New Skills in the Vault
The Playtesting Vault has taken on the task of tackling almost every aspect of Blood Bowl that could conceivably be improved, including a quite a few we were happy enough with! Nevertheless, the rulemaking of the game has never before been done in so open a fashion, welcoming the input from anyone who could be bothered registering on the specialist-games.com forums, and posting their own thoughts and ideas in the Vault section.
One part of the Vault's work has been the expansion of player skills in the game; the major reasoning being that Strength skills in particular, and also General skills, lacked variety, especially to players who could choose skills only from one of these categories; notably, the high-strength players - Loners (formerly Big Guys), Mummies and Bull Centaurs - will be restricted to Strength skills only for regular skill rolls.
Some traits were converted into regular skills, which meant changes to reduce their effectiveness to equal a regular skill, and a new category called Willpower was created to provide a home for a few of the others that were not changed.
In this article, I want to examine the completely new skills that the Vault has created.
Berserker is the offspring of Jump Up. To reduce Jump Up from a trait to a skill, the ability to stand up and Block in an action was removed and relocated as a skill in its own right, in the new Willpower section.
Witch Elves and Norse Blitzers, the only players who started with Jump Up, have been provided with this skill too, to make them function just as they did before. For all other players, they'll need a double on their skill roll to get it. In 3rd edition rules, Jump Up and Piling On was a fearsome combination, and the trait system was created in an attempt to prevent certain players ever getting it (especially Mummies). With this new skill, this combination is partly available again, though whether a Mummy would now use a double for Berserker instead of Block is questionable.
I can't help but wonder if the Norse team would have been an all Berserker team instead of an all-Block team had this skill been available when their roster was created.
Fend prevents an opponent from following up a block on the Fending player (unless they use Juggernaut). I see this as the skill all those battered linemen, stuck on the line of scrimmage, have been praying for; I especially see it as a useful skill to lower armoured, General skill-only teams such as Humans, Norse and Skaven, and making Amazons an even more frustrating opponent than they already are. If used correctly, this skill could be highly effective at defending against cage offences.
It's also a nice skill for a catcher waiting for a pass in the opposition backfield - if the opposition doesn't knock him down with their Blitz, they must commit another player to mark him if the blitzer has no more movement left. It also protects against Frenzy crowd-pushing, and is highly effective in combination with Side-Step and Jump Up.
Far from it being new to them, Blood Bowl players are masters of the ancient art of grabbing an opposition player by the scruff of the neck and swinging them all about like a rag doll. After all, most big guys have thrown the odd gobbo or halfling in their time - usually from their own team, but not always! During one match played by Britnoth
's halfling team Scafell
, against a goblin horde, legendary ogre player Ogram
tried to pick up one of his fling team-mates to fling, but picked up a gobbo opponent instead. Confused by the flash of green receding into the distance, Ogram's pea-sized brain told him "Cripez, da coach iz gunna kick me goolies in ifz I don't chuck one uv theez fat little pogs in duh enzone!" The dim-witted (and short-sighted) ogre then proceeded to pick up random stunty players from around himself and threw them all in great handfuls, two or three at a time, in the hope that one of them was a plucky halfling team-mate holding the ball. Spectators in the stands at the other end of the field were pelted with foul green missiles and dangerously weighty projectiles smelling faintly of stew. When the dust cleared, the end zone was littered with broken little bodies... and one Scafell hero holding the ball for the winning TD! As the ref blew for full time, all that was left in the middle of the pitch was an exhausted Ogram and his troll opponent, who promptly shook claws and went off for a celebratory drink.
Grab is the anti-Side Step skill, and indeed the two skills cancel each other out. It allows the blocker to push the defender to any adjacent square - it only works for block actions, NOT blitzes. This skill is all about control of the pitch, and therefore immediately makes me think of Dwarfs, who I am sure will use Grab more widely than any other race. It allows them greater control in mid-pitch scrums, and increases the effectiveness of their Guard players, which experienced Dwarf teams have in abundance.
Grab is also a refreshing skill for coaches of strength-based teams whose primary concern is to win tactically, rather than by mashing the opposition to a squidgy pulp!
Some have described Grapple as the anti-Block skill; though I wouldn't describe it as that, it does allow players with Block to be brought down on a Both Down result. The Grappling player also has to go prone, but neither player makes an armour roll.
Grapple has a number of distinct uses; it increases the chance of scattering the ball when Leaping into cages to blitz the ball-carrier, it is great for those last-ditch TD-saving blitzes, and it could be used as a sneaky way of getting the opposition's best player onto the ground, in easy range of your Dirty Player's steel toecaps! Grapple is very nice in combination with Strip Ball and Tackle.
I believe that one player, more than any other, inspired this skill; Morg'n'Thorg, the star Ogre player (though he may end up not getting the skill on his Star Player card!).
When you think of it, once a huge player starts rumbling forward, the laws of inertia dictate that it's not an easy job stopping them! That's what this skill reflects - on a Blitz action, it doesn't allow defenders to use Fend or Stand Firm, and Both Down results are treated as pushbacks instead. The last part is to partly compensate these larger players for losing easy access to Block. The player that will benefit the most from this is certainly the Bull Centaur - he doesn't suffer from a negatrait like Bone Head that may waste the Blitz for that turn, he is the Chaos Dwarfs' chief blitzer, and he needs protection from Both Down results. Juggernaut is particularly useful to Strip Ball players, and is a useful Blitzer skill, for opening that initial hole in the defensive line.
Kick-Off Return (General)
Kick-Off Return is the least glamorous of the new skills, but is arguably the most useful. It's a very simple skill - when receiving a kick-off, one player with this skill may move 3 squares towards where the ball has scattered, before it bounces. Though useful to one or two of the throwers or ball-carriers on every team, this skill is of greatest value to players of teams lacking in movement and/or passing ability, like Khemri Thro-Ras, Dwarf Runners, Hobgoblins, Ghouls and Orc Throwers. It allows them to get closer to, or even catch the kick-off (avoiding a potential failed pick-up), and allow their offensive drive to get started that much quicker. It also leaves them less open to Blitzes on the kick-off.
I really do like the tactical nature of all these new skills; they promote cleverer blocking tactics, both defending and defending, and reduce the all-powerful Block to a slightly less automatic skill choice. In LRB teams, there have been complaints that all teams of some races looked the same; with these new skills, and the removal of traits from the game, we can expect to see all sorts of new ideas surfacing for team development. A good thing, I think you'll agree.
This article is current as of the Playtesting Vault v1.5.1. These skills may or may not be in their final form - expect Grapple or Grab to be renamed, as the two are confusingly similar in name.