Nov 13, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXIX: Default Weapons & Weapon Keywords

Weapons only have five pages but each of those is packed tight with text and there's a lot to talk about. This update will cover the first two pages, so grab a sandwich because it is the longest in a while.

Default Weapons
BCG is a game where PCs lose the guns they use to attack as combat goes on, so I wanted to give everyone access to two unmaimable Default Weapons they can use when all others are disabled. Said Weapons suffer a Disadvantage to all attacks, because they needed to have a drawback of some kind in order to make people actually buy the other Weapons. At first mechs only had CQC, but they got Vulcans later to give them a little more flexibility. In case you're wondering, the CQC system is a reference to Metal Gear Solid while Vulcans are a reference to Mobile Suit Gundam.

Melee & Shooting
Melee is easier to get at least one Advantage with than Shooting, but Shooting can get more of them and is also more flexible. The Melee ability is slightly weaker, which is why Melee Weapons are pushed with stronger special abilities and Sniper Model had an inherent range-based weakness to it. Further adding to this disbalance, Shooting Weapons used to gain the range bonus that Long Range Weapons now get from Aiming. This made some of them, like Superheavy Machinegun and Bombardment, even stronger than they already are. Both types are more balanced with each other now.

Beam
Beams have more of a story to them. One of the coolest things about Beams to me is the idea of an adjustable power output, leading to what you know as the Boost mechanic. So my concept for them is simple: They get stronger when you pump energy into them. The problem with this idea is that "they're like other guns except stronger" makes for bad game balance. At one point there were four different versions of the Beam mechanic running around, listed below:

First Version - Beam Weapons Cost 10 instead of 5 and you may spend an amount of Energy up to the number between parentheses when using a Beam Weapon, increasing the result of the Might Test by the amount spent. These were really badly balanced. At low PLs the cost was too high and at high PLs you wanted to discard your other guns and replace them with Beams. Flavorful, but not good game design.

Second Version - You may spend as much Energy as you want when using a Beam Weapon, increasing the result of the Might Test by half the amount spent. The variable Energy cost meant the mechanic was great at high PLs for all-in attackers but rarely worth the investment otherwise, because 4 Energy for a +2 to Might is just a really bad deal all around. The worst thing about this mechanic was the lack of individual energy costs for all Weapons, which made designing just 5-6 of them more of a challenge than it should have been.

Third Version - Beam Weapons have an Energy cost between parentheses you must pay when using them, but increase the result of your Might Test by the same amount. These had very high attack power for their cost, with their only real drawback being that they need Energy in order to be used at all. Because that's hardly a complication at all if you've built your Mecha competently, every single one of these Weapons needed to have a strong drawback to compensate for their raw power. This made them very, very difficult to work with, because they were still almost always better than non-Beams and there's only so many good drawbacks for Beams to go around before you start to give everything Slow and Overheating.

Final Version - Beam Weapons have an optional Energy cost between parentheses you can pay for to grant them an Advantage to their Might Test. This is very close to what the game ended up going with. The mechanic was easy to work with from my end. For players, paying the extra cost gave you a bonus but wasn't critical to using them, you almost always wanted to pay it, but sometimes it wasn't worth doing so, adding tactical value. I call this the final version but it's technically near-final. The only thing that changed after adopting these was forcing an innate cost of 1 Energy to all Beams, reducing the Boost cost by 1 to compensate for it. The rules effect is very small so the change was mostly for flavor reasons.

Beams took a lot of playtesting and also polling to make sure people liked the changes to them. They work so well now that it is hard to think this was the case, and I'm glad they did.

Blast, Burst & Line
These three are sort of their own weapon subtype like Beams, since many abilities in the game care about whether a Weapon attacks single targets or has an area of effect. It's usually a good idea to have one or two in case you face massed Grunts or a Boss that is near immune to single-target attacks. Other than that, the three types are very different. Blasts are the Weapons that hit the most enemies and can usually do so from a reasonable distance, so they need the least effort in positioning to get a good return on your investment. Bursts require careful positioning if they're to hit more than one target and can't benefit from the Melee Dueling bonus Advantage when they do. Lastly, Lines have an easy time hitting two targets with each shot without hitting any allies, making them the most convenient.

Most Blast Weapons started as Blast (4) and would almost always hit everyone in the battlefield... Which was kind of excessive. The Blast mechanic stayed the same from beginning to end, but most of the weapons with it lost one or two zones' worth of radius during development. Bursts and Lines were a late addition to the keyword family, and at first abilities like Stealth Field referenced "Blasts and other area of effect weapons" which... Wasn't very elegant. Now I can just say Blasts, Bursts and Lines, and the keyword lets them be compatible with Artillery Frame. Overall, I think there is a decent balance between all of them. The one issue I'd say they have is that some of the Bursts ended up stronger than intended, because the keyword itself is kind of weak, so the Weapons themselves were given very strong abilities to compensate.

Crippling
This was another late addition to the keyword list. While there's only one Crippling Weapon available to PCs in the core rules, enough things grant the bonus (Support Fire, G-Formation) to make it worth making a new keyword. I also knew at the time that there would be more Crippling Weapons in BCZ. Crippling is one of the strongest keywords, because Suppression has many useful effects, of which the most obvious is the Disadvantage to attacks. Focused fire with Crippling/Suppression transforms dangerous Bosses into speedbumps and the stacked mobility trigger will also force annoying targets that move all over the place to stay still or take a lot of Damage.

Long Range
One of the earliest and most obvious keywords I came up with. Many Weapons had 'Long Range' as their only ability for a long while, it took a while to finally buff all of them with some kind of secondary effect. They're still not the flashiest and most interesting Weapons around, but they're useful enough you can't go too wrong picking one of them.

Technique
Techniques are, to me, the mechanic that uses Tension the best. I knew from day 0 of design that they were going to work the way they do, and all other mechanics that use Tension were balanced around Techniques being the primary 'outlet' for it, so to speak. The one problem with this approach is that I made the regular non-Beam Techniques somewhat underpowered and it wasn't until BCZ's Technician Upgrades that they felt up to par with other optimized options. I still love the keyword though, it does a great job of conveying the feeling of a FINAL ATTACK.

One Shot
One Shot is another early ability like Long Range. BCG doesn't do ammo, either you can fire your Weapon until the end of time or only once, Jackhammer Stake excepted. This is an useful and flavorful drawback for some of the strongest Weapons in the game. It's a good mechanic, but I think most of the One Shot Weapons ended up a little too strong.

Slow
In theory you can alternate between using two similar Slow Weapons to end up with two Weapons slightly stronger than the norm without a drawback. In practice, there's only a handful of Slow Weapons and they're unique enough that doing so is hard. There's all of eight Slow Weapons available to PCs between BCG and BCZ, four of them are Beams and three have different Boost values. This was done purposefully in order to keep the drawback relevant.

Overheating & Unreliable
Both of these are the "big" drawbacks for Weapons of their respective subtypes (Beam & non-Beam). They are worth more or less the same as the One Shot drawback in terms of pricing, but unlike One Shot they can be slapped on Techniques to make the Weapon stronger.

While both of them are treated as if they were equivalent, Overheating is honestly a little bit stronger than Unreliable, because at least Overheating still goes through with a bad roll, the potential whiffing of Unreliable is a much worse fate. Overheating also usually has more Advantages to play with, because it goes on Beams, making the Overheating Weapons overall better than the Unreliable ones. Unreliable could have been less harsh, all things considered.

Thirteen is (Not) Enough
That's all thirteen core keywords... But there probably should have been more. A few mechanics come up often enough in Weapons that they should have been keyworded, in my opinion. Here's them below:

Aftershock - Passing the Might Test with this Weapon will destroy that Enemy’s current Level of Threshold. This happens after the Weapon deals its regular Damage.
Piercing - This Weapon ignores the effects of Active Defenses.
Subdual - This Weapon inflicts an additional Disadvantage when using the Suppress Action.
Immobile - You may not Move as part of your Actions when using this Weapon. If you’re unable to Move for whatever reason, you cannot use it.
Material - This would just be a tag for non-Beam Weapons. Because the constant reference to "non-Beam Weapons" in the rules didn't bother me at first but as of BCZ has started to irk me.

Adding the Remote keyword from BCZ to the list would give us a total of nineteen keywords. Keywords are an important tool to help people remember how rules work and to keep rules text descriptions short, but having too many keywords makes it difficult for new players to learn what any of the Weapons do. I think that 19 is a large number, certainly on the upper end of what I would be comfortable with, but it is not an overwhelming one.

We don't have to use all of them, we could just use one or two. Subdual is rare and the text is short anyway, Immobile is very rare, while Piercing has short rules text but is common to the point I'd still want it in. Aftershock is the only one I'd say should have always been a keyword, and should have had a few other things about it working differently as well. Material is just a tag, there is nothing to remember about it unless you run into Enemies that resist them.

Next: The poll I said last week that I would do today and also some more things I guess.

Gimmick Out.

4 comments:

  1. ... Crippling stacks??? ... darn. That's an interesting point to note.

    Also, I dunno about the Burst keyword being weak... it's more situational than the other keywords, sure, but we had a couple of combats where lots of allies and enemies were all packed into small areas, AND some of them were in duels, and BOY were people praising how good Bursts were compared to... heck, compared to both the other 2 AOE AND also the normal non-aoe attacks. I mean, weapons like assault rifle or assasin's blade specifically have descriptions which make them not hit allies which are in duels, but Bursts all get that built in? ... nice! .. unless I'm misreading the rules or something. Cause what I've been doing is just walking up to 2 people in a duel and using non-boosted Ground Zero as if it's Assassin's Blade.

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    1. This is a good observation.

      Originally, Bursts could hit allies like any other area weapon. IIRC it was a last minute buff to make the mechanic more enticing compared to the other two.

      The way that Bursts turned out makes, I think, a good example case for not doing last minute buffs, in general.

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  2. If I have multiple different technique weapon does using one make tension count as 0 for ALL other technique weapons or just that particular one and others still get full tension bonus?

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    1. Normally, using one resets Tension for all the others. If you use Master Technician none of them are reset.

      The logic behind it is that you're supposed to have ONE super attack. At the time I was also worried that all-technique builds could be overpowered. These days, I don't think that's the case outside of very specific builds using Ground Zero and Reactor Overdrive.

      You may consider an approved houserule to make Tension reset ONLY for the tech that you just used... EXCEPT for Ground Zero and Reactor Overdrive. Those are too strong (especially GZ) to allow that.

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