Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 12 / 09 / 05 ] That's why I never played gobbos

Bloodbowl is a game which owes a great deal of its relative success over the years to the impact of the flavor of the game upon those who play it. The concept of the game, the look of the art and figures, and the overall vibe of the thing draws players in and captivates all of us. Therefore, the elements of the game which provide this tangible feel are not to be fiddled about with too lightly, but let's be honest, two of them just flat out don't work - secret weapons and magic.

Yes, you absolutely have to find a place for both of these in the game somewhere. What would this game be afterall without chainsaws and Zap!s? Diminished for certain. Yet the systems in place for both of these concepts are so unweildy, so frustrating, and so poorly-considered that these segments which are mandatory by their nature are burdening the game with their poor designs. Something better has to exist and something different has be ventured in order to find a more effective application of the concept within the system. These concepts deserve better, afterall, because they really do in part define our game.

What then can we say is really the problem, especially when so many people are content to play on with these terrible rules. This is true, but the kickoff table is a terrible rule people play on with as well. A rule which is used is not a rule which was designed well. Certainly the secret weapon rules are not the utter catastophe that the league rules are, but it is definitely well short of ideal regardless.

As for those secret weapons, the problems are numerous. They have very elaborate and unweildy special rules which are rarely memorized, and even more rarely recalled correctly. Looking up rules is ponderous and breaks the flow and enjoyment of the game. Arguing over mistaken recollections of the rules is even worse. Table dissent interferes with enjoyment, and nothing is allowed to interfere with enjoyment. It's rule #1, if you remember correctly. In addition to having obtrusive rules, the distribution of secret weapons is hardly handled well, and the systems of aquisition are too many and too varried to mention.

What is needed is a rule which is simple, something that fits well within the space of a typical paragraph at most. The ideal rule would also fit securely within the normal flow of the rules, rather than having rules all to itself. This rule would be unique in the game, not just a rehashed skill definition. All races would have equal and obvious access to the secret weapons, and above all, the end result would maintain, if not enhance the look and feel of the game.

Similarly, magic in the game has long suffered from poor initial offerings. Second edition's magic had the right character, but the system was overly-detailed and thus introduced slowing complexity. Third edition's system tried to abstract the concept, but in clinging to a mechanic which still tried to interface with the gameboard created an absolutely terrible situation in which one team could make a massive impact on the outcome of a match without an effective mechanism for his opponent to compensate or plan around it. More recent attempt to bring the magic back onto the board have been admirable, but have not only returned 2e's complexity, but indeed expanded upon it to the degree that magic is entirely unpleasant. Clearly, this concept has never fared well in the game, though this does mean that almost any alternative may well be an improvement.

What then are we to look for in a magic rule? Again, simplicity is a key value - anything you can describe in a paragraph is admirable. The rules must place magic in the hands of players on the pitch so that both teams have this portion of the game firmly within the scope of their tactical decisions. Finally, this rule must also do its best to maintain the appropriate vibe which in part defines the game.

That is in fact asking an aweful lot from a couple of rules, but I've been determined to find these rules for quite some time.

One of the first ideas which must be introduced is universality. Whatever system is adopted for either of these rules must be immutable for every race in the game. All races must have access to the exact same secret weapons and their spellcasters to the exact same spells. Only in this way are the rules going to be effectively and fully balanced, as well as being the system with the smallest opportunity for dissent and the lowest burden on coach's memory.

While it is essential that these two effects do no simply replicate the effect of any given skill, using the skill system to introduce these effects may well be the most desireable way to redefine them. As skills these two concepts would become widely and universally available. Therefore, the approach to be taken is to remove the notion of players who use secret weapons or spells as special position players, star players, or any such scheme and instead simply make a new skill for each. This proposal, then is for the addition of two new general skills, Cheater and Spellcaster.

The sublime goal of simplification, taken to an elemental extreme, would have us look over the list of secret weapons and determine that the essential character of this design concept is the use of illegal impliments of destruction on the pitch. While the specific reality of past rules does include a handful of fiendish devices designed to move the ball or the player about the pitch, the majority have dealt very efficient damage, and it is these devices with an emphasis on the weapon portion of the phrase, secret weapons, which are the eponymous icons of the concept. We can, therefore, conclude that a rule which only includes this aspect would be sufficient to convey the desired effect.

All of that said, why could the entire secret weapon concept not be delivered as:

Cheater, General skill.

A player with this skill will sneak an outlawed weapon of some sort, perhaps a dagger, chainsaw, or siege cannon onto the pitch to give him a little something extra on his blocks. Anytime this player knocks down his opponent on a block (whether the cheater is the attacking or defending player) goes directly to the injury roll, there is no need to make an armor roll. Such weapons are, however, very much against the rules and referees are always on the lookout for such infractions. At the conclusion of any drive in which the cheater took the field, roll a D6 for this player. On a roll of 4, 5, or 6 the Referee spots the infraction and ejects the cheater. The coach may argue this call as normal.

Magic is perhaps even easier to reduce to a common denomenator, as the third edition version with which most coaches are the most familiar is itself boiled down to little more, in practice, than a single spell. As our goal is simplification, we simply reject outright the approaches found elsewhere and concentrate istead on filling the remaining design goal with the sigular Zap! spell concept. This, fortunately, is not at all hard to accomplish, though we do need to add one more bit to the rulebook than we did with secret weapons.

Cast Action

A player with the appropriate ability may attempt to cast a spell. Players that have been knocked over or who have moved in this turn may not perform this action. This action may not be declared by more than one player per team turn.

Now that that's out of the way, the new skill required:

Spellcaster, General skill

A player with this skill has trained in the magical arts and is not averse to attempting to use that knowedge to gain an edge in the match. In order to use this skill, the player must make a Cast action. The player may select one opposing player within 5 squares as the target. Once a target is selected roll a D6. If the result is a 4, 5, or 6 then the spell has been cast successfully and the target player is stunned. Following any successful cast action, there is a possibility that the referee will notice the player's arcane chanting and gyrations and eject the wizard for illegal spellcasting. Roll a D6. If the result is a 6, then the spellcaster is ejected. The coach may argue the call as normal.

Yes, these rules are simplified to the extreme, but the measure by which they should be judged should not be to degree to which they are beholden to a history of failures, but rather the degree to which they deliver on the design goals set forth. While they very much meet the targets for simplification, universality, and system compatability, the risk that is being taken here is that in over-simplification we are precariously close to losing some or all of the character which these rules are intended to add to the game, and that in reducing them to such elemental levels, they will no longer serve as hallmarks of the game's spirit, but simply as anonymous elements within it. Can rules so thoroughly reduced deliver the appropriate flavor element to the game, or are they so reduced that this, the target which is ultimately most important, is lost?

Personally, I suspect that such an approach will succeed. Do we really need rules for seven different secret weapons, or do we in fact really only need seven different secret weapon-equipped models which share a common and effective rule?