Monster Ball

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As someone who was born left-handed and forced to be right-handed, I loved sports - just as long as they didn't involve throwing or catching a ball - because that I sucked at. So I never went in for team sports, and if you didn't play them as a kid you generally don't care about them as an adult. That is me too. But in September of 1982 an issue of Dragon Magazine would arrive in the mail which would change all of that.
Issue #65 is an excellent issue, one of the best of all time. It's got an excellent evocative cover. An introduction to a brand new game I would soon fall in love with called Star Frontiers. Three new chromatic dragons with some excellent artwork by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easely. The Time Lord NPC class by Lewis Pulsipher, which no one would ever let me bring into a game. One of the funniest What's New by Phil Foglio ever written. But the highlight of the issue is a mini-game called Monsters of the Midway by Gail Sanchez which purports to let you play football using D&D monsters.
(The Purple Dragon is so Cool!)
My friends and I tore this issue apart. We assembled its medieval looking scoreboard, laid out its map and popped out its chits. And there my memory begins to grow foggy. I remember starting to play the game but I don't recall who won or if anyone did. I went back through my collection of Dragon magazines, pulled out #65 and gave MotM a read. And, um....
Yeah, we definitely did not play this.
While impressive for all that they are trying to accomplish, the rules of MotM are problematic. They're written in that old ironclad way of writing which is determined to make sure the rules cannot be misconstrued or creatively twisted in any possible way by ruthless little munchkins eager to win. At all costs!
(But what a great piece of artwork! I wish I knew who did this. Update! It's Paul Sonju.)
No offense to Gail Sanchez of Kim Mohan or anyone else involved in this project but MotM is a mirthless committee-driven bowl of cold oatmeal with no easy way to get into let alone play. It does have halfling kickers. So that is something. But knowing my friends and myself, we definitely must have given up about halfway through to go outside and throw a nerf around.
As an adult?
I still could not make it through three pages of this article, not without deciding it would be easier to just create my own football-playing Dungeons & Dragons adaption. And since this is the week before the Superbowl and everyone has football on the brain, that is exactly what I did. If you're interested....
It is still in its white pages form. Someday I would like to make something more of it, but right now I don't even have a working printer to make paper minis with, so no it has not been play-tested. All of that will just have to wait.
Monster Ball
What was it like creating Football for D&D?
For one thing, it quickly came to light that I only thought I knew how football was played. Much of my time was spent relearning (and fixing) what I learned back in grade school about the game. Next I had to figure out what to keep and what to leave out. Doing a full-blow simulation of professional football would have asked too much of its players for what the game would be worth.
Creating the playing field proved to be quite a challenge. I didn't realize just how important movement and the matter of blocking the movement of other players would be to the game, as well as the task of keeping everything in proportion and accurate with its yardage while also shrinking the field down to a size that could be played on a normal tabletop. Figuring out that trimming an inch off of each end zone meant that it could be draw onto a standard 2x3' battle mat was a nice surprise.
(Maybe not this colorfully, but you get the picture.)
After days of doing all of that, it was the D&D part that I inevitably ended up - heart-wrenchingly - abandoning. I truly and sincerely wanted the game to be able to use creatures straight out of the Monster Manual - because who doesn't want a linebacker that's a Gelatinous Cube? - but you are layering one complex game over the top of another complex game, neither of which were designed to be compatible with the other.
The game also needed to play quickly. Sure actual Football can take a whole hour to get through a minute on the clock, but no one is going to bother with a game that takes a whole hour to get through a single play (for that you need Pathfinder ;-) In the end, I decided it was best to simply be inspired by the monsters of D&D and create a new system of stats to work specifically with the system.
Would I Play It?
Absolutely! In fact, I would rather do that than watch the Superbowl or play D&D - heresy I'm sure - but one of the neat things about Monster Ball is being constrained to a course of action with a set goal in mind, something other than just find the monster and kill it. I don't think it has as much replay-ability as D&D, but it does seem like a whole lot of fun and that is what I look for in a game.
So take a look, and tell me what you think.
Like an elven running back, I'm all ears.
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