May 31, 2016

BCG Retrospective V: The Core Mechanic

Today's Retrospective is all about Tests, the most fundamental rule in BCG. Tests are what we in tabletop design circles call the "Core Mechanic" of the game, which is to say, its method of conflict resolution. The rest of the system revolves around this mechanic, whether you are rolling dice, playing rock paper scissors, or playing cards. For example, BCG rolls 1d10 + Attribute vs a Difficulty Number set by the GM (usually between 1 and 20), modifying them by Advantages or Disadvantages. This is a mechanic that downplays randomness in favor of PC/GM control over success/failure probabilities, but leans towards making PCs succeed at tasks rather than fail.

It has a larger element of luck in its Core Mechanic than, say, 3d6+Attribute vs a static difficulty between 10 and 20, but smaller than rolling 1d100 under your own Skill Rating. The former system has 16 possible results (3-18) with a distribution leaning towards 10-11 (two 3s and one 4, or two 4s and one 3) which makes it easy to plan around, while in the latter system your odds of rolling a 01 are the exact same as those of rolling a 100, and there are 100 possible results instead of 15. The second mechanic is more random, and gives PCS and GMs less control over success and failure, because it is much harder to predict.

Advantages and Disadvantages are one of my favorite mechanics in BCG and I'm not embarrassed to say I'm proud of coming up with them. They do so much in a very simple yet effective way. The very first Advantage is better used to roll two dice than as a +2 bonus. After that you generally turn them into a +2 bonus unless you have something like an Unreliable Weapon where having a specific result is important. Most PCs can get from one to three Advantages to their Tests by spending XP towards a specialization or with competent tactical gameplay. Then they can go up to four or five Advantages by doing both things and jumping through a few hoops. This means it is very easy to roll between 10 and 15 at anything you care about and very hard but not impossible to hit 20 or go over it. Mecha Operations make the numbers go higher because of Genre Powers, but this idea holds up fine for Intermission Tests. Disadvantages are much rarer, because this is a game that wants the PCs to succeed more often than they fail, but when they do come up they make their presence felt because having your precious Advantages get cancelled out hurts.

The most common kinds of Tests in Intermissions are Skill Tests, and they're generally divided into four Difficulty Numbers: 5, 10, 15 and 20. The first, DN 5, is for relatively easy tasks that PCs can only fail with a combination of poor skill and terrible luck, thus they should only be rolled to highlight character flaws and possibly add some humor to the game. The bulk of the Skill Tests in the game should be of DN 10, which a PC with a moderate investment in Attributes (4-6) plus an Advantage or two has good odds of meeting, while more advanced PCs don't even need to roll for them, effectively being on a different level than other characters when it comes to their field of expertise. The Skill Tests of DN 15 should be the second most common, but still relatively rare, because they're a challenge aimed at characters trying to do something major in their field of expertise, it takes a considerable investment in Attributes, Skills and Traits (adding up to say 8-10 in an Attribute and two or three Advantages) or otherwise they will need outside help. The final and rarest DN is 20, which should only be used for those "I'm going to try and do something silly/awesome/stupid" moments in which the GM doesn't really expect a PC to succeed but can let them roll anyway.

It is an alright system, but kind of flat and just... Serviceable enough without any terrible flaws to it. The GM chapter includes some ideas for toying with these mechanics a bit and making them more interesting, which I would have integrated into the rules proper if Skill Tests were the focus of the game. But they aren't, the focus of the game is in its combat mechanics. The primary reason I went with this system was because it made Mecha combat math simple to design for and play with.

In Operations the most common kind of Test is, of course, Might Tests. The difference between the lowest, average, and highest result in any given attack roll is of about one Threshold Level between them - assuming an average Threshold of 4 or 5. So if you barely miss with a 1, then you do some decent damage with a 5 and considerable damage with a 10. Defenses start at 5, so you need a result of 6 or higher (assuming your Might equals the defender's Guard) to do any damage. In addition to Tension, you can get two Advantages fairly easily out of every Weapon other than the Default Ones, and three or more from Beam Weapons or those with drawbacks like Slow and One-Shot. By Power Level 2 defenders can get an easy 3 to 5 extra Defense from Active Defenses, which can be counteracted by high-end Weapons or stacked passive Advantages, like Artillery Frame + Sniper Model. Lastly, there's Genre Powers, some of which can be spammed every Turn of an Operation, while other can only be used once for each.

In general, the defensive abilities are stronger than the offensive ones (just compare Try Again to Not so Fast), but there's a greater variety of offensive abilities and they can be more easily combined while Defensive ones can't or have obvious weaknesses - Active Defenses can be pierced with Powers and Techniques can punch through Invincible Alloy. The most extreme defensive specialists can stonewall most attackers, but debuffs will flip them like turtles on their backs. It is a point-buy system, and the freedom that gives Players means some will try to make the most hyperspecialized builds. The game expects and welcomes ridiculous things like blowing up all enemies with a single Blast or being invincible if a PC does nothing but spam Maneuvers, but balances them with a number of hard counters. The game tends towards making everyone take at least a little bit of Damage every Turn, and at its most imbalanced (Usually during Power Levels 0 and 5) it feels a little too much like a game of rocket tag where people explode in one or two Turns of combat, but that's better than a game where people can easily make themselves impervious to most forms of attack and combat is a sleep-inducing slugfest.

I will concede that the math could have been tweaked a little bit more towards a middle ground and minimize instances of one-turn kills. For example, Defenses could have started at 10 rather than 5 and Threshold Levels could have been beefier (say, 2x Threshold each, instead of 1x Threshold), then defensive abilities would have probably been weaker and there would have been less ways to obscenely stack offensive buffs. We could have also made PC stats start at 5 rather than 0, thus saving all PCs from being disabled by harsh language automatically, reducing the XP given at character creation/each Power Level and overall keeping most of the math the same. That would have taken away from the freedom to make your character and mecha however you want though.

We could have also had more and better ways to restore Threshold, which I admit was a mistake in the core rules that didn't get fixed until the expansion. If that was too much, we could have put more Weapons that did bonus Damage to counter the healspam. The game would have been slower and would have needed a little bit more math with any of those changes, but the combat mechanics would have made a better use of the Tension rules, with more ways to temporarily increase it, use it as a damage bonus, or restore it after a Technique has spent it. It could have been interesting but, again, slower.

Ultimately I went with the options that made the game flow fast without sacrificing freedom of options. The current mechanics work well enough, but if I end up doing another combat-centric game, I'll be keeping in mind some of this stuff. If I don't then... Well, I'll probably explore more the mechanics I left as suggestions for Intermissions. I imagine you folks are more interested in flashy combat scenes, but do tell me if you're more interested in narrative and story progression mechanics.

Next time: All the Intermission Rules. Yes, all of them.

Gimmick Out.

May 26, 2016

BCG Retrospective IV: Genre Themes and Genre Points

In the previous post, I said Genre Themes and Power Levels were the least explored game mechanics in BCG. Few things in BCG interact with Power Levels, but even less things interact with Genre Themes - and they're all in the expansion as system hacks. The difference between them is that, while I never expected Power Levels to have potential in them as a game mechanic, Genre Themes are almost transparent by design. Honestly, they're more like guidelines or suggestions than proper rules! Roleplaying them should grant Genre Points, that's it, that's all the core BCG rules have to say about them. You could delete every reference to Genre Themes in the rules and very little would change in practical terms.

Primarily, this was done to make the system suit many, many different kinds of games. The rules in BCG encourage heroic characters and flashy combat, it is just as much about saving the world from giant monsters as it is about world wars with giant robots. It wants a certain kind of tone, but that tone fits something like 90% of mecha fiction. Even Gundam, as tragic and gritty as it can be at times, is about colorful pretty robots having super cool fights and saving the world from other people with their own cool robots. There's very few stories about giant robots that you can't approximate with BCG, but in order to be that way the game couldn't pull you in the direction of any kind of story too hard. Genre Themes are all about pulling the story (through its characters) in different directions, so they couldn't do much in terms of rules.

The other reason Genre Themes were so generic in BCG was to let BCZ explore Genre Themes more thoroughly. The Rules Modules introduced in BCZ use Themes in much more interesting ways, but they have multiple other new rules to support them. In fact, they make up the bulk of the pagecount for that chapter! Unlike with normal Genre Themes though, the game now revolves around roleplaying them. There is a lot less room for improvisation and it even takes away a little from the Mecha Combat focus that BCG usually has. I think they're great system modifications, but they're very much expansion material.

Anyway, the other half of the Genre Theme Rules are Genre Points. They're your reward for all that effort you put roleplaying, with the side benefit of allowing the GM to balance things between party members by giving some more out to the PC in most need of them. The book suggests handing out one or two per Episode to all PCs, allowing beginners of a low Power Level to use Try Again and Not so Fast a little more often. They're the one hard link between Intermissions and Operations in the rules, allowing the former to affect the latter, and they serve a purpose in making character development lead to cool action scenes in true anime fashion.

All things said, I would have liked to do more things with Genre Themes. The Insanity & Faction Themes were very fun to work on.

Next: We finally get to the conflict resolution mechanics.

Gimmick Out.

May 23, 2016

BCG Retrospective III: PC Advancement

We continue our retrospective of BCG mechanics and slowly eating our way towards the meat of the game. Today, the entree in our plate is character advancement mechanics, which in our case means Experience Points and Power Levels. BCG is what we know in the hobby as a "point-buy" system, meaning everybody starts with a bunch of points (in our case that's 100 Experience Points) to spend on making a PC from the ground up. The alternative is to have a "class and/or level" system where you choose an archetype and it gains more abilities (often, but not always, predetermined ones) as it levels up. Now wait a second, doesn't BCG have Power Levels? We're only about to end the first paragraph and you're already contradicting yourself, Gimmick.

Hold your horses, my imaginary friend, and let me explain why I think Power Levels don't contradict me calling BCG a point-buy system. Power Levels are mostly an indicator of a PC or NPCs strength and track their total XP. Usually Level-Based systems give PCs a whole bunch of things when they level up and then the characters stay the same until the next level up. In BCG you can spend your XP in between Power Levels as long as you have any points remaining, and then you can Mid-Scene Upgrade with points you don't have to go in debt for even more goodies. Then there's their weight in the rules: in mechanical terms Power Levels only grant one Genre Point and one Genre Power to each PC, so they are not fundamental to the rules. In Level-Based systems, Levels tend to be so built into the rules that you can't really break them down into their individual components. If you wanted to strip away Power Levels from BCG all you would have to do is give people another 15 XP (the cost of an Assistant, who gives you a Point and a Power) and you're set. You'll have to do some math to calculate Power Ratings and use some NPC abilities but that's hardly rewriting the whole game system. With that digression over, let's go over the nuts and bolts of Experience Points.

Experience Points start at 100 and are earned at a rate determined by the pacing of the narrative, the difficulty of battles, and however else the GM feels like handing them out. The only rule here is that every 30 of them gained is a new Power Level, to a maximum of Power Level 5. PCs can start at any Power Level (including Level 0, for the ultra hard mode "all robots are made out of explodium alloy" experience) and Power Levels 1 and 2 are the recommended starting points and Power Level 3 is the recommended end point. Other than that, everything is up for each individual group to decide.

How did things turn out? Well, I learned a few things...

We could have used Power Levels for more 

There are only two mechanics that I think stayed relatively unexplored in BCG: Genre Themes and Power Levels. Genre Themes will be the subject of the next post, so let's move on to Power Levels. As was stated before, a handful of enemy abilities use Power Levels as a variable. The Trait "Overwhelming Pressure" knocks foes of lower PL unconscious, the Power "I Accept your Offering" gets stronger the beefier the sacrificed Grunt and the Upgrade "Nanoskin Shell" prevents more Damage at higher Levels. In the expansion we have the PC Genre Power "I Have Control" which costs more Energy with higher Level Grunts and the Boss Capstone "Tyrant of Lost Souls" even goes so far as to use the Power Ratings of Grunts around it.

All of these are about enemy NPCs. Even "I Have Control", a PC Genre Power, uses it because the effect is directly related to enemy NPCs. I didn't think about it at the time, but if Power Levels can be used as a mechanic for NPC enemies, why not the same for PCs? After all, Power Levels are a very flavorful anime thing. Right now Power Levels give more Genre Points and Genre Powers, which is very thematic, but they could do more. Imagine if Power Levels gave out bonuses to stats or to rolls, that would not only make a lot of sense, but it would also be really cool.

If the game had been designed from the beginning with that idea in mind, it'd probably be easy to balance around it too since the bonuses are relatively small and would help keep PCs of similar levels balanced next to each other. It wouldn't even make the game any less of a point-buy system, honestly. Right now it is most likely not a good idea since it risks breaking the math of the rest of the system, but it is a thing to think about.

The freedom of Point-Buy has problems

So here's a funny thing about recommended start and end levels: Most people ignore them. Most groups I've seen start out at Power Level 0 and intend to go all the way to 5, even though the game suggests otherwise. What bothers me about this is that the whole of the book keeps telling you how all characters are awesome but Level 0 PCs are deliberately meant to not be awesome yet, but a lot of people will get their first impression from them and feel disappointed. This tends to change with more experienced groups who do choose where to begin and where to end, but it means that recommendations and suggestions for inexperienced new players are largely useless at their job. If I had to do this again, I would make character creation start at Power Level 1 and insert 'Level 0' rules somewhere in the back of the book for those who really want them.

Another lesson learned here is that the sheer breadth of choices in point-buy systems often paralyze people, this is bad enough for players wondering what to give their PC, but it is even worse for GMs in need to craft not one but many NPCs. The GM's section includes a set of tables with premade Attribute arrays for Grunts, Rivals and Bosses of every Power Level plus general build advice, which I figured would be enough, but wasn't. As of the expansion and its sample builds, I believe the issue is solved, but I had clearly underestimated it.

Battle Century G had to be a point-buy system in order to represent the sheer variety of concepts in mecha anime, but if it had been a Class & Level system it would have been much easier to actually play. And that's not the only upside, for example: Having to stick to generic point-buy flavor meant that sometimes the rules played things safe, instead of taking more risks and making something as awesome as it could have been. The same goes for description text, at times it was kind of ho-hum instead of always dripping with fun and cheesy flavor. If there had been a 'magic-powered mecha' or a 'rainbow-beams spammer' class, then all of its upgrades and weapons could have been customized to fit, we would have ended up with more unique abilities tailored to the concept. The game already encourages reskinning so it is not like the fewer represented concepts would have been a huge loss.

With that said, I wouldn't envy the guy with the job of writing several dozen classes, each with their own unique lines of upgrades, weapons & powers and having to make every single minor variation sound different and exciting on its own. Spoiler: I would be that guy. Also, that would increase the page count immensely, instead of having 30 or so pages for all character options, that would probably cover just 4-6 classes. It is a bit much if you're not WotC who can crank out multiple 400+ page rulebooks in their sleep.

As an aside, I think games are better when they go all in one or the other. When the whole of the game is point-buy, you can balance all options around their XP cost. When the whole of the game is class-based, you can balance all options by limiting which classes can take them. When you mix things up and make some options available to everyone and some options available to a PC choice made during character creation, bad things happen. Take D&D as an example, where multitudes of feats, weapons and all sorts of choices range from being completely useless to absurdly broken depending on your race or class, but the game pretends they're all equal. That's not how you balance a system.

Poll Level-Up 

Anyway, it is time for a new poll! Has it really been over a year since the last one? Sheesh, I should be doing these more often. So, the topic of the day is "Point-Buy" versus "Class and Level". How do you like your RPGs better? I want to hear your opinions, people.

Next time: Genre Points and Genre Themes.

Gimmick Out.

May 18, 2016

BCG Retrospective II: Character and Mecha Attributes.

It is not a coincidence that there are 6 Character Attributes and 6 Mecha Attributes, because Intermission and Operation rules were designed from the ground up to mirror each other. The rules for Characters and Mecha could have been completely different, but this way it is easier to remember and more aesthetically pleasing. To put it another way, there are six Character Attributes because I knew I wanted to have six Mecha Attributes. Because the Mecha rules took priority over Character rules, we should talk about Mecha Attributes before Character Attributes.

Mecha Attributes

Might and Guard were the first two stats that would get solidified, because I knew I wanted each attack action to only take one roll, meaning I would have one attack stat and one defense stat. More stats would mean more rolls: If you have an Accuracy Attribute and a Strength Attribute, you need to roll each of them once to attack, first to hit and then to do damage. I wanted the game to flow as smoothly as possible in combat, so I never questioned using Might and Guard as the lone attack and defense stats. I also decided very early that they would be direct opposites - one point in Might would be the equivalent of one point in Guard.

Immediately following both of them came Threshold, the HP stat. To streamline and simplify things as much as possible while using the Threshold Levels system, the 'total HP' of characters became 4x Threshold. The idea was that it would take 3-5 attacks from a PC to down an evenly matched NPC, and that seemed like a fine number to design the combat math around.

Then there was Energy, a regenerating resource that could be used differently every Turn depending on what was needed at the time. Energy costs would need to be cost-effective compared to just raising your stats, but because you also have to buy an Upgrade or Weapon first to use it, it'd be more of a secondary stat. Nearly everyone would need a good amount of Energy, but not when they're just starting out.

Speed and Systems were going to be the other two secondary stats and they were conceived the last, but also in that order. I wanted to make it easier to distinguish between Mecha by making it a direct stat instead of giving everyone the same base movement speed. Systems would be the most quirky of all stats, with some builds making it a primary stat and others being able to neglect it without too much trouble.

All Attributes were meant to be important, but they weren't meant to be perfectly balanced to each other. The idea was to open up options for builds that could focus on different combinations of primary and secondary stats. You could sacrifice one of your stats and keep it low, and you would need to do it if you wanted to optimize a specialist build, but it would give you an obvious weakness.

I wanted all stats to range from 0 to 10 to represent this potential between having a big weakness to having so much of a stat that debuffs wouldn't hurt you all that much. Also it was simple to remember and looked like it would work well with the 1d10 - my favorite kind of die. Not too random, but still random enough to keep things exciting, and the most common after d6s and d20s.

I had all the theory down, and I stuck with that theory all the way to the game's release. I'll go more in depth on how that worked out when we talk about combat math in another update. For now, let's move on to Character Attributes.

Character Attributes

At the beginning, there were three well defined Character Attributes: Fitness, Intellect and Charm. In some games, there's a multitude of physical stats and the others are in the minority. This is most likely because said games make Character combat a priority in rules, but in BCG this is something that may never actually happen - that's what Mecha are for! Instead of being designed around combat, I wanted the stats to be about affecting the narrative or advancing the plot outside of the robots. You're probably going to make one of those your primary.

Immediately after those three was Awareness, because rolling dice to notice hidden things is cool. Some would say these rolls need to be made secret because the moment a GM asks a PC to roll their Awareness/Perception/Senses stat it tells them that something is afoot even if they roll badly. Some games have the GM roll dice against the PCs in secret so the Players don't see the surprise coming, but I'm against that. I choose to trust Players to roleplay their characters who don't know there might be ninjas about to ambush them and, more importantly, I think the Players should be the ones rolling the dice for what their own PCs notice (or don't), this way they even have a chance to spend a Genre/Action/Fate Point to reroll if they really want to. If the GM makes the roll in secret, they don't have that chance.

The fifth and sixth Attributes were trickier to decide, and they both were decided more or less together. I figured that making Fitness a primary stat that doubles as the HP stat would probably make it a little bit too good compared to the others, and thus Willpower was born. It is the least rolled of all the Attributes unless you're playing a game with a horror bent to it, but it has its own distinct conceptual space from the previous four.

And the sixth stat? Originally it was Ki, an 'MP' stat to go with Willpower's HP and it would work like Energy did for Mecha. Ki worked exclusively to power psychic powers, magic, or other various superhuman abilities. Characters without any of those abilities would, quite simply, have a 0 in Ki and that would be it. This had two problems: It was a source of free points for too many character concepts with no real consequence and I really wanted the use of superpowers to deal damage to PCs. Thus, I ditched Ki and started brainstorming all sorts of potential sixth Attributes, such as Luck and Wealth. The problem I had then was that most of the things you could do with them were too niche to deserve a stat of their own, this led me to the realization that it could be worth using if all the concepts were bundled together: And thus Resources was born. It would still be something of a dump stat, but it had just enough oomph behind it that you could make it a good secondary or even a primary if you wanted to build around it.

We'll go over how well these Attributes turned out in practice when I get to the rest of the Character abilities.

The Elephant in the Room

There are six Character Attributes to go with six Mecha Attributes, both Character and Mecha rules are very similar... And yet, both systems are pretty much entirely disconnected. To my knowledge, there is no other system where combat and roleplaying abilities are this separated from each other - at least no other systems with 100+ pages of rules. But why did I do things this way?

I wanted people to be able to make whatever Character they wanted and for it to be able to pilot any kind of Mecha without it affecting their performance. Separating both systems makes sure everyone is always standing on equal ground regardless of whether they made a straightforward or bizarre pilot/sech combination. I take game balance very, very seriously so I still think this was the right decision. More and more games these days go for genre simulation or tactically balanced combat these days, but I find it weird that not one of them has tried to do the same thing. I find that curious.

Could Attributes have been done differently? Probably. Just looking at Mecha Attributes I can tell that they could have been streamlined to 3: Power, Tech and Speed. Power would fill the shoes of Might and Threshold, Tech would do the same for Energy and Systems, while Speed would cover for both Guard and, well, Speed. Cutting six stats down to three would diminish the number of possible builds, though, and I wanted as much variety in builds as game balance could safely handle. With three Attributes, the game would have been easier to both play and develop, though.

But I put variety of options as a priority very early on and was not going to back out of it. I knew I would have to sacrifice some simplicity to reach that goal but it seemed like the right call to make.

Next time: We advance to the rules for XP and PC advancement.

Gimmick Out.

May 15, 2016

BCG Retrospective I: The Episodic Structure.

Today I'm going to start the BCG Retrospective, a blog series reviewing various game rules to figure out whether something could or should have been done differently. If you like game design talk, this should be a fun read for you. I will be following the order of things in the book from start to finish, so we'll do the basic rules first then character creation, mecha construction, and finally going over the rules for npcs. This is going to be a long series that will take some time, but the updates will be regular (at least weekly, probably biweekly, maybe more if I find the time for it) so this might be the time to hit that Follow button to make sure you don't miss anything.

On to Chapter 1. The first bit of rules in the SRD defines Episodes and Scenes, it is not a super exciting opening but it is the one we've got. So! The way the narrative is structured, there's Scenes (divided into Intermissions and Operations), Episodes and Episode Arcs. The reason the way time is structured matters is because time measures how PCs replenish their resources. As time passes, PCs get back spent power/action/genre points, refresh abilities that can be used once per encounter/hour/scene and heal their wounds among other things.

Some would argue that it is more immersive or naturalistic to track things by hours or days, to which I say that it gets in the way of playing the game and makes things harder on the GM. The difference between both methods is that the more naturalistic method gives PCs the option to stall for time in order to always be at full power. Meanwhile, the abstract method of structuring time gives the GM full control over whether resources replenish or not, thus making it much harder to exploit the rules. Note that exploiting the rules this way isn't a problem if the PCs are always pressured for time or the Players themselves promise not to abuse the rules, but good rules systems should have as few ways to exploit them as possible. There is a joke in D&D saying that the typical adventuring day lasts five minutes, because after five minutes of combat everyone spends the rest of the day resting.

Battle Century G gives the GM the responsibility of measuring the passage of time, because it is their role to challenge everyone with appropriate Tests in Intermissions & Operations. To that end, they should be able to call when it is that people get back their Genre Points, heal their Plot Armor, reload their One-Shots and so on and so forth. To make things easier, the very first rules section in the book gives them a quick rundown of how the typical Episode goes and it boils down to "Do whatever with Intermission Scenes, just make sure there is one Operation per Episode." You can have more than one Operation per Episode, and the Expansion features a system hack to make the game work better that way, but it is not the default.

Partly this is because BCG adheres to genre expectations, making combat happen once per Episode against the monster of the week, but the real reason is that it tends to work better in gameplay. Nearly every resource that matters to combat is refreshed between combat scenes, making all PCs start every battle at full power. The grand majority of RPGs don't do this and expect you to only get back your stuff after several encounters with enemies, each one gradually wearing them down. In BCG, every Operation is meant to push PCs to the limit and possibly defeat one or more of them, forcing them to retreat - or die. Below are some of the pros and cons to doing things this way.

Pros:


  • Players get to go all out every fight without worrying about holding back good powers, weapons or items for later. This is the big one. Have you ever played a videogame and hoarded all of your powerups because you might need them later, only to win the whole game without ever using any of them at all? It is the same problem, but applied to tabletop RPGs. Players will save their best toys for as long as they can even if it is a bad idea to do so, they will struggle against foes during the first few fights because they refuse to use the powerful options they have at their disposal and overwhelm the superbosses meant to be a big climactic fight with all they've saved up. You can design the game around this and try to mitigate the problem, but this is just the way most Players will try to play the game, and a good game should enable them to do what they want to be doing rather than try to force them to play in a way they don't want to play. If you try too hard to correct them, odds are they'll just find the game unfun and abandon it at worst and houserule it so it works like they want it to work at best. 
  • Every battle carries a genuine risk to the PCs and takes effort to win. Solving problems with teamwork and overcoming difficult challenges is at the core of what makes RPGs fun. The easier things are, the more quickly you'll get bored of doing them, and the less that people will want to keep playing the game. If you need to get through two to three easy battles in order to get to the really fun one that takes things to the limit, at some point the pre-climax action scenes lose their sense of tension because you know you can win them easy with your big guns.
  • All PCs have equal chances of being relevant during every combat scene. If one PC has a streak of bad luck and is the target of too many enemies during one fight, they will have a lot less resources for the next set of battles. If the rest of the Players (GM included) don't make sure to account for this, then that PC will be powered down for the big action scenes that really matter while other PCs have an excess of ammo for their weapons, spells to cast or whatever else. This is most notably a problem with health, since a PC that runs out of ways to heal themselves in the middle of an episode arc or dungeon crawl is a Player that is going to be very bored when they spend half of the remaining combats with a K.O'd PC.

Cons:


  • It makes fights more repetitive because everyone can repeat the same strategy. When Players know that they will get all their stuff back when the fight is over, they will not hesitate to try to repeat the same strategy over and over. This is most commonly done with glass-cannon builds that attempt to blow out the opposition without leaving them a chance to fight back. Even if you can balance the game around this, it makes things repetitive, and repetition is generally not very fun. The way BCG goes to solve this problem is to try and enable as many possible builds for enemy NPCs that each and every PC strategy has a lot of counters. So many that they should always have some difficulty getting their plan to work, forcing them to always be on their toes.
  • When every battle carries a significant risk of defeat, there's higher chances that PCs will be defeated before they get to do anything cool. Making every fight difficult and nearly lethal to the PCs is good, but if the game is too lethal then some PCs will end up being defeated early in the scene and sit out the rest of combat which is not a very fun way to spend their time. The game must provide PCs with ways to mitigate this risk to minimize the chances of things going wrong, like the Not so Fast Genre Power.
  • Because every combat scene is meant to be an all-out battle with everything at stake, it is harder to surprise the PCs. Let's say you, the GM, want to set up a trap and catch the PCs unaware. This is a lot harder to pull off when they can be reasonably sure that a group of weak enemies are likely a distraction or somehow stronger than they look, because every fight has to be a big deal.


Overall, I would say that an abstract narrative structure and replenishing resources after every fight is the right call, especially for a game like BCG that desires to mimic episodic structures and wants combat to be fast paced. Sometimes it gets repetitive and sometimes PCs or NPCs alike are overpowered before they get to use their fun toys, but the game is aware of this and the book tells Players how to keep this from happening too much - also the expansion has a whole chapter to help the GM with it.

Still, I sometimes wonder what the game would have been like with a less episodic structure. Giving the PCs more control over their resources can be cool too, it lets them save all their powerups for the battle against their rival which is both anime as heck and a badass feel-good moment of payoff. What do people think? I'm always interested in hearing your opinion, but it is even more relevant now that I'm trying to figure out where to go next.

Next time: Attributes.

Gimmick Out.

May 8, 2016

What next?

BCG and BCZ are out, and those the primary reason this blog exists. Now that they're done, I'm left wondering what I should be doing next with what I've learned. I'm not going to lie, I was close to burning out a few times during the last year and if you had asked me a few months ago, I'd have said I was quitting it... But it is highly probable that even if I were to quit, I'd end up coming back.

I say this because I know myself: I was in elementary school and I would draw these maps of places to explore and I would invite my younger siblings to do adventures there. Likely inhabitants and challenges in each area would be planned beforehand, but they would have the freedom of choosing where to go. I was GMing before I knew what GMing was. By high school, I was experimenting with RPGMaker and making custom Magic: the Gathering sets and I realized just how much I liked tweaking rules and structuring gameplay around having specific experiences. So I might take a break but, if I do, it is going to be temporary.

This brings me, at last, to the subject of "what the crap it is I'm going to be doing next???" To be honest, I'm not quite sure yet. I'd like to do something smaller than BCG, large projects need an important time and money investment and I'm not in the position to do that right now even if I wanted to. It is probably going to be anime-themed and action-oriented, because that's the kind of thing I like doing.

BCZ explored a lot of what you could do with the BCG rules, but there's a few things that didn't pan out and I would like to explore them with a system of my own or hacking someone else's. One of the things I really want to try was a game where you don't just control one character, but a character and all of their minions, most likely some kind of summoned monsters a la Pokemon or Shin Megami Tensei. I tried to include that in BCZ but it didn't work out and it got removed - much like the hack for giant characters if you remember that draft I posted a long time ago.

There's also the things that BCG and BCZ already do but don't focus on, which is to say, most kinds of non-mecha action. You can use it to run anything from Sailor Moon to Saint Seiya with transforming heroes, and it will work just fine. But imagine if the whole system was designed around them or even around characters who don't need to henshin at all.

Then there's the robots. I don't know if you've noticed but I really, really like robots y'all. If BCZ hadn't tapped out most of BCG's unused design space and included all the hacks I could fit that don't need rewriting the whole thing, I would be looking for More Cool Things To Do With Robots within BCG.

For the time being, I think I'm going to write a series of posts about how many of the rules in BCG + BCZ came to be & how they evolved over time. That should push my brain into figuring out what to do next and provide you all with something interesting to read.

Gimmick Out.

May 1, 2016

Expansion's been delivered to backers.

Expect the SRD for BCZ + an updated BCG SRD that fixes some errors in the very near future.