Games and Pastimes of Tamriel, V. 2: High Rock


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The journey on Katariah’s Crown was much more pleasant than the wagon ride up to Solitude. After a brief landing in Northmoor, the ship sailed straight to Wayrest, Jewel of the Bay. There are many cities named jewel this, crown that, but few live up to their name. Wayrest was one of the exceptions, a magnificent city, and so large that each district seemed like a city unto itself. I started in the Wayrest Docks.

Stickball

Children throughout Tamriel often have similar toys, and both sticks and balls are among the most common. There are endless games that can be played with these simple pieces.

Those of you who are familiar with the way stickball is played in the capital will find this game similar, but not the same. I found some children playing it in an empty and hard to reach space between two warehouses.

As with regular stickball, the ball (much harder and heavier, more on that later) can only be hit with sticks. A player who touches the ball or is hit by the ball is out. In Cyrodiil this is until the next game, but here in Wayrest, children hit by the ball are only out until they count (quickly, often skipping numbers) to one hundred. Points are scored by hitting the ball into one of the goals. In Cyrodiil the game time is measured by a half-glass. In Wayrest, the game seemed to end when the players became tired, bored, or simply conceded. In Cyrodiil, each team has a single goal, usually up high, such as a nearby balcony or a basket tied to a wall. Hitting the ball into such a goal is a true challenge and scores are low, often 1-0. In Wayrest, the goals were six potholes where the bricks between the warehouses had been removed. The heavier ball would be almost impossible to hit off the ground, but with more goals, all of them easy to reach, the scores were likewise very high. A few of the children kept score on a slate and the games I watched were 82-41, 99-91, and 65-59.

Sticktoss

This is a very simple game, so much so that I am surprised none of my own childhood companions thought of it. Players each make a circle in the ground by holding their stick out as far as they can and turning in place.

Players then toss sticks to each other. Players try to catch the sticks without leaving the circle. If they catch the stick, they toss it to someone else. If a stick lands inside a player’s circle, even partly inside, that player is out. If a stick lands outside that player’s circle, the person who threw it is out.

Dodgeball

I should mention that the balls used for Stickball in Wayrest are quite heavy and even a little painful when a bystander such as myself is hit by them. They are gruesomely constructed of two human skull-caps covered with scraps of leather or fabric wrapped tightly around the skulls to hold them fast and then covered with a layer of glue and crow feathers. In Cyrodiil, most children’s balls are inflated bull or bear bladders, or among wealthier children, Dreugh sacs. (Of course professional sport balls are usually troll bladders treated by the Guild of Mages so that they retain some of their regenerative properties. And glowballs are not material at all, but a ‘stationary wave of illumined glass vapors along a spherical negative mana membrane’ as the infamous Ysara Motierre helpfully explained to me.) In any case, I feel I must describe how the balls are constructed in Wayrest so that readers will not imagine I am just telling stories about children standing on inflated bladders.

The form of this game is similar to a gantlet. There are two teams who alternate dodging and throwing. The dodgers all stand on their balls and run backwards atop the ball so that they move themselves forward, all while balancing on the ball. They must move this way past a row of throwers who toss their balls at the dodgers, trying to knock them off. The winning team is the one that has the most children make it to the goal still atop their ball.

Some of these children were both agile and tough, proudly displaying the bruises of their sport. I tried to explain to them the virtues of glowball, but I fear they found me a boring old man.

Four Scarves

In the market district I found a group of girls playing Four Scarves. Similar games are familiar to most readers, but I will describe it anyway for those in Black Marsh or Summerset who haven’t seen it. This game is played with any objects of four colors, although scarves, bandannas, or fabric scraps in the colors of blue, yellow, green, and red are the most common.

There is one red scarf and a roughly equal number of blue, yellow, and green scarves. All but one child (the Guesser) takes a scarf and hides it somewhere in their clothes. A line or very large circle is drawn on the ground. One side is ‘in’ and the other is ‘out.’ The child who drew the red scarf must show it to the Guesser.

When the Guesser says ‘Go!’ the children all jump in and out (that is, on one side of the line or the other). Children all jump at different paces, but they all have to keep jumping and can’t stay ‘in’ or ‘out’ too long. Additionally, they may exchange scarves at any time, although this is difficult to do when jumping back and forth.

When the Guesser says ‘Stop!’ all children have to stay in place. The Guesser then must try to guess the color of scarf of each child that is ‘in.’ Often the scarves are not perfectly hidden (these are children after all) or they are in the process of being traded and thus the guessing is easy. The Guesser can only guess blue, yellow, green, or none. If the Guesser is right, she takes the scarf. If not, the child must still show their scarf before hiding it again. If the Guesser says a color for a child who currently has no scarf, that child can take a scarf back from the Guesser.

In any case, the child moves ‘out’ when they are guessed, correctly or otherwise. At any time the Guesser can say ‘Go!’ and the jumping resumes. If the red scarf is displayed or the guesser correctly guesses everyone in the circle, the round is over and the Guesser’s score is how many scarves they collected. The game is over when every child has been the Guesser. As far as I could tell, the next Guesser is determined by shouting.

The Ring Seat Game

In an old amphitheater I found a group of children playing a game using the rings of seats as their playing field.

There are two teams. One starts on the innermost ring and one starts on the outermost ring (the row of seats further from the stage). Each player keeps one arm behind their back. If they don’t, they are ‘out.’ Their other hand they keep straight and chop at the other players. If a player is chopped on an arm or leg, they can’t use that limb anymore. Arms go behind the back, legs are pulled up and the child has to hop. If a player loses both legs, they are ‘out.’ Hand chops to other parts of the body don’t count.

The goal is for each team to get every remaining member of their team on the opposite ring. The gaps in the seating (such as the stairs) are treated as if it is part of the ring, but children can only stay there briefly or they are ‘out.’ Older children leapt across the gap, but younger ones had to step into it briefly.

The winning team is the one who has the most players reach the opposite side. Once one team wins, the players who were out are re-assigned teams and the game begins again.

Reeding

In the royal district I found the Wayrest Arena. There are events here every day and currently there was a ‘Reeding’ event taking place. I had seen a few tall, bendy poles in the canals, but wasn’t sure what they were for. In years past, it was common for people to cross the many streams and smaller rivers around the city by leaping to a tall reed placed in the water, grabbing it, and letting it bend to place them safely on the other side. Now that all the streams and rivers have many bridges, this has fallen out of favor and turned into a sport.

There were no canals in the area, only a series of reeds. Contestants leapt from the ground to a reed, then leapt to another reed as it bent them towards the ground. It clearly required skill to grab and hold onto the reed. There is apparently also some skill involved in shifting your weight so that the reed bends the right direction, and in leaping off in such a way that the reed whips back to hit another contestant. It was a puzzling spectacle, and one I fear I could not appreciate.

Bottle Boat Race

One of the spectators mentioned it was a shame I would be leaving before the bottle-boat race. She explained that the young women of Wayrest gathered empty ale bottles all year and used twine and thread to tie them together into a raft that is then covered with flowers. They put them in the Gardner river and try to keep them afloat until it merges with the Bjoulsae. Every four or five years, one of the young ladies drowns, but this does little to diminish the custom. According to my informant, anyone who drowns during the race is blessed by Dibella and granted many lovers in Aetherius. This is certainly not what I’ve been taught of Aetherius, but I’ve found it useless to argue such matters.

Featherdart

After the reeding event, the Wayrest Arena was set up with a tall vertical net in the middle and two teams came out to engage in Featherdart. This is a sport exclusive to those who know a little magic, for the ‘bird’ (a ball of feathers) cannot be touched by either team. Only two spells are used, one of levitation and one of force. Referees have a device that warns of any other magic cast nearby.

Each team consists of three groundlings and two floaters. The goal is to push the ‘bird’ such that it lands on the opponents’ side of the net. The groundlings cast levitate and force spells on the ‘bird’ to keep it off the ground and move it over the net. The floaters cast levitate on themselves and try to use force from above to push the ‘bird’ rapidly into the ground.

It was certainly an unusual sport, and faster-paced than I originally expected, but I found it dull to watch with little display of athleticism or physical prowess. In truth, the sport consists of four people floating around and six walking about, staring up in the air. I found it difficult to focus on the ‘bird’ but to be fair I was in one of the cheapest seats. The locals were quite engaged in the sport, shouting and cheering as much as any gladiatorial audience.

Three Elements

Another magical sporting event was the last one of the afternoon. Three Elements refers to fire, water, and lightning, not the traditional elements as they are known in Cyrodiil. There are three teams of three people: a burner, a splasher, and a sparker, who do what it sound like. The burner wears a belt that causes incapacitating pain when it is wet. The splasher wears a belt that makes him vulnerable to lightning. And the sparker has a belt that makes him especially vulnerable to fire. The players run about casting spells at one another, which have to be slow bolt-type spells. There is much maneuvering and dodging, for a single hit is usually incapacitating for a short time. A team wins when both other teams are all unable to stand or when both other teams have exhausted their mana.

The game has some strategy, but I found it resembled a more lively version of the common children’s game known as shell-sheet-knife or sap-bug-dung. The crowd around me shouted and cheered, but I found the spectacle quite dull, even when one of the players was writhing about in pain or engulfed in flame. Apparently those born under the Atronach are disqualified.

Ol’ Nof

When I took to my rooms at night, I played a few rounds of Ol’ Nof in the tavern. This is a dice game using a very large number of regular dice. The objective is to make a 5×5 square of 6s (the ‘Nof’, 16 dice total) with one 1, 3, and 5 inside and no 2s or 4s inside.

Each turn one player is the thrower. All the unclaimed dice are placed in a bag or cup, shaken, and dropped on the table by the thrower. If a dice hits or knocks over a claimed die, that die is now counted as whatever its face-up value is now. All players can try to protect their dice (or Nof) with their hands. All players except the thrower then try to grab and claim dice on the table as fast as possible and put them in their square, which is built on the table in front of each player. Any dice that fall off the table (or into a drink) cannot be claimed. Any dice in excess of the 16 6s and 1 of each other number in front of each player are then gathered up and put back in the bag and the next player becomes the thrower.

It is valid for the thrower to drop some dice, let people start grabbing them, leaving their Nof unprotected, and then throw the rest of the dice at the player currently in the lead.

When someone makes a 5×5 square with one of each other number inside, they have ‘Secured the Nof’. Every other player gets a turn at being the thrower (and often throws the dice at the current winner’s Nof, trying to knock their dice around). Anyone who has a Secure Nof cannot claim dice, but if their dice are knocked over, they can claim dice again. The last player with a Secure Nof is the winner. So if someone Secures the Nof and manages to protect it (or replaces any knocked-over dice), but another player also Secures the Nof in the last round, the later player is the winner. If no Nofs exist at the end of the ‘final’ round, then it isn’t the final round and the game continues.

If one of the dice inside a Nof is knocked over to become a 2 or 4, or if a 2 or 4 naturally lands inside the Nof, that player has to discard a 6 from his Nof to get rid of the 2 or 4.

There is a great deal of terminology to the game, which I found confusing and unnecessary. For instance, the dice aren’t referred to as numbers. 6s are stables or bones, 5s are stars, 4s are giants, 3s are waves, 2s are maormer, and 1s are towers.

Equestrian Sports

I heard that in the interior of High Rock, many equestrian sports are commonly played, such as hooks, vaulting, mounted archery contests, and of course the famous Dragonling Game, one of the most well known sport of High Rock, where opposing teams try to knock a ball through a series of loops on the ground while mounted. Each player must also keep their roped dragonling from being captured or killed by the other team. This was not the case in Wayrest, where such sports are looked down on as something only westerners and ignorant villagers do. Perhaps if I make another tour, I can visit some of these smaller towns.

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