Dec 25, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXV: Boss Traits

This post and next week's might end up being on the short side, for reasons I hope are obvious. Hint: Look at the calendar.

Boss Traits are probably the least used of all the custom enemy abilities, because there's just not much reason to use Bosses in Intermissions. When they do show up, it tends to be so they can fight the PCs, and their selection of Traits reflects that: Most of them involve the Match rules in some way.

Combat Profiling
We start with the obligatory 'I can predict all of your moves' enemy ability. This presents PCs with a choice: Act in the 'predicted' way and let the enemy counter them accordingly plus giving them a Tension bonus or 'break character' and lose a Genre Point to act freely. It's a very cool take on the idea, but has some problems. To start with, there's not that many things to do in Matches, so the prediction half of the ability is most likely going to always yield 'I attack' without much room for creative pre-emptive countering. The other problem is that the text is fairly vague and only asks for 'what their PC will be doing next Turn' which... Leaves a lot of room for half-truths that reduce this ability to a double Tension bonus to attacks. I'll touch more on these issues in the future when we get to the 'I Can Read Your Every Move' Genre Power. It's a shame it doesn't work better, because it is a very simple and flavorful way to adapt a fighting anime staple.

Elusive Form
Elusive Form is more of a storytelling enabler than a combat ability. It allows the antagonist to show up at the worst possible time or to escape from any complication safely, as long as it is an Intermission Scene. The limitations also make it more interesting than a pure GM Fiat ability. You can use this one in a myriad ways to mess with PCs and instill a sense of fear in them, because they're never safe as long as a baddie with this is around. The way it works, the NPC has to be strong enough that it won't need to use the escape ability or it needs to set itself up for an ambush the old fashioned way and know when to use the Run command - because it takes an Action. I'm a fan.

Giant Slayer
So the Boss Mecha has been defeated and the PCs sigh in relief after a long, arudous battle... Only for the NPC pilot to break out of the cockpit and dismantle their mechs with a flurry of punches. Giant Slayer NPCs are not the kind of thing that you want to do more than once or twice, but they sure are effective when that does happen. It makes for a nice final surprise round to a battle, or for an unconventional beginning to one. Even with the Defense bonus this Trait grants, Characters are unlikely to last more than one Round against Mecha, but it also shouldn't be too hard to take down an already-damaged PC with the Forbidden Secret Art Deathblow.

Homunculus Vessel
This is a combination of Comrade and Backup Bodies, with a more sinister touch fitting for antagonists. Technically a GM doesn't need this, because defeat doesn't necessarily mean death and it is not like they need rules to tell them when and how to create new NPCs... But it's such great inspiration, isn't it? A friendly NPC is revealed to have been a plant for the big bad all along. A giant monster dies only to invade the body of a hapless bystander gone MIA who will now haunt the PCs. A rogue AI is destroyed but not before it spreads to a friendly mech that will soon become parts for the AI's grandiose next boss monster form. It's cool storytelling and gives the GM an out for those times when the NPC could not possibly have survived but somehow needs to come back. You can even take advantage of that, allowing the PCs to disintegrate the Boss or to shoot it into the sun or whatever other ridiculous death you can think of, knowing that was just part of the plan all along.

Living Weapon
This is basically Giant Slayer's sidekick/flunkie/younger sibling, used to spam Forbidden Secret Art as long as the Giant Slayer's puny Character body holds on. And without Giant Slayer? I have said before that Deathblows are very underpowered, and while this does a little to help them, it is probably better to just plain take Skill Master (Combat) and not waste CP on them. If you already have that, though, then sure, this is an okay extra.

Mundanity Field
Miracles meant for combat use are already some of the weakest... And this just plain disables them from short range use. On one hand, I do like that this Trait makes for a big 'oh no' moment, but from a gameplay balance perspective I think this is a mistake. Also, because Miracles have a line-of-sight range, this will do absolutely nothing just as often as it completely shuts down some builds. All in all, I think I could have done better.

Overwhelming Pressure
The big bad shows up and the first thing they do is K.O all the NPCs and wound all the PCs. Bam! Talk about a big entrance. It's cool, but it can lead to an instant party wipe if the Boss is higher level than the PCs, which... Is kind of bullshit! Some kind of mental attack that makes the PCs lose their minds or flee in fear is a preferable alternative to physical wounds here. Keep in mind that it takes an Action, so if the PCs are of the same PL as the Boss and take no Damage, then that's one Round in which the Boss will be a sitting duck. Making the Boss one Level above the PCs, perhaps two for a particularly scary and hopeless encounter, is the best way to use this.

Skill Master
The least superhuman of all the Boss Traits. Ideal for matchless warriors, mad scientists and sneaky assassins alike. It can be taken multiple times, making an NPC who never has to roll dice except for Miracles or the rare Attribute Test. What's not to like?

Spectral Body
This is like a more versatile Elusive Form with the drawback that it is less absolute and thus less reliable. Three rounds is enough to pass through enough walls to break in or out of most Scenes, after all. It is also good for straight-up brawlers who want three free Turns to do whatever they want, forcing the PCs to either run away or come up with a solution more creative than 'beat down the enemy'. Combines very well with Overwhelming Pressure, Living Weapon and the aforementioned Elusive Form.

Viral Touch
Infecting PCs and NPCs with an illness can only be cured by slaying the Boss, Viral Touch pretty much writes the plot of your next Episode Arc for you. Note that this is EXTREMELY unfun to be on the receiving end of, leaving PCs out of Intermission and Operation Scenes alike anytime they fail a DN 15 Willpower Test. It is best to use this either on NPCs that the PCs have a personal attachment to or to make the Boss a short lived one that lasts one or two Episodes so that PCs get back to the game quick.

In Conclusion
I think that Combat Profiling, Living Weapon and Mundanity Field have enough issues that I can't quite call them successes. The rest I would say all get passing grades, though three of them have some caveats: Giant Slayer isn't too strong but it also shouldn't be, considering it makes Operations harder rather than affecting Intermissions themselves. Overwhelming Pressure and Viral Touch are potentially very unfun to deal with and need a careful application in order to keep things fun.

It might seem like I'm hard on them but I really like how they turned out, all things considered. The combat-based Boss Traits throw a neat twist or two into the usual Match formula and keep things fresh. The other Boss Traits are good little nuggets of storytelling that blur the line between hard rules and GM fiat, plus they give inspiration for future plots. I think that's the best way to do NPC-only abilities.

Next: Boss Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 18, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXIV: Enemy Features

Enemy Features offer options that are, usually, more fit for Enemies for flavor reasons but not forbidden to PCs. Likewise, regular Features aren't forbidden to NPCs and they're often crucial to making some Grunt and Boss designs work. Grunts have very low MP Totals, especially early on, while Bosses don't have any normal Upgrades unless you sacrifice Boss Upgrades to grab them, which is probably a bad idea. Among Enemies, Flyer and Terrain Specialist are the most popular PC Features, but Extreme Fortification works great for some builds too. Without access to Features, Grunts would be slightly weaker but Bosses would lose too much flexibility and much weaker.

But enough about PC Features, let's have a look at the NPC ones:

Biological transforms extra Energy into Threshold, but at a very slow rate. Combat is usually too quick for it to amount to much of value so a lot of the time this is mostly a downside. Grunts don't have an use for this and would only take it for flavor reasons and Rivals have better options for self healing. For Bosses, this makes them actually give a crap about Maims, which is a pretty big downside... But there are some Bosses which have enough spare Energy and ways to buy time for themselves that this Feature makes a decent option for them. Two Capstones, Energy Drain and Hypersonic Striker, work particularly well to make Biological work the downside. What is more, This is a very flavorful drawback for Bosses that makes choosing Areas to Maim relevant. It can even be a nice way to compensate for Oldtype for GMs that feel bad when giving that to their Bosses. Overall, Biological is kind of bleh mechanically, though it has neat flavor.

Extra range won't compensate for lack of mobility unless the user is very well protected by Terrain. Thus, this is a Feature used for Operations designed around Enemies bunkering up with PCs who often have to cross various kinds of harmful Terrain in order to reach them. Fortress Grunts are immobile turrets that emphasise their glass cannon-ness being extra vulnerable. Rivals don't really have much use for this outside of Guardian of Steel gimmicks where the whole of the team can't be moved. Bosses lose out on some great defensive abilities based on Movement and their aura-type effects are a lot less useful... But the extra Range makes many Weapons, particularly the Bursts, extremely brutal. Useful and flavorful, I like.

Invasive Enemies are a cheap trick. PCs without an investment in Systems are reduced to 10 Threshold total while PCs with an investment in Systems can have up to 20 or 30 depending on their luck. It's nasty stuff, to the point BCZ includes a new Genre Power just to counter them, because they're not just powerful - they're random. Invasive Enemies work best if they happen, say, once every 4-5 Operations or every 2-3 if there's one or two PCs with the Hang in There! Power. Grunts will often fail to do enough Damage for the Invasive trigger, because their strength is in making many weak attacks instead of a few strong ones. Rivals have enough attack power and abilities that deal automatic Damage to make it interesting. Bosses are like Rivals but they also have Crush the Insect to push PCs into the fourth Layer that automatically defeats them, making them the best and most obvious Invasive build. All that being said, Invasive Enemies can be very frustrating and unfun, so I'll give them a passing grade but just barely and add 'use with care' to their report card.

Squadron is my favorite Enemy Feature. It is how BCG represents swarm-type Enemies, a very important job for any heroic action RPG, and pulls it off in just two short sentences. In terms of optimization, Grunts use this as a cheap Antimaim that emphasises their natural weakness to area-of-effect Weapons. Rivals can use this to represent the ability to split into separate components and can be combined with anti-AoE abilities for a fairly optimized Enemy. Bosses gain the least from Squadron, since they're already mostly immune to Maims, unless they use this to compensate for the upside of Biological or using regular Upgrades and Weapons... In which case you have a really interesting Enemy in your hands. It is the Feature that does the most with the least text and a home run in my book.

So, in conclusion, I think Enemy Features are a pretty good set of abilities. Biological or Invasive need a bit of tweaking in the mechanics area, but all of them do good job of conveying the flavor of fighting enemies that are fundamentally different from the PCs. Squadron, in particular, is the kind of thing that could be the basis of a new NPC tier, for waves of Enemies weaker than Grunts.

Next: Boss Traits

Gimmick Out

Dec 11, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXIII: NPC Tiers.

I already wrote a lot about the three NPC tiers in BCG and BCZ both. I wrote about how to build them, how to combine them, how to make NPC combatants relevant in Intermissions, how to improvise the Attributes and Skills of combatants, etc. So what I'll do is focus on what worked about them, what didn't, and how they could be different.

So why are there three NPC tiers? The idea was to have one tier equal to PCs, one lower powered than PCs, and another higher powered than PCs. Nicely enough, one Grunt is half a PC while one Boss is two PCs, keeping things simple should you want to mix and match the tiers for NPC Squads. From a design standpoint, I was trying to keep the number of rules to a minimum here (as I usually do) and it seemed like three tiers of NPCs should be all a game could need. If a GM needs very weak trash mobs or very strong superbosses, the rules do support them, even if they don't have their own tier.

Grunts are PCs with less total XP, no Genre Points or Powers, and the Paired Attack Action. They didn't always have Paired Attack though, and they had major balance problems back then. Without Paired Attack, low PL Grunts were weaker than half a PC. You know how PL 0 PCs are terribly, terribly weak? Well, Grunts have stats lower than that and lack the Genre to compensate for their low rolls. They get a lot better at PL 3 and above, being very close with the XP totals of PCs and having their numerical superiority compensate for the lack of GP. With the Paired Attack Action, they got a lot better at low PLs, especially for the glass cannons. Paired Attack can only be used when Grunts are bunched up, this keeps them more vulnerable to area attacks and makes the game flow faster by reducing the number of turns that the NPCs take. Overall, I would say that the Paired Attack Action is my favorite thing about them as a designer, it does a lot to make them play better.

Grunts naturally lean more towards elite mooks than trash mobs, but they can represent hordes of weak enemies with the Squadron Feature and a glass cannon build, preferably with a Threshold of 0. They're still powerful though, they can down PCs easily with Support debuffs, Paired Attack, and autodamage from Bombardment. Generally speaking, PCs want to destroy the Grunt forces as fast as possible and leave the Rivals/Bosses for later, because the glass cannon nature of most Grunt builds makes them extremely dangerous. This makes me think that perhaps there is room for a tier of NPC below Grunts for dedicated swarm/mob/minion Enemies. They could have less attack power and just hand out buffs for the higher tier NPCs while debuffing PCs, then they would still contribute to combat but wouldn't be a larger threat than the Rivals and Bosses.

What about their Intermission performance? Grunts provide standardized Attributes to use as DNs when dealing with NPCs, and that's really all they need to do. If you use them in combat, the superfast and extremely lethal nature of Character-scale battles means that numbers give two Grunts a large advantage over a single PC. While this is good in that it gives Intermission combat PC builds a much needed time in the spotlight, it's perhaps a bit too extreme.

Rivals are the middle ground between Grunts and Bosses, but they take the most effort to build and play because PCs are more complex than non-Rival NPCs. Thus, the number of Rivals per Operation should be kept to a minimum, they just have too many Powers and secondary abilities to manage. Rivals have so much variety in Upgrades and Weapons that they're the most fun type of Enemy to fight. Throwing Transformers, Combiners, Guardians of Steel and Technicians to the PCs does a great job of keeping things fresh.

Rivals built around exploiting the weaknesses of PCs can be comparable to a Boss in difficulty, especially if given abilities like Oldtype or Unstable Reactor to cheat the Power Ratings in their favor even more.

Rivals during Intermissions are basically doubles of the PCs and set adequate DNs for challenges as generalists or stonewall PCs with great challenges as specialists. If you have to beat a specialist in, say, Diplomacy through a Contested Test then all the advantage in numbers in the world isn't going to save you. Likewise, a single combat specialist Rival can take out an entire PC Squad if none of them are prepared for the occasion.. Or they could roll a low Initiative Test and fall to a single turn's worth of 10's. It's unlikely, but... Well, Intermissions aren't as balanced as the Operations. They're still better balanced than Grunts here, though.

Bosses have very high Attributes, repetitive Powers/Weapons and extremely powerful Upgrades. They're not very versatile, but they're strong and set the rules of the battle, forcing the PCs to come up with a counterplan or suffer the consequences. Having two Weapons/Powers keeps them from doing the same thing turn after turn, but it is the Upgrades and Capstones that make Bosses truly shine. At PLs 1, 4 and 5 they are at their strongest, and at PLs 0, 2 and 3 they are slightly underpowered for their Power Rating.

There's a considerable amount of advice in both books to help you make your Bosses into Superbosses meant to match more than 2 PCs in power. The essentials for this are either Component Rivals orthe Oldtype Feature... Probably both, if we're being honest. You can make them go beyond PL 5 with a bonus 30 XP and a Capstone per PL, but that doesn't give them the increased survivability they need to weather 3+ attacks per Round when they're only supposed to endure 2 of them. Combine all three techniques and you end up with some very, very scary baddies. It does take a bit of system mastery to figure out how to build and use them, though, so I figure maybe the game could have had a proper Superboss NPC Tier that incorporates bonus Utility Actions and extra passive defenses to their core rules.

Intermission Bosses are pretty much always enemies to be fought on foot. Sure, some of their Traits have utility value that is useful for Bosses not meant to be Character-Scale combat powerhouses. But for the most part, most Intermission NPCs designated as Bosses have that title because they're going to fight the PCs... And hooo boy they're kind of super good at doing that. We'll talk about that when we discuss Boss Traits though. Other than that, they're basically Rivals but with crazier abilities, so there's not much else to say.

Balancing the NPC Tiers.
While the Power Ratings were always 2 Grunts = 1 PC and 1 Boss = 2 PCs, the numbers themselves changed a couple of times. I remember originally thinking that Power Rating should be equal to Level for Grunts, PR x2 for Rivals and PR x4 for Bosses. The numbers were very easy to remember and work with, but before the first playtest I realized that this made Level 0 enemies have no PR at all. I really liked how intuitive and elegant the mechanic was and tried to work around the Level 0 problem, but it just wasn't working. Thus, all the Power Ratings were bumped to start with 1, 2 or 4 points for Grunts, Rivals and Bosses, then add the Power Level multiplier from there. But those numbers still had balance issues, in particular when it came to Grunt swarms, and so the we ended up with the current PR table that has NPCs start at a Power Rating of 2, 4 and 8.

In the end, the PR mechanic wasn't as elegant or intuitive as I wanted it to be, but it works better than the old version. I suppose the moral of this story is to not underestimate the power of weak enemies in high numbers. That's probably the most important lesson I've learned in NPC design as a whole. Bosses need optimizing in order to keep up with multiple PCs, but optimized Grunts are brutal and almost unfair. Actions are the most important resource in a turn-based RPG, don't underestimate the power of extra Actions, no matter how weak the users might be.

The other big lesson here is that trying to work five NPC archetypes into three worked out quite decently, but only for GMs that get systems and know how to bend the rules to their will. For everyone else, it is difficult enough that having two additional tiers of NPCs (for Minigrunts and Superbosses) is something I should have at least tried out.

I care a lot about encounter and NPC design, it is one of the most fun parts of being a GM for me. This section may not be as long as some others in the book, but these are rules that I care for and think about how to improve a lot. Whatever I do next for an RPG, the NPCs are going to take a lot from the lessons learned with BCG.

Next: Enemy Features.

Gimmick Out.

Dec 4, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXII: Beam Weapons

Melee and Shooting Weapons are direct counterparts to each other that synergize by being best at what the other lacks. Beam Weapons, meanwhile, are just subtypes of Melee and Shooting weapons with additional rules, they have the same strengths and weaknesses of their primary types, so they can't be pigeonholed as easy. They do have their own shtick, in a way, but it is not as gameplay-defining as that of other specialists. Melee specialists are good at controlling single targets and doing reliable Damage-per-Turn but bad at target selection and controlling mobs. Shooting Weapons are good at target selection, area-of-effect attacks and have a higher Damage ceiling but they need a sizable investment in MP to do those things well which usually makes them rather vulnerable. Even Beast and Artillery specialists have a very defined role, with Beast wanting to attract enemy attention to power itself up as the 'hard carry' build in the game and Artillery being absurd at striking multiple targets but lackluster against single bosses.

Beams are more about flexibility. Beam Weapons consume your Energy to Boost them, a considerable powerup that makes them hit harder than other Weapons by default. But you can forego the Energy spend and just use a version that is slightly weaker than average but has less drawbacks. When your Energy is being drained or paying Energy costs does you Damage, not Boosting your Weapons can be a good idea. Furthermore, some Beam Weapons gain the Slow ability when Boosted, while others become Overheating or gain some other form of recoil that harms the user. Thus, it's often a good idea to have some alternative ways to spend Energy (Active Defenses, Restorations, Supports) so you can still use the resource when you're not Boosting your Weapons. Beams are the easiest specialization to combine with others (except Beast, I guess, since there's no default Beam weapon), and they essentially play much like other specialists but doing more Damage at the expense of having just a handful of available Weapons to pick from.

That last thing is important because, until BCZ, having a total of 10 Beam Weapons meant that two specialization Upgrades limited your options to pretty much just one possible build for each such archetype. Let's take a look at the Core Beam Weapons:

Beam Saber
I'm a fan of the vanilla Beam Saber and Beam Rifle. Two Energy for one Advantage without any special abilities is a pretty bad deal, I admit, but it becomes one Energy for one Advantage with Experimental Reactor and suddenly you have a pair of Beam Weapons that you almost always can afford to Boost for a tiny bit of extra Damage without any downsides. This is a very strong build at low Power Levels that gives you a powerful pair of fallback Weapons at high Power Levels, when you can opt to use other Beams as your primary ways to do Damage instead.

Beam Rifle
See above. I think these two work best when combined that way and are rather lackluster the rest of the time. Unlike other Beam Weapons, these don't have any other special abilities, so they lack the flexibility and power found in the rest of their subtype.

Beam Ripper
This is our first innately Crippling Weapon. The flavor of a huge beam tomahawk or scythe that is somehow more precise and unlikely to hurt allies in Duels is... Not something I'm a fan of, but I do like the part where it lets you choose which limbs to Maim and how it debuffs the Enemy when hit. In fact, this was originally just called "the Headtaker" and its only ability was to let you choose which Areas it Maimed. Turns out, that's just a really weak version of the Suppression ability, so the Weapon got Crippling + Slow for some more power and and tactical value. The flavor is questionable, but it's a really good Weapon so I don't mind much. Beam + Crippling makes for very good Damage with a considerable debuff, and it makes you want to alternate it with other Beams while the Slow ability is in effect, keeping people from doing one-trick pony builds... And having them do two-trick pony builds instead. Look, I never said it was a perfect solution. The options for a partner weapon were more limited in core, but Burnout Edge in BCZ is a very, very good secondary Weapon with similar control potential.

Powered Rifle
This little gun here has a lot of range and hits quite hard, for a lower Energy cost than that of self-buffing yourself with Assisted Targeting for your Sniper Rifle. It has a drawback, however, in itsminimum Range of 5 Zones. The lower investment required and the drawback mean that it isn't a primary weapon, but rather an utility gun for Beam specialists or generalists looking for a long range option with a very manageable drawback. Sniper Models with Experimental Reactor used to have this as their only Long Range non-Technique but that's no longer the case since the addition of Point Singularity Projector, Bits and Lux Cannon to the game. Those have more considerable downsides (They're ALL Slow when Boosted) so Powered Rifle is still a solid, if less impactful, pick. Yay for options!

Extending Blade
Extending Blade is probably the best ranged option for Duelist Models in the Core armory and the only viable Weapon with a Range higher than 1 if they're also a Beam Specialist. Maximum Range 10, no ifs or buts, is very good when all your other options require a sizable Systems investment and you'd rather spend those points in Speed or Energy instead. It doesn't have any drawbacks (it will pretty much never gain the Dueling bonus, but that's kind of a given with ranged Melee options) so there's not a lot to say. There's more ranged options for material Melee Weapons users now, but there's still not any real competition for it when it comes to its Melee Beam brothers and sisters, so it's just as good now for them as it was back then.

Charge Cannon
Charge Cannon is... An okay Blast option. The Blast area is the same as that of most other Blasts but the Boost is a little too expensive for what is essentially Rail Bazooka without the Long Range ability and one more Advantage. I consider this a rather underpowered gun and I believe it ended up this way because I was worried about the raw power of Experimental Reactor + Artillery Frame... But, thinking about it, this could have been a Blast (3) at least, just to make it more attractive compared to other options. With that said, it still has a niche, as it is an AoE Weapon for the Beam specialists who don't want to spend MP on Systems and want a bit more range than that of Magneburst.

Against Units that can't fly, Incinerator is like a Technique with TRIPLE the Tension bonus instead of double. Not only that, but it provides a good AoE attack for Melee specialists who have a bit of trouble in that area. So it overheats, fine. That's a small price to pay for all it does against Enemies without Extreme Terrain protection and, unlike many other Overheating Weapons, you don't need to buff up your Tension to make it hit hard. See, Extreme Terrain uses the victim's Tension instead of yours, because they're the ones rolling the Test against the Terrain even though you created the Terrain in the first place. While this does mean that you can't power up Incinerator's secondary effect with Tension bonuses, it makes the Overheat kickback hurt less and has the benefit of being a very decent counter against Limit Engine users. While it is currently described as a flamethrower, the first version of the Incinerator was actually inspired by the chest beams of the Mazinger series that melted down the monsters of the week.

Double Blaster
This is one of my favorite Weapons on a conceptual level: Two strong attacks for the price of one! It's solid, but it is not an actual Blast (or Burst or Line) so it doesn't get the benefits of bypassing single-target defenses. On the other hand, it lacks the downsides often seen in such guns and all it does is Overheat when you Boost it. Speaking of the Overheating part, the Double Blaster is Wing Gundam Zero's Twin Buster Rifle. You can tell it is the Wing Zero Custom version from Endless Waltz because the mech melts down and collapses after firing all of three times. I guess Heero is one of those people who take the highest number even when it is odd.

Radiant Fist
This has three Advantages to its attack when Boosted and in a Duel, plus double Tension bonus. It doesn't have any particularly interesting abilities or factoids about it (other than being an obvious Shining Finger reference) but it does good Damage and sometimes that's all you really need. It is not as exploitable as the Burst and Line Techniques, because it only hits a single target, but it also doesn't hurt as badly when it fails. I think this could have afforded to only be a Technique when Boosted, losing the Tension penalty the rest of the time, because the other Techs are just more unique and lend themselves more to optimization. At the very least, that would have made Radiant Fist slightly more interesting.

Reactor Overdrive
What do you get when you combine Line and long range with double Tension bonus plus the Beam ability plus potentially Aiming bonuses? You get a recipe for wrecking face. It's not hard to catch three Enemies with it, and if they don't have countermeasures against burst Damage (which most Grunts don't), then they're going to take a very big hit. You can make the glassiest of all glass cannons taking this then casting bunch of Offensive Powers as your entire battle plan and there's a good chance that it'd be worth it even if you explode immediately afterwards from the counterattacks. This gun is one of the big reasons that things like Internal Fortification and Take Cover! exist. They're very, very hard counters, but without them the game would be in a worse place.

And that's Beams. The Core Melee armory has some duds in it and Shooting has one or two picks that are very niche, and I would say Beams are better designed than both of those. There's no real duds, the worst of the bunch is easily Charge Cannon and it has a niche. There isn't any one of them not worth taking, though there's a few that could certainly be better, at least they do solid Damage to compensate for it.

That's probably the main thing I've learned from Beams as a designer: If something hits hard enough, it is easier to forgive it for being subpar in other regards. The other thing I've learned is that attack buffs outside of those from the Weapon itself should affect just only one target, otherwise you end with a Reactor Overdrive scenario where you need very hard counters that borderline cripple the ability just to keep it in check.

As I mentioned when I discussed the Beam mechanic itself, these took a lot of work and were being tweaked until the last days of development, so I'm glad they're flavorful and fun to use on top of (mostly) being very powerful. It would have been a bummer if they ended up being all underpowered.

...But I could be wrong! What do you think? What are your favorite dealers of rainbow death and oversized immaterial implements of destruction? Yes, this is the last poll for a while, I'm not going to have fifty polls running at the same time.

Next: Now that we're done with PCs, we move on to NPCs! I've been looking forward to this section of the book. It's one of my favorites and probably the one subject I've most learned from.

Gimmick Out.

Nov 27, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXI: Shooting Weapons

Compared to their Melee brothers and sisters, Shooting Weapons have greater range and a higher attack power ceiling, but their attack power floor is usually lower and they aren't as good at controlling enemies. They are their best when they can take advantage of the easier positioning and greater attack power, as such the best guns are those that can attack multiple enemies at once and the ones with single-target power.

Unlike with Melee Weapons, which naturally synergize with both of the things they're good at; Multitarget guns tend to do less damage than single-target guns. Shooting Weapons are more versatile than Melee ones by default, which means a specialist needs to invest more MP if they want to do both things well. This leads to Shooting specialists usually being some sort of 'glass cannon' build sacrificing toughness for firepower.

By complete coincidence, this means they get along really well with Melee specialists who like to use the Duel mechanic. And "by complete coincidence", I actually mean "by design".

Let's see how the ten core Shooting Weapons hold up:

Anti-Air Missiles
We start with Anti-Air Missiles, a Weapon that is VERY strong but conditional in who it is strong against. It's okay when Terrain plays a big role in the game (and, thus, so does the ability to fly over said Terrain) but this is a Weapon that is at its best when taken via Trump Card when you spot flying Enemies. When buffed with an Aim bonus and against a flying target, this thing has four Advantages to the attack roll, which is very silly amount for a Weapon without any drawbacks - not even an energy cost. Of course, its problem is that it's only barely better than the Vulcans against grounded targets (or those underwater/in space). This is a weakness that is difficult to plan around, but you can still work with it using Frames to switch it with a more useful gun when the Terrain is inappropriate. It's also a Weapon that deals with something most others don't: Environments. Its existence implicitly tells GMs with an adventurous spirit that they can homebrew guns suited to specific environments and how those abilities can be balanced. The Torpedoes in the expansion are a more obvious example, but Anti-Air Missiles still do their share of the work. I think this is an okay Weapon in that it is very setting-dependent but is also a total powerhouse for Trump Card optimizers.

Assault Rifle
The Assault Rifle is the most basic and all-around gun in the game. It is not powerful, but it is useful and lacks weaknesses. If you find yourself shooting into Duels often and don't want to use Suppress or buy Expert Support, this is a more reliable alternative to Crippling Weapons which often have big drawbacks. The long maximum range helps push it to being the generalist Weapon of choice. It benefits quite a bit from Aiming, not as much as a Sniper Rifle, but Assisted Targeting can make it deal decent Damage. All in all, it is an okay Weapon, certainly better than several of the Melee options, but like I said last week you usually want more than okay.

Used as is, Bombardment is strong. When buffed, Bombardment is strong as hell. When buffed and resupplied consistently, Bombardment is borderline unfair and you'll be glad it doesn't have long range because the relatively short range is its only weakness. Bombardment is, essentially, an area of effect Technique that can be spammed until the end of the world if you build around it... Which is honestly kind of insane. You don't know what fear is until you've seen a horde of Grunts, all of them carrying this gun. Bombardments fall, everyone dies. Perhaps the automatic Damage should have been equal to your Power Level, instead of equal to Tension? That way it wouldn't be a Blast Missile Massacre (but better) and Grunts with it wouldn't be a red alert of a potential team wipe incoming.

Electro-Sapper Pods
In theory, this is like Boosted Lance for ranged attackers but with a few tweaks to make it different. In practice, this needs very high Systems and constant ressupplying, which in Turn means high Energy and a build that can use a Support and attack in the same Turn. The problem here is that those builds don't have much MP left to raise their Might, and if your Might isn't high then the Damage bonus from having high Systems is kind of pointless. So is this a bad Weapon? Not quite, it just needs a bit of system mastery to make it work. In a pure Support build, you can use The Tacticool Approach to bump your Might from 0 to 8-10 and then shoot this thing at someone. Preferably with Assisted Targeting active to help it stick. It's not a spammable move, but it is a more reliable source of Damage than Surprise Minefield for most Support builds. It's not another Boosted Lance, which is what it really wants to be, but it has its niche and that earns it a passing grade.

Missile Massacre
Everything I said about Zweihander last week also applies to Missile Massacre. Let's move on...

Rail Bazooka
A Blast with Long Range is an amazing combination, making this the one Shooting Weapon that combines well with Assisted Targeting, Sniper Model and Artillery Frame for lots of Damage to an absurd amount of targets each time it is used. It's slow, so you can't snipe multiple targets with it every single turn, but you can still use a Sniper Rifle, Bombardment, Riot Weapon or Resonance Cannon the rest of the time depending on your build. Rail Bazooka is the bread and butter of glass cannon non-Beam builds and one of the best Shooting Weapons in the game.

Resonance Cannon
Strong, but not too much, and prone to missing. What makes Resonance Cannon worth taking is You Can Do Better Than That which makes it autosucceed on the attack roll and does an extra bit of Damage to boot. It's not hard to use the Tension bonus to push into an Enemy's last Threshold Level and let the special ability destroy them. It's also very dangerous in the hands of Grunt swarms who, with Paired Attack and a little bit of luck, can take down one or two Threshold Levels per attack. The tactical application and combo potential adds up to a pretty decent Weapon overall.

Riot Weapon
Riot Weapon is a decent fallback for builds with Artillery Frame and Sniper Model against short range targets. It doesn't have any drawbacks and it is easy to aim it so that it doesn't hurt your allies. I think it would be cooler if it had Slow (because reloading) and an innate Advantage or two to compensate, but it is honestly a very solid pick for anyone who wants an option against Squadron Grunts or other NPCs with Blasts, Bursts and Lines as a weakness.

Sniper Rifle
It's a very good option at low Power Levels when spending a Turn Aiming is well worth the +6 attack bonus, it drops in power around the midgame when specialists can do comparable Damage without spending a Turn for it and gets better again at high Level play when you can guarantee yourself some Assisted Targeting buffs. Alternatively, you can take the self-Support package ASAP and make a glass cannon build. It's comparable to Powered Rifle, but the versatility of using Supports on yourself also lets you Supply Delivery + Bombardment or Support Fire + Superheavy Machinegun. And speaking of Superheavy Machinegun...

Superheavy Machinegun
It's like a Stun Rod but it can't be used in a Duel and it can hit multiple targets, so it is... Not very much like Stun Rod at all! It is worse at controlling targets, which a Melee Weapon is going to be obviously better at, but it can contribute to said control from a distance and even hit multiple enemies. The lack of mobility makes positioning it for a proper attack somewhat difficult and Unreliable means it will sometimes miss, which is a problem, but this Weapon cares less about doing Damage and more about applying a debuff so all it needs to do is hit. Assisted Targeting helps, moreso than with most Shooting Weapons, because the range bonus and the extra Advantages alleviate both of its issues and help make Superheavy Machinegun shine. If you already have your targets lined up and aren't worried about missing, Support Fire will make this thing hit for its full Damage and applying a very tough multitarget debuff.

Shooting Weapons in core BCG are stronger than Melee Weapons. They just have more build and optimization options: You can build a Sniper Model with okay attack power and strong defenses. A Sniper Model with Artillery Frame to blast Grunt hordes. A Sniper Model with Supports to Snipe, Bombard and Cripple as necessary. And that's just the really obvious options. I think this is the best of the three Weapon armories in core.

But that's what I think. What about you? Which Shooting Weapons do you like to use to make robots explode with? If you're more of a Beam Rifle kind of person, we'll get to them next week.

Gimmick Out.

Nov 20, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXX: Melee Weapons.

This isn't just Retrospective Update #30, it is also GimmickLabs Post #100! Yay for regular blogging! This series has been helpful for giving me ideas and I hope you find it as interesting to read as I do to write. Now, on to Update XXX's subject: Weapon porn for super robots - no drills edition.

Melee Weapons are the most dependent on good positioning (a Default range of 1 does that to you) but are also the ones that make best use of the Dueling mechanic. Most of them are designed with Duels in mind, which means that they're at their best when keeping an opponent locked down or doing as much Damage as possible making use of the extra Advantage from Dueling. The other Melee Weapons have to compensate for a Melee specialist's weaknesses: range and crowd control, which, well, they don't quite pull it off for the most part. Let's see how our ten core examples do:

Arm Guardian
We start with a Weapon that, I think, is a little on the weak side. Arm Guardian will make it harder for the enemy to hit you once you manage to hit them. On paper, it is a decent fit for duelists that want to be more on the tanky than the DPS side of their melee specialization. The problem is that it doesn't have any other attack bonuses, so it will miss against targets with a strong Active Defense, thus failing to grant its Defense bonus to the user. Its other problem is that the Defense bonus makes the enemy want to target your allies rather than you, which goes against the idea of playing a tanky duelist in the first place. A higher Defense boost (Maybe 4? Or perhaps even 5?) or an in-built attack advantage with a drawback to compensate (Like Slow or Unreliable) would have made this a more attractive weapon, I believe. It is not bad, mind. It is just okay, because it grants a minimally decent upside and has no significant drawbacks, but you generally want more than "okay" for your PCs.

Boosted Lance
One of the most interesting and powerful Weapons in the game. It starts out strong, then synergistic movement bonuses from Powers and Upgrades make it devastating. You have to build for mobility and most  debuffs in the game will hit you there, but you can also build to counter said debuffs with Antigravity, Slippery Chassis and Mind Over Matter. Boosted Lance's real weakness is that it doesn't actually play well with Duels, because being stuck in place hurts you more than it will hurt your opponent, so you need Slippery Chassis ASAP. It all adds up to a build that needs tons of Powers, Upgrades and Weapons (like the Rocket Sword) not just to synergize with it it but also to cover its weaknesses. I think it is a little too strong at high levels when all the pieces come together, but at that point nearly all optimized specialist builds are sort of busted in their own way and need hard counters to keep them in check, so I don't think it is that bad. I really like it.

Chainblade is a strong Weapon with a drawback that gives it a random chance of doing less Damage than CQC, making it somewhat hard to use properly. The primary reason to use it is the synergy with Tension bonuses. Assuming you can keep the Unreliable ability from screwing you over, Chainblade is a repeatable Technique, and that's very powerful. An extra advantage, from Duelist Model or Versatile Model, plus an occassional use of Try Again should be enough to maximize your odds of rolling evens. I really like how this one turned out too.

Stun Rod
Works well for debuff and tank builds, sacrificing attack power to weaken the target. But it doesn't really shine until you use it with Support Fire, Formation G or Fight Smarter. The Crippling buff allows Stun Rod to do its full Damage while applying a rather strong debuff. This "Crippling Rod" has also great synergy with the Duel mechanic, locking down an Enemy and debuffing them until they defeat you or somehow pull away, which is not easy because Crippling hurts attack and mobility both. It's a solid Weapon and I think having designs like it, unassuming but really nasty when buffed, is good for the game.

Dueling Blade
It's a 1v1 Melee Weapon that pretty much has a free Advantage to most of its Tests. Yeah, it is good. The big problem is that sometimes things die too quick for it to be of use. The rest of the time? You initiate with something else (like say, a Hook Launcher or Boosted Lance) and then ride the free drawbackless Advantage to victory. For specialists, it has a lower Damage ceiling than Chainblade but it also needs less setup and doesn't melt down into a puddle when you take a debuff to Tension. For generalists, it is probably the most reliable Melee Weapon there is - just let the Grunts and Rivals be the ones to Engage then make a pincushion out of them.

Finger Net
With a very short range, a meh area of effect and lack of synergy with anything else that Duelists are supposed to be good at, this Weapon's saving grace is its single shot debuff... And what a debuff it is! It doesn't just halve Guard and Speed (a fairly strong effect before you add the Damage from the attack roll on top), it does so until the end of your next Turn. This can be exploited with the Delay Action to make your next Turn end after everyone else's, thus making the debuff last essentially two full Rounds. This is not an intended rules interaction, but the exploit wasn't noticed before going to print, probably because it is the only debuff in the game to work this way. So why doesn't this effect last one Round like nearly every other effect in the game does? Because new players were always disappointed they couldn't take advantage of the debuff in a 1v1 scenario. When something you design is always being misinterpreted, maybe you should change the way it works. With that said, I don't dislike the change in a vacuum. If not for the aforementioned exploit, I'd consider the "Until the end of your next Turn" wording an upgrade to use in the future in place of "for one Round". Anyway, this is the only Weapon available to PCs that halves two Attributes, so it's an okay 3rd or 4th pick for debuff-oriented or Artillery Frame builds. Exploitability aside, I think it is good.

Jackhammer Stake
This one is... Okay, much like Guardian Arm. It is fairly strong if you can replenish it constantly with Supply Delivery. The problem is that you could also be adding Aim or Crippling bonuses to your attacks for the same cost which are generally stronger. You could also just Supply Delivery a Weapon with a more useful secondary effect, like Bombardment. The idea of a Weapon that can be 'spent' for an useful buff to the attack roll is cool but this probably needed to have a different buff than just Damage for a single target attack. Barrier Piercing would have probably been a good idea.

Rocket Punch
Compared to Shooting Weapons, Rocket Punch has a base +2 to maximum range helps, but that's not enough to compensate for the higher base range that real guns get. Thus, as a ranged option, Rocket Punch is exclusively for Duelist Model users who want range without spending any Energy for it. It's okay as is, but I don't like that one of the most iconic super robot weapons is a weak and niche option. If I were to redo it, Rocket Punch would have Slow (because it takes a while for the fists to come back) and have an innate Advantage to the Test or something like that to give it an edge.

Whirlwind Attack
Whirlwind Attack is a very, very strong crowd control option. It's like an area of effect Assassin Blade with Slow. That alone makes it great for duelists and generalists alike. But it also shines as an excellent short range option for Artillery Frame builds, which usually would rather stay far away from the enemy but might need to clear a mob invading their personal space every now and then. That's kind of really good and shows how strong all the Burst Weapons are.

Oh man, poor Zweihander. Zweihander suffers from me overestimating Tension modifiers and underestimating how bad it is when you fail to kill the enemy with it. The game sped up a lot during its development months and both Zweihander & Missile Massacre failed to keep up with the other Weapons that kept getting faster. As is, it is underpowered. The Technician Upgrades in BCZ make it a solid, near-unbeatable 1v1 option. It needs the setup, but the payoff is powerful.

Melee Weapons in core BCG are strong and offer some interesting build options. They lack in utility value until BCZ however, so there's just not that many ways to build a pure Duelist without any other gimmicks. Still a strong, interesting and fun build though! The added Upgrades and Weapons help but I think core BCG Melee specialists are playable as is.

Also, new poll! Which Melee Weapons do you give your robots? Have any favorites? I'm leaving the Melee Beam ones for a later poll, obviously.

Next: Shooting Weapons

Gimmick Out.

Nov 13, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXIX: Default Weapons & Weapon Keywords

Weapons only have five pages but each of those is packed tight with text and there's a lot to talk about. This update will cover the first two pages, so grab a sandwich because it is the longest in a while.

Default Weapons
BCG is a game where PCs lose the guns they use to attack as combat goes on, so I wanted to give everyone access to two unmaimable Default Weapons they can use when all others are disabled. Said Weapons suffer a Disadvantage to all attacks, because they needed to have a drawback of some kind in order to make people actually buy the other Weapons. At first mechs only had CQC, but they got Vulcans later to give them a little more flexibility. In case you're wondering, the CQC system is a reference to Metal Gear Solid while Vulcans are a reference to Mobile Suit Gundam.

Melee & Shooting
Melee is easier to get at least one Advantage with than Shooting, but Shooting can get more of them and is also more flexible. The Melee ability is slightly weaker, which is why Melee Weapons are pushed with stronger special abilities and Sniper Model had an inherent range-based weakness to it. Further adding to this disbalance, Shooting Weapons used to gain the range bonus that Long Range Weapons now get from Aiming. This made some of them, like Superheavy Machinegun and Bombardment, even stronger than they already are. Both types are more balanced with each other now.

Beams have more of a story to them. One of the coolest things about Beams to me is the idea of an adjustable power output, leading to what you know as the Boost mechanic. So my concept for them is simple: They get stronger when you pump energy into them. The problem with this idea is that "they're like other guns except stronger" makes for bad game balance. At one point there were four different versions of the Beam mechanic running around, listed below:

First Version - Beam Weapons Cost 10 instead of 5 and you may spend an amount of Energy up to the number between parentheses when using a Beam Weapon, increasing the result of the Might Test by the amount spent. These were really badly balanced. At low PLs the cost was too high and at high PLs you wanted to discard your other guns and replace them with Beams. Flavorful, but not good game design.

Second Version - You may spend as much Energy as you want when using a Beam Weapon, increasing the result of the Might Test by half the amount spent. The variable Energy cost meant the mechanic was great at high PLs for all-in attackers but rarely worth the investment otherwise, because 4 Energy for a +2 to Might is just a really bad deal all around. The worst thing about this mechanic was the lack of individual energy costs for all Weapons, which made designing just 5-6 of them more of a challenge than it should have been.

Third Version - Beam Weapons have an Energy cost between parentheses you must pay when using them, but increase the result of your Might Test by the same amount. These had very high attack power for their cost, with their only real drawback being that they need Energy in order to be used at all. Because that's hardly a complication at all if you've built your Mecha competently, every single one of these Weapons needed to have a strong drawback to compensate for their raw power. This made them very, very difficult to work with, because they were still almost always better than non-Beams and there's only so many good drawbacks for Beams to go around before you start to give everything Slow and Overheating.

Final Version - Beam Weapons have an optional Energy cost between parentheses you can pay for to grant them an Advantage to their Might Test. This is very close to what the game ended up going with. The mechanic was easy to work with from my end. For players, paying the extra cost gave you a bonus but wasn't critical to using them, you almost always wanted to pay it, but sometimes it wasn't worth doing so, adding tactical value. I call this the final version but it's technically near-final. The only thing that changed after adopting these was forcing an innate cost of 1 Energy to all Beams, reducing the Boost cost by 1 to compensate for it. The rules effect is very small so the change was mostly for flavor reasons.

Beams took a lot of playtesting and also polling to make sure people liked the changes to them. They work so well now that it is hard to think this was the case, and I'm glad they did.

Blast, Burst & Line
These three are sort of their own weapon subtype like Beams, since many abilities in the game care about whether a Weapon attacks single targets or has an area of effect. It's usually a good idea to have one or two in case you face massed Grunts or a Boss that is near immune to single-target attacks. Other than that, the three types are very different. Blasts are the Weapons that hit the most enemies and can usually do so from a reasonable distance, so they need the least effort in positioning to get a good return on your investment. Bursts require careful positioning if they're to hit more than one target and can't benefit from the Melee Dueling bonus Advantage when they do. Lastly, Lines have an easy time hitting two targets with each shot without hitting any allies, making them the most convenient.

Most Blast Weapons started as Blast (4) and would almost always hit everyone in the battlefield... Which was kind of excessive. The Blast mechanic stayed the same from beginning to end, but most of the weapons with it lost one or two zones' worth of radius during development. Bursts and Lines were a late addition to the keyword family, and at first abilities like Stealth Field referenced "Blasts and other area of effect weapons" which... Wasn't very elegant. Now I can just say Blasts, Bursts and Lines, and the keyword lets them be compatible with Artillery Frame. Overall, I think there is a decent balance between all of them. The one issue I'd say they have is that some of the Bursts ended up stronger than intended, because the keyword itself is kind of weak, so the Weapons themselves were given very strong abilities to compensate.

This was another late addition to the keyword list. While there's only one Crippling Weapon available to PCs in the core rules, enough things grant the bonus (Support Fire, G-Formation) to make it worth making a new keyword. I also knew at the time that there would be more Crippling Weapons in BCZ. Crippling is one of the strongest keywords, because Suppression has many useful effects, of which the most obvious is the Disadvantage to attacks. Focused fire with Crippling/Suppression transforms dangerous Bosses into speedbumps and the stacked mobility trigger will also force annoying targets that move all over the place to stay still or take a lot of Damage.

Long Range
One of the earliest and most obvious keywords I came up with. Many Weapons had 'Long Range' as their only ability for a long while, it took a while to finally buff all of them with some kind of secondary effect. They're still not the flashiest and most interesting Weapons around, but they're useful enough you can't go too wrong picking one of them.

Techniques are, to me, the mechanic that uses Tension the best. I knew from day 0 of design that they were going to work the way they do, and all other mechanics that use Tension were balanced around Techniques being the primary 'outlet' for it, so to speak. The one problem with this approach is that I made the regular non-Beam Techniques somewhat underpowered and it wasn't until BCZ's Technician Upgrades that they felt up to par with other optimized options. I still love the keyword though, it does a great job of conveying the feeling of a FINAL ATTACK.

One Shot
One Shot is another early ability like Long Range. BCG doesn't do ammo, either you can fire your Weapon until the end of time or only once, Jackhammer Stake excepted. This is an useful and flavorful drawback for some of the strongest Weapons in the game. It's a good mechanic, but I think most of the One Shot Weapons ended up a little too strong.

In theory you can alternate between using two similar Slow Weapons to end up with two Weapons slightly stronger than the norm without a drawback. In practice, there's only a handful of Slow Weapons and they're unique enough that doing so is hard. There's all of eight Slow Weapons available to PCs between BCG and BCZ, four of them are Beams and three have different Boost values. This was done purposefully in order to keep the drawback relevant.

Overheating & Unreliable
Both of these are the "big" drawbacks for Weapons of their respective subtypes (Beam & non-Beam). They are worth more or less the same as the One Shot drawback in terms of pricing, but unlike One Shot they can be slapped on Techniques to make the Weapon stronger.

While both of them are treated as if they were equivalent, Overheating is honestly a little bit stronger than Unreliable, because at least Overheating still goes through with a bad roll, the potential whiffing of Unreliable is a much worse fate. Overheating also usually has more Advantages to play with, because it goes on Beams, making the Overheating Weapons overall better than the Unreliable ones. Unreliable could have been less harsh, all things considered.

Thirteen is (Not) Enough
That's all thirteen core keywords... But there probably should have been more. A few mechanics come up often enough in Weapons that they should have been keyworded, in my opinion. Here's them below:

Aftershock - Passing the Might Test with this Weapon will destroy that Enemy’s current Level of Threshold. This happens after the Weapon deals its regular Damage.
Piercing - This Weapon ignores the effects of Active Defenses.
Subdual - This Weapon inflicts an additional Disadvantage when using the Suppress Action.
Immobile - You may not Move as part of your Actions when using this Weapon. If you’re unable to Move for whatever reason, you cannot use it.
Material - This would just be a tag for non-Beam Weapons. Because the constant reference to "non-Beam Weapons" in the rules didn't bother me at first but as of BCZ has started to irk me.

Adding the Remote keyword from BCZ to the list would give us a total of nineteen keywords. Keywords are an important tool to help people remember how rules work and to keep rules text descriptions short, but having too many keywords makes it difficult for new players to learn what any of the Weapons do. I think that 19 is a large number, certainly on the upper end of what I would be comfortable with, but it is not an overwhelming one.

We don't have to use all of them, we could just use one or two. Subdual is rare and the text is short anyway, Immobile is very rare, while Piercing has short rules text but is common to the point I'd still want it in. Aftershock is the only one I'd say should have always been a keyword, and should have had a few other things about it working differently as well. Material is just a tag, there is nothing to remember about it unless you run into Enemies that resist them.

Next: The poll I said last week that I would do today and also some more things I guess.

Gimmick Out.

Nov 6, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXVIII: Features

There are some genre conventions that, when converted to abilities, only make sense having a downside to go with their upside. The most obvious example are aquatic Mecha, which should outperform others in the water but underperform while on land. Features and their ilk could have costed MP and they could have had a stronger upside, but I think they're best this way. Not costing MP means they are easier to work into a build at low Power Levels, which is ideal for L0 Grunts. It also means the upsides and downsides have to be on equal footing, which is more a matter of aesthetics than one of pure rules, but it is nice all the same.

One thing that jumps at me from the description of Features is that the description for which ones should and should not be combined are very vague. The book takes for granted everyone will be aware that Flyer and Terrain Specialist (Land) is a combination that makes no sense and should not be allowed, but I've been asked by GMs how to challenge super-optimized PCs with this combination of Features. If I'd known, I would have made a sidebar on the subject.

Base Unit
Base units can represent either mobile battleships like those seen in Gundam, Nadesico or Yamato or stationary fortresses like those in... Nearly every super robot show there is. Special mention goes to Evangelion, which had the whole city of Neo Tokyo-3 contributing to the battles with tons of support structures. Base Units can harbor PCs inside, protecting them from harm and allowing them to switch Frames. The downside to having one of them around is that their destruction is a mission failure condition. I think this is a decent execution of the concept: You have a VIP Unit that is just as capable as everyone else's and provides some utility value, but can be overwhelmed like any other PC and thus must be protected.

The utility value of Docking can be a good way for PCs to avoid taking Damage for the first few Rounds while Tension builds up. Docked Units can even contribute to the battle and attack by exposing themselves to area attacks. Obviously, this needs the Base Unit to be bulky enough to withstand enough fire for at least 2 PCs and preferably mobile enough to avoid unfavorable Terrain conditions. The payoff is that when 2 or more PCs come out at full power they will make short work of the enemy while the Base Unit licks its wounds. It's risky, but when it works it does so very well.

The consequences of having your base unit destroyed are sidebar suggestions instead of having any concrete rules effect other than "you lose". On one hand that's kind of lazy, but one the other hand the rules effect being "You lost, now deal with the consequences." is much more effective than any kind of rules-based penalty. The combat is a vehicle for cool storytelling, after all. I suppose the sidebar could have been one or more pages of detailed suggestions but, at the time, that effort was better spent elsewhere.

Extreme Fortification
This is the Feature with the most impact. Halving all non-Might Test Damage is HUGE, but so is losing half your Energy. Some of the most dangerous Grunts will now be half as effective as they usually would be, Rivals will have several abilities be made near-useless and the most powerful Boss builds will be rendered to flailing helplessly this way. You're just as vulnerable to raw Might Tests as anyone else and having 2-4 less Energy to play with will make enduring super attacks much harder.

It's honestly kind of OP. You can combine it with Internal Fortification to cover your weakness to Might Tests and you're super durable at the cost of having a 2-3 Energy build. You can also make it part of a Transformation, using up all your energy at the beginning of your Turn, then switching to your Extreme Fortification form. Next Turn you'll be forced to start with half your Energy before you can do any tricks, but if you switch to another form you can repeat the energy trick your next Turn. It's kind of silly and tells me that maybe the drawback should have been something else, but I'm not sure what it could have been.

Flyer and Terrain Specialist
These are the two most common Features. I just spoke about them two weeks ago when talking about Alternate Forms so I won't repeat myself. The other benefit about them is that they let the GM create non-mech enemies like planes/submarines/tanks which will behave differently from mechs at no MP Cost. This is very important for Bosses, who can technically be given regular Upgrades in place of Boss Upgrades, but you really shouldn't do that.

Power Suit
Power Suit is an alternative Antimaim. It costs no MP (obviously) but makes it so that, instead of losing Upgrades and Weapons, you lose stats when Maimed. Whether the effect is easier or harsher on the user depends on the build. Personally, I like these as a 'cleaner' implementation of the Maim rules, though they do loses some of the flavorful touch that the standard rules have to them.

While we're on the subject of Maiming, I'm glad you guys also like the mechanic! I'm still a bit conflicted over the rules, but I'm relieved that sticking with them was the right call. The poll between deep combat and streamlined narrative is much closer, but it didn't start that way. At the beginning, deep combat was winning by a landslide. Later on, streamlined narrative and neither/unsure got a lot more votes, which I found an interesting twist.

There'll be a new poll next week when we talk about Weapons.

Next: Default Weapons & Weapon Keywords.

Gimmick Out.

Oct 30, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXVII: Combinations.

Combinations are the most difficult set of mechanics that I've ever had to adapt to a tabletop RPG. Even after several iterations, each one simplifying them further, they still take a full page to describe and explain. There are only two Combination Upgrades, but they have very long entries, their own set of common unique rules and possibly the longest sidebar in the book explaining how they work in corner cases. It's complex stuff, but I think most people will agree that's kind of inevitable considering the subject matter.

I mean, there's so much you can do to simplify "All PCs are combined into one" in a game that is designed around having 3-5 separate PCs, each of them with lots and lots of unique abilities plus their own strengths and weaknesses keeping them balanced to their environment. It's not just difficult to adapt, it is also difficult to balance.

Let's start with their common rules: First, everyone has to take the same Combination Upgrade, that's simple and obvious enough. Second, all Units are treated as a singular Unit. The book at this part simply tells people to deploy preocombined for the sake of simplicity and leaves the rules for the Combination Action to their own sidebar - they are just that darn long. We'll go over those when looking at both of the proper Upgrades, and instead talk about Subpilots now.

Subpilots can only take Utility Actions, of which Maneuver is the most obviously powerful. Indeed, Maneuver is the one Action that pretty much justifies playing a Combiner by itself. The Utility/Offensive Action system was written with Subpilots in mind from the beginning, which might seem a bit weird since there's not that many Utility Actions a Subpilot would want to take, but that's why there's Upgrades that add more Utiltiy Actions to the repertoire. The first Subpilot Maneuvers and the second can use Boost or Disengage for positioning. Additional Subpilots need Support and Restoration Upgrades. The idea is to give Subpilots something to design their builds around other than just getting stats and maybe an Internal Upgrade or two.

Super Combination
The traditional sentai-esque combiner where one person shows off and the rest of the team just sit there and shout things wouldn't be very fun to roleplay. In BCG, dedicated Subpilots get to build around their role by taking Supports, Restorations or Upgrades that synergize with Maneuvering and make movement and positioning easier. It's powerful and fun, to the point that GMs should consider throwing one or two Super Combiners at the PCs to see how they handle it.

The downside is that Super Combination is very complex. It involves slapping a whole character sheet on top of someone else's, recalculating Attributes, and choosing one Area for the Subpilot to claim it as theirs. I simplified this and streamlined the Upgrade to the essence of combinations as much as I could and I doubt it could get much simpler than this without sacrificing what makes it cool. It is still complex. A Super Combiner that deploys precombined gets to have fun with a really powerful build without the complications of the Combination Action rules and can use a single character sheet, which is going to be crazy overstuffed, but at least it doesn't need multiple sheets.

Mid-Battle Super Combination is so complex that the rules for doing it are over a hundred words in length, and I think that alone does a good job of explaining the problems with it. There's a reason the book just tells you to deploy precombined. There is one problem with this though: Combining mid-Operation is a very tropey thing that mecha fiction does a lot of the time. Not all the time. But a lot of it. BCZ would later give Super Combiners the Invincible Super Combination Upgrade to fix this issue. In doing so though, it makes Super Combiners even more complex, because now you have to use the Combination Action rules. Though, to be fair, it makes them fifty-something words instead of over a hundred, so that's an improvement.

Unison Combination
This is the other common kind of combining super robot (more in the vein of Getter, Arbegas or Aquarion) which is much friendlier to the idea of a balanced party where everyone gets to do cool things. Unison Combiners are generally weaker than Super Combiners, but have two extremely powerful abilities: 1) A single-shot super Synchro Attack that costs only one Action 2) A lot of utility value in being able to freely share Genre Points. The source material often makes a big deal about the pilots being in sync with each other, having three hearts beating as one, etc. I think those abilities do a good job representing that kind of teamwork.

They're still complex, but not as much as Super Combiners, because all Units are distinct from each other. You can do a Mid-Battle Unison Combination, but there is no real benefit to it and you should just always deploy in the Combined form. They don't have a powerup Upgrade like Invincible Super Combination, because at the time I thought they didn't need it, but I wonder now if maybe they should have had one. Feedback here would be appreciated.

Writing about Extra Areas, Alternate Forms and Combinations in a row is painful because they were the genre conventions most difficult to adapt to an RPG. Combinations weren't just the most difficult to adapt, they were also the undisputed champions of just how complicated you can make an ability this side of D&D 3E's Polymorph spell. Deploying precombined removes most of the hassle and means you just need to make a single sheet for the combined mech, so I'm definitely glad that I kept them this way for BCG before BCZ went and made people want to Combine Mid-Operation.

I wrote a lot about all the problems with Combinations, but I do like how they play once you've solved those. I think they nail what makes combiners cool in mecha fiction while improving the formula and giving Subpilots more to do. But enough about Combiners! Now that we're done with the Trinity of Messy Adaptations, we can move on to more positive subject matter!

Next: Features

Gimmick Out.

Oct 23, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXVI: Alternate Forms

Mecha with switchable frames and multiple forms are staples of Mecha fiction. But, much like with Extra Areas, they have one glaring conceptual flaw that needs to be fixed before you adapt them to a point-buy effects-based system: You can already give your mech anything you want, there is no benefit to locking a flight mode or aoe weaponry behind a form that will only be useful some of the time.

My solution to this was to make Alternate Forms let you switch stats around by default, giving them a base benefit that justifies their purchase. The most obvious and probably most practical combination is to switch Systems and Speed, leaving one of them at 0 and investing your extra MP in the other. This gives you the benefits of a high mobility form and a long range utility form.

But of course, that wasn't going to be enough to make a plane form distinct from a humanoid form, or an artillery frame distinct from a submarine frame. I immediately wrote Superior Morphing to complement Alternate Forms and give them that something extra they needed to make each form or frame unique.

How'd that work out? Let's see.

Frames may not look like much at a glance, but Features make them a very efficient alternative to Antigravity. For 25 MP you get a land Frame and a space/underwater Frame which covers 90% of Operations. This will give you a +2 Defense from Defensive Terrain , lets you ignore Difficult Terrain and grants the ability to shoot over defensive formations. Each of your forms gets back 10 MP, so for 15 MP you've got half the effects of Antigravity (at no Energy cost) and a Defense boost to go with it. Then, if your game has more than a single mission in the third terrain type, you can Mid-Scene Upgrade for it with another 5 MP or just suck it up. The problem with this is that you don't have a convenient way around Extreme, Withering or (oddly enough) Sliding Terrain, but the +2 to Defense should make up for it.

This is a very effective Upgrade, but suffers from The Strong Adapt in the Expansion doing the same thing but better in nearly every way. The Strong Adapt requires you to not take Mid-Scene Upgrade though! You may know I've gone on record stating that Mid-Scene Upgrade is potentially the most exploitable ability in the game, so there's still a reason to use Frames.

Switching Features on the fly is really strong and easily worth the 10 MP cost, which is what Antigravity costs, but Transformation costs just 1 energy to activate (with Superior Morphing, at least) while antigravity costs 2. When you're not using the flight mode, you can use a Terrain Specialist or Extreme Adaptation Form, which is really handy. The balancing mechanism of this is that having to choose between those forms means sometimes you will have the wrong combination of Upgrades/Weapons/Attributes for the Terrain that you want, so it takes a bit of smart playing to get the most out of it.

Between that and the complexity of Alternate Forms in general, Transformers are not for beginners. This is especially true with Maneuverable Transformer encouraging you to switch back and forth every Turn and somehow not crippling yourself in the process.

In Conclusion
In hindsight, perhaps the core mechanic for Alternate Forms should not have been switching Attributes, but switching Features instead, because Features are the iconic thing Alternate Forms do in fiction. Superior Morphing does this, but it costs extra MP and complicates things by requiring you to take another Upgrade. The current version has the benefit of being more powerful. Switching Upgrades, Weapons and Attributes gives you more room to optimize your build than if you just switched Upgrades and Weapons, after all. The problem is that you have to understand how it works first and Alternate Forms are one of the upgrade lines that confuse new players the most.

I think Alternate Forms are messy and complicated, both things I'm not fond of. But they work and the builds they enable are powerful while taking some skill to play, making them rewarding to use. I'm not sure how the complexity problem could have been fixed though. Perhaps there could have been pre-written Forms with their own benefits and drawbacks (sort of like Features) and you could just select between them instead of assembling the Forms yourself with Upgrades and Weapons. I'm not sure that would be better in practice, but it would be easier to understand at least.

I do like them overall though, and given how difficult they were to work with, I'm glad that their complexity isn't necessarily a bug but can be considered a Feature for players looking for a more difficult build.

Next: Combinations.

Gimmick Out.

Oct 16, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXV: Extra Areas.

Both of the Extra Areas in the game are antimaim-type upgrades, but there was always a third type of Extra Area that I kept trying to include in the game but never quite got it right: The "Armor Purge" ability. Purgeable armor parts are a common genre convention, but they don't make a lot of sense as abilities in a point buy system. You can already buy any upgrades and weapons with MP, so locking your cool stuff under your other cool stuff doesn't make a lot of sense. Similarly, AI-controlled powerups and ejectable equipment need some tweaking in order to work in a system like BCG. The latter two concepts got into the game as the Extra Areas, whereas Armor Purge always suffered from fun or balance issues, never making it to the game.

Expansion Pack
Expansion Pack protects a whooping 30 MP of stuff from Maim status. It does this without costing Energy and comes with a free use of I Cannot be Defeated attached as a bonus. It is kind of really, really powerful. Oh sure, you'll lose all the stuff installed there when you purge it, fair enough. You know what else disables your Upgrades and Weapons? Exploding, which is what would happen to your Mecha without the purge effect. You could build with a Plan B in mind, to let you continue fighting effectively after a purge - or you could just not bother, because it is a really good deal as it is. Expansion Pack only costs 5 more MP than an Assistant granting the aforementioned Genre Power, and only 5 more MP than Integrated Weapons... But it protects your Upgrades and not just your Weapons. Would it surprise you to know that it was nerfed like 3-4 times and this was the weakest version of them all?

Expansion Pack is an absurd upgrade and the only thing keeping it somewhat balanced is that it'll cost you almost two full power levels to fill it up with stuff, and by then you may want to buy some more External Upgrades and Weapons, only you don't have a way to keep them from getting disabled. Honestly, if deadlines didn't exist this probably would have been weaker. I'll give this an A on concept, because it represents a mecha trope faithfully and feels good to play with, but it gets a B on execution because the numbers it works with make it waaaaay stronger than intended.

Secret Equipment
This one is also very powerful, but less so than Expansion Pack. The idea is that your giant robot "awakens" after the fighting has been going for a while and that unlocks its most powerful Weapons and Upgrades. What balances this one is that battles are usually too chaotic for you to reliably control how long they will last. Sure, you can try to durdle and Maneuver for a few turns while Tension goes up, but that won't stop the pure damage from Extreme Terrain or Bombardment, and by the time you're done powering up it may be too late - it's just you vs all the enemies left while your team curses your ancestors and descendants both.

Secret Equipment could be free unmaimable MP (or a total waste of it) depending on your team composition and how willing the GM is to let you activate it in peace, so it is a gamble. BCG Operations tend to end quick when optimized PCs and NPCs are going at it, making this Upgrade very bad under those circumstances. That's why BCZ has Limit Engine to help you reach Tension 5 semi-reliably. The tradeoff is, of course, that you have to build around that and try to get the attention of enemy forces. Suddenly, you're not anymore a loner on cleanup duty, but a team player that tanks for the rest. I really like how that worked out.

If BCG wasn't a generic mecha system trying to adapt as many genre conventions as possible, I might have taken the easy way out and just skipped on doing these. Between the concepts being difficult to adapt and antimaims in general being difficult to balance, Extra Areas were pretty tough to work on. Fortunately, these two worked out and made it to print.

But they wouldn't be the hardest genre conventions to turn into Upgrades. Oh no, we've only just gotten started on headache-inducing content.

Next: Alternate Forms.

Gimmick Out.

Oct 9, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXIV: Support Upgrades.

Not all giant robots attack their enemies directly. Heck, some of them don't even attack enemies at all! Support Upgrades represent those rare mecha, as well as enabling a different style of gameplay for players who like having more decisions to make every Turn. Some Support Upgrades are buffs, some are debuffs, others do one-off weird things and a few even let the user do a moderate amount of damage to a single target with an indirect attack.

The problem with supports was balancing them. They had to be about as good as weapons, but slightly worse, so by default they cost an Action to use and needed resupplying for repeated use. The way they were first written, Support builds had half their current range and needed to use most of their actions resupplying themselves and spending energy to use one of them at the beginning of the turn. It was too expensive in terms of MP to be worth playing at low power levels and only seemed worth the trouble against bosses.

It was then that Commander Type got split into two separate Upgrades, one of which resupplied the cheaper Supports after use. This made support builds a lot more fun to play, and at 9 energy you could then engage in double-support Action every Turn. Full-support builds got a lot more fun then, but they still had some issues with being a little too frail and weak compared to weapon specialists. Doubled range for all Support Upgrades gave them a little bit more of tactical flexibility and fixed most of the problem.

Even after all this, they were still a little weak at times, so one of the first Upgrades written for BCZ was Power Conversion to help them make use of Tension as a resource. I believe BCZ made the various support builds some of the best in the game, so I'm quite content with how they turned out.

Assisted Targeting
Most Upgrades in BCG are self-contained and don't refer to other rules in the book, but Assisted Targeting outright tells you to go look up the Aiming rules rather than just spelling them out. This has three benefits: First, it reminds people to familiarize themselves with the different kinds of Actions available. Second: It serves as a balance mechanism to keep this and similar abilities from stacking Advantages. Third: It grants synergy with Long Range weapons, most obviously the Sniper Rifle. This is probably the strongest of the 5-cost Supports. This should not be a surprise, as it basically lets you grant someone eles (or yourself) an extra Action, and that's very powerful.

Most builds have the exact amount of energy they need to use their stuff, so giving them extra energy doesn't help that much. But sometimes energy is halved or you want to set up a sick Jury Rig or Boost Power. Overcharge helps you do those things. It's okay, definitely one of the least useful of the bunch, but it has a place.

Support Fire
It's like Assisted Targeting, but with the Suppress Action instead! The second strongest after Assisted Targeting, only because it is slightly harder to exploit. If there had been more Weapons designed around the use of Suppression/Crippling this could easily have been different though, because it's a really strong effect! Much like with Assisted Targeting, multiple suppression effects on the same attack do not stack, Suppressing with a Crippling Weapon is wasting Damage.

Supply Delivery
Supply Delivery is one of the best Supports from a design standpoint. Delivering extra ammo makes sense as the kind of thing you'd be able to do. Its only problem is that this is a game that generally doesn't care about ammo, but for the builds that do care about ammo this is a very strong effect. It also enables builds going all-in on single-shot weapons too, which is really cool.

Surprise Minefield
This is another one I'm fond of. The name, rules and flavor blend perfectly into something that is really cool and most games don't pull off. It is also very good, though it has an obvious weakness in flight-capable units or those with Absolute Barrier. Still really good for a support-oriented character though, just mind your melee-minded allies. Fun fact: You can use this to kite melee specialists. You can even Boost away while doing so thanks to Commander Type! How's that for a trapmaster character?

Saturation fire and other forms of calling for allied firepower are very flavorful and iconic, but Grunt swarms are supposed to be the weakness of Support builds. It took some juggling of the numbers but I think Airstrike ended up being juuust good enough without being better than, say, Blast Weapons. What makes it stick are the extreme range and the freedom to position yourself optimally when using it.

Electromagnetic Detonator
A good candidate for best debuff in the game available to PCs. This is brutal against anyone who relies on energy, particularly beamspam builds. This originally only halved Energy and there was a Genre Power that turned Energy spent into Damage. Neither the Upgrade nor the Power were all that good on their own, so they got combined into this devastating debuff. It can render bosses without a backup weapon obsolete and Grunts with it are a borderline unfair tactic vs PCs. Looking at it that way, perhaps it is a little too strong, but I'd rather have it be this way than not give PCs any silver bullets against high-energy builds.

Ensnaring Trap
The other candidate for best debuff in the game. I believe this originally created Difficult Terrain and halved Guard as a side effect, but got streamlined to halving two stats fairly quick. This is much more straightforward in making one Enemy easier to beat up than Electromagnetic Detonator and is a lifesaver against builds that rely on Maneuver bonuses to defense, most of which use Speed and bump up Systems at higher Power Levels. The part about making targets lose the ability to fly was added late in development for flavor reasons and to make it synergize better with Surprise Minefield.

Fire at Will
Before BCZ, Fire at Will was used to represent Remote Weapons - funnels, bits, incoms and all the others. Proper remote weapons that could be deployed, moved and targeted separately from your own unit were requested frequently enough that I ended up writing them anyway. As for the Upgrade itself, it is an okay way to hit a Boss or Rival with high Defenses or flight for a good amount (between 5 and 8, assuming an optimized high-systems build) of Damage.

Jamming Barrage
This Upgrade was always a Blast for flavor reasons, and that meant making the debuff effect weaker than if it was a single target debuff. While it works okay as is, and the large area of effect guarantees it will weaken a good number of enemies considerably, I now wonder if it should have been a single target debuff that also denied Tension for a Round or something along those lines.

Supports are in a good place right now but it took a lot of work to get them there. The problem was always the same: BCG is a very streamlined game where you have one Action per Turn. Supports would have worked better as some kind of secondary Action you can take in addition to an attack, rather than a replacement for the attack itself. They were buffed a whole bunch of times and received enough new toys in the expansion that their power level is no longer a concern, but in hindsight the whole thing looks to me like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If I were to rework them, I'd probably make them use your systems stat as ammo like Restorations do, instead of forcing a resupply effect after each use - rebalancing them as appropriate in the process.

Next: Extra Areas.

Gimmick Out.

Oct 2, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXIII: Mobility Upgrades.

Mobility Upgrades are thematically but not mechanically related to each other, they're linked by having similar flavor but their mechanics are independent. They could have been internal upgrades, but they make more sense as external upgrades. Plus, making them external let me lower their MP/Energy costs, to counterbalance that they can be maimed.

This used to cost 1 energy and 5 MP. Suffice to say, it was an autoinclude on waaaay too many builds for my liking then. Now? Perhaps it is a bit on the costly side, but every time you dodge extreme terrain with it is worth the cost. One thing I like about Antigravity is that it doesn't say "You can fly." then tells you to flip to a different page explaining how flight works. Rather, it (and all the other flight-granting mecha abilities) tell you what flight means. In this system, flight means ignoring cover and ignoring terrain under you. Very simple! In saving 3d movement for a sidebar, it keeps things rather compact. There is still one problem though: It doesn't say it can't fly over Impassable Terrain! It does say it ignores Terrain under you, but you can't move into a Zone of Impassable Terrain first to ignore it, so it is kind of confusing. It probably should have added "Can't fly over Impassable Terrain" in reminder text at the end. The underwater/space part of the text is there to remind GMs that they can make their own terrain properties and treat them however they want, and that sometimes saying "This terrain doesn't like this upgrade/weapon" is okay.

This used to be a 2/4 Zones boost, now it uses the same numbers Custom Defense does but for movement instead of defense. It wasn't a particularly necessary buff, but I liked the parallel and doing it didn't break anything. Also, the odd number makes Boosted Lance users want to take Gotta Go Fast to move a total of 10 Zones + Speed and get a juicy damage bonus. I like that this is a viable alternative to base speed bonuses for builds with a ton of energy.

Reversible Thrusters
When I made Slippery Chassis into an internal upgrade, I also considered doing the same with Reversible Thrusters. I ended up keeping it external just to make kiting less of an autowin for the higher speed builds that can pull it off - doing some damage to them should at least present the risk of forcing them to fight head on. As a maimable 10-point upgrade, this is useful for its intended builds, but often in playtesting it wasn't quite worth the cost for anybody but the most dedicated of snipers. There were some variants, but this turned out to be the least abusive of them all while still being playable. Considering kiting as a strategy is kind of abusive by purpose, I suppose that means this turned out well enough.

So this is a bit of a short post, because these don't have much of a story to them and they're pretty clear-cut. I do have a lot more to say about next week's subject though!

Next: Support Upgrades.

Gimmick Out.

Sep 25, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXII: Restoration Upgrades

Restorations are the most underpowered Mecha Upgrades in the core rules. While I believe the expansion's Restoration Powers did a more than adequate job buffing them, I'd like to go over how and why their core-only versions ended up the way they are. Let's start with something that will probably explain a lot: I don't like healing-type abilities in RPGs. I say this not as a player (I've always liked to play support), but as a designer.

Here's the thing about healing in combat-centric games: It doesn't do anything, it undoes what other people did. It doesn't win the game, it helps you not lose. And as such, it is either not worth doing or worth doing because it heals faster than other people can hurt you. Few things are as frustrating as managing to hurt your enemy only to watch them heal up the damage. It just isn't fun to be on the other side of.

This is not to say I didn't want to have any healing abilities at all, or that I wanted to make them bad. It is just that, in case of doubt whether something is too weak or too strong, I erred on the side of making healing abilities weaker rather than stronger. If I make a mistake balancing weapons or offensive buffs, combat is too fast and rocket-taggy, which is bad but manageable. If I make a mistake balancing heals or defensive buffs, combat is a slow grind that takes forever, which I think is a much worse problem. Consider that BCG is a game where everything available to PCs is also available to NPCs, and my position becomes easier to understand. I don't expect people to agree with all of this, but I wanted to make my position clear.

Anyway, Restoration Upgrades: I wanted to prevent potentially infinite healing and the Systems stat seemed like the most logical existing variable for the number of times you could use the Upgrades. I immediately realized that PCs who wanted to use these Upgrades would be the ones maxing Systems, rather than the ones keeping it at an average value. Restorations had to be balanced at 7 Systems and above, rather than between 4 and 6 which is what other Upgrades were balanced against. Again, I was being way too conservative about them. Let's go over the three of them:

Jury Rig
This was the first Restoration Upgrade designed. I had the basic idea of the Restorations system down, so to figure out what the basic healing Upgrade would do, I looked at Absolute Barrier. Healing is better than damage prevention, so I figured using a similar formula to Absolute Barrier's, but weaker, would work out alright. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. The real problem was when many of the weaker weapons in the game got buffed, that was when keeping up with the damage output of NPCs got very hard.

If Jury Rig's problem was that it had to be a weaker Absolute Barrier, Regenerative's problem was that it had to be a weaker Jury Rig. At first, this Upgrade healed HALF the amount of Energy spent on it, which, as you can imagine, is kind of terrible. Now it uses two Restorations instead of one and restores the same amount of Threshold Jury Rig does. The end result is... That this is pretty much just a worse Absolute Barrier. At least Jury Rig can heal other PCs who don't have all the Energy to spare. Not a fan.

Probably the strongest of these three, if only because it didn't need a Genre Power to make it useable. The best use for Resupply is to restore your own Support Upgrades so you can keep comboing them. The most common Support Upgrades are the cheap ones that can be used reliably without spending them first, but comboing the expensive Supports is very strong and Resupply is worth considering for a more debuff-oriented Support build.

So, in hindsight, the problem with Jury Rig and Regenerative is that they were designed as an Absolute Barrier variant. Had they used a different number for their healing value, like a static 5 or just the user's systems, they would have turned out more useful. A change like this would need both Upgrades to have less uses though. The total uses available to each PC would need to be half Systems or equal to Power Level or something like that. That would have also likely meant a buff for Resupply, likely just making it not use an action. Also, they probably would be internal upgrades rather than external upgrades.

Again, the expansion largely fixes the problems with both Jury Rig and Regenerative with the addition of Restoration Powers. Without it, both Upgrades essentially need you to have a way to stop taking damage while you heal in peace, such as having everybody temporarily hide behind a Guardian of Steel or short pauses between battles or something like that.

Next: Mobility Upgrades.

Gimmick Out.