The Black Orifice

Tabletop gaming resources and events from grumpy old games designers, Ben Redmond and Nigel McClelland

Guild Ball: Roleplaying Inspiration

Guild Ball is a fantastic game. It's a skirmish miniatures game, and a sports game at the same time. I don't like skirmish games as a rule. I find them samey and often dominated by powerful individual models. But Guild Ball is different. Guild Ball also isn't a Blood Bowl clone. The skirmish element of the game gives it a very different feel. It plays like a skirmish game where you just happen to be kicking a ball around while you go about the usual business of murderising each other. But it is precisely this ball-play component of the game that gives it the depth to strategy and gameplay.

But it's the setting for Guild Ball that I want to concentrate on. It's the setting that drew me in in the first place. I found out about Guild Ball by talking to Byron Orde (of Steamforged and Element Games) who sold it to me with the same pitch the designers had used to sell it to him: "The opening fight scene from Gangs of New York with a football, in a setting inspired by The Lies of Locke Lamora." I love "Lies". It's probably my all time favourite book (yes, it beats Lord of the Rings!). Shortly after reading it, I was inspired to put together a detailed campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) and run it at Fanboy 3 in Manchester. It was my first attempt at public GMing and one of the best games I've ran. Despite the flaws of WFRP 2nd edition, we had a great time ad it lived up to my goals of allowing me to play a Lies of Locke Lamora roleplaying game. Yet it still felt like Warhammer.

Before I continue I think I should take a brief moment to discuss my thoughts on licensed RPGs. I'm not a fan. Most licensed settings are from an existing story (whether from a film, TV show, novel or whatever) and as such lack a certain breadth of setting that I require in a roleplaying game. As soon as you start to go beyond the places and events covered in the story there's not enough to get your teeth into. There are some exceptions to this rule. Firstly there are some setting that are just so big and have so many different unconnected stories that it creates the breadth required (Star Wars for example). Then there are setting that were built for other forms of gaming. Whilst perhaps lacking the depth provided by the story, they are set up to allow people to forge their own stories, and hence have lots of breadth (WH40K is a classic example).

The Lies of Locke Lamora, it's fair to say, doesn't (yet at least, when the full 7 books are out and there's been a few extra bits on the side) have that breadth I want for a roleplaying setting. What I'm looking for isn't Lies of Locke Lamora the roleplaying game, but a game setting that will allow me to explore the themes, styles, tropes and (if I'm feeling lazy and find some player's who've yet to read the books) plots from these books. But Guild Ball, as a gaming universe, has the required breadth. It also has the style and themes I'm looking for. The world is rich beyond the "game". There's intrigue between the guilds, the plotting and scheming of the different nobles, churchmen and military dictators to garner their own power. It's a world ripe for adventures beyond the Mob Football pitch.

And it's not only the setting that has me inspired. Guild Ball's core mechanics are smooth and interesting, and already allow for pretty much the variety of results you need for a good crunchy RPG combat mechanic. I read its combat systems and just wanted to make an RPG system based on it. So, doubly inspired I got to work.

It's all a bit note-format-y at the minute, but for the results, have a look at this PDF.