Thursday, October 15, 2020

Blank Show

I am sorry...deeply, deeply sorry...that I have been unable to offer anything interesting, intelligent, or entertaining to read this week. I have two cars and both were in the shop this week (different days) while I waited. One child has been working on the "getting-back-to-school" procedure. The other child had soccer practices (with social distancing). It's been a long week and I just...haven't...had...the...opportunity...to...write.

Plus, the Blood Bowl stuff got put away. I was going to post some pix, use them to illustrate the updated rules, etc. But I wanted my dining room back. And so did the wife. And I just haven't had the time to do any "staging" for blog posts. Not with cooking duties, too (tonight it's baby back ribs...$3 a pound means I can do a feast for the family for under $20, including sides).

So, I'm sorry. I can't offer my own distraction from the s*** show that is the current state of our "election season." The current state of our world. It's f***ing depressing is what it is. I'M depressed. And life is pretty good (pork ribs! de-lish!).

I've got a few things planned...mostly stuff about demons and necromancers (I'm in that kind of a mood). But the kids have tomorrow off school so it might take me a while to get it written up and posted. 

What I can do is offer my personal martini recipe. Drinking it myself tonight, and it goes like this:

  • 5 parts Bombay Saphire gin
  • 1 part Martini&Rossi extra dry vermouth
  • 3 "Spanish Queen" martini olives 
  • Skewer olives and place in martini glass. Pour gin and vermouth into a shaker of ice (half full). Shake vigorously. Pour through strainer into glass (no ice!). 

I have large martini glasses (they were a Christmas gift from my mom last year), so I double up on the booze. The extra olive is for my wife. Anyway, it works...especially if the object is to deal with the blankshow. Best to get blankfaced.

To be perfectly blunt, at this point I don't think we need any more "debates" or "town hall meetings." If you haven't made up your mind about who to vote for, you haven't been paying attention the last four years. You either like what's going on or you're beyond tired of it. Can we just vote before Halloween? Jeez. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find something for my children to watch on TV. They were hoping the new season of The Mandalorian was dropping, but that's not till the 30th. 

Cheers, people.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Friday Snark

High Elves: More than any other kind of Elf, the High Elves allow little to interfere with their lives of pleasure. They are the core of their race, living in the cities of the Elven Kingdoms and scorning travel. To these people, working for a living is regarded as a sign of personal failure. Few High Elves ever leave the Elven Kingdoms, though a few younger, more adventurous individuals might do so as a form of vacation, or for the 'experience.' These travelers cannot help but irritate the other races they encounter by their patronizing and overbearing attitude. Lynchings of such individuals are not uncommon.

One might think I'm quoting a passage from Blood Bowl, a game that both satirizes and parodies American football (and fantasy game species) with a snarky...if good spirited...attitude. But I'm not. Instead I'm quoting the "grimdark" RPG known as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, specifically the section of the game's bestiary dealing with elves. 

What I find especially amusing about this passage is setting it down next to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons PHB which states in no uncertain terms that

Elven player characters are always considered to be high elves, the most common sort of elf.

[emphasis added by yours truly]

Typical.

WFRP is a good game, and one that I never got to play enough of "back in the day." But that's (mainly) because I had D&D, as well as DragonQuest and Stormbringer (both of which filled particular needs not met by D&D). And for all its neat ideas, it's not much different from D&D in terms of system. But it's a great read and full of punchy attitude.

ANYway...just a little break from the Blood Bowl talk. Started a post about penalties, but I'll save that for tomorrow or something.

Happy Friday.

: )

Thursday, October 8, 2020

League Updates (BB)

We're a quarter done with the NFL season and despite the Tennessee Titans fiasco and the general state of our post-Covid world, things are progressing more-or-less "business as normal." Yeah, both scoring and injuries have proliferated throughout the League, but the usual suspects are still the usual suspects (as relates to Blood Bowl), and if reality starts to emulate fantasy more than ever...well, that's just par for the course in a surreal 2020.

In our own League (previously called the Beagles & Beers BB League), we have likewise adopted some "Covid protocols." Rather than reworking/rewriting the fan/gate/stadium rules, we've punted the issue: no fans allowed (this ain't no Florida). Likewise, our season has been shortened (8-10 games) and the lack of a "preseason" has resulted in an absence of team re-rolls (again punting on a sticky issue in the 2E rules). Will we have extra teams in the playoffs as the NFL has chosen to do? Maybe...but right now we're limiting inter-conference play to NIL, meaning we may not even worry about anything beyond the conference championship.

The kid set up this display the other day for
"show and share;" at least half
a dozen teams are still in their boxes. At least.

With regard to the NFL, I don't see many updates needed from my previous analysis. Adding dark elf Tom Brady to the Buccaneers doesn't make Tampa Bay any less of a chaos dwarf team. Yes, the Eagles have been breaking like skaven, but I'll not going back on my prior update: humans break, too. As do dwarves (sorry San Fran)...I found that out to my chagrin, as a string of bad rolls (well, good for my opponent) saw the wood elves put a third of my dwarf team in the casualty box. Here are the modifications to my team picks that I might consider:

Buffalo is FINALLY looking "human" again. They broke me down over 20+ years to make me change to hobbit...could a human team really be that bad for that long? No...but they could be exceptionally mediocre which, in the NFL, amounts to about the same thing. Took my son a while to learn how to win with a human team, but he's gotten much more competitive...I can see how a team with 10 coaches over 20 years might have similar "growing pains."

Jaguars as Amazons: not a modification, but rather a confirmation. Ever since (former WSU QB) Gardner Minshew was given the reins of the offense, I've been following the Jags and pulling for them in the AFC South. Unfortunately, they are suffering from the same frustratingly slow development one sees in the Amazons. Such great potential...but so slow and easily broken before they can get "geared up." Still, I have great hopes for Minshew down the line.

Hairy (and quick) feet.

Cardinals
they're halflings dammit, they just are. Larry Fitzgerald isn't a ghoul...he's a long-lived high elf that the hobbits somehow lucked into. The Cards are, in fact, a version of the traditional 2E "mixed teams:" an amalgamation of several disparate player types all looking for a land of eternal sunshine. Halfling is their "base" type...I don't know why I allow flash in the pan seasons to sway my long-held opinions developed over years of evidence. Yes, Kyler Murray is awesome. He is also smaller than Russell Wilson. That makes him a hobbit. Hobbit, hobbit, hobbit.

An immortal...with
great hair.

The Tennessee Titans
are still goblins...now more than ever. They're  just goblins with the 'Rona. In the fantasy world we'd probably substitute an outbreak of Nurgle's Rot due to a particularly nasty match with a Plague team. However, the Saints don't even play in the same conference...heck, the Titans aren't even playing the NFC South this year. Tennessee bumbled into its own pestilence here.  Bunch of diseased goblins.

Panthers: still at a loss for how to typecast this team. Still. Cam Newton's gone (as is Riverboat Ron) but they still have Bridgewater doing designed run plays? What is THAT all about? Strong running game, I guess...DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Steward, Christian McCaffrey. But Steve Smith? Maybe he's the odd duck of the team. Dwarves? No, too big. Cam is too big. Orcs? Maybe. Yeah, maybe. Smith as a goblin. Newton as a blitzer with a great arm. Yeah, I'm strongly thinking orc at the moment, especially considering some of their past defenses. Greg Olsen (now a Seahawk) as a really fast lineorc; sure, it fits. All right...orc it is.

Everything else stays the same. 

; )

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Blitz

First things first: congrats to the Seattle Storm winning their fourth championship, and in truly dominating fashion (they could have been named the Seattle Brooms for the number of series sweeps they've had in the playoffs over the years). By the 3rd period of yesterday's final, it was clear that Vegas had all but tapped out, and the Storm just dropped the hammer, nearly doubling up the Aces 92-59. It's not really fair for one team to have as much talent as Seattle does: even with (finals MVP) Breanna Stewart on the bench for a good chunk with foul trouble, Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada were absolute beasts, and the ageless Sue Bird kept her team rolling like a steamroller, despite Las Vegas possessing the league MVP A'ja Wilson. Very cool to bring another trophy home to Sea-town.

[and props to Megan Rapinoe for rocking a Def Lepard t-shirt as she cheered on girlfriend Bird]

Okay. Onto Blood Bowl. One of the many (small) annoyances with the Blood Bowl game is its appropriation of (American) football terms for unrelated game concepts. For the most part, it's not too bad (see? I wrote "small" annoyances), but one of the really egregious misuses is with the term "blitz" epitomized in the player position called the "blitzer."

Here's what the game says about blitzers (from 2nd edition Blood Bowl):

These highly-skilled players are usually the stars of the game, combining strength and skill with great speed flexibility. All the most glamorous Blood Bowl players are blitzers, since they are at the heart of the action and doing very impressive things! Their usual job is to burst a hole through the opponent's lines, and then run with the ball to score. Team captains are usually blitzers, and all of them without exception are bossy, big-headed show-offs.

"Blitz" is a mascot, not a blitzer.

Originally, most teams were limited to a maximum of two blitzers (dwarf teams were the exception with four), and many teams (undead, goblins, halflings, elves) had no blitzers at all! 

[ugh...that reminds me I still haven't published my post on team positions and rosters]

Despite the inclusion of "blitz" in the name of the star position, there was no actual "blitzing" in 2E (unless one played with the official NAF rules...more on that in a moment).  This changed in 3E with the addition of the "blitz action:" once per turn, a single player was allowed to both block (i.e. hit an opponent) AND move. When executing a blitz action, the player may make their block at any point during their normal movement...it can represent bursting through the defensive line, or stiff-arming a defensive back, or chasing down an opposing ball carrier to deliver a big hit. This blitz action (and its limitation of "one time per turn") has been a part of the game ever since.

Problem is, in terms of American football, this still isn't a blitz.

A "blitz" (from the German word for lightning) is the term used for the defensive tactic of bringing extra pressure again an opponent, hoping to make a big play (a sack or tackle for loss) or...at the minimum...disrupt the timing and psychology of a passing quarterback. 

What is meant by "extra pressure?" Well, in an 11 on 11 game, the offense (generally) has five eligible receivers (yes, the QB is eligible, too, but only if someone else is handling the ball). Even if you get a hat on a hat with regard to the down linemen, that still gives the defense SIX players to defend those eligible receivers...which is often necessary because of the speed and talent of receivers and the inability of the defense to know what the offense's specific plan of attack is. Sending that extra player to try tackling the ball carrier in the backfield can be effective, but it leaves fewer players in coverage...and a QB that can make a quick decision and who anticipates the blitz can feast on blitzing defenses. 

On the other hand, if your offensive line is already overmatched, a blitzing defense can lead to a long, painful day for a team's quarterback.

All of which is to say: the blitz action in modern (3+ edition) Blood Bowl is completely unrelated to the defensive tactic called blitzing in American football. 

Now in modern Blood Bowl, there is one other application of the term: on the kick-off table (rolled randomly at the start of every drive) there exists the possibility of rolling a "Blitz!" in which case the defense (i.e. the team not starting with the ball) gets a bonus turn before the offense makes their first move. This is a callback to the "official NAF rules" found in the 2E Blood Bowl Companion, which offered the following, more-like-real-football rule:

THE BLITZ: Once per drive, the defence [sic] may declare a blitz which allows them to move first, before the offence [sic]. The blitz must be declared as soon as the defence sets up.

Since the NAF rules only allows four downs to score (and, also, because 2E Blood Bowl allows multiple moving block actions) the impact of the blitz rule can be devastating, even without players auto-fumbling when tackled. That being said, it is definitely closer to the spirit of gridiron football, both in terms of function and effect and we have been using a modified version of the NAF blitz in our games. Specifically:

  • We allow four downs to cross midfield (i.e. the 50 yard line) and a second set of downs to score
  • We require an offense to punt on 4th down if they fail to cross midfield unless they trail the other team in points and it is already the second half.
  • We allow the defense a second opportunity to blitz once a team crosses midfield.

What this does in play is create an interesting "chess match" between the two coaches. While we have introduced some "star player" skills that allow an offense to offset the effectiveness of a defensive blitz, generally speaking a blitz will be able to down the ball carrier for a loss unless the coach has some really poor luck with dice rolling. The real question is determining the best time to bring the blitz, based on situation and team set-up. If the kick-off pins the offensive coach near the goal line, a blitz can result in a safety for the defense. On the other hand, saving your blitz till 4th down (assuming you can hold the offense down) gives the defense a good chance to block a punt or field goal attempt!

It's worked quite well in practice, but it's still not really football. In football you can blitz every down...and be carved up by most any QB worth his salt. Of course, in real football, you only need to move the ball ten yards to get a fresh set of downs...it's a trade-off for playability that I'm willing to live with.

But I really, really can't stand the term "blitzer." Sorry, Griff Oberwald...a blitzer is a player who rushes the passer instead of dropping back in coverage. Your skill set says running back (tailback, halfback, whatever)...but even being the top scorer doesn't equal "the most glamorous" players on the pitch. That's the quarterback, man.

More on this (including position updates) later.

You can't fight a Storm; you
just try to weather it. 


Friday, October 2, 2020

Blue Friday

Welp, it's "Blue Friday" again...the Friday before a Seahawks weekend, a day when all fans of the team are supposed to show their support by wearing team merch around town. 'Course I've been wearing the gear all week anyway, since that's most of what my closet is stuffed with: comfortable t-shirts with logos.

*sigh*  This isn't what I want to talk about.

Last night I stayed up in hopes of watching another episode or two of Lovecraft Country, a new television show that I find delightful in every way (I'm about four shows into the series). Yes, I mean that sincerely...delightful. Everything about it. Even as it makes me squirm and shake watching it. And I'm not a horror aficionado by any means.

[though, yes, I've been a Lovecraft fan since age 14 or 15. Had to give my wife an extensive crash course on HPL...his life, writings, and pulp fiction in general...halfway through the first episode as she was completely lost. She is entirely ignorant of...and unconcerned with...the kind of historical geekery that JB enjoys swimming in...]

But, of course, this didn't get to happen as the news came out about Trump and the Covid.

...

...

I've spent a lot of this week NOT writing about politics, despite several fiery rants rolling around in my brain. I know...well, I strongly suspect...that my words will do little to change anyone's political leanings or decisions, just as they undoubtably fail to sway people away from 5th edition D&D. Mainly, I'd just be belittling and abusing people which, as I've written before, ain't all that constructive.

So let me just say this: it doesn't make me happy that Trump and his cronies are passing around the 'Rona to each other like [pick your derogatory analogy]. It's not surprising (and shouldn't be surprising, unless you're an idiot that disregards science and believes Trump's lies about "fake news") given his behavior. But it doesn't make me happy. I think it likely there'll be severe (i.e. "disastrous") consequences to this turn of events. Yet another storm to weather in 2020.

I will continue to pray to God for both justice and solace. I will try to be a kinder, better human being.

With regard to Blood Bowl...I'm again down at halftime 7-6, after missing both an extra point attempt and a field goal attempt in the closing minutes of the 2nd quarter. Despite feeling like there's a problem with the rules (I should be dominating!) the simple fact is I've had a run of bad luck. My chaos renegades team, the Monks of Doom, have yet to inflict a single casualty, despite fielding two trolls and an ogre...that's just improbable. Though it doesn't help that I've been trying to use the ogre as a ball carrier; in retrospect, that wasn't a great decision.

I am currently writing up the basic NAF rules, but it's slow going. I was hoping to do something small, but it was up to ten pages when I knocked off yesterday...basically, it appears I'm going to end up rewriting the damn game from scratch. Not "delightful," and definitely not what I intended. Despite that, the rules really seem to work well in practice. I'll have to post some photos one of these days.

Ah, heck...here's a quick one:

Yeah, that's one dead mutant in the dugout.

The human Titan Eagles have 1st down at the 30, and have chosen to go with an empty backfield and a "spread" formation (you can't see him in the photo, but there's another catcher just off-camera to the left. Clearly the Monks are in trouble...especially as I now count they have an illegal formation with 12 men on the field (each of the large monsters count as two). That was my daughter's doing (she set-up the defense)...I'll have to correct that before the snap, so the ref doesn't blow his whistle!

Have a good weekend, people. Stay safe and healthy.

***EDIT: You know what? I am totally going to bum rush his center with my ogre nose tackle. Going to start this drive with a sack, baby!***

The QB is toast.



Monday, September 28, 2020

Monday Night Football

  *chirp*chirp*chirp*  (those are the crickets, excited for yet another Blood Bowl post)

[hey, folks! I know that I am constantly abusing my readership by writing about football and Blood Bowl instead of, say, B/X Dungeons & Dragons. I get it...that's not what y'all signed up for. But dammit, shouldn't SOMEone on the internet be blogging about the original "fantasy football" game? Until a different nerd comes along and starts doing it, I'm going to consider myself the designated blogger for all things Blood Bowl related]

[actually, even if someone else DID start a Blood Bowl blog it probably wouldn't stop me. Really, I just can't help myself!]

This is not the post about rosters and positions I have sitting on the draft board...it continues to sit like a third string rookie on the bench. But I wanted to give a couple updates before I got back to more "serious" and "studied" meanderings.

Our new Blood Bowl rules are pretty darn good. There are a couple tweaks that are needed...things like reacting to a hand-off in the backfield...but, generally they're working great. I am very, very pleased.

We made it through two full games this weekend (using the new kick-off rules), which is pretty good considering that our time was pretty limited (we're just a very busy household) and the "growing pains" learning a new system. The first match was an orcs-human match-up that went all the way down to the last play of the game: the orcs, down 12-9 had marched the length of the field but were stopped short of the goal line. Linking up to kick a chip shot field goal (to send the game to overtime) the humans crashed the line and tipped the kick, sending the greenskins down in defeat. Pretty glorious overall...and *I* was the one on the losing side!

Our second game also went right to the end but the teams are even more disparate: elves versus dwarves. I thought this one had the potential to be a massacre one way or another, but the dwarves were actually leading 7-0 at halftime. And while the casualties did pile up on the elven side (a total of six by the end), the dwarves weren't far behind (finishing the game with five). 

The dwarves' halftime elation was short-lived as the elves received the kickoff to start the 3rd quarter and proceeded to score a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage. THEN a normally sure-handed dwarf running back fumbled on the first play of the shorties' next possession, giving the elves a short field to score a go ahead touchdown. 

The dwarves then drove the length of the field, using a "hurry up offense" in the last quarter (and judicious use of time outs) to work the clock and score in the waning minutes of the game. Unfortunately, the extra point attempt was wide right and the dwarves ended up falling 14-13. Again...my team lost. But while I know a good coach shoulders the responsibility of defeat himself, in this case I have no choice but to throw my players under the bus for their poor execution. How do you miss an extra point?!??!

I'm going to guess the dark elves are having that exact conversation today in Dallas after blowing two such kicks against the Seahawks.

But how 'bout them dark elves, huh? Man, yesterday the orcs looked...well, pretty much like orcs trying to defend against an elvish passing game. Sunshine or no (I suppose the charitable could blame the Cowboys' turnovers and gaffes on a non-overcast sky), Dak sure can sling that rock, huh? Thank goodness our guy can, too.

Tonight, we've got the humans (Chiefs) versus chaos (Ravens) and, apologies but I'm still working out my rules for mutations, because otherwise I'd try running this game on my own tabletop to see how they stack up. As it is, I guess I'll just have to watch Monday Night Football like a normal person. Jeez.

; )

Friday, September 25, 2020

Times A-Wasting

AKA Fixin' Kickin' Part Un

[damn. That reminds me: I was dreaming I was speaking French. Weird]

Twenty years ago today I was married to my wife at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. While we count our "official anniversary" as our later wedding day in Mexico (in April), I will probably be a little busier than usual around the house today. Also, my kids are doing their Panther Spirit Sprint school pledge drive (remotely) this afternoon...somehow, in the pouring rain. Well, probably indoors.

As such, today's post will be short.

Fixed the kick-off rules for what I'm calling my "advanced Blood Bowl" system (ABB? maybe). The issue was just how loooooong it was taking: even forcing players to set up in specific areas, like the NFL (all players on the kicking team are required to lineup on the 35 yard line, for example, five on each side of the kicker), working out the kick was just too bleeping harry...two kick-offs added at least an hour and fifteen (or more) to the game time, and that was in one HALF.

So INSTEAD we are now going to be rolling dice:

When making a KICK-OFF, the kicking team coach rolls 2D6. The result is subtracted from 13 to determine the starting row in which the ball will be placed; ball placement always starts in the center file. For example, on a roll of 7, the ball will be placed on the center square of row six (the 25 yard line) counting the first row outside the endzone as "1" (the endzone would be "row zero"). If the final result is 2 or less, the receiving team runs back the kick-off or a touchdown. Kick-offs do not advance the time clock.

Modifiers:

  • Big boot skill allows the kicker to re-roll the kick-off table result.
  • An active player with kick return may subtract 1 from the final result.
  • Dwarves, halflings, chaos dwarves, and undead subtract 2 from their kick-off rolls.
  • Goblins, skaven, and lizard man teams subtract 1 from their kick-off rolls
  • Ogre kickers always kick beyond the field of play with no return possible. Make an AG check with a +1 bonus for the ogre: if successful, the ball is placed at the 25 yard line (row 6); otherwise the kick is "shanked" out-of-bounds and is placed at the 40 yard line (row 10). An ogre with the big boot skill may re-roll the failed agility roll when kicking off.
  • Mummies and other large monsters (trolls, minotaurs, bull centaurs, treemen) may never be used as kickers. If forced to kick (because of team attrition), the ball is given to the receiving team on the 40 yard line (row 10). 

An on-side kick is a desperate attempt by the kicking team to field the kick-off themselves, forcing a turnover and regaining possession. Roll a 1D6: a roll of "6" the kicking team has recovered the ball and becomes the offense. Whichever team recovers the ball sets up in the center square, just inside the 50 yard line (row 12 counting from the upfield endzone of the recovering team). Ogres may never attempt on-side kicks. Skills do not affect an on-side kick attempt.

Both regular and on-side kick-offs may be rerolled using a team or veteran (kicker) re-roll. As usual, a die roll may not be re-rolled more than once; the second result stands.

All right, that should serve to speed up game play; hopefully, our next play-test will see us get through an entire game (as opposed to one half...our record so far). I'm hopeful anyway.

By the way...these rules do not apply to 4th down punts. We haven't had a punt yet, but they work out of a normal snap. Maybe. I'm sure we'll find out soon!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Rules And Regulations

I apologize (again): I have a half-written post on the subject of (Blood Bowl) players and rosters that I meant to get up two days ago, but I've been distracted by actual play. Quell surprise, right?

The boy and I have been play-testing and tinkering with the 2E rules for more "football like" play, what with kick-offs and snaps and downs, etc. He really likes them...they make the game more like actual gridiron football...but they aren't without problems. Most of which are related to time: it took us more than 90 minutes to play through a single kick-off and two downs yesterday!

[as a point of reference: when using the "official NAF rules" of 2E, there are 16 downs per half, 32 in a full game, not counting kick-offs. You can extrapolate the math from there...]

Here's the main problem: a "down" of play (using Rules As Written) does not constitute a single turn. Turns alternate between players until the ball is actually downed: the ball carrier is tackled, or runs out of bounds, or scores. And if the ball is fumbled (a possibility on any tackle), then it may be picked up, continuing the play until it is finally, mercifully downed.

At this point, we THINK we may have fixed the issue by simply making one exchange of turns a single down: wherever the ball ends up at the end of the defenses turn is the spot of the new line of scrimmage. It has a couple issues: one is doesn't take into account "big plays" (the receiver that catches the ball and streaks down the sideline for a 70+ yard TD), and it doesn't account for the occasional "extended" or "broken play" which occurs when the defense fails to get down the ball carrier in the backfield and a bunch of random chaos and mayhem ensues (c.f. Russell Wilson, especially in his early years).  

But I think there are fixes for both these issues, mainly boiling down to focusing on the play. Which brings me to the second, secondary problem: helping the rules of the game emulate the spirit of the (American football) game. Especially in 2E, there is so much less emphasis on scoring touchdowns compared to destroying (literally) the opponent: in fact, without attention to casualties and attrition the BB game (prior to the institution of turn limits) generally lasted a loooooong ass time, until the bodies started piling up on the sideline. The original game had no set "win" scenario: you and your opponent were supposed to simply agree on a number of scores that would settle the game. In my experience, the game always devolved into mindless carnage long before that.

The spirit of American football is to move the ball (if you are on the offense) and down the ball carrier (if you are the defense). The offense gets four tries to move the ball an arbitrary distance, and if they fail to do so, they have to give the ball over to the other side...although the defense is allowed to capitalize on an offensive mistake and "steal" the ball back. Tackling, knocking down, and injuring non-ball carriers (generally) results in penalties because that's not the point of the game; despite any similarities to skirmish warfare, in the end it's not about a big brawl. 

Of course, this doesn't mean I want to get away from the violence, the fouling, the casualties, etc. that make BB so much fun. Unlike the real NFL, I have no interest in "player safety;" quite the opposite, in fact! But the game still has to be played SOMEwhat like football. And that means cleaning up some of the messiness that exists due to lax regulations.

It's coming together, folks. As my rules and regs get ironed out, I'm compiling them in a document that should hopefully hopefully be made available in the very near future. 

And now for some fun: here's a video that shows a typical Blood Bowl play, featuring the real life Seattle Seahawks and my favorite quarterback of all time (though I wouldn't trade Wilson for him):

Orcs in the Kingdome

Happy Thursday, folks!


Monday, September 21, 2020

Gates And Fans

Pretty good day yesterday starting with the fact that there was blue, smoke-free sky for the first time in a week or so, thanks to the pouring rain of the prior 30 hours. Probably should have taken a photo, as it's gone today. At least we got in a good bike ride.

Football was good. A little disappointing to watch the dwarves (49ers) curb-stomp the halflings (Jets), despite the former missing half a dozen starters (Kittle, Sherman, Mostert, Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Jimmy G) but they are hobbits, after all...I mean what was I expecting? If Durin's folk invaded the Shire the battle couldn't have been more lopsided. The J-E-T-S absolutely S-U-C-K.

Then there were the Seahawks. Oh, Seahawks. I've explained before why they're orks, but man O man did they play like orks. 14 year veteran pro-bowl tight ends butter-handing the dark elves a pick six to start the game. Blatant fouls on defenseless receivers (with a well-deserved ejection). Jumping off sides no less than FOUR TIMES...while playing AT HOME...with NO CROWD NOISE. How does that happen?! Orks. Plus giving up 400 yards through the air to ex-kroxigor Cam-freaking-Newton.

Yes, a win is a win is a win, and Russell Wilson is still spectacular, and it's downright ungracious to whine about a 2-0 start to the season when other teams would love to have our "problems."

Still, it's a fan's prerogative to complain, even when their team is doing well; it's all part of the entertainment package. And I've been a Seahawks fan since the 70s...my family has had season tix since '77. When my parents divorced, they split the tickets (my mother eventually selling her set), and I've managed to go to at least a handful of games every season since...till now. 

[yes, even during the "dry" years of the 90s when I had to suffer through Kelly Stouffer and Dan Maguire and Stan Gelbaugh. Talk about orks. Oh, yeah...Rick Mirer, too. Oh the humanity!]

It's strange to watch games with empty stadiums and phantom crowd noise though, perhaps, no more stranger than anything else in this strangely awful, challenging year. But, of course, it leads my mind to yet another discussion of advanced Blood Bowl and another dive into the 2nd edition Blood Bowl Companion rules.

Modern Blood Bowlers (folks who started playing in the 90s or later) should be familiar with the term Fan Factor and its importance both to determining "gate" (i.e. attendance) for a match and - indirectly - its influence on the match itself. Each team has a fan factor score, purchased at the time of roster creation for 10,000 gold pieces per point. In 3rd edition, gate was calculated by rolling a number of dice equal to the team's FF and multiplying the result by 1000; in the 5th edition you simply roll 2d6 and add the FF to the result before multiplying by 1000. Regardless of the particular edition, having a greater number of fans in attendance than one's opponent results in bonuses to certain results on the kick-off table (generally leading to a bonus re-roll). Regardless of the particular edition, fan factor can only be increased or decreased based by actual results (as one might imagine, your fan factor has a chance to go up with a win and down with a loss).

Things are a little different in "old" Blood Bowl (i.e. 2nd Edition). For one thing, a team's FAME, representing its popularity based on performance, is different from a team's fan factor. For another thing, fan factor is broken down into three distinct categories describing a fan base's characteristics: chanting, hooliganism, and loyalty

Do I have to gush about how cool such distinctions are? Sure I do! While I understand that having a single FF score is easy, quick, and streamlined (which might be what you want...more power to you), for a richer campaign experience, adding this complexity gives you some depth. Again: consider the NFL, the professional sports league that BB is trying to model (and, yes, parody). Clearly, most fan bases are passionate about their teams, but that passion manifests in different ways. Some crowds are REALLY loud (*ahem*), some intimidate by throwing batteries and beer bottles, some bleed their team colors even after decades of living in a different city or exhibit a willingness to travel cross-country in order to cheer their tea. In 2E Blood Bowl, each of these aspects of fandom is given its own score (rated from 1 to 4) and affects different parts of the game: for example, loyalty is added to a D6 roll and the result cross-referenced on a table to see how many fans of the team show up at the gate. 

[winning three games in a row entitles a coach to increase one fan characteristic by one point; conversely losing three games in a row requires a coach to remove a characteristic point. Each fan characteristic has a maximum of 5 and a minimum of 1]

Gate in 2E (unlike later editions) has no effect on the appearance fee paid to a team; instead it provides a number called "fan factor" (unrelated to the later edition term) that is modified by the team's Fame and is used to influence crowd noise (along with chanting) and fan riots (along with hooliganism). While the results of the gate roll determines attendance in terms of an actual number (from 15-40 thousand fans), you might think that number is simply color, i.e. "fluff" of no importance next to the actual system modifying fan factor. Au contraire mon frere! In the 2E game, both pitch invasions AND riots can result in fan casualties...yes, the players fight back in old school Blood Bowl. And for every 50 fans killed in a game the team's fan factor goes down by a point (that's one way to quiet down a crowd).

Which I love (duh)...that was always part of the "lore" of old Blood Bowl: star players kept stats that included player casualties inflicted, referee casualties inflicted, and fan casualties inflicted. Record for referee casualties appears to have been held by Zug (31); record for spectator casualties is claimed by star mummy blitzer Ramtut III: 1,851,900. However, there is a note that his record is under official review.

Causes fan stampeding panic...and tomb rot.

Just about the only thing I DON'T love here is that 2E doesn't take into account home field advantage with regard to the gate (and, thus, with regard to fan factor influence). Yes, loyal fans travel, but the majority of spectators in any given stadium should be for the home team, (well, in years where there ARE spectators allowed). I don't think it's necessary to worry too much about alternate "stadium upgrade" rules like you find in later editions: most NFL team stadiums ended up being financed in some sort of unholy public/private "partnership" (i.e. the taxpayers get fleeced for the cost of the stadium), and that's really outside the purview of the coach: have a random roll based on a team's Fame, sponsorship, and bribes (yes, there's a heavy set of rules in the Companion specific to bribery). But hometown fans? Yeah, they should never be the minority in their own stadium, even in Arizona.

[there are rules, by the way, for fans to switch sides DURING the match...which is a good model of how NFL games go down in Arizona in real life]

[also there are rules for fans leaving the stadium, mid-game, in disgust...damn I love this book!]

I know, I know...I should start posting actual rules (or rule changes) rather than just write about them. I will, I promise...I've just been, well, busy lately ("Yeah, busy sitting on your ass watching football, JB..." *sigh*). Plus wouldn't you rather something written up all nice and organized? Maybe in a downloadable PDF?

I'll try to have something concrete in the next day or two. Really.

[all right...let's go check Monday Night Football]

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.
; )

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Advanced Blood Bowl

And now for a bit of much needed levity.

It long ago ceased to amaze me the dramatic impact sports can have on individuals and communities. A dramatic win can boost positive vibes in a city for days; a crushing defeat can likewise deflate morale and cast a pall over...well, everything. It took me damn near a year to get over the Seahawks defeat in Super Bowl XL...though that was due as much to the manner in which they lost as the loss itself. These days, my lows don't get nearly that low (have to set some type of example for the kids)...although I do still allow myself the luxury of basking in joyous throat-stomping victories.

Being able to watch the NFL on Sunday was a great balm to the whole family, not just because our team won, but because we could watch other games and pick sides and cheer and stomp and run around like crazy people having fun, eating breakfast food all day and hanging out in our pajamas. Even my six-year old (whose attention span for televised sporting events wanes around the 90 minute mark...on a good day), had a blast, throwing the Nerf football with her brother and dressing up stuffed toys in game day apparel. It all provides a nice break from the dystopian present; bread and circuses, perhaps, but I for one was happy to switch the channel from the CNN for a day.

But enough prattle! What's with the title of this post, JB? What the heck is "Advanced Blood Bowl?!"

Let me, once again, take you on a journey in the Way Back Machine of JB's personal history and nostalgia. The year is circa 1990. D&D is still owned by TSR but the brand has become crap and I haven't played the thing in YEARS. I am in high school, and I've got lots of other stuff on my brain. 

Maybe? Ugh...memories of 30 years ago get so mixed up. Maybe it was 1991. My father left the family in the Spring of that year, and I don't remember him ever seeing my Blood Bowl stuff. My first BB game was purchased at Games & Gizmos in the University District with my own money as an "impulse buy." I carried the box home (in a big paper bag) on the bus. But I stopped taking that bus that same Spring because I commenced from high school, and started bussing through downtown to get to college...and I definitely wasn't making side-trips through the U-District in the summer of '91 (too busy with work and...um...girls). Maybe I got it right before the end of high school.

[actually, I now recall that in both the Fall of '91 and the Spring of '92 I was performing in theater productions of See How They Run and Guys and Dolls at my old high school and probably was taking the bus through the U-District on my commute home. So, yeah, probably circa November 1991]

ANYway...sometime around then I picked up a copy of the 2nd Edition Blood Bowl game, a big box set that I retain to this day. It was the first game with miniatures I'd ever purchased; I wasn't much into minis back then (I'd played RPGs for a decade or more without ever using a single mini), and I'd grown out of toys and "action figures" around age 10 or 11 and had zero interest in painting my own (mainly because I had zero confidence in my ability to paint). But the juxtaposition of fantasy warfare and American football is a powerful aphrodisiac, and I had the money in my pocket, so why not? I'd already become used to picking up new games from G&G, having amassed quite a collection of Rifts and Vampire books since their arrival in 1990.

Still, I doubt that would have been enough to make the buy (I'd been seeing the box on the shelf for years) if it hadn't been for a new, hardcover supplement that I purchased at the same time: Blood Bowl Star Players. Not only was BBSP a book I could thumb through (rather than a dubiously painted box of mysterious contents), it included rules for creating all sorts of different teams: halflings, elves, undead, and - my favorite Games Workshop property - chaos mutants. It also provided various skills for players, showing BB wasn't a simple board game but had aspects of role-paying and promised long-term campaign play...although the latter wouldn't be expanded upon until the publication of another book: the Blood Bowl Companion.

Unfortunately, the Blood Bowl Companion was a book that I would never see in print until last year.

Despite that, I've never been disappointed with my acquisition of Blood Bowl: it led to a love and enjoyment of the game, and other miniature-based gaming (Warhammer 40,000, specifically), and my painting did manage to improve over the years. And I have purchased every published edition of BB since (mainly for the new minis included with every box), and found the rule updates to generally be "for the best," i.e. they've resulted in streamlined, faster play, and (in some ways) brought the rules more in spirit with the fluff of the game...specifically, emphasizing the scoring of touchdowns within a time limit. How well I remember the long, blocking battles of attrition that would occupy the 2E game for hours.

However, as I've written before, there are plenty of aspects of the Blood Bowl game that disappoint. The game doesn't really play like American football: there are no downs, for example, no resets after change of possession, no point variations (touchdowns vs. field goals vs. safeties), no punting. The game often feels a bit more like rugby (albeit with forward passing)...though I won't pretend I know more than the barest minimum of that sport. Of course, there's also the lack of movement of fantasy races between teams, which doesn't echo the state of free agency in professional football (though perhaps that only appeals to NFL fanatics like myself). And point-based tournaments and play-offs are definitely more reminiscent of soccer tables than American football's conferences, divisions, wild card races, and single elimination championship.

Considered mythical
till 2019.

Now, as I said, I finally found a copy of the Blood Bowl Companion last year, used, at my local game shop, and I purchased the thing having long suspected its existence to be mythical: I figured that, like certain other Companion books, it had just never materialized before the publication of 3rd edition game and its Death Zone supplement. But I did so only for the sake of curiosity: I had (sometime in the past 30 years) sold or lost my copy of Blood Bowl Star Players, which one needs to make use of the Companion. As such it simply sat on my shelf gathering dust until a couple weeks ago, when I was able to (again) pick up a used copy of BBSP from my local game shop, thinking now I could read them together. Instead, they both ended up on the shelf (together) gathering dust.

Until Monday. That's when I started actually reading them.

Wow.

Reading the Blood Bowl Companion is a bit like reading all those OD&D supplement books copies of The Strategic Review and seeing how Gygax got from OD&D to AD&D. It is chock-full of rules, extremely crunchy rules, all for the love of adding a deeper, richer experience. And a much more FOOTBALL experience: here are rules for quarters and halves, downs and possession changes, free agency and rookie drafting and player development. Here are rules for kick-offs and field goals, punting and kick returns. Here are rules for hooligans and cheering and fan loyalty, for salaries and player disenchantment, for using referees in play, as well as secret weapons, dirty tricks, and magic items. Here are rules for managing the economy (cash money) of the game, giving you all the powers of a GM (general manager) without resorting to the simple randomness of drawing cards. Here are rules for mixing species on your teams, explaining why an orc might end up on a dwarf team, for example.

Here are rules for turning your Blood Bowl game into an Advanced campaign

It's pretty awesome. Like, really awesome. While I can see how the 3rd edition helped create a faster, more streamlined game, readily accessible to any buyer off the street, the info in the Blood Bowl Companion (along with the Blood Bowl Star Players book) corrects issues with the 2E game while providing the basis for a rich, detailed campaign of fantasy football. 

I know that's not everyone's cup of tea: in fact, considering how little interest there is in Blood Bowl in general (compared to GW's Warhammer lines), I can see how the intersection of American football style gaming, league management, and snarky fantasy violence has an extremely limited appeal in the marketplace. EXTREMELY limited...probably didn't emphasize that enough.

But it appeals to me. And just skimming through the rules with my kids, it appeals to them, too...my boy is completely down with running an "old school" Blood Bowl league.

And anyway, it's football season. I'm inclined to give it a whirl anyway. Expect a few more posts on the subject over the next few weeks. 

: )

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dystopian Present

Well, this must be what it would be like to live on Venus. Yellow clouds of poisonous air obscuring the view from my windows, and being unable to step outside my habitat without a spacesuit.

Yesterday evening, I was very angry...very, very angry. Angry about the state of things in my country, in my world. Angry about how they got this way, angry about the ignorant, selfish people that have caused so much of this, angry even at my own culpability for not doing more, for not actively working against the ignorance and selfishness.

I proceeded to stay up late and drink heavily and did NOT write the rant I meticulously plotted in my head, most all of which was aimed and belittling and insulting people. Not very constructive that.

Anger isn't just a coping mechanism (we tend to get angry to feel like we are in control, to stave off our fear of helplessness)...it is a tool, given to us by our Creator. Used properly, it helps us to transform ourselves, bringing focus to our will, spurring us to do the hard work that ends up being needed when we have procrastinated in doing what should have been done all along.

And it's only by changing ourselves for the better that we can change our world for the better.

Not that most of us are willing to do that. Heck, many of us lack the capability for it (as with all skills, it's something that requires practice, and atrophies from disuse). But as I look outside my window this morning, I force myself to repeat a mantra in my mind:

Things can always get worse. Things can always get worse. Things can always get worse.

There is nothing more true or more sure in this world. Suffering will continue to increase the longer we allow suffering to continue. Because of ignorance. Because of selfishness. Because of our lack of love.

Sorry if that's a downer. 

By the way: Happy birthday, AB. Hope you're doing well, wherever you are, my brother.







Friday, September 11, 2020

Annoyances

 September, huh? Guess it's time to throw some content up on Ye Old Blog.

While gaming in the time of Covid must certainly suck (I wouldn't know, since I have zero opportunity to game), school in the time of Covid sucks worse. Does it suck as much as this new Blogger interface that I am finding it tricky to decipher at the moment (WTF Blogger)? Yes, more...because it affects the entire household, not just the education and developmental years of our children's lives.

*sigh*

So, yeah, school started up for the kids last week, and I've been dealing with that since the end of August. Oh, and a few other things. But fortunately the fam had a chance to get away for a mini family vacation in the mountains (far away from Covid country) and THAT as much as anything is still keeping my batteries charged up the last couple weeks. Oh, and the return of sports on the TV.  Everyone's happy when the Storm or the Sounders can take someone apart (as has become my custom the last few years, I have ignored the Mariners since they fell under .500 and will continue to do so until they can put together a respectable season), and hey football season started! I wear Seahawks merch all year round, but at least now I won't look like such a tool (or, rather, I'll have company with the rest of Seattle).

Mmm. None of that is really "content." Apologies.

Just because I haven't been blogging doesn't mean I haven't been reading (and listening to podcasts) from other folks. Thanks to all of you who have continued to entertain me...it helps keep me sane.

On my own front, well, as said, we've been pretty darn busy the last couple weeks

[ugh...just as an aside, I'm listening to my child's remote learning class in the next room. Is there anything more obnoxious than a 4th grade teacher that claims to love fantasy and cites Harry Potter as her favorite book series? Well, yes, there is...a 4th grade teacher who also touts her Nintendo Switch as her favorite game/toy. Gosh, I am a crusty old man...]

...but before things started heating up, the kids really REALLY wanted to play a superhero RPG. And not just any RPG but, specifically, Heroes Unlimited. Because, as everyone knows, Palladium has the greatest design for an RPG ever. I mean EV...ER😉

Actually, here's the deal: an inventory list that includes Real World equipment, especially FIREARMS with ILLUSTRATIONS is pure nectar of the gods to my children, especially the boy. The random character creation which allows one to create a Soviet agent with enough money to buy a Yugoslavian assault rifle (wow, dated) is more adolescent geekery than I can stand, but for my kids, it is FAN-fricking-tastic. Heck, what they wanted to start with was Ninjas & Superspies, but got overwhelmed with the extensive martial arts lists, and decided they'd prefer to make mutants and robot pilots and whatnot.

[no, my kids haven't gotten to that stage where they argue about which culture's kung fu is better. Maybe some day they'll get into the Hong Kong action theater, but right now Lego Ninjago is about the extent of their cinematic martial arts experience]

Anyway, I just decided to "roll with it;" that is, I figured I'd just run the game By The Book, rather than complain about the thing. But, as has happened before, things fell apart in the usual places: character creation and adventure creation. I know, right?

It's actually the latter issue that I wanted to write about. Character creation, despite being convoluted, is still relatively straightforward. And depending on the character type you rolled (or chose) it might even be fast, other than the skill selection process which is O So Awful (sorry, Kevin Siembieda...it is). For a guy who's owned, read, and played the game over three decades...well, it's still a laborious process (depending on the type of character being created), but it's doable. For newbies (like my kids) there's a lot of hand-holding required...unless you want to circumvent it with your own rules (which I did).

Adventure creation...or rather campaign creation...is another matter, though related. Basically, the problem is this: you can't prep anything until after you've got the characters created and the team established. Which may be a big "duh" from long time GMs of the supers genre but was a bit of an "ah ha" moment for Yours Truly.

See, I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret of mine. I'm not a fan of "Session Zero;" quite the opposite, in fact. When I sit down to play a game, I want to play the game, not "prep" for the next game session. That is a big fat waste of my time. It's what makes D&D such a great go-to game: there's plenty of time to create dungeons, scenarios, adventures, etc. in one's free time (or read and familiarize yourself with a pre-written module), and then when come to the table you simply pull out something that matches the characters' general level. Even for campaign play, you can have multiple established adventures or scenarios ready to point a party towards...or let them choose amongst...based on their comfort level with various risk/reward factors ('No, we don't feel like tackling the Necropolis of the Dead, seeing as how the party cleric got eaten in our last session.'). Hell, even if the party takes a left turn from where you expected an adventure to go, it's fairly easy to come up with something "on the fly" just using random tables.

But that doesn't fly with the supers genre. Unless you're playing a pre-written scenario that includes pre-generated PCs (for example, any of the old TSR adventure modules for Marvel) there's no way to come prepared to the session until AFTER the characters have been created. Starting a basic D&D game? You show up with adventures suitable for 1st level characters (and then let the players put them together in 5-10 minutes). But with supers characters the range of divergent power levels is so wide that you can't do that. You can't prep for a street level Daredevil style game when players are creating Thor-level characters...and vice versa. 

Likewise, there's no way for a GM to set-up a campaign until AFTER you see what the characters are you're dealing with. Diego's robot pilot ("Red One") is a Soviet special forces soldier driving a prototype power vehicle with the explicit sanction and blessing of the military institution that developed it. Sofia's  tech-savvy inventor is British secret service. While this in itself can be an interesting dilemma to resolve, given an 80's Cold War setting, how the heck am I supposed to have an adventure prepped for that prior to play? Or, rather, how do I prep for the possibility that these are the characters that will be generated at the beginning of the game session?

Oh, yes, yes...I understand that one could say at the outset: "Hey, everyone: your team of superheroes is a special task force put together by the American government to deal with alien invaders" (for instance) "so make sure you create a superhero to match." But, again, what if someone rolls up the equivalent of a masked vigilante while another gets the equivalent of Superman? Point buy? Okay, that's just conceding (again) that the entire first session is going to be spent in character creation as people hammer out concepts and figure where and how to spend points in order to build some sort of coherent, consistent team.

And if you're going to do that, you might as well let the players use their own imagination (rather than set parameters) and prep your adventure based on what they come up with.

This is, in the end, my point: you need a Session Zero (i.e. a game session where no part of the regular game "play" happens) if you're going to run a campaign of any longterm value in the supers genre. You need to establish origins and relationships and how characters complement (or don't) each other and what the power level is going to be. Regardless of the planned scenario (or "story arc") for the campaign.

At least if you plan on running a game that allows for a wide range of different super characters with disparate power levels, i.e. something that emulates the superhero genre. Because in the genre, you DO have characters with divergent power levels: Thor and Iron Man with Hawkeye and Black Widow. Superman and Wonder Woman with Batman and Black Canary. Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Etc.

And I hate Session Zero. I just do. And I kind of hate pre-generated characters (at least, for this genre of game) because I do NOT want a game to be about how well the players can role-play a particular established piece of intellectual property. Don't give me your Tony Stark impression, pal.

Hmm...that's a lot of hate (probably grumpy due to, you know, everything going on in the world. Lot of smoke outside my window at the moment). But it explains why I've always had difficulty getting superhero campaigns off the ground, despite personally enjoying the idea of running such a game. And it explains why (for me) D&D is soooo much easier to run. 

My next post should be on that particular topic.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Sold Out -- Again


Apologies for the spotty posting lately. Pretty busy with something at the moment.

However, just wanted to say my last print run of The Complete B/X Adventurer is totally sold out. Not sure when I'll be able to get another order; however, the PDF is still available at DriveThruRPG. Some on-line retailers may still have print copies...interested folks can check with Noble Knight or Wayne's Books.

Sorry about that, folks. Thanks to all my wonderful customers who've given me their business!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"New" Stuff


"New" being pretty much a relative term.

My world building has taken a small backseat to a couple-three other projects the last week or so. Part of this is normal delay and procrastination, of course: the work is hard, with very little immediate reward, and so it gets put aside in favor of the latest hotness. I am used to my proclivity for this type of distraction, and it bothers me less these days (i.e. I don't feel as guilty about it as I did in the past), knowing that I'm in for the "long haul" and shall be returning to it soon enough.

However: publications! As I mentioned, oh, sometime last year (or two years ago...time is slippery recently) I have a couple books that want publishing and the sole thing they're waiting on is the artwork. My artists have (understandably) been preoccupied in recent months (as have we all), but I have been in contact with both in the last week, and received a number of "final" illustrations.

Which is exciting and amazing and makes me want to do stuff with those (B/X based) books.

Thus, the last few days have been spent repurposing a certain classic adventure (hint: the title begins with the word "Keep" and ends with the word "Lands") with the idea of doing a little play-testing. The fam and I are heading out on a mini-vacation tomorrow (we'll be up in the mountains...far away from the densely populated plague lands), and I'm hoping to have some D&Dish fun with them. Depending on how it goes, I might write up the notes in some useable form, to be released with the book (when it's finally finally ready). We shall see.  Here's hoping.

Oh, yeah...and I have an idea for a "new" project (again, very loosely defined). It is (duh) rather masochistic of me to work on yet another book when I already have 2+ in the hopper with no publication date in sight, but what's a guy gonna' do? Just sit on my hands and bitch&moan? One of these days, perhaps, I'll have an idea for an actual non-gaming product (like a novel or screenplay or something), and I'll bang the thing out and sell it on Amazon. But that's not today. The concept needs a little tinkering and a lot of polishing, but...well, it IS interesting. If I find the thing has legs, I'll write more about it.

All right...that's all the updates I have time for at the moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Elves in Red Earth

Still lots and lots to talk (and rant) about these days, and I haven't yet gotten to around to the subject of elves in my Red Earth campaign; I just can't seem to help but get sidetracked.

Let's go ahead and get to it.

The original draft for this post spends the first thousand words quoting all the information found in the OD&D books as a foundation; but I've since decided NOT to go down that road. Here are the basic takeaways of note (with regard to OD&D elves):

  • They are never noted as having an exceptionally long life span; there is no mention of longevity at all in any of the books (nor are there special notes regarding elves under the entries for the potion of longevity or the staff of withering as there are in later editions, like B/X).
  • With regard to appearance, there are no notes stating elves have pointed ears or that they are beardless (contrariwise, the illustration labeled "ELF" on page 32 shows an individual with a longer beard than the "DWARF" on page 8). Per Greyhawk, elf skin color ranges from "tan to fair" with "wood elves being the darkest." Height is given as "five or more" leaving open the possibility of rather tall individuals.
  • The original books state that "elves are of two general sorts, those who make their homes in woodlands and those who seek the remote meadowlands." No distinction is made between these two types. In the Greyhawk description of the elf class, four types of elves are listed: wood, high elves, meadow elves, and fairies...this last being a term found in the Chainmail fantasy supplement where it was used interchangeably with "elf," much as was done with dwarves/gnomes, goblins/kobolds, and pixies/sprites. The 1E Monster Manual will "clarify" this by stating "faerie" is the term for Grey Elves, even as it removes the term "meadow elves" from the game lexicon. Aquatic elves are added (along with a host of other underwater variant monsters) in the Blackmoor supplement.
  • Elves are "not naturally adapted to horseback." While they have the split-move-and-fire ability found in Chainmail (and originally used to model the speed of horse-born archers like Huns, Mongols, etc.), it only applies to elves on foot.
  • In the wilderness encounter tables, elves are on the GIANT TYPES sub-list (along with dwarves, gnomes, and treants). It would appear that the "giant class" of monsters (i.e. the enemies against whom rangers receive a special damage bonus) was meant to apply to ANY type of nonhuman humanoid. 

It is highly interesting to me that elves, as originally presented in Chainmail, were NEUTRAL in alignment (albeit with "a slight pre-disposition for LAW"). By OD&D, of course, they appear on both the Law and Neutrality lists, but this explains why elven clerics (only available as NPCs) are limited to 6th level of experience...per OD&D no cleric may progress above 6th level unless aligned with either Law or Chaos.

So it is with MY elves: these are not the goody-goodies found in Tolkien, but something far more aloof from humanity. An ancient race, not in terms of longevity, but in terms of culture...these elves have been around for a looong time, and have already passed the apex of their civilization. Not demihumans but protohumans...another species of humanity (like neanderthals or denisovans) destined to one day be extinct or subsumed into what we know as the modern human race.

The main inspiration for my elves are Moorcock's Melnibonean fantasy race (Elric and all his kin). I've written before about the general similarities between the Elric books and D&D, and the specific similarities between Melniboneans and the D&D elf. For my campaign world, I am embracing these parallels, although they are not an island or sea-going people (I already have my Numenorean/Valyrian sea king-types in the descendants of Atlantean refugees...and they are all "normal" humans). Instead, elves are a coastal-mountain folk living in the Chilean region of the Andes...though I admit to being tempted to move them farther north.

Another inspiration for my campaign setting is the artwork of Bob Pepper, and specifically his illustrations for the old Milton-Bradley card game, Dragonmaster. Each of the "suits" found in the game provide visual clues and inspiration for distinct factions of my campaign setting. Considering the Moorcock influence, it should come as no surprise that the DragonLords are the model for my elves, although they are not literally "dragon lords" in the Melnibonean sense.

Still, they are an ancient culture with access to metallurgy and sorcery that is hard to find (or equal) in the young human kingdoms. Though they ceased their wars of conquest centuries before the coming of the Sea Lords to the temperate eastern plains, the elves maintain enough might to remain independent from the ever-expanding Red Empire of the north, and most human communities continue to hold them in superstitious awe.

[the Sea Lords being a notable exception]

For once upon a time, the elves were conquerors, and the early humans of the continent little more than primitive, nomadic tribes and a ready slave population. These slaves would eventually throw off the yoke of servitude, using lessons learned from their decadent masters to forge their own kingdoms in the lowlands (thus was the Red Empire born), but the animosity and dread of their former oppressors remain.

Nor is this their only legacy, for in elder days the elves experimented with dark magics and sorceries best left unknown. The result: fell beasts and twisted monsters, demonic enchantments and dangerous pockets of enchantment that continue to plague and bedevil those who stumble upon them. It is said that dragons were created by elvish magic, but most sages consider the possibility unlikely in the extreme. However, it is a certainty that both the orc and gnoll species were products of the elves' attempts to create pliant slave races that would not rebel as their human servants did. Unfortunately (for everyone), this was a disastrous failure.

In these latter days, the elves are very much a diminished people, but they still retain secrets and powers unknown to the younger human race. It is unlikely that they will ever return to their former splendor, but the occasional elvish adventurer has been known to come down from the mountains, searching for treasure and glory among humans of like mind.

These are the elves of Red Earth. They are otherwise as found in the OD&D books.
: )

Friday, August 7, 2020

Elegant Design

I don't write a lot of posts about "the biz" of publishing books, but this is a little strange...there seems to be a slight resurgence in interest in my books.

The B/X Companion for sure: just checked the PDF sales report on DriveThruRPG, and it's on pace to have its best year since 2013. Just to put that in perspective: my Companion was only made available as a PDF in 2012, and the total sales for the first two years exceeds all sales combined from 2014-2019.  

[which is still peanuts, of course (total sales over the life of the product is a bit north of 1000), but considering my lack of business skills and marketing savvy...not to mention the niche market to which my product belongs...I'll take pride in my home-baked slice of the pie]

If I had to guess about a reason for the recent sales spike, I'd probably give credit to the expanding popularity of the recent Old School Essentials (B/X) retro-clone. Back in "The Time Before Covid" I had a chance to take a look at Ye Local Gamestore and it was a pretty nice set of books. Didn't purchase it myself (money's a little tight for picking up products I already own in their original form), but I've heard plenty of praise for the thing, both in-person (from actual people) and on-line (from virtual people). 

ANYway, that's the only reason I can think of...I don't see any reviews or internet mentions of the Companion more recently than 2012 or so. Regardless, my thanks to all the people doing the purchasing...considering the many pirate PDFs of my book floating around the internet these days, I appreciate the money some folks are actually willing to put in my pocket.

Now the stranger part: while OSE offers some explanation for my B/X Companion, I don't know what could account for the renewed interest in Five Ancient Kingdoms, which is also on pace to have its best sales since 2013 (the first year it was published). 

Are people actually playing 5AK?

Allow me to be a skosh amazed at the idea. I mean, I'm not playing the game at the moment, though maybe I should be. I spent much of yesterday reading through the PDFs (for the first time in years) and, man, there is some good stuff in there. Elegant design, if I do say so myself (and I do).  Yeah, yeah...patting myself on the back again. But I like how I solved a lot of particular design issues I had with D&D, adding interesting nuance while still keeping the system streamlined and abstract.

Why did I abandon this line of gaming? 

Now THAT is a good question. I definitely remember feeling a bit pingeon-holed by the setting...even thought the books themselves offer ways to modify the system for other settings. But mostly, I think, that I felt the game lacked appeal...I could never get more than 2 or 3 players together that were willing to give it a go, back during the play-testing stage. Compare that with the offer of most any edition of D&D and you get half a dozen hands (or more) go up in the air, crying to join the table.

*sigh* I'm such a slave to what is trendy.

But no, it's more than that, I think. I worked hard on the probabilities and dice outcomes for 5AK, and they work well, but they're not as intuitive to grasp as a more granular, incremental system based on a D20 or percentile dice. Or perhaps it's just me...I am too used to these simpler granular systems, having been steeped in them for decades. Rolling 2d6 and tossing out "zeroes" just seems too "weird" from my perspective. I need some sort of damn chart/matrix to reference or I feel naked out there!

*sigh again*

As I continue to work on my own world and tinker the rules to better match the parameters of my design needs I read through these books...the three volumes of 5AK...and I keep coming across things that make me wonder "is there a way to add this to D&D?" A way to somehow incorporate these ideas into the standard D&D design without upsetting the entire apple cart? Sadly, I'm not sure there is. Systems in 5AK are built to inter-lock with each other. D&D is a hodge-podge of mechanics created on a "need" or "cool idea" basis (and often as patches when "cool ideas" ended up creating other "needs"). Functional as D&D is, fun as D&D is, its very nature precludes the addition of elegant mechanics.

Doesn't it?

Mentzer's BECMI tried to file off a lot of the "rough edges" and the game suffered for it (in my opinion). Same with 3rd edition...and 3.5 and 4th and 5th. The more well-oiled the machine becomes, the less room there is for imagination. 5AK works because it is, in the main, small scale and firmly based in its fairy tale genre. But D&D's heritage is founded in a wilder and woolier period of imaginings. 

What was it I was listening to the other day? Oh, yeah: Mother Love Bone. Andrew Wood is one of the greatest singer/songwriters that...unless you're really deep into musical lore...you've probably never heard or heard of. Unless you're, like, my age (mid-late 40s) and grew up in Seattle and liked rock music instead of pop and rap. Because Wood died right on the verge of becoming famous, and his bandmates ended up becoming Pearl Jam instead. And Vedder's a great singer and frontman, don't get me wrong, but Wood was a special talent. His music mixed the sacred with the profane, at time profound at times adolescent, all combined with sincerity and humor and beautiful singing ability, emphasizing love in all its expressions (for God, for children, for sex, for the world). I found my old CD in a mislabeled box and ended up listening to it 3 or 4 times through, just feeling...sad.

Because even if I played their CD for, say, my children or some 20-something year olds, there's just such a depth of meaning that would be lost on kids from a different generation. They just wouldn't grasp references because there's so much that doesn't exist anymore in this day and age of internet saturation and multi-hundred TV channels and social media bubbles. It's like: once upon a time the world was a smaller place, but so much more specific...and now its not. Once upon a time, every kid watched Bugs Bunny or Scoobie-Doo because you were a kid and you watched cartoons and there was only a couple channels and a couple times a week that you could watch them. Once upon a time there was only a handful of news outlets and rather than market themselves to a particular "fan base" they tried to report as quickly and accurately as possible. Once upon a time everyone knew the same songs because radio stations that catered to a particular taste only rotated the same handful of bands. We had shared understandings, shared touchstones.

We have so few of those these days, except for world-shattering events. Good things? Or fun things? Or nice things? Those are all over the board. You might know something about it if you're In The Group that cares about a particular thing (role-playing games, for example)...otherwise, it's outside your bubble, outside your sphere of interest. And you chance of having a shared knowledge with someone outside that thing is...slim. I can bitch about Trump or Covid with the other soccer parents while watching our kids practice or I can talk about soccer and soccer kids. Anything else? Chaff in the wind.

D&D...the D&D that I play and that I prefer...belongs to that older time. It wasn't created to be elegant or universal or easily consumed. It gained ascendance by being pretty much the only (or main) game in town at a time when the world was a much smaller place, when choices were more limited, and when people...players...had more shared understandings. Me writing 5AK was an attempt at...hell, I don't really know (or remember) exactly what I was attempting. But with regard to mechanics, I tried to make it as "elegant" as possible, while maintaining some sort of soul and imagination. I just don't know if imagination can exist alongside "elegant" design...it certainly seems more readily found in the inelegant systems of the wilder, woolier past. 

Ugh. This post has gone completely off the rails. Probably need to reset (and maybe eat some breakfast).  Later, gators.