One of the more popular games played across Arelatha is a card game called Knights. A evening amongst friends, a tournament at the local tavern, and the courts of nobility are each equally likely to feature a few rounds of Knights, with coin frequently at stake.
The Deck: The Knights deck is exclusive to this game, and was developed by a pair of wealthy merchants in Arvoria several centuries ago. It consists of 104 cards, 12 each of the following 9 faces (except there are only 8 kings), given in order of rank: King, Queen, Knight, Armorer, Merchant, Messenger, Dancer, Juggler, and Blacksmith. The official deck is printed in Arvoria to this day, but without much effort one can find local versions—some with real personages, comical, satirical or defaming. A few individuals will craft special versions.
Each card in the official deck is unique; that is, no two faces are alike. All but one of the dancers; half the merchants, messengers & jugglers; and one of the blacksmiths are female.
But a few have significant differences, as given below. Should two hands be identical in rank, these notable faces add extra value to the hand.
One of the kings extends a scepter of blessing, and one sits upon a throne of judgment.
One of the queens is Kedethian, and one is Lothanian.
One of the knights is or appears dead, and one is being dubbed.
One of the armorers is quaffing a mug of ale, and one is smoking a pipe.
One of the male merchants is selling to an arcanist, and one of the female merchants is selling to a cassock.
One of the female messengers rides a swift horse, and one of the male messengers has a hawk perched on his shoulder.
One of the dancers is nude (with “well-placed” hands and hair), and one dances behind a veil.
One of the male jugglers has fiery torches, and one of the female jugglers has daggers.
One of the male blacksmiths is bald, and one is left-handed.
Some dedicated players name the individual cards, and use them to tell a story as the cards are placed. Historians suggest this practice is a holdover from the early days of the deck, when rogues would use the cards to pass along secret information, disguising their tales in the laying down of cards. In isolated pockets of Arelatha, this may still be true. From time to time, fortunetellers have tried to use these cards to predict events, but this has never proved workable.
An official deck of Knights’ Heads cards costs five stallions. Localized or personalized versions, while not allowed in official play, fetch anywhere from ten to a hundred times this.
The Play: A table consists of 2-6 players. Each player places in the center of the table his ante, which is any previously agreed upon amount. One player then deals to each player nine cards face down, one at a time. (At tournament games, a non-player is designated dealer.) After assessing his hand, each player, beginning with the player left of the dealer, either places a bet or folds, laying his cards face down before him in plain sight. Once a bet is placed, all players who have not folded must equal the amount, or raise it. If raised, the bet continues around the table until all players have matched it.
After the initial betting, each player exchanges three cards from his hand with the player on his left. These three cards are called the rabble. (“Rabble” is also used loosely to refer to any card the player doesn’t need in pursuit of a valid hand.) A second round of betting begins in the same manner as the first, with players either raising the bet or folding. In the second round, all players may pass the bet, and if all do, the bet is not raised.
When all players who have not folded after the second round have matched the highest bet, the dealer passes a tenth luck card to each remaining player. Players then assess their hands one final time, and bet accordingly as before. In this final round, however, when a player is last to match a bet, he may match and call for cards (in lieu of folding or raising the bet). This action freezes the bet and prevents it from being raised further. At this point, all players who have not folded will lay their ten cards face up on the table in plain sight, beginning with the player to the left of the one who called. (The caller will lay cards down lastly.)
The one with the highest-ranking hand wins the bet.
Valid Hands (in order of rank):
Dynasty – All ten cards of the same face (this cannot be done with kings)
Council of Kings – All eight kings
Twin Courts – Eight of a kind
Kingdom – One of each card (male only), less a queen; three knights
Royal House – Only kings, queens & knights
Queendom – One of each card; two knights
Ladies in Waiting – All female cards; at least one of each, & the female blacksmith
War Room – One king & one knight, a court of armorers and a court of blacksmiths
House Divided – Two sets of five cards of the same face
Entourage – A court of armorers, a court of messengers, and a pair of merchants
House of Twins – Five sets of twins
Royal Assembly – Pair each of kings & queens, and a court of knights (two royal families)
Gala – A court of dancers, a court of jugglers, and a pair of merchants
Council – Two sets of courts
Court of Twins – Four sets of twins
House of Mirrors – Five pairs of any five faces
Hamlet – No kings, queens, or knights
Royal Family – A king, queen, two knights
Three Twins – Three sets of twins
Family – Five male cards & five female cards
Three Triplets – Three sets of triplets
Court – Four of a kind
Pair of Twins – Two sets of twins
Pair of Triplets – Two sets of triplets
Twins – Both of the "notable" cards of any face
Triplet – Three of the same face
*Note that it is impossible NOT to have a pair of something (10-card hand, only 9 faces), and so a pair is not a valid hand. Many do not count the triplet as a valid hand, either, though this is considered an acceptable rule in tournament play.
Tournament Scoring: In official tournament play, no score can be made before obtaining a court of knights. Once that feat is accomplished, additional courts of knights are tallied as the tournament progresses. Generally, the house will award prizes (cash, items, free services, etc.) to the player with the highest score at the end—whether he won the tournament or not. While a court of knights scores a point, it can be beaten fairly easily.
Other scoring systems might include a point for each winning hand, or points weighted for the rank of the winning hand. Each local area seems to enjoy inventing variety in the scoring, but unless there is an actual tournament involved, scoring is secondary to winning the monetary bet.