A scant few miles north of the house where I spent my grade school years stood the butt-ugly, blue- white, concrete-and-steel pile called Arlington Stadium, birthplace of crappy sports-arena nachos and then home of the Rangers. (And not to be confused with its foo-foo replacement the Ballpark in Arlington).
Though it was a major league operation, there was always a decidedly minor league field to how the park was run—perhaps in keeping with the performance of the team in the 70s. Around the fifth inning the ticket-keepers near the bleachers section would just up and leave, leaving the turnstiles wide open.
Upshot was between mid-game sneak-ins and later my step-dad's season tickets, I spent an ungodly amount of time in that ballpark. I loved everything about the experience: the spandex-strutting of my heroes on the diamond; the yankee-baiting frothing of the bleacher fans; the sour smell of spilled beer; the sudden visceral feel of a foul ball or homer that I just knew was coming straight for my glove...straight for my...nah.
Not surprisingly I loved any excuse to introduce sports back into my gaming. My earliest proto-rpg experience was perhaps the crude d6 rolling games we played with baseball and football cards. I played the gamut of sports games from those plastic figure, vibrating football field games to the clunky, over-complicated paper-and-pencil monsters.
Of course, that other great time-killer of those years, D&D, didn't escape this twin-obsession either. I used every opportunity to work in spectator sports inside a session, whether it was a hippogriff race, zombie arena, Goblinball, or what. My first miniatures rules, the incredible five-volume set that was Heritage's Knights & Magick, fueled this hunger further with its long sections detailing rules for tournaments, jousts, grand melees and the like.
I was thus pleased as the proverbial punch when the Companion set of Mentzer-flavor D&D introduced a number of mini-game-like rules for running grand tournaments in a player-owned dominion. Though we were 12-year old AD&D snobs at the time, I leapt at the chance to kit-bash all those domain-level rules into our campaign.
I loved mucking around with what we now call mini-games, all the subsystems that hung around each of these ludic events.
Of course one of the very first things we did—the line was intensely blurry between players and DM at that time--in a little barony carved out out of the Suss Forest in Greyhawk's Wild Coast was host a massive array of games literally everything in the book and more. When Oriental Adventures came along at the end of my first tenure in gaming, I would even add the bizarre-seeming such as calligraphy contests.
Nowdays I don't watch much baseball anymore, my football urges are safely channeled into my fantasy-football league (now in its ninth season, go Fightin' Mensheviks), and I play soccer instead of watching it. But every once in a while that mood strikes me.
That itch will probably be expressed in a few reports here on a Roman gladiator mini-campaign I am running solo using Red Sand Blue Sky. Stay tuned for the exploits of that wily lanista Kutalikus Cacophonus as he runs a gladiator school on the edge of civilization, Britannia. [Editor's Note: Ed Teixeira, the co-writer of RSBS, ran a session of that and the linked Charioteer at our Mini-Con this last weekend, thus the sudden, abrupt inspiration.]
Also on the cutting room floor of the Hill Cantons: Borderlands sourcebook (now thick in beta-test and rewrite) is a unfinished heap of similarly-themed work. Keeping my eyes on the appropriately-metaphoric ball, you ain't going to see them in the first effort.
But you just might see in a follow-up supplement a wide range of appropriate mini-games: jousting, tournament melees, wrestling/boxing contests, gladiator spectacles, wizard duels, bardic face-offs, and up to the massive and fantastic like the naumachia pictured all the way above--and stranger.
As always, there are no limits, no borders to what can be done...