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Greek Festivals

Olympic Games

Relics & Rituals: Olympus

© 2004 White Wolf Publishing, Inc. Distributed for Sword and Sorcery Studios by White Wolf Publishing, Inc.

By W. Jason Peck, Aaron Rosenberg, Christina Stiles and Relics & Rituals: Olympus team

The Olympic Games, held on the plains of Olympia every four years, starting at least as early as 776 BC, are one of the defining features of ancient Greek civilization and, so, are crucial to an Olympus campaign. Since they occur but once every four years, it is probable that most campaigns will feature the games only once; therefore it is a good idea to get the most out of them. (However, it is possible that in an a historical campaign, the games might occur annually. It is also possible to emphasize the other major sporting events of the time, the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games, which were on a scale with the Olympian games in ancient Greece but which have become somewhat forgotten overtime.) Lastly, the exact year of the campaign can be fudged to allow the games to occur whenever the GM feels it is appropriate.

In addition, the nature of the games may need to be changed in a more fantasy-oriented campaign, both to bring the games in line with modern egalitarian sentiments and to increase the opportunities for player participation. The original games were open only to Greek-speaking free males; women were not only prohibited from participating, they were even banned from observing the event! In a more fantastic version of ancient Greece, opening the games to men and women of many races is a possibility, though, for flavor’s sake, it is recommended the events still be performed in the nude. (Not only does this stress the considerably less than prurient attitude towards nudity, but it also prevents cheaters from using magical garments to win the games unfairly.) The different abilities of different races might need to be taken into account; would giants be allowed to compete alongside humans? Races with natural bonuses to Strength, dexterity, or constitution may be seen as having an unfair edge. It might well be that events would be segregated by race, rather than gender, as they are in the modern Olympics.

The major events of the ancient Olympics are:

  • Boxing – Chariot Racing (this was the only event women were permitted to view)
  • Riding
  • Pankration (See the Pankration Master prestige class for more details)
  • The Pentathlon – consisting of Wrestling, Running, Discus tossing, Javelin hurling, and Jumping
  • Running
  • Wrestling

The events tended to favor Strength and stamina over grace and agility. Player characters may become involved in the Olympics even if they do not all participate and, indeed, it is unlikely (unless that is the focus of the campaign) for all the player characters to be capable of participating. An agile archer, a cunning rogue, or a learned wizard would be unlikely to have much stake in the rough-and-tumble sports favored by the Greeks. (But see“Alternate Games,”.) None the less, even if the characters do not participate in the games, there is much for them to do. The Olympics attract a crowd, and where there’s a crowd, there’s adventure. With civic pride on the line, some folks might take it on themselves to “fix” events, poisoning an athlete or damaging his equipment, or even casting spells to enhance one contestant’s performance (such as bulls’ strength) or cripple another’s (such as ray of enfeeblement, if it could be done surreptitiously). Such magic would be strictly forbidden, and if spellcasting is common, detect magic and dispel magic will both be used regularly. The PCs might be asked to stop such treachery or possibly to perform it though such acts are unheroic in the extreme and an affront to the gods, making it unlikely any PC would do such a thing without some strong motivation. The crowds attract merchants, who may need bodyguards and protection. In addition, travelers from distant lands may come bearing strange items, exotic materials needed by spellcasters or rumors of monsters in dire need of slaying and kings offering half their lands and their daughter in marriage as a reward for doing so.


The list of historical sports practiced at the games should not be considered the be-all and end-all of the games in an Olympus campaign, though the introduction of snowboarding or skeet-shooting may strain credulity more than is proper. Rather, consider how the presence of fantastic races and working magic might influence sports. Might the brutal combat of pankration bematched by vicious wizard’s duels which leaves the loser dead more often than not? If there are dwarves in the games, they may have a hammer toss rather than discus toss, and the elves might ask that the humans pit their prowess at archery against their own. The key to adding games is that they should emphasize, as much as possible, sheer physical perfection (though in the case of magical competitions, it might be pure intellectual clarity). The games tend to strain the participants to the utmost an archery competition, thus, may well involve timed shoots, or shooting while running, instead of a more sedate style of contest. A wizard’s duel might be against a ravening beast rather than another caster, forcing the wizard to move, dodge, weave and cast defensively in order to bring the beast down.

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