Sports in Games
From the Ancient Olympics to the “Three Manly Skills” of the Huns―have played an important role in numerous civilizations. Since this is the case, why do we not see these in our fiction and role-playing settings? There have been a few attempts at sports-based RPG games like World Wide Wrestling or XXXX Extreme Street Luge, but very few sports are ever mentioned in non-Earth settings. This is a shame, because a good sport brings out many of the same opportunities as murder-hoboing―but without all the murdering!
In play, sports allow for (and require) many of the same characteristics as combat activities, including individual and group planning, strategy, the use of character skills, die rolls and chance. Placed in a character’s story―either as a background element or literally played in-game―a sport can show what sorts of things a character is interested in, or what sorts of things they're good at. In a game setting, sports are a great way to communicate local and cultural flavor.
In the fantasy setting I'm currently planning, my humanoid clans turn to sports competitions like the Olympics to choose their rulers, replacing the necessity of inter-tribal warfare. On a more local level, one particular area features a regular night-time lantern-lit pony race with halfling jockeys. Or how's this for a personal interest in sport: One of my players' PCs uses a Jai Alai sling as a weapon. He became proficient with it while living among the dwarves, who used it―you guessed it―for cave sports.
In the end, introducing sports into your setting allows plenty of opportunities for skill checks and character development, but without murdering every creature you see. Competition and rivalry may even create “sport grudges” that can hang around as potential plot hooks, just as much as any defeated wizard. Use sports to make your characters and settings more detailed and have fun without all the moral dilemmas (or maybe just a few)!