Jan 28, 2018

Temporary Hiatus

My posting usually takes a hit during the summer (winter for the northern hemisphere). Between power cuts, heat waves and assorted holiday activities, writing these updates tends to feel less like a fun side activity and more like they're taking up my time from other things or simply from resting.

The next batch of posts are very dense with information and I don't want to half-ass them, the very next update is possibly going to be the longest in the retrospective (certainly the longest to date, if not the longest even counting future updates), so I'm going to hit the pause button for now.

Updates resume in March!

Jan 14, 2018

BCZ Retrospective XI: Limit Powers.

This is the last category of new Genre Powers and it has slightly more history than the others. A long, long time ago I wrote a series of blog posts about adapting anime to the BCG rules. The two series I picked for this were G Gundam and Gurren Lagann. For Gurren Lagann I decided the game should care about Tension more than the usual, and among the results were the prototype versions of these Powers. You can read more about them here. See if you can spot what else from that post made it into the expansion!

A small bit of trivia: In the early drafts of the BCZ, these were called Spiral Powers and the Rush Powers were called Limit Powers instead. I needed a new, setting-agnostic name for these, and 'Limit' sounded just right. I think Rush Powers got the short end of the stick in the end, but "Limit" fits these three much better than the other trio.

I Am Helping!
We begin with a Power that was commissioned very early on, it came in the form of the name plus its flavor text, meaning the mechanics were up to me. The idea of a Power that makes things easier while also making them harder is very amusing, but it took some effort to make it fun to play with and not just fun to read. This went through many iterations, during which it was a General Power most of the time. Sometimes it did bonus Damage but caused a Blast, other times it created Extreme Terrain under the enemy and you. It was an okay flavor fit, but it felt a bit forced. The final version is very weak on paper, especially under Tension 5, but the mechanics click together in a way that makes them larger than the sum of their individual parts. Suppressing the toughest enemy around is one of the easiest ways for anyone to contribute to the fight, but also makes it harder to move. Using this when Tension is 5 or higher means that forcing the enemy in place hurts a lot more than usual. Even if you only get the second effect by using Tension boosters, it is still a nice extra chunk of Damage. Of course, the problem is that Extreme Terrain doesn't distinguish between friend and foe, and one of the most effective ways to lock an enemy in place is to Duel them. This means that this Power is often going to hurt a friend (or yourself, if you're the duelist) on top of causing a nice chunk of collateral Damage. With this final version the flavor felt more natural and less forced, which I rather like.

I really like the idea of making your enemy's Weapons carry the Overheating/Unreliable drawbacks as a defensive ability. Unfortunately, doing that in place of just boosting up your Defense or punching the enemy harder is a bit weak. Luckily, I had to make three Powers that had very weak base effects but got considerably stronger after Tension 5. Coincidentally, they both hurt much more when Tension is high than when it is low. This all together meant I had to give a Power like this a try. Sadly, while it is conceptually cool, it suffers from a fatal flaw that is obvious in hindsight: It is a Defensive Power that needs you to survive to Tension 5 in order to get full benefit from it. If everyone is packing Limit Engines or spamming Tension-boosting Powers then it is great... Otherwise it comes online a little too late to be reliable, which is what you want from your Defensive Powers. Whoops!

Pierce the Heavens
This one is a straight up copy and paste from the Gurren Lagann post. I feel it is the best of the original bunch (that's why it has the best name!), embodying everything that the mechanic is good at: Punching things very hard. I don't have much else to say about it, it is easily the most straightforward to use and probably the one that makes you feel the most like a badass.

And that's the last of the Character abilities from Chapter 1. You are now entering Robot Land, Population: All The Animes.

Next: General Upgrades.

Gimmick Out.

Jan 7, 2018

BCZ Retrospective X: Boost Powers.

One of the things I wanted to do with BCG's regenerating Energy stat was encouraging people to take a variety of Upgrades and Weapons with different Energy costs that would be used differently each turn. If you had 4 Energy, you could Boost your Beam finisher, use a cheaper Beam and Antigravity or use an Overbooster and leave some open for an active Defense. It is a neat idea but it is almost always more efficient to buy exactly the things you need and use them every turn.

But I wasn't going to give up. In the expansion, I thought of another way to encourage using Energy differently every few turns, in the form of Boost Powers.

Chain Explosion
And we start with a Power that is exceedingly exploitable. Limit Engine gives extra Energy and Tension. Power Conversion transforms Tension into Energy. Organic Barrier lets you stockpile Energy from one Turn to another. Make a Support Build with 8 base Energy. So you have (8 + Tension + 2 per Threshold Levels lost) x 2 Energy at your disposal. Let's say you lose a single Threshold Level in Turn 1 and then stockpile a bunch of Energy during Turn 2 for Turn 3. That's 24 Energy total. This Power does 51 Damage in a Blast (4). Yeah, it's kind of broken. This needs a Damage cap, like say... 10? Or maybe 15? On the plus side, I'm glad that the Chain Explosion Strat is impossible to run into by accident, you have to deliberately be trying to break the game with it, so everyone can agree to just not use it. It is also 100% useless against solo Superbosses, so it is not like it is invincible.

Shoot it Down
This one is a lot more balanced than Chain Explosion, and while it is not necessarily bad, it is the weakest of these three. Maybe it should've been repeatable. At least that would make this something you can build around, though that might make it exploitable by making high-Energy builds with a bunch of Assistants. Or it could keep the current use limitation and cause two Disadvantages per point of Energy spent, which would be less risky. Alternate buff idea: Have you noticed this doesn't say 'an Enemy's Might Test' and instead says 'a Might Test'? This is a typo. You can technically use it on your own stuff, which is largely pointless as all it does is weaken the attack, but it gives me the idea that this could apply to your own attacks in the form of extra advantages instead. The flavor text would still work! Beam Confuse makes about as much sense offensively as it does defensively.

I Have Control
This is extremely powerful, though it is limited by the enemy's team composition which you don't have any control around. At first, you didn't have to pay Tension in Energy to use this Power. The cost was added later to give it a time limit duration and keep it from being an autocast that would happen at the beginning of every appropriate battle. The name isn't the best fit, but there weren't many options for it so it ended up sticking around.

I like these three. One is largely okay, another slightly overpowered and the last one is gamebreakingly powerful. All three make people use Energy differently depending on the circumstances (except Chain Explosion in the broken build, but that's not the most common use of the Power... Or at least I hope it isn't.), so I'm calling them a success. Balance could be a little bit better, but when isn't that the case?

Next: Limit Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 31, 2017

BCZ Retrospective IX: Restoration Powers.

Last week I explained how Rush, Restoration, Boost and Limit Powers became their own categories and then went over the three Rush Powers. This week I'm going to cover Restoration Powers.

So! During the BCG Retrospective I explained why and how Restoration Upgrades ended up being weak in comparison to Active Defenses. To fix that issue, Restoration Powers were deliberately created to make them competitive defensive options, being stronger than most Powers but only being usable through underpowered Upgrades. I think it is a clever solution - not actually changing any old rules, but making up new stuff that fixes most of its problems.

I’ll Patch You Up
First things first: This should be a Setup Power. Making it a Reaction is just plain confusing, since it is not like you can use Jury Rig as a Reaction to anything. With that bit of criticism out of the way, this Power is great. Turns out that doubling the amount of healing you can do with Jury Rig was all it needed to go from underpowered to borderline overpowered. It makes healer builds viable by its lonesome, granting them the burst healing they previously lacked. Fortunately, it's still tied to your Restorations (consuming double the usual amount) and, more importantly, your Genre Points. Those factors keep it in check and let us have a kickass Power that feels great to use.

My Last Stand
One problem I ran into when making this Power is that buffing Regenerative through Genre Powers isn't all that useful when you can already use other Powers to heal without using Regenerative first. This meant that I had to be aggressive with the benefits that My Last Stand granted, in order to make the MP and Energy cost worth your while. The result is a Power that reads almost strictly better than I'll Patch You Up. It doubles your healing and gives you an antimaim and stops attribute halving debuffs and you can use it multiple times per battle! In hindsight, I was probably a little too generous, but I've yet to hear from anyone complaining that this Power broke the game for them, so I'm calling it a win.

Who the Hell do you Think I am?
The last of the three was designed at the same time as the G-Charger exclusively as an option for combiners. G-Charger and Reload both have a sidebar right below them explicitly stating that they're too limited for normal units. It represents a power boost that also heals the unit, saving it from certain death while granting it enough extra juice to use its strongest weapon and turn a battle. It is the kind of thing you see combiners like Gurren Lagann and Getter Robo do all the time. It is not amazing but I'd say it gets the job done. More on that when we talk about the G-Charger itself.

Healing abilities work best when they're a big effect with a big cost, making them feel like a decisive tide-turning moment in the battle. I'm not a fan of weak, spammy heals in TRPGs, as I think they draw things out too much and risk turning combat into an attrition slugfest that only ever ends because someone rolls a bunch of critical hits in a row. In a game like BCG, it would mean battles end when Tension gets high enough to overpower all defenses and healing.

These Powers do just that and, as a bonus, they lift up some of the game's weaker abilities to make them competitive. From my perspective, it doesn't get much better than that.

Next: Boost Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 24, 2017

BCZ Retrospective VIII: Rush Powers.

The next two pages of Genre Powers are cleanly divided into four categories with unique mechanics, each having three Powers. Looking at the final result, you'd think that was my plan from the beginning, but that is not the case.

While writing new Powers, I started to try out new mechanics (such as powering them up when at high Tension or by spending Energy) and lumped all of them together with the General Powers in a common pile. It wasn't until I had 4-5 Powers of each new mechanic that I realized I could group them up and have six of each.

And that became the plan for the expansion: To include six Rush Powers, six Boost Powers and six Limit Powers (Restoration Powers either didn't exist yet). As you can probably imagine from looking at the list of Powers actually printed in the expansion, things turned out a little bit differently.

There weren't enough effects worth spending your Energy, waiting for Tension 5, and even less of them were worth spending your next Action in advance. It was disappointing to cut so many of them and I figured I'd go back to having just three pages of General Powers again.

Flash forward a few weeks and, after doing some testing on the rest of the expansion mechanics, I thought of writing Powers specifically made to help builds using the weaker Upgrades and Weapons in the game. I immediately wrote down two Restoration Powers and then looked again at my Power list. I had 14 of 18 Powers ready, I only needed four more. There was also a problem in that some of them were very wordy. Repeating the rules for, say, spending future Actions easily doubled the length of each of those Power's rules text. Those four Powers would read a lot cleaner if I made them part of a larger category and explained their unique mechanics at the top of the page... And I needed exactly four more Powers to have a full set of 18. From there, it didn't take long for me to realize that, if I could write one more good Power for each of these new mechanics, I could make four categories of three Powers each and kill two birds with one stone. Er, four birds, really.

And that's the story behind Rush, Restoration, Boost and Limit Powers. Now let's have a look at the first batch:

Go, Funnels!
This was the last of the Rush Powers to be written, after I decided to have three of them rather than two. Remotes are the one category of Weapons that has a specific Power instead of a specific General Upgrade to build around them. For most people, Remote Weapons mean combos with multiple attacks per turn, which would be a terrible passive ability to give to anyone, not because it is bad but because it is too good. Multiple attacks means you're playing the game twice as much as anyone else, of course that is imbalanced. Spending one Genre Point and your next Action, however, turns it from an insurmountable and constant advantage to a burst of damage that can turn around a losing fight or seal the deal when you're already winning.

Lightspeed Assault
This was the second of the bunch to get made. Also, it is a Commission. The request was to have a Power that would let the user do a Zero Shift from Zone of Enders. That was basically an attack disguised as a Power, so I thought of stealing the mechanic from Twin Strike below to spend your Action as a balancing cost. At the same time, I had been trying out a Weapon based on the idea of charging at one enemy multiple times (you know when anime characters turn into meteors and ram each other or one of them rams the other a bunch of times? That) but it wasn't quite working out. I fused the ideas together into one Power. It took a while to balance it but the ability to dash through one enemy multiple times is super cool and makes the Power much more useful than the original idea, which was basically just a Line that moved the user when Attacking.

Twin Strike (Specialist)
The most basic form of the 'attack twice this turn' Powers and the first of them to get made. There are many Weapons in the game that combo well together (the flavor text includes one such combo) so I thought that allowing people to use them at the same time at the cost of missing on their next Turn could be a good tradeoff. And... That's it. No, there's not much of a story to this one. It is pretty clear-cut.

And that's Rush Powers. I think they're okay, with Lightspeed Assault being the clear winner in a pure optimization contest. You have no idea how many versions of it we went through to make sure it was both good at cleaning up Grunts and damaging Bosses without being overpowering to one or the other, so it damn better be good! I think Twin Strike and especially Go, Funnels! could be slightly stronger to make the turn trading more appealing (like, say, give them an Advantage to the Tests, or let the Remotes ignore Active Defenses or something like that), but they're not bad per se. When you already have your core kit of Powers, being able to use two Attacks in place of one is super handy in emergency situations.

Next: Restoration Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 17, 2017

BCZ Retrospective VII: New General Powers.

The New General Powers are... Well, they're New and they're Powers alright. They don't have a specific purpose or theme, they're just ideas that I thought would make for good Powers or stuff that people commissioned. Not the most exciting origin story, I know, but that's how it happened.

Hang in There!
This Power is the kind of ability that the expansion was made for. As a countermeasure against a very specific kind of enemy (Invasive ones), it is either a lifesaver and nearly obligatory (because you're fighting them often) or almost a waste of a Power slot because you're not fighting them at all. These are what I call 'feast or famine' abilities, where they're either great or terrible with little room for a middle ground. I think it is best when a core book sticks to stuff that more or less everyone can use and the binary or niche rules content is expansion material. There are some feast or famine powers, upgrades and weapons in BCG, but none to the extent of this Power.

I Am a Loose Cannon and Stake My Life on It
Attack bonuses are badass, and attack bonuses that hurt the user are even more badass. The problem with balancing them is that, should you win the battle after using them and before the enemy gets to counterattack, their risk factor is negated. Hence, I think these bonuses are best when you don't have full control over neither the damage boost nor the kickback you get from it. Of these two Powers, the former is highly variable in effectiveness while the latter depends on the status of your current Threshold Level. I think that's the right way to go about them. With that said, they're still very exploitable and an instrumental component of some overpowering builds which I'll get to later. Some fun facts about both powers: I Am a Loose Cannon is a commissioned ability that went to print as it was conceived after my first chat with the creator. Stake My Life on It used to be a Weapon in an early draft of BCG (and in GGG, before that) but was discarded because it was a bit too complex and difficult to use properly.

I Am Your Opponent
Another commissioned ability. This one is a staple of the anime action genre and the mechanics go very well with its flavor. It is an okay option for duelist builds, but I think this could have been a bit stronger.

Take Cover!
By far the easiest way to break the game is to stack attack bonuses with a crowd control weapon and nuke the entire enemy force all at once. This is a huge no-sell to those strategies. Arguably, it is too much of a hard counter, but it is a necessary one. I have said in the past that defensive abilities need to be stronger than offensive abilities, partly because there's less of them (so you can stack offensive buffs to overcome them) and partly because there's no point to bothering with a defensive ability if it can't negate the kind of attack it is supposed to defend against. Having around NPCs with Take cover! means that Blast-and-Burst happy PCs must get rid of those NPCs first or at least make them use the Power before going all-out. Which, in turn, means that the PC squad need to spend more GPs scanning enemies to figure out who are the Take Cover! users and how many there are in each given fight. It makes combat much more cerebral and forces PCs to work together so they can make the huge blowouts possible. I don't think that's the right approach for every kind of game, but it is the one I prefer for a point-buy system like BCG.

You are Already Dead
I don't know how it took until the expansion for a Power with this name to get made, but somehow it wasn't in the core book. Unfortunately, I think it ended up a little bit on the weak side, as all it really does is hit an Enemy for moderate Damage once per battle. At high levels, the Damage is very high indeed, but it is only to a single target and at that point enemies are much bulkier than low level ones. It is simply more practical to take Signature Weapon (which does about the same total Damage, if not more, at all stages of the game) and Impetuous Style (which almost always does more, though only with specific Weapons) But then, what would be the right Damage number? Might + Tension? That would probably be overpowering with all the Tension bonuses in the game. Might + Half Tension? Probably unnoticeable without the aforementioned bonuses making the halved Tension large enough. Half Might + Tension? This one is more interesting, as it is more useful at mid and low levels, but it remains exploitable. I'd be interested in hearing ideas for this Power, if you my readers have any.

That's the General Powers. These didn't have to commit to any strong particular themes and could largely be anything they wanted. They ended up being rather strong and, for the most part, perform their jobs very well.

Next: Rush Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 10, 2017

BCZ Retrospective VI: Alternative Powers.

A long time ago I made a houserule for a game, in this game all PCs had three extra Genre Powers that costed a special resource unique to that game. I liked them enough that I made two more and considered making them general powers in the expansion. Then I realized they were very similar thematically to the default powers and figured they would make cool alternatives to them.

One common trend among them is that Default Powers lean towards handy narrative aids and common genre conventions while the Alternative Powers lean more towards raw power or represent more uncommon genre conventions.

Fight Smarter
Despite being the first in the book, this was the last of all the Alternative Powers to be created. I had Alternatives for all the Default Powers except Knowledge Is Power, so I tried to think of ways in which gaining enemy data could give you an edge. The problem here was that a lot of Genre Powers in BCG already use that flavor, Tactician Powers in particular. The power itself is a generic buff that involves a Systems Test to make it feel more unique. I do like this Power thematically but mechanically I think it is too generic and not interesting enough to be the corresponding Alternative to one of the most useful and memorable Default Powers. In hindsight, a more interesting mechanic (like predicting an NPC's next turn) would have been better in its place. It is my least favorite of these six. It is okay for the high systems combat builds though, so there is that.

I Don’t Think So
This was one of the first three Alternative Powers, back when they were just houseruled abilities. While Not so Fast is stronger, it only works for Squads in which characters want to (or can) protect each other. This is weaker but way more useful for selfish characters who don't care about their allies, such as most Rival NPCs. It is a hit mechanically and a good fit thematically. What more could you ask for?

It’s Over!
This was the fourth or fifth of the bunch to get created. It draws inspiration from the Try Again With Feeling houserule from the BCG core book, except that instead of adding +2 to a result it adds +5 but only if it would finish off an enemy. In being more narrow and stronger it loses 90% of what makes people use Try Again (to reroll low results) and that's a cool take for an Alternative.

Parting Shot
The second of the three houseruled abilities. Back then, you could could combine it with Live Another Day for a tremendous middle finger to your enemy. That was silly. As an Alternative Power that can't be used at the same time as its Default counterpart, it works a lot better. This is my favorite Alternative Power, because there's no more obvious way to signal that you're willing to let your PC die than taking this Power. There is no other Alternative Power that trades this much narrative power for pure combat power, making it the best example of what I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Additionally, it is one of those Powers that are amazing for Rival NPCs - assuming you don't care about letting them die, of course.

The Strong Adapt
This was the last of the original three houseruled abilities. The idea was to make a power that represented anime powerups in a different way from Mid-Scene Upgrade. With Mid-Scene Upgrade, you keep your powerup forever. With The Strong Adapt, you get your powerup once and then forget that it exists for the next dozen episodes. This is basically how every aquatic modular upgrade in Mecha works - you see it once and it helps beat the giant shark or whatever and then it ceases to be outside of plastic models. Other than that, I think this is very good. IIRC this Power originally lasted until end of Operation but that was very silly in terms of power level so it got changed. Much like most of its friends, NPC Rivals love it.

This Is For My Friend!
This was created alongside It's Over! as either the fourth or fifth of this bunch. It is a badass and strong but conditional Power. The problem with this it, from an optimization perspective, is that this Power only works when things have already gone wrong, as opposed to most Powers which you use to make sure things never go wrong in the first place. Still, entire groups shun Synchro Attack on principle, and for them this is a godsend. It is cool, powerful and simple. By the way, this isn't just good for Rival NPCs, it is incredibly silly if you go by the rules as written, as it refreshes when Grunts of the same PL blow up.

And that's Alternative Powers. The Default Powers are my way of giving every PC abilities that I think are necessary for a game like this, but by using Alternative Powers you can greatly change tone and mood. Instead of using Synchro Attacks to win as a unit, you are at your strongest when you're the last pilot standing. Instead of being harder to kill than a cockroach, any time your Mecha is defeated could be your PC's last dying breath. They're simple changes, but no less effective.

And, of course, they give you fun ways to tweak your PC. That's a big draw in a system like BCG.

Next: New General Powers.

Gimmick Out.