Jun 26, 2016

BCG Retrospective IX: Miracles

We're now at the Miracle Skills section, and I have a confession to make: I don't like the name "Miracles", but it was the least bad option I could think of. They couldn't be called Superpowers (because Powers are already a different in-game term and the similarity in name would be misleading) and they couldn't be called Spells (because BCG is a setting-agnostic system). While in theory the term "Miracles" is relatively good for a catch-all agnostic word, it does carry a fairly strong religious connotation. In hindsight, maybe they should have just been called Super Skills, which would have been cheesy as hell, but wouldn't be the cheesiest thing in the game.

Anyhow, on to the rules. Superpowers are, by definition, better than mundane skills in most circumstances. This was a problem for me when I set out to design Miracles because I needed them to be relatively balanced against each other. Most games do this by giving them complex subsystems like mana pools, random tables of secondary effects, or having to buy lots of useless powers before you can learn the good stuff. Those are too complex for a system like Battle Century G, so I decided to balance Miracles by making them hurt the user.

Generally speaking, PCs can use a Miracle once per Scene safely, frequent use requires an investment in Willpower, the Psychic Power Trait and then equipment like an Ether Drive or Nanomedical Vest. This does a good enough job of making them usable right away without making them spammable. I like that it adds a minigame with an element of tension to their use, because you're never really sure just how safe it is to use one.

The Miracles in BCG are better spread out over the six Attributes than General Skills. Of the three primary stats Fitness has 4 Miracle Skills, Intellect has 3 and Charm has 2. Fitness and Intellect share most of theirs with each other, while Charm gets exclusive use or shares with Awareness. Awareness is the only secondary stat with multiples (3), Resources has only one and Willpower has none at all, both for balance reasons.

Miracle Skill Review

I'll review the Miracles themselves using similar criteria than the one used for General Skills. Miracle Skills will be measured by their Proactive and Adaptable power, but the third criteria will be Synergy - how well it complements General Skills and Traits using the same stats. Miracles cost between 10 and 20 CP, they need to provide the builds that can use them with better value than mundane abilities.

Proactive - An excellent skill. It is like Electronics, except you don't even have to use your hands, which would make it worth taking if it was the only thing the skill did. On top of that it also turns you into a super battery and provides a way to K.O NPCs if you're not trained in combat skills.
Adaptable - Assuming a sci-fi setting, the ability to hack things at range is insanely powerful, arguably making the offensive uses of this skill redundant because you can simply overload or disable an NPC's equipment. And just in case that isn't enough, you can still surprise them with a lightning bolt or two.
Synergy - Effectively a way to buff to the best Intellect Skill in the game with extra utility value for the kicks. The only problem with Electricity is that using it with Fitness is a waste of HP, because the Combat skill costs less CP and doesn't damage the user.

Proactive - Force grants 3D movement for yourself and others, which is guaranteed to come in handy when you don't have your robot around to help you fly or the such. It also lets you throw people around like ragdolls, which is cool.
Adaptable - Remote manipulation of objects is an excellent reactive skill because you can perform telekinesis in combination with Finesse to steal at range or Vehicles to drive without using your hands. The ability to fly in or out of places effectively makes this a better Athletics in terms of adaptability.
Synergy - Force is similar to Electricity, in that the Intellect-based uses more than justify taking it while the Fitness uses are mechanically underpowered. Chucking things at enemies or tossing them into environmental hazards is, at least, more fun than electrocuting them.

Proactive - One Advantage to any and all Resources Tests isn't exactly world-shattering, but the ability to let you use them multiple times per Episode turns Resources into a viable replacement for all three primary stats. It also grants reliable access to things like Flight Packs and Backup Bodies without having to spend CP on them ever, which is just plain ridiculous.
Adaptable - Equipment Tests need setup time, so if you want to be Batman and have whatever equipment you'll need for a mission, you still have to plan that out. Fortune turns Resources from a thing you use once or twice per Episode into something easily repeatable, opening up many new ways to solve problems by throwing money and friends at them.
Synergy - This Miracle is obviously for the builds that go all-in on Resources and it is everything they ever wanted. Fortune goes a long way towards making Resources builds versatile enough to be more than a gimmick.

Proactive - Craftsmanship is already one of the strongest proactive skills and this makes it stronger. As if that wasn't enough, it can improve items and also also destroys objects with a touch, which adds up to a "pretty darn good" rating overall.
Adaptable - Craftsmanship's weakness is that crafting things takes time, and Matter reduces (but doesn't take away) crafting times, so Matter does a lot to help craftsmen and craftswomen be more adaptable. Also, the power to destroy walls and floors can get you out of trouble quick.
Synergy: Everything Matter does, it does with Intellect. This slots very easily into any Intellect primary or secondary build that has an use for Craftsmanship, which would be most of them. A+ Rating.

Proactive - Illusionism is a versatile proactive skill, combining the best of Stealth and Deception into a single skill. It does have a considerable downside in that sustained efforts will deal sizable damage to the user, though.
Adaptable - Like Stealth and Deception, but also grants a huge bonus to Defense when you Maneuver with it. The wording for the Maneuver ability is pretty bad though, it should use the wording on the Phasing skill.
Synergy - So, we've established Phantasm is a great proactive and adaptable skill, but the cherry on top is that it is an Awareness skill. Phantasm alone makes Awareness a viable primary stat that is effective both at getting shit done and reacting to sudden complications.

Proactive - This is one of the few Fitness skills that isn't made redundant by having your giant robot with you. The power to go anywhere is a very strong one and, unlike with Matter, the DN is always fairly low, which translates to easy successes for low damage each activation.
Adaptable - A strong contender for the best reactive Miracle in the game, because it lets you escape anything. The Defense bonus when Maneuvering is better worded (but still has a couple typos, ouch) than Phantasm's, also.
Synergy - Phasing fits builds with Athletics & Stealth like a glove, since it even uses the same stat. The Defense boost would work even better in a high Awareness build which, coincidentally, is fitting for a scout or ninja type. Great stuff, overall.

Proactive - Mind control is a creepy power to have, and not in a good way, so Probing is instead more like hypnotic suggestion. Unsurprisingly, a skill that is essentially Diplomacy or Deception with added mind reading is pretty good to have.
Adaptable - Like a dialogue skill, but you can read thoughts to make it even better. If it is possible to get out of trouble with NPCs using just words, this skill can do it.
Synergy - In theory, a diplomancer who already has dialogue skill(s) doesn't want a redundant one that hurts the user. In practice, Probing adds a third venue of attack, so to speak, where you can make people think that your idea was theirs all along.

Proactive - The least proactive Miracle of the whole bunch. It does help with Investigation Tests, though, so it is still decent at that.
Adaptable - Phasing's rival in the race for the Best Adaptable Miracle trophy. And all it does is grant a single Advantage to Awareness Tests. Shows how good Awareness is.
Synergy - This is so useful you may want to get it even if you already have other Miracles (such as Phantasm) in your build. Having more information, which is the whole point of Awareness, means you make better choices.

Proactive - The Sight to Fitness' Awareness... Except Fitness is proactive by nature and has several skills that this can boost with an extra Advantage. So this is better than Sight in that regard.
Adaptable - Take every single Fitness Skill and give it an Advantage. Turns out that makes them pretty good in a pinch!
Synergy - Synergy with any kind of Fitness-based build is pretty much the whole point of this skill. it might not be the most powerful Miracle, but it is the most synergistic.

Proactive - Cold is just the absence of heat, so you get control over what are usually considered two elements instead of just one. This is one of the most versatile Miracles.
Adaptable - The price of versatility is that conditional Disadvantages based on your emotional state and the temperature of the environment make using this Miracle reactively harder. Suffering a Disadvantage is better than not being able to do anything at all though, so it is still excellent.
Synergy - What makes Temperature interesting is that it is a Charm-based skill, giving diplomancers an option that doesn't involve people skills to their toolbox. This might just be the only offensive Miracle the Combat skill doesn't make redundant, because it uses a different Attribute. These benefits aren't synergistic in the strictest sense of the term, but they do add a lot of value to those builds.

So, in closing, what would I change about Miracles? Well, other than the name, typo fixes and clearer wording the system is very solid. I think combat Miracles need a buff, though. They cost more CP and deal damage to the user, so they're worse than mundane combat skills in combat situations. Figuring out how to buff them is the tricky part. It can't be solved by just giving them bonus Advantages, because then they'd still need to compete with Traits that can grant 2 more Advantages for less than the cost of a Miracle, plus it would raise the question of how come Skills always grant just one Advantage to Tests except Offensive Miracles, which is confusing. Perhaps you'd get something like a free Deathblow use or a boost to Defense to make up for the self-damage. If I ever design a similar system, I'll be on the lookout.

Overall, Miracles are superpowers that avoid long spell lists and keep mundane skills relevant. Considering BCG is a mecha rpg, that's ideal.

Next: Traits.

Gimmick Out.

Jun 19, 2016

BCG Retrospective VIII: General Skills

Battle Century G has 15 General Skills available for all characters to take. While many RPGs eschew skill lists entirely, most of the games that feature them tend to have 20 or 30 skills in total, so comparatively speaking 15 is a very low number. The system bunches up similar skillsets together so if you take 3 or 4 Skills you already have the theoretical and practical knowledge to cover a lot of situations. Also, many games feature multiple skill training levels. In BCG, either you're trained in a Skill and get an Advantage, or you aren't and don't get it.

In theory, having more skills and variable training levels adds options and differentiates characters more, which would be a good thing. In practice, extensive skill lists have the problem where each one is so narrow that you only care about the most useful one or two for your PC (usually a combat or social skill) and ignore the others unless you have spare points lying around. This is then made worse by having multiple skill levels for them, because you must spend your precious customization points going all in on the good skills instead of wasting your resources on the others. Thus, while I think that games without any skill system are fine, I think having more than 20 skills (not including those that represent psychic powers or the like) is a mistake.

Arguably, the skill system has less ways to represent different levels of expertise and doesn't allow for more specialized builds. The rules approximate this with the use of Traits, resolving the issue. At least in build option terms.

Speaking of builds, how are the Attributes balanced in terms of Skill representation? Well, Fitness and Charm have 8 and 5 General Skills respectively. Willpower and Resources have zero skills both, because they're not supposed to. Awareness has one, because I honestly couldn't justify giving that Skill to a different Attribute (and didn't think of simply not making it a Skill at the time). But wait, what about Intellect? Well, Intellect has a ridiculous total of 12 Skills! The heck happened there!?

You see, most of those are secondary applications of other Skills having to do with theoretical knowledge. So, for example, Combat is a Fitness Skill but military strategy (which is not how you tend to use the skill at all) uses the Intellect stat. The total of Skills where you're expected to actually use Intellect with are just six, which is a lot more reasonable. Still, having so many Skills tied to Intellect means that getting points in Intellect is comparatively cheaper than buying two or three of its Skills, because the stat bonus applies to all of them. To alleviate the issue, most of those Skills have accompanying Traits that require you to be trained in them to use them.

General Skill Review

The structure of the Skill system is fine, but how about the skills themselves? Would the same list be worth reusing in a future project? I'll review the skills based on three criteria:

Proactive - A good Proactive skill is one that can be used to advance the plot or further your PC's agenda.
Adaptable - An Adaptable skill lets you react to GM prompts and resolve the problems they present.
Essential - A truly Essential skill is one where each group needs to have at least one PC trained in it.

If these sound kind of abstract, that's fine. Each entry will have an explanation to make things clearer.

Proactive - Athletics is an alright proactive skill, it lets you get to places most people can't reach. This is a game with giant robots though (or henshin suits or summoned monsters or whatever), so at best this lets you do it earlier than other PCs.
Adaptable - The true power of Athletics is in reacting to things that happen to you like catching a thief or climbing down a building you're trapped in. When the GM puts you in a tough spot, Athletics is the Skill that lets you use your physical prowess to solve the situation and it usually proves its worth.
Essential - While having Athletics is usually a decent idea for your own convenience, most groups will be fine without it by virtue of having mechs. In theory the worst thing that could happen is a TPK when the GM places everyone in lethal peril, but in practice it is probably more like getting captured by antagonists or the such.

Proactive - This is an excellent skill when you have some downtime to use it with, but a terrible one when you're pressed for time. Unless you're playing 24 With Mechs, you'll be able to craft all sorts of cool stuff.
Reactive - Craftsmanship is awful as a reactive skill, it is pretty much its only weakness. I guess you can still use it to try and dismantle a bomb or to fix something broken when in a hurry but just how often does that happen?
Essential - Having someone trained in this is probably a good idea, but you'll be fine if nobody else takes it. It is just so good and does so much that it is unlikely that no one will have it.

Proactive - If you don't mind getting violent or threatening people, Combat is a great skill to help you get what you want when you can't use your robot to do it. You'll run into other people's mechs if you do this often though, so be careful.
Adaptable - Much like Athletics, Combat shows its true worth most of the time when you're in trouble and want to use physical means to solve it. Unlike Athletics, this needs to be a problem you can solve by hitting it until it is not a problem anymore, which is still pretty good even if it is not quite as good.
Essential - When one or more PCs have the combat skill they get to be the ones who show off when the group is in trouble outside of their robots. Depending on how easy or hard it is to get to mecha at a moment's notice, Combat may be essential or just a nice thing to have just in case.

Proactive - Being a good liar can get you far in games if you're not afraid of gray morality in your PCs. Just be careful not to get caught, that's when things get complicated for you (hint: you'll get caught at some point).
Adaptable - With a good Charm score Deception will get you out of a lot of trouble. Arguably the skill is even better used reactively than proactively, because that tends to have lower odds of getting yourself caught.
Essential - Most teams should have someone who can use Deception well, if not both Deception and Diplomacy. While it is not absolutely necessary, it is often invaluable.

Proactive - Saying the right things to the right people can, and often will, be a very efficient way to further your agenda in game. The only downside is that it doesn't work on those not interested in anything you have to say, which hopefully isn't too many folks.
Adaptable - There's a lot of problems you can solve by talking, and those who can't be solved can be often mitigated at the very least. Your own ingenuity at working out a good deal can be more important than dice rolls here, though.
Essential - Just as important as Deception, if not more, because it doesn't tempt fate (read: the GM) to make people figure out they've been fooled.

Proactive - It is solid, but not great, because this is the stuff that good spies are made of. You may need Stealth or Electronics to complement it, but this is almost obligatory for the roguish types.
Adaptable - Reactively, this skill has problems in that it has narrow uses and other skills like Athletics or Combat also use Fitness can achieve similar ends with generally more efficient means. If you're going to train your PC in Finesse, you should be proactive about it.
Essential - As non-essential as it gets. Even if nobody has this, you can get by using the skills mentioned above.

Proactive - I hear hacking is a cool and good thing in science fiction. This is a strong contender for the position of most powerful proactive skill in the game for that alone.
Adaptable - If you can't think of ways to solve most problems using computer skills in a science fiction game, you're not trying hard enough. It might be harder than if you used other skills, but that it is possible (and even plausible) to do so makes the skill very strong reactively.
Essential - At least one person should have this, because you'll need it. If nobody in the team does, then you're probably doing something wrong.

Proactive - As a knowledge skill, Humanities has narrow proactive uses, though it has them and they'll come in handy. Most of those involve research, which needs downtime, so it isn't exactly stellar.
Adaptable - Humanities is useful to figure out bits of lore in the spot, which is okay I guess. It must be something your PC could reasonably be assumed to know though.
Essential - Groups where no one has this are fine. Lore skills are handy to have around though, and it should come in useful a handful of times in most games.

Proactive - You don't need to be playing Mecha Detectives: The Game to want to solve mysteries often in games, making this skill one of the best. That you can use it to find clues in the spot even without the need for downtime makes it even better.
Adaptable - This might be the best reactive skill in the game, because it applies to nearly every reactive uses of Awareness for in addition to all its proactive uses. In retrospect, it probably should have been strictly a proactive skill.
Essential - Every group needs this, period. Preferably in multiples.

Proactive - Not applicable. Well, unless you're going to combine it with Craftsmanship to play mad scientist, I guess.
Adaptable - You use this when someone gets injured or catches a case of plot disease, making it a very reactive skill. It is a strong one though, saving the lives of your fellow PCs (and NPCs too!) is good stuff.
Essential - It is possible nobody in the group will ever need this, but it is still good to have just in case. Sure, you may never need it, but when you do you'll be sorry you don't have anybody trained in Medicine.

Proactive - Catching people's attention and giving good speeches is often helpful but doesn't really do anything by itself. You're either motivating other people or distracting them from something else going on, so this is one of the worst proactive skills there is.
Adaptable - The neat thing about Presence is that it can be a good complement to other people's skills in many, many situations with some creative thinking. It needs the Leadership Trait to be less narrow though, but Leadership is very powerful when you have a good Charm score anyway.
Essential - Probably the least essential skill in the whole game in mechanical terms. Ironically, every team needs a leader and this is the skill that distinguishes an okay leader from a great one, so it balances out to being alright.

Proactive - Another knowledge skill, and like with Humanities it has limited proactive uses. Probably more useful in a science fiction setting than Humanities, though.
Adaptable - The cool thing about an omniscientist PC is that you know about things that you (the Player) would need decades of studying to learn. With Humanities a lot of its reactive uses come down to guesswork, but Sciences is a little more reliable.
Essential - See Humanities, but slightly better because most BCG games will be science fiction. You know how this works.

Proactive - This is a good one, because most games involve some sneaking in or out of places at multiple points. Even without Finesse or Athletics, just being able to move around without being noticed is very handy.
Adaptable - A lot of the time, when you want to hide something in your person or to outright hide yourself from other's eyes, you're doing it as a reaction. The usefulness of both those things makes this a solid reactive skill against many different kinds of shenaniganry the GM could throw your way.
Essential - It is undoubtedly a good idea to have at least one person who can hide from the enemy when the whole of the group is about to be ambushed and captured so they can break the other PCs out. There's even Traits to enable this kind of thing (Smoke Bomb and I was Here all Along) no matter how unlikely or implausible it might seem.

Proactive - There are proactive uses of Survival, but they're not suitable to games involving consistent access to mechs. It is a lot more useful with powered armor and lack of a battleship to ferry you around in between missions though.
Adaptable - If you're separated from the benefits of modern society and any convenient means to get back to it (such as, say, giant robots) then this'll come in handy. This might not happen more than once but, much like with Medicine, you probably want to be prepared.
Essential - Most situations where this skill would help need the session (or the whole game) to revolve around making things different from the norm for BCG. This might just be the least useful skill in the game.

Proactive - Vehicles is so-so, while it can be very useful proactively, because it does what every other physical skill does for a fraction of the cost as a bonus... The problem is that you often don't have access to a vehicle or, more importantly, you have access to your mech which makes Vehicles pointless.
Adaptable - Great if you have your vehicle around when you're being put on the spot, but terrible otherwise. You probably do go everywhere you can with your vehicle though, otherwise what is the point of it?
Essential - As far as skills that every group should have covered go, this is on the worse half of the list. It is useful, but not really essential.

In Conclusion

So one thing I notice from going over the General Skills section is that, in trying to make the rules system truly generic, it ended up looking more like something out of a non-mecha game. Many of the example skill checks given aren't related to the kinds of things you would do in the average Battle Century G game, and the issues that many skills have being overshadowed by giant robots have already been noted. With that said, an important part of the system is that you can reskin robots into power armor or magic monsters with minimal tweaking, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

One thing I think would have changed is rolling the Finesse skill into Stealth and Athletics. Another would be removing Presence and making a Trait to grab people's attentions once per Episode, kind of like how Leadership needs its own Trait for balance reasons but is probably better off that way. Awareness should have been a proactive skill without being a passive buff to most Awareness Tests as well. Lastly, I would have probably split Craftsmanship into its Fitness, Intellect and Charm versions to keep novelists from being engineers and the such.

Overall though, I'm very happy with the skill system and this skill list, because it makes characters that are capable and powerful from Power Level 1 onwards, as generalists and specialists both.

Next: Superpowers, aka Miracles.

Gimmick Out.

Jun 12, 2016

BCG Retrospective VII: Operations

Ah, Operations, the heart of the game. It pumps the blood that powers the rest of the book in its 6 pages. While the individual Powers, Upgrades and Weapons make each ability call back to specific mecha genre conventions, these rules are the ones that charge the general feel of the game with anime goodness. If these failed at their job, then it wouldn't matter how flavorful or fun the entirety of the Mecha Construction chapter was. Fortunately, I think this went rather well, but let's put that to the test, hm?

Operation Structure

The first thing to note in Operations is that a Character & their Mecha together are called a Unit. The collective of Units is called a Squad. The idea is that, since some rules affect the pilot but not the robot (and viceversa), this would be an useful distinction to make. In hindsight, nearly all instances of "Unit" could have just said "Mecha" instead and it wasn't a necessary distinction to make. Likewise, Squads are referred to only a handful of times in the rules, I could have just replaced those with 'all Allies' or 'all Enemies' instead of making up a new rules term.

Anyway, we proceed with how the Round/Turn structure works. Steps 0 through 3 are all about setting up an Operation, so let's get them out of the way first. Step 0 is choosing equipment, which only applies to Units with Alternate Forms and the like. Much like it, entering formations and deploying everyone on the battlefield is a formality. While we're on the subject of movement, I'll be honest about Zones. If it wasn't necessary to have abstract distances to allow for all kinds of Mecha sizes and weapon ranges, the Zone system would be in metric rather than abstract. It is just a lot easier to explain, visualize and generally play with. Abstract Zones do make it easier to have Duels with both Units in the same Zone, but I'm sure I could have found a workaround for that if it was necessary to keep that element.

Initiative is more interesting to talk about. My general experience with initiative mechanics is that it is a necessary evil. Games with a focus on tactical combat need an initiative system of some sort. It doesn't have to be like BCG's. You could make it so that characters (all or just some) roll multiple times and act multiple times per Round. You could reroll initiative each round to keep PCs from getting too comfortable with the turn order. BCG doesn't do either of those, partly because multiple actions per turn are hard to balance and partly because rerolling and rearranging initiatives every turn slows things down. I think the current form of BCG's initiative system is the right one for the job.

This brings us to my favorite mechanic in the entire game: Tension. Tension is a bonus to attack rolls equal to the number of turns that have passed, that's it, it is very simple. And yet, it is also so much more. See, Tension is the game's primary 'powerup' mechanic (with Genre Points/Powers being secondary) and powerups make for some really cool game mechanics. Bonuses to Tension have a very strong feel of badassery to them, meanwhile Tension denial makes for some serious 'oh shit what do I do' moments. Between core and expansion, I've explored a lot of what you can do with Tension, but I keep feeling like there's more to be found. There could have been more mechanics in the vein of Techniques (giving a large boost to Tension but 'using it up' in the process) or Limit Engine (passively boosting Tension based on certain conditions) than the handful we've gotten. Of all the mechanics, it is the one I most want to reuse and expand on by far.

There are two more steps pertaining to beginning and ending a Round. They're fairly irrelevant and only there for the purposes of making things clear. Instead of them, let's take a look at how Units take Turns.

Taking Turns

One big difference from other tactical RPGs is that BCG only gives PCs a single Action per Turn. Many other RPGs have multiple Actions per Turn, and you're supposed to use the second (and third, when there is one) Action to move into position, set up buffs, heal an ally, and other such generalities. In BCG anybody may use as many special abilities as their Energy/Genre can afford, which makes for really, REALLY big turns when a PC decides to go all out. The downside of this is that balance can get out of hand when PCs earn enough Energy and Genre to go crazy early and often in battle. The other quirk of the One-Action-Turn is that movement is automatic, it happens with any Action you take. It does not allow you to move AFTER your attack though, only before, but it is a simple way to make the One-Action-Turns system solid. I think that was the right call for an anime-themed game trying to keep the gameplay moving fast. With that said, having multiple Actions per Turn opens up more tactics and gives more ways to tweak and balance special abilities, so I can't deny I'd like to give such a system a try.

Anyway, Actions. Offensive Actions gain the benefit of Tension, but you can't move freely with them, and Utility Actions let you move in any direction, but you can't attack with them (I know there are exceptions to these rules, they'll get their own posts later). The movement speed of the average Mecha is between 4 and 6, but many of the Weapons in the game have as much (if not more) Range, making it trivial to hit and run (or 'kite' in MMORPG terms) enemies endlessly with a high speed/range build. Hence, the creation of what I call the "anti-kiting clause" in the movement rules. Arguably, I could have cut the Range of most guns in the game by half instead of doing this, but I think this is more fun for everyone as it encourages medium range builds that interact with the enemy as the default and lets the specialized snipers shine by being the only ones who can attack Enemies 15 or more Zones away.

On to the various kinds of actions themselves, we'll start with the Offensive Actions which are the most common, but we'll skip Attack since it has been discussed in the Core Mechanic post so we'll be moving on to the others.

Aim adds between one to three Advantages (plus bonus Range) depending on the Weapon used, meaning it is either very powerful or a waste of a Turn. I think it is cool that some Actions work a lot better when used with certain Weapons, but it is a fine line to tread between making sure an Actions is useful by itself and gets stronger from there and making it good by itself and overpowered when building around it. A little bit of trivia: Aim is the only Offensive Action that doesn't involve a Might Test.

Assist is the one with the least of its design space explored, in fact, it wasn't until the expansion that there were Weapons made with Assist in mind! I think it is okay, it just suffers from being similar in concept to Support Actions (from Support Upgrades) so most of the build options that could have been made for it ended up being given to Support Upgrades instead.

Suppress on the other hand is an Action that does a lot and, it works well with so many things, it got made into a Weapon keyword. Honestly, it is kind of a mess, so let's break it down into parts to explain why: It inflicts a Disadvantage to attacks, it lets you choose which Area is Maimed, it doesn't hit Allies in a Duel and it lets you defeat Enemies without killing them. Suppress represents a precise subdual attack, which is why it has the downside of doing half Damage... Unless the target moves away from your grapple/cover fire/whatever it was you did, in which case they take the other half of the Damage. It is honestly a bit too complex for one Action. The problem is that none of its four basic effects are, frankly, worth having their own Actions. So I just decided to lump them all in together, give it a flavorful drawback, and call it a day. It is a fairly elegant solution, in the sense that it eliminates a bunch of unnecessary Actions from the game and makes them all worth using by combining them into one, but it is also inelegant in that it has a ton of rules effects happening at once. I wonder if it wouldn't have worked better as a regular attack Action with one or two Disadvantages to the roll depending on how many effects you had stacked.

Speaking of Actions with a lot of text, let's take a look at Engage's six whooping paragraphs of rules. You'd think I'd have a problem with this after what I said about Suppress, but I don't. Well, not as much as Suppress, at least. The only reason Engage has that much text is because I piled up all the rules text explaining Duels into the Action text itself, otherwise its rules text is basically 'move up to range 0 and enter a duel with your opponent' which is very short. In all honesty, the rules text for Duels should have probably been its own section. Anyway, speaking of Duels, they're a very flavorful anime way to divide big battles into multiple one-on-one fights. My biggest problem with Duels is just that they don't work well in online games using maps - the tokens overlap when placed in the same cell, tile or square. They also have a little memorization problem in that you have to remember even attack numbers hit the target while odd attack numbers incur friendly fire, but that's not too bad.

Boost is our first Utility Action going in alphabetic order. It is simple, it does what it says it does, and doesn't suffer from any significant rules problems. At one point Boost was named Charge and you had to move in a straight line when using it. Good thing that got changed, huh? Much like it, Delay isn't really particularly interesting to talk about. Disengage is an Action that, in hindsight, I would have deleted. I would just have made it part of the Boost Action and said that if you Boost away from a Duel you only move your Speed instead of twice your Speed. There's also the Dock Action, which is better discussed when we get to Base Units.

Last but not least is Maneuver, the most powerful Utility Action, granting a sizable Defense boost large enough that it is the primary reason Multipilot Combiner Units are so strong. Properly balancing the Maneuver Action was tough, and it went through a lot of changes. The first version was a Mixed Systems/Speed Test that granted the result as a Defense bonus and made the user untouchable, which was kind of not a very good idea. The second version was a Systems OR Speed Test that granted HALF the result as a Defense bonus and was a lot less broken but was a bit too swingy for my tastes. In the end we went with a flat bonus based on either Systems or Speed. It is very strong, but just as difficult to exploit. I would have liked to keep a Test in there, but the current Maneuver rules are good in my book.

There's also a bunch of minor Utility Actions that are tied to Powers and Upgrades. We'll do the same thing we did with Docking and leave them for later when we get to their respective abilities.

Damage and Maiming

Like I said several posts ago, the idea behind the current combat math was that it would take 3-5 attacks from a PC to down an evenly-matched NPC. Each attack would average out to one Level of Damage, with unlucky rolls missing and lucky rolls taking out two Levels. This looks fine until you realize that PCs can focus fire down Enemies and, worse, Enemies can do the same to PCs. The game is designed and balanced with this in mind because it expects even large scale battles to break down into one on one (or two on one) combat. Still, until the day where each manual points out "Hey, Listen! You can force the enemy to reroll a high attack result!" to new players, I will continue to wonder if simply making things less lethal wouldn't have been the way to go.

Anyway, it is relatively common for Units to lose not just one but two (or more!) Levels with one attack. All too often, Levels kind of just blur together and you lose or heal multiples at once. This raises the question of Levels being relevant at all. Couldn't people just get a big chunk of HP and start with their maximum GP? Arguably, the game would be simpler and better then. It would, however, lose a lot of its anime flavor. We want PCs to get more fierce the more Damage they take and Mecha to to lose body parts and keep fighting, Threshold Levels do both things just fine. Conceptually, Threshold Levels are probably the most elegant way to include damage to various body parts in RPGs. The execution could have been better, but the fact is, it doesn't use hit location tables and doesn't make called shots to the head/reactor an autowin, so it is miles ahead of other similar systems.

One quirk of the system is that sometimes it cares about using even/odd numbers for your attack rolls or for the damage dealt. As mentioned before, it is a million times better than having hit location tables or the like, but I know people who have played the game for years and still trip up remembering that all the even numbers benefit the attacker and the odd numbers benefit the defender. I wish I could have included a mnemonic in the game to help with that, but there weren't any good ones so instead the book repeats it enough times until it hopefully sticks. I'm not satisfied though, so I would like to explore alternative systems in the future.

Anyway, there is a fifth Threshold Level of sorts in the Core. The Core is one of those rules that generally doesn't matter because most PCs and Rivals will use Live Another Day, while everybody else explodes when defeated. Still, sometimes PCs will try to capture a Grunt or be defeated without any spare GPs to retreat, and these rules exist for that reason. Originally, Cores could use their Internal Upgrades. I thought this was cool, not only did it make sense (that's where they're installed, after all) but they could use some of the Mecha's special abilities to put up a fight or escape. Then playtesting showed a Core with The Beast that was a lot stronger than it should be, effectively granting Mecha with The Beast a whole extra Level to play with. We went for the safe option and cut Internal Upgrades from Cores entirely and prevent this problem from resurfacing again. Now Cores are terribly underequipped to do anything relevant about 90% of the time which is, you know, fair, considering their owner already lost.

Well, there's one kind of enemy that a PC using their Core could still overpower: Regular NPCs. I still think it is the better idea to just say that anybody trying to fight a giant robot without their own should just plain lose, because this is a game about giant robots gosh dangit. But I know people will try it anyway because some of them think that's fun, so it is my job to make sure the rules for going David vs Goliath are somewhat reasonable. Plus, it means a GM can spring a lone Grunt on the PCs for a cool scene and watch as they either try to fight them or just run.


Unlike Intermissions, there are concrete Terrain types for Zones in Operations. I think that Plain and Difficult Terrain are the ones with the best execution of the five in the core book. Defensive is a clean and elegant design but is a little weak in comparison to Difficult, which greatly penalizes Speed, and Extreme which is brutal against anyone who hasn't spent considerable MP on stats or bought the Upgrades to fly over it. The last, and probably rarest of the five basic Terrain types is Impassable, which really should have a note at the bottom that says "Units cannot fly over Impassable Terrain.", and we'll probably talk more about this when we get to the flight abilities in the game.

So that's that. 1 Chapter done, 3 more to go, and it only took a month and seven updates. Now that we're out of the basic rules of the game, I'll stick to posting on sundays.

Next: Skills!

Gimmick Out.

Jun 5, 2016

BCG Retrospective VI: Intermission Mechanics.

Ah, here we are, the rules for Intermissions. We are finally speeding up from 1 page per post to 7 pages per post, maybe I'll finish doing this before 2037! First we'll take a look at the most basic of Intermission Tests and then move on to Matches and other Intermission combat rules. Note that, even though Intermissions come before Operations in the book, many of these mechanics started as adaptations of Operation rules or ended up taking after them in development.

General Intermission Rules

Of all the Intermission rules, the first and probably most important to remember is the regular Skill Test. There's not much else to say about them since I already elaborated about them in the previous post. One thing that wasn't brought up yet and is generally kind of underused in the rules is that some failed Tests cause Damage to PCs. This is a rule primarily meant for situations like running away from a bomb or breaking their fall from a great height. If Intermissions followed the Operation rules 1:1 these Tests would not exist, the GM would simply roll an attack vs the PC and deal a bunch of Damage. Much like with Awareness Tests, this was a decision made with PC agency in mind - the more that Players have a say in what happens to their Characters, the better.

Contested Tests are two (or more) Skill Tests made in competition with each other, of which the one with the highest result is the winner. While the rules state that you use this in a PC vs NPC scenario, it is often more practical to simply treat the NPC's Test as a fixed DN. Because of that, this is one of those rules that will either see a lot of use or almost none at all, depending on how much NPC stats matter.

The next are Extended Tests which have a little bit more of rules to them. These are divided into four categories: Simple (1 minute or less per Test), Challenging (1 hour per Test), Intense (1 day per Test) and Exhausting (1 week per Test). Because you can reroll Extended Tests until you get the maximum possible result, the rules recommend to skip Simple Extended Tests and to assume Exhausting Extended Tests are finished offscreen. Realistically, only Challenging and Intense Tests can be rolled more than once per game, and that's what most of the game's Extended Tests should be. PCs can also take double or quadruple the usual time (up to one month per try for an Exhausting Test!) to grant themselves one or two Advantages to the Test. Taking extra time to do things better is a logical thing for PCs to try, but most of the Intermission math is balanced carefully enough that one or two extra Advantages can be a huge deal, especially if it is a Test that can be attempted multiple times. The rules for Extended Tests make it possible to hit DNs 15 and 20 much easier, but doing so requires a considerable in-universe time investment that must be paid upfront.

Mixed Tests, I'll admit, aren't the most elegant of rules. When you have to combine two Tests into one what you do is combine all the Advantages and Disadvantages together, roll one die, and average the appropriate stat(s) to get the final result. Sometimes it makes sense to use more than one Attribute + Skill combination so you basically use both at once - this is how Extreme Terrain Tests originally worked, combining Systems and Speed into one Mixed Test. Other times you need to do two Skill Tests at the same time, and failing in one would mean failing the other (the examples given are driving and attacking an enemy at the same time or sneaking up to and stabbing someone in one move) and combining them both into one Test is the only way it would work out, so the rule is there. It is clunky and rarely used though, so if the rule wasn't necessary then it wouldn't exist.

Help Tests are a way to give an Ally one or two Advantages to a Test. Like with Extended Tests, granting one or two Advantages is potentially huge, making Help Tests deceptively powerful. It used to be that, with a bad enough roll, you could cause them to suffer a Disadvantage instead. While this was kind of funny ("I'M HELPING!"), it honestly wasn't a good rule to include. After removing that from Help Tests, they will almost always grant one Advantage when used. If it wasn't for Miracles and Traits making use of Help Test rules, I don't think there would be a point to involving a roll.

Then there's Attribute Tests.  The only difference between these and Skill Tests is that they don't get Advantages from Skills or, more importantly, the benefit of Traits that require Skill training. Each of the six types has a few examples, but only Awareness, Willpower and Resources Tests are expected to happen with any kind of frequency. Not coincidentally, most Skills use the Fitness, Intellect and Charm Attributes. Awareness and Willpower Tests are usually done in reaction to something else and the 'attacker' has the advantage. A ninja trying to stay out of sight will get the benefit of the Stealth skill and a skilled manipulator will get the benefit of the Diplomacy skill, where the 'defender' only has Awareness and Willpower. Resources Tests, however, are proactive, and Resources is balanced entirely around having no Skills and very few Traits to power it up, because it can be used to do nearly anything. Fitness, Intellect and Charm Tests are kind of whatever but I do like how Awareness and Willpower Tests turned out. What about Resources? We'll cover that in another paragraph.

But before that, because they come in between both rules in the book, we have Healing Tests. Plot Armor Damage doesn't necessarily keep you from participating in other Intermission scenes or even from piloting robots during Operations, but it will often keep you from being influential in the former. Also, because Characters heal naturally over time, Healing Tests aren't all that relevant unless you're fighting outside of your mech frequently. Still, when they do matter, they'll matter a lot, so the DNs to heal Plot Armor Layers range from 10 to 20.

And last, but not least, of the non-combat Intermission Tests we have Equipment Tests. These are the primary function of the Resources Attribute, and let you obtain Equipment Traits temporarily at no XP cost. They're difficult Tests, because the effect is very powerful, so they inflict a Disadvantage to further Resources Tests made in the same Episode and there's very few ways to gain Advantages to them. All things said and done, though, procuring Equipment temporarily is about as important as most Skills, so it probably should have been its own Skill instead of a Test type.

Match Rules

Match rules are the ones most obviously modeled after mecha combat, because they're the Intermission combat rules. Matches play like simplified mecha combat, but they weren't always like that. At one point they didn't use Zones (all combatants were assumed to be in the same general area) and you could make a 'Run' Test to escape from any danger safely like in a JRPG. At another point there were Zones, but moving from one to another costed an Action, giving characters with Range Boosters an advantage akin to having a gun in a knifefight. Playtesting showed neither of those versions was very fun in practice, so we ended up doing what perhaps should have been obvious from the start: Treat Characters on foot like we would treat Mecha, but give them a Speed of 1.

One aspect in which Characters and Mecha are similar yet different is in how Plot Armor and Threshold work. Plot Armor has three Layers, while Threshold has four Levels. Mecha repair completely between Operations, but Characters have different healing times for their Layers to represent the greater severity of wounds. There is a way to get a fourth Layer of Armor though, and that is Proxies. Proxies are a really, really simple way of not having to write down detailed stats for things like vehicles, drones and even computer avatars but they have only one Layer for health. They can even be repaired with the use of Heal Tests - it is a very easy Test, to encourage their use more).

Another difference between them is that Initiative is a Mixed Test (using Fitness + Awareness), which probably should have been the Player's choice of either stat, much like how Extreme Terrain Tests changed. The other difference between Matches and Operations is that Matches include a 'Surprise Rule' for ambushes using Tension 0. Technically, you can do this with Operations too, but it is not recommended except as a special circumstance in the rules for balance reasons. All the other technicalities about Intermissions are better left discussed when we get to Operations, because that's when I can dig deep into them.

There are six Actions unique to Matches. Attack works the same way it does for robots, using the Combat (or another applicable Skill) Skill instead of a Weapon to generate the Advantage. Buildup is the equivalent of the Aim Action, granting two Advantages because Characters are much more fragile and not attacking in your first Turn is a large risk. Delay is... Delay. Disruption is about one half of the Suppress Action, which perhaps should have included the same movement clause to make the defender take the other half of the Damage (the nonlethal and friendly fire abilities aren't necessary during Intermissions). Maneuver works the same. Run lets you Move two Zones instead of one with one Action.

It is notable that all of these will almost always use Fitness + Combat for their Tests, making Matches largely a playground for the PCs with good Fitness scores, compensating for how PCs with Intellect and Charm usually have an easier time affecting the narrative. The Match system is, like many other Intermission rules, just alright. I have, however, run into at least one group that opted to give all the PCs a second set of Mecha reskinned as power armor to use Operation rules in lieu of Match rules. Which, you know, kind of speaks volumes of how much more fun one is than the other.

Intermission Over

A part of me would have liked to make the less interesting Intermission mechanics more engaging and fun, because it is clear that they were streamlined as much as possible. However, even after being simplified down to the basics, the section for Intermission Rules is of the same length (and arguably barely longer) than the one for Operation Rules, and Character Creation is around 30 pages compared to Mecha Construction's 20. This makes me wonder if I actually didn't streamline them enough.

Next Time: Awww yeah we're getting to the Operation rules.

Gimmick Out.