Games The Elves Play   1.6*  
Written By: Joan Milligan
Posted: 04/04/07      [1 Comment]

The Name of the Game: Elf Games in RTH

Just because you're in the woods, doesn't mean you can't play ball.

Few things are harder than cataloging all the different games even the smallest tribe can come up with the simplest tools at hand. This document, therefore, presents only some examples of the most common games the elves of River Twine's tribe would often play. Dozens of others exist. Generally, as a rule, when mentioning an elf game in a story, try to think of the following:

1) Location: Many things that appear obvious in a city are not so much in the forest – primarily, a level playing field. One would be hard-pressed to find any clear, open, flat space, and games that need one will likely be impossible. On the other hand, the forest and rivers setting make the entire holt effectively one big playground. Take geography into account in gameplay, it can be quite a lot of fun!

2) Participants: In a human city, you'll find clubs, teams, groups, the kids from around the block… not so much in a holt. Elfin games are unlikely to require more than a dozen participants, for the simple reason that nine times out of ten, simply no more are available. On the other hand, in a tight-knit familial society, solitary games will also fall out of favor fast. Finally, recall the nature of your participants – fun-loving Wolfriders, young for centuries at end, with little taboo on "cub-silly" behavior in public.

3) Rules: While an oral culture can be highly sophisticated, it is still limited in the amount of exact information it can hold. Thus, rules of elfin games would likely be more flexible traditions than hard and written laws of play. They'll also tend to be simpler. Even in times of peace, elders have more important things to do than memorize and teach needlessly complex rules.

4) Materials: Elves may not have access to plastic or rubber, but that by no means limits their access to toys. Balls can be made from rugs or animal bladders, posts and gates from shaped wood, tokens from bone. The limits are of one's imagination, not the materials at hand.

5) Purpose: Even we, advanced humans that we are, have still not explained the entire purpose behind playing games, but some are obvious. Games can be meant to teach cubs how to hunt, hide or track; they can keep the elves in good physical shape; strengthen teamwork; resolve tensions and get tribemates who don't normally rub shoulders to socialize. There need not be a "point" to any specific game, but starting from one – teaching a rowdy cub to wait patiently, for once – can be a font of ideas.

Several examples of common elfin games follow:

Five Stones: Mostly a game of speed and good eyes. The five stones in question are pebbles chipped into rough cubes, which one elf holds in her palm. She would then toss the stones up and attempt to clap while they're still all in the air, then catch all five on the back of her hand. If she succeeds, on her next turn she will attempt to clap twice then catch four stones in her palm, and so on. This is a difficult game that requires concentration, and usually is played inside the den to avoid losing the stones in the undergrowth.

Taal: A hunting game for as many tribemates as are in the mood, played in peaceful high summer. Each participating elf gets five tokens of bone, and then all run off into the woods. The game is a hunt-and-pounce game -- if one elf manages to surprise another, he claims one of their tokens. If both become aware of the other, nothing happens and both go on their way, or join up to hunt a third. If, however, the elf manage to notice that they're being stalked, and then surprise their stalker, they get to claim two tokens from them.

An elf who lose all his tokens is out and goes back to the holt. The elf with the most tokens at the end of the game wins. The "end of the game" can be anything from 'moon-set' to 'whenever five or more elves are out'.

Fingertwine (cat's cradle): The favored game of the tribe's nimble-fingered, played with a loop of colorful string twined over and between one's fingers. The next player would then carefully move the string over to their own fingers while creating a new pattern. The patterns, which have a specific order, are the challenge of the game, which is most often used to get cubs to sit down and think carefully and quietly.

Stepstones (hopscotch): Played over slow-moving water or wet mud, where boulders dot the river, this is a turns-based game for two teams. Two elves begin at opposite banks of the river, and try to get across at the same time, jumping from stone to stone. They use long sticks to help their balance – long sticks they're perfectly permitted to poke into the other contestant's back or side to "help" them as well. The first elf to get to solid ground dry passes his stick on to the next member of his team, who starts out, until one team has all made it across the river (dry). Victory goes to the team who has most dry members first on the opposite bank.

Follow-Me ("Simon Says"): Played as a group, sometimes spontaneously. One elf would start a single repetitive gesture – clap hands, slap knee, stomp foot, jump – then the next would repeat what the first did and add another step. Each elf must repeat everything that went before, then add another piece of their own. Players unable to do it correctly bow out of the game, until only one is standing. Games of Follow-Me can evolve into impromptu dances.

Tail Tag: A game for both elves and (well-behaved) wolves, where the objective is to pull the other team's tails. Elves would play it with a strip of fur attached to the back of their pants, and wolves with the same around the tops of their tails, and all would swirl around in a barking, laughing mayhem and attempt to snatch and remove as many "tails" as they can. The tailless is out of the game, while the elf (or wolf!) with the most tails wins.

Smackball (Dodgeball): A favorite of cubs with too much energy. The smackball is made of preserver silk and is thus very soft. The ball is tossed high into the air – whoever catches it gets first turns. Smakball is played by trying to hit others with the thrown ball and taking them out of the game. However, if an Elf can catch the ball thrown at them, the thrower is out of the game rather than they. Smackball can be very good practice for dodging, catching and throwing.

High-and-Low: More a sport than a game, H&L makes use of the natural obstacle course of the holt's wood and rivers environment. To spice things up, the elves enjoy leaving "surprises" for the participants – a weakened branch, a harmless trap, or a net closing up an easy path. To spice things up even more, sometimes the participants would burden themselves with packs, cups of water, one tied hand, or even another elf on their backs. H&L is usually a race, although some extreme courses have as many winners as can actually get through them.

Word games: Not all elf games are physical. Riddling circles are popular with both elders and know-it-all cubs, and on lazy nights more settled, patient elves would compete for finding the most rhymes for one word, naming a past chief's wolf-friends, or composing brief witticisms. Speaking Pebbles is a primitive, oral version of scrabble, in which pebbles of different colors represent syllables – the elves pick pebbles blind from a pile, then play in conversing only with words that contain their "color".

Summer Games: The elves do their most, wildest playing when going to the lake in particularly hot summers. The events that take place there are a little like elfin "Olympics", with the elves, in singles, pairs and teams, participating in a number of traditional contests. Those include a variety of swimming, running and riding races; heavy-lifting matches; Poke-Hoop, a game of throwing spears and javelins or shooting arrows through a hoop at a distance; line walking over water, and so on. Elders sometimes serve as "judges", and while there aren't proper awards, good fun is had by all.

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