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.

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