Sep 25, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXII: Restoration Upgrades

Restorations are the most underpowered Mecha Upgrades in the core rules. While I believe the expansion's Restoration Powers did a more than adequate job buffing them, I'd like to go over how and why their core-only versions ended up the way they are. Let's start with something that will probably explain a lot: I don't like healing-type abilities in RPGs. I say this not as a player (I've always liked to play support), but as a designer.

Here's the thing about healing in combat-centric games: It doesn't do anything, it undoes what other people did. It doesn't win the game, it helps you not lose. And as such, it is either not worth doing or worth doing because it heals faster than other people can hurt you. Few things are as frustrating as managing to hurt your enemy only to watch them heal up the damage. It just isn't fun to be on the other side of.

This is not to say I didn't want to have any healing abilities at all, or that I wanted to make them bad. It is just that, in case of doubt whether something is too weak or too strong, I erred on the side of making healing abilities weaker rather than stronger. If I make a mistake balancing weapons or offensive buffs, combat is too fast and rocket-taggy, which is bad but manageable. If I make a mistake balancing heals or defensive buffs, combat is a slow grind that takes forever, which I think is a much worse problem. Consider that BCG is a game where everything available to PCs is also available to NPCs, and my position becomes easier to understand. I don't expect people to agree with all of this, but I wanted to make my position clear.

Anyway, Restoration Upgrades: I wanted to prevent potentially infinite healing and the Systems stat seemed like the most logical existing variable for the number of times you could use the Upgrades. I immediately realized that PCs who wanted to use these Upgrades would be the ones maxing Systems, rather than the ones keeping it at an average value. Restorations had to be balanced at 7 Systems and above, rather than between 4 and 6 which is what other Upgrades were balanced against. Again, I was being way too conservative about them. Let's go over the three of them:

Jury Rig
This was the first Restoration Upgrade designed. I had the basic idea of the Restorations system down, so to figure out what the basic healing Upgrade would do, I looked at Absolute Barrier. Healing is better than damage prevention, so I figured using a similar formula to Absolute Barrier's, but weaker, would work out alright. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. The real problem was when many of the weaker weapons in the game got buffed, that was when keeping up with the damage output of NPCs got very hard.

Regenerative
If Jury Rig's problem was that it had to be a weaker Absolute Barrier, Regenerative's problem was that it had to be a weaker Jury Rig. At first, this Upgrade healed HALF the amount of Energy spent on it, which, as you can imagine, is kind of terrible. Now it uses two Restorations instead of one and restores the same amount of Threshold Jury Rig does. The end result is... That this is pretty much just a worse Absolute Barrier. At least Jury Rig can heal other PCs who don't have all the Energy to spare. Not a fan.

Resupply
Probably the strongest of these three, if only because it didn't need a Genre Power to make it useable. The best use for Resupply is to restore your own Support Upgrades so you can keep comboing them. The most common Support Upgrades are the cheap ones that can be used reliably without spending them first, but comboing the expensive Supports is very strong and Resupply is worth considering for a more debuff-oriented Support build.

So, in hindsight, the problem with Jury Rig and Regenerative is that they were designed as an Absolute Barrier variant. Had they used a different number for their healing value, like a static 5 or just the user's systems, they would have turned out more useful. A change like this would need both Upgrades to have less uses though. The total uses available to each PC would need to be half Systems or equal to Power Level or something like that. That would have also likely meant a buff for Resupply, likely just making it not use an action. Also, they probably would be internal upgrades rather than external upgrades.

Again, the expansion largely fixes the problems with both Jury Rig and Regenerative with the addition of Restoration Powers. Without it, both Upgrades essentially need you to have a way to stop taking damage while you heal in peace, such as having everybody temporarily hide behind a Guardian of Steel or short pauses between battles or something like that.

Next: Mobility Upgrades.

Gimmick Out.

24 comments:

  1. Interesting article! ... commments: "I looked at Absolute Barrier. Healing is better than damage prevention, so I figured using a similar formula to Absolute Barrier's, but weaker, would work out alright." -> I'm not sure I agree with the "healing is better than prevention"; I can't help but think of the medical proverb "prevention is better than cure"... but anyhow, that's the point I'd like to comment on. ;)

    1. One advantage healing has over prevention is "timing" effect... it's easier to say "I am damaged, I will now heal", rather than constantly maintaining an Absolute Barrier every turn. From another angle, an advantage of Jury Rig over AbBar is that it's easier to figure out how much energy to spend on it. And you can also do "burst" healing, where you spend lots of energy to heal all at once, instead of blocking damage bit by bit, attack by attack. -> Note that this factor, means that JuRi is only "superior" to AbBar because AbBar requires you to decide how much energy to commit to it AT THE START OF YOUR TURN, unlike other active defences where you can use them reactively after the attack rolls have been made. ... If you could use AbBar similiarly to say Custom Defense, things change significantly...

    2. Healing "stacks" with other active defences... you can use Custom Defence against several attacks, and later on use Jury Rig to heal off the spillover damage. Whereas you can't use other active defences at all while using AbBar. Huge factor there.

    3. The maths of spending an action, energy spent per damage healed/prevented. Complex!

    4. Maiming. Not taking damage in the first place prevents maims, as opposed to taking damage, being maimed then healing it up. Also, not dying! ;)

    Overall, for my mecha build, I'm doing Regenerative + 2 custom defences I guess. :)

    ... overall though, I'd say that, if you have only 10MP to spare and have to make a choice, having 2x custom defence is a much better option than Jury Rig or Regenerative! ;)

    BTW, since you mentioned the restoration genre powers in Z, I initially felt like My Last Stand + Regenerative is a LOT more powerful than I'll Patch You Up + Jury Rig... ... ... then I realized that Regenerative can't heal allies! ... hmm!!! ... ... ... umm, I somehow still feel that the My Last Stand combo is more powerful though! ;)

    Thanks for your insight, that you felt Restoration upgrades were too weak in G!!! ... that helps me understand some stuff, cause I felt that the restoration genre powers are relatively overpowered compared to other genre powers... now I understand that you felt restoration upgrades are relatively underpowered on their own, so Restoration Power + Restoration upgrade = now they're balanced! ;)

    One thing I find very interesting is how Overcharge in Z is a 5MP support upgrade that gives 4EN to anyone, and G-Charger is a RESTORATION upgrade that costs 5MP and gives 5EN to yourself... which is, as you wrote in footnotes, only really of use to a combiner. ... For a non combiner, without Who The Hell do you think I am, I suppose the only real use would be if you are going to be attacked 3 times this round and want to use the energy to activate Custom Defence 3 times? ... WTHDYTIA does make G-charger seem interesting though, especially on a mech with Absolute Barrier or Regenerative! ;)

    As for your point about healing un-doing stuff, frustration, and making combat take longer, ouch!!! My GM was fielding some grunts with Custom Defence (beam), and boy was my beam based mech having a hard time... at power level 1, that 5 extra defence was giving me real issues. :( ... in that sense, I feel like Active Defences sort of have similiar issues with healing... :(

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  2. Good points. In particular how very powerful barriers are just as frustrating.

    The primary reason I would say healing is better than damage prevention is that damage prevention depends on whether you're targeted or not, if you're not targeted then the resources spent on it are wasted. Meanwhile, if you're missing threshold, healing is always useful.

    There are other, more system-specific reasons. One would be that barriers can be ignored with powers and such. Another that healing lets you restore maims to normal while damage prevention means you could still end up maimed in an area inconvenient to you.

    Perhaps the best way to go would have been larger threshold totals with weaker active defenses. This would minimize both forms of frustration. This would have had some effect on the design of Grunt NPCs but it doesn't sound like too much of a problem.

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  3. "The primary reason I would say healing is better than damage prevention is that damage prevention depends on whether you're targeted or not, if you're not targeted then the resources spent on it are wasted."

    That applies mainly for Absolute Barrier and Organic Barrier. The active defences like Custom Defence, if you're not targetted, you don't need to spend energy on it. If you are targetted, BAM, 5 damage negated for 2 energy expenditure. ... that's sort of one reason why, on a battlefield with multiple targets to choose from, Absolute Barrier starts preventing damage in the "wrong way"... ie when someone puts up a 5 EN absolute barrier, it's damage mitigation by putting up a sign saying "shoot someone else"

    Ironically, healers who can heal allies, are doing the opposite, hanging a sign on themselves saying "kill me first!"

    ... looking around at various game systems, I think it's pretty much an impossible dream to make a system which doesn't have issues, loopholes, or design flaws in some manner... even the big production houses keep trying, but never come close. ... at the end of the day, if everyone playing has a good time, devs should pat themselves on the back and say "objective achieved". ;)

    One scary thing is, I'm starting to suspect that it's more fun to create mechs than to actually run multiple combats with them. hahaha... or maybe it's just me!

    One thing that didn't occur to me at first, but has been brought starkly to my attention, is how the core mechanic of damage inflicted works. I remember something similiar from Grailquest (nostalgia!) ... I eventually realized that 1 attack that beats defence by 12 is worth 3 attacks that beat defence by 4... there was mention that the lethality in combat is high, but IMHO it's more that the lethality SPIKES... with Defender D having a defence of 15 including Active defences, and 4 threshold; a might test with result 1 to 15 does nothing, 16 is 1 damage, 19 is a maim, 23 is 2 maims, 31 is a one shot.

    Not that I don't enjoy this system though! ... it just caught me by surprise when I realized the ramifications... ... ... compared to traditional systems, where the flow of combat is more "damage output per round is expected to be X, so combat should be resolved in 30/x rounds" ie damage per round is more predictable, and a few extra points into strength or armor class "nudge" the scales slightly, in BCG, a few extra points in the might test or a few extra points of defence, are pretty extreme in how they wildly shift the outcome a single attack roll. ... which has the cool factor, that, for instance, in D&D, you don't really feel much of a difference between a fighter with 20 strength and one with 22 strength. In BCG though, you can really feel every point!!! ;) ...

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    1. In terms of combat anyway. In terms of the storyline and skill based rolls, I'm sadly finding that pure dumb luck is having more of an effect than the stats and skills themselves. ... I think I'm the first one to comment on the NON-COMBAT MECHANICS part of BCG!!! WOOHOO!!! Especially since you mentioned that your goal was a more "story-driven" experience rather than a pure number crunching combat orientated game? ... anyhow... say for example, you get an unknown substance on the scene. DC 15 to analyze it. Your scientist character, with 8 intelligence and science skill so 1 advantage, rolls 4 and 6. Fails. Then, one PC says "heck, I have 6 int and no training, I've got a 20% chance of success!" and he rolls a 9. ... well, it's funny when it's once in a while, but IMHO, it doesn't reflect the difference in ability enough... actually, for skills in general, granting just 1 advantage is rather "small"... since mathematically, choosing best of 2 dice is average gain of 1.65 compared to rolling 1 dice, or a flat +2... for skills like painting, science, etc, I would give someone with training at least 2 extra advantages compared to someone who has no idea what he is doing, ROFL!!! ;)

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    2. When I said "healing is better than damage prevention" I was being theoretical, not in the context of existing upgrades or powers. Assuming all abilities that prevent damage instead just healed damage at the exact same rates and for the same cost, healing would end up being more useful than damage prevention. Or, well, that's what I argued for anyway.

      About the perfectionist dream: Thanks for the good vibes. I think BCG is a good game and I'm very satisfied with how it turned out. I'm just breaking it down to bits to see what I can learn from it, and flaws are what you learn from the most.

      The way damage scales is to help convey the feeling of anime super attacks. Traditional RPG damage scaling has difficulty conveying that kind of thing, because it is -as you said- designed around hitting targets X times to secure a kill.

      I wanted luck to matter, not being equally as relevant as skillsets, but still very relevant. If the scientist PC autosucceeded at science checks and everyone else autofailed, there would be no point to rolling dice at all.

      When improbable things happen it can make for entertaining and memorable moments. You hear groups sharing stories like how a rogue stole a guy's pants, how the bard sang a song so beautiful it moved all enemies to tears and solved things peacefully, or the druid taming a t-rex and making it their pet. Ridiculous stuff like that is memorable and I wanted to make those moments possible, but unlikely.

      There is a suggested houserule in the book to let PCs automatically take a result of 5 to their intermission tests. 5(result) + 2(advantage) + 8(int) = 15. The houserule helps a lot with making things work the way probability intended, and there is also a trait to make your lowest possible result in a trained skill roll a 5, which would have helped in this instance as well. Basically, there are things you can do to keep that from happening.

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    3. Agree on your points. mmm. Maybe I would have bumped all DC checks upwards by 2 points and made skills give 2 advantages instead of one. ... the randomness is one thing, the storytelling is another. In BCG, using anime style, the martial artists are world class champions. The science geeks are famous professors. Well, depending on GM and such anyway lolz!!! ... basically, the level of expertise that the characters should have storywise is not being reflected in the maths of DC checks.

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  4. ;) !!! Some questions about Oldtype (Whenever you lose a Level of Threshold, all damage carrying over from the same instance of Damage to the next Threshold Level is halved.), Internal Fortification (same), extreme fortification, Walking Coffin, Stake My Life on It, Invasive, Resonance Cannon and Absolute Barrier.

    A) Firstly, resonance cannon and other weapons that "destroy the current level of threshold". ... however, the way you treat it at times is more like "do damage equal to the current level of threshold". Since you mentioned in a BCG page 130 "Damage Modifiers Like with Tension, multiple modifi ers will stack together. Unlike with Tension, abilities that halve Damage always apply at the end of a calculation (and state this much). So if you get hit for 1 Damage with a Resonance Cannon and then take 3 Bonus Damage from its ability (Because you have a Threshold of 4) then the total Damage dealt gets halved to 2."

    Does Stake my Life on it work in a similiar manner? Where it is halved by extreme fortification, and if you have Walking Coffin, you blow up 2x your current threshold?

    B) Onto oldtype and interfort, firstly... do they stack if you have both? Secondly... how do they work, for really large amounts of damage? Say, for instance, defence 20, might test result 50, threshold 5... break 1 layer, 25 remaining halved to 12. 2nd layer, takes 5... 7 remaining. Does the 3rd layer take 5 damage and 2 carries over, or is that halved again, down to 3 damage?

    C) How does Invasive interact with oldtype and intfort? Is the plot armor damage based on the original figure or the figure after the halving?

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    1. Destroying a level of threshold is something that I would have made a keyword in hindsight to go more in depth about how it interacts with the rest of the rules. I also probably would have made it a flat amount of damage that couldnt be prevented, halved, or doubled for simplicity's sake.

      But that's not what I did! So here's your answers:

      A) First you double the damage it would take to lose your current level of threshold, then you halve the bit that rolled over to the next level. Your bonus to Might is the total number.

      B) They stack. So let's say you have both, Attack 50 into defense 20 and threshold 5 is... 10 damage total. The first level takes 5, the remaining 25 gets halved first to 12, then to 6... But the subsequent levels halve the totals AGAIN. The remaining 1 is halved and rounded down to 0, and then rounded down to 0 again for good measure. With only one of them, the attack would do 13 damage. First level takes 5, the remaining 25 damage gets halved to 12 of which 5 applies as normal, the remaining 7 damage is halved again and reduced to 3.

      C) Invasive uses the damage that was dealt after all modifiers have been applied, including its own.

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    2. I was wondering why you didn't make it act like dnd disintegrate or death spells and just leave it as "destroyed".

      I also hilariously realized, if using Stake My Life On It, and Absolute Barrier, the order in which you activate them makes a lot of difference!!!

      I feel OldType is a bit overpowered on bosses, and to enemy specialist type mecha to a lesser extent, because Oldtype is really powerful, but is balanced by the fact that you give up a lot of versatility. But a lot of the specialized units and bosses don't use default genre powers anyway...

      ... And I also realized, that maybe bosses shouldn't have access to Mid-Scene Upgrade... especially a recurring boss! It wouldn't take too many free Boss Upgrades to severely mess up the difficulty curve...

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    3. Flat out level destruction used to be an effect that existed, but doing damage seemed like a more interactive and thus probably more fun mechanic.

      Which is true! It is more interactive and fun to play with... Once you understand it. I'm not sure the confusion is worth the trouble nowadays, that's why I'd rather have a destruction effect.

      And yes, Oldtype is one of the easiest ways to make your Rivals and Bosses that much stronger. It is intended as a tool to make even relatively unoptimized builds a fair challenge to PCs.

      NPCs don't earn XP so MSU's are entirely GM fiat when it comes to Grunts/Rivals/Bosses.

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    4. ... heehee.... how would you go about, creating a reenackment of scenes from Macross 7? ;) where everyone is fighting, the aliens sometimes take time out to steal spiritia, and Basara smashing loudspeakers into enemy mecha to make them LISTEN TO MY SONG!!!

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    5. I'm a huge M7 nerd, so I wanted to make sure you could play something along those lines. The game is primarily meant for more traditional kinds of mecha combat, but it still works very well.

      Enemies that can steal spiritia would have Invasive. The ones that can do so on foot would have the Viral Touch trait.

      Basara would be a full support character. The various songs would be represented by support upgrades: Buffs, debuffs and also direct damage (it forces them to retreat rather than making them explode!). Jury Rig could represent a morale buff.

      But my favorite build would be the tank/support hybrid, designed around Absolute Barrier and Targeting Disruption to provoke enemies. Bonus points: Take the Tacticool Approach and some Electro-Sapper Pods, then rename COME AT ME BRO to LISTEN TO MY SONG!

      PS: Make sure to rename all the support upgrades to song names.

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  5. So, we had an NPC cargo ship to protect... it was 3x4 squares IIRC. Anyhow, I was about to use Ground Zero, when I was reminded that I was currently standing on the ship... lolz. So anyhow, how do mecha larger than 1 square interact with the various types of terrain? Sliding, extreme, withering, difficult, the whole shebang? ...I suppose if a large mech stands on 1x sliding right +1 and 1x sliding left +2, it gets sum total slide left 1 square? ... I can't imagine how to balance multiple instances of extreme terrain. Especially in the case of someone trying to use Ground Zero offensively against said target, how to balance it so that it's a viable strategy to create lots of extreme terrain (which would be a very anime way to beat a gargantuan opponent!), but yet not be overpowered and simply slaughter said target?

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    1. Terrain effects are triggered only once for units in multiple squares. Blasts and other AoEs also affect them only once. We tested making things work differently a few times and there was no easy way to balance it, it made giant enemies just another variant of the 'enemy that is near immune to everything but aoes, which shred it like paper' archetype.

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    2. K. ... that means, when facing a large unit, I can increase the effect of extreme terrain by stacking ET in the SAME SQUARE, ie create 1 square of +3 extreme terrain. Creating 3x squares of +1 extreme terrain does nothing. Pretty significant difference when using a mecha using Ground Zero and master technician! ;)

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    3. Yeah, and remember that the way they stack is by adding Tension multiple times to the test. Not a big difference Turn 1, but it doesn't take too long for 2-3 instances to get out of hand.

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    4. It can also lead to hilarious results when used on a unit with Limit Engine! ;)

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  6. LOL! Last question!
    Miniature Model Design Flaw (+20 MP) Effect: Halve all of your Movement, Upgrade and Weapon Ranges. Maximum Weapon Ranges are rounded up instead of down.
    BCG page 8: If you ever have to halve something and add or substract from it, you do the halving fi rst then follow up with other operations.

    how does it interact with Overbooster, long range weapon attribute, aiming with a long range weapon, and various other ways to increase your movement and range? ... or does miniature model just halve the final figure? ... oh, same for Remora Frame! ... thanks!!! ;)

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    1. The order of operations is one of those rules I would have written differently in hindsight, where I would just halve everything as the final operation to simplify things. By RAW, it makes all your shooting range weapons have a base range of 3, then you add the long range and other range upgrades to that. This is not how it should work.

      So the way it should work, and the way you should play it, is that you halve all passive values, then apply active modifiers. So you halve your speed, but then apply overbooster normally. You halve 5+systems for an assault rifle, but temporary bonuses (like that from aiming, or from boosting a powered rifle) are applied as normal.

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    2. Woot!!! ... thanks!!! ... err... gosh, that makes a lot of builds, and remora frame in particular, a LOT more viable! ... aargh. Leading to the other problem with point buy systems, even when players are told to refrain from too much munchikinism, it's HARD not to do so ROFL!!!

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    3. eeks. Does difficult terrain and remora frame work the same way, for movement? ... ie, do Overbooster and Gotta Go Fast genre power give the full +3/+5 movement even on difficult terrain or with remora?

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  7. Well, I'm pretty much admitting that this is kind of a messed up rule, the kind you shouldn't exploit! Maybe changing the order of operations is worth issuing a new errata.

    Anyway, Difficult Terrain is not quite a passive modifier, it is not technically active either, but it applies at the end. Otherwise it wouldn't amount to much.

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  8. I've been confusing myself with my current build... I based it off the limit engine beast concept, except that I then got "creative" and thought, hey, why not put in a secret area, since limit engine will get me to 5 tension faster, and my techniques can be maimed! It all fits! ,,, now just need a way to not blow up... ooh, regenerative! And Absolute Barrier! nice! ... ... ... and then, catch 22 strikes me. If I'm low on life, my power is at it's highest... so... erm, now what? Heal? but if I heal I drop back to average strength! :( ... but if I don't heal, I risk going kaboom! :( ... hmmhmmhmm... so current plan is to get to low life and stay there via absolute barrier? :(

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    1. It's like being at a candy store and being told that you can have anything, but not everything. :)

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