On the Games and Pass-Times of the Old and New World
As Commissioned by Dominet Martingale of Westhaven
All cultures tend to invent games and methods for leisure. These activities are also seen as an avenue for gambling, which is a passtime alternately praised and decried by the various faiths of Faedrun. Nevertheless, the peoples of Faedrun have a great number of games, many of which traveled with them to Mardrun when fleeing the advances of the Undead. Contained within this manuscript are the rules and play-methods for a number of passtimes, recorded so that their knowledge might be dispersed to a certain standard amongst innkeepers, gamblers, and others seeking methods of passing time.
As with all manuscripts of this sort, payment has been secured for several dozen copies to be made, both for public dissemination and the personal libraries of any who might wish to hold as complete a history of the games and pass-times of our own cultures, as well as those of the Syndar and our new Ulven neighbors.
Games Utilizing the Vandregonian Deck
Before entering into the longer documentations of rules, a brief history of the cards is necessary, so that the information might be preserved for future generations. The standard Vandregonian deck is an innovation that began with the noble class to provide entertainment during the times when they were not managing their estates, and soon found their way filtering down to the lower classes. The original decks were richly illustrated, oftentimes depicting the current nobility in the so-called ”Face” cards of the deck, as well as providing allegorical drawings for the now-common number cards. When they were imported to the lower classes, only the Face cards retained their illustrations, and the number cards adopted a much simpler pattern. These decks found widespread acceptance among the lower-class, especially when their skills allowed them to succeed at gambling.
The cards were soon exported all across Faedrun, even finding acceptance amongst the Syndar and other rival nations to Vandregon. As with all exported games, a number of games and rule variants sprung up – I have attempted to collect the most common variants available and standardized the various rulesets for those interested in playing.
Where there is gambling, one must also be aware of the cheating methods known to so-called ”Sharps”. Typically, the most common occurs in the marking of certain cards, and the innovation is often attributed to an Aldorian gambler who sought more ways to win – this is, in part, due to the Vandregonian belief that Aldorians are more apt to cheat at card games, which has little basis in my own experience.
Originating in Vandregon, this is a game where players seek to empty their hand as quickly as possible, requiring between 4 to 10 players. A game designed around gambling, most of the rules require payment upon the playing of certain cards, as well as when one player empties their hand.
The game begins with the dealer shuffling and dealing five cards to each player. The player to the right of the dealer plays a card. Should any player have the next card in the sequence, they may play it – for example, if the first player lays down the six of clubs, another player must lay down the seven of clubs. If no one can play the next card, then the last player to put down a card may begin a new run by laying down another card.
Two cards are special in this game. When the Queen of Diamonds, called ”The Mistress of the Estate” is played, all other players must pay three coins to whoever played it. When the Jack of Clubs, called ”The Beggar”, is played, all other must pay two coins to whoever played it. Play ends when one player has no cards in their hand – all other players pay them a single coin for every card they have left in their hands. So, if there are five players, with two of them having one card left in their hand, and two having two cards, then the winning player would win a total of 6 coins.
Variants are possible, as well – some players prefer to pay into a pot and begin each game with twenty ”marker stones”, with play ending when one player runs out of marker stones, and the pot being divided according to the proportion of stones left, or all to the player with the most stones, depending on the gambling house.
Commander, Captain, and Company
A trick-taking game, Commander, Captain, and Company found its origins in Richtcrag, where gambling is a popular passtime amongst the various mercenaries and they favor trick-taking games over other types of card games. One of the earliest trick-taking games (and a direct ancestor of Tarock), play is relatively simple, and requires between four and ten players.
Before the start of the game, all players agree to a common ante – one coin is the most common, as each player pays their ante into three piles – the ”Commander” pile, the ”Captain” pile, and the ”Company” pile. Players are then each dealt five cards. Once all players are dealt their cards, the top card is turned over and set aside – this card determines the suit of the trump. Kings are high, aces are low.
Play procedes counter-clockwise from the dealer, with the player laying down a card to start a trick. Players must ”follow suit” – that is, lay a card down from the same suit. If a player cannot do so, but has a card from the trump suit, they may lay that down instead, with it counting of a higher value than the suit of the current trick – an ace of the trump suit is of higher value than the king of the current suit. If a player has no cards of the current suit and no trumps, they must simply lay down one of their other cards. Once all players have laid down a card, the player who laid the highest-value card takes the trick and begins the next. Once all five cards are played, the dealer deals each player five new cards, and play procedes in this fashion until each player cannot be dealt a new hand of five cards.
At this point, scoring ensues. The player who won the most tricks wins the ”Commander” pile. The player who won the King of the trump suit wins the ”Captain” suit. The player who has the highest-value three-of-a-kind amongst the tricks they have taken wins the ”Company” pile. Should no player fulfill the conditions to win any of the piles, then the pile carries through to the next hand, oftentimes with an added ante for the next round of play.
Yet another gambling game of Richtcrag, this is named for the richly-dressed mercenaries which seem endemic to the region. This is a simple gambling game, requiring a deck of cards and enough wages to lose on it. One of the traditions of the region is allowing for credit so as to prolong the length of the game.
One player acts as the dealer, who is required to cover all bets made over the course of the game. They set up an ante for the game, which all players must match if they wish to take part in the game. The dealer begins by dealing two face-up cards off to the side, known as the ”Hand” cards. The dealer then deals themself one card face-up, along with a face-up card to each player, known as their Réjoussance. If any of these cards are equal in value to either the Hand cards or the Dealer’s card, then the dealer wins that round, taking all bets and starting a new round of play. If they are not equal, however, the players may then place their antes on their cards and play procedes.
The dealer draws additional cards, one by one, and lays them out on the table. If a card matches a Hand card, it is laid next to the hand card – when both Hand cards are matched, all bets are returned, the deck is reshuffled, and play begins again. If a card matches one of the Réjoussance cards, then the dealer collects the bet on it, removes it from play, and leaves the matching card in play. If the card matches no other cards, then it is left in play, and players may place additional antes on it. If the card drawn matches the dealer’s card, then the dealer loses and matches all current bets by players on the field. In the event of the dealer losing, then all cards are collected, reshuffled, and then dealt for a new hand.
Should the banker wish, they may attempt to ”sell” the bank – proceding clockwise around the table, each other player may ante how much they are willing to pay for the right to be the bank. The player with the highest stated value pays the current dealer and becomes the new dealer, playing according to the above rules.
Play ends when the players agree to end the game after a round ends.
As one might guess, this is a game where large sums of money can change hands quite quickly – hence its popularity with Richtcrag mercenaries.
A Vandregonian trick-taking game, popular as a passtime amongst those who wish for a friendly game of cards without betting. It is suspected that it evolved from various Richtcrag trick-taking games, but is unusual in the nature by which it is played – rather than individuals competing against one another, play is divided into partnerships; a pair of players whose scores are combined. Unique among partnership games, discussion of the cards or of anything other than light conversational matters are forbidden, and the game is rarely gambled upon – from my research, it is apparent that this variant was developed to distance gambling from play with cards.
Whist is played with four players.The choice of partners begins before the game. It is either agreed upon by all parties, or, in cases where chance is required, by dealing one card face-up to each player. The two players with the lowest-value cards are partners, and have choice in where to seat themselves. Once partners are chosen, the game may begin.
To begin the game, the dealer shuffles the deck, which is then cut by whomever sits to the dealer’s right. The dealer then deals thirteen face-down cards to each player, and then deals a single additional card face-up. This is the suit of the trumps for that round of play. Play procedes as in typical trick taking games, starting to the dealer’s right, with the player who takes a trick starting the next one.
Once all the tricks have been taken, each partnership totals up their points. A partnership earns one point for each trick taken over six – therefore, a partnership that takes eight tricks earns three points.The game ends when a partnership earns 5 points, although it is possible for play to continue if both parties tie at 5 points, or if everyone agrees to play to a higher total.
In gambling variations, partners are typically determined via chance, and an equal wager is placed by each person involved. There are also numerous rules for specific methods to force the ante to increase, such as setting a contract – that is, the number of tricks your team will take in the coming round, or by handicapping one side – declaring that a partnership will reach seven points before the other reaches five is a common bet. Typically, all bets much be matched in these cases, although it is seen as extremely untoward to coerce a member of the Vandregonian upper-class into wagering on Whist.
Games Utilizing the Richtcrag Tarock Deck
A variant that evolved from the Vandregonian deck out of the Richtcrag’s love of cards and gambling, the Richtcrag Tarock deck is an extremely fascinating subject for scholars of games such as myself. These decks, seen as status symbols amongst the mercenaries and ”nobility” who fill the land, are always richly decorated, larger in size than a typical Vandregonian deck, and primarily utilized in complicated trick-taking games. It is believed to have found its origin in the Valinate region of Richtcrag, although no definitive ”first deck” exists to prove this theory. Due to the fractured status of the nation – as well as our own distance from it – it is unlikely that we will ever know the exact origins beyond my speculations.
Aside from being a play tool, much mysticism has been ascribed to the Richtcrag Tarock deck. The origins of the mysticism ascribed to it seems to have started via a pair of factors – first was the exportation of a number of Tarock decks to Vandregon, where they were used in various solitare-style games. These games later evolved into a form of fortune-telling, aided by the events of the war against the undead, which gives the second factor of their mystic description and interpretation – according to various reports by the Vandregonian 5th regiment, a masked undead creature apparently communicated by utilizing a deck of Tarock cards, which led to the belief that these cards possessed some mystical powers. The creature’s erratic behavior, as well as the ambiguous nature of the messages it left, led to attempts to add symbolic meaning to these cards. No evidence prior to this exists, and so claims of ‘ancient Syndar knowledge’ distilled into the cards should be greeted with skepticism, at best. It is this researcher’s opinion that the monster – which, by all descriptions, wore noble clothing consistent with a member of the Richtcrag nobility – was merely instructed to terrorize the members of the Regiment via remnants of its former life and utilized what it had onhand.
Typically, the Tarock deck is used in either complicated trick-taking games or solitare-style games. The trick-taking games are more common in Richtcrag and Vandregon, while solitare games – as well as quite a bit of fortune-telling – became quite common in the May’kar Dominion, where a number of richly-decorated decks found their origin. Few decks survived the trip over, and the somewhat more intensive art that tradition indicates has led to a shortage, which has likly added to their fabricated mystical origins.
Each of the trumps is numbered from 0-21, expressing its relative value as compared to the other trumps. In most games, three trumps are seen as special – the I, often called ”The Magician” is the weakest trump and is typically worth additional points in games due to the skill it takes to win a trick with it (and displaying the typical Richtcrag skepticism towards mystical might over the power of steel), and the XXI, known as ”The World” is also worth additional points. The 0-trump, called ”The Fool”, is also known as an Excuse – in most games, it can never win a trick, but instead excuses the player from participating in that trick, and when it is played, it is exchanged for a card of lesser value from the player’s already-won tricks.
The ”original” Richtcrag trick-taking game, and the version that informs all of the variants known by players today, it requires three to five players. Each player is dealt twelve cards, and then the deck is set aside for that round of play. The player to the right of the dealer starts the first trick, and players must attempt to follow suit.
If a player cannot follow suit, and they have one of the twenty-two trumps, they must ”Trump” the play. If a player cannot trump or follow suit, then they may slough a card, and cannot win that particular trick. If a player has no cards of the original suit, but does have at least two trumps, if a trump has been played, they must play a trump that beats the previous trump, called ”overtrumping”. However, here, an element of the Richtcrag honor asserts itself – if a player is found to have sloughed or under-trumped when they could have played a valid card and another player catches them, they forefeit all points they would have won for that hand.
The 0-trump acts as an excuse in this game, and at the end of the hand, all points are totalled. Rather than counting points for the number of tricks taken, points are determined by the cards held by the player in the tricks they have collected, with the following values:
- I, XXI, and 0-trumps: 5 points
- King – 5 points
- Queen – 4 points
- Knight – 3 points
- Knave – 2 points
- Suited Cards – ½ point
The winner, is, of course, the player with the most points at the end of a hand.
The game is typically gambled upon, with each player staking an ante before any cards are dealt, and the winner of a hand collecting all antes.
Jeu de Tarock
A Syndar variant of the above game, it is decidedly more complicated and confusing for newer players to this deck. It is played with between three to five players, although four players is seen as the norm for the game, and will be discussed in the play.
Players first draw to determine who will deal first – the highest card wins, with trumps beating suited cards, and the Fool discarded for a new draw. The dealer then shuffles the deck, which is then cut by the player on their left, before dealing out eighteen cards to each player in packets of three. Additionally, the dealer deals, one at a time, six cards into a pile known as ”The Dog” – one stipulation of the dealing is that two cards may not be dealt into the Dog in a row, nor may it receive the first or last card in the deal. Misdealing results in a penalty for the dealer – the hand is discarded and the deck reshuffled.
Upon drawing their hands, players must then bid on them, declaring a contract (both points and bid type) that they feel they can meet with that hand, starting to the Dealer’s right. Each subsquent player may then pass or bid higher – a player who has passed cannot re-join the bidding. The highest bid – as in, the final player to have a bid after all other players have passed – is then on the attack, and the other players form the defense, attempting to prevent them from meeting their contract.
The possible contracts (and their method of play) are, from lowest to highest:
- Prise: The attacker takes the Dog, adds it to their hand, and discards 6 cards, which form the start of their scoring pile.
- Garde: The attacker takes the Dog, adds it to their hand, and discards 6 cards, which form the start of their scoring pile. Kings or Trumps may not be discarded, unless their hand consists solely of trumps, in which case the I, XXI, and 0 trumps are the only ones which may not be discarded. It doubles the point value of a hand and (typically) doubles the stake.
- Garde sans le chien: The Dog goes directly into the attacker’s scoring pile, and it is not revealed until the end of the game. The point value of the hand is quadrupled, as is the ante.
- Garde contre le chien: The Dog goes directly to the defender’s scoring pile. The final value of the hand – and, of course, the ante – is multiplied by six.
Play procedes as normal in trick-taking games. The final score is calculated by pairing cards, according to the following score rubric:
- 1 King or 1 of the Scoring trumps + 1 ordinary card: 5 points
- 1 Queen + 1 ordinary card: 4 points
- 1 Knight + 1 ordinary card: 3 points
- 1 Knave + 1 ordinary card: 2 points
- 2 ordinary cards: 1 point.
When scoring, the winning side determines their score by the following: 25 plus any points above the contract (or below, in the case it was not met), plus an additional 10 points if the final trick is taken by the I of Trumps by the attacker, is the base score. In the case where the final trick is taken by the defense with the I of Trumps, 10 is instead subtracted from the base score. This is then multiplied by the attacker’s hand bid, and two additional bonuses may be added – first is the Poignée, where a player declares whether they have 10+, 13+, or 15+ trumps in their hand, each of which adds 20, 40, or 60 points to the final score, respectively. The second bonus is called the Chelem – when declared, the attacker is confident that they will take every trick in the round, and will add 400 points if that is met, but will lose 200 if they fail to meet it. Otherwise, should either side take every trick without announcing, they win 200 additional points.
Should the attacker win, then all players on the defense subtract the final hand score of the attacker from their points, and the attacker gains all the points subtracted. Should the defense win, then the attacker subtracts three times the final hand value from their score and the defense gains the hand value. All scores should sum to zero at the end of each round.
As one might expect, this is an incredibly challenging variant, as befits the Syndar love of complicated (unnecessarily, one might say) games. Gambling is rarely used for Jeu de Tarock – in part due to the complicated methods of scoring. Two variants are written of, however – in the first, players each wager an agreed-upon amount to form a pot, with the winner taking the entire pot after an agreed-upon number of hands; typically four, with deal passing to each player, although longer games are not unheard of. The second is for the truly dedicated gambler – players win or lose the total amount of coin equal to their final score. The debts possible for this are truly staggering – records indicate that the somewhat notorious gambler Sir Madrienne lost a total of three thousand silver on a single game, although the later arrest of his three ”partners” for robbing a caravan on the Aldorian border suggests that foul play may have been involved in this loss.
Games of Casting Dice
Dice have existed, in one form or another, since the dawn of civilization. In earlier days, dice were made from the knucklebones of sheep, and possessed only four ”faces” due to their peculiar shapes. As time went on, dice were refined into the modern form we are familiar with – six sides, each marked with painted or carved pips, and used in various games of chance all over the continent. If one were to divide games by region, the Aldorian love of dicing would be of special note, although the Nara Pentare are also known to have several gambling games built around the dice. Surprisingly enough, of the non-human races, the Ulven have taken the quickest to games of dice, utilizing the knucklebones of their livestock to gamble. In deference to their unfamiliarity with coinage and the civilized world’s sense of debts, the dice are often used to gamble for drink, with the loser taking drinks, and all parties typically ending up roaring drunk by the end.
One of the most famous Aldorian gambling games, it is played in two variants – two-die Hazard and three-die Hazard. Likely originating from bored sailors waiting on the docks, Hazard takes similar forms no matter the variant.
To begin the game, one player acts as the bank, offering to cover all bets made against them. The bank is typically rotated throughout a game, especially if one player finds themselves ruined by fortune during a game. Any other number of players may take part, althogh only a single player rolls the dice at a time. I will discuss the two-die variant first, although the only change with the three-die variant is the odds of each roll.
To begin, a shooter is chosen. They place their stake, wagering that they will win by throwing a number between 5 and 9. All other players wager whether the shooter will win or lose. The shooter then throws – depending on their chosen number, the number showing on the dice has a different effect.
- 5: Wins on a 5, loses on 2, 3, 11, 12.
- 6: Wins on 6 or 12, loses on 2, 3, 11
- 7: Wins on 7 or 11, loses on 2, 3, 12
- 8: Wins on 8 or 12, loses on 2, 3, 11
- 9: Wins on 9, loses on 2, 3, 11, 12.
If a number does not appear as either ”win” or ”lose”, it becomes the new target number – called the chance – and the original number that they chose, if rolled, is now their losing number. At this point, the shooter may choose to keep their original stake, or add to their stake if they are confident in their new number. Side bets may be altered as well.
Odds for each chance pay out differently depending on the originally-chosen number – typically related to their probabilites on the dice themselves. Rather than going through the entire listing, I entail players to find a skilled Hazard shooter to explain the odds. There exist some cloth Hazard mats, typically sewn by Aldorian sailors out of tattered sailcloth, with the odds embroidered in them – they also serve to make betting considerably easier, as players merely place their stake on the chosen numbers.
Another Aldorian dicing game, this gained prominence due to the somewhat more relaxed nature compared to Hazard. A favorite amongst a number of the Ulven – especially when playing for drinks – the game is relatively simple, so long as one has the necessary board and a pair of dice.
The game is played with any number of players, as well as a board marked with spaces from 2-12, omitting four. At the start of the game, each player places a coin stake on the 7 square. For the following rounds, players roll the die, taking a coin if they roll a space with a coin already on it, and leaving a coin if they roll an empty space. There are also three ”special” spaces.
- 7, called ”The Wedding” when rolled, requires the player who rolled it to place a coin on the 7 space. A toast to the other players is made, as a wedding is a time of celebration.
- 2, called ”The Pig” when rolled, allows a player to take all the coins from the board, except from the Wedding, as even a pig wouldn’t steal from a wedding.
- 12, called ”The King” when rolled, collects all coins from the board, as all must pay their taxes. Typically, a toast to the king is spoken – in the Colonies, a toast to the Prince is typically made.
After a player rolls, they pass the dice off to the next player – this can be either from the right or the left, depending on the group one is gambling with. A rollof four is always a pass – one loses nothing, but one gains nothing, either.
Depending on cultural or personal preference, the motifs and names of the spaces may change. The Richtcrag, for example, call the 2 space, ”The Mercenary” and the 12 space, ”The Commander”, although other names are also certainly possible depending on the preference. Still, this is primarily a social gambling game, intended to be played while all involved are imbibing some form of alcohol.
Ship, Captain, and Crew
One of the most popular Aldorian dicing games, this is commonly played aboard ships and port bars – unlike many dicing games, it requires both luck and judgment in equal measure to win. It is also played casually, without a stake – some find the rattling of the dice soothing, and it’s a common sight in Aldorian watering holes to find a few friends crowded around a table, downing drinks and rattling the bones.
To play, five dice are required, as well as a suitable pot for the ante and a method of keeping score – many taverns have slate boards in them for just this purpose. The players arrange themselves in a circle, and then play begins. The first player takes the five dice and rolls them. Each player is required to roll a 6 (the ship), 5 (the captain), and 4 (the crew) in three rolls. If a player wishes to keep any of his dice unrolled, they may only save in descending order – therefore, a player who rolls 5, 5, 4, 3, 1 may not keep any dice, while a player who rolls 6, 4, 3, 3, 3 may only keep the six – one requires a ship before they can hire a captain, and a captain before a crew can be hired. A player must re-roll all dice that are not already set aside.
The remaining two dice are the ship’s ”cargo” – add their value together if you manage to roll a 6, 5, and 4 during that round. A player may only choose to not re-roll the cargo dice if they already have the required numbers showing on their dice. If a player fails to roll a 6, 5, and 4 after three throws, they earn no points for that round and the dice are passed.
Play procedes around the table, with the highest-scoring player winning that round. In an anted game, all players pay into the pot before the round begins, and the winner is the one with the highest score during a round. Should two players tie for the highest score, the pot is split evenly between them – in the case of an odd number of players, a single coin remains in the pot for the beginning of the next round.
Certain regions have their own variants on the rules – one such variation, called ”Caravan”, involves the players racing to reach an agreed-upon point value. Typically, the chosen value is 77 – in part due to an older rule that players may not bank the same value twice. There are also several variants that give additional values and penalties to certain rolls:
- Favorable Wind: Rolling a 6, 5, 4, 6, 6 on the first roll. The player automatically wins the pot in this case.
- Shipwreck: Rolling 6, 1, 1, 1, 1 on the first roll. The unfortunate player must double their stake or withdraw from the game.
- Drunks: Rolling a 6 on the first roll, but only showing 5s and 4s on the third roll. Adds 2 points to the cargo’s value.
- Desperate Sailors: Not rolling a 6 until the final roll, but showing 5 and 4 on each throw previous. Add 3 to the cargo’s value.
A relatively simple game, this has rather enduring popularity in Aldoria.