No party wants to sit and watch another player fight a duel. I have and after a point, it's no fun at all. This is the inherent problem with duels in RPGs. Here's a relatively dumb method that should up the engagement for duels enough for you to possibly attempt one every couple of real world years. It has a smidge of inspiration from 'Everyone is John'.
After the duel has been challenged and accepted, tell the players you've got this dumb gameplay twist to try, and then give them the following:
- A quick overview of the area in which the duel will take place.
- A brief description of the player's opponent.
- Allow the duelling player to list some of their character's strengths, abilities, items, etcetera, that they could bring to bear in the duel to their fellow party members.
Once this is done move on to the coaching stage.
Now the character that will be fighting the duel is coached by the rest of the party. All present players partake in this whether their characters are narratively able to or not. Each player, excluding the dueller, suggests two 'moves' each. These 'moves' can be anything that the duelling character could reasonably do in a combat turn during the duel such as 'try to cut his head off' or 'do a flying kick' or 'tip over the acid vat' or 'magic missile!!!' or 'do an erotic dance'. Once these moves are collated into a written list, the duel can begin. The duel then works as regular combat but with the caveat that the duelling player can only select their actions from the moves they have been provided by the party. The DM controls their opponent as they would normally.
If the duelling character expends all of their moves and the duel isn't concluded - evaluate everyone's engagement level and act accordingly. If they're engaged, the duel takes a pause for another round of coaching, if ambivalent or less, then the duel has probably gone on long enough and the novelty has worn off - end it quickly, possibly in a high stakes final turn with the dueller deciding on their own final move. Remember with all things, pace is king.
Tips and Tweaks
- For extradramatic dueling (and to end the duel faster) allow two moves to be performed by the duller in a turn.
- If you suspect your players will overanalyze or derail the coaching stage have the players write down their two 'moves' in secret without interparty discussion. This method can yield a higher quantity of 'sensible' suggestions especially if paired with a reminder.
- Consider the HD of the NPC opponent, if they've low health consider allowing the party to provide only a single move each.