Friday, June 14, 2019

...But the Blade was Poisoned! D20 Duel Twists

I’m making this small post because I remembered a book I read as a child. It was a Dutch book, so even if I could recall the title it would be of little use to most of you. It had two princes in it: Iridian, the good prince, and Viridian, the evil prince. I remember that at one point, they met, and curiously enough, they were both dressed in shiny white armour, and telling which was which was difficult for both the protagonist and the reader. At the end of the first book, they proceeded to have a duel. For the crown, assumedly, though my memory is hazy on their motivations. Suffice it to say that since they were the good and evil prince, it had to come of it eventually. (Assumedly) Iridian kills (assumedly) Viridian during the fight, but not before suffering a wound himself. And after the fight, Iridian falls gravely ill- it should come as no surprise, that Viridian had poisoned his sword, if anything to spite his brother.

From The Princess Bride (1987)
This was my first encounter with the classic intrigue that tends to arise from duels with a less than honourable opponent. “The sword was poisoned!” is one of the many tricks a villain can pull in such a situation, showcasing how deplorable they are by using underhanded and cowardly tricks like poison or witchcraft. I also happen to love this kind of thing. It’s very operatic, very Shakespearian.

It’s a good way to get players to dislike a villain- nobody likes a cheater.

So here’s 20 nasty tricks to turn the tide in duels. Mind, I’ve written it in such a way that most of them are applicable to any kind of duel. Swordfight in harness, Victorian pistol duel, and so on.

The villain’s weapon is poisoned with a rare and difficult to detect venom, the cure to which is equally hard to find.
The villain uses dark magic or poison to make the hero hallucinate their worst fears during the fight!
The villain has a secret crossbow assassin positioned in a nearby hiding spot to shoot the hero if the villain’s defeat is imminent!
The duel is meant to stall the hero and draw everyone’s attention while the villain’s forces carry out their much more important plan!
The hero’s weapon has been sabotaged! In the middle of the fight, it will suddenly fail to function properly leaving them exposed!
As above, but it’s a double bluff! The villain will tell the hero of the above mid-fight, hoping they will hastily forfeit to go stop this ongoing plan, while the villain’s goal is to have the hero forfeit the duel! Whether the other plan is real or not is of little importance.
The villain has kidnapped someone dear to the hero and reveals this to them at the start of the duel! If the hero doesn’t lose, their loved one will be killed!
The hero’s blade is secretly poisoned, and it will react spectacularly when the villain is hit, making it clear the hero has ‘cheated’! The villain or his accomplices of course carry an antidote in advance.
The villain arrives in obscuring armour or clothing- because they aren’t the villain at all, but a much more competent fighter in disguise!
The villain expertly fakes their death, and strikes at the hero when they’ve lowered their guard!
The hero’s armour or clothes have been laced with poison! They’re progressively weakened as the fight draws on!
The villain uses smoke or kicked up sand to blind the hero or at least impair their vision while the judge is distracted, in order to deal a vicious blow!
The villain has poisoned a nearby loved one of the hero, and hands the hero the antidote at the start of or during the fight- to save them, the hero will have to leave the ring and forfeit the match!
The villain fully intends to be killed during this duel- it’s part of their greater plan to put the hero in the position they need them in! The villain could be revived later through dark magic, or could have already masterminded the variables that will bring their plan to fruition, despite them giving their own life!
The villain has organised for innocent spectators of the duel to be killed by assassins if the hero doesn’t forfeit!
The villain has a cheat-y hidden blade they’ll use to wound the hero when they don’t expect it!
The villain is in fact either a doppelganger or a well disguised accomplice, and they are meant to die in this duel so the villain can go about their plan under the guise of being dead!
The villain has won the love or sympathy of one of the hero’s accomplices in secret, and they will try to intervene in the duel! This could all be a manipulation by the villain to catch the hero off guard, but it could also be genuine!
The villain makes up a lie (or tells a truth) that puts the hero in a bad light, causing the crowd to take their side and demand the hero forfeits the match!
The villain wants to die in this duel, but there’s no plan, no scheme. They’re here to finally let go of their life- and perhaps they’re glad it’s by the hero’s hand.


  1. The book is "Geheimen van het Wilde Woud" (Secret of the Wild Woods), the sequel to "De Brief voor de Koning" (The Letter for the King) both by Tonke Dragt.

    1. That's it! Of course, Brief voor de Koning. If this was from the second one, I cannot remember for the life of me what the first one was about though.