When I was young, I remember being at a bowling alley with my dad as he practiced or bowled in leagues or tournaments. I learned early and bowled often until high school, only to give it up for “more important” things. While I was away from home in the Air Force, I picked up bowling again with some other airmen. I have been bowling since, now bowling on the same teams as my dad.
One of the great things about bowling is that it has multiple aspects to it. It can be very fun and social, extremely competitive, played solo against all others or on teams of two to five bowlers. You will be hard pressed to find a league or tournament that isn’t the subject of prizes and side bets (the latter is one of the reasons the current “ten pin” bowling came about). The history of bowling is long and varied, with each group or region modifying it as suited their needs. In some areas it was simply rocks or wooden balls thrown on grassy areas to knock down sticks or just hit other balls (similar to bocce ball). In more urban settings, wooden lanes are used with wooden pins and wooden balls. Evidence even exists that ancient Egyptian children had a form of bowling. Over the millennia the game is still primarily the same: roll a ball at sticks to knock them down. For a long time, the game was played with 9 pins standing in a square (three rows of three). Eventually, in the United States in the 1840s it was made illegal to try and put a stop to all the gambling that had risen up around the game. It was at this point that the current incarnation of bowling (ten pins) was created to get around these laws.
Taking all of this into account, I think it would be a simple thing to import the game of bowling into Pathfinder. I would think that the Pathfinder’s Society would be a likely candidate for forming leagues to be played in all corners of the world. Think of it as a way to build camaraderie and competition while also having a piece of home no matter where they are. Let’s look at some of the base checks it would take to play the game in character, and trust me, it takes a lot “brain” than “brawn” to be a good bowler. Profession (bowler) would be a good basis for the skill of bowling with the Wisdom modifier, as you have to rely on a lot of practice and experience with taking into account the playing field and the equipment and how they all interact with your physical abilities. It does require some physical skill, but the playing field can change that. If you are playing on a soft or bumpy ground, strength would be more useful then dexterity, while dexterity would be much more useful on a smooth wooden surface (especially if we use grease/oil). Therefore, based on surface and ball weight, you can gain a bonus based on those stats. Additionally, Sleight of Hand would be helpful at spinning the ball to make it move in a non-linear fashion. The skill checks below assume a simple 60 ft. wooden lane (with gutters), simple 3 lb. wooden pins, and simple wooden balls between 6-16 pounds.
Profession (bowling) DCs
DC 11 – Hit one pin (for each 1 over DC 10, you hit an additional adjacent pin)
DC 16 – Hit two pins that are not adjacent (for each 5 over DC 16 you hit an additional non-adjacent pin)
DC 19 – Strike (nine-pin bowling)
DC 20 – Strike (ten-pin bowling)
Profession (bowling) DC Modifiers
-2 DC for each 10 ft. the lane is shorter than 60 ft.
+2 DC if there is oil/grease on the lane (per 10 ft. of lane containing oil)
+5 DC if gravel or hard grass lane instead of wooden lane
+10 DC if sand or soft grass lane instead of wooden lane
Profession (bowling) Checks
+Dex bonus on wooden lane
+Str bonus on sand or soft grass lane
+1/2 Dex bonus and +1/2 Str bonus on gravel or hard grass lane
+1 bonus on wooden lane if you have 10 ranks in Sleight of Hand or Finesse (Pathfinder Unchained)
+1 bonus on non-wooden lanes for every 5 ranks you have in Athletics (Pathfinder Unchained)
+2 bonus using rubber ball on wooden lane
+2 bonus using glass ball on sand or soft grass lane
As far as playing/simulating a game’s score in Pathfinder, you have a couple options. The first would be to simply play out ten frames as in real life, rolling the check once to see if how many pins you knock down. Knocking them all down is a strike. If you don’t get a strike, you get a second chance to knock down the remainder. If you know how to keep score in bowling, feel free to score the game that way. A maximum score is 300. Otherwise, you could simply total the pins you knock down, with a +5 for each strike. This would have a maximum score of 150. Highest score wins the game. Another way of scoring the game would be to simply add the sum of 10 checks with the highest total the winner. You could also set a target score, and see which player reaches that score first by simply adding the sum of the checks. While you could simply have a single check to determine a winner, this would greatly simplify the concept of an entire game and would be more suited for gambling on individual frames or trick shots.
If downtime rules are in play, and you wish to use your Profession (bowling) skill to make money, then your income would reflect hours spent at a bowling establishment or location. Earning money usually comes in the form of gambling on games, frames, trick shots, or the like. In more places where bowling is more established, you could have a wealthy patron that has sponsored your or your team to bowl in exhibition events, leagues, or tournaments.