Hi! So I've been following the discussion regarding whether Duelists are overpowered/broken/etc for a while, and I thought I would share what my play group has been trying out.
So, to explain where we're coming from philosophically: My group played several sessions and unanimously agreed that the dynamic between Duelists and non-duelists felt a little off. That said, nobody wanted to nerf the Duelists, because we all agreed that the Duelists should be better than other combatants. We all liked Duelists exactly as they performed. We also agreed that non-duelists are not nearly as helpless as a lot of people have complained about; there are a ton of advantages for dealing with Brute Squads in a variety of ways or for giving other performance boosts in combat. Between the sessions we have played and some actual plays I have followed, the case can easily be made that the non-duelists have the potential to be as effective if not more effective in combat scenes than the Duelist, they're just following a different strategy and style of play.
Still, what my group decided that they did not quite like the feeling of was the sense that, particularly against Monsters and Villains, combat efficiency was very binary. Duelists had this damage multiplier that scaled up their combat effectiveness with the growth of their skills while everyone else remained perpetually at the 1-for-1 level. The tricks that other advantages and sorcery provide mitigate this somewhat, but they do not have the consistency or reliability of Duelist Academy. My group also has a pattern of creating characters who arguably should be competent in combat, but not masters of it (e.g. the monster hunter, the caravan guard, the veteran pirate, etc.), and the system just wasn't quite meeting that need. The group did not want to force these characters/players into being Duelists, but still wanted them to feel more combat-worthy than the Vaticine priest and the Anthropologist, neither of whom had ever held a sword.
So, heeding the advice of John Wick - who has more than once encouraged players to modify the game to suit their needs - we looked for the simplest tweak to the system we could find. A lot of people have suggested "Duelist Lite" Advantages and even "Student of Combat Lite" Advantages to give characters access to small subsets of Dueling, but we thought there were already plenty of combat advantages, and we didn't want to create something else that became the advantage-that-everybody-has. Ultimately, we were inspired by a couple of mechanics that already exist elsewhere in the game: Villain Strength and Duelist itself.
Duelist Maneuvers scale off of a value equal to the character's weaponry skill. Villain Strength is halved to determine a Villain's effective rank in a trait or skill. Using those two precedents, we decided to try having all characters by default inflict wounds-per-raise equal to half the value of their appropriate combat skill, rounded up (Rank 1 = 1/raise, Rank 2 = 1/raise, Rank 3 = 2/raise, Rank 4 = 2/raise, Rank 5 = 3/raise). This meant that characters with higher-ranking combat skills would be more effective in a fight than characters with low skills, but they would still be inferior to professional Duelists (who when using maneuvers would continue to function as written). Damage output would be tied to skill ranks in brawl, aim, or weaponry. Damage prevention would be tied to athletics. This formula could also be used for a character using intimidate or another social skill against a Brute Squad, if desired.
We have run combats this way a few times now, and we really like the dynamic feel of it. Every character has a distinct feel in combat that comes from their skill-set as much as the Advantages that they have. We have also applied this formula to our Villains, Monsters, and Brute Squads (in this case wounds-per-raise are effectively 1/4 strength; 1/2 skill value derived from 1/2 strength), and we really like how it creates a more variable number of wounds dealt/prevented. It also feels like it gives characters a bit more flexibility in how they allocate their raises, which is always nice.
Anyway, that's how we've been doing it. Hope y'all find this useful.