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.

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