Sep 28, 2014

This Game of Mine Glows with an Awesome Power

I love G Gundam to bits. The concept is fun, the characters are memorable, the music is fantastic, and even the English dub is glorious - some would say the dub is bad, but the overacting only makes it better in my view. You know you are dealing with a fan when they argue that something bad is actually good with a straight face. Point is, I really like G Gundam and it has influenced pretty much everything I've ever done related to giant robots.

This is because G Gundam is a very well thought out show. Conceptually it might just be a goofy show about a giant robot tournament with a bunch of really racist mecha designs, but the execution makes it so much more than that. I'm going to delve a little into what G Gundam means to me and what you can take from it for the purposes of BCG.

There will be spoilers for G Gundam below.

G Gundam recap set, reaaadyyyyy go!

Mobile Fighter G Gundam is about a giant robot world tournament. Every four years the space colonies hold a tournament where the winner will rule over the Earth and the other colonies for the next four years. Gundam Fighters are the representatives of each nation, and they all fight each other using the Earth as the ring, until only one remains.

But that's just the window dressing. G Gundam's plot follows Domon Kasshu, pilot of the Shining Gundam and representative of Neo Japan, in his search for the Ultimate Dark Devil Gundam. The Devil Gundam is made out of nanomachines capable of self-repair, self-multiplication and self-evolution. Obviously, it falls into the wrong hands and our protagonist must stop it.

To no one's surprise, the antagonists are participants of the tournament and had something to do with the disappearance of the Devil Gundam.

Enough retreading of what any Wiki article could tell you! Let's talk about G Gundam in the context of BCG.

Gundam Fighter IV: Tournament Edition

As is, G Gundam is fit in both tone and rules for a game using the unmodified BCG rules. This is a setting where people can punch beams from their fists and their Gundams let them channel their anger into giant swords. It is pretty much perfect, really... Except for one little thing: The tournament structure.

Most of the fights are 1v1, which is convenient if the group consists of exactly two people, but a lot less enticing if there's four or more Players. You could run a game where everyone takes turns having fights, but it probably works out for the best if everyone is part of the same team and the matches are 3v3 or 5v5 or what have you. Like in Build Fighters Try.

Get it? Build Fighters Try because they're a TRIo!

This works out much better because BCG is designed with teamwork in mind. Absolute Barrier is a lot better when you are the only target and enemies cannot ignore you, while Reversible Thrusters can outright make you invincible against some enemies. At the same time, Finger Net does very little without any allies to take advantage of it and Steel Guardian is essentially useless.

My Love, my Anger, and all of my Sorrow

From a character standpoint, G Gundam is fundamentally about warriors that express their emotions with their fists. Domon starts as this an angry young adult who doesn't speak much. At the very end of the last episode he admits that he is a guy who only knows how to fight, and that is why he had so much difficulty expressing his feelings to Rain. Domon Kasshu is basically a tsundere. And most of the show is about how a bunch of dudes punch each other until their feelings come out and they get over their various hangups.

One of the most clear expressions of this is in the abundance of combination techniques, as a manifestation of the bonds that the Gundam Fighters have with each other. For roughly the first half of the series Domon fights alone, but in the second half he (and his friends) develop an affinity for Synchro Attacks, with or without Domon. If I had to come up with unique rules for a G Gundam game, they'd be about stronger or more varied types of Synchro Attacks.

There is also a theme of enlightenment and mastery of one's own emotions. Domon starts with the Super Mode that channels his rage into a powerup for the Shining Gundam, but he later replaces it with the Meikyou Shisui ("To have your heart clear like a mirror and still like water") which, in essence, means Serene Mind. The Super Mode renders him vulnerable, like a berserker who does not think his actions through. Thus, Domon needs to master his emotions entirely and have his heart in the perfect balance between passionate intensity and stoic detachment - that's Serene Mind. Also the Shining Gundam upgrades to the Burning God Gundam, because subtlety is for chumps.

And enlightenment turns you into a super saiyan I guess. Sure why not.

Add this to the previous the theme of Fist Friendship and emotions are a pretty big deal in G Gundam. It sounds to me like we could similar thematic notes via tweaking Genre Themes (to focus more on intensity of emotion) along with Synchro Attacks.

But before writing any of those, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed.

Sympathy for the Devil Gundam

Most tournament arcs have a plot twist written into them to make things more exciting, ending in the reveal of a bigger bad that pretty much everyone in the tournament will rally together to defeat. In G Gundam that ultimate antagonist were the people involved in the Devil Gundam conspiracy.

The Devil Gundam was originally called the Ultimate Gundam, and its nanomachines were going to be put to use to nurse the Earth's environment back to health. It is not evil per se, it is just... out of control and fulfilling its primary directive: To self-reproduce, healing itself and evolving continuously.

Truly this is the face of a Gundam who just wants to make friends.
And of course, the human antagonists of the series are trying to control the Devil Gundam to use its power for their own ends. Arguably, if the conspirators had never tried to hijack the Ultimate Gundam, it would not have malfunctioned at all. It is a common genre convention of Mecha that technology gives its user the power to be a God or Devil, depending on whether you use it for good or evil. G Gundam does not mince words and pretty much spells it out.

The Devil Gundam will wipe out humankind then do whatever it wants to the Earth, possibly eating it in the process. Its instinctual drive is the opposite of the Serene Mind that Domon must master to defeat it, like a more cunning version of Domon when his Super Mode made him a frenzied berserker. The Devil Gundam needs to have a human core, a sort of pilot as a biological heart, and can infect humans with "Devil Gundam Cells" to brainwash and give them superpowers. This implies that the Devil Gundam is not just a rogue artificial intelligence, it is more like the dark side of the human heart - controlling, uncaring, and always hungry for more.

The Devil Gundam is an instinctual monster and a corrupting influence, it is a thing that needs to be stopped and most free-willed participants in the tournament will agree. If you're going to run a tournament-themed, I strongly suggest to also have a Big Bad Evil Guy Thing at the end separate from the tournament structure.

The big draw of having a secret ultimate antagonist in a tournament arc or series is that it gives you a good excuse to let all the important characters team up at the end. Even old rivals that were previously defeated can show up to assist! In the context of an RPG it is even more important because having encounters with the bigger bad through the course of the tournament raises the stakes and adds more tension to the plot. Even if the PCs actually lose the tournament, they can still end things on a high note by saving the world from whoever was plotting sinister things in the shadows.

It also helps to spice things up and have some variance in encounters. If your tournament is about 4v4 matches, having an antagonist outside the tournament itself gives the GM a chance to throw as many Grunts and Bosses at the PCs as they wish instead of having to juggle numbers to keep it at 4. Creative uses of elite Grunts or Minibosses can keep parties of 4 enemies fresh, and you can pull shenanigans like a team of three terrible Level 0 Grunts carried by a big Level 5 Boss, but it is still quite predictable.

Breaking away from the tournament structure a little for a more ambitious plot is a good idea.

Look, the East is Burning Red!

That is enough for today. This was all theory, so next time I'm going to put this to practice and write some mechanics with all of this in mind.


  1. Pretty interesting stuff! I agree with most of it, but disagree with the idea that a G-Gundam game (or indeed, tournament games in general) shouldn't be centered around 1v1 combat. I've actually played out campaigns that had characters who participated in multiple solo duels, and it made things much more interesting than a group battle, because the GM could tailor the emotional stakes and opponents to the players specifically. Team battles lose some of that charm unless they are very well executed, and it's kind of a very tall order to ask the GM to pull off 16+ fights at that level of intensity. What I'd like to see are rules where only one Gear fights another Gear, but make it so they WORK. For instance, you know that tired old trope of 'hero engages in shonen tournament battle, pals stand by the sidelines to commentate and cheer' that you've seen a million times? Why not provide an incentive for it by turning pilot characters into allied units 'on the field' that buff up the Main Fighter, either with advice, cheers or a good taunt to the opponent to unnerve him and drop his Guard? The Main Opponent could even attack them in the same way, disrupting the Main Fighter's support and leaving him much easier to defeat. That way, when team battles happened they'd be a very special thing, and you wouldn't have to shoehorn in multiple opponents at every turn. What do you think about the idea?

  2. See I think it would be a lot harder to come up with 16+ 1v1 battles, because there is inherently less variety in what one enemy can do that way.

    I did toy once with the idea of making a game variant that was a bit like that, with one PC in the lead and the others playing a secondary role. At the time I couldn't come up with a critical mass of gameplay options to make it interesting, and I wasn't sure how I could balance it so that everyone would be a good lead AND a good support.

    Reinforcement Powers are my current approach to this kind of design space. It is pretty hard to come up with something that is both always useful and doesn't completely steal the spotlight from the lead, they went through many different versions, and I still think they could be a little bit better.

    It sounds possible though. And handling a game entirely around 1v1 scenarios is good material for an extra post after tomorrow's.