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 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. 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.


  • 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 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 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.


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, 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) 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


 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.


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 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 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 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.