Folkloric Fridays, Part IV: Dogball


by T.H.L. Dagonell

Throughout the year, but specifically during the Reaping, you can usually find Dogball being played in Braelin.  It is played at the run, stopping only long enough to set up after a score.  It is rumored that the game was first developed in Xiros, and although the original participants played with a real dog’s skull—thus the name—people nowadays tend to play with a soft round or oblong ball.  The ball is still referred to as the “skull,” however.

Two teams of five members apiece play for a specified time period—usually no more than five minutes on a field about eighty feet long by fifty feet wide.  The team members are armed with a pole-weapon, a hand-and-a-half sword, a long sword, two short swords, or a dagger.  I have seen other weapons combinations, but I have never seen a game with a player carrying a shield.  Before play begins, each team must select some kind of visible uniform or team-marking, which every member of that team wears, in order to differentiate the members of each team from one another.

The object of the game is to score as many times as possible during the time period by placing the “skull” on the opposing team’s “spike,” a small conical or pyramid-shaped object perhaps one-and-a-half to two feet in total height.

Play begins—and is reset after a “score” or “point”—with the skull being placed in the center of a marked circle of two feet in diameter at the center of the field.  The Quick—one of the players armed with a dagger—from the opposing teams will stand outside of the circle, ready to make a play on the skull or the other Quick.  The other players stand on the end lines near their team’s spike.  Neither side is allowed to move until one of the Quicks reaches or crosses into the circle.

The Quicks are the only players on either of the teams who are allowed to pick up and carry the skull.  Others may knock the skull along the ground, but they are otherwise unable to handle the skull or score.

Once an attempt is made on the skull, the rest of the players run down the field to support their Quick while simultaneously raining mayhem and destruction upon the other team.

Blows are pulled or otherwise blunted, and striking different target areas on the body signify different effects.  Any blow that lands on an arm or leg is a disabling blow; if a player has an arm “taken,” he may remain standing and play without the use of his arm; if he is “legged,” meaning that one of his legs has been taken, he must drop to the ground on both knees.  He is allowed to crawl along his knees, if he so desires.  In both cases, the damaged player does not recover the use of his disabled limb(s) until such time as he is “killed” by a team-mate or an opponent.

Any blow to the torso is considered a “kill.”  If a player is killed, he must fall flat on the ground on his back and count to five before “rising” to play.  An opposing team member can stop a dead player from “rising” by placing the point of their weapon on the dead player.  This action pins the dead player to the ground.  The dead player is allowed to rise only if the pinning player fails to maintain weapon’s contact on the body of the dead player.

Once a point has been scored—accomplished whenever one team manages to place the skull atop the other team’s spike—play is immediately reset.  Whichever team manages to score the most points within the specified time period wins the match.

Needless to say, the game is fast-paced and will help fighters practice their melee techniques just as well as in sparring or at tourney.

It is possible to organize a tournament-style game of dogball, if teams are too large.  In this scenario, the winner stays in the ring after each point, while the losing team sits out the next round or, in the case of very large tournaments, gets “in line.”

I have also observed games that rely not on a time limit, but rather on an amount of points to determine a winner—thus, the first team to gain five points, for example, wins the match.