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GLN 15 - The other half of Blood Bowl

The other half of Blood Bowl
Running Fluff, Leagues, and Fluffy Leagues!
by mister__joshua

I'm mister__joshua, though look less like Gary Busey and more like Jesus. I've been back active on FUMBBL for over 2 years now, and during that time have become heavily involved in League. While I wouldn't claim to be an expert, I'd like to think that I'm now at a point in my League journey where I can pass on some knowledge to fellow prospective Group Managers.

My League History
I've had mixed experiences running leagues. I got involved in the revamped BB7's which never took off, then LOBBL which took off and crashed, and finally Grind which has recently exploded following a stuttered start. Each of these experiences teaches valuable lessons, so I'll go through each in turn.

BB7s Relaunch
I really excitedly joined the BB7s rules committee in the back end of 2012 after commenting on the forums and chatting with Rabe, who was running it at the time but dropped out soon after due to time constraints. BB7s was inactive at the time, and the general consensus among everyone was that it needed a re-launch. I worked on the branding. You can still see a couple of my old blogs with the logo I created and there was a group page too that I recently removed.

The idea behind 7s is simple and beautiful. It's 7-a-side Blood Bowl. 7s has always had at its center amateur league fluff, and the game is designed to be quick and easy to play. FUMBBL is more restrictive that tabletop so we couldn't use the reduced pitch size of regular 7s, nor could we modify things like skilling players, KO tables, CAS rolls and other things changed in the full BB7 rules.

To start with the 7s was very positive. We had a good bunch of enthusiastic testers wanting to help out, and the client changes has just allowed a Players on Field setting. The group management were good and willing. So what went wrong?
The problems with BB7s were 2-fold. The first problem was that we (the BB7 rules committee) couldn't reach a decision on what we wanted it to be, and what we wanted out of it. There was one branch dedicated to fast play pickup games, and another trying to inject the fluff from previous incarnations. In the end a balance was reached, and the fast-play mostly won out, but this highlighted new problems. It wasn't fast enough. Games we thought would take 30 minutes regularly took an hour. Another problem was the Open Format. This allowed coaches to quickly find games, only there wasn't the saturation of coaches to allow for quickly finding a game. Open formats struggle to compete with Ranked for number of opponents and game finding. By the time a game was found and then played you were looking at the same time commitment as a Ranked game.

Faced with returning to the drawing board and starting from scratch, the committee eventually folded. I took most of my ideas forwards, which you'll see again later.

LOBBL was a completely different league with completely different ideas and ideals. Based in a new world, not set in Warhammer Fluff, the league told the story of the development of Blood Bowl in Orymm and teams each had their own story, travelling around the continents between rounds and playing games to develop their story and achieve personal goals.
Calthor put a lot of work into developing the world of Orymm. I'd been talking on the forum about fluff-centric leagues and decided after a bit of discussion to put my idea on hold and assist in developing Orymm. It was massive amounts of fun developing this world, but a large amount of work. Again, we had dedicated coaches who loved the environment. The reason LOBBL failed was entirely different, but there are similarities. It suffered greatly from over-ambition. The amount of work required to sustain the league was unbelievable. The ongoing stories, tracking team movements, adding new teams and locations. It all became a lot of work, and so went a little quiet. Some of the coaches tried to keep it ticking over, arranging games and encouraging others, but as activity slowed it faded into the background and ceased. LOBBL also suffered from the Open Format, though not to the same degree. Lots of games got played. I feel the problem is that when coaches get short of time it's far too easy not to play Open games while Scheduled games people make time for.

This all for me eventually led to Grind. This was an amalgamation of my fluff ideas I'd discussed before LOBBL and the play style ideas I enjoyed from BB7s. With the league I wanted to achieve 3 things:
1) Have fluff be central, and impact on the field as well as just in the team bios.
2) Feel different in play to any currently existing league.
3) Create a balanced environment encompassing some larger ideas.

I started by addressing the second point. It needed to feel and play differently enough that people would find it interesting. This is where I took the 7s ideas I enjoyed on the field. Reduced player numbers and limited re-rolls being central among them. Reducing the number of players changes the flow of the game, and limiting the re-rolls (starting with 0) makes it exciting and leads to fun and thrilling plays that wouldn't be attempted in a more controlled 11 man game. I'd enjoyed this style and so trusted that others would. I made it 8 man with a 4 man LOS mainly to be different, and because I'd been researching Arena Football which uses these numbers.

Point 1 was important to me, and so with the foundations in place I starting considering the fluff justification for the league. I looked for regions not commonly mentioned in Blood Bowl fluff and decided upon Tilea for it's use of mercenaries, quarreling city-states and many wealthy nobles. I wrote a background piece on the region and the formation of the game in Tilea known as Grindball. This justified alternate rules and also gave the region control over their own version of the game which was important from a fluff perspective. To encourage fluff of teams and player I wanted to try and reduce the number of retired players. Injured players have better stories. I also wanted the fluff to impact the game on the field. I did this in a few ways. Firstly, I made the number of games a player has featured in important to the earning of re-rolls for a team. So an injured, unskilled 10 game veteran is still of value. Secondly I introduced the concept of personal vendettas. This mechanic rewards individual players for targeting opposition players who have previously injured them. Finally the Grudges mechanic allows full grudge matches to be played between teams, which are often violent.

Point 3 was the last thing to address, but also the thing I was most excited about. I had an idea for a skill prerequisite system that would limit player's access to certain skills until they had acquired certain other skills. This was used as a balancing mechanic between the teams, a way to get some less used skills on the pitch, and also a way to solve some problems associated with full Blood Bowl like certain skill combination being overpowered. This has been tweaked after both of the 2 season played, but remains largely similar to its original incarnation.

With these 3 things in place there were some other minor rules to work out and balance considerations when allowing different races, and I was ready to go.

Why did it work this time?
There are a number of reasons that this one worked where others have failed, though there is always some luck and timing involved. Among them was that this was solely my project and I was in control of all aspects during the initial stages. I sought feedback and listened to opinions, but I had overall control and was able to guide it the way I wanted. This ability to have a final decision made it easier to get things done where a collaboration would have involved more discussion.

Starting a league is a lot of work. A lot of work, time and dedication. Certainly in the early stages. You need to develop an idea into a ruleset, create a group page and recruit coaches. A group page can be tough if you're not a bbcode user. I'd started learning bbcode a year previous so was good in this regard. To start a league you've got to be willing to put the time in at the beginning, and to do this you've really got to love the idea.

Coaches are the most important thing in any league. Numbers are important early on. You need about 8-10 to function for most leagues. I think we started with 12. The quality of coach is more important, and not something you can always gauge. We had massive dropouts in the first season, not from people dropping the league but from leaving FUMBBL altogether and going offline for weeks. The original season was eventually abandoned and reformed as a KO tournament for the remaining coaches.
How to find coaches is an tough hurdle for any new league. I tried forum posts, multiple blogs. All drew in one or two. But for me by far the most effective method has been individual PMs. It's personal, so more likely to be read. Also you know the person receiving it and so more likely know if they'll be interested. I knew from my friends list half a dozen people who I thought would enjoy the league so that was easy recruiting.

Keeping a league running on your own is tough, and after the opening season I sought support from the existing coaches. Throweck joined the Management initially and helped run things when I was away. Cowhead has taken on the fluff side of the league in a big way and is doing marvelous things, writing stories and news reports. I've also got a group of 5 coaches who I use as support and feedback for any ideas and changes. Anyone in the league was free to join, and the support of fellow coaches is a great assurance.

I think the final reason that it's still running and running strong is motivation. I've been careful not to let the league lie dormant for too long between seasons. Following the final of Season 2 we had an open play period with new coaches joining that had an incredible 50 games played in 3 weeks. Launching an Open Format league can be tough, but with the coaches already in place and invested it can work. This won't remain the format though, and following the Cabalvision Amateur Cup we'll be launching back into a scheduled season. We now have 25 coaches competing at various levels of frequency, which is very humbling. People seem to enjoy the format, and I'm hopeful that it'll run for many more seasons yet.

I'm also hopeful that all cowhead's stat freaks will die :D

Coming next issue - The Truth: The sordid history of Grindball by Mignus Mignusson