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The show, Sword Art Online has 2 Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games in it, Sword Art Online (SAO) and Alfheim Online (AFO). What are the player-vs-player rules in these 2 games? Sometimes the rules seem to either make no sense (being able to attack someone in a home town but not be attacked back) or seem contradictory (requiring a mutual duel sometimes and sometimes not).

Also, I realize the rules from the 2 in-anime games are probably different. Where SAO seems to have free PvP in non-safezones, AFO requires duels (but only sometimes?).

Do the light novels go into any details about this?

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Warning, there are spoilers in this answer if you haven't watched SAO completely yet.

For the SAO arc, outside of towns, you're constantly "flagged" for PvP. From the beginnings, when you're getting explained how the players are divided:

Inside the city, or the places mostly referred to as «Safe Areas», there was protection implemented by the system and players couldn't hurt each other. But it wasn't like that outside. The stragglers made teams with other stragglers and ambushed other players —which was in many ways much more profitable than hunting monsters— out on the fields or the labyrinth areas.

Players that commit crimes are marked orange (i.e., their cursor turns orange). From when Kirito and Asuna encounter the troop from The Army in the forest:

More importantly, whenever a player committed a crime, their cursor would turn orange and wouldn't turn back to green for a long time.

Note that attacking an orange player doesn't change your cursor to orange. From when Asuna steps in to stop Kuradeel from killing Kirito:

Kuradeel bounced back up as if he had springs and attempted to form an excuse with his nervous voice. But before he could finish, Asuna's right hand flashed and the tip of her sword tore Kuradeel's mouth. She didn't become a criminal since her opponent already had an orange cursor.

Inside of towns, you have the town protection in place, which doesn't allow open PvP, so many new players originally stayed in town to be safe. You can attack other people in towns, but it won't do anything except for some special shiny effects and knockback.

If players engage in duels, there are several options:

  • First Strike Mode - from the duel against Kuradeel:

    I nodded in reply, then pressed Yes and chose the «First Strike Mode» from the options. This was a duel that could be won either by landing the first clean hit or by reducing the opponent's HP to half.

  • Complete Decisive Mode - from the Inner Area PK incident:

    But unfortunately, there were still some loopholes around this rule. One of them is when the player's sleeping. There are times when players, with their energy exhausted through long durations of battle, are basically unconscious when they go into a deep sleep, and unable to wake up even with some stimulations. With that opportunity, one could raise a request to duel in «Complete Decisive Mode» and moved the sleeping opponent's finger to press on the OK button. All that was left was to literally make the opponent sleep like the dead.

The other options are not explained or mentioned as far as I can see.

For the ALO arc, there's PvP against other fairy races in your native race's (controlled) towns. From when Lyfa/Suguha shows Kirito around meeting Sigurd:

Somehow, a circle of onlookers had already surrounded them, drawn by the signs of trouble. If this was a formal duel, or if he were an actual Spriggan spy, then fine. But it would be dishonorable if Sigurd instigated a fight with a tourist like Kirito, who can't even fight back in this area.

And in that same quote, it's mentioned that a "formal duel" is possible, but that's not further explained. Outside of towns, you can fight without restrictions. This can be seen by people just fighting about everywhere. Note that if a race's lord is killed by another race, the other race will gain control over that lord's territory. From when Lyfa explains why the Salamander want to stop the Sylphid-Cait Sith alliance:

"Also, if they kill the Lord, they will get some amazing bonuses. They will unconditionally receive 30% of the lord's funds stored in the mansion, and for ten days, the territory that the lord rules over would become occupied, then they are free to set taxes and take that money. That is a tremendous amount of money. The reason why Salamander became the largest force in the game was because in the past, they had set a trap for Sylph's first Lord and killed him. Normally lords don't venture into neutral territory. In the history of ALO, only one lord has ever been killed."

  • There is no such a thing as a player with a red Cursor. The Cursor can be green, and the cursor can be orange. It turns orange once you hit player with green cursor outside a duel and out of safe area. It doesn't matter if you killed him afterwards, robbed them, or just ran away. The cursor revert back overtime to green the first three times. On the fourth time, you have to complete a quest. It permanently turns orange the fifth time. Red guilds/players are something that made up by players to differentiate murderers. – кяαzєя Dec 12 '12 at 3:06
  • @Krazer I don't think that's true. Although I don't have the show in front of me to double-check, the assassination group that was sent to kill off the main characters at the end of the inner-PK arc were red I believe. – Mysticial Dec 12 '12 at 3:10
  • Found it: Red Players – Mysticial Dec 12 '12 at 3:16
  • @Mysticial That's not how it goes in the light novel. Search for "The killing guild «Laughing Coffin»". – кяαzєя Dec 12 '12 at 3:34
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    @atlantiza PK guilds and players in SAO are dubbed "Red" by players to differentiate them from normal criminals, because their cursor color is also orange. If you read up a bit more for the paragraph I noted you'll see that Johnny Black (a "red" player) had a orange cursor. – кяαzєя Dec 12 '12 at 5:21
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Based on only the Anime (especially episodes 5-7), the rules for Sword Art Online are this:

  • Players normally can't damage each other in inner-areas (such as towns). But they do suffer from knock-back (as shown in episode 11 when Asuna attacks one of the Liberation Front members).
  • The only way for players to damage each other in inner-areas is to have a duel.
  • It is possible to die in an inner-area duel. (It's the only way to die in an inner-area.)
  • Both players must consent to a duel. But "consent" is only getting the player to push a button.

What to get from this:

  • If a player is asleep, you can pickup the player's hand and push the button for them, thereby initiating a duel. Since the sleeping player is unprepared, you can kill the person. Hence a "sleep-PK" in an inner-area. (episode 5)
  • The entire arc of inner-area PKs were actually fake PKs using the "durability" of the clothing.

In Alfheim Online, the details are less clear:

  • In hometowns, natives can attack outsiders, but outsiders can't attack natives.
  • There isn't much about duels. (At least I don't recall seeing anything about it.)
  • And I haven't read the light-novels so I don't know if it's clarified in them. But like other shows, it's entirely possible for the rules to be slightly different between Manga/Novels and Anime. – Mysticial Dec 12 '12 at 1:55
  • It is not possible to die in a duel. Your health gets reset. – Michael Spencer Dec 12 '12 at 2:48
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    @MichaelSpencer: Yes you can if the duel is in "Complete Decisive Mode", see my answer. Also, how would the sleep PKs mentioned in anime and novel happen? – Xeo Dec 12 '12 at 2:51

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