Aug 7, 2016

BCG Retrospective XV: Default Powers

Many games encourage giving rewards for good roleplaying in the form of Bennies/Drama Tokens/Aiki Chits/Fate Points and BCG is no different. Generally these games let you use this limited resource to reroll your dice, escape from death or activate one of your special abilities.

Where it differs from most of those games is that Genre Points are a fundamental element of game balance and PC builds. Genre Powers are often just as important as the Upgrades and Weapons of the Mecha itself in making an individual PC work. Each Player's selection of Genre Powers is very personal, representing an individual Character's fighting style and piloting skills, so the game needed to have a good number of Genre Powers to choose from and they needed to be very distinctive from each other.

However, making PCs unique from each other was secondary to making sure all of them were actually fun to play, so I knew from the beginning that everybody was going to have a number of Default Powers: Try Again, Mid-Scene Upgrade, Live Another Day and Not so Fast. Eventually the list expanded and everybody started with six Genre Powers plus their own personal ones. Today we're going to look at the six that make all PCs stand head and shoulders above Grunts, the Default Powers.

In alphabetical order.

Knowledge is Power
This used to be a Power that you had to pick, rather than a Default one, but the problem with it was that no one wanted to take it. Most Players preferred to guess at enemy stats and abilities than scanning them, even if it meant taking a big gamble against superbosses. Knowing what your opponent can do can be essential to help a PC Squad stabilize and turn the tide against a strong foe, so I wanted all groups to have access to this. As you can imagine, the solution I thought of was to make it a Default Power. If no one will buy it, then I will make it free! Incidentally, I would make a very bad amazing economist.

Live Another Day
Things have changed a lot from the days of early roleplaying, when every dungeon crawl was a meat grinder and the system told you not to give your PC a name until they had survived to Level 3. Mechanics have gotten more complex and character creation is a lot more involved and takes much longer, but anti-death mechanics for PCs are still an exception and not the rule. I find this weird, because it means either someone loses all that time and emotional investment to a critical hit or (more likely) the GM fudges and ignores the rules to keep things fun. Anyway, BCG was always going to have some kind of anti-death mechanic for PCs and I figured might as well use the game's most flavorful resource so all players can choose to either flee or fight to a bitter/glorious end spending that last GP elsewhere. This way, PCs only die if the player agrees that's how it should be, which is how it should be in a cinematic RPG.

Mid-Scene Upgrade
Mid-Scene Upgrade is sort of like Live Another Day in that I always thought it was a thing that more RPGs needed to have in-built into the system, because it lets PCs overcome challenges they were otherwise unprepared or too low-powered for, avoiding accidental total-party-kill scenarios. Also, it is a badass awesome thing that is pretty much a genre staple. With that said, Mid-Scene Upgrade is a little overpowered, because it lets strategically minded players be 5, 10 or even 20 points above the rest of the party at the cost of being perpetually on a debt of Mecha Points to the GM. Fortunately this is something that everyone can do so all it takes is for the rest of the group to get in a Mid-Scene Upgrade every now and then to preserve the group's balance. The problem that remains then is that the PC Squad is now noticeably stronger than the NPCs they fight, but that can be fixed by just making NPCs stronger. I'm not too comfortable with the idea of perpetual MP debt as a powerup but it is a small price to pay for having a really cool and useful Genre Power in the game.

Not so Fast
You would think that the counterpart to Try Again would force one enemy to reroll an attack made against you... but that's not the case with Not so Fast. Not so Fast only protects others, but inflicts 2 Disadvantages instead of one. The Power was made this way for 3 reasons: First, because it encourages good team dynamics and makes all the PCs be watching each other's back, especially at low Power Levels when everybody is quite frail. Second, because this way it can be stronger and make for a more meaningful debuff in a game that is full of very strong buffs. Third, because it keeps 1v1 battles from the constant repetition of using Try Again every low roll of yours and Not so Fast with every high roll of the opponent.

Synchro Attack
One of the things I wanted to convey with game mechanics as part of adapting genre conventions is the power of many characters united as one. To that end, I needed to have a mechanic for combination attacks, but none of the more elaborate versions that allowed you to combine weapon abilities or mecha stats were working. They were either too strong and impossible to balance or too easily repetitive and made combination attacks not feel special at all. Eventually I decided to make it a Default Power so that everyone can use it but balanced it by making the power very conditional. I say it is conditional because a +4 damage bonus for each party member that gives up a GP and a Turn is usually less than what they could pull off with a whole turn (plus a GP) to themselves, making the power look suboptimal in most circumstances. But sometimes you just have to kill a key target ASAP and some PCs can't hurt it or can't reach it or something else is in the way. Other times you are facing a large group of strong enemies and the best way to weaken them all is to help the team member with the best area attacks hit them for as much as possible. It is during those times when Synchro Attack shows its true power.

Try Again
Last but not least is the most basic Power in the game and the first that got written down. Dice don't care about narratives, their element of chance helps keep games fun and dynamic, but the results rolled are often unfair. Many games these days incorporate mechanics to mitigate this, but very few of them make the reroll have a better chance of success than the first roll. Heck, there's plenty of systems where the reroll takes a penalty. Spending a resource just to fail two times in a row feels pretty bad and just isn't fun. Try Again grants an Advantage to the reroll, hopefully keeping this from happening as much as possible. It is not the flashiest or strongest Power, but it is an invaluable tool to keep the game rolling forward.

I love this bunch and, outside of the aforementioned exploit with Mid-Scene Upgrade, I think the mechanics for them are in the right place. The only thing that I sometimes think I could have worked in is something a playtester suggested: A seventh Default Power that self-heals using Systems. But I'll elaborate on that when we get to Restoration Upgrades.

Next: Champion Powers.

Gimmick Out.

No comments:

Post a Comment