one of the factors that determines the winner in an Amazon duel. Horsewomanship is just as important as archery. The speed and skill with which they control their mounts as well as the daring gymnastics they perform on horseback are prime factors in determining the winner of a duel and the duels themselves are often spectacular sights.
Ki’Li’Lee: As far as has been determined by the other races of the Empire, these strange creatures do not argue with each other, let alone feel the need to duel over matters of disagreement or honor. Rumors persist that psychic duels of epic proportions occur amongst Ki’Li’Lee, but there has never been any evidence of this.
Minotaurs: Minotaurs revere strength, stubborness and ferocity most in their warrior tradition. Their duels are thus settled generally through contests of wrestling with shockingly few rules. Essentially, the two contestants meet in a 15′ diameter ring drawn on the ground. They are not allowed to bring or use weapons and gouging the eyes or striking the groin leads to disqualification. The duel continues until one participant either gives up or is incapacitated. Those are, essentially the only rules, however, and not a few Minotaurs have met their ends on the horns of their opponents in such a duel.
Lizardfolk: The concept of honor and organized dueling is an alien one to primitive lizardfolk. The closest thing they have to dueling is the savage (though seldom lethal) fighting that arises between males for breeding rights when a female comes into heat. These conflicts often involve a great deal of posturing and threatening but very little physical combat. Advanced lizardfolk are still developing their own culture distinct from their more primitive ancestors. They often use Ravnivori dueling methods and rules when necessary.
Naga: Much like Ki’Li’Lee, Naga do not duel each other and for much the same reasons. Whereas Ki’Li’Lee share a telepathic link with each other that make them essentially a single mind scattered throughout multiple bodies, Naga share an empathic link that make them essentially one racial soul. Wronging another Naga is tantamount to wronging oneself. In situations where Naga disagree, they generally meditate to come to an acceptable compromise or utilize the wisdom of the race as a whole to come to an answer. Naga are not as reclusive and aloof as Ki’Li’Lee, however, and they do participate in duels against members of other races. In these situations, they prefer to use large swords that are similar to Shan Katana’s but with longer, thicker blades that take advantage of the impressive amount of mass a Naga can bring into play with shocking swiftness.
Troglyns: Troglyns are another race that never duels each other, but for very different reasons than Naga and Ki’Li’Lee. Troglyns simply do not settle their differences face to face if they can avoid it. In Troglyn society a feud is far more likely to be ended by a dagger in the back, poisoned food or a carefully staged “accident” than by direct conflict. This carries over to other races as well. A Troglyn will generally suffer any indignity and humiliation rather than stand up for itself. However, anyone doing so should bear in mind that the diminutive creatures are extremely patient and cunning and that retribution is likely.
Centaurs: Though Centaurs are a proud people with a high sense of honor, violence amongst them is relatively rare. Thus, most questions of honor are settled not with a fight of some sort but with a contest of skill or physical ability. Most common amongst these contests are simple races, testing either sprinting speed or long distance stamina depending upon the preferences of those involved. Wrestling matches, pulling contests and various tests of agility and dexterity are also common. If forced to prove their combat capabilities, Centaurs generally resort to archery contests, generally the running style preferred by Amazons. Alternatively, they might prove their martial puissance through a hunting contest with the centaur bringing home the most impressive prize after a certain time limit being the winner.
Dracotaurs: Though Dracotaurs are more martial than their Centaur ancestors, the family ties amongst them are also stronger. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that all Dracotaurs are cousins and while the rivalries amongst them are high they generally have little desire to truly harm such close kin. Thus, they too prefer nonlethal duels and contests of skill to more lethal methods. Races are not as popular with Dracotaurs, but wrestling and contests of strength are. They also often spar and duel with large, but relatively light clubs. These weapons are capable of severely injuring or killing more fragile species, but the durability of Dracotaurs means that they seldom get injuries more severe than bruises.
Draga: Like their “cousins” the Dracotaurs, Draga are more militaristic and violent than their mortal ancestors. However, their empathic bond and close kin ties also keep them from doing each other real harm in most cases. While they are less likely to simply settle their differences through meditation than their Naga kin, they generally find some other non-violent means. Archery and climbing contests are common.
Possessed: In dueling, as in most things, the Possessed are as diverse in their preferences as they are in their backgrounds. Generally, they will utilize the dueling methods common to their cultures before any other considerations. However, most Possessed will also utilize their abilities as efficiently as possible. Thus, if they are skilled in close combat they will attempt to ensure that a duel involves melee whereas those who have advantages over distances will try for a ranged contest.
Given how warlike the Ravnivori are and how debauched Almatian entertainment can become and even the fascination of Shan with studying animals, it is no surprise that gladiatorial games of all sorts are common in the Ravnivori Empire. These range from small, simple animal against animal combats to massive simulated battles. Locations for these battles can range from a small pit in a citizen’s back yard for animal fights to the massive coliseum located just outside the grounds of Ravnivorous’ palace in the capital for the more massive battles and games. Most cities of any size have their own coliseum, though these range dramatically in size depending on how prosperous the city is and how popular such bloody displays are. There are a wide variety of levels of lethality between different arenas and even between different matches in the same arena. Some arenas use a great deal of padding and blunted weapons so that long term injuries are uncommon while others use normal weapons but stop combat after the first injury and others last until someone is incapacitated and still others go until one or more of the particpants are dead. Predictably, the bloodier the battle, the more popular it is. Following are some common types of gladiatorial combats in the Empire.
Beast Battles: The simplest of these are the dog fights in Ravnivori lands, cock fights in Almatia and beetle battles in Shan. Generally nothing more than two animals tossed into a pit and made to fight until one cannot fight any more, these fights are seldom more organized than a group of friends getting together on a regular basis. Larger fights, using larger animals such as bears or bulls are common as well, though these demand an arena of some sort. More exotic beast battles are common in even the smallest coliseums and utilize more dangerous creatures like tigers and zergans. Larger coliseums feature both these kind of beasts and even larger and more exotic creatures such as elephants and the assorted kaiju from Shan lands. Many people make their livings by either breeding or capturing the beasts used in gladiatorial battles and at least as many make their livings by owning stables of these animals and selling their services to different arenas.
Gladiatorial fights: The simplest of these fights are nothing more than one bare handed individual fighting another bare handed individual while spectators are present. These are most commonly boxing matches amongst the Ravnivori, wrestling matches in Almatian lands or a display of one of the various martial arts practiced by the Shan in their culture. Of course, it is a small step to go from a boxing match to a knife fight and from knives to larger weapons and gladiatorial combats with the participants using weapons and armor are more common than the simpler sorts of fights. Some of these fights are highly stylized, reproducing, at least thematically, assorted myths, legends and historical encounters and campaigns. These generally feature specific weapons and armors for the participants in keeping with the theme. Other matches are free-for-alls with no limitations or loose limitations on what weapons and armor can be used by the participants. Straight gladiatorial fights are generally considered to include anything up to ten characters either in multiple teams or everyone for themselves. Anything larger than that falls under the Battle Fight category. Like the people who have stables of animals for gladiatorial combat, there are also men and women who make their livings by managing and/or owning a stable of sentient gladiators. These generally consist of war slaves or life slaves, though more than one stable is made up of free men and women who want to make money in the arena who are managed by the same person.
Mixed Duels: Beast on beast and man on man battles are not the only possibilities. Quite early on, promoters discovered that fights pitting man against beast were quite popular. Like man on man battles, these often follow some kind of theme, with a specific species of animal facing a person using a specific set of armor and weapons in accordance with some ancient myth or tradition. Almatians, for example, favor bull fighters with the human utilizing a short spear and small shield with a long cloth streamer against a bull. The streamer is used to distract the bull as it charges. The most common example of this in Ravnivori lands are battles between a single man with an sword, shield, helmet and chain mail sleeves and leggings facing a pack of war hounds or wolves. More prestige and popularity and pay are given the larger the pack faced. In Shan lands, snake charmers are popular. Facing their opponent with no armor and wielding an axe and a special two pronged spear, the men in these battles face down giant, highly poisonous snakes. Other popular battles involve multiple men facing elephants or kaiju, lightly armored individuals battling sharks from small platforms and most recently men armed only melee weapons facing Zergans.
Gimmick Fights: Promoters and stable owners are constantly trying to find a way to increase the popularity of their battles. To this end, they’ve developed any number of gimmicks to bring fans into the arenas. One of the more popular of these are maze battles, where temporary walls are added to the arena and the contestants begin from different places with a goal of either escaping through a specific exit or being the last one standing. These often feature a minotaur as a sort of spoiler who’s only job is to eliminate the other gladiators and many minotaurs specialize in these sorts of battles. In certain arenas, it is possible to flood the floor, pumping in enough water until the liquid is waist deep. This changes the mobility of the fighters and, often, savage swimming creatures are also released into the water to make things more interesting. A simpler gimmick is blind battle. The gladiators involved are fitted with locked helmets that have no eye slits. They then try to pummel, cut or stab each other to pieces without being able to see. Some times, they must simply do this with no assistance. Other times, each gladiator also wears a bell to help indicate his or her position.
Wars: Possible only in the largest of arenas, gladiatorial wars are always grand spectacles. Involving at least a dozen men on a side, these games involve two or more “armies” battling each other. Though occasionally, these forces are battling just to destroy each other, there are usually larger goals that each side has to achieve to win victory. As with most other battles, a few wars follow certain themes from history or myth with the participating gladiators wearing specific armor and using specific weapons. Other times, the rules are only that each side must have a certain number of gladiators. Wars often include aspects of other gladiator battles and naval battles are not uncommon in the largest and most ornate arenas with some level of the arena being flooded for the spectacle and the threat of drowning a real possibility for the participants.