Half Time CH7: Double Fature

By Rutskarn Posted Tuesday Nov 10, 2015

Filed under: Lets Play 41 comments

Four cabalvision goblins spring a trap as I make my way out of the locker room. The stinging glare of the blue lights and feedback from the interview wand stabs through my hangover to refresh me on a few basic mundane details, like: what was happening today, why I’d gotten so drunk last night, and who I was. “Aw, shit,” I say on general principle as a goblin harmonizes with a flatulent bleep.

“Mister coach,” says the lead cretin, “your boys are going up against the Pinkfoot Panthers in twenty minutes. What would you like to say to the other coach?”

“He’s the one who also coaches a team of halflings?”

“That’s the one.”

“I don’t have to say anything. He knows. We’re the only ones who understand.”

That’s that. Without skipping a beat they parade down the hall to go interview my flustered assistant coaches. So now I have to deal with cabalvision reporters, huh? I guess my life is the same basic genre as a bunch of monsters ripping each other apart according to loosely-defined rules; there’s an inarguable demographic overlap.

Two teams of halflings spread out there on the field, mine all dressed in funeral blacks, his all dressed in can’t-quite-get-the-blood-out pinks. I wouldn’t call it a Clash of Titans. “Clash of Tits,” I mutter under my breath, and one of my assistants looks confused and the other starts sweating under his collar.

The gobbo with the coin comes by. Heads I call, heads it is. Fate had granted me the honor of receiving the kickoff and was presumably putting this, along with everything else, on my bill. Now to keep it occupied fetching bread rolls until I got a clear run for the door. Halflings, I say to myself for the hundredth time that morning. I could deal with this. If I lost, that would be okay. And if I won, that would be…okay.

The star of the Pinkfoot Panthers is a buttery little bastard society had deemed fit to call Presley Pipesmoker. He’s got the louche, pompadoured grace of a stripper lounge singer hired to perform a showbiz wedding, and the crowd doesn’t know what to think about him. As someone who is both a halfling and the most likely source of halfling suffering on the field, the crowd has a mailcart worth of bagging riding on his preternaturally broad shoulders. He’ll be managing the kickoff this fine afternoon.

He steps back from the ballâ€"takes a running startâ€"and sends that ball rocketing faster than a halfling towards an all-you-can-eat squid buffet. And just like a halfling at a squid buffet, it goes incredibly wide. The ball rolls right off the sidelines, a complete disaster of a punt. So that’s what this feels like.

So I get to hand the ball off to whomever I chooseâ€"and Gods help me, I choose Pervince. While my treeman readies the usual fling, Pervince and his companions brace for the horde of blitzing opponents, which is–

A work in progress? To my astonishment, none of my players are currently being murdered. Pinkfoots are huffing and wheezing and falling in the general direction of my offense, but if they don’t pick it up all they’ll find when they get there is a depression on the pitch and a lingering odor of fear. My treeman is fortunately too stupid to be taken off guard by the lack of resistance and fires Pervince, who has against his stunted survival instincts grown accustomed to this move. He lands and hustles. Touchdown.

As my boys are squealing like hogs at a county fair, happy to be given ribbons and oblivious to the implications, I wade out with a sick but not altogether bad feeling in my stomach. “Listen up,” I call out. “We’re not out of this yet. I want several layers of fat on the field hereâ€"I want to be ready if he’s stupid enough to throw his man or if he’s stupid enough to run the ball. I want him to size up his options and realize that he has no chance, not one single fucking chance of getting out of here with a goal or his dignity. I want him to realize every direction he can move on this field is death. You got that?”

“That’s…harsh, coach,” says Polo.

“He’s used to it. Trust me.”

Do they get it? I think they do. A look is crossing my players’ faces–I wouldn’t say, exactly, that they’ve realized they can win. I’m not sure anybody’s sat them down and explained the concept to most of them yet. It’s not about winning for them: it’s that they’ve realized something humbler, more personal, is within reach. Something they’ve yearned for and never realized they needed.

Revenge. It was finally time to pick on someone their own size.

“One more thing,” I said. “I order one pizza for every player of his that ends up on the injury list.”

The whistle blows, the kick goes up, and before his Panthers have figured out where the punt’s going my Skeeters are on him like a grease fire. His boy Presley dives for the ball and starts booking for the treemenâ€"so it’s a fling he has in mind, is it? Bene.

I’m not some cocky, guileless elven fuckboy who lives in a metropolis without needing to shovel cow shit, leads a post-industrial existence without having to burn a stick, and wins his games without lowering himself to notice his opponents. I have had to grind for my most meager and hollow victories and if you think I’m going to leave you a nice breezy open path to the end zone, you and your soon-to-be-dead buddy Presley are about to learn a lesson.

But Presley’s got other worries. His run to the treeman is about to be full of incident I’ve snuck a few of my own through his line during the initial blitz. My boy Halfred jukes around a defender, runs to intercept him…

Just from the sound of crunching bones and pitch of the yowlp I instantly know: the wrong halfling got crunched. Presley keeps running as Halfred, checked by a defender, goes flyingâ€"half his body spinning one way, half spinning the other. I scramble to the field to help drag his limp, sweaty, passionately complaining body to my waiting and lightly swaying apothecary.

“Not bad,” says the apothecary before I say a word. “Broken collarbone. I can fix.” He bends. I hear a few clamps tighten and suddenly Halfred is letting loose the scream that ends the world.

“No problem,” adds the apothecary. “See? Pinched nerve. Be healed in a few days.”

“You said it was–“

Be healed in a few days.

I have to hand it to that pomade-soaked puke Presley, but he can run a ball with the best of the worst of themâ€"he’s made it to the treeman at maximum halfling speed. He steals his breath back as some of my boys close inâ€"his treeman bends, scoops, and hurls…

Well butter my fist and call it a muffin, I guess that stylish quiff isn’t aerodynamic, because he hits a nasty yaw and ploughs the field like a discus made of dough. Milo Cotton dives over the fallen prep and snatches up the ball, but he’s not out of the woods yetâ€"and he’s alone out there with a lot of angry Panthers looking to avenge their fallen figurehead. Milo gets his feet under him and slips by inches ahead of a score of sausage-fingered tackles. His bare feet pound the bloody pitch and he stumbles into the reach of one of the treemen, trying to get his breath back for the big throw, and he’s barely rapped out the signal on the trunk when a half-dozen angry pink turkeys surge from every possible angleâ€"then disappear in a blur from his vision as his brother treeman picks him up and sends him rocketing at eye-watering speed…

And it’s good.


We scored during his play.

It would be wrong to say that for the rest of the matchâ€"an elaborate game of murderous keep-away punctuated by as many bouts of cheeky violence as I can affordâ€"I’m looking on with any enthusiasm. The rush of scoring goals sits oddly in my stomach, given the surreal and outright perverse circumstances. It’s like a serial killer getting the job of hangman. It’s wrong to call it justice and it really shouldn’t feel goodâ€"but it’ll do. One last diversion from the real world of facing real teams, owing real debts, losing real bones, while we trounce an unprepared and no-account team of losers. You know, just like…

The crowd is really going wild, huh.

“What did you tell me last night?” I say suddenly to my assistant coach.

“Uh, ‘please don’t vomit on my socks, those are my only pair.'”

“Before that.”

“I think it was ‘please don’t vomit on my pants, they’re–‘”

“What did you say about the Panthers?”

“They were just like us, except they had fans, victories…”

I yank a dog-eared copy of the win/loss records out of my coaches’ bag. Like all the information I’ve accumulated there I can’t actually understand it. But gradually–dimly–steadily–like a complete moron, I am beginning to make a connection.

“We’re playing the Pinkfoot Panthers again tomorrow,” I say. “Tomorrow is the playoffs. They are in the playoffs?”

“Right, along with the wood elves and…”

“They’ve been winning matches,” I say. “They’re a real team after all. And we just defeated them.”

That dim spark buried under the high of fading booze and cheap fast food–somewhere behind the grinding, gnashing jaws of anxiety and doom–was back. It was hope. Hope had come back.

Why me?

One last speech for the team, short as I could make it. They have a long night of digesting pizza ahead of them. Besides, some of them were beginning to grasp what had happened. I’d let them find their moment.

I was finding mine.

“The day after tomorrow,” I say, “we will play the Wood Elves for the cup. They will win.” I suck in my breath, push my fist against my forehead. “I mean…probably. I can’t see it going any other way. I really can’t. But…I’m an idiot. So what the fuck do I know about anything.”

A dozen wide eyes watch me.

“My point is, tomorrow, you’re going to play the Panthers again. You’re going to win. You’re going to win a lot. And while you’re winning so quickly and easily the other team learns to hate you by name, all of you are going to train. You know how you’re going to do that?”

“Yeah,” says Pervince.

“Really? And how is that, Potatoe?”

“You’re going to have us beat them up, aren’t you?”

“I prefer to call it the School of Lard Knocks. But yeah, that’s it. Tomorrow you are going to play rough–ruthless–unclean–vicious. Consider it a warm-up.”

I drop the boxes of pizza.

“I could tell you it’s not about whether you win or lose. For the elf coach, it is. For me? I don’t know. But I’m starting to realize that if you can’t win, the least you can do is bet on yourself. The least you can do is stick up for yourself–even if you’re a loser. Just because you’re the butt of the joke doesn’t mean you can’t spread your misery. Maybe I walk out of the stadium this weekend with a limp and maybe that smug elven prick walks out with the Clean Cup. Or, maybe…just maybe…he walks out with the Clean Cup and a limp.”


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41 thoughts on “Half Time CH7: Double Fature

  1. Ranneko says:

    Have any of the players leveled up? I am not really sure how Rutskarn will handle that process in character and I guess I am curious if he has any marginally less terrible halfling yet.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I’m pretty sure Pervince has scored at least 2 TDs, so he should be leveled by now…

    2. Bubble181 says:

      He’s mentioned in one of the comment threads that a few of his players have, in fact, leveled. He won’t specifically mention it, though, only show it through his players becoming marginally less sucky.

  2. Primogenitor says:

    “like a serial killer getting the job of hangman”

    Brilliant line, almost makes up for the imagery of a halfling stripper.

  3. Grudgeal says:

    Yeah, the AI just doesn’t know how to play halflings.

    I mean, nobody knows how to play halflings, but the AI doubly so. You should do like most halfling coaches do and try to hire Deeproot Strongbranch at some point, if only so you can tell the story of how this veteran elite player reacts to being hired by C-league team.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      I actually did mention a few posts ago that I’ve started hiring a freelancer with a name “too stupid to remember.” That’s Deeproot. The greater significance of the player is lost, of course, on the protagonist coach.

  4. Craig says:

    Rustkarn, I just wanted you to know that it was this series of posts that got me to pick up Blood Bowl and give it a shot. This game is unforgiving, and tactical, and frustrating in so many ways, and I LOVE it. You’ve introduced me to the one sports game that I can say I actually enjoy. In this post, you’ve actually spoken of my favorite strategy (pummel the opposing team into submission). So thank you for improving my gaming library by showcasing a title I would not have normally considered in such a way that I simply had to try it. Job well done, sir!

    1. RCN says:

      The Orcs and the Dwarves are the best ones if your preferred strategy is “make them know pain”. Orcs because they have several high-strength players with no real disadvantages, dwarves because almost all dwarves have Block and a high armor rating, so they love to take the ball, hold it right where it is, and spend the turns pummeling the opposition.

      Technically the goblins also count, but the high chance of hurting themselves along with the enemy makes them less than ideal for this.

      Elves don’t hurt anyone. Well, except for dark elves, they like to hurt people, but generally what elves do is actually play the game.

      1. guy says:

        At the higher TVs, Chaos wins out in the “hurting people” department; they’ve got better strength and mutation access, which lets them eventually snag Claw. Especially early on, Dwarves can throw punches more regularly, but once Chaos picks up the right skills they’re more able to do real damage.

        1. Grudgeal says:

          Really, once you get up into the high TV perpetual leagues like in online play, there are only two playstyles left: Chaos/Chaos dorf, and those who can play around them. The problem is that normal ‘bashy’ teams (orks and dorfs in particular) rely on heavy armour to keep them alive while they go in for base contact beatings, and every game you play has a decent chance of matching you up with a team of can-openers who send you plummeting right down into the medium TV values again. Teams like amazons, undead and lizardmen, who can add some mobility and dodging to the beatings, tend to do better because they can run away easier. Elves and skaven are minimally impacted because they all have low armour and depend on dodging away and scoring to begin with.

          It’s also a sort of self-perpetuating problem: The best way to avoid losing players (and therefore team value) is to inflict a lot of them yourself. Teams that are good at hurting people in high-value games are also good at staying there, while the other teams repeatedly fall down in team value when an encounter with Chaos kills 2-3 of their good players.

      2. Bubble181 says:

        I know they’re somewhat of a joke team, but Khemri For Unlife!

        1. RCN says:

          Oh, the Khemri.

          “We’ve got absolutely no players with a decent AGI score, so we have no chance in hell of doing any kind of plays, while we also have only a couple of high STR players, everyone else is average, and only a few blitzers.”

          Yep, this team is going places. I like their theming, but their complete inability to hold the ball is both hilarious and agonizing to watch.

    2. Lachlan the Mad says:

      I’m personally a fan of playing with the teams that I refer to in my head as “Divergent teams”; that is to say, teams which have several different types of player that differ from each other by a lot. Divergent teams usually have a couple of big heavy guys who can throw a punch but can’t handle a ball, a couple of skinny guys who can take the ball but can’t afford to get hit, and maybe some lineman-type players in between. Divergent teams play somewhere between the Dwarf and Elf standard strategy; smash up the enemy players to clear a straight line to the back, then cage or pass your way through that line.

      Examples of these teams include Undead, Chaos Dwarves, and Lizardmen. Also Skaven, sort of.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    This makes me wonder how the AI vs AI matches go down. Did the game actually play out several matches on behalf of the Panthers, in which they won their way into the playoffs fair and square? Or does it just flip a coin whenever two AI pair off, and that’s how we got halflings in the playoffs?

    1. Nelly says:

      I think that it uses the team rating (essentially how much it would cost to recreate the team, which takes into account the abilities and levels of each player, the number of re-rolls, cheerleaders, wizards etc) and adds a bit of randomness on there – but it doesn’t take into account the fact that a low team rating of most any race should batter the ‘joke’ teams like halflings – hence how a relatively high team rating halfling team could make the playoffs.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Can you arrange for two AIs to duke it out,robot style?

        1. MrGuy says:

          Rock ’em, Sock ’em Halflings?

        2. Metal C0Mmander says:

          Actually I think you can. With that said I’ve never played Blood Bowl myself so don’t quote me on that.

    2. Grudgeal says:

      The game is scored by random seed taking into account TV and skills. It does not take into account the races played or strategy at all. This usually leads to insanity like an orc – dwarf game going down 3-6 in scores. Also AI games never roll on the injury table, meaning only humans can cause — or receive — permanent injuries.

      1. Lachlan the Mad says:

        The very high scores in the CPU games also severely disadvantage human players because it means that the CPU players level up much faster. It also leads to some oddities with players that don’t normally level up gaining levels; e.g. you get a lot of Level 2 Linemen in CPU teams, even though levelling up a Lineman is extraordinarily difficult for a human player.

    3. Silfir says:

      Reality is much less mundane – the Clean Cup, the first cup available in the single player campaign, only has four teams, all of which qualify for the playoffs.

    4. MrGuy says:

      So, I believe you that this is how the game works. That said, I’m really surprised by this.

      Given that the code for AI strategy in playing games already exists, why NOT simulate the actual gameplay? The AI can decide what to do on a given turn almost instantly, and it’s not like it needs to wait for the “real” clock or animations to play out. Given that everything is turn-based, it’s a heck of a lot easier than (say) simulating a Madden game, and EA’s had the technology to simulate “real” games (including statistics, injuries, etc.) for a decade now.

      If you’ve already got the gameplay, rules, AI decision making, etc. coded, it doesn’t feel like a huge effort to code up a “real” AI vs. AI simulator. Even PS2-level consoles could handle this in a reasonable timeframe (IIRC simulating a full college football season, with ~500 games, would only take ~3 minutes.)

  6. evileeyore says:

    “I don't have to say anything. He knows. We're the only ones who understand.”

    This is the sort of line politicians lay awake at night wishing they had the savvy to say off the cuff. It is so perfectly nuanced… it drips with excellence.

  7. James says:

    Blood Bowl is not about this thing called winning, its about killing as many of the opposing teams players as you can. or atleast thats how everyone i watch plays it.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      TPK (Total ‘Ponent Kill) is one of the best strategies.

  8. shiroax says:

    Did Christopher get fired from the network? What’s going on?

    1. Metal C0Mmander says:

      It’s not a network it’s a couple of friends hanging around so no he probably just has other things to do.

      1. shiroax says:

        One of us is not getting a reference.

        1. MrGuy says:

          Like, a reference book? Which one? I haven’t been to that section of the library in a long time.

  9. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    I was thinking of getting this game, but I don’t know any rules of American football so if I do get it I would probably just kill the other team and run to the other side with the ball. Sounds like the easiest way to win without much knowledge of the real sport.

    1. Syal says:

      That’s about all you need to understand about American Football anyway; the rest is just trivia.

    2. Felblood says:

      Those are basically the two parts of Bloodbowl that resemble American Handegg, so you should be set.

      Remember that this is a British game very much about making fun of Irish and American sportsfans.

    3. MrGuy says:

      I assure you, a knowledge of actual football play and strategy is a HUGE disadvantage in this game. You’re “just murder that dude” approach is better than anything that would occur to someone who thinks in terms of “real” football strategy.

  10. Catamaran says:

    I love that ending, it reminds me of my favorite line from Fuzzy Nation: “Just because you’re going to loose, doesn’t mean the other guy has to win.”

  11. Grudgeal says:

    Ah, welcome back to the studio. As always, I am Jim Johnson-

    Hey Jim, Jim!

    -And with me, as always, is my esteemed colleague Bob Bifford, who is very much trying to get my attention. Yes Bob, what is it?

    Well I’m glad you asked that Jim. I’ve just gotten ahold of some fresh footage, straight off the Chaos Cup and the opening grudge match between the Wizened Windwalkers and the Cleaverland Bloodreds.

    Ah yes, the Windwalkers had hired in Jordell Freshbreeze for the big match, wasn’ that it?

    Exactly, Jim, and I’ve got best-angle shots of this beaut of a leap, done by Freshbreeze in the Windwalkers’ second half drive. Let’s watch it on the big screen!

    All right… So, he’s coming up on the defensive backs and oh, up he goes, it’s a bit of an off-angle on the spin there but the landing’s… Oh. Oh. Well, I see why you picked this out. What’s the word from his physician, Bob?

    Two weeks in traction, Jim. *Grins* And that’s not counting the follow-up from the Bloodreds’ star blitzer Tim “Th’Elbow” who’s just coming in view on screen and is about to deliver this beaut of a boot right to the-

    Yes, well, I’m going to cut you off there Bob. Let’s have some cleaner stuff? And speaking of clean, the Clean Cup is about to go into playoffs. With two Halfling teams on board, no less.

    Well, Jim, what else can you expect from a cup that bans the unleashing of savage orks doped to the eyeballs? Now it looks like it’s all going to come down to some midgets, and some even smaller midgets.

    To be fair, they’re all midgets to you Bob.

    Can’t help how we’re born — or raised in your case. Geddit? ‘Raised’? Because you’re-

    Yes, yes, Bob, it wasn’t funny the first few hundred times either. Anyway, here’s hoping for some carnage — either done by, or done to, the Skeeters and Panthers — from the cross-species competition until the elves inevitably win.

    Pretty much Jim. We’ll keep the “dead elves”-meter rolling for all of you sitting at home, just in case.

    Now on to cups that actually matter. But before that, a word from the Clean Cup’s Sponsors. This week: Red Moon Energy Drink — Unleash the Beast Within! Sold in limited editions only!

    …Don’t they brew with Warpstone, Jim?

    Indeed Bob, that tagline isn’t figurative. ‘Limited edition’ sounds a lot better than ‘the health inspectors shut us down’ as well…

    (Apologies to Christopher.)

    1. Metal C0Mmander says:

      RED MOON ENERGY DRINK! Of course the league that has a bunch of elves and halflings teams take sponsors from the sissiest of drinks. Real mens know whats the only lycathrophe themed sports drink worth anything. They only drink good old Full Moon Energyâ„¢ #PoundTheWerewolf

      1. James says:

        #PoundTheWerewolf Kinky

        1. Von Krieger says:

          NO YIFFING

    2. Christopher says:

      Hey man it’s cool, I was busy writing a report on the My Lai massacre XD and then having my room spring a leak so I had to spend yesterday moving. Glad someone picked up the slack!

  12. James says:

    This series feels like a sports movie parody set in a fantasy setting and I love it. Its funny, smart, witty and dark. Looking forward to seeing how this all ends.

    1. Catamaran says:

      Especially with the elves, — rich, snobby jerks — it really did feel like the classic underdog sports movie, just with all the horrible bloodbowl violence and gambling debts thrown in on top. The only way it could be better is with an inspiring musical score.

      I actually got the shivers when the coach made that first speech and ended it with “I'll take you out to pizza if you manage to kill one more elf.” Offering said pizza to the coach of the opposing team when he came over to gloat was just that much better.

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