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At first glance, the Vampires look like the dream team; six players with the magic combination of Strength 4 and Agility 4, and access to just about any skill they want. They even have cheap linemen, to better allow you to buy more Vampires at the start. That is where most new coaches go wrong when they start a Vampire team.
Vampires have perhaps as odd a playstyle as Lizardmen; both rosters have two types of player which perform very different rolls. Unlike the Sauruses, though, the role the Vampires play is pretty much whatever they like...when they aren't snacking on their teammates! Vampires do pretty much all the blitzing and ball handling, with Thralls lending a hand and putting themselves in harm's way.
The combination of Str 4 and Ag 4 is a powerful one, and with Block and Dodge, a Vampire is hard to stop. With skills like Side Step and Guard also available to the same player on a normal roll, they can become a nightmare. Hypnotic Gaze was significantly reduced in the 2003 BBRC Rules Review, but the 2004 BBRC Rules Review improved it again, though not quite to the level it was. The Thralls are cheap, which is how an expendible player should be.
Early on, the Vampires are few in number, lacking skills, and lacking team rerolls. That means the team consists mostly of the rather fragile Thralls, who get punishment not only from the opposing team, but from their own blood-thirsty Vampire team-mates! On a bad day, the team can get ripped apart by Bloodlust rolls and a bashy opposition. Vampires suffer from the lack of apothecary access, which only the thralls can use. Getting a Vampire up to his third skill, only to be niggled is a hard loss to bear.
Vampire teams cannot bash. Do throw the two dice blocks your Thralls can get, but don't expect much. Unless you have a very developed team, your Vampires usually have much more important duties than throwing the odd block.
Thralls are expendable. Don't expect them to survive. Learn through experience that AV7 meat shields don't die off as much as you'd think. Once you've done the important - and hopefully not that difficult - stuff, start dodging your Thralls to safety and into potentially useful positions. Sometimes a 1D block is better than that 3+ dodge, but give a thought to whether he's positioning would be significantly more useful if you dodge him instead. Don't be embarassed to leave thralls untouched if they are tying up opposition players especially low-agility opposition: it's not always necessary to block or dodge away.
Expendable does not mean useless though, far from it. It's important for you to keep 11 players, or as many as possible, on the pitch. The problem is when the inevitable decline in numbers start early on in the match, because it usually accelerates, leaving your Vampire more and more unprotected and unsupported. If your first dafety dodge out of several fails on an early turn, it might be worth a precious reroll to give it a second chance.
Just a quick tip. This may seem obvious, but I've seen a few coaches make this mistake when playing Vampires. If you want to move a Vampire to another area of the pitch, move a (preferably unskilled) Thrall there first if at all possible. That way, if you fail an OFAB, you can still move your Vampire to where you wanted him without rerolling the Bloodlust result.
The ball carrier should never be safe. As a rule of thumb, try to keep Blodge Vampires central but spread out, so they can at least theoretically reach the ball carrier wherever he goes. Finding a way to hit him is the first thing to think about every turn: remember that even the lone Thrall can sometimes do miracles together with a reroll.
Your worst situation is when the other team holds the ball steadily in a nice cage, and has plenty of time to score. Your strength is your flexibility, and in those situations that's almost useless. There are a few tricks:
You suffer from meeting Blodge ballcarriers, since you can't really get Tackle for all your Vamps - and you need to threathen to sack the ball carrier wherever he is. Strip Ball can do the trick though, and is useful all around. A Tackle Thrall is also a good idea: on offense he can be the blitzer trying to inflict casualities.
You run the ball with a ST4, AG4 player with Blodge. That ends up being enough in some matches. Compliment that with a screen of Thralls hindering people from getting close to your guy, occasionally sacrificing their health to put a TZ on a player you don't want close to the action.
Another Vampire should usually try to go on ahead, giving you hand-off or passing options. That guy needs to be accompanied by thralls though - and do you still have enough?
What players do you look out for?
The desperate option - when you hardly have any team members left against that particularly brutal opponent - is to steer your ball carrier central and relying on his Blodge, his flexibility and the rerolls you back him up with. The opponent swarms your Thrall shield, surround your poor Vamp, and then Bam! - you find a small hole, blitz out and run as if Van Helsing himself was at your heels. If can manage that, and steer away from tacklers and strip ballers, you have a fair chance of holding on to that precious ball.
There are two competing lines of reasoning about Vamps - to Pro or not to Pro.
The Pro-Pro View: With the return of Pro to the ranks of General Skills in the 2004 BBRC Rules Review, Vampires have been much strengthened. Pro is mostly useful for rerolling stuff where failure is not the end of the world and doesn't cause a turnover, but having another free go at it would be nice. Unfortunately there are few rolls like that in the game, but vampires are unique players, along with troll slayers, in that pro helps them with more than one of those rolls. For troll slayers, those are dauntless rolls, and both down which they would like to turn into at least a push to get another block with frenzy. For vampires, those rolls are Bloodlust and Hypnotic Gaze.
The Anti-Pro View: Blodge is essential for the vampires key actions to succeed, and saves as many ordinary rerolls as Pro. After that, there are other good skills - having a Blodge Tackler, a Blodge Guarder or simply a Blodge Mighty Blow guy can give the team some much needed specializing. Not to mention Sidestep, Strip Ball etc, or the cases when you get a double and a stat increase.
Thralls get the skills typical of linemen; Block and Tackle, of course, but also Dirty Player, Kick, Sure Hands, Strip Ball and so on. Leader and Guard, and perhaps a Mighty Blow guy, are good choices on doubles. Opinions are divided on whether to make an effort to skill up the thralls or to concentrate on developing the vamps.
Dont forget about Hypnotic Gaze! Place your Thralls strategically since it is better to save rerolls for other things than a failed Bloodlust!
As per the "Difference from boardgame" file: In the game you score as soon as you enter the endzone (standing) with the ball. This means that on FUMBBL a Vampire can legally score even after failing his Bloodlust roll. This is a major difference from LRB and tabletop standard rules, where he can still do it, but only if a Thrall is standing in or next to the endzone and the Vampire doesn't mind biting him.
All the other differences from board game actually make vampires worse off than they would normally be. One of them is that on FUMBBL, Hypnotic Gaze requires one square of movement. In some cases, this means you must go for it to do it, and in others, this means you're just out of range and can't do it at all. Since Hypnotic gaze is so central to the Vampire team, and is actually their greatest asset, this is a huge blow to the team.
An even bigger blow to the team is that on FUMBBL, you can't Gaze during a Bloodlust move. On the board game, a Hypnotic Gaze action is specifically stated to be just a normal move action, and so is a Bloodlust move. Therefore, nothing keeps you from still doing one while under the influence of the other. Sadly, on FUMBBL, this isn't the case.
Another difference is that in the board game, players unstun at the end of your turn. On FUMBBL, they unstun at the beginning of the turn. Sadly, this means that the Thrall you stunned with Bloodlust will have to spend one more turn unstunning before he can do anything. Since Vampires are the race most prone to getting stunned during their own turn thanks to Bloodlust, they're by far the race most affected by this change.
Finally, the last difference is that on FUMBBL, you can't use a team reroll to reroll a failed Pro roll. It's not often that you would want to do that anyway, but when you do, on FUMBBL you're out of luck. Since Vampires are some of the players most suited to taking Pro, they're the race most affected by this change.
Link to GLN article by heinz
Link to Vampire Starting Lineups
Link to Vampires In Tournaments (under construction)