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The game and celebration of Tarphen has been enjoyed for time immemorial, but is nowadays considered part of a god of war’s festival, which has adopted the name. Held at the end of the week after the first frost, the game consists of several teams with each protecting a champion held aloft on a shield. A team loses when their champion or shield touches the ground or if their champion loses contact with their shield, with the last team standing declared the victors.

In small towns and villages, the game is played for fun and in good spirits, and, while physical in nature, games are rarely more than shoving contests. In these communities, any adult is welcome to take part, meaning teams can contain dozens of individuals. Traditionally the only prize for the winners is a taste of the last of the prior year’s mead, though often the losers receive the same reward.

In more urban areas, leagues have emerged, with games played from midsummer until the finals on the festival itself. Extensive gambling, prizes for winning teams, and sponsorship have led to increasingly serious and brutal competitions. The church, concerned by the number of deaths that were happening, established some additional rules as follows:

  • No more than five teams shall compete in a single match, with a maximum of twenty players on each team.
  • A field of play is to be designated by four posts flying the war god’s pennants, forming a square no smaller than 50 feet by 50 feet, with the distances increased by 20 feet for each team after the first two.
  • A champion leaving the field of play is eliminated as though they had touched the ground or been removed from their shield.
  • Use of any form of magical enhancement through spells, charms, potions, or attuned items is strictly forbidden.
  • No weapons, armor, non-competition shields, or items of clothing with solid plates, spikes, protrusions, or sharpened edges are allowed on the field.
  • Biting, eye-gouging, and ear-ripping are not permitted. Three such infractions disqualify a team.
  • A team’s shield must be flat, circular, and no larger than three feet in diameter. It must also have an edge at least two inches wide and no spikes or sharpened edges.
  • A champion’s shield must at all times only be supported by players.

Game Mechanics

To simulate a game of Tarphen for PCs wishing to bet or participate, a Narrator should first determine the relative strength of each team. The weakest team is always considered a +1 with the other team at +1–4 depending on the level of discrepancy the Narrator desires. If a character with a Strength bonus higher than a team joins it, they provide a +1 character bonus.

For each round, an opposed d20 roll is made between the teams, adding team and character bonuses. This represents anywhere between five and twenty minutes of struggle between the teams. The winning team increases their team bonus by +1. This increases to +2 if the winning roll was a natural 20.

Once the results of the round have been applied, compare the teams’ bonuses. If one team’s bonus is 5 or more points higher than their opponent they have succeeded in dislodging the opposing champion and win the game. If not, the teams make another opposed roll.

If neither team has won after three rounds the teams move to a final sudden death opposed roll. Whichever team wins that roll also wins the match as both teams collapse in exhaustion. In this case, each competitor suffers 1 level of fatigue.

The comparison of team bonuses for a given round (excluding any character bonuses) also sets the odds for betting, which continues each round of the competition. The odds for a given team are equal to their opponent’s team bonus to their own bonus. The payout for a winning bet is equal to the stake (amount of coins wagered) × the first number of the odds + the stake originally wagered. If possible, odds are deduced to the lowest common denominator.


The team from the stevedore’s guild, the Red Eagles, is the weaker team (+1) and faces last year’s winners, the Golden Lancers (+4).

Jarek Bloodeye (a player character) joins the Eagles and his +4 strength bonus means he provides a +1 character bonus to the team. Jerak’s player rolls a 12 for the Eagles, to which they add the team bonus (+1) and character bonus (+1) totaling 14. The Narrator rolls a 9, to which they add the team bonus (+4) for the Lancers for a total of 13. Surprisingly the Eagles are giving the Lancers a really tough fight, and their team bonus increases to +2.

The following round the Jerak’s player rolls a 6 for the Eagles, adding their team (+2) and his character bonus (+1) for a total of 9. The Narrator rolls a natural 20 for the Lancers, adding their team bonus (+4), winning the round increasing their team bonus to +6. They are ahead by 4 and just need to win the next round to take the victory.

Because of their respective team bonuses of +1 and +4, betting on the Eagles at the start of the game would get odds of 4-1, while betting on the Lancers would give odds of 1–4. After the first round increases the Eagles’ team bonus to +2, the odds would shift to 2-1 (reduced down from 4-2) on the Eagles and 1-2 for the Lancers. Someone who bet 2 gold on the Eagles in the first round would get 4 gold for every 1 gold they wagered, plus their initial bet, meaning that they win 10 gold total: 8 gold + their stake of 2 gold.