Dec 25, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXV: Boss Traits

This post and next week's might end up being on the short side, for reasons I hope are obvious. Hint: Look at the calendar.

Boss Traits are probably the least used of all the custom enemy abilities, because there's just not much reason to use Bosses in Intermissions. When they do show up, it tends to be so they can fight the PCs, and their selection of Traits reflects that: Most of them involve the Match rules in some way.

Combat Profiling
We start with the obligatory 'I can predict all of your moves' enemy ability. This presents PCs with a choice: Act in the 'predicted' way and let the enemy counter them accordingly plus giving them a Tension bonus or 'break character' and lose a Genre Point to act freely. It's a very cool take on the idea, but has some problems. To start with, there's not that many things to do in Matches, so the prediction half of the ability is most likely going to always yield 'I attack' without much room for creative pre-emptive countering. The other problem is that the text is fairly vague and only asks for 'what their PC will be doing next Turn' which... Leaves a lot of room for half-truths that reduce this ability to a double Tension bonus to attacks. I'll touch more on these issues in the future when we get to the 'I Can Read Your Every Move' Genre Power. It's a shame it doesn't work better, because it is a very simple and flavorful way to adapt a fighting anime staple.

Elusive Form
Elusive Form is more of a storytelling enabler than a combat ability. It allows the antagonist to show up at the worst possible time or to escape from any complication safely, as long as it is an Intermission Scene. The limitations also make it more interesting than a pure GM Fiat ability. You can use this one in a myriad ways to mess with PCs and instill a sense of fear in them, because they're never safe as long as a baddie with this is around. The way it works, the NPC has to be strong enough that it won't need to use the escape ability or it needs to set itself up for an ambush the old fashioned way and know when to use the Run command - because it takes an Action. I'm a fan.

Giant Slayer
So the Boss Mecha has been defeated and the PCs sigh in relief after a long, arudous battle... Only for the NPC pilot to break out of the cockpit and dismantle their mechs with a flurry of punches. Giant Slayer NPCs are not the kind of thing that you want to do more than once or twice, but they sure are effective when that does happen. It makes for a nice final surprise round to a battle, or for an unconventional beginning to one. Even with the Defense bonus this Trait grants, Characters are unlikely to last more than one Round against Mecha, but it also shouldn't be too hard to take down an already-damaged PC with the Forbidden Secret Art Deathblow.

Homunculus Vessel
This is a combination of Comrade and Backup Bodies, with a more sinister touch fitting for antagonists. Technically a GM doesn't need this, because defeat doesn't necessarily mean death and it is not like they need rules to tell them when and how to create new NPCs... But it's such great inspiration, isn't it? A friendly NPC is revealed to have been a plant for the big bad all along. A giant monster dies only to invade the body of a hapless bystander gone MIA who will now haunt the PCs. A rogue AI is destroyed but not before it spreads to a friendly mech that will soon become parts for the AI's grandiose next boss monster form. It's cool storytelling and gives the GM an out for those times when the NPC could not possibly have survived but somehow needs to come back. You can even take advantage of that, allowing the PCs to disintegrate the Boss or to shoot it into the sun or whatever other ridiculous death you can think of, knowing that was just part of the plan all along.

Living Weapon
This is basically Giant Slayer's sidekick/flunkie/younger sibling, used to spam Forbidden Secret Art as long as the Giant Slayer's puny Character body holds on. And without Giant Slayer? I have said before that Deathblows are very underpowered, and while this does a little to help them, it is probably better to just plain take Skill Master (Combat) and not waste CP on them. If you already have that, though, then sure, this is an okay extra.

Mundanity Field
Miracles meant for combat use are already some of the weakest... And this just plain disables them from short range use. On one hand, I do like that this Trait makes for a big 'oh no' moment, but from a gameplay balance perspective I think this is a mistake. Also, because Miracles have a line-of-sight range, this will do absolutely nothing just as often as it completely shuts down some builds. All in all, I think I could have done better.

Overwhelming Pressure
The big bad shows up and the first thing they do is K.O all the NPCs and wound all the PCs. Bam! Talk about a big entrance. It's cool, but it can lead to an instant party wipe if the Boss is higher level than the PCs, which... Is kind of bullshit! Some kind of mental attack that makes the PCs lose their minds or flee in fear is a preferable alternative to physical wounds here. Keep in mind that it takes an Action, so if the PCs are of the same PL as the Boss and take no Damage, then that's one Round in which the Boss will be a sitting duck. Making the Boss one Level above the PCs, perhaps two for a particularly scary and hopeless encounter, is the best way to use this.

Skill Master
The least superhuman of all the Boss Traits. Ideal for matchless warriors, mad scientists and sneaky assassins alike. It can be taken multiple times, making an NPC who never has to roll dice except for Miracles or the rare Attribute Test. What's not to like?

Spectral Body
This is like a more versatile Elusive Form with the drawback that it is less absolute and thus less reliable. Three rounds is enough to pass through enough walls to break in or out of most Scenes, after all. It is also good for straight-up brawlers who want three free Turns to do whatever they want, forcing the PCs to either run away or come up with a solution more creative than 'beat down the enemy'. Combines very well with Overwhelming Pressure, Living Weapon and the aforementioned Elusive Form.

Viral Touch
Infecting PCs and NPCs with an illness can only be cured by slaying the Boss, Viral Touch pretty much writes the plot of your next Episode Arc for you. Note that this is EXTREMELY unfun to be on the receiving end of, leaving PCs out of Intermission and Operation Scenes alike anytime they fail a DN 15 Willpower Test. It is best to use this either on NPCs that the PCs have a personal attachment to or to make the Boss a short lived one that lasts one or two Episodes so that PCs get back to the game quick.

In Conclusion
I think that Combat Profiling, Living Weapon and Mundanity Field have enough issues that I can't quite call them successes. The rest I would say all get passing grades, though three of them have some caveats: Giant Slayer isn't too strong but it also shouldn't be, considering it makes Operations harder rather than affecting Intermissions themselves. Overwhelming Pressure and Viral Touch are potentially very unfun to deal with and need a careful application in order to keep things fun.

It might seem like I'm hard on them but I really like how they turned out, all things considered. The combat-based Boss Traits throw a neat twist or two into the usual Match formula and keep things fresh. The other Boss Traits are good little nuggets of storytelling that blur the line between hard rules and GM fiat, plus they give inspiration for future plots. I think that's the best way to do NPC-only abilities.

Next: Boss Powers.

Gimmick Out.

5 comments:

  1. I have several questions about Giant Slayer. ... for instance, what happens with all those mecha weapons and things with secondary effects, like Extreme Terrain (use which stat?), Finger Net, suppression/ crippling... what happens in a duel? O.o?

    As for how strong Giant Slayer is... erm. It's decently strong, actually! Doesn't take much CP to make a human with 7 fitness, awareness, willpower, and
    Combat, Weapon Expertise, Masterwork Tool,
    Range Booster, Body Suit, Portable Barrier. With Giant Slayer and Skill Master (combat). That's 22 Def, a disadvantage to incoming attacks, 2 zone range, and 3 advantages on every attack roll, which is basically +6, since he will always roll a 10. And there are other ways to get more advantages.

    ... sadly, giant slayer bosses will be undone by one simple thing: wide open spaces. ... unless GM houserules it, even a giant slayer boss can only move 1 zone per round, And without range booster, he can only attack opponents in the same zone as himself. ... the horror, as this horribly deadly giant slayer boss gets kited to deathby a 2 movement mecha with default range weapon and no reversible thrusters....

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  2. Oh yeah... giant slayer can actually lead to a result which... can be either silly, or awesome, depending on the GM's skills and whether players are TTGL fans. ;)

    -> You can easily end up with a scene where the boss (Lord Genome!) emerges from the wreck of his mecha... and personally smashes up the PC's mecha. Then the PC exits his mecha, and they have a Simon vs Genome style brawl! (or Simon vs anti spiral). ... or Domon Kashu vs Master Asia. heh.

    The funky part, is that, Giant Slayer doesn't make the boss a stronger fighter... it just improves his performance against mecha. ... it's unlikely, but still possible, for a human outside his mecha to do a better job fighting a giant slayer boss, than he would in his mecha. ;)

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    Replies
    1. When an ability calls for an Attribute that the Giant Slayer lacks, it is treated as 0. So their Guard can't be halved, but their Tests vs Extreme Terrain have no bonus.

      While Master Asia was the primary inspiration for this ability, Lord Genome was how I envisioned it working in practice. You can tell because that's the scenario we both described.

      The Giant Slayer not necessarily being a human slayer is fine with me, I think it is best if they get to trash a mech (or two) but then lose for good. Likewise, I think it is good for them to have the range and movement limitations of regular characters. Giant Slayer is already a borderline free buff a la Oldtype, it shouldn't be TOO strong.

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    2. yeah, I guess if you want another type of Master Asia or Lord Genome, you can do what you did for SLF-027 Schrodinger and SLF-028 Wigner and give them both human and mecha stats. ;)

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    3. A double team of Giant Slayers that call their mechs when one is defeated is a cool way to start a fight. Two Bosses with bonus forms might be a bit much but, technically, the book doesn't say Rivals can't have Boss Traits, so there you go!

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