Where is Thine Olde Sporting Goodes Shoppe?

I’m on an RPG kick right now that’s centered around preparing to run Rise of the Runelords for friends this summer using Pathfinder.  My RPG experience is centered mostly around the classic Red Box and then AD&D 2nd Edition in my youth.  I remember not just thinking, but knowing, that my grandma was the coolest grandma ever when we played AD&D together one afternoon.  Looking back, I only appreciate the memory more now that I’m a parent and I know more about my grandma as a person.  It was probably laughably cute to her at the time, but incredibly serious business for me which must have only enhanced the hilarity for her.  That afternoon, running through some old AD&D 2nd Edition bargain shelf adventure was the last time I played a roleplaying game until summer 2013 when my friend Jared started running his family, and myself, through The Sunless Citadel using the D&D 3.5e ruleset.  I instantly remembered how much fun an RPG could be and just how much great wargamers and great roleplayers have in common.

It’s no wonder Gary Gygax, a wargame designer, was so well suited to begin creating this rules system that has morphed into something even beyond his wildest imagination!

Today though, I’m reading through as much Pathfinder as I can get my hands on.  I bought the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and Bestiary back in summer 2013 when I was doing a survey of D&D 3.5e, D&D 4e. and Pathfinder.  I really liked they layout and value of the Core Rulebook for Pathfinder – so it’s stuck in my head over the fall and winter.  Now though I’ve picked up, just in the last 2 weeks:

  • Bestiary 2 & 3
  • Bestiary 1 Pawn Box
  • NPC Codex Pawn Box
  • The Inner Sea World Guide
  • Ultimate Campaign
  • Ultimate Equipment
  • GameMastery Guide
  • Advanced Players Guide
  • GM Screen
  • Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition

So, I’d say that I have enough to run Rise of the Runelords and the downtime.  The interesting thing here is that you DEFINITELY don’t need to get that into all the books.  Paizo, the company that publishes the Pathfinder system, has done so using the Open Gaming License and therefore sites exist, including on Paizo’s corporate site, that allow you access to many of the stats and guidebooks – with much less pizzazz.  I, however, work in IT by day, so by night I don’t want to be a slave to my computer.

My gridded Moleskine is all I need along with good old fashioned printouts, sticky notes, and of course my imagination.

In going through all this great material that includes more than enough content to flesh out this entire world of Golarion…there is no sport!  I got thinking about D&D, AD&D, and World of Darkness.  No sports in those either.  While World of Darkness has the advantage of running in modern times and in real world locations – there’s still nothing specifically laid out about the favorite bloodsports of say Clan Ventrue (if that’s still a thing even).  In fact, I don’t see references to sports of kingdoms.  I see religion, political interests, armies, creatures that live there, notable towns, important nobility or townsfolk, and even baddies that can be encountered.  Yet, I don’t see anything about sport or gambling or even friendly competition.  Life – it would seem – is devoid of competitive and team-based sports.  It’s kind of a sad state to be wholly truthful!

Since many fantasy settings use the European Middle Ages as a template for their worlds – here are some sporting competitions that existed at the time:

  • Archery
  • Bowls
  • Colf (a crude precursor to Golf)
  • Gameball (a crude precursor to Football/Soccer)
  • Hammer-Throwing
  • Hurling  (a sport still found in Ireland, but a bit like field hockey and a police beatdown)
  • Horseshoes
  • Jousting at Tournaments
  • Quarterstaff Competitions (Always bet on Nitro and NEVER Malibu in Pugil-Stick!)
  • Skittles (Taste the rainbow? or a precursor to bowling)
  • Stoolball (a crude ancestor of cricket)
  • Wrestling

Thanks to LordsAndLadies.com (http://www.lordsandladies.org/medieval-sports.htm) for the information on this!

Roleplaying Games and their associated settings provide ample opportunity for factionalism.  You have a home province, a deity, a city perhaps, a class, an order or school, and even race becomes a group identity in settings where there are less open minded citizenry.  There are, however, no broad support materials related to sporting identities.  It seems like a major oversight because not all people are religious about, well, religion.  Not all people are passionate about their craft, or region.  Politics often don’t take on the same sportsmanship and good natured competition that sport engenders in people of all sexes and ages.

Sports are a part of the daily fabric of many historical settings.

I look at just Renaissance Italy and quickly identify two major sporting events in the Tuscany region.  One of the most well known is the Palio di Sienna which is a horserace through the streets of Sienna.  It originated in the 16th century and the endpoint is in the Piazza Del Campo which has this beautiful amphitheater layout with divisions set in different colored bricks to divide up the neighborhoods represented in the races.  When you visit Sienna you see the banners of the neighborhood colors around the city.  It’s a point of pride to be in the winning neighborhood and bragging rights last all year long.

Another model, also from Tuscany, that I’ll use to illustrate why sport is such a critically overlooked component of RPGs is from Florence.  Remember when I mentioned Gameball above?  A version of this could be taken from the Calcio Storico, or Historic Football, that is played annually in the Piazza Santa Croce  in Florence.  Neighbors, literally, beat upon each other in what’s been called the most violent sport on Earth.  Calcio Storico is a mix of street fighting, football (soccer), and Greco-Roman wrestling.  People often leave unconscious and, at a minimum, badly bruised and bloody.   I think the video below will explain it better than I could…

[av_video src=’http://vimeo.com/25512336′ format=’16-9′ width=’16’ height=’9′]

As with the Palio, teams here are by neighborhood.  Bragging rights are critically important.  It draws a major crowd and consumes downtime for training and success.  The links here for inclusion in your setting are strong with both the Palio and Calcio Storico.

You do not, however, have to use an existing real-world sport to engage your players and draw upon resources to create setting and story.

Eglinton_tournament_joustingThe most widely attended events were, of course, tournaments in which knights were jousting during the 100-Years War era.  These tournaments often featured a variety of combat training.  It was important in a feudal society for everyone from nobles on down the social hierarchy to hone and continually develop their martial skills.  After all, at some point in everyone man’s life they’d be called upon to serve in an army that gets called up whether for a larger campaign or a regional territorial dispute.  Tournaments, for that matter, served a dual purpose.

Your adventures can pull from this quite easily to suit the character type.  Just because you’re not a knight, paladin, or other martial style class doesn’t mean you can’t have a sport or formal competition!  Consider from our modern era the Black Hat hacking conferences like Defcon.  During Defcon, one of the premier events is a live attempt to gain access to a major company’s infrastructure using social engineering hacks.  The participants are given a list of things they must obtain from the company, they’re put in a sound-proof box with a timer and their conversations are broadcast to the attendees.  The attendees get a chance to see how it works in motion.  If you want a great writeup about this competition, check out the following article from social-engineer.org – http://www.social-engineer.org/social-engineering/defcon-20-what-the-heck-just-happened/

Here are some ideas to incorporate for your character class types that might pique your interest:


  • A 24 hour window to steal a prized possession from the local nobility.  Known only to the participants, they must gain access to the noble’s home, identify the item, and loot it without getting caught.  The first one to return it to the competition judge(s) is rewarded.  This can be used to set up a series of adventures based on the loss of the item or its misuse by the judge(s).
  • An annual mysterious Assassination Duel is held that pits dozens of rogues against one another in a major city to assassinate their targets.  This works a bit like the college dorm game and can be played out across a long period of time and provide a random encounter when your party least expects it keeping them on their toes.  The winner is known only to the mysterious organization that runs it and they are identified rather than returning any proof.


  • Participants are given an ancient tome and thrown into an alternate planar reality.  They quickly find that their spellbooks are empty, and that the threats to them come from other participants as well as from the environment itself.  This is a great way to bring some mythos into your campaign world.  A good framework for this competition would be to model it off of The Hunger Games.
  • Wizards are tasked with supporting a martial competition.  In this world, each team participates as a whole party.  Think about altering the Calcio Storico to allow for Clerics to bash people with their maces as Wizards and Sorcerers wait in the wings to buff their team while debuffing the other team.  Perhaps a particularly successful tactic might be to identify the other support teams in the crowd to try and disrupt them instead!

Those are just two class specific examples for two classes.  You can definitely find ways to bring races into this, specific regional differences, and of course adapting popular current sports to the world in your setting.  Sports play a major part of our modern lives.  Sports played a major role in the incredibly limited leisure time of the past as well.  According to FIFA, Football (soccer) is played professionally, at some level, by 270 million people worldwide today.  That’s roughly 4 % of everyone on earth is involved in playing soccer at a professional level!  Consider, for a moment, that the odds of being a professional soccer player are 1% of the pool of just college soccer players in the US which is just shy of about 23,000 players while in high school, in the US alone, it’s a pool of around 330,000 players.  That’s a staggering amount of people playing soccer outside of the professional level.  Add on to that the number of fans for soccer and the number becomes incomprehensible.  Now…that’s just a single sport, albeit the world’s most popular sport, but it’s still just one sport.

Answer again why your RPG doesn’t feature sports?


I began wargaming in 1987 with Axis & Allies and in 1988 discovered Avalon Hill's Gettysburg 125th Anniversary Edition and have been hex & counter wargaming ever since.I enjoy all eras and scales of wargames. I have only rarely played a Euro or Strategy game I didn't like.

Boardgaming provides a great way to unplug, be creative, and spend time with friends and family.

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