Friday, March 1, 2013

Challenges for Low Level Characters: The Games


Have you ever heard of a culture that didn’t play a sport?  Neither have I.  The Romans spectators loved gladiatorial spectacles and chariot races.  The Greeks created the Olympic games.  American Indians played ball games such as lacrosse.  The Scottish games show off the strength of the competitors.  Many cultures practice archery to a mind boggling degree of mastery.  People of central Asia play a game called Buzkashi where the beheaded, disemboweled corpse of a calf is carried by horsemen into a goal.  The opposing team tries to do the same whilst preventing their opponents from getting the calf. 

Game Masters can utilize sports, scavenger hunts, foot races, horse races, chariot races and displays of martial prowess to inform players about the cultures which make up your campaign setting.  In the ancient world and amongst tribal people, sport often serves a religious function.  Religious games celebrate good crops, victory in battle, successful hunts, annual religious festivals and the best athletes can proclaim how the gods favor them.  Games may be how people choose wives/husbands, earn status as adults, earn political favor, become public figures or become weathly.  Adapting these purposes to your campaign brings depth to the setting and can help to show the differences between cultures.  The elves might place great importance on the annual tree climbing races and the dwarves throw heavy rocks at each other. 

I also employ games as a background for other adventures.
  • The standard Laff-A-Lympics storyline.  The Really Rottens want to win the games and they’ll cheat to do it.  Can the PC’s win in spite of the cheating?  
  • The standard homicide of the week mystery story:  Someone is “accidentally” killed but the PC’s notice something strange and suspect murder.  Can they figure out who done it?
  • The games are already dangerous but someone is trying extra hard to kill the PC’s.
  • The PC’s are underdogs.  Can they win and get the prize money that will get them that sweet new laser cannon for their ship?
  • A plot to assassinate a person of political importance.  Can the PC’s prevent the plot?  Can the PC’s catch the guy who did it?  Do the PC’s find out about a important villain/cult/criminal syndicate/foreign spy service?
  • -The party does well in the games/scavenger hunt/race and as a result…  ...the party catches the eye of a wealthy benefactor who wants to hire them for a job.   ...a powerful and wealthy business interests offers them a sponsorship deal.  ...they earn some big money and everybody knows it so all kinds of hangers on come out of the woodwork.  
  • Congratulations!  That was an amazing performance.  You win great honors!  Tonight, we feast and drink!  Lots of attractive people want to have sex with you!  By the way, tomorrow we strangle you and throw your body in the volcano. The gods require we sacrifice the strongest and best athlete amongst us each year at the conclusion of the games.  Say hello to <insert deity of choice here> for us. 

Play with the permutations and see what you can come up with.  

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