Sports and games have been a part of humanity for as long as we’ve had civilization. There’s no reason to think the worlds of our RPGs would be any different. But what might they look like? Here are four possibilities to include in your RPG.
Also because these are imaginary sports, there are no good images. Instead all the visuals for today’s post will be the sickest sport-fantasy mashups I can find.
Setting: Standard D&D
Much like american football plays out like a mockery of warfare, with battlelines shifting to and fro, so too does lichball mimic the most culturally popular form of battle. Every child knows of valiant heroes charging into evil lairs to save kingdoms. Many royals claim to be descended from such heroes. Certainly human warfare still exists, but it takes a cultural back seat to the wars against inhuman evil.
Lichball is a non-symmetrical game, typically played throughout a city’s streets. It is not a particularly standardized game, and each town plays a little differently. The main goal of the game is two heavy balls, around 8 or 9 pounds, that begin in possession of the Evil team. The Good team’s goal is to retrieve one of them and return it to their starting position (The Evil team does not get to know where this is). The Evil team’s goal is to capture each member of the Good team.
Each team consists of 8 players. Each member must choose a “class” and wear colors to denote it. Magic is sometimes involved, but remember this sport is played by athletes and random townsfolk, not real wizards. These people can cast a handful of cantrips, at most.
- Warriors (Red): They are allowed to wear heavy padding and carry a huge padded stick to beat people with.
- Wizards (Blue): In professional games with real magic, they are allowed to cast any cantrip that does no damage, such as Mage Hand, Message, Minor Illusion, or Dancing Lights. In more casual games, they carry helpful items such as smoke bombs. In colder cities, they’ll carry water balloons to splash on foes.
- Rogues (Black): Rogues are allowed to climb on the rooftops and go inside buildings.
The Evil team also gets around 20 extra players. The 20 are minions, typically recruited from local townsfolk. They have no equipment, they just run around trying to literally pick up the Good team and carry them back to the jail. They also get the Lich. The Lich is a player who is basically allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t injure anyone.
There is an element similar to professional wrestling. Teams and individual members have big personas to match the heroes and villains of legend. Evil teams act exaggeratedly cruel, and are booed by townsfolk, but every athletic young person dreams of getting recruited as a minion for a big game. Each Lich typically styles themselves after a famous legendary monster, typically one their hometown defeated.
There is a popular children’s variant, called Goblinball. There aren’t really rules, just children imitating a game they love to watch. They hurt themselves a lot.
Setting: Middle Earth-ish
Magic: Rare, but known
Wizards exist, though few have met them. This card game emulates the tense battles that people assume wizards are having somewhere in the world. It’s played with a five suit deck: Fire, Air, Water, Earth, and Holy, each numbered ace to ten. It is, of course, a gambling game.
The two players decide on a denomination of coin. They each draw seven cards. The first player plays a card. The second player can continue the round by playing any card with a higher numerical value, or any card from the opposite suit (Fire to Water or Earth to Air). When a player cannot or chooses not to play a card, they lose the round and must give coins to the other player equal to the number of cards played that round. Then each player draws up to seven and the game continues.
There are three special rules:
- Holy cards always count as the opposite of another suit, and have no opposite themselves. They are trump cards, essentially.
- The round can be won immediately if you play the card from the opposite suit with exactly the same numerical value. This is called “Countering”
- Any ace in the stack is worth five coins instead of one. They are the lowest numerical value, however.
This game is popular in pubs or with soldiers, played over pennies. There have been a few earls and dukes known to play it for gold coins.
Setting: Steampunk fantasy ala eberron
Magic: Rare, but known
The dawn of steam power brought machines to life. Transportation and industry were revolutionized, but all inventions eventually filter down to entertainment. One intrepid athlete turned inventor devised a game that exploded in popularity, spawning imitators the world over. That game was gauntlet.
Gauntlet is Wipeout come two centuries early. One challenger must clear increasingly difficult obstacles powered by huge steam pistons, aiming to climb to the top and become a champion.
There is nothing that compares to the true gauntlet. It’s nearly a theme park, with a number of separate arenas across a tiered structure that scrapes the clouds.
Qualification Gauntlet. This was the first one built, on nothing but scraps and dreams. It’s been polished, but the old jury rigged machinery still makes up it’s heart. The rest were built on the massive fortune the first brought in. True to the original premise, anyone can queue up and take a shot at it. Huge crowds are drawn to watch amateurs get thrown into the pools.
It’s fairly simple, being the earliest design. There’s a rotating cylinder to balance cross, a number of panels that will leap out to push you off, and some small platforms to jump between. The grand finale is a long path assaulted on all sides by large spinning bars. You have to duck and jump over them to cross the finish.
Winners are given a small glass trophy that serves both as proof of their skill and admittance to the tougher gauntlets. Anyone particularly athletic should be able to clear it.
Professional Gauntlets. These are the meat of Gauntlet Park. Only qualified people are allowed to participate. They’re swapped out seasonally into three different arenas, with ten weeks of shows and two weeks of downtime to change the machinery. These shows are scheduled, usually with five challengers in one show. The park is constantly inventing new ones
- Melee Gauntlet. A straight shot on an eight foot wide platform. The complication is brought by a dozen automatons along the run that attack you with padded bats.
- Wave Gauntlet. Made possible by revolutions in the glass industry. Competitors swim through brass tubes with huge windows. The finale involves crossing floating platforms in an artificial wave pool.
- Illusionist’s Gauntlet. In this, the goal is to remain on a central platform until the machine runs its course. There are increasingly subtle tells to warn you which direction the next strike will come from. The strikes are heavy rubber balls launched out of pneumatic tubes, intermixed with some feather light balls to distract from an upcoming hit.
The Tower. The next step, if a competitor wants to move up in the world of the Gauntlet. An entirely vertical gauntlet, with platforms spinning around the outside. The finale is a series of rotating platforms set almost ten feet away from the main tower, attached to it by steel beams. Some can only be reached by dangling ropes. The sickening vertigo of the hundred foot drop is as much a hurdle as the jumps.
At the top of the tower is a filigree bridge over to the highest tier of the park. There are huge prizes for completing the tower, plus the benefits of fame.
The architect had a wizard help design the safety mechanisms, so the drop into the huge net below is not a fatal one. In fact, this is the real reason that the higher platforms are so far from the tower, so that falling competitors aren’t killed by the lower platforms. Still, minor injuries are common, and severe ones are not unheard of.
The Cloud Gauntlet. The top of the park is two towers. One is where the tower lets off, and is used by high level competitors, staff, and VIP guests. The other one is used by general spectators. Between them sits the Cloud Gauntlet. Rather than drops into water, this course drops competitors into the void between the towers, which is filled with artificial clouds.
At the point this gauntlet was made, the architect was already fabulously wealthy. Rather than relying on machines, they were now rich enough to afford the services of true mages and airship engineers.
The opening of this gauntlet involves riding cloud skimmers, essentially floating surfboards with sails. Cannon fire tries to rip your skimmer apart.
Then, the more traditional part. A slick brass construction of an obstacle course. No moving pieces. Most of the walls are sheer vertical with no floor. They must support themselves between two, or climb tiny handholds.
Then comes running. A stretch of platforms with huge gaps and swinging, flaming hazards. Rolling, sliding and leaping. Fret not, the flaming bars throw the competitor quick enough not to catch them on fire.
The final challenge is the mountain. A steep climb, with sheer cliffs and drops and uneven terrain. The cannons open fire again down the slope of the mountain, firing heavy rubber balls wrapped in flaming cloth. There are a number of useful items strewn about the mountain, including shields to deflect cannon fire. At the top, for the few that make it, is a tall pole. Hardly a challenge for anyone who makes it this far. And at the peak, high above the park and the surrounding city, hangs a solid golden trophy.
The Great Treasure Hunt
Setting: Age of Sail
Tech: Cannons and Muskets
Sailors from around the world come for this yearly event. It’s held on a remote coast and an abandoned island. Nations will send ships down to participate for glory alone, as will notorious pirate lords. The host is an eccentric old sailor who has sailed with most navies, and with a few pirates as well. How it became renowned is unknown to most.
The game is simple. Every ship starts with fifty crewmembers and anchors down in the bay. On the island are three chests. One has fifty intricately carved gold discs, one has fifty silver disks, and the last has fifty broze disks. If you can make it back to shore with a disk, you get to keep it. Obviously, the more valuable disks are hidden in much harder to reach locations. Typically the bronze is buried somewhere on the sandy beach, while the other two are deeper into the jungle. Treasure maps and clues are hidden about the island.
All lethal weapons are left on shore, replaced with non-lethal variants. Muskets are given rubber musket balls. Swords are replaced with batons. These weapons don’t kill, but they’ll do a lot of harm. You’re not allowed to touch anyone who has surrendered, and you’re never allowed to kill, but everything else is fair game. Adjudicators, all veteran sailors, enforce these rules and escort surrendered sailors back to the mainland to watch the rest of the proceedings.
The cannon shells are replaced with huge ballasts filled with paint. Each ship is given an Adjudicator and a special bilge pump. If your ship gets hit with paint, the Adjudicator will bilge water into the ship, or otherwise mimic the damage. They’ve been known to tear sails and smash objects with a sledgehammer. Plus the ballasts hit with enough force to carry a sailor clean overboard.
The looseness of the rules leads to wild outcomes each year. Sometimes teams, each reduced to less than 25, will combine knowing there are enough disks for all of them. Ships are stolen. Mutiny takes out experienced captains. Sometimes a lone scoundrel will open a chest and take a single disk, not wanting to risk carrying the heavy chest. Some years are open battle, and some devolve into ambush warfare in the trees. More than one chest has been lost at the bottom of the sea. Plus, the host loads the island with a number of surprises each year: Traps, non player characters, difficult puzzles, or anything else that crosses their mind.
It’s a chaotic mess, but the most accomplished sailors the world over proudly display carved disks, even bronze ones. The mystique and glory only grow with each passing year.