Dec 18, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXIV: Enemy Features

Enemy Features offer options that are, usually, more fit for Enemies for flavor reasons but not forbidden to PCs. Likewise, regular Features aren't forbidden to NPCs and they're often crucial to making some Grunt and Boss designs work. Grunts have very low MP Totals, especially early on, while Bosses don't have any normal Upgrades unless you sacrifice Boss Upgrades to grab them, which is probably a bad idea. Among Enemies, Flyer and Terrain Specialist are the most popular PC Features, but Extreme Fortification works great for some builds too. Without access to Features, Grunts would be slightly weaker but Bosses would lose too much flexibility and much weaker.

But enough about PC Features, let's have a look at the NPC ones:

Biological transforms extra Energy into Threshold, but at a very slow rate. Combat is usually too quick for it to amount to much of value so a lot of the time this is mostly a downside. Grunts don't have an use for this and would only take it for flavor reasons and Rivals have better options for self healing. For Bosses, this makes them actually give a crap about Maims, which is a pretty big downside... But there are some Bosses which have enough spare Energy and ways to buy time for themselves that this Feature makes a decent option for them. Two Capstones, Energy Drain and Hypersonic Striker, work particularly well to make Biological work the downside. What is more, This is a very flavorful drawback for Bosses that makes choosing Areas to Maim relevant. It can even be a nice way to compensate for Oldtype for GMs that feel bad when giving that to their Bosses. Overall, Biological is kind of bleh mechanically, though it has neat flavor.

Extra range won't compensate for lack of mobility unless the user is very well protected by Terrain. Thus, this is a Feature used for Operations designed around Enemies bunkering up with PCs who often have to cross various kinds of harmful Terrain in order to reach them. Fortress Grunts are immobile turrets that emphasise their glass cannon-ness being extra vulnerable. Rivals don't really have much use for this outside of Guardian of Steel gimmicks where the whole of the team can't be moved. Bosses lose out on some great defensive abilities based on Movement and their aura-type effects are a lot less useful... But the extra Range makes many Weapons, particularly the Bursts, extremely brutal. Useful and flavorful, I like.

Invasive Enemies are a cheap trick. PCs without an investment in Systems are reduced to 10 Threshold total while PCs with an investment in Systems can have up to 20 or 30 depending on their luck. It's nasty stuff, to the point BCZ includes a new Genre Power just to counter them, because they're not just powerful - they're random. Invasive Enemies work best if they happen, say, once every 4-5 Operations or every 2-3 if there's one or two PCs with the Hang in There! Power. Grunts will often fail to do enough Damage for the Invasive trigger, because their strength is in making many weak attacks instead of a few strong ones. Rivals have enough attack power and abilities that deal automatic Damage to make it interesting. Bosses are like Rivals but they also have Crush the Insect to push PCs into the fourth Layer that automatically defeats them, making them the best and most obvious Invasive build. All that being said, Invasive Enemies can be very frustrating and unfun, so I'll give them a passing grade but just barely and add 'use with care' to their report card.

Squadron is my favorite Enemy Feature. It is how BCG represents swarm-type Enemies, a very important job for any heroic action RPG, and pulls it off in just two short sentences. In terms of optimization, Grunts use this as a cheap Antimaim that emphasises their natural weakness to area-of-effect Weapons. Rivals can use this to represent the ability to split into separate components and can be combined with anti-AoE abilities for a fairly optimized Enemy. Bosses gain the least from Squadron, since they're already mostly immune to Maims, unless they use this to compensate for the upside of Biological or using regular Upgrades and Weapons... In which case you have a really interesting Enemy in your hands. It is the Feature that does the most with the least text and a home run in my book.

So, in conclusion, I think Enemy Features are a pretty good set of abilities. Biological or Invasive need a bit of tweaking in the mechanics area, but all of them do good job of conveying the flavor of fighting enemies that are fundamentally different from the PCs. Squadron, in particular, is the kind of thing that could be the basis of a new NPC tier, for waves of Enemies weaker than Grunts.

Next: Boss Traits

Gimmick Out


  1. Invasive is fun, flavourful, and a great GM tool when used wisely I am sure.

    ... It's also broken as heck, and should really have had a 30 MP pricetag attached to it or something!

    To put it into perspective, you mentioned that Enemy Features are not forbidden to PCs? (I thought they were, actually!) ... I can see a GM allowing PCs access to a lot of NPC exclusive stuff, but allowing a PC to have the invasive trait... OUCH... I can easily imagine that PC totally breaking the game and becoming MVP of his squad. Every other option here is sort of workable for PCs to have too, but invasive is just too broken.

    1. Oh, and I'm already foreseeing some ultra munchkins who read your blog, and quoting to their GMs that they should be allowed to grab Invasive since it's not forbidden to PCs, ROFL!!! ;) ... prepare yourself! ... no wait. I mean:


    2. Invasive is at its best in a 1v1 scenario. Assuming NPCs have Systems, at least. When it is you vs Grunts you're better off doing normal damage and wiping them ASAP. When you're going 2v1 on a Boss you're doing half Damage and the Boss passes the first and maybe second checks, then your ally has to finish off the Enemy. It is not THAT bad.

      1v1 though? Absolutely brutal. And every now and then a lucky PC will take down an unlucky Boss having only taken out two Levels worth of Threshold instead of four.

      It is very exploitable though, and forces all Enemies to have a bunch of Systems so they don't get their HP reduced to 10. Hence, the section reads "At the GM’s prerogative, some of these Features might be available to PCs." which is to say, it's possible but not necessarily a good idea. You want to control the Science Fortress Laboratory? Not very exploitable, so go nuts. A Bioroid with a slow but constant healing factor? See above, good luck and have fun. The Turn X, BIIIIIG BRRROOOOOTHER OF THE TUUUURN A? That's a bit more questionable but a weakness to a good chunk of the best weapons in the game is manageable. I'd allow it on the condition you did your best Takehito Koyasu voice.

      Invasive? Invasive is not just exploitable mechanically but also the most blatantly evil of the bunch in terms of flavor. Let me go on record for the hypothetical GMs reading this: Don't allow Invasive PCs unless you're really, really sure you're okay with your NPCs getting gibbed after a tiny prick of damage relatively often.

    3. Addendum for the last bit: And also, you have to be okay with a PC piloting a mobile war crime machine.

    4. unlike with out of mecha, I don't see any advantages for the plot armor systems test for invasive, so even with 10 systems, you've got a 50% chance of failing the 2nd test.

      And of course, worse case is where your PCs *ALL* grab invasive, and then you... "have issues"... haha...

      As for how to roleplay it in terms of flavour: My character always aims for the cockpit. ... actually... remember I mentioned Nikki Basara? ... since you said plot armor defeat doesn't mean death, and plot armor isn't strictly speaking injuries, a player can argue that his weapons are all "psychological" in nature, that's why they do low damage, but he is trying to get his enemies to "Listen To My Song!" ... and when enemies fail their test, it is "they retreated due to low morale/ they saw the light of justice!"


    5. Interesting! Invasive Basara is a really cool take, my props to you or whoever came up with it.

      But yes, if everyone gets Invasive you're pretty much playing a different game. One that is probably a broken mess where a bunch of stuff doesn't work as intended.

      Given that my guideline for "is this thing broken y/n" is "does everybody taking this turn the game into a garbage fire?" then I'm being too benevolent with my grading above.

      Overall, things would probably be a lot better if the DNs for Plot Armor, in and out of the cockpit, had been 5 points lower.

    6. Purely my idea! ... actually, from SRW@3, how I actually "skipped a boss fight" by using morale down seishin on a battleship several times then basara songed it, and it retreated. haha. ... actually, the entire Macross 7 show, both sides were using invasive attacks all day long. :p

      ... actually, no reason that we couldn't houserules that DN -5 thing... actually, no reason that invasive didn't just get an extra line of text "tests for plot armor loss, but with a +5 bonus to your roll" ... since it already has a line of text about "test using systems instead of willpower" ... ... ... actually, you know what? why not just make it test using systems + willpower then? :)

    7. It's a cool idea and one of the best interpretations of Invasive I've seen.

      And yes, go ahead and do that DN -5 modification, you may as well consider that an 'officially approved' houserule. I can't think of anything too terrible it could cause, off the top of my head. Adding willpower would make the DN 20 tests possible to autobeat though and it goes against the idea of keeping intermission/operation rules separate. It's flavorful though.


    8. Oh... it's cause, when I hear the word "invasive" in mecha anime, my mind jumps to Evangelion and Asuka getting mindbroken by that angel... hahaha... ... ... also, unlike with some other mecha anime, there's a lot of "repair" abilities floating around BCG. So, it's quite quite possible to be in a position where "mecha is pretty much fine, pilot is out of commission" so I sort of mentally associated invasive with mental and spiritual damage instead of physical. Though physical damage works too.

      I love Macross 7 too much, I imagined that was your scenario in mind when you had invasive and Hang In There genre power, that you'd have your standard mecha trying to blow each other up, then you get the Protodevlin stealing Spiritia, and Basara singing to both sides of the fray. heheh.

      Hang In There is also weird in that, it's one of the few ways in the game to actually heal plot armor. Well medical skill works too and so does cloning and time, but Hang In There you just use it and poof, someone goes from all 3 layers busted, all the way back to full plot armor. hmm.

    9. Invasive is inspired primarily by Evangelion, so your intuition is correct there. I always thought of M7 as a fairly normal series in RPG terms, with Basara as a full support character while everyone else (sans the Protodevilin) fought normally.

      Making enemies give up the will to fight by 'damaging' them with music is a much cooler idea and mirroring the Protodevilin is appropriate.

    10. I seem to remember watching the first few episodes of Macross 7, and thinking, "huh, not much actual blowing up of mecha happening"... since only Gamlin was a decent (fighter) pilot on the M7 team, and the enemy side was all using invasive spiritia stealing, and then hey look it's basara, who is a GREAT pilot, but he's only interested in making BOTH SIDES "listen to my song!"

  2. Basara is an interesting character. On the surface he's a standoffish jerk but he just doesn't know how to talk to people. So he just sings at them. I particularly like the ridiculous rumor about his childhood where they say he was trying to get a mountain to move... That actually turns out to be right! The guy is passionate.

    It helps that this is Macross and singing actually solves problems. Otherwise he'd just be some prick who gets in Gamlin's way.