The setting is now-ish, with better robots and stuff to do our jobs for us. Somehow - that's the question - people bring back mortal combat to resolve their conflict (accepted by the law of course).

The rules of combat are really simple (and enforced by the law) that combatants having access to the same set of resources (agreed by the 2) in a limited amount of time, the first one get the kill is right.

So how do I justify bringing back that practice?


I want it to gradually coming back to the time the story take place, around 2400-ish.

The historical practice is this: there was some long wiped out ancient civilizations which the historian claims that used to kill each other to resolve conflict. (they're talking about the past, not like there's anyone alive to defend it). Similar to how we talked about the Aztecs..

The details of mortal combat system is only relevant after it become a thing. But here it is:

  • You can only pull the mortal-combat card when the issue is generally accepted as insulting your honor or defend from an accusation, don't count on it when you're caught redhanded thieving or raping. Examples: your neighbor claimed that you slept with his wife
  • The combatants must pay (the city) a fee for the proceeding, then will be isolated for a time with the necessary resources agreed by both (to craft whatever weapon or poison, whatever)
  • When the time come, the fight will be hosted at the city hall or nearby stadium where others can watch and learn, and bet (i guess)

  • When in doubt, think trial by combat

Edit 2 As for why I want this thing back. Well, in my story, the MC is a mortal combat coach. Because not everyone is well fitted to fight another to the death. A scrawny teenager have no chance against a professional pit fighter. So his job is to make the teenager somehow come out on top, be it with trickery or whatever.

The purpose wasn't to make mortal combat just. In itself it wasn't perfect and can't be just. People accept non-perfect stuff just fine. This is about setting the stage for the MC.

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    $\begingroup$ "the first one get the kill is right" - Could you expand on this? Do you mean like the typical settlement of a lawsuit, the loser of the fight is deemed to have been "in the wrong"? e.g. if I drive my car into the back of someone, we have a fight - if I win, he shouldn't have stopped so suddenly, and if he wins, I should have been paying more attention? $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Mortal combat (to the death) as opposed to first blood (first to draw blood wins), fencing, or "say uncle". $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 12:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You are forgetting that some people just want to Test their Might. Let them. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ This was a trait of one of the factions in the Morrowind PC game. The wizard faction operated on the idea that right makes might. That is, if you overcome and possibly slay another wizard in an argument, clearly your mind is superior and therefore so was your position in the argument. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ As if the ability to have a bystander scream "MORTAL COMBAT!!!" isn't enough justification... Have answered below. $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:24

10 Answers 10


First: a problem that this law would solve.

e.g. imagine a dystopian world where damage is done, conflicts arise, but lawsuits are unenforceable, or possibly there are no lawsuits because no one respects the courts enough to hold them, show up, or care what a judge might say. So many conflicts go unresolved and boil over into violence, vigilantism, lynch-mobs, etc. There is chaos as innocent bystanders get caught up in it, there are sneak attacks, people form gangs of friends to outnumber and kill the other person, etc.

Second: a popular revolution.

The revolution sorts out the dystopia, and brings the chaotic anarchy under control. One of the things it tries to take control of is this type of violent conflict resolution. They still don't introduce the concept of law-suits because of reasons like...

  • most people don't have any money to pay the damages/compensation.
  • many supporters of the revolution have become so used to it they believe there is merit to this kind of violent conflict resolution. This is just the way it's done.
  • the concept of justice as we know it is alien to them.

Third: a proud tradition.

As the years, decades and centuries pass, similar to the "gun-control" issue that's currently topical in the US - many people simply believe it's their right to duel in order to settle conflict, and are so proud of this tradition that it's very difficult for anyone to change it, even while they build a semi-modern-democratic style legal system.

They may even argue that if the practice is banned, life may revert to pre-revolutionary chaos as people get angry with each other and have no outlet for their rage and start to take the law into their own hands.

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    $\begingroup$ Gjakmarrja -- "Many Albanians see the courts as corrupt or ineffective, and prefer the perceived self-government offered by adherence to the Kanun." $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ Option 3 might also be explained by religion, instead of tradition. $\endgroup$
    – Jeroen
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeroen - Indeed, though I didn't really mean to present them as options, more a sequence of events. $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 16:26

It had started with the Big Brother reality show, and soon "reality" TV was everywhere.

A sensational, media-frenzied case involving a movie star, his trophy wife and her lover resulted in the presiding judge throwing his hands up in disgust and declaring that a duel would be the fairest way to determine who had the right of it.

The media had a field day. This was reality TV 2.0 and the masses ate it up. The run up to the match was covered by all forms of media around the clock. The liberals condemned the proposed match as barbaric, while the conservatives claimed that such an event foretold the beginning of the end for the country.

Various news outlets ran exposés, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage non-stop, and the public were glued to their couches awaiting the latest on the juicy news.

On the night of the duel, the stadium where the event was to take place was packed to the rafters, with more people camped outside to watch the big show-down on giant screens set up around the outside of the stadium. The country practically ground to a halt as people tuned in to watch the spectacle.

The battle was spectacular, with the trophy wife finally winning the day (she'd stood on the side-lines while her husband and lover duked it out, and stepped in at the last moment to finesse the both of them). The sight of her, triumphantly posed with stilettoed boot on her deceased husband's face, while holding up the severed head of her lover was plastered everywhere.

And thus, a star and brand-new and incredibly profitable industry was born. And you know, even the politicians came around once it dawned on them that bread and circuses was what kept a population, if not happy, then at least pacified.

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    $\begingroup$ Running Man comes to mind. The government uses it to provide an outlet for aggression that would otherwise eventually lead to open rebellion. Basically, the world has gone to hell, but nobody cares because their favorite running man show is about to come on. $\endgroup$
    – Neil
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:40

Now no government is going to set up dueling grounds from a standing start, there has to be an existing legal basis to build from to create this situation. Since most of the western world is cutting down on people's access to weapons and ability to kill each other, we shall begin in the United States.

What you need first is a stand your ground, or "shoot first" law. Depending on jurisdiction, you can either use this to defend yourself in your home, or shoot someone in the street if you feel threatened.

This way two armed persons can meet in the street, each declare the other to be a threat and it's pistols at dawn.

You here have the basis of a system of rules for a public duel, ensuring that the law of the state is followed to the letter.

  • The time is limited: The duel must be over before outside powers can intervene.
  • The winner is in the right: Each would declare themselves to be armed and hence a threat, perhaps just by drawing back their coat to display a holstered pistol.

This allows the stand your ground laws to result in a street duel.

You have to be careful though, if one party is found not to be armed or not to be a threat, significantly "underarmed" when compared to the other, the "winner" may be subject to a murder charge. Each combatant must bring a second, a witness, to state that the other person was equivalently armed to their champion. Formalities must be followed.

This letter of the law obedience, in becoming regular practice, verbal challenge to a duel with a time and location, pro-gun lobby preventing the laws behind it being changed, eventually becomes a legal formality to prevent bystander injuries as a result of gunfire. The city provides a controlled environment rather than the high street, and a fee is paid for use of the facility and official witnesses to declare that the letter of the law was followed.

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    $\begingroup$ I do not think this is in agreement with the condition "enforced by the law". I think this is more "the law can't do anything about it" $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, a couple of decades of "custom and practice" will deal with those concerns $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ I think for a great answer such ideas need to be addressed. I don't think this is really something that would happen tbo. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, Probably not, it's just my utter cynicism on the state of US law and enforcement. I'll come back to expand later, it has a certain potential. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, better now? :) $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 10:17

A lot of the answers are focused around a breakdown of law and order. So I am forced to do the opposite...

Let's speculate that there is too much law and order. That is, the legal system has become so overloaded with laws, it has become a fractal descent into madness. Even the simplest of trials takes years to process. Heck, most defendants die of old age before they are even arraigned.

Hence people feel that they cannot rely on the judicial system for justice, or, well, anything. People start taking matters into their own hands, knowing that the legal system won't get around to them until three generations hence. This can quickly get out of hand, lead to blood feuds, and so on. So, the executive branch essentially does an end run around the legal system, by ... loudly declining to notice incidents which happen to follow the rules OP listed.

This starts bottom-up, of course. Citizens start handling their own business, local police start trying to "cauterize" the damage by keeping bystanders out of the way, and over time the dueling code gently coalesces into place.

Now technically duels are still illegal in the eyes of the "official" legal system, but in the parallel "practical" legal system, enforced by beat cops, people can get their satisfaction. A couple notes stemming from this:

  • Police savagely enforce the dueling code. From their point of view, it's the only way.

  • This could cause a precedent; other matters will start getting handled by the parallel system. Not just duels, but contract disputes, shoplifting cases, and so on. It's an open question whether the official government system will fade away, or react hard -- if they even still can.


This strikes me as similar to the judicial duels performed in Medieval Germany.

These were accepted generally because people believed that God would ensure the guilty person lost the duel. In order to allow for this kind of thing then, you need some outside force that people believe will determine the outcome (as opposed to skill at arms determining it). A deity of some description is by far the simplest of these.

An alternative would be simply to re-institute the practice of duelling for honour (also see Holmgang); in which the injured party can 'call out' the other. This detaches it from the legal system, but still enables people to fight to the death over perceived insults to their honour.

  • $\begingroup$ The reason for judicial duels was to make a stop to feuds which lasted for generations. In a time when forensic science was practically nonexistent, if you witnessed someone killing your brother, it was all a "your word versus his word" trial. If the two parties were not satisfied, they could start a feud. There was not enough evidence to make a decision. So, there were no real alternatives to a duel. Still, this answer doesn't explain how such a thing could occur in modern society. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ All trials were a 'your word versus his word trial' at the time though, or rather some people's word against other's, and only a minority of trials were settled by combat. For a better example of a system put in place to stop feuds, have a look at wergild. I have no good answer for how this could happen in a modern society because I see it as impossible under a secular regime which values evidence. $\endgroup$
    – walrus
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 9:48

The reason a custom, tradition, or social norm gets widespread, is that it fulfills a need which is not adequately fulfilled by other means.

And this need was called "justice".

  • Lack of forensic science: In the middle ages, forensic science was practically nonexistent. Police investigations as we know today, didn't exist. If they didn't catch the thief or murderer red-handed, or there were no reputable witnesses, there was no chance for a trial.

  • Stronger family / clan ties: in today's diversified economy people can survive alone or in small family units. It wasn't the case back then. People didn't travel far, and they lived together with, or close by, their extended family. If someone harmed someone from your family, your entire family would feel obligated to intervene.

This means that it happened, that a murderer was not caught, and then someone from the victim's family killed someone they suspected. Then, the suspect's family felt to be the one who was wronged, and they killed the avenger. This cycle would then continue, for generations, or even centuries.

How to stop this? Someone from a prominent family / clan was murdered, there is a suspect, but there is no evidence, there are no witnesses. There is no ongoing criminal investigation, because the economy and the technological level didn't really provide for one. The town couldn't pay dozens of officers just to search for evidence, they had to patrol the walls and stand guard at the gates.

So, both the victim's and the suspect's family had to be satisfied with something, otherwise things could escalate. So both sides agreed that an authority organizes a fair trial, and everyone will be satisfied by the result. Therefore it was important to make the combat fair, there were often cases that the stronger or more skilled opponent was equipped with less armor to compensate. The point was, that if the odds are truly fair, the accuser knows that his life is at risk, so he only makes the accusation if he really believes he is right.

How can this happen in a modern or futuristic setting?

  • The key ingredient: the practicality of forensics has to be severely diminished. As digital image manipulation gets more and more perfect, photos and videos can no longer be used as evidence. Who knows, maybe advances in genetic engineering might make it easy to tamper with DNA evidence, and neural implants can be hacked, making witnesses unreliable.

  • the same time, public trust in police investigation is going down. This can be observed even today, as trust in the government is on an all-time low in many countries. Fake news sites pop up like mushrooms after the rain. Add in some big corruption scandals, and no one will trust anything the police publishes.

  • Add in a huge mix of non-integrated minorities or immigrants, who are very skeptical about the police, if one of their members is killed, they riot instead of awaiting for a normal trial.

  • Add in a severe economic depression, which cuts police funding, increases organized crime, and makes one less likely to prosper, or even survive, alone, so people will congregate into clans, gangs, mega-corporations, cults, etc.

  • As conflict between gangs, or between different social, ethnic or whatever groups increases, more and more unresolved murders happen, and the fact that they are unresolved, or that the friends/family of the victim don't trust the "official" judgement, trigger massive feuds.

  • As the police and justice systems become more and more ineffective, most accusations degrade to "my word against your word". It first starts in the criminal underworld, where well-equipped gangs make a lot of collateral damage in the feuds due to their advanced weapons, so their leaders, in order to stop such destruction, agree to trials by combat in order to make a stop to the feuds. It then slowly trickles outward, and society will accept it as a necessary evil, as it indeed limits the mindless destruction the feuds were causing.


an alternate play on "god will decide who is right" or a combination with overpopulation.

to ensure there is more "natural" selection in humans people introduce this as a deciding factor in disputes.

And it even kinda evens out social differencies - when you no longer can buy yourself an expensive lawyer to defend you, but you have to defend yourself in person against your opponent.

That would obviously depend on regulation (i.e. only with specified weapons, no bodyguards, ...)

pretty much a GoT Trial by combat, without representative.


Making a cheap, light weight gun able to fire once with a reasonable chance of the bullet going in the right direction is increasingly easy.

Internet videos of people getting what they deserve are really popular.

Small drones are pretty hard track, very difficult to destroy or disable safely and impossible to stop cost efficiently.

Contemplative justice is increasingly hard to get people to care about.

Mounting a gun or a bomb on a drone is trivial. This soon leads to a lot of local assassinations. Investigation of drone-related homicide becomes untenable.

The solution is natural; let people with grievances kill each other on video. Nobody needs to worry about collateral damage from killbot swarms or be bothered by impolite jerks emp-ing the neighborhood to avoid being murdered.

To keep it interesting, and to give (the increasingly important) smart people an advantage over strong people some resources are provided. By licensing the videos The State pays for investigating or preventing the remaining drone attacks.


You might want to look at the difference in the old world genius and the new world genius, and understand what William Blake meant by the genius is all people. He basically (in my understanding) explained that people unconsciously manifest things through a sense of "genius." In 2400, if computational power to size continues to evolve at the same rate of the past 50 years, then it's possible that we become hybrid machines (still within free will of being human), and political problems these days may be looked at as arcane as we see them from 3000 years ago. In the way we can extract concepts of primordial instincts to explain modern human behavior, (such as reasons for stage fright being linked to primitive tribal outcasting), we may find that the deepest levels of a human's political instinct is to be in mortal combat and that any political truth, reflections of the many natures of the universe, might only be brought about through a display of the "genius." This could take place in a simulated environment, a close parallel dimension that technology has made of conscious of, or a highly populated world where man has entirely abandoned the view of greater good and all of the citizens are just seen purely as cogs in the governmental machine.


To answer your question you would need to go back to the reason why the trial by combat was not used and later in time, outlawed.

And the reason is that people died from stupidest reason. You have a quarrel with your neighbour over borrowed grill? Trial by combat. You wanted your martini stirred but the bartender insist on shaken? Trial by combat.

And then of course, imagine Kim Jong Un pulling the trial by combat card on Trump.
Or OJ on his wife family. That would be pointless. Because when you want to prove someone is guilty of murder you could make him a murderer because he kills you. And then your mother, and father, and your children. And everyone which name start on letter B.

Source for outlawing "trial by combat". In the first half of XVI century Sachsenspiegel (Saxon Mirror) was introducing into polish law. It treated in 42 points about trial by combat using spears and broadsword. It was repeal by polish landlords as conflict with faith and common sense. Marek Żukow-Karczewski, Pojedynki w dawnej Polsce, "Przekrój", 6 IX 1987 r., nr 2204.

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    $\begingroup$ not used and later on abolished? Sounds contradictory to me. "Used and later abolished" doesn't make much sense either in the context. Could you clarify your wording? $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman I edited my answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ Please provide references for 'trial by combat was outlawed because people died for the stupidest reasons'. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:34

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