Sep 18, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXI: Active Defenses

Active Defenses are some of the most important Upgrades in the game, because their use is baked into the game's combat math. That is to say, it is assumed you will buy one in the same way you buy Weapons, and without one you are going to have trouble keeping up with others.

When put this way I wonder: Should there have been Default Active Defenses the same way the game has Default Weapons? Probably not, if the concern is that starting characters are too vulnerable without them, might as well just give those a proper Defense boost.

Active Defenses generally give between 3 and 5 Defense points, because that's enough to block out some attacks but not enough to make an untouchable defensive powerhouse. The ones with a higher defensive ceiling have drawbacks beyond their Energy cost. This makes sure even defensive powerhouses have a weakness that can be exploited and the action never quite grinds to a halt.

Absorbing Armor
The inspiration for this Upgrade were the various defense systems in the Gundam franchise like Phase Shift Armor and I-Fields. To help represent those, Absorbing Armor started out only allowing you to choose between Beam and non-Beam. Playtesting showed very quickly that trying to stop Beams this way wasn't likely to block the whole attack, making the second half of the ability pointless, so the choice of specialization was freed up to any of Melee, Shooting, Beam and non-Beam. The problem with Absorbing Armor is that there's way too many offensive buffs in the game for it to reliably block attacks with such a small Defense boost. It works for very specific builds like Guardian of Steel users and Combiners, which can trigger the 3 Defense at no Energy cost much more often. It also works okay with Experimental Reactor builds that have a secondary focus in defense. The full block won't happen very often but they couldn't afford to spend 2 Energy per attack anyway. Perhaps it should have given a larger bonus but with a drawback of some sort? Overall it's not great, but it's okay.

Custom Defense
This was the first Active Defense to be written, and it is the most effective per point of Energy spent. Five points of Defense is enough to block out buffed low rolls and unbuffed high rolls. Originally you had to choose between Melee and Shooting for Specializations, but it got changed along with Absorbing Armor when that one wasn't working with Beam and non-Beam. The worst you can say about it is that it is kind of boring, but it more than makes up for that in effectiveness and being easy to reflavor to whatever you wish.

Reactive Booster
This started off being equal to Electronic Cloaking System, using all your Speed instead of just half, but Speed is generally more useful than Systems so it needed a drawback. The nerf came in the form of a halved bonus so that Boosted Lance users wouldn't be too difficult to handle in large maps. This Upgrade's problem is that it'll just grant 2 Defense for the first few Power Levels. It only costs 5 though, so it remains effective.

Absolute Barrier
The most unique Active Defense in the core rules. This started out as an all-purpose barrier that let you respond to attacks with a Defense bonus like all the others, but that proved very difficult to balance. With a 1 Energy to 2 Defense ratio it was very easy to make yourself invincible against anything that couldn't punch through barriers, but 1 Energy for 1 Defense was just plain terrible. Then I wondered "What if I make it an upfront investment as a balance mechanism?" and that naturally led to switching a Defense boost for Damage prevention to make it easier to track and play with. Absolute Barrier is a strong candidate for Best Active Defense, in competition with Custom Defense, simply because the adjustable output and ability to block direct Damage are just too useful. I would have liked to make more preventive barriers in the core rules, but they're tough to get right. When I tried to make a bunch more for the expansion, it ended in only one more (Organic Barrier) making it all the way to print!

Electronic Cloaking System
This one grants a very large Defense bonus so it has a weak point in Blasts, Bursts and Lines. Without that, Support Mecha would be too frustrating to fight against. I do like that, conceptually, the robots that fight indirectly or stay away from the front lines are the ones who can use invisibility defensively. With that said, this Upgrade suffers at low Power Levels, because you need a ton of points in Systems to keep it from being "Custom Defense, but worse". While ECS is kind of weak in Core, the Expansion added Dispersion Aura to defend specifically against Blasts, Bursts and Lines which covers this Upgrade's sole weakness. It is an expensive combination, but probably worth it if you're worried about survivability.

Shielding Aura
The Defense bonus is small, and in general it is more efficient to just let everyone else use their own Active Defenses than to buy an expensive one and give other people just 3 Defense with your own Energy. But with some planning, this can allow Squadmates to focus on stronger attacks instead of spending their resources defensively. It is especially useful at low Power Levels when MP is tight and most builds could use it on something other than Active Defenses.

One thing that jumped at me while doing this was that there's there's a lot less Active Defenses than there are Weapons. If they're supposed to be their defensive equivalent, then the game ought to have a few more options, right? Not too many, but at least two pages total rather than just one. Perhaps keep one page for the Defense boosts but give a whole page to ones that prevent Damage. Fortunately, the expansion does a very good job of, well, expanding Active Defense options but I figure there's still room for a handful more in the game.

Next: Restorations.

Gimmick Out.


  1. On an aside, asking about BCZ... Limit Powers. Just checking that Pierce the Heavens is " If the Tension bonus OR the Might Test", and it should be "FOR the might test", ie the F went missing?

    Also, Burnout Edge... "When you Boost and pass the Might Test with this Weapon, you halve the target’s available Energy." -> I'm assuming this only lasts for 1 round?

    Ground Zero: "This Weapon turns the Zone you are standing on into Extreme Terrain." ... this one is unclear, because there are abilities that change terrain for 1 round, 3 rounds, etc, so I sort of assumed it permanently changes it to extreme terrain... but that affects balance quite a bit! so... what was your intent?

    1. Yeah, that's a typo, it should read "for the might test".

      The Ground Zero effect is permanent, you should move away from that zone!

      Burnout Edge by RAW halves currently available energy, so it lasts until they regenerate it, rather than until your next turn. I actually forgot if the intent here was to make it last one round or not. Halving energy with every hit is very strong, so I think the current text is right.

    2. Yeah, it would be the ultimate boss killer if you hit a boss 4 times with burnout edge and he goes down to 0 energy for the rest of the fight...

      as it is though, that text is a little ambigous... maybe if you ever do an errata, can directly add "for one round" to make things clear. ;)

      Halving until they regenerate it, would make it rather weak... that would mean that it only affects active defences, or maybe combiners, since halving someone's energy and then when his turn rolls around, he has full energy to absolute barrier + beam boost all he likes.

    3. I'd be interested in hearing what people think of this. Is it underpowered or just right? Would changing it to last one round be too much?

    4. On the subject of Extreme Terrain, what happens to a combiner with 3 pilots that finds itself in extreme terrain? Does it trigger for every sub pilot turn or just for the main? ;)


      Duelist Model, the free attack on a disengager, if it's melee, does it get the advantage for being in a duel?

    5. Subpilots do trigger Extreme Terrain. Normally there would have been a section stating that they don't, (mostly for flavor reasons) but they're so powerful already that this extra weakness is only fair.

      The attack on a disengaging opponent is assumed to take place before they finish moving, otherwise the upgrade would be a lot less useful - you'd have to use rocket punches or the like.

    6. Thanks Gimmick!!! ... heh. Well, now I know that, if I ever come across an overly powerful combiner, extreme terrain is the way to roast them. And some way of halting movement, either lockdown missile or duelling or some such...

  2. second question: Since absorbing armor and custom defence are "specialist", does that mean you can buy it twice and have absorbing armor melee + absorbing armor shooting?

    Also! ;) ... For Mid-scene upgrade, did you intend for there to be restrictions? Such as, restricted to 5MP or 10 MP purchases. Not being able to use this again until your previous debts are cleared. ... cause my munchkin instincts immediately screamed at me "whee!!! I'll just buy 15 MP and 20 MP upgrades every operation and have some overpowered monstrosity 100 MP above everyone else!!!" ... then common sense stepped in "nah, that's not how it should work..." :(

    1. Specialist barriers can be bought twice to cover all damage types, yes.

      Note that Mid-Scene Upgrade says you have to buy the upgrade or weapon at the next possible opportunity and, if you wouldn't be able to do so for any sort of reason, the GM should "No." Buying even more stuff when you're already in MP debt would qualify as one such obstacle to a purchase.

  3. I'm assuming you can use the "Aim" action on anyone within Line of Sight? ... cause Berserker says you must aim at enemies when no one is in weapon range, but Aim is also cancelled if not aiming at valid targets and Long Range weapons allow you to Aim extra far... so I'm assuming that Aim has infinite distance range, but requires LOS or something?

    1. You can Aim at a target you can't shoot yet, but you lose the benefits if it isn't in range during your next turn. You also lose the benefits if the target hides behind impassable terrain or the like. Otherwise, yes, all you need to aim is line of sight.

  4. ooh... just found an interesting one. My Pain is Your Pain is a reactive power, which means it takes effect first, right? So, for instance, if a Remote weapon, say, sentry turret, shot at you for 5 damage, you could activate My Pain is Your Pain, which blows up the turret before it can fire, thus preventing you from taking damage?

    Thanks for answering so much, Gimmick! Hope I'm not overly spamming these questions, I was hoping it'd be ok since the message board here isn't extremely cluttered with other questions. ;)

    1. If using my pain is your pain destroys the attacker, then the rest of the attack is prevented, yes. It is an infrequent, but cool, way to use the power.

      And you're welcome. I don't mind answering questions, as long as there's less than a few dozen a day, then I might start minding. :)

    2. Well, came across this sort of thing, when, erm... building Gimmick builds, lolz... despite the creator nick, for BCG and especially BCZ, gimmick builds really mess up the balance and flow of the game lolz. I made a couple of silly builds which were averaging over 40 for turn 1 might tests, and the only viable way of surviving was to use my pain is your pain and pre-empting the attack.

      ... I also had a truly silly build, which involved having 0 guard but a ton of threshold, and "walking coffin"... and, yes, my pain is your pain. So, check damage taken... ooh, 20 on might test? That's 15x2 = 30 damage... oh wait, my pain is your pain, attacker takes 15 damage. Good chance of pre-emptively maiming the attacking weapon too. lolz. ;)

      Also ran into some possible hilarity with Walking Coffin and Stake My Life On It.

      And that's before considering Limit Engine and The Beast. ;)

    3. You can make all sorts of silly builds but you should probably make sure you're okay with having their weaknesses exploited. It'll probably work very well a percentage of the time, but be nothing but a burden when it doesn't. Glass cannons tend to be great until someone throws a rock at them and they break into a million pieces.

      That's how it goes with point-buy systems. Something something power and responsibility.

    4. Actually, the opposite tends to happen... where the GM makes very situational builds for the players to deal with, and then tosses them into that exact situation. OUCH. If the GM has decided that next operation his mechs have torpedoes, you can bet next op is a water op. If GM decides to throw sniper mechs at your team, you can bet that they start the operation very far away, and possibly with difficult terrain or something obstructing. So gimmick builds are pretty useless for the players, but overpowered in the hands of the GM...

    5. I was only talking about PC builds. PCs are built to win, NPCs are built to challenge PCs. It's a subtle, but important, difference.

  5. One significant weakness of Absolute Barrier is that it prevents damage pretty good, but not raising defence means that all those attacks with nasty secondary conditions just blow right thru it to some degree... Like, say, 2 different attacks, with might rolls of 14 vs defence of 10... comparing a 4 energy Absolute Barrier, it would block 8 damage, so nothing goes thru, and 2x custom defence at 2 EN works same. ... the difference starts coming when those 2 attacks were with Rocket Swords, Boosted Lance, anything with Crippling... and various other attacks. There's quite a lot of times where raising defence by 4 is a LOT better than blocking 4 damage! ;) ... though it's pretty good that you can block stuff like genre power damage, bombardment, and various other thingies, so I guess that balances out? huhuhu... so hard for me to choose between them... On a related note, that's another plus point for active defences in our AD vs healing discussion. :)