Friday, December 15, 2017

"Games Orcs Play" or "Real Fantasy Sports"

The crowd was big, with pennants waving and jeers being exchanged between the stands. The net riffled in the breeze, and cheers roared as the teams took the field. Halgar Grimscar, his face split from crown to chin by an ugly reminder of his time as a warrior, threw his hands up and roared back at the spectators. His Maulers gathered round, and then all butted heads before they took their places.

The roar faded, as Grimscar raised the claxon over his head. The ball was wrapped in bearskin, and weighted with lead to make throwing it harder, and catching it deadly if your grip slipped. Grimscar smiled, and let fly. The game had begun.

Look, I'm telling you their streak's not stopping, but if you wanna throw your gold away, bet against 'em.

What Sports Exist In Your Fantasy World?

Designing a fantasy setting takes a lot of work. You have to make a map, divide up the countries, figure out which races live where, what the languages are, create heraldry for the nobility, concoct laws, and put together a dozen different religions. It's a huge undertaking making a sandbox for players to romp around having adventures in. Every now and again, though, parts of a setting can feel samey. You know, how little towns, villages, and lay-by places all end up feeling identical to one another? After all, they're not the meat of the game, so we just sort of leave them be. There's an inn or two, some farms, maybe some fishing, and a festival or two every year.

But what do these NPCs do for entertainment?

Sure, there's meeting down at the pub for drinking contests, or a game of dice, but we don't usually think about the games that are unique to a setting or culture outside of sessions where there's a big, annual festival going on. We also don't think about what those games might teach us about a culture. So, before you start another campaign, ask what sorts of fantasy sports exist in this world, who plays them, and whether that sort of profession might give rise to an adventurer.

Especially one with a flashy stage persona.
The sport described in the introduction, known by names like Catch and Fire or Siegebreaker, is just an orc version of the game Hooverball (something played by President Hoover that was kind of like volleyball, if you played it with a 20 pound medicine ball, because we elect maniacs to our high offices in America). The game requires strength, speed, power, coordination, and it requires endurance to outlast the other side. Things orcs tend to excel at due to their natural advantages, though the game could just as easily be played by humans, dwarves, etc. There might even be rivalries, or the potential for territorial disputes to be settled with a match instead of bloodshed. Or there may be harsh penalties for the losing team, if you want to add a bloodthirsty edge to the culture that gave rise to this game.

What other games can you think of? Is there a kind of wizard's tag played by evokers, who use harmless (or at least non-lethal) spells to dye members of the other team colors to declare victory? Could this game be played by non-spellcasters who use wands to mimic the effects, adding drama by giving them a limited number of shots? Do nations who tame flying beasts have aerial races that showcase maneuverability in three dimensions? Did giants, famous for their rock-throwing ability, create their own version of baseball? Or golf?

There are all kinds of roads you could go down, but the easiest way to make a fantasy sport is to take a sport that already exists (chariot racing, say), and then to add in fantasy elements. Perhaps there is a race where unusual mounts are allowed to participate, which leads to one chariot being pulled by a team of nightmares, and another by hulking hellhounds. Or perhaps you add a Death Race challenge to it, and the charioteers have on-boards weapons, in addition to hazards on the track that could injure or kill a racer.

Sports might be local, national, or anywhere in between. However, adding a few sports into a nation's makeup can tell you things about that society, and it can create touch stones for character building and campaign arcs. For example, if the barbarian was a Dog Skull runner until fifth level, then fans of the sport might recognize him even though he's retired. That could open a lot of doors, since he's not a stranger to those who know his team, or who saw him pull out a big win. It could also provide a non-lethal form of conflict resolution where the whole party gets to participate, rather than one or two people having a duel to settle a dispute. Or, at the very least, it can give a character a hobby that helps define them. Because Denari Cleareyes might be off on another continent chasing down arcane secrets, but she brought her crystal ball because she is not going to miss the big game between the Rough Housers and the Anvil Crackers. It's been brewing all year, and she just knows her boys are going to be the champs.

Also, if you've been curious about the sort of games played in Evora, here's a little snippet from the start of Fire Season, when the Screaming Eagles take the sands to open the Quadumverate Games over at Dungeon Keeper Radio.

That's all for this week's Fluff topic. Hopefully it stirred some ideas! If you'd like even more gaming-related content from me, check out my Gamers archive, and head over to Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and several other folks put together skits on DM and player advice, world building, and humor for the world of Evora. If you'd like to stay up-to-date on all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative (I'm still hurting after the recent debacle that Patreon decided to undo), head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to pledge a donation. All it takes is $1 a month to make a difference, and to get yourself some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!



    Just sayin...

    1. I love Salute of The Juggers! I found that movie by accident in the early days I had Internet, and I've been looking for a copy for a while now.

    2. Saw it once at a friends house many years ago and have never seen another copy, would love to own it!

  2. and don;t be afraid to just drop some of the more ancient and thus exotic sports directly into a game.. things like the Caber toss, or the Stone Putt, to pick a pair of scottish examples, don't require much in the way of sophisticated equipment, and thus might make good sports for Barbarian tribes or non-human races that find strength appealing (like say orcs).

    a lot of ancient sports grew out of military or physical labor training.. Lumberjack sports like limbing, pole climbing, and speed felling for example serve dual purpose of refining skills and being spectacles. while more military minded sports (like the tossing of hammers, javelins, etc, or Archery contests, jousts, and so on) do much the same for "soldier" skills.

    likewise it is likely that most places will have some form of strongman contests where the contestants lift or carry increasingly heavy weights, and probably some sort racing sport, whether it is on a track or cross country. Endurance races (where contestants have to cross long multi-day distances, on foot or on animal back, without stopping) is liekly to be something that'll develop in a lot of places as well.. especially if they have any sort of courier type system going.

  3. In my game, in the colonies, a popular sport is watching tamed dinosaurs fight in an arena. The Empress, a scarred and ancient Tyrannosaur, is the current reigning champion, with Gemini (twin Carnosaurs) and Ironhorn the Triceratops coming in second and third.

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