Counting Coup

There's no sport like Saen-kaw. The roar of the crowd, the stone beneath your feet and the heft of the club in your hand. That feeling when you score a good, solid hit on the other Kaw. Of course, sometimes you get hit too. But pain is fleeting. Glory is eternal.   Choran, famous Saen-Kaw Duelist
  Saen-Kaw is a team sport based in the ancient practice of counting coup. Deceptively simple on the surface, teams have to use skill, daring and cooperation to win. The brute who simply swings a club around is no match for a master Saen-Kaw. It is one of the most widely practiced and enjoyed sports throughout the deep and the rivalry between fans of different teams is, as they say, with all the depth of the Far Deep.      

History of Saen-Kaw

  Saen-Kaw has its root in an ancient rite of war and passage, that of counting coup. The young warrior would approach his victim undetected and strike them with a special stick. The intent was never to harm or kill the enemy, but to prove one's daring and skill. As tribes became nations, the practice started to be more formalized and different variations on the rite started to show.   Counting the Coup had even been used to settle disputes or the outcome of battles, where champions would engage in a non-lethal duel to prove who was the superior warrior. As wars ended, the practice gradually morphed into a sport. As stealth made for poor spectator sport, teams were introduced and the focus shifted towards teamwork, skillful movement and cooperation.   The sport became known as Saen-Kaw and still bears many marks of its martial roots, such as the use of stylized weaponry and the war-dance.      

Playing Saen-Kaw


Teams and Tools

  Saen-Kaw is played in teams of five, one Kaw who holds the Coup and four armed Shi.   The teams may use staves, chains or paired tonfa in any configuration they chose, though the goal is not to injure opponents and in some cases doing so will lead to a foul. One member of the team starts with the Coup, the skull-capped wand or club which the games revolves around. Members may freely exchange weapons once the match has begun and rapidly passing the coup along the team is a frequent and integral strategy.    


  To score, the Kaw must strike the opposing team's Kaw with his Coup. Only strikes to the heads count as scoring blows, which is the only instance in which such a blow is legal in Saen-Kaw; if any but the Kaw strikes the head, it is a foul and usually penalized as sloppy. Eye-gouging, hair-pulling or fish-hooking are all illegal, as are striking a grounded or clinched opponent.   Wrestling is forbidden but clinching is not, except in the case of the Kaw. Saen-Kaw athletes incorporate quick sweeps and throws more than they hold onto their opponents in the prolonged clinch. Clinching is also used either to rest or restrain an opponent briefly or simply knee him or her in the stomach or legs to debilitate them.  
Fouls   The penalty for illegal blows and other breaches of the rules are simple: the first offense merits a warning and after that the judge removes weapons and players from the field for the duration of the round. They begin with one weapon then one player, though especially egregious fouls may merit both at the same time, at the referee's discretion. Only two players can be removed from the field from any one team, but an especially dishonest team may find themselves stripped of all but their Coup.

The Pit

  The field on which the game is played is called 'The Pit'. While those with the money to afford the creation of a dedicated arena, many lower level games of Saen-Kaw are placed anywhere there is sufficient room. Town centers, quarries or strip-mines have all hosted Saen-Kaw games and being able to adapt to the differences in terrain is considered the mark of a great team of Saen-Kaw practitioners.   Arenas made specifically for the game follow similar styles with the Pit is slightly lowered into the ground and shaped like capsule or octagon, roughly 50 to 60 feet in diameter. The sides are sealed off with fences with gates on either end for the teams to enter. Variants often add terrain features that the hosts of the game consider exciting such as uneven terrain, columns or even a river.  
At least one variant of Saen-Kaw features such terrain alterations heavily and have rules that involves using the terrain against the foe.

Winning and Losing


Matches of Saen-Kaw are played in rounds, typically between 2 and 6. To win a round, the Kaw must score thrice. Each time a scoring blow is struck, the teams are separated and the game quickly reset. If the Coup breaks during a match, the opposing team is awarded the round.   Rookie games usually last two rounds, regular games four and championship games six. There's typically no time limit and if either team is to injured too continue, the game is declared a wash: both teams lose.   The structure of rounds is set up for the possibility of draws, which results in the fan favorite moment: the duel. A duel is a one-on-one battle between Kaws, a single round that scores to three. While only strikes to the head score, striking elsewhere (other then the groin) is legal and often employed to 'soften up' the other Kaw. In the case of a duel, if one Kaw is unable to continue, they and their team lose.

The rules of Saen-Kaw are set up to encourage skill and cunning rather then brute strength. While debilitating your opponent and removing their ability to maneuver effectively is a time-honored and legal strategy, it must be employed carefully.   Fortunately for the violent, Saen-Kaw athletes are proud of their reputation for toughness and will often fight through injuries others would consider crippling.


Particularly well established teams sometime adorn the cap of their coup with the skulls of dead teammates, sometimes following an almost quasi-religious reverence for the artefact. These are typically some of the most decorated of Coups and given the Inner Shell's funeral rites, they are lavished with all the attention of a Shikei.   It is considered exceptionally bad luck for such a skull to break during a game.

A Coup stick, crowned with the head of famed Saen-Kaw athlete Chonan
by Sander Propworx
The skull of Choran, achieving glory at last.


Skill and Strategy

  Saen-Kaw places great emphasis of cunning and team work. Just battering the other team into submission isn't possible, so teams must be quick and clever. Team members with weapons either guard the Kaw or try to disrupt the formation of the enemy team to open an opportunity for their own Kaw to strike.  
'Skipping' is a strategy of quickly passing the Coup along the team to reposition the Kaw into a better position either defensively or offensively.
  In Saen-Kaw, positioning is everything. The Kaw is at once the vulnerable target and the scoring striker, so teams must position theirs carefully. Particularly skilled teams can toss the Coup across to suddenly change where their Kaw is; even better teams have been known to smack the Coup right out of the air and hope the skull crack on landing.  
The Duel   Almost a sport onto itself with a mix of fencing and martial arts, duels are popular enough that possessing a skilled duelist is a considerable asset for a Saen-Kaw team and matches between famed duelists outside of Saen-Kaw games are fashionable spectacles.

Saen-Kaw In The World

A Surface game of Saen-Kaw
  Saen-Kaw is played in some form or another in most populated city-states, with a few exceptions. Some are too far disconnected by winding tunnels and collapsed caverns to know the sports. A rare few try to ban the sport, typically to try and squash the populace from having a place to gather or incite riots from. This is rarely successful.  
Surface-Kaw?   Saen-Kaw is sometimes played on the surface by Outer Shell cities. With less space in their caves, it can make sense to move the game outside. These matches tend to play across larger areas as a result and involve more footwork and movement.
  While the most popular form of Saen-Kaw is the one above, the game come in several variants: without weapons, with larger teams, with different weapons, a smaller or larger field...   Almost as popular as watching the sport is betting on its outcome. Gamblers, managers and hustlers all flock to games of Saen-Kaw with fans betting on their favorites.  

Saen-Kaw Leagues

  Due to the difficulty of travelling in the underworld, the bigger leagues of Saen-Kaw tend to be regional. Clusters of city-states that can reach each other will frequently have teams of Saen-Kaw athletes that travel between them for games. Tournaments are popular and in these, it is common for teams to bulk up with additional reserve players in case of injury. Athletes who compete with skill and aggression are favored and popular figures, some becoming symbols of national pride.   A skilled team can make a good living from playing the game and dream of many to make it big in one of the large Saen-Kaw leagues. Wealthy patrons or even communities sponsor them and competition for skilled prospects is fierce.

Saen-Kaw Terms

  Kaw - The player holding the Coup; both the target for the enemy team and the only one who can score. It is not a static role, but whoever holds the Coup is at that point the Kaw.   Shi - Any player not currently holding the Coup and the role of Kaw.   Coup - Alternatively the act of scoring or the skull-tipped club with which to score.   Skipping - Quickly exchanging the Coup through several teammates to reposition the Kaw in the field.   Crippler - A team that relies more heavily on injuring their opponents than scoring through skill. A derisive term and Crippler teams are almost always the 'villains' in the leagues.   The Pit - The playing field.   Duelist - A player who specializes in duels. See rules for a draw.   Ta'i - The drumming music that accompany games of Saen-Kaw.   Saen-Khru - The war dance and chant performed by the teams at the beginning of each game.  
An Example Coup
by Far Cry Primal
  The state of their coup is often an indication of the teams wealth and status. A well kept and adorned coup is a sure sign that the team holds many victories, while one in disrepair belongs to a team on a losing streak or who have just started.  


  Other then the state of their Coup, a Saen-Kaw team is known by its Khru: a chant and a wardance to intimidate the foe and unify the team into an aggressive, cohesive force. The Saen-Kaw athletes will shout and slap their arms, legs and chest in unison, mimicking each others stance and step.   A well-performed Saen-Khru can demoralize an enemy before the match has even begun, while a poorly coordinated one indicates a lack of team cohesion or aggression.   Those with particularly poor form when it comes to the Saen-Khru are called "cave fish" after the blind, pale flopping things caught in underground streams and rivers.  
  An example Saen-Khru
Ta'i   No match of Saen-Kaw is complete without the Ta'i: drummers who stand behind a series of large drums to whip the crowd into a frothing frenzy before the game has begun and keep the tempo high during it. Ta'i drummers are highly respected professionals and it is a sign of wealth to be able to afford a full compliment of Ta'i drummers.  

To the death!

  Everyone has a story of a Saen-Kaw game that ended with death, of brutally violent matches.   In truth, fatalities in Saen-Kaw are not as common as they are sometimes depicted. The players are athletes rather then warriors and many are an investment for their team, their manager or their patron. Career-ending injuries are more frequent and those players who specialize in the role of Kaw those who suffer that fate the most.
The Saen-Kaw Trophy for the infamous War-Cry Tournament
Saen-Kaw Trophy

Cover image: by Miguel Eins


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15 Jul, 2018 04:48

Great work :)   I've already sent you all my proof-reading notes :)

16 Jul, 2018 11:31

They were great help! Thank you! :D

21 Jul, 2018 15:20

Not going to lie, this is probably one of the more well done articles on WA.   The Art is amazing and adds well to the sport. You use music in a fantastic way! The way you use quotes as excerpts of the rules is well done.   There is just a lot of great things in here. I'd love to see an example of a famous Saen-Khru after your explanation.

21 Jul, 2018 21:00

I'm blown away! <3   It was a really difficult prompt at first (because I know about as much about sport as I do about operating submarines) but once it clicked, it just clicked. :)   I'll definitely look into finding and adding a Saen-Khru example! I think I know a few good ones!   Thank you so much! :D

22 Jul, 2018 19:26

I added a video of what a Saen-Khru might look like <3

21 Jul, 2018 17:01

As always, you don't fail to impress. Amazing work!

21 Jul, 2018 20:58

Awh, thank you so much! :D

21 Jul, 2018 17:20

Wow.   Just wow.   Excellent structure, detail, use of images... everything.

21 Jul, 2018 20:59

<3   I'm glad you enjoyed the read! :D

21 Jul, 2018 18:05

This is a little less bloody than I expected for your standards, especially after noticing that 2 people at least made a sport that kills people. Still a very good article! I start to know why you "only" put out one article per day!

21 Jul, 2018 20:54

Thank you kindly! ^.^

7 Aug, 2018 18:10

Such great overall description, art, and use of audio! I felt immersed, my attention capturing a vision of your world's culture when I read each section. :)

7 Aug, 2018 18:48

Awh, thank you! <3   I'm pretty pleased with it! My first use of audio! :D

Venerable Grandmaster Shaudawn
Shaudawn (a.k.a. Donovan)
9 Aug, 2018 04:59

I could visualize this being played as I read the article. Very well done, and I corporating video and audio as well really rounds it out. I especially like the integration--you not only describe the event, but link it to economics, politics, religious beliefs, and even the geography of your world. An excellent and enjoyable example. Bravo!

9 Aug, 2018 05:39

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :D   Yeah, I think it's always important to put things into context. That's when things really get interesting, like that time two sports fan-clubs almost brought down an empire in real life history.