May 25, 2014

The Collateral that Kaiju Do

So I just watched Godzilla (2014), and I liked it. I didn't love it, but what was good about it mattered more to me than what was bad. That's my review, thanks for reading.

Because I am me, I could not stop thinking about Kaijus and the things that make them so cool but applied to Roleplaying. My favorite thing is that they are huge and unstoppable, they level cities just by walking around and kill anyone caught in the crossfire. Godzilla tradition is that the only thing that can beat a giant monster is another giant monster. Sometimes one of those monsters is "good", other times it is a giant robot, but even man-made machines created to stop Kaijus will leave devastating collateral damage in their wake.

To quote another movie about giant monsters: To fight monsters we created monsters of our own.

Mecha fiction often treats giant robots as a metaphor for nuclear power, this unstoppable force that can do great good and great harm. Kaiju, by the way, represent natural disasters and sometimes the wrath of nature itself. Consider that Japan is not just the country of Hiroshima but also from where we got the word Tsunami and our silly giant robot entertainment feels a lot more culturally meaningful.

The power to be a God or a Devil.
Great Power and Great Responsibility

One of my favorite things about giant robots in roleplaying is just how much power they put in the hands of the PCs. There are few ways to make someone feel like their PC is important and matters than giving them a walking weapon of mass destruction. The Mecha that are more down to earth diminish this considerably, but even Gundam touches on the issue a few times: If a beam weapon hits the reactor of a Mobile Suit, the Minovsky reaction causes an explosion devastating to the environment and other MS nearby. This forces Gundam pilots to engage in close quarters combat and defeat the other without hitting them there.  

In summary, giant robots are (and pardon the pun) a big deal. Getting that point across when you are running a game makes everything feel more powerful, it makes your victories more visceral and your failures more crushing. It is a matter of establishing the tone and gently pushing your Players to convey the mood, then reinforcing it with rules.

I've been writing rules for essentially two years, and it has been a long while since I wrote any actual campaign material. Contrary to most other people writing RPGs, I find fluff to be harder and less fun than crunch, but it is still a thing that I like to do and I kind of miss it. The good thing is that I am getting closer to the point where I can begin exploring other facets of Mecha as a whole, facets that might not be suited to the core universal system because most games wouldn't want to touch them.

I am talking about collateral damage, or the effects that Mecha have on the battlefield. Shows like Daiguard, Big O and Evangelion put a lot of weight behind the robots themselves, destroying the city wherever they go. If you want to explore that kind of thing, it would be cool to have some advice and rules for it, wouldn't it?

Why do you look so satisfied with the city in goddamn ruins?
How Would it Work?

I don't quite know yet, but I've got a few goals I know I want to prioritize.

Collateral should be a long term deal. If you have to protect a city from monsters or other robots, then damage done to that city should be a lasting feature. Let's say your city can take up to 10 points of Collateral before it becomes uninhabitable If your city takes 3 points of Collateral during one terrible and devastating Operation, it should heal maybe one per Episode or one per Arc, but not more than that.

The rules should be easy to work with. I don't want to have a dozen new Terrain types to differ Urban, Industrial and Rural Zones with their own rules concerning what happens if you, say, use a Blast Weapon there. It is not about tracking how many cows are dead or which houses got crushed. It should be something simple, but I admit that is probably going to be the toughest part.

It should feel somewhat random. You should not ever feel 'safe' just allowing Collateral damage to happen thinking that you can keep it under control. Maybe you think having the school crushed is fine because it is a sunday, but what if there were kids trapped inside and you never knew? This is one of the few instances in which I would advocate the use of rolling on a table to get random results to check if those points of Collateral were worse than expected.

The consequences should be felt primarily during Intermissions. Related to the above, an unexpected consequence would be along the lines of "One friendly NPC is first missing and only found after several days of searching injured or dead." or "The Police department is destroyed leading to several days of riots and looting." It should not cut the ability to repair PC Mecha, put a PC in jail, or cause something that forces someone to sit out of the game. At least not by the rules as written. If the group thinks that should happen, then that's a different matter.

There is a lot of virgin ground left unexplored and it is going to be fun once I can start tapping all that untapped potential. For now though, I've got to focus on Battle Century G core and I should have some news on that front soon!


  1. I was rather disappointed in the heavy focus on what should just have been people running away from the giant monster battles, especially at the consistent cost of actual giant monster battles. If they're that much of a natural disaster, let it be non-moral, non-ethical and eat that bus of children!

    Gundam's often a good example of doing everything exactly wrong, though. For example most forces, upon finding out that you get a devastating explosion from hitting a reactor with a beam weapon, would view this as an ideal way to eliminate groups with limited resources. The Gundam armed forces are also prone to letting sociopathic teens into cockpits instead of 'letting' them out the nearest airlock, even after they prove treasonous a few times in a row.

    People's view of the collateral damage can greatly vary depending on culture or country. Here for example anything tends to be "any at all is too damn much". It doesn't matter that the enemy did this, it doesn't matter that the city only got destroyed because all funding to the mecha project was cut in favor of a diplomatic project that mostly involved the city council moving halfway across the continent before they all got eaten.

    You were supposed to (retroactively, precognitively, even in a setting without an inkling of psychic abilities) stop it before it ever happened, and everyone piloting or helping the pilots is a complete monster, as if the base's cook had individually (without actually being a giant evil monster in disguise) gotten out and personally snapped the necks of every survivor's loved ones before remote-controlling the kaiju themselves to maximize destruction and then spat on a dying child. As Collateral builds up, you'd probably start having to deal with an entirely different kind of sortie when angry mobs unbelievably out of their depth show up to assault the base with improvised satchel charges or a junker-bot of their own.

    Then there's the cultures where every attack would likely drive scores of new applicants to any project no matter how dangerous, because seriously !&#$ those alien assholes no matter the personal cost. Which could lead to some interesting mission parameters when you suddenly have an issue with two or three other not-quite-rival organizations sending out hunting parties of their own, or infantry scaling enemy kaiju or robots to assault them directly.

    People look down on washing friendlies with napalm.

  2. I didn't go into how the movie does it for spoilers' sake. This comment will have spoilers though, so don't read if you don't want that.

    Godzilla in this movie is basically a religious figure, Godzilla can do no wrong and we should believe in him. This is made pretty blatant first by the most competent scientist in the movie just saying we should have faith in Godzilla and later by the news headline outright calling him our savior.

    I'm not a fan of that idea, I think those themes should remain the domain of Mothra rather than spread to the King of Monsters, but I'll give them credit in that it was a conscious choice that I just happen to not like. The action in the last chunk of the movie was really good so I'll forgive them.

    Collateral in games is a matter of tone and mood, in which cultural values play a huge role like you say. Rules for it wouldn't work as part of the base game because their existence forces you to ask questions that some games don't even want to ask, but they are great add-on material.

  3. Perhaps any 'collateral' system in games should then instead be a mission-parameter modifier. Kind of like a 'random encounter' chance but for giant robot missions.

    With Collateral 0 it's chances of standard guard forces either already being there or showing up from close by. Also there's a LOT of cover in a large city (people in those covers may not think that's a very good thing). With Collateral 4-5 any friendly forces in the area are elite, but may have conflicting orders and there's far less than before for you to dodge behind. 6-7 you start getting actual hazard zones, and already wrecked areas instead get a chance of airstrikes or 'dynamic entries'. At 8-9 is when you've got open reactor pits (to protect the crews trying to cover the delicious chernobyl.... or to toss enemies directly into) and high command is starting to not give much of a **** when it comes to whether or not your forces'll be caught in the area, so long as gets the job done against the enemy.

    Then depending on whether the population thinks "our saviors are here" or "Damnit, daimidaler you asshole!" you could have the 'skill point' parts of the mission one rolls for. Try to recover a bit of morale by saving a piece of critical infrastructure, or a very-civilian-installation (schools, hospitals)... Or have to keep a unit in a specific zone to prevent angry lynch-bombers from coming through the holes in your base's perimiter, etc. Basically stuff that gets rolled during the deployment phase, but may take a turn or three to actually 'show up'.

  4. It seems obvious in hindsight but I didn't consider Collateral rules as a thing that would change mission parameters, just as post-battle effects.

    But that seems like it could be a neat way to link them both together. In addition to having consequences during Intermissions, a bad performance could add a secondary objective to the next missions.

    It might cause a slippery slope effect if not done properly (you fail once and it makes things harder for your next Op, and from there it only gets worse) and might turn the use of tables from something scary but still enjoyable to genuinely upsetting randomness.

    But it is worth looking into.

  5. It doesn't have to be just a slide down. As collateral goes down, what gets comitted to an area may... rise in destructive capabilities they're allowed to use.

    EDF's an example of that too. At first soldiers with assault rifles are dealing with an onslaught of giant ants. Some can call down help from gunships, or get an APC to ride in. By the time the earth's covered in terraforming platforms grunts have started wielding fully automatic homing missile launchers, the mechs aren't horrifyingly clunky at maneuvering anymore and pack heavy howitzers, and the "support" class calls in entire waves of carpet-bombers, ballistic missiles or strikes from orbital ion cannons.

    Local forces could've grown at low collateral, but when things get truly desperate, a few more holes in the radioactive crater you're all fighting over won't really bother anyone(outside the hole)!