We’ve all had nights where we the plot has cooled and you’re looking for something to stretch time or give XP until the party is ready to fight the Next Boss or Dungeon.
Or maybe you’re flying by the seat of your pants and you don’t know where to go next. They’re coming over in two or three hours and you gotta brainstorm up something quick!
So steal this Idea: Run The Olympics.
At its core the premise is simple, some skill or ability challenges that more physical characters (like fighters and barbarians) should excel at, with the odd bout presented as combat (like wrestling). I’m sure thieves and rogues will also appreciate archery, as well as discuss toss or another sport that could be more dexterity based.
You could also run like, a magical variant, with chess or such. Or stranger still, magical sports with rules the equivalent of cricket mixed with curling that involves algebra.
It’s also an apt opportunity to add some intrigue to your game. The party has to kidnap a famed reclusive mobster, but they’re only available in the crowded coliseum, during the height of the track event. One of the players is participating, and another nation accuses them of cheating. Who planted the paraphernalia or magical item in their locker? Better yet, does the party keep the item?
Winning a medal is always nice, and characters can wear it for like, a +2 bonus to social clout with fans of that sport, or maybe intimidation (if it’s wrestling or javelin toss, maybe shot put, boxing).
What happens when a manticore or chimera lands during the pole-vault? What happens when said malicious creature doesn’t want to feast upon the crowd, but just watch the games for entertainment? What happens when a contingent from the Undead Army of The Doom Wastes shows up, and demands the right to participate as sovereign citizens of their fallen Empire Beneath the Sands? Why are doppelgängers replacing top athletes? Is lycanthropy cheating?
You could take this a step further and do the gladiator thing, twist of Spartacus. A whole dungeon could be made for the entertainment of some wealthy extra-planar entity, the demons watching two teams of adventurers race rat-like through symmetrical dungeon labyrinths with challenges and adventures. Those who win, live and keep the treasures they’ve earned. Those who lose... well, the monsters in the maze have to come from somewhere, right?