Between rewatching Role Models and reading up on the Jedburgh Ba’ tradition, I realized something that can improve on the verisimilitude (a word I use because i love the sound of it, and it makes me sound smarter than I am) of your RPG setting. People play games, watch games, beat each other up over games…always have, always will.

Here’s some basic ideas for games your players’ characters might play:

There medieval football, the closest to which today would by the Jedburgh or Kirkwall game of ba’ (ball…with a Scottish accent.) You choose two destinations — one for the Uppies, one for the doonies (downies) from either end of town. There’ a designated person to “throw up” the ball, usually a leather hand-stitched thing about 4″ in diameter, sometimes adorned with ribbons, etc. The goal is to get the ball over the destination point up the town or down. You play in a mob — none of this small numbers crap — and it can take all day. The big honor of keeping the ball goes to someone on the winning side.

Rugby/football/soccer — There are other obvious variants of football. Some even use your foot, NFL fans. Rugby is a nice one — it’s like American football, but without all the padding and helmets. Score points by getting the ball into the goal, and have fun pummeling other people into the grass. Soccer is a bit more civilized, with mostly kicking, rather than throwing and carrying the ball, as in football and rugby.

Keep It Up — Volleyball, beach ball, tennis, badminton even jai alia are keep it up games. Drop the ball, the other side gets a point. There might be other rules, etc., but this is the basic game. Jai alia just adds the extra fun of a hard ball moving at high speeds for greater injury potential!

Get It In — Basketball, Battlestar Galactica‘s pyramid, Rollerball — all are versions of this: Get the ball, throw it in the basket/hole/whatever for points.

Ball games typically are team sports, with teams as small as doubles up to the mob scrums of handball. Team sports, like their older brother political parties, inspire intense — often idiotic — loyalty and pride. They can have a lot more subtext than just colored jerseys — they imply where you are from, your religion, your politics. Get asked in Glasgow is you are Rangers or Celtics, and they’re not just asking if you like blue or green; are you Catholic or Protestant. On a Friday night after a few pints, this could lead to a beat down in the wrong neighborhoods.

Speaking of beat downs: Contests of skill, strength, etc. are fun. Arm wrestling over a few pints? Always good. Archery or shooting contest? Obstacle courses? Boxing/karate/cage fighting matches — these are ways to have the characters earn some dosh or respect without having to run a mission of some kind.

The other major gaming you see is racing. People will race anything. If slugs were big enough to ride, we’d race ’em. Dog racing, Pinewood derbies, horse racing, bicycles, trains (yes, there have been train races),motorcycles, cars, boats, planes, spaceships — we either ride ’em or watch ’em. For powersports, half the fun is when the person biffs it. Everything from regulated tracks with warning flags, and rules for not trying to wreck other racers, road rallies where you go from point A to B, timed events (to prevent crashes), demolition derbies — add some nasty terrain and speed and it gets fun.

Games of chance: People love the easy money, and the thrill of maybe winning is enough to have people playing the Redneck Retirement Fund weekly across the United States (the lottery, for those trying to figure out the putdown…) Dice. Cards. Roulette (with or without the gun), pachinko, dominoes….the quick way to handle this in game is to have the players roll some kind of gambling skill or attributes appropriate to the matter. But if the game is the point of the adventure — say, you’re running Casino Royale as a scenario in a espionage game — why not bust out the cards for some high stakes action? Even if it’s just a few hands, it will change the flavor of the session. (I bought triad cards for Battlestar Galactica for just this thing, but the characters have been a bit to busy for games, lately…) Now add gambling to any of the situations above and you can add drama to the events.

Can you make a simple game played in a session as intense and “important” as fighting the bad guys? Have a look at Role Models — a lightweight comedy that is actually much more respectful and understanding of geek culture than something like Zero Charisma. The climactic SCA/LARP battle is not life threatening, but for one of the characters, it is central to who he is — losing the scrum to the “bad guy” really is that important, and despite the characters using boffer swords and dressed like members of KISS (seriously, see this movie!), the audience does feel that this is high stakes, even if it is stupid to some of the characters.

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