Feb 15, 2015

So this is Spiral Power...

Epic

adjective, Also, epical

1. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style:

Homer's Iliad is an epic poem.
2. resembling or suggesting such poetry:

an epic novel on the founding of the country.
3. heroic; majestic; impressively great:

the epic events of the war.
4. of unusually great size or extent:

a crime wave of epic proportions.
5. Slang. spectacular; very impressive; awesome:

Their burgers and fries are epic!

Ah, Gurren Lagann, if I had to summarize you in only one word that would be "Epic". The Internet's tendency to run that word into the ground has almost made it lose all meaning for me, but I can make an exception just this once. It helps that the definition of the term actually fits this show.

Like I did for G Gundam, I will elaborate a little on what I would take from Gurren Lagann to use as inspiration for your own games then give some custom rules to help out with that. In case it wasn't obvious, here is your warning: Spoilers below.

Your Drill is the Drill that will Pierce the Heavens

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is forced to live in isolated subterranean villages by Lordgenome, the ruler of the Earth. Lord Genome and his armies of genetically engineered Beastmen kill all humans that dare rise to the surface using giant robots called Ganmen Gunmen. Our plucky band of do-gooders is the Gurren Gang, led first by Kamina and then later by our protagonist Simon, who hijack Gunmen for their own use.

With the efforts of the Gurren Gang and Simon mastering the power of his Core Drill, they defeat Lord Genome only to realize that he was trying to protect the Earth from an even greater threat - that of the Anti-Spirals! The Anti-spirals are an alien race that will annihilate all life on Earth to stop their Spiral Power from evolving out of control and destroying the universe.

But what is it about? Well, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is about many things, but three themes stand out above others for our purposes: Rebellion, Mortality and Identity.

Rebellion. Every major antagonist (and plenty of minor ones) in Gurren Lagann is some kind of authority figure trying to tell the protagonists what they can and can't do. From the chief of Jeeha village who wanted to stop Kamina from breaking through to the surface to the Anti-Spiral who would suppress the free will of every other Spiral Race to keep the Spiral Nemesis from destroying the universe.

And how do our heroes defeat those authority figures? By doing the impossible and kicking reason to the curb, of course. They do the impossible, see the invisible, touch the untouchable and break the unbreakable row row fight the power. They break every rule, including the rules of physics, and beat the crap out of the antagonists stuck thinking inside the box. That's how the Gurren Gang rolls.

Mortality. Spiral Power technology is powered by hope, and hope in this series is at its strongest when the characters are reminded of their own mortality. Kamina activates the Gurren after coming face to face with his father's remains and unlocks the Giga Drill Break with his last ounce of strength. Kittan hits the peak of his power when he decides to sacrifice himself for everyone else and that sacrifice allows Simon to transform the Arc Gurren Lagann into the Super Galaxy Gurren Lagann.

But there is more to it than that. The Anti-Spiral has achieved functional immortality, but in doing so has given in to despair and wants to preserve life in the universe at the cost of growth and freedom. Likewise, Lord Genome and the beastmen were immortal but lacked the power to evolve into something greater. The heroes do not use their powers to escape mortality, Simon won't use his powers to bring Nia back and passes on his legacy to the next generation, embracing the blessing and curse of mortality.

Identity. Like every other Gainax show with giant robots, Gurren Lagann is a so-called "Coming of Age" story about growing from youth to adulthood, and that involves figuring out who you are. When hope does not grow from staring death in the face, it does from reaffirmation of the self through others. The thing that gets Simon to move Lagann at first are Kamina's words to "Believe in me who believes in you." and when that no longer works (because Kamina is dead) it takes Nia's naivete to make him understand that he does not need to be anyone but himself.

Identity is also visually represented by the series' Mecha, the Gunmen, who are basically giant walking faces. Each Gunmen is unique and visually distinctive from the rest. The Anti-Spiral, by contrast, is an entity born from a hive mind with little in the way of facial features. A strong sense of individuality is a source of Spiral Power.

The unifying motif to all these is Hope, but Hope as a concept is so general that I wanted to divvy up what (I think) Hope specifically means within the Gurren Lagann universe. There is more to it than this, though. The central conflict of Gurren Lagann could be said to be a conflict of population control for instance, but we're ignoring things that don't apply as well to roleplaying.

Figuring out the symbolism behind drills is likewise left as an exercise for the reader.

How the Gurren Gang Rolls

Gurren Lagann sits in a unique position within the Battle Century G ruleset because the game already has in-built mechanics for all sorts of super robot shenanigans and thus for Spiral Power. We already have Tension, Genre Points and Powers to naturally make things more exciting with time, roleplaying and getting beat up. We also have Combinations, Synchro Attacks, Mid-Scene Upgrades... Yeah, we pretty much have all the bases covered.

But we do have a problem in that the most distinctive thing about Gurren Lagann is that it is not satisfied with covering the bases. No, Gurren Lagann escalates things to the extreme and breaks all the rules while doing so. Simon punches bad guys into another dimension, looks for the hidden Anti-Spiral home base in all existing times and places at once, then chucks whole galaxies like shurikens because why wouldn't he do that, who the hell do you think he is?

Battle Century G could be said to go with the rule of cool, but Gurren Lagann takes it a whole step further, and it breaks all the rules you thought had been firm a moment ago while doing so. Our problem with breaking all the rules is that a roleplaying game is a manual with rules (and guidelines) for roleplaying. Thankfully BCG's rules are robust yet flexible. The system won't collapse on itself if you decide to fluff a Radiant Fist as transforming into a giant drill that rams the enemy so hard it punches a a hole through time and sends the other guy literally into next week. You also aren't breaking any rules while doing so, though! So it is lacking a little of the "this is off the wall" feeling present in the source material.

The one other problem is that Gurren Lagann is all about escalation. Each threat that the Gurren Gang faces is bigger than the previous one and not just figuratively; There is a reason that Gurren Lagann holds the record for largest Mecha in anime We can handle enemies figuratively bigger through the Power Level rules, sure, and we have Colossus for enemies that are literally bigger. But those aren't planetary, let alone galactic,  scale enemies. There's no reasonable way to handle multiple units the size of the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or Grand Zamboa other than to make them regular units and say that each Zone is a whole solar system or something. It works but it is a bit of a shame that you cannot truly do justice to one of Gurren Lagann's most iconic achievements.

When everybody is the biggest, no one is. Sorry friends but Syndrome wins this one.

To Hell with Gattai

We can give a game of BCG that extra Gurren Lagann flavor with a few rules touchups and, surprisingly enough, none of them involve combination shenanigans! No, instead of making everyone Simon, we'll turn all the Yokos and Kittans into proper Spiral Warriors on the level of Kamina and Lord Genome instead.

Spiral Warrior is a Megafeature with components to it. To play a Spiral Warrior, you apply all four of these modifications to your character. It is all or nothing, no in-betweens.

1) Gain a new Upgrade: Spiral Engine.

Spiral Engine
Internal Upgrade
Effect: For each Level of Threshold you are missing you increase your available Energy and treat Tension as if they were one point higher.

2) Replace Live Another Day with Who the Hell do you Think I am? as one of your Default Powers.

Who the Hell do you Think I am?
Setup Power
Effect: Treat Tension as if it were 2 points higher for one Round and restore an amount of Threshold equal to the current Tension. You can use this Power once per Round.

3) Select one of the following six Spiral Powers and add it to your list of known Genre Powers.

Pierce the Heavens
Setup Power
Effect: Your next Offensive Action this Turn gains an Advantage to its Might Test. If Tension is 5 or higher, it also ignores the effects of Active Defenses. You may use this Power once per Round.

Grit those Teeth

Setup Power
Effect: You and another Ally treat all Maimed Areas as normal for one Round. If Tension is 5 or higher, your Ally also gains a Genre Point. You may use this Power once per Round.

Do the Impossible
Setup Power
Effect: You mimic any Power that an Ally or a Rival has already used. If Tension is 5 or higher, you can mimic a Boss Power as well. You don't need to spend additional Genre Points to use that Power and may use it in a different way than the original user did. If you mimic a Specialist Power this way, you must abide by the same choices, and if you would not be able to you may not mimic said Power. You may use this Power once per Round.

See how Easy they all Fall Down
Setup Power
Effect: You inflict a bonus Disadvantage when using the Suppress Action this Turn. If Tension is 5 or higher, you may push the target up to 5 Zones away from you in a direction of your choice. Should it be sent in the direction of another Enemy whose Defense you’ve also beat, they both crash and suffer 5 points of Damage then the movement halts. You may use this Power once per Round.

Into the Eye of the Storm
Setup Power
Effect: You createa Blast (2) sized area of Difficult Terrain around yourself that lasts one Round but only affects Enemies. If Tension is 5 or higher, it also counts as Extreme Terrain for Enemies. You may use this Power once per Round.

I Know I got what you Need
Setup Power
Effect: Use a single Support Upgrade with a Cost of 5 you own without having to spend an Action. If Tension is 5 or higher, you also restore said Upgrade after use. Once per Round. You may use this Power once per Round.

4) Lastly, the GM adds +2 to your Power Rating, effectively treating your PC as if it was a whole Power Level higher for the purpose of determining enemy Power Ratings.

Spiral Warriors are stronger than other PCs and these changes turn BCG's super robot flavor up to eleven. There is no Live Another Day so you have to go all in all the time, and if you want to run away, you'll need to do it using your legs. But real Spiral Warriors don't run away! No, they take advantage of all those Tension bonuses and their Genre Points to punch the other guy deader first!

This makes our PCs more persistent in the face of death and gives them something unique that no one else can do (unless two people pick the same Spiral Power) to cover two of our themes. What do we do about Rebellion? I'm glad you asked!

I may not know the names of half these guys but that does not mean they don't deserve to row row fight the power.

Kicking Reason to the Curb

How do you let your PCs kick reason to the curb and break the rules without ruining the point of having rules in the first place? By having your antagonists break the rules first. Here are two very simple ideas for making Bosses on the level of the Anti-Spiral memorable by giving them an extra twist.

Why won't you DIE?: Just when you think you have felled the enemy, they stand up again one last time. Not willing to let them have the last laugh, you and your allies gather their last ounces of strength pushing themselves to the limit. After the Boss is defeated for the first time, they immediately restore all of their Threshold but do not refresh any other spent resources like Genre Points or Upgrades that trigger only once. All PCs still standing gain a Genre Point and all defeated PCs are returned to function with 1 point of Threshold left.

The Spiral Labyrinth: You defeat the big bad and earn the most disgustingly saccharine happy ending imaginable. The dead are miraculously alive thanks to spiral energy, the whole of the world caters to the whims of their saviors. Do a timeskip to 10 years in the future and make everybody hook up and have the most beautiful and well behaved kids ever if you have to. This is obviously an illusion and anyone who realizes this and wants out of it can escape from it and help the others do the same. As soon as everyone has left the illusory world, they can narrate the (for realsies) final defeat of the big bad with a synchro attack or something like that.

If the group is really, really dense, you should ask for Intellect, Awareness and Willpower Tests from everyone at the end (they are bound to have at least increased one of those) and give hints of something being wrong to anyone who rolls over 10. People act in inconsistent ways, they don't remember the details of the past few years, and catch a glimpse of the big bad staring at them from a monitor before it goes back to the news.

Those are just two different ideas. Maybe the big bad's second form destroys your Mecha and you need to fight it on foot. Perhaps the boss locks down Tension or the PC's at 0 except for their own personal modifiers(Spiral Engine/Who the Hell do you Think I am?). Maybe it is invincible except for Diplomacy Tests that refute its logic. You get the idea; Take the rules in unexpected directions.

If all else fails, just be really creepy and unsettling. Seriously, this has got to be the anime equivalent of HEERE'S JOHNNY.


Happily Ever After

One of the (many) reasons that this post took so long to get here is that one of the first commissioned mechanics for the expansion was Gurren Lagann-themed. I wanted to include it in here as a sneak preview (hint: it is the first one) but also decided I would write the rules half of this post around it. I had to make sure its power level was right before presenting it here.

I'll talk more about our spiral-themed one and other upcoming stuff next week. Until then!

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