Games and Pastimes of Tamriel, V. 8: Morrowind


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Necrom was a strange city. I turned down several invitations to visit the many catacombs and tombs in this allegedly holy city. I didn’t come here for the dead. Perhaps I should have asked my hosts if the infamous ghosts of Morrowind played any games. Fortunately, the Dunmer were not as dour as their reputation, and I was invited to all sorts of games.

Emperor’s Feast

Many games in Necrom were played by both children in the streets and by drinkers in taverns, and this was one of them.

Emperor’s Feast requires a container for each player, such as cups or shells, and some markers, such as marbles or rocks.

In the tavern version, players are given cups and four markers (three white, one black). The players pass the cups back and forth out of sight (under the table or behind their backs) and try to sneak markers in and out of the cups. When the cups have been passed three times, everyone “drinks” which involves turning the cup over and letting the stones spill out. Players can look at their markers, but can’t look in the cups until the end.

A player was ‘out’ if they had any black markers. Usually everyone had at least one black marker, and the Dunmer found this outcome highly amusing for some reason.

Telvanni’s Fall

This was another game played by children with improvised materials, and in taverns with a set of pieces made for it.

In the tavern version, each player was given five oddly shaped pieces of wood (each one different), three curved, hardened patches of netch leathwe (whatever a netch is), and one guar hide. Players took turns placing a set bet (usually one drake) in the pot and one of these items on the “tower” in the center of the table. As the pieces were not designed to go together, it was difficult to place them and the tower became more precarious with each move.

When the tower falls, the last player who balanced a piece on it was the winner. If the piece they placed was the guar hide, they got the entire pot. Otherwise, they got only half the pot (unless that was the last round of the game, of course).

Yam Race

This was yet another game played by both children and adults. Each team had a heavy oblong ball (the ‘yam,’ children often played with actual ash yams) and each player had a long sort of paddle, similar to a wide, flat shovel (often actual shovels among children). Players balanced the yam on the paddle and tossed it into a basket or a circle marked on the ground at the other side of the court.

Players could toss the yam to each other. Opposing players could try to catch it in their own paddle. No one was allowed to touch the yams other than with the paddle. A yam must not be picked up again once it touches the ground.

It clearly required some skill to balance the yams on the flat paddles, but I couldn’t help but burst into laughter several times during the matches I watched. The game was, to put it bluntly, silly. And the way the Dunmer treated it so seriously only made it seem funnier.

Coal Toss

There are several games where players must toss a ball and stand still while they are holding the ball, but this was the only one played with a hot coal and where the goal was to light candles.

Each team of six had a brazier with hot coals and six candles on their “goal line.” The objective was to take a single coal from the brazier, toss it to other players until it was at the opponent’s goal line, then light a single candle with it, and toss it in the opponent’s brazier.

Even with the Dunmer’s resistance to heat, this limits how long a single player can hold a coal, even by tossing it hand to hand. It is therefore a fast moving game. When someone has the coal, they can take but a single step (or finish one they already started). After that, they must keep both feet flat on the ground until they pass the coal.

When near enough to the opposite side, players can attempt to light one of the candles. If successful, the player must toss the coal into the opponent’s brazier. If they miss, all the candles on that side are put out. Often the coal was no longer hot enough to light the candle by the time it reached the other side. If a coal touches the ground, it can’t be picked up again. It must be kicked out of bounds before that team can pick up another coal and try again.

Player were not allowed to catch the opposing team’s coals, but they could hit them away with their hands or block with their bodies.

A key strategy seemed to be positioning the best throwers to light the farthest candles first so not as much time was lost with a missed throw. Another was to keep one player back by your candles and try to knock the opponent’s coal away when it was being tossed in the brazier. Every match I watched required multiple quenchings of all the candles on both sides.

Ashprints

This is, oddly enough for the Dunmer, a party game, and the only one I encountered on this tour. Everyone wears a black cloak and carries a grey cloak. Everyone dips their hands in ashes. Then the lights are put out, the windows are covered, whatever it takes to achieve total darkness. At the sound of a tone, all participants try to slap their ash-covered hands on each other’s backs. Only hits to the black cloak count, and the fabric shows the ashprints remarkably well. Players can interpose their grey cloak, dodge, block, even sit down or try to hide. At another tone the lights come back on, and the winner is the one with the fewest prints.

There are few other rules. No violence or magic is allowed. Players can’t hide their cloak, take it off, or lean with their backs to the wall. The cloaks themselves are usually enchanted in such a way that they cry out, as if in pain, when the rules are broken.

Fireball

This was a great sport and one that might catch on in other provinces. It reminded me a little of glowball.

Players form two teams of six players. There are three attackers and three defenders. A light ball of oiled rags is set on fire (some places might use a magical ball). Players must be nude apart from a loincloth and can only hit the ball with their feet, legs, or hips.

The game is played in a dark, enclosed court. There is a hole in each wall on opposite sides. Points are scored by kicking the flaming ball through the hole or by kicking the ball so that it hits an enemy player above the waist. In the match I saw, there was minimal lighting apart from the flaming ball itself, which made it a bit less interesting to watch.

Hitting an enemy player above the waist is always worth one point. The game is divided into five parts, each one about ten short glasses. Kicking the ball through the hole is worth one point per part. So if you score a goal it in the third part, it’s worth three points, but if you kicked it in at the end of the game, it’s worth five points.

Conclusion

I hoped to achieve many things with this tour, but all I really did was learn how to do a better one. I shall go on another, longer tour that spends more time in each province. Until then this initial brief summary must suffice for those who have an interest in the various games and sports of each province.

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