Games and Pastimes of Tamriel, V. 6: Elsweyr


Released In:

Perhaps more than any other race in Tamriel, the Khajiit are known for their many games. Some accuse the Khajiit of treating everything as a game, and this is not entirely wrong.

The itinerary of Katariah’s Crown gave me only one full day in port to conduct my observations of the games and pastimes of Elsweyr. Fortunately, games were being played everywhere in the city. I saw a game being played within view of the ship by children of the Carriers. The children were very curious about my attire and eager to answer questions in exchange for candies, dried meat, and other treats.

Fool’s Mane

One of the players is selected to be the Mane, which is a Khajiit deity or religious leader. All the other children carry a distinctive length of braided hair, string, or patterned fabric with a clip. These are called braids. All other players squat, kneel, or prostrate themselves around the Mane with their braid clip between their teeth. The Mane then tells each player where to place their braid. The braids are clipped on to the Mane’s fur or clothing (again using only the teeth to hold and open the clip).

When all braids have been placed, the other players run away and hide. The Mane then sings a rhyming song while walking on a path. According to the children, the path must have a certain number of hiding places. In this case, the path went around the crates waiting to be loaded. Each player must try to take their braid or the braids of other players from the Mane. They cannot touch the Mane and can only unclip the braid with their teeth. Once the braid is unclipped, they may touch it, hide it, steal it from another player or whatever they wish. The Mane cannot touch the other players or run, but can jump, dodge, spin around or otherwise move as much as he wishes. But the Mane must stay on the path and keep singing.

After the Mane goes all the way down the path and back, the players come out of hiding and reveal any braids they have taken. The winner is the one with the most braids, but if they do not have their own braid, they are disqualified. Several times a child was sure they were the winner, but had not noticed another child stealing their own braid. If there is a tie or no legal winners, the Mane wins. The winner gets to be the new Mane.

One of the oldest children was kind enough to give me a translation of the nonsense song the Mane sings while on the path, which I have tried to fit into a poor rhyme to better match the original feel. He said the song was about the Manes who made poor choices, often two verses are about the same Mane.

One foolish Mane wore two shawls

Gave the fire stone to mad cat’s doll

One foolish Mane, three dunes tall

Buried his bones in Agami’s hall

One foolish Mane had two wives

Played on the roof with the forest-man’s knives

One foolish Mane, took all four

Drams of venom from the spider’s store

One foolish Mane served two kings

Danced to the lonely puppy’s strings

One foolish Mane, weighed three tons

Melted in the tears of the cold sun’s son

Leap-Prey

As I walked to the western gate I saw another group of children playing and an ohmes girl watching them. I asked her what was going on and leaned this was her least favorite game, Leap-Prey. After watching it, it does seem to favor the more bestial Khajiit.

The players start by drawing a very large circle on the ground. The children I saw were using a basket of sand, but it can be chalk, stones, and other markers. One child is the Leaping Cat, sometimes called the Gatherer. The Prey each have a weight of some kind (in this case, small bags of sand) on their back.

If a player steps out of the circle, they lose. If a player drops the weight on their back, they lose. The Leaper tries to jump over the Prey and pick up the weight. If the Leaper succeeds, that player loses. The losers stand outside the circle.

The Leaper can only touch the weight, not the other players. If the Leaper touches a Prey, that Prey picks up all the Leaper’s gathered weights and becomes the new Leaper. The former Leaper loses. Players who lose stand outside the circle.

At first it seems that only the Leaper requires skill (and, after picking up a dozen weights, great strength), but after watching a moment, I noticed that many Prey became the new Jumper by arching their backs at a critical moment or moving in coordination with each other so that there was no place the Leaper could go without touching one of them.

The winner is the first one to gather all the weights, but no one succeeded in winning while I watched.

Capture the Trinket

After finishing a few games of Leap-Prey, the children decided to play a game I am calling Capture the Trinket. It is a variant of the flag-capture games common across all Tamriel.

The players spit into two teams. In this case two of the children were somehow selected as leaders and each one alternated picking players for their team. Each team has a trinket and a box, in this case, braids and two old shipping crates.

The boxes are placed upside down at opposite ends of the play area and the trinket is placed inside. The goal of each team is to steal the opposing team’s trinket and protect their own. The winner is the first team to have both trinkets in their box.

There are some special rules I learned about as the game went on. You cannot sit on the box. You cannot bury the box or put it fully inside another container. You can try to hide the box as long as it is accessible. You can grab and tackle others players, but cannot hit them, bite them, or hex them.

Otherwise, the game is simply flag-capture.

Gold Teeth

Near the western gate, a ruined and disreputable part of the city, I found a group of rough-looking Khajiit playing a game they called Gold Teeth. One of them explained to me that the betting pieces were originally shaped like teeth. Another player disagreed and said the name came from the shape of the dice.

The game is very simple and mostly left to chance. Each player has five long, narrow eight-sided dice-rods and a colored marker stone. The game also requires some kind of “spinner” that can point to different players. In this particular game an empty skooma bottle was used.

Each player rolls their dice and keeps them visible to other players. Each player puts one of their dice in a row on the table and places their marker stone next to one of the dice. These are called “columns.” One player turns the spinner and whoever it points to must place one of their dice on one of the columns (not necessarily their own). If the spinner is ambiguous, pointing between two players, it can be spun again. The last die placed in a column is the “strength” of that column. Each player can now move their marker stone to a new column. Each player must then place a coin on the table next to any of the columns. After all coins are placed, the player who place the die, spins the spinner again.

The round is over when the spinner points at someone who has no dice left. At that point, the column (or columns) with the highest strength are the winners. The coins are split among all those who put marker stones on the winning columns.

One of the players who enjoyed talking about games said that the winner is usually decided by the player who placed a die last. Sometimes this player is called the Mane-chooser. No one wants to leave the column they marked in a weak position once someone has run out of dice. On the other hand, placing a seven or eight on a column encourages the next player to place a one or two below it.

To complicate matters, the players often sign contracts or exchange bits of fur in secret before the game starts. These contracts usually say that if one player wins, they will share 1/3 of their earnings with the other player. So if someone has the last move, and they are not able to make themselves the winner, they can try to make someone with whom they have a contract the winner.

I would not have expected one of the more unusual Khajiit to be playing this game, but among the players was a battlecat as large as a horse, who rolled and placed his dice with his tongue. He even lapped up the pot of coins when he won with a deep, chuffing laugh. How he kept those coins in his mouth, I do not know. The players changed the rules a bit so that the bottle wasn’t pointing at him, unless it was pointing close to where he placed his paw on the table, otherwise, the odds of it ending at him would be far too high.

Heist

Another group of Khajiit nearby was playing a different dice game, played with standard Imperial dice, which one said translates to something like Heist. The game was similar to many other dice games. Each player rolls six dice. The best roll is what we’d call a straight: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The next best are 6 of a kind, then 5 of a kind, then 4 of a kind. There are no other valid rolls. Higher values beat lower ones. A straight beats six 1s beats five 3s beats four 6s beats four 5s.

The differences are in the Flip or Steal and the Loser’s Die. The player who had the worst hand (as they probably had no valid hand, ties are determined by the lowest total value) gets the Loser’s Die, which is just an extra die they roll on their turn. Everyone rolls, the Loser replaces one of their dice with the Loser’s Die, then the loser takes their turn, then everyone takes a turn to the left.

On your turn you can Flip or Steal. If you can make a valid roll by swapping one of your dice with one of your neighbors to the left or right, you can do that. Or, you can flip one of your dice to an adjacent face. So if you roll a 1, you can’t flip it to a 6, but you can flip it to 2, 3, 4, or 5. After everyone takes a turn, the player with the best roll wins.

Betting is complicated. Players with no roll could skip that round. Everyone else had to put something in the pot. The pot went to the player with the best roll, but some rounds it seemed as if the winner took nothing. If the winner stole a die from someone, they had to give some amount to the player they stole from. I couldn’t quite figure out how it worked.

Moon Dance

Another gambling game these Khajiit played was called “Moon Dance.” The game is played with regular six-sided dice, but the faces of the dice show Masser, Masser, Masser, Secunda, Secunda, and Blank. Each player picks a die and places it in front of them with the side of their bet, Masser, Secunda, or blank, facing up.

Players take turns rolling four of these dice. For each of the rolled dice that show Masser, every player whose own die shows Masser must place a coin in the pot. For each of the dice that show Secunda, every player whose own die shows Secunda must place a coin in the pot. Every player whose own die shows a blank must place four coins in the pot. It is legal to change the face of your die between rolls if you place five coins in the pot.

In the first two rounds, if all four rolled dice show the same face, everyone must place four coins in the pot. In the third and later rounds, if all four rolled dice show the same face, the players who have that face showing on their own die win and split the pot. Note that the winners split all the money placed on the table to bet, even if it was never placed in the pot. If a player runs out of coins, they forfeit and must leave the game.

Masser is a common bet since it has the highest chance of coming up and the highest chance of winning. But in a longer game, it means many more coins placed in the pot, and you are more likely to have to share your winnings with more players. Some players start with a blank bet for four or five rounds and then switch to Masser or Secunda and pay the penalty for doing so.

If all four dice have the same face, but no one is showing that face, the pot is collected and put off to the side. I wasn’t able to get a plain answer as to why, but it is apparently “collected.” I wasn’t able to get a plain answer about who collects it, either.

Big Drop

It was late afternoon by the time I left the city. In the middle of the ruins just outside, someone had cleared a large flat field and placed benches around the edges for weary spectators such as myself to sit.

There were several teams of Khajiit here along with many spectators. The game they were playing was called something like Big Drop. I arrived near the end of a tournament and was only able to see the last two matches. I am not sure I fully understood the game’s rules, and the spectators near me either did not speak Cyrodilic very well or they were intoxicated.

The Drop is a large (taller than a man!) inflated ball. I could not get any answer about what it was made of, but it looked somewhat soft. The players try to move the Drop by throwing smaller, hard leather balls at it.

Each team had a strange composition, but this composition was always the same. If I understood one of the spectators correctly, there are different leagues of this game, where each league has a different number of players and positions. The teams playing today each had one Shield, who was always one of the so-called battlecats, two Leapers, which were one of the smaller tigers, five Throwers who could be any kind of upright Khajiit (or other race, as one of the throwers was a Nord), and one Wizard (in this case, most of them were the tiny housecats, but there was an Orc, one of the more man-like Khajiit, and a short monkey-like Khajiit).

At the start the defending team places eight tall posts on their end of the field. The posts are spaced about twice the width of the Drop. The attacking team puts the Drop in position on their side of the field. There are lines about one fifth of the way from each side of the field. The attackers begin by pushing the Drop as fast as possible down the field. Once the Drop crosses their one-fifth line, no one is allowed to touch the Drop.

The larger Khajiit try to block the balls of the other team’s Throwers from hitting the Drop. They do this by swatting the balls from the air, catching them in their teeth, or most simply, interposing their body. I did not envy these Khajiit as they were the most injured. The Leapers are also the only ones allowed to pick up the smaller balls after they are thrown. Throwers can take the balls from them once they are picked up.

The Throwers for each team start with five large leather balls carried in a net tied about their waist or chest. Once the Drop has crossed the line, both teams begin throwing these balls at the Drop to change its course. They also throw balls at members of the other team. Each team had a few healers on the sidelines to tend to the players as incapacitating injuries seemed to be common. There didn’t seem to be any rules about the use of healing magic. A few of the spectators were injured by these balls as well, including the unfortunate Khajiit who was sitting just to my right. When the Throwers run out of balls, they can still intercede with their body, but they cannot pick up balls from the ground.

The Wizards do not carry balls themselves, but are allowed to use a spell that creates a very strong gust of wind. They can use this spell as often as they can cast it on the ball or on the other players. The spell is not as damaging as being hit by one of the balls, but it can knock a player off their feet. In the most brutal game, all the players on both teams were incapacitated except for the two Wizards who both tried to push the ball with their magic until one lay exhausted and it rolled, very slowly and unopposed, between the posts with the tiny Khajiit sauntering behind it.

If the Drop goes between the posts without knocking any down, the attacking team gets a point. If the Drop knocks one of the posts down, the defending team gets a point. It is common to try to divert the ball just as it goes through your own goal. The teams alternate defending and attacking until a team reaches five points.

I could see adopting something like this, with modified rules of course, for play in Cyrodiil.

Scroll to Top