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Rather than abstracting a game of basketball into one or more die rolls, is there a role-playing game that can, with a minimum of house rules, simulate almost moment-by-moment on-court basketball action? That is, a game wherein each player can take the role of an individual basketball player and, on the tabletop, a virtual basketball game can be played?

Such a game should include...

  • tactical movement on a map. An absolute requirement; theater of the mind prohibited.
  • rules for jumping and, by extension, dunking.
  • rules for throwing and, by extension, catching and intercepting a thrown object.
  • rules for dribbling. (I know of no game with rules for this kind of dribbling; house rules may be required.)
  • rules for guarding a player.
  • probably short individual action opportunities (i.e. what most games call turns). For example, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5's 6-second turns seem almost too long, and Hero System, 5th Edition's 12-second turns broken into 1-second phases leave much to be desired.

It'd be great if such a system had rules for fatigue and extra effort as well as rules governing the impact of cheerleaders, coaching, friendly or unfriendly audiences, and court familiarity, but the primary concern is movement and game-play options that permit simulating an actual basketball game, not the entire spectrum of basketball-related ephemera. (Although if such a game includes rules for simulating negotiating contracts and licensing agreements, that would be interesting.)

Further, I realize that a basketball game using such a system would likely be extremely tedious to play out in its entirety. Thus it's totally cool if a role-playing game either allows playing just the basketball game's last few minutes (perhaps 1 to 5 minutes and perhaps providing a means to determine the score up to that point) or abstracts large portions of the basketball game in favor of tabletopping directly only the important bits.

Finally, such a system should support other modes of play besides basketball a la the video game Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, the manga Slam Dunk, and the short-lived American comic book series Xerø, this last this question's inspiration.

Note that I am uninterested in a board game like Blood Bowl or a statistics-only game like Strat-O-Matic, even were such games to have role-playing elements appended.

What campaigns may look like

  • Al's GMing and Bob, Chris, and Dylan are players. Al's described the setting as a post-apocalyptic basketball-focused world in which disputes are settled by basketball games between rival gangs. Bob, Chris, and Dylan play secret agents of the surviving spy agency who are tasked with bringing peace and justice to the setting... through basketball.
  • Eli's GMing and Fred, Greg, and Harriet are players. Eli's described the setting as a secret magic contemporary one wherein rival factions play underground basketball games to appease the unfathomable evils, the worst players on losing teams devoured by the great beasts from beyond space and time. A tournament will soon be held, the winner gaining control of the great beasts. Fred, Greg, and Harriet play intrepid basketball players/supernatural investigators who must stop the beasts' arrival... through basketball.
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you're trying to find a Basketball-based combat system, one that tracks the progress of the game and the ability of its players, and not necessarily an entire basketball-oriented role-playing game. You might find it easier to modify an existing system to this purpose, rather than trying to find a specific game. I can't, off the top of my head, think of any sports-oriented RPGs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zibbobz That's pretty much exactly my desire: a tactical (combat or otherwise) system capable of handling basketball with a minimum of house rules. The game's remaining concerns are secondary. (For example, I couldn't expect any game to map perfectly to Ball of Cthulhu.) However, since I want the system first then I'll decide the setting, I avoided the tag system-for-setting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 20, 2015 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may also want to address if you want frozen synapse (the video game) style joint resolution. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 21, 2015 at 0:05

3 Answers 3

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This scenario reminds me of the Aces and eights action system + shot clock that I played some years ago at gencon. It provides incredibly detailed movement timing resolution rules that would be the core of any basketball game, as well as a really really good way of figuring out exactly where a shot/thrown weapon lands.

Guarding falls out naturally from the action resolution system, as it means that guarding characters can get inside the acting player's OODA loop.

For the "does it go in the basket", a double-shot clock seems to be quite appropriate. (And yes, modelling only the last few minutes of a game with this level of simulation would be appropriate.) The first shot clock should have the backboard and basket (this is tricky, because the basket will need to be scaled to the incoming surface area). The second shot clock is the "ricochet" clock, from the perspective of "bouncing off the backboard". Still, the game rules should handle this level of simulation without too much trouble, given how well they handle cover (literally we placed down pencils on the shot clock to represent different sized branches of a tree I climbed.)

For throwing the ball to players, the shot clock can be used to figure out if you throw it into their hands or not.

And intercepting is trivial. Given that in the game I played, we modeled cover physically, the exact same cover concept can be used to model the body in the way versus the backstop. No extra extra rolls will be needed. If there's a person in the way actively intercepting, the backboard has cover, represented by physically covering the backboard with whatever occlusion of the players hands is chosen. (some iteration will be necessary here to figure out appropriate hand-sizes relative to the backboard, though.)

Jumping also falls out naturally, insofar as there are movement rules for it, the action timing is part of the normal (wonderful) action "clock", and it can manipulate the hand-blocking positions of the blockers.

There are absolutely fatigue rules, but I don't remember there being morale rules representing coaching or eye candy-distractions. For coaching, I don't believe any abstraction is necessary, as the role of the coach (while on the court) is to figure out the "grand strategy" of the game, and therefore "is everyone in the right place" is a function of player/coach choice. For distractions, there are bonus/penalty systems set up that can probably be used for this purpose.

Movement was accomplished with minis and a ruler, but I don't see any reason that cannot be abstracted to a grid.

All in all, while some mapping will be necessary, the shot-clock + physical cover model of aces and eights, combined with the highly detailed action clock will serve simulating a game of basketball well. The level of simulation (up to requiring different sorts of actions with different durations to speed up or slow down) may not be to everyones' taste, but it does achieve the level of tactical simulation you require, with the added benefit of being able to shoot (literally) the ball if it becomes too annoying.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds really interesting, but Aces & Eights is expensive even as a PDF; I wish it were still in print. Nonetheless, is movement gridded or does it use another method of tracking locations of participants? (Finally, I think you might've meant physically rather than psychically, but I honestly can't be 100% sure.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 21, 2015 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan better? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent. Thanks. (And I'm sad that it was supposed to be physically.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I, for one, welcome our new Ouija-RPG overlords. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:55
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GURPS

The advanced combat in GURPS is a 1-second resolution tactical boardgame. Let's see how it covers your points:

tactical movement on a map. An absolute requirement; theater of the mind prohibited.

GURPS combat runs on a hex map. This offers better resolution than squares of facing, which is hugely important for this particular sport, including field of vision, off-handed actions (like trying to steal with your left hand) and better resolution of paths for moving about the court.

rules for jumping and, by extension, dunking.

rules for throwing and, by extension, catching and intercepting a thrown object.

rules for dribbling. (I know of no game with rules for this kind of dribbling; house rules may be required.)

GURPS already includes rules for all kinds of movement, including running, jumping, throwing and catching. The particular applications of these to basketball should not even require much interpretation. Adding dribbling, ball control, passing, shooting skills should be trivial in GURPS.

The game is highly simulation is and is meant to differentiate between similar skills such as Drive(1985 Honda Hatchback) and Drive(2014 Audi A8), but also to allow such closely related skills to default to one another at varying penalties for familiarity.

rules for guarding a player.

GURPS already includes rules for contests of skill with different goals (PC wants to drive past defender, defender wants to steal).

probably short individual action opportunities (i.e. what most games call turns). For example, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5's 6-second turns seem almost too long, and Hero System, 5th Edition's 12-second turns broken into 1-second phases leave much to be desired.

GURPS combat rounds represent 1 second. How much more resolution can you actually stand?

You could use contests of skills between coaches and cheerleaders to determine the score near the end of each half, then "zoom in" on the action for the last 30 seconds or so, much like sports movies do. GURPS has extensive rules for mass battles that take into account all sorts of things like morale, weather, position, etc..

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Based on personal experience GMing sporting contest in it, I offer Cyberpunk 2020 for consideration.

I GM'ed a campaign featuring a "corporate" no-holds-barred Olympics and thus simulated varied aspects of multiple sports competitions/combat. Not specifically basketball, but running, javelin, boxing, soccer (a similar field-invasion team sport to basketball) and the (really) high jump were included.

The stat/skill/check system is very simple and flexible allowing quick invention/revision of simple house rules without having to worry about complex unforeseen consequences.

The only hindering complexity in CP2020 is the vast array of equipment — which you can probably completely ignore for your purposes.

The time frame for combat was easily made flexible as some events happened over millisecond durations with most "rounds" being 1 second.

There are simple checks for what a character is aware of, how fast and accurately they can move and how things influence them (drugs, emotions, medical issues, etc.).

Honestly, I think you've already done most of the work on deciding what kind of house rules you want in your detailed question.

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