I’m going to run this one in two parts. Part One (this one), is going to be for the world designers and role-players. Part Two (link here) will be for the gold farmers. OK, that was intentionally harsher than I really mean. Even world builders and role-players need to design missions and treasure, so Part Two is for both sides of the FRPG fence.
So why is this Super Fantasy Sunday? Well, I am sitting around waiting for the Super Bowl to start. Not really - I was playing a fantasy game, not really “waiting”, but most people see that as doing “nothing”. Anyway - I don’t care about either team. I don’t care all that much about sports. I typically don’t watch more than four or five football games a year, but one of them is almost always the Super Bowl. Let’s face it - America pretty much stops to watch the Super Bowl. How does that work in your game world? What is it that is so important (OK, important is the wrong word to use, but to so many, it is the perception), but still leisure that causes your game world to pause.
Let’s start in a simpler format. With the issues of no media and horrible travel, there may be no sporting event that attracts the world’s attention. So start smaller - What sports do they play? What sports do they watch? One of the things you have to consider, is what equipment do the kids have access to? The wealthier folks may play polo, but the poor folks sure aren’t doing that. Honestly, I think soccer balls are beyond most lower class fantasy era folks, especially if you think about the balls as being filled with air.
So what have I done? Well, one of the main “kid” sports among the humans is sort of like rugby. They usually refer to it as kick ball. The “end zone” is a tall stake jammed into the grass at one end of the field (one stake for each of the two teams). You score by hitting the stake with the ball. You can throw it, kick it, tag it (with ball in hand), any touch counts. Some cultures put a little stone on top of the stake which should fall off when it is jarred to signal that the point was scored. (I think that’s like cricket, but I’m an American.) The ball is made from scraps of leather and therefore sort of looks like a soccer ball (pieces sewn together, but it is filled with boiled feathers. (That’s the way they use to make golf balls.) Oh, this ball is typically about 16” in circumference, so Chicagoans should think of it as a soft ball in size, but the rest of you have to think of something else. It is probably heavier than a soft ball because of the densely packed feathers. They can play catch with the ball too, but organized games are typically kick ball. By the way, it’s kick ball, because it is far more difficult to stop a ball that small that was kicked past people than to prevent a throw or something more at hand/arm level.
What else? Well, horse racing and gladiatorial matches are huge show sports, the kind of things that attract spectators and betting. Most of my gladiatorial matches are “circle fights”, which I have described as “rough and tumble sumo matches”. (Because people don’t die, so it costs fewer gladiators and they can compete more often.) In some ways they are a little like professional wrestling, but hopefully the outcome is not predetermined. Both gladiatorial matches and horse races can take place in open fields (or gypsy camps) or in full on arenas and built coliseums. There are also pit fights that typically take place in taverns specially built for them. These can be ruthless bare knuckles boxing, cock fights or dog fights, or very rarely armed gladiatorial matches.
Yes, the upper classes play polo. One of the last competitive sports that attracts a lot of attention is the rodeo circuit. Here “everyday” guys can compete in events that can win them big purses, big enough that it makes it worthwhile for them to travel from town to town to compete - in a circuit. Are there jousts? Yes, but those happen over on Hughijen, and we seldom adventure there so we seldom talk about it. Back to rodeos - Men and women compete in different events and even the kids can get involved in calf chasing and ram riding events. It also brings out the county fair kind of event - sports (the rodeo events), food, contests (best steers, best cooking events, etc.), and the locals can try to compete against the travelling guys - the professionals.
So think about it in your world. Do the everyday guys have horses? then is rodeo or horse racing likely? If the leather industry is big here, then they can probably make leather based balls. How densely populated is the city? Do they have parks big enough to play sports or are the kids playing in the streets. No fantasy city is likely to have flat enough courts for tennis or basketball (no bouncing balls), but they might have gyms that teach boxing or wrestling, especially as a gateway to getting those boys into the military or at least the militia.
Where does it vary? Well, in Brinston, they compete in more track and field style contests, even to the point that the various army and policing units typically have their own teams (including ringers). Running, jumping, and don’t forget javelin. In the Wembic Empire (orcs), wrestling and boxing are the norm, plus some archery. But they also play Blan Zar. Blan Zar started as a children’s treasure hunt (think Easter eggs), but when the children started to rough each other up in order to win, the adults started to get involved. Think of it as a cross between an Easter egg hunt, rugby, and capture the flag, but really violent.
Does this matter? Yeah. Figure this out, and you know what people do in their off time. You might know what some people’s hobbies are - and some of them might be rabid fans. Why does that matter? Because knowing what drives people can give you all sorts of ideas on what they do, why they do it, and what their homes are like. Check out the next blog post for more “whys”.