Friday, September 18, 2020

Developing (Blood Bowl) Players

Let's dive right in, shall we?

Since the 3rd edition of Blood Bowl arrived on the scene in 1994, player development (that is the players on the pitch, i.e. the little dwarf and ogre teammates, etc. NOT the real people sitting opposite each other across the game board who are referred to as "coaches")...*AHEM* Since 1994 development of BB players has followed pretty much the same rules:
  • Coach purchases a ROOKIE player for a set cost, depending on species and position. Large monsters (ogres, minotaurs, etc.) are more expensive, as are skill positions (throwers, blitzers, etc.). Each player has a different stat line and skill set based on its species and position; the baseline position for all teams is the lineman, the in-the-trench grunt who gets beat up while the fancier guys skip around the field scoring touchdowns. 
  • Players earn STAR PLAYER POINTS (SPPs) for accomplishing notable actions in-game: completing passes, scoring touchdowns, intercepting balls, and inflicting casualties. As players reach certain break points, they advance from "rookie" to "experienced" to "veteran" to "star" status with each advance earning them a a stat bonus, a new skill, or (for chaos mutants) a new mutation...the specific advance is determined in part by random die roll.
  • Players eventually "max out" after six or seven advances (depending on edition). Some editions use different titles for "star" status ("developing star" versus "superstar" etc.) and different SPP values for advancement, but the basics remain the same: if your player survives and makes plays they advance and become a bigger and bigger star. In some supplemental rules (4E and 5E) this also results in the player costing the team more and more money ("appearance fees"); in ALL editions starting with 3E it results in an increase of TEAM VALUE which is how teams are measured against each other for handicapping purposes.
  • Conversely, players who accomplish nothing NEVER develop. That basic human lineman that has played and survived a dozen games is still a rookie, has no SPPs, and no skills. The player adds nothing to the team and is easily replaced with another rookie lineman (for the same cost and value) if some mummy or troll splatters his skull all over the field.
Twice owned
by yours truly

The concept of player skills was introduced in the Blood Bowl Star Players book in 1989 (for 2nd edition Blood Bowl) but the objective appears to have been an attempt to model the superstar players (like Griff Oberwald or Morg n'Throg) of the setting fluff (derived, or course, from the real world NFL). Unlike later editions of BB, position players in 2nd edition had NO SKILLS...newly hired thrower had no "Pass" skill, receivers had no "Catch" skill, nada. Instead, 2E Blood Bowl players have an expanded stat line that includes TS (throwing skill), CL ("cool"...catching ability), and SP ("sprint"), all of which varies from position to position. Compare for example, a 2E human blitzer to a 2E human thrower:

Blitzer: MA 4 SP +3 ST 4 AG 3 TS +0 CL +0 AV 9
Thrower: MA 4 SP +3 ST 3 AG 3 TS +1 CL +0 AV 8

Meanwhile, the same players in later editions read like this:

Blitzer: MA 7 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skills: Block
Thrower: MA 6 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skill: Pass, Sure Hands

The blitzer's high strength (used in determining block ability) has been knocked down from 2E, but the addition of the Block skill makes it a wash. Similarly, the removal of TS from the stat line makes the thrower less accurate when passing BUT the additional Pass skill provides an automatic reroll when failing a pass.

All well and good: different methods of accomplishing the same end. Now let's look at the basic lineman in each:

2E: MA 4 SP +2 ST 3 AG 3 TS +0 CL +0 AV 9
3E: MA 6 ST 3 AG 3 AV 8, Skills: None

The 3E lineman is actually a little faster (since he can sprint an extra 1 to 2 spaces in addition to his regular Movement Allowance), but is a little easier to injure (roll over Armor Value)...however, since you don't have Big Guys dropping a +2 (or higher!) Mighty Blow skill on you, the latter's not as big a penalty as you might think. 

But here's the difference: the BBSP doesn't offer any rules for development of a character. At all. The player is either a star or he's not; he either has skills or he's "just a guy." Forever and ever, Amen.

A "star" in 2E has from one to seven skills and/or stat advances, the exact number determined randomly. Regardless of whether you are a one skill star or a seven skiller (like the aforementioned Griff Oberwald), you're a "star." And a team is limited to having a maximum of eight star players, unlike later Blood Bowl which has the potential to develop every member of the roster. 

[and given the gradual nerfing of death rules through the editions, possessing a team with a dozen or more "stars" isn't terribly unlikely over the long haul, even getting really draconian with appearance fees and retirement rules...something I suspect most Blood Bowl leagues don't last long enough to really implement]

But just because there's a limit to the number of skilled "stars" in 2nd edition doesn't mean half your team is composed of "rookies." Au contraire, a rookie is a specific type of player in 2E (more on that's in a moment)...most non-star players are either "experienced" or "veteran," neither of which means what it means in 3rd+ editions (i.e. the stepping stone to "star player" status). 

Hit pause for a moment: consider the National Football League. All the players are top athletes: the best of the best of best players. But how many are bonafide stars? Not every QB is Russell Wilson or Patty Mahomes or (*sigh*) Ben Roethlisberger. Not every receiver is Julio Jones; not every running back is Barry Sanders (for you young 'uns, he was pretty good). Amongst stars, yes, there is a pecking order: not all stars are equal, even at the same position. But there are also a lot, a LOT of "just guys" in the NFL, at every position. Ryan Fitzpatricks and Robert Woods. Not every tight end in the NFL has the potential to be a Rob Gronkowski...sometimes you just end up with Tyler Higbee, you know?

In 5E BB, a Journeyman player is "some guy off the street" willing to play for nothing, with no skill and no potential. 2E has a different term for these roster fillers: Makeweights (and they are aptly named). 5E's use of the term "journeyman" is, frankly, an insult to journeyman players in professional sports who are top athletes with little star potential but skill enough and discipline enough to have lasting professional (if not extraordinary) careers. Such players are well-modeled by the development rules found in the 2nd edition Companion book

Players hired when building a team in 2E are assumed to be "experienced" unless you pay extra to hire a "star" (in which case you build the character randomly using the rules in BBSP). Rather than earn SPPs, players earn experience points (EPs) which can be turned into training points (TPs) between matches, so long as the team isn't playing exhibitions or actively seeking sponsors (both of which activities are used to drum up extra funds for the organization). EPs are earned for doing the flashy things one earns SPPs for in the later editions, but also for simply surviving a match and handling the football (1 EP is earned for each, assuming playtime). TPs can be used to turn an experienced player into a veteran, or teach a skill position to a lineman (converting the lineman to a thrower or catcher, for example), or to learn or practice "special tactics" that will gain the team bonus re-rolls in their next match. 

Veteran players are savvy SOBs who receive one individual team reroll every game.

Rookies in 2nd edition are a different beast: these are those fresh faced kids being drafted out of college that have the potential to become stars...but might not. Available rookies are determined randomly by the league coaches, dicing for species, position, and star potential. Rookies are bid on by coaches (unlike an actual NFL draft) and then added to the roster as one of the team's starting sixteen (First Team) or on the practice squad (Bench Warmers). However, a coach doesn't know if the rookie is going to develop into a star or not unless the kid gets some playing time and training.

Here's how it works: a rookie's star potential is determined by rolling a D6. Once the rookie has 5 training points (only possible after earning 5 experience points...see above), the coach can convert the rookie into an experienced player. The coach then rolls 2D6...if the roll is equal to or less than the rookie's star potential number, the player becomes a star with additional (star) skills being determined randomly and added to its profile. If the 2D6 roll is over the player's star potential, then the player simply becomes "experienced" (and may become a veteran later)...but will never become a star. Sorry, Charlie: sometimes you end up with Aaron Rodgers, and sometimes you just get Colt McCoy.

And I have to say: I like this a lot better than latter edition Blood Bowl. Not only is it EASIER than trying to track a whole roster of players with myriad potential skills and customizable content, but it better models the reality of football: most players are "just guys" at their position, while others exhibit spectacular advances over their peers. This might be better speed, greater strength, pinpoint accuracy, soft hands, or MULTIPLE talents...but you never know. How many number one draft choices have the Seahawks taken in the last decade that have been "busts?" Most, if not all. And yet, sometimes you "hit" on a late round pick (Russell Wilson in the 3rd round, Richard Sherman in the 5th, etc.). Do you draft for position of need? Or position of potential? I find that particular aspect of the NFL draft fascinating, and would LOVE to have it in Blood Bowl. You can get it with these rules.

That being said, the 2E development rules aren't perfect: certainly it can takes years to develop a star NFL player to their fullest potential...five or more when you're talking real world quarterbacks. I don't think it's quite right that a rookie develop ALL their new skills in one shot...probably a gradual system is needed using the TPs to "buy" upgraded abilities once a coach has discovered the rookie is a bonafide star. There might also be a way to model "careful" training, or learning behind a veteran starter to increase a rookie's star potential (like Rodgers learning behind Favre or Steve Young learning behind Joe Montana). Lots of possibilities here.

Even so, it's pretty exciting stuff. To me, at least.
; )


  1. I always found my BB players would die long before they reached anything like "max" stats in any edition, but our local scene was brutal and anyone who got more than one or two advances would get targeted by fouls (usually from players with Dirty Foul or whatever it was called, the skill that added to the injury roll on fouls) till they died.

    My fondest memory is having a halfling player who managed to reach four advances in 3rd edition before his untimely demise. Pinky Beefchugger truly earned his spot in the Hall of Fame. :)

    1. I've always loved the halflings, and have had a fully painted team since the 3rd edition came out with the figures: had to buy a bag full of blister packs (2 hobs to a pack) as that was the only way to get them. 2E had a star player (Ernald Spiritburner) with a level 3 mighty blow skill (+3 to AV and injury rolls) that was dastardly.

      Brutally targeting stars is one "long game" strategy...especially for coaches with bashy teams (Chaos, Orks, etc.). Most folks try to develop multiple speed guys with block and dodge to ensure survivability from such low down play.