Few would deny how influential sports is in modern society. Wars are fought all the time, but the world pays attention when FIFA hosts the World Cup, where the Olympics are played, and who wins. The amount of money that FIFA, NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL each bring in is staggering. This influx of money suggests there are all sorts of things that happen both visibly and not so visibly around the sports. Just naming a few are: gambling, fights over who pays for stadiums, match-fixing, cheating to win games or pad stats, etc.
Here at the Front, this seems like largely untapped potential for RPG campaigns. Ancient Greece started the tradition of the Olympics. The Roman Empire had gladiatorial games and charioteer races. (I believe I heard there is evidence that they even flooded the Coliseum to host mock Naval battles.) In the Middle Ages, you have tournaments that were held for jousting, archery competitions, and even grand melees.
It has also invaded fictional works to one degree or another. Just to name a few … in the Harry Potter series, there is Quidditch. In Episode 1 of the Star Wars prequel movies there is Pod Racing. Games Workshop put out the Blood Bowl game in 1987. A year later, Bitmap Brothers put out a PC game called Speedball. There are a number of books and movies that have expounded on what computer games could turn into – the most visionary of these was Tron which predicted the rise of multiplayer computer games in a virtual setting. More recently, a really good novel came out about an Easter Egg hunt (with a massive reward) through a MMORPG called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. (Well worth the read if you remember the games being played in the 1980s.)
And yet, in an RPG setting this has only been lightly touched upon. Usually gladiatorial games get the nod in various settings. Shadowrun, if I recall correctly, invented two sports for their setting and covered at least a bit in how cybertech and biotech impacted legacy modern sports. They even put out a module (A Killing Glare) involving one of their invented sports. Meanwhile, in the Dragon Age Set 2 box, there is a short adventure covering intrigue around a tournament. (I believe Green Ronin also used a tournament as a module for the RPG based off the Game of Thrones setting.)
All in all, this still seems like a largely untapped potential of stories … just to throw out a few possible seeds:
- The PCs are hired to fix the outcome of a match (or prevent someone from fixing a match)
- The PCs are hired to protect someone who is being coerced into agreeing to fund a stadium or look the other way for a sports’ benefit.
- The PCs are hired to investigate why someone was killed. Did they stumble upon some dark secret that someone wants covered up?
- The PCs witness the aftermath of an “accidental” death. Afterwards, there seems to be surprisingly no investigation as to what happened. Do the PCs investigate?
- The PCs are hired to help stock critters for the gladiatorial games.
- The PCs get involved in an underground Fight Club.
In my own campaigns, I have only lightly (at best) tapped into the sporting world for the setting. Usually this is because I already have enough things going on in the setting. However, this seems to be ignoring a chance to make the world feel even more in motion within the campaign. Do sports come into play in your campaigns and how? If they don’t, why do you think that it doesn’t come into play given how popular sports are?
Until the next time, bet on the long-shot horse to make a comeback and win the race!