Games and Pastimes of Tamriel, V. 1: Skyrim

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My friends know me as an avid fan of gambling, gaming, and sports. Some may recognize my name as the champion wrestler and gladiator of Cyrodiil in 143 and 144 or the Second Legionary of the Imperial Redclaws Glowball team until Pelagius III ordered all the teams disbanded (fortunately, Empress Katariah has reinstated the sport, but, alas, I am too old to do anything but advise). Some may recognize me as the announcer of the Cyrodiil Arena for the last seven years. After such long and happy careers, I have chosen to spend my waning years on a series of tours to enjoy the many games, sports, and other pastimes in every province. In this first series, I have tried to pay special attention to the games children play, as I am not aware of any other work that documents them. Naturally due to the nature of such a short tour, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of games and sports.

As my publisher has reminded me repeatedly, I am no writer. But I am too proud to hire someone to write for me, so please excuse any errors I might have.

Anyway, my friends advised me that I should wait a few months and take a ship south, but I was eager to get started. Fortunately for me, one of my fellow gladiators, Sodros Telas, used his earnings to buy a ship and was captain of Katariah’s Crown. I got a letter from him, indicating he planned to be in Solitude in two months. He was planning to make a great circle of Tamriel and it seemed the perfect change to make my tour. Therefore, my first tour of Tamriel began with a long wagon trip to Solitude. We stopped five days in Falkreath, but I found no games there or even someone willing to throw a few dice or play a little nine-holes. It’s a dreary place.

Solitude is far more pleasant. Despite the cold, there were children playing everywhere. Most were well known all across Tamriel such as tag, river crossing, hide-and-seek, marbles, rat’s tail, flip-the-lid, and those rhyming and clapping games ever popular with girls. I was excited to learn that there was a small arena and that there would be a gladiatorial battle as well as two sports entirely new to me in a few days.

Chair Dance

As I wandered the city for a few days, waiting for the arena event or my ship to enter the port, I came across several examples of children’s games. The first was a small group of children who were taking turns doing handstands and jumping on a stack of chairs. I asked one what they were doing and learned this is called the Chair Dance. It is a game where one child does some kind of acrobatics, but at the end of the trick, the child must land on the top chair of a rather precarious stack. After that, all the other children have to do the same thing. Anyone who can’t do the trick or doesn’t land on the chair (or tips the chair over) is “out.”

This is a simple game, but some of the players were quite impressive. In one of the later rounds, the first child did a backflip, a cartwheel, and then landed hands-first on the chair and pushed themselves up to the back of the chair before flipping over onto their feet. This was rather too hard for most of the other children and cut down the players considerably.

Toss the Sack

The next day I came across many of the same children playing a game where two teams alternate toss a small beanbag up the side of a building (in this case, the Blue Palace itself!), trying to get it to land on one of the uneven stones that jut out from the wall. The other team then forms a human pyramid to retrieve it, sometimes trying to hit the sack with sticks or throwing ro

cks at it. If a team cannot retrieve the sack, the other team wins. If a team cannot get the sack to ‘stick’ on the wall after three tries, the other team wins. Before I could learn more about this game, one of the palace guards leaned over the parapet and told the children to quit it. After this, they ran off, arguing over whether the last team ‘won’ since the beanbag was not retrieved.

Log Racing

The day of the arena came, and the first event was Log Racing. The Arena was set up with pits, narrow bridges, long muddy troughs, sturdy walls, a sort of hedge maze but made of stakes, and other obstacles. Naturally, most of the players were Nords, but there was a Redguard and a fellow Imperial among them.

Each player was weighed on a large balance scale while a scribe wrote down each player’s weight. The players then left the field. Several men came in dragging huge logs of different sizes behind them. Holes had been drilled through each log and a rope strung through them. These men consulted with the scribe and then weighed each log and began cutting off measured lengths and weighing them again.

While this log-cutting was going on, a fan of the game sat down next to me, and I was able to ask a few questions. He said the winner is the one who drags the log through the obstacle course first. The weighing is to make it fair to smaller players, who are given shorter logs. Women, and there were quite a few among the contestants, were also given slightly lighter logs for their weight. There is some formula for determining the weight of the log. It is not as easy as “half the contestants weight” or something simple like that. The point is not to give victory to merely the stronger, but to the one who pushes themself the most.

During the race, players can grab each other’s ropes, tackle each other, trip each other, and sit on each other’s logs. They cannot strike each other, draw a weapon, or use magic in any form. Indeed, a rare Nord wizard cast a few spells on the contestants, and one immediately began vomiting. This one had apparently swallowed some sort of potion before the event and was disqualified.

Each competitor’s log was tied around them in a sort of harness. At the sound of a horn (a literal horn, this being Skyrim), they were off. I was immediately surprised at the different ways each player handled the log. Some lifted it in their arms and ran with it. Some dragged it by the rope, and some just ran, letting the harness pull the log.

The mudpits and walls were the most difficult obstacles. Those who picked up their log to carry it through the mud sometimes sunk quite deep and were stuck. Those who dragged the log were also slowed and a muddy log made the rest of the course more difficult. The pits were longer than the ropes, preventing a particularly strong player from tossing the log to the other side. The walls required both strength and finesse. When the players lifted their logs to the top of the wall and tipped or threw them over, they had but a moment to get over the wall (or at least up in the air) themselves or the falling log would grab their harness and pin them painfully against the wall. Many players were injured when their log hit them or rolled onto them.

Few of the players interfered with each other at the start. Near the end, there was a clear leader and no one could reach him. But there was a fierce competition for second place. Most of the remaining players were close enough to pull each other back, especially at the walls and pits where the players are all delayed in dealing with the obstacle. The second and third place shifted over and over as the leading players were pulled off a wall, pushed back into a pit, thrown into the mud, or simply had another player grab their ropes and keep them from moving forward. Several serious injuries occurred.

Eventually the remaining six players, all still closely placed, went over the finish line. The winner was Rigurd, a local favorite, champion at the sport, and plainly gifted by the gods with great strength and endurance in a slender frame. Second place went to Dagny, as fine an example of womanhood as I’ve ever seen, and third to Ormar. an enormous bear of a man who had to have additional lead weights tied to his log to make it heavy enough. I was impressed by all the winners’ performance. With a little training, any of them would make a fine Glowball player.

Harald’s Defense

After the magnificent gladiatorial battle, which took place in the same obstacle course (a young Myrmidon, Thorek White-Fist, was the victor and gave quite the performance), some of the obstacles were removed and a dozen large logs were dragged into the arena. This time the logs were quite long, as tall as two men. The logs were set up vertically in stone holes, three on each side of the arena. This next game was called Harald’s Defense.

Once again I was fortunate to be seated next to someone who understood he game. Each team has a Sky Defender, armed with a quarterstaff padded on both ends, who stands atop the logs and beats any opponents who try to reach the top. Each team has five Attackers, armed with nothing, who try to climb the opponent’s logs, and three Ground Defenders, armed with padded clubs, who try to keep them away. A team wins when they have a player atop every log or only one side remains.

The action was brutal and intense. The Sky Defenders were amazing to watch as they leaped from log to log, smashing the hands and heads of the Attackers. The ground battle was intense as well. Although outnumbered, the Defenders had better range and no goal other than to beat the Attackers back. The Ground Defenders are not allowed to hit the Attackers once they are completely on a log with their feet off the ground. At that point only the Sky Defender can hit them. A few received penalties for doing so (which involved them having to put their club on the ground for a short-glass).

The match ended with a partial victory. One team had two Attackers on the logs, and the other team had no Attackers (or their Sky Defender) left standing. I enjoy the spectacle immensely, but my local guide proclaimed it an inferior and disappointing match.

My time in Solitude was well spent, and although I hated the cold, I greatly enjoyed the taverns and friendliness of the Nords. I wish I could visit more of the eastern Skyrim cities, as I hear they have different traditions there and perhaps different games, but my ship arrived and in a few days we traveled west to High Rock.

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