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I'm designing a city in a fantasy setting that is built on a fairly tight island chain of seven islands. This island chain is located at a crossroads of several major powers, and they produce very little of their own goods. Because of their ideal location, they have become a major trade city in their own right. The nature of the city's foundation has led to a 'House' structure where each island is controlled by a major house, with several smaller houses interspersed throughout based on their trade power.

What I want to create is a competition or game that would give the feel of intense intra-house rivalry without resorting to the cliche 'jousting tournament'. What competition or game would be appropriate for this setting?

To limit possible responses, the game/competition should be:
1. Done with no intent of killing other competitors (potential injuries are ok).
2. An activity that facilitates viewership (the islands have elevation, so perhaps towers could be constructed to view larger events)
3. Ideally, it would not be combat oriented, though I'm not opposed to some sort of unique combat activity.
4. An activity that would help portray the strength of the various Trade Houses.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is your competition intended to be a spectator sport for entertainment, i.e. soccer? Or is there some real aim to be achieved via the competition (e.g. replacement for violent warfare)? $\endgroup$
    – Xenocacia
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ Some folks find trade wars entertaining.Trade is like a competition. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Boat races. Everybody loves boat races. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Xenocacia Yes, my intent was for the sport or competition to be a spectator activity. I want to capture the feel of some of the intense sports rivalries that exist between colleges, countries, etc. in our time. The boat racing/sailing answers I see so far are very appealing because they could also reflect some of their trade capability too. $\endgroup$
    – BaseHobo
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ I can't give an answer now, but I would actually suggest some kind of mock war (e.g. capture the flag). Each participating house would be allowed to design their fleet in accordance with some agreed rules, so you could see their respective strategies (e.g. small, fast craft vs epic tanks), and of course colored uniforms are a nice touch. $\endgroup$
    – Xenocacia
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 1:20

3 Answers 3

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But, if you're specifically looking for something like jousting (combat-oriented competition)...

Remember that Medieval tournaments had more going on than just jousting. There were often multiple events — not to mention all sorts of trade, plays, etc. They became highly social with both men and women participating in their roles to make the events more fun (aka, social).

Another pattern to look at are the Scottish Highland Games. Once again, a whole plethora of activities (log throwing, tug-o-war, etc.) that were the center point of a large social experience. Your islands might have rock-throwing, fish-loading (you've gotta get them to market somehow), and dance. Yet another pattern to look at are U.S. county fairs and rodeos. Social events centered on communal activities are a part of every community, which is good for you as it gives you a large plate of ideas to sift through to make your own, unique, party.

In other words, rather than have the good old fashioned "jousting tournament," come up with an appropriate name for your game that has all the elements of a modern Renaissance Fair. The name you give it is what will set it apart. Consider the etymology of "tournament" and "joust." See how everyday terms or names became significant for well-developed social gatherings, then use that method to select names or terms from your own fantasy setting to establish your fair/tournament/etc.

In many ways, the flavor you add is more important than the actual list of activities.

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    $\begingroup$ Also the Rapa Nui Bird-man competition. They had to scale down an 800 foot cliff, swim to a nearby island, collect a bird egg, then bring it back unbroken. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 23:12
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Potlatch.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch

A potlatch was held on the occasion of births, deaths, adoptions, weddings, and other major events. Typically the potlatch was practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends. The event was hosted by a numaym, or 'House', in Kwakwaka'wakw culture. ... "In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his 'power' to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his 'power' was diminished." Hierarchical relations within and between clans, villages, and nations, were observed and reinforced through the distribution or sometimes destruction of wealth, dance performances, and other ceremonies. The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distributes the most resources. The hosts demonstrate their wealth and prominence through giving away goods.

Potlatches were what you describe: real competitions between real houses and not jousting or Olympics. The competition: who could afford give away or destroy the most good stuff. The idea of making beautiful and expensive works of art which are then destroyed would make for good storytelling.

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Catamaran racing is a fast paced potentially dangerous sport involving well funded teams of competitors and it could be founded on the notion that whoever had the fastest boats and the best sailors historically delivered their goods first and made the most profit. So it's a matter of pride for each house to prove that they still have what it takes even though in the modern day they all own stakes in each others operations so the actual trade ships don't race anymore.

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