Most people you know who are football fans also play fantasy football. It's a huge part of why the NFL is the single most popular thing in America. It allows fans to become even more invested in a sport that they live and die with every week for five or so months out of every year. Fantasy football is beyond a fad; it's an integral part of sports culture. Hell, there's even a sitcom about fantasy football.
But I have to take umbrage with the word "fantasy" being tied to fantasy football. At this point, most leagues are just selecting players and hoping they put up big numbers for you. It's more "accountancy football" than anything else. Where I come from, "fantasy" involves reading about a plague sweeping across the last vestiges of a mystical elven forest, or rolling a d20 to see if you've successfully bartered with a shopkeeper, or getting in arguments because Tom Bombadil wasn't in any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
In fantasy football, it's not as if you're pretending to be the players or anything. You're just hoping that they perform well and that you picked and/or started the right person that day. You're basically just rooting for the people you already picked to be a fan of that season. It's "hopeful football." The main difference between just rooting for your favorite players or a favorite team and participating in fantasy football is that for the latter, you look at a bunch of numbers at the end of the day and go, "ARGH!"
So let's take this one back for all the football geeks. For those of us who land in the Venn diagram overlap between "football fans" and "unabashed nerd." For those of you who have never partaken in a role-playing game ... well, first of all, you don't know what you're missing. I'm trying to make this game as simple as possible so that if you're never fought a fake dragon in your life, you can do so. For casual fans and hardcore gamers alike, wouldn't you like to see Peyton Manning break the lock on a groaning treasure chest stuffed with hobgoblin gold? Don't you wonder whether -- on any given Sunday -- Arian Foster could vanquish a pit of bugbears? Now you can make that happen. Finally.
The first section, "True Fantasy Football," (F&F) is for the (assumed) majority of you who have never played a pencil-and-paper game before. If you're already familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and RPG mechanics of that type, you may want to skip ahead to the section labeled "Advanced True Fantasy Football." Or -- if you prefer -- "AF&F."
True Fantasy Football
You can either play the game by yourself each week or with a group of friends. The first thing you need to do is assemble a band of adventurers! But not just ANY band of adventurers; football adventurers! This basic version of the game is a combination between a normal RPG and a party game, but it should be fun either way.
Select one of each of the following in one game each week:
- Running back
- Wide receiver or tight end
- Safety or Linebacker
- Punter or Kicker
- Defensive or Offensive lineman
Congratulations! You now have a hearty band of intrepid travelers who are braving an unpredictable world. They're also football players. If you're playing with others, assign one of the above players to each participant.
It's important to remember that you'll be playing AS the player you selected; not as yourself. If you selected Mark Sanchez, for example, try to imagine how Handsome Mark would approach things (hint: handsomely). If you selected Terrell Owens, just do the exact opposite of what a normal, reasonable human being would do, I guess.
Before the game starts, introduce your player to the rest of the group, including a bit about your background and your life goal. It can be as short as you want, but make sure your player has a motivation. Example: "Hi, I'm Philip Rivers. I'm stubborn and cranky most of the time. I was driven to be an adventurer because of my father, Norv, who thinks that I'll never amount to anything. I have vowed to prove him wrong by becoming the best swordsman in the NFL."
Since all role-playing games tend to stick to the same basic premises over and over again, we'll give you one of the two most common ones as a backdrop for your game-adventure.
Home team wins the coin toss: Your band of footballers is setting off into the treacherous wastelands to bring down the evil king, whose shadowy minions are doing ... shadowy, minion-y things to the innocent townsfolk of your native countryside.
Away team wins the coin toss: You and your footballing compatriots are in a slightly sinister city full of dark alleys and -- of course -- treachery. A strange man agrees to pay you handsomely if you can get to the bottom of the thefts and abductions that have plagued a certain sector of the town. You agree to investigate ... using football, I guess.
Each set of downs is an obstacle to overcome. This could be your party encountering a grumpy troll you have to fight, it might be a sleeping guard that you have to pickpocket the keys from, or it might be a diplomat you have to seduce. Assign a different person each quarter to be the Game Master (GM). That person is responsible for keeping track of points and for announcing what the current obstacle is. Be creative! It could be literally anything. It could be Dan Quayle trying to convince you that "potato" is spelled with an "e." It is pure fantasy.
Objective: In a single game, you're trying to overcome nine obstacles and a boss battle. If you successfully defeat all 10 stages, you win! Or, if you're the last player left "alive" at the end of the game, you win AND gain bragging rights over your friends. You did such a good job! Now everyone hates you.
You defeat obstacles by gaining experience points (XP). If good things happen to your players, you gain XP. If bad things happen, you lose HP.
Gameplay: During each set of downs, you will try to achieve 10 XP before loss of possession. It is okay if your selected players are on opposite sides of the ball, as we shall see in a moment.
Everyone starts the game at 0 XP and 20 HP. If a given player reaches 0 HP, they are "dead" for the rest of the game, making things harder on everyone else. Although you can win on your own, it's important to try to keep the whole party alive. Although if you're playing as Albert Haynesworth or Desean Jackson, you won't really care about that.
If you reach 10 XP before the ball changes hands, you win and move on to the next objective (which starts on the next set of downs). For each objective you complete, everyone regains 1 HP (you can't have more than your maximum HP, which starts at 20). If you don't reach 10 XP before the ball changes hands, everyone loses 2 HP.
If you have completed nine objectives, you move on to the BOSS BATTLE. The mechanics of the boss battle are the same, except it takes 20 XP (in one set of downs) to defeat. If you lose the boss battle, keep going until you win or everyone is dead. This is basically just how a normal football game works, too.
Gaining XP: When good stuff happens, you get XP. This XP counts for each player, so for example, if your chosen quarterback throws a pass to your chosen receiver, they would each get 1 XP for the completed pass, or 2 XP total for the play. If, however, your chosen QB throws a completed pass to a receiver or tight end you did NOT select before the game, only the QB would get the XP.
Here are the things that give you XP. Please note that these only count if one of your designated players performs the action:
- Completed pass
- Rush for more than 5 yards
- Tackle of ball carrier
- Successful PAT
- Punt of more than 40 yards
- Swatted down pass
- Completed pass of more than 10 yards
- Reception of more than 10 yards
- Rush for more than 10 yards
- Tackle for loss of yardage
- Forced fumble
- Fumble recovery
- Field goal
- Completed pass of more than 20 yards
- Reception of more than 20 yards
- Rush for more than 20 yards
- Your player blocks field goal or kick: 4 XP, everyone regains one lost HP
- Your player recovers fumble for a touchdown: 8 XP, everyone regains one lost HP
- Your player runs back interception for touchdown: 8 XP, everyone regains one lost HP
- Your player runs back kickoff or punt for touchdown: Instantly complete current obstacle. (Including boss fight!)
Losing HP: When bad stuff happens, you lose HP. You start at 20 HP and regain one lost HP for every completed objective. You cannot go above your maximum HP. The HP works in conjunction with the XP based on who you selected. For example, if your chosen quarterback gets sacked by your chosen defender, you gain 3 XP for the defender getting the sack, but your QB loses 3 HP.
Here are the things that make you lose HP. Please note that these only count if one of your designated players has the listed action happen to him:
Lose 1 HP:
- Ball carrier tackled
- Dropped pass
- Missed PAT
- Punt of less than 30 yards
Lose 2 HP:
- Ball carrier tackled for loss of yardage
- Lost fumble
- Ball carrier shakes chosen defender's tackle
Lose 3 HP:
- Missed field goal
- QB throws interception
- QB gets sacked
- Your chosen PK has a field goal or punt blocked: lose 4 HP
- Team tries and fails to convert fourth down: EVERYONE loses 3 HP
- Safety happens when chosen QB is on offense: EVERYONE loses 5 HP
Leveling Up: For every 20 XP that your individual player receives, you regain one HP and your maximum HP increases by one! So if you gain 20 XP in a game, you go to "Level 2" and that player now has 21 maximum HP. It's like steroids, but no pretense of testing!
Keeping Score: This may seem like a lot to keep track of, but it's no more complicated than keeping score in a game of gin rummy. Have one person keep a running score each quarter. Here is how your sheet can look:
Just start a line for each new set of downs and keep track of each player's XP and HP as you go. Count from 1-9 as you complete objectives. That's it!
For a true RPG experience, include handicaps, limitations and other house rules on given players. For example:
- Ed Reed starts with five less HP than other players, due to the ravages of time.
- Any XP gained by the Cincinnati Bengals gets put in jail until after the game.
- Detroit Lions players have a "false hope" feature. Take away 2 HP from every Lions player for every third down they fail to convert in the fourth quarter.
- Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo both gain one XP for interceptions in addition to losing HP, because it's all the same to them at this point.
- Anyone sacked or tackled by Ray Lewis loses twice as much HP and has the fear of God put into them. They don't gain any XP for the remainder of the possession.
- Everyone loses one HP each time an announcer mentions Tim Tebow in a game that does not actually feature Tim Tebow. This one could completely decimate your fantasy league.
And of course, you can adjust XP requirements and starting HP to make the game harder or easier as you see fit.
Casual gamers, good luck! Hope you slay that dragon! (Which I'm going to assume is some scaly, conjoined version of Rex and Rob Ryan.)
For the hardcore RPG people still with us, read on!
Advanced True Fantasy Football
You can also play AF&F either by yourself or with friends. If you're playing with friends, you would perform a normal snake draft (or whatever) just like you normally would in fantasy football. But keep in mind that for Advanced True Fantasy Football, we are assigning classes to positions:
Quarterback = Paladin
Running back = Rogue/Thief
Wide receiver/Tight end = Ranger
Safety/Linebacker = Warlock
Kicker/Punter = Wizard
Defensive/Offensive Lineman = Warrior
The classes are important to keep in mind, because each week you will be assembling a band (or "lineup") of 3-5 players to send on an adventure. You could choose to send in a group of all Paladins/quarterbacks, if you're able to. But you'll probably want to mix things up.
Each draft should last until every participant has at least three players in each class/position (to allow for injuries).
If you're playing by yourself: Select five players from the available pool before the first game kicks off each week. Make a note of those players. Simple enough!
If you're playing with others: You'll need at least four people to make this work; six people is ideal.
Each week, designate someone as the Game Master. If one person wants to be the dedicated GM for an entire season, by all means let them (unless, of course, they're lousy at it). If everyone wants to take a turn, select a GM for the first week and determine an order for everyone else to rotate into the GM position each week.
Each person other than the GM will report who they will be playing each week. Each person gets ONE player per week to use from their available drafted players. Again, it's best to mix up the configuration of your group, especially if two players in a given week have their selected quarterbacks going head-to-head.
The GM will make a note of the adventurers selected each week and will keep track of and bundle the appropriate stats for those players. At some point during the following week (and this could actually be done on the following Sunday, if you so choose), the participants will meet to play the game. So essentially: each week, you'll be playing True Fantasy Football based on the previous week's stats.
Here are the stats that you will need to bundle each week and which classes will use which stats:
Passing Yards (Paladins)
Passing Touchdowns (Paladins)
Rushing Yards (Paladins AND Rogues)
Rushing Touchdowns (Paladins AND Rouges)
Receiving Yards (Rangers)
Touchdown Receptions (Rangers)
Average Kicking/Punting Yardage (Wizards)
PAT Made: (Wizards)
Field Goals Made: (Wizards)
Tackles (Warlocks AND Warriors)
Tackles For Loss Of Yardage (Warlocks AND Warriors)
Interceptions: (Warlocks AND Warriors)
Sacks (Warlocks AND defensive Warriors)
Also please make a note on whether the selected players were involved in any of the following:
Blocked Field Goal/Kick
Whether a Paladin was sacked
Whether a Paladin threw an interception
Advanced: If you are familiar with the core mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons, you're basically creating an adventure each week based on the stats. The weekly stats will tell you which modifiers to apply to rolls. Here's the breakdown:
1-100 passing yards: +1 to attacks/initiative/healing
101-200 passing yards: +2 to attacks/initiative/healing
201-300 passing yards: +3 to attacks/initiative/healing
301+ passing yards: +4 to attacks/initiative
1 passing or rushing touchdown: +1 to checks
2-3 passing/rushing touchdowns: +2 to checks
4+ passing/rushing touchdowns: +3 to checks
1-49 rushing yards: +1 to saving throws
50+ rushing yards: +2 to saving throws
1-50 rushing yards: +1 to attacks/initiative
51-100 rushing yards: +2 to attacks/initiative
101-200 rushing yards: +3 to attacks/initiative
201+ rushing yards: +4 to attacks/initiative
1 touchdown: +1 to checks/saves
2-3 touchdowns: +2 to checks/saves
4+ touchdowns: +3 to checks/saves
1-50 receiving yards: +1 to attacks/initiative
51-100 receiving yards: +2 to attacks/initiative
101-200 receiving yards: +3 to attacks/initiative
201+ receiving yards: +4 to attacks/initiative
1 touchdown: +1 to checks/saves
2-3 touchdowns: +2 to checks/saves
4+ touchdowns: +3 to checks/saves
40+ yards average per punt: +3 to attacks/initiative
50+ yards average per punt: +4 to attacks/initiative
1 successful PAT/FG: +1 to checks/saves
2-3 successful PAT/FG: +2 to checks/saves
4+ successful PAT/FG: +3 to checks/saves
Warlocks and Warriors:
1-3 tackles: +1 to attacks
4-5 tackles: +2 to attacks
5+ tackles: +3 to attacks
1 interception: +4 to initiative
2+ interceptions: +5 to initiative
1 tackle for loss of yardage: +1 to checks
2-3 tackles for loss of yardage: +2 to checks
4+ tackles for loss of yardage: +3 to checks
0.5-1.0 sacks: +4 to saves
1.5+ sacks: +5 to saves
If any of the following items happens to your selected players during the week, have the following result happen to that player in combat. These effects will occur on the first successful enemy attack against the player. If your player fell victim to more than one of the following during the week, have the effect happen to them once per battle for as many times as necessary.
Fumble: Dazed (save ends)
Blocked Field Goal/Kick: Immobilized (save ends)
Safety: Blinded (save ends)
Paladin sacked: Slowed (save ends)
Paladin threw interception: Poisoned (2 HP per turn, save ends)
If a player suffers a season-ending injury, they are "dead" within the game for that season. That is harsh, but that is how it has to be. They may be able to be revived/resurrected the following season at the same level/XP they attained when they suffered the injury, but will have summoning sickness that will last for the first game of that season. (-2 to all stats/attacks/rolls.)
If a player is knocked out of action for a week or a month or a year, you will not be allowed to draft another player to fill your roster. Your roster will just be reduced by one. This is why you drafted three of each class. If your roster is decimated throughout the season; hey! WELCOME TO ROLE-PLAYING GAMES, BUDDY.
If you play either version of these games, or have suggestions on how to improve them, let us know about it! Have fun out there, everyone.
For all news and information regarding pro football, please visit our dedicated NFL hub. For wall-to-wall advice, updates and expert analysis regarding real, actual fantasy football, stay tuned to SB Nation's fantasy football hub.