Are You Ready For Some Football?!?!?!


Why aren't there sports in roleplaying games? Sports have such a huge impact on us culturally and have been played for thousands of years. So why aren't they mentioned in roleplaying games?

A friend of mine introduced me to an old board game called Blood Bowl, a fantasy game based loosely on American Football. Teams are comprised of orcs, elves, undead, etc., averaging ten members to a team. The game is played on a board with miniatures and use dice to determine success/failure. The game can be won by accumulating the most points within a set time or by killing off the other team members. The game itself is fairly expensive and the miniatures are as well. Teams (miniatures) are sold in box sets and run about $40. The game itself is close to $80.

I borrowed Blood Bowl from my friend, bought a box of plastic Viking warriors from a hobby shop (40+ figures for $9, can't beat that) and am currently painting them. I'll get 2 or 3 human teams by using these cheap unofficial miniatures.

My family paints and puts models together as a group. My children are all young and can't do much more than encourage us, but they love watching and love being included, even if only peripherally.

A thought struck me the other night while we were engrossed in painting the Viking football players. How often do sports enter roleplaying games?

Outside of gladiatorial combat and martial arts, I've never witnessed sports in a roleplaying game and yet, throughout history sports have been prevalent in every culture of our world.

I think that sports would add a huge amount of flavor to a game world and open up a lot of exciting possibilities for characters. Take American Football for example.

This is a game that can easily be introduced into a fantasy world. It would start with humans and could eventually spread to other races. Imagine half ogre linemen, elven receivers, and orcish defensive ends. It'd be pretty brutal, especially if magic is added in.

Even if you keep to a realistic approach (no magic, only human and half human players) the game would be cool. Every country could have multiple teams that compete throughout the season. There would be state champions, national champions, and international champions. Imagine a game world where every kingdom sent their best team to compete on a national level.

In order to prevent an Olympic nationalism type competitiveness as is common with China and the USSR (unless that's what you want), you could incorporate the free agency rules, salary caps, and other limitations that the sport has to balance the game between teams in real life.

I created a fantasy world a while back as an experiment in different forms of government. I had a dictatorship, a theocracy, a matriarchy, a federation, a monarchy, a city state, and confederacy. I decided to add football to the monarchy, a relatively poor country that relied on mining coal and marble for exported income.

Each city within the monarchy had a team except for the capital. The capital supplied the referees for the game and a location for the Superbowl. Visitors to the kingdom soon fell in love with the sport, which became an economic juggernaut.

The players, none of whom like football and didn't like my idea of adding the sport into the game, soon grew to love the roleplaying opportunities that the sport presented.

Even when the game was in the background, with no direct bearing on the adventure, it provided an influx of visitors and merchants to the cities that were hosting games. Team fanatics and religious cults worshiping the sport or individual players sprang up. Players had the opportunity to contribute to the sport in different ways. Gambling, halftime and warm up shows, or as players, wannabe players, or has been players.

One memorable character was a running back who had killed a man in a drunken brawl, served several years in prison, joined a monastery and is now a wandering priest.

When choosing a sport for your game world, make sure that it is a sport that is fun to watch. While you may love playing golf, baseball, or bowling, these sports are incredibly boring for people who do not play or are not obsessed with them. Likewise, I would avoid sports that rely on judges for scoring like gymnastics or dance competitions.

Stick with sports that are easy for fans to keep score, that are fast paced and aggressive, and that can be played as a team. Some good examples include American Football, international Futbol (Soccer), Basketball, and Rugby.

Introduce a sport or two to your world and test it out. Much like religion and government, sports provide a historical and cultural connection to the world that your game is set in.

Here's my list of sport related gaming instances.
My character the Houghton Barbarian worships/plays hockey(see my article Hoeton Barbarians on this site.)
Gurp's Supers Character was a pro wrestler (touch only, steal health was his primary power)
In an Aftermath! game, the Card(inal)s used sport armor in the St Louis area.
In a Gurps Technomancer game, a goal the PCs had was to cast a spell to ensure we defeated our rivals in "The big game".
In a teenage horror game, each character had to be involved in a sport each season.
Character's in my games have included race car drivers and baseball scouts.
Some older Games Workshop material has references to kudduck tossing (Kudduck is the sound the halflings make when they land)
I know I have heard a reference to Hockey cats in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but cannot confirm if it was the game or the comic.
Casey Jones on Palladium's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was well rounded in many sports.
Golf Club is listed as a weapon in Gurp's Horror.
Some of my games have included foot races and archery contests.

Related to gaming are several GIJoe characters that are sports themed. The Fridge, Sgt Slaughter, Hardball, and the basketball player that came in with TunnelRat and Jinx.
Sport-ish movies such as Rollerball and DeathRace 2000 could easily become games. Gymkata could not, just put that idea down and step away.

Admittedly, I do not know of any sports-centric games or campaigns.

Shadowrun comes complete with all present-day sports existing in the game world as well as two new sports: Urban Brawl (said to be approaching soccer in popularity) and Combat Biker.

The sourcebook "Shadowbeat" has a chapter which fills in some game world history for the real sports and provides detailed rules for the new ones.

I've never seen anything as complex or modern as football but even in classic feudal societies there were "sports" of sorts as touched upon about a certain L5R module with archery, horseback riding, etc.

A game of Rollerball might just be a great focus for a SciFi setting.

Outside of the Houghton Barbarians (I liked that article BTW), how many of these other characters participated in their sport of choice once you started playing? Was the sport just a few words on the character's background or was it part of the actual game?

The point of this article was not to impose a sports-centric game or campaign. Sports are a huge part of our culture (no matter what country you're from) and have always been so. Whether or not you like football, you cannot help but be inundated by news, commercials, and other media during football season if you live in the United States.

I have rarely seen an instance where sports was mentioned in roleplaying games during a campaign, outside of gladitorial combat (which everyone seems to love).

When you played the baseball scout, how often did he perform his job duties as a scout? Did the race car driver drive in professional races ? Did the teenagers roleplay their sport in that horror campaign or was it just background?

Remember the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Despite being the "Chosen One" destined to kill vampires, her goal was to be a cheerleader and be popular at school. Killing Vampires was secondary.

I think that it's cool to put an adventure on hold because a PC has to suite up for "the Game". A modern day college student trying to make it to the NFL would be fun to play no matter what the genre.

Imagine Rocky Balboa in a horror campaign.

With most athletes, especially professional athletes, the sport comes first. It has to. They have spent the majority of their life focused on the sport. The sport is a part of them.

But when I see players and GMs play, the sport becomes a small piece of a character's background. Campaign wise, the PC's sport has no affect on the game at all.

For a great example of how a sport can affect a roleplaying adventure, I'd recommend the above-mentioned Buffy, the Last Boy Scout, and the Running Man.

"If winning doesn't matter, why do they keep score?" - Vince Lombardi

>When you played the baseball scout, how often did he perform his job duties as a scout? Did the race car driver drive in professional races ?
These were other players in games I ran, but no in both cases.

>Did the teenagers roleplay their sport in that horror campaign or was it just background?
My characters roommate (boarding school) was older, a wrestler, and a bully, so wrestling occurred weekly.

>I think that it's cool to put an adventure on hold because a PC has to suite up for "the Game". A modern day college student trying to make it to the NFL would be fun to play no matter what the genre.
I think this sort of thing could apply to any game where the PC has a "day job", where "adventuring" is not a source of income.

>Imagine Rocky Balboa in a horror campaign.
Actually I had forgotten this. For Call of Cthulhu, rolled high Strength, Dex, Con and appearance. Tony "Little Dynamite" Cascarelli was a boxer and sometimes mob goon, trying to give up both becasue his girlfriend was afraid he's bust his mug. In one adventure he broke his hand, lost plenty of san, and plastered the silver carving knife to his hand. The fight was forfiet.

>With most athletes, especially professional athletes, the sport comes first. It has to. They have spent the majority of their life focused on the sport. The sport is a part of them.
Few modern characters, choose the adventure, but rather have the adventure thrust upon them. Buffy, Running-man (movie, not book), and Rollerball are of this nature.

As a stray but pertinant thought:

If I remember correctly, the Eberron sourcebook City of Towers mentions two sports taking place there: Race of the Eight Winds (flying race) and some sort of team game in an arena, mostly played by Shifters (I forget the details).

The point of this article wasn't whether or not there are sports in sourcebooks and gaming material, but whether they influence or affect the gaming world in any way once the game begins.

Making a character who plays a sport is rather common, having that character train for and compete in the sport once gaming starts is almost unheard of.

Instead of pointing out sports as they are presented in gaming material, give examples of characters that PLAY sports once gaming starts. The only characters that I've witnessed doing so are gladiators.

I had a character once who was a Jackie Chan stuntman. He saved up money, moved to America, and began filming a low budget action flick. He got swept up into a horror campaign and ended up losing all his money. After the adventure was over he set up a school for martial arts and stunts. He hired and trained instructors so that his business could run without him when he was pulled away on some crazy adventure. he also resumed professional stuntwork.

The GM in this game had to literally drag this character into adventures. However, this was a fully fleshed out character and benefitted from being so. He had a career, a love interest, and realistic motivations.

Whenever he wasn't adventuring, he was living an offbeat but relatively normal life as a small business owner. He dedicated most of his time to his work.

Athletes are the same. They don't want to go adventuring. If they got hurt, their careers are over.

Characters don't have to play an athlete to have sports influence gaming.

Imagine being in Hawaii during the the NFLs ProBowl and not hearing or seeing anything related to football. That's what most game worlds are like once playing starts. (for our international friends, imagine being in the same city as Futbol's World Cup and not hearing anything related to soccer).

My examples weren't intended to invalidate your's completely valid. I never had a character who practiced sports in-game (or as background, either).
That said, I think there is an adventure published that takes place during the Race of the Eight Winds somewhere.

On an unrelated tangent, why do you do you use the Spanish spelling (Futbol) for the Most Popular Sport on Earth (TM) instead of Football (or soccer, if you must). I can't see why that game with the pigskin is called Football over there at all: first, the little bugger isn't a ball at all, but some kind of paraboloid, and second, it has very little to do with feet (how many goal kicks are there per game, on average?)

While I do understand your point, how much of your games revolve around the non-adventuring careers of any of the other characters. How much in-game time is spent with running the character's little bookstore, or depicting the meeting the "the board". Do fireman characters make rolls to see how shiny they got the truck?

In general, PCs day to day lives are trivial (to the players) unless something adventure related happens to them. This includes athletes who must return for the "big game". This is not to say that the event is trivial to the character. It is actually an effective way to ensure the PCs do not SIEGE the antagonist, but must ASSAIL the foe lest they be late for work (or anniversary dinner, or other critical event). But again this is the case with every character that has a day job.

I used the "Futbol" spelling for two simple reasons. 1: I don't really like soccer and never watch it. Thus I do not know what the common term for it is on an international level. 2: I used American Football as the main example of my article. I felt that it would be confusing to discuss two different football games and I didn't want to offend any international soccer fans. Especially now that "American" football is becoming an international sport with games in Germany, Mexico, London, and China within the next season or two.

I do not know how American Football got the name. Just as I don't have a clue where "soccer" came from. The football is kicked after every touchdown and an average of three or four field goal attempts are made per game for each team. That works out to an average of six kicks at the goal per game for each team with very little chance of a miss or block.

In all honesty, I do make sure that the character's life and "day jobs" play an important part in the game. The characters in the modern day adventure that I'm running started off as High School seniors. After the first adventure they had to pick what college they went and what degree they were going for.

While they received a government funded scholarship, they still had to pay for an apartment and things of a similar nature. That meant finding jobs.

On top of being struggling students, they were recruited by the Agency (similar to the MIB). The Agency requires its members to keep a low profile. In other words, the characters have to explain their money, pay taxes, and live a "normal" life when not on a mission.

The "adventure" becomes an annoyance that interrupts their lives. They understand the importance of the missions, but always end up paying a price.

In the group that I'm running, there is only one character that can be called an "adventurer". The others are a vet, a roleplaying Star Trek geek, and a 13 year old girl.

I'm thinking of running them on an adventure based on the Last Boy Scout. That'll be cool....