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.

Electricity
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.

Force
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.

Fortune
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.

Matter
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.

Phantasm
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.

Phasing
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.

Probing
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.

Sight
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.

Somatics
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.

Temperature
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.

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