Rules of The Game: Roller Ball Murder

ROLLER BALL MURDER: Description and Rules 

Taken from the short story of the same name by William Harrison, originally published in Esquire in September 1973.



The track is oval, fifty yards long and thirty yards across, and is described as “high banked.”


Each team consists of twenty players: ten roller skaters, five motorbike riders, and five runners (or clubbers).

Runners have heavy leather gloves and carry a lacrosselike paddle, which are used to either field the game ball or bash opposing players.

Each team has five bikers, riding on 175cc motorbikes. Bikers are permitted to give runners a lift.

Players — each team:
Skaters — 10 players

Runners — 5 players
Motorbikers — 5
Total — 20

There are no substitutes.


Firing velocity — Over 300 miles per hour

About the size of a bowling ball

Weight — 20 lbs., and made of ebonite.
Balls are fired counterclockwise around the track, in the same direction players move.

Later in the story, the shape of the ball is changed from round to oblong, to randomize its movement and increase the likelihood of players being struck

The cannons are positioned on top of the banked area of track. If a ball goes to ground on the infield or strikes a player, another is automatically fired.

At the start of the story, only one ball is in play at a time; additional balls are added throughout the season until, in the All-Star Game at the end, 4 oblong balls are in play simultaneously.


(1) Judge:
One judge keeps track of the points scored.

(2) Game Referees:
Two Game Referees on the track, “whose job it is to see nothing amiss.”


A point is scored when a team’s runner manages to pass the opposing skaters, pick up a ball and pass it to one of their bikers.


(1) Play time — two hours. There are no rest periods or breaks. By the end of the story, there is no time limit and games go until there is no one left to score points.

(2) The only penalty mentioned in the story is: if a player fails to keep up and is lapped by his own team, he is forced to remove his helmet.


“The bikers ride high on the walls … and swoop down to help the runners at opportune times. The skaters, those of us with the juice for it, protest: we clog the way, try to keep the runners from passing us and scoring points, and become the fodder in the brawl. So two teams of us, forty in all, go skating and running and biking around the track while the big balls are fired in the same direction as we move — always coming up behind us to scatter and maim us — and the object of the game, fans, as if you didn’t know, is for the runners to pass all skaters on the opposing team, field a ball, and pass it to a biker for one point.”  — Jonathan E in “Roller Ball Murder”

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