Jan 29, 2017

BCG Retrospective XXXIX: Boss Capstones

Capstones are big, impactful abilities that wouldn't make much sense if they were active for only a part of the battle or can't be cleanly divided into three distinct levels. Thus, they can't be Boss Upgrades. Most of them have effects that are too powerful to have around on a low PL Boss, making them usable only by high PL enemies as a balance mechanism.

Aura of Misfortune
What I really like about Aura of Misfortune is that, rather than coming up with a brand new way to debuff the PCs, it makes use of rules that most players should already know of. Overheating and Unreliable can be viewed as a -4 to all Might Tests, because PCs ought to roll two extra dice to compensate for the risks of using those Weapons. It works very well with defensive abilities like Afterimages and You Are Too Slow, as forcing rerolls with extra Disadvantages and Overheating/Unreliable is the kind of tyrannical mechanic that superbosses should do.

Probably the coolest of all the capstones, because holy moly the Boss is huge you guys. The rules for such a thing have proven difficult to wrangle, though, mostly because this is a game where multiple Units can share the same Zone. If not for that, larger size Units would be a more frequent thing in BCG. The first version of this had a size of 4 Zones instead of 9, but that didn't allow much variety in shapes, so 9 was chosen to make it possible to have a 3x3 block, a long but thin snake-dragon-thing, or something more exotic like an X-Shape enemy. Its body counts as Extreme Terrain to represent that huge monsters destroy everything in their path just by passing through.

Embodiment of Evil
This essentially halves the total number of Genre Points available to the PCs. It's really strong and basically forces everyone to lose a bunch of Threshold Levels in order to fuel their Powers. Mechanically speaking I think the effect is fine... But Genre Powers are one of the most fun things in the game and losing the ability to use them kind of sucks. While this is a very powerful ability fitting for scary and oppressive major antagonists... It may be too good at its job of to the point of not being fun. I'm not sure this was a good idea, in the end.

Energy Drain
This is very strong with builds that can make use of the extra energy... Which isn't that many, actually. The debuff effect is solid but it only weakens one PC at a time, leaving the other to beat the crap out of the Boss. It's okay, it does a good job of weakening only one PC for the Boss to pose a challenge but not be overwhelming, but it's probably the weakest Capstone without some serious optimizing to abuse the extra Energy.

Hypersonic Striker
When NPCs have sufficiently long range weaponry and speed, giving them the ability to 'kite' or hit the PCs while running away, can make them effectively invincible. Given how many movement abilities and long range guns Bosses have, this ability just couldn't be anything but a Capstone. It also wouldn't work well as an Upgrade because the ability to run away from PC attacks doesn't mean much when they've already been pummeling your Boss for a while. With all that said, the ability to kite is a 10 MP upgrade, so this gives a very large bonus to all Weapon Ranges to make it feel more Capstone-like and let the Boss snipe with Telekinetic Strikes and Technoleeches if they are so inclined.

Against most Squads, this messes up their positioning and doing some Damage and/or inflicting the Suppression debuff, which is okay. It becomes borderline unfair when there's a The Beast user among the PCs. Everything I said about Embodiment of Evil about potentially being too unfun applies here. The Beast is one of the abilities that are most in need of a hard counter, though. I'm not sure I like this but at least it doesn't spend Weapons and cripple Technique users like it once did. Now that would have been terrible.

And that's all of them. There's only six Capstones in the core book, because I still believed that if I insisted enough times that Operations should feature Grunts, Rivals and Bosses all together then people wouldn't try so much on running 4v1 Bossrush games. Like I've said before, I probably would have written things differently had I known how popular that 'gamemode' turned out to be. Hindsight is always 20/20, like they say.

I think Capstones do a lot to make late game Bosses (or early/midgame Superbosses) feel different from most Enemies by having big effects that change the rules of the battle from the very beginning. A proper 'Superboss' tier of Enemies would most likely start with Capstones or Capstone-like abilities then go from there.

Next: Allied Reinforcements.

Gimmick Out.

Jan 22, 2017

BCG Retrospective XXXVIII: Boss Weapons.

Boss Weapons are much like Default Weapons in that they're immune to Maims. This is because Bosses are supposed to get stronger through the course of the battle, rather than weaker. I think that doing that would have been a good move. The one problem with Boss Weapons is that they're a tad repetitive and, even when the Boss has more than one, there's not much reason to not use the best one for your build.

Unless the Boss has some kind of offensive Upgrade, all you have to do is be able to resist or stay off the range of their primary Weapon and you're good to go for the whole fight. This makes me think that they should have been more like Boss Upgrades: Perhaps Boss Weapons should've had a bonus Advantage to all attacks for each level of Threshold lost, much like Default Weapons with The Beast. Perhaps they should gain extra abilities instead. I don't know, something to break up the monotony.

The concept for this weapon is a Melee weapon that prevents PCs from getting away. While the flavor works well for monsters of larger size than the PCs that can easily immobilize PCs, it is rather weak mechanically. I considered making it just freeze a PC in place, but that just wasn't fun at all. Instead it halves Speed, which is a big deal for some builds at least, and has an extra Advantage when attacking. It neither hits for a lot nor does is the debuff particularly strong, but it isn't terrible either... It is just kind of average. This probably should have been Crippling.

Healing yourself for 5 with every attack (or at least every attack that lands) is quite strong. If I had to choose one Boss Weapon to call the most generally useful one, it would be this. It doesn't strike multiple targets and it doesn't debuff, but healing half a Threshold Level is always nice.

Tentacle Lash
Burst is a really, really good ability and that becomes evident when you pair it with long range. This Weapon needs Systems to be useful, but a mere 10 MP is already a Range of 5 which is enough to hit everyone who isn't packing some kind of long range Weapon. It also doesn't cause friendly fire, so this is right behind Merge in being always useful. Good think they all work flavorwise for big, hulking monsters, huh.

Suicide Swarm
This does a lot of damage in a sizable area of effect. The self damage aspect seems like a downside until you realize it can be used to trigger Boss Upgrades. Pair it with something like Bullet Hell and you get full control over triggering it, damaging as many PCs as you can cover in a Blast (5) area. That's a very big area, by the way, so it should be most (if not all) of them. It's not the easiest Weapon to use in the world but it's a good tool for GMs that want a little extra control over their Upgrade triggers.

Telekinetic Strike
The idea for this is the archetypal big bad guy who just raises his hand and ragdolls people around like a Jedi. This is the first ability in the game that forces others to move and introduces the 'rules' for being slammed into other units or into impassable terrain. The expansion would use this a lot more and make the values a balancing factor so that each individual ability had its own contact Damage modifier. The variable energy cost is for builds that use energy to attack but expect to have their energy debuffed, so they still have an use for their remaining Energy with their backup Weapon.

Needle Storm
Extremely nasty on sniper builds, whether they're the stationary kind that stay in a well protected location or the hit & run kind with the appropriate Capstone. It basically forces a single PC to stay still or take a bunch of damage and likely miss their counterattack anyway. It's okay in other builds too, simply because the debuffs are solid. One of my favorites.

This is the most effective debuffer Boss Weapon in the core book. It doesn't care much for damage, but the debuff is very mean and covers a wide area of effect. The flavor is a leftover from when all Boss Weapons were biological in nature and I never came up with a better concept than "leech-like missiles, I guess?". A Boss that spams this isn't going to kill anyone, but it is going to be a priority target because the debuff is that solid.

Ultimate Bomb
This used to be a Blast (10) for flavor reasons (it's pretty much a nuke) which... Well, it was kind of gross, let's just say. As a Blast (5) it is a lot less ridiculous, while still being very exploitable with the snipy builds.

A Beam Line that creates Extreme and Difficult Terrain? This thing hurts. Overfreeze is a threat at all PLs, at low PLs that's because of the Terrain effects, and at high PLs it is because it is a Beam Line. It's powerful but not too powerful and I think it's one of my best Boss Weapon designs because it just always works.

Final Beam
The only Weapon in the game with infinite range and, before the expansion, the only Weapon in the game with a charge and recharge time. I would have liked to have more Boss Weapons that do unique things but it turns out coming up with 'things you have not done already' isn't all that easy. As for its inspiration, Final Beam is based on the classic JRPG Boss that tells it is about to unleash a super attack and you get 1-2 turns to heal/buff/defend before it hits.

And that's Boss Weapons. If I were to redo them, I'd probably take away some of the offensive power of Boss Upgrades and make Boss Weapons get stronger for each Threshold Level lost instead. Whether it is with unique new abilities or just plain giving them more Advantages, that would have been a nice thing to give them, I think.

Next: Boss Capstones.

Gimmick Out.

Jan 15, 2017

BCG Retrospective XXXVII: Boss Upgrades.

The average boss monster in a tabletop RPG is a speedbump with a ton of HP that has a strong first turn and then is either: A) annihilated in a single round of focus fire or B) does nothing but flail ineffectually at the PCs after being debuffed to ineffectuality.

Boss Upgrades are BCG's plan to keep this kind of thing from happening. They do a decent job of it, but it could have been better. Their biggest issue is that a few have effects that only trigger at the beginning of their turn, which, when they're being focus fired, can mean going multiple PC attacks without the defensive buffs that the Upgrade should be giving them.

I'm going to count how many of those there are while doing the rest of the review.

Adaptive Morphology
This is quite the powerful defensive effect. An extra 5 Defense is fine but an extra 10 Defense is near-unbeatable against an unprepared PC Squad. Most optimized units use Beams or non-Beams exclusively, not both, so either option makes for a good weak point. The 'pattern shift' effect can be optimized by switching to the specialization of a PC that has already been defeated by the time the Boss hits its 4th Threshold Level. With all that said, even if the PCs can't naturally play around the ability, a few of them should have ways to ignore Active Defenses anyway, keeping this from being unbeatable. Adaptive Morphology is based on the 'elemental barrier' abilities that some bosses get in JRPGs, making themselves immune to all but one element and cycling through them as the battle goes. It is more of a fantasy videogame genre convention than a science fiction anime convention, but I think it still works. Delayed Defensive Upgrade Count: 1.

Afterimages is great. It makes use of a good mechanic that doesn't get a lot of love (Disadvantages), is quite strong but not strong enough you can't punch through it; And you don't even have to wait for the Boss' own turn to start using it. If the Boss is being focus fired (which they probably are) then they can use this right away. This is probably my favorite defensive Boss Upgrade.

This one seems kind of weak at first, because it only works against a single target... In theory. As written, it also works against PCs that are in a Duel with NPCs, which means you can make a very nasty encounter with lots of melee Grunts and give the boss this + Tentacle Lash + Whirling Death to do absurd amounts of Damage. It is borderline unfair. I would have preferred if this ended up being strong the old fashioned way instead of being weak when not being optimized to hell and back, but I'll take it. This is a half offensive, half defensive Upgrade, and the part that we care about is the offensive one, but its defensive bonus does take some time to come online. Upgrade Delayed Defensive Upgrade Count: 2.

Bullet Hell
One of the best Boss Upgrades in terms of raw power, doing about 25 Damage to at least two PCs if you use Not So Fast to assist with the repositioning when being attacked! It might seem overpowered, but the investment in Systems means that the Boss probably lacks the Might/Guard to attack and defend the traditional way, so an ability like this is necessary. It is devastating at how PLs when PCs still have low threshold totals and still lack the Genre Powers and Active Defenses to withstand an attack like this or the reach and mobility to stay out of its area of effect. At higher PLs, PCs tend to have those things and can mitigate or avoid the damage trigger, making it still dangerous but much more manageable.

It Keeps Coming Back
Probably the most powerful defensive Boss Upgrade. Even assuming a worst case scenario where the Boss is being focus fired and could die in a single round, the Level 4 ability will negate death and fully heal that last Threshold Level. If the Boss had 1 Threshold left and took 50 Damage? It still lives with its last Threshold Level full. That's really good! The L2 and L3 abilities are just okay, but considering how great the L4 ability is, the extra healing there is just gravy. Obviously, this isn't very good with Bosses that have a Threshold Attribute of 5 or under. With a Threshold Attribute of 10 and a single activation of the L3 ability, this heals for 15. Let's say the defeat negation effect counts for 5 more points of Damage, and that leaves us at 20 extra health. That's 50% bonus HP, which is a very healthy amount of extra endurance... And that's assuming the base regeneration effect doesn't trigger multiple times! This is a scary ability, fitting for the regenerating supermonsters that the genre loves so much. Delayed Defensive Upgrade Count: 3.

Nanoskin Shell
This is the other candidate for most powerful defensive Boss Upgrade. Nanoskin Shell used to protect the Boss for a static value regardless of PL. At first that was 15, which was useless at high PLs. After that it was 30, which was fine at PL 5 but overwhelming at PL 1. Eventually, I made PL part of the formula and this became the first ability that used PLs for its mechanics. There's still very few of those and the territory is largely unexplored, with Nanoskin Shell being probably the best applied of the bunch. Comparing it to IKCB (the above Boss Upgrade), it is more reliable against optimized parties but doesn't have the potential to make the Boss near unbeatable with constant regeneration. It is a very close race between the both of them and I would give it to IKCB, but not for much and not for all Boss builds. Clearly, this means that supertank Bosses should get both instead of just one.

Phantom Predator
Phantom Predator is very powerful but also very susceptible to debuffs. Either you can drain the Boss of Energy or debuff their Speed (assuming they don't use Systems), or you have to push through 8-10 extra Defense with each attack. It is possible to build around debuffs by having 10 Energy and using Systems instead of Speed, but that's taking MP away from more generally useful Attributes. It is a little too binary for my liking, but it is one of the more useful abilities for pushing PC Squads to the limit. I would be more negative of it if it was available to PCs. But as a NPC-only thing that is not supposed to be repeated often, I think it's fine. The name is a reference to the Predator, by the way. Delayed Defensive Upgrade Count: 4.

Three Times Faster
Three Times Faster, possibly the most famous Mecha meme of all time, is on a surface reading a tweak on Bloodlust. Take a second look and you realize that it is probably better than Bloodlust, because you don't have to be Dueling the target for its benefits and this goes perfectly with a kiting Hypersonic Striker build. Should you dig even deeper, though, you'll find that Speed debuffs pretty much kill such builds and Bloodlust can be exploited as has been pointed above, making Bloodlust better than TTF when optimizing Operations around it. Delayed Defensive Upgrade Count: 5.

We are Many (Specialist)
Big bads that spawn lesser bads are a videogame staple that happens to work really well in a game like this. This take in particular lets you craft a lot of interesting Operations. You can do a lot with six PL 0 Grunts, and while having minions spawn endlessly every other fight could get old, the many ways you can build them should keep things relatively fresh. It is also extremely powerful when optimized, because six glass cannons that are guaranteed to spawn after Tension has already gone up a point or two make Weapons like Resonance Cannon and Incinerator even more dangerous than usual when in the hands of Grunts.

In Conclusion
That's 5 Upgrades that, in hindsight, should have been effects that happen immediately, grant offensive buffs, or have defensive effects that can be used without delay... At least in theory. I'm not quite sure how to make a regeneration effect for IKCB that triggers immediately but isn't just Nanoskin Shell with different wording. It would also break the symmetry that the half offensive half defensive Upgrades have going for them, though the offensive bonus could also apply immediately to fix that I guess.

I think this is important because BCG combat is very quick and that applies to Boss fights too. Unoptimized Bosses will last 2-3 Turns against a Squad of PCs that know what they're doing. This means that the effects have to be very powerful because each turn taken might be the last one the Boss gets to make. An combination of defensive abilities on par with the optimization level of PCs can give the Boss a shelf life of 4-5 Turns, which is a much better number, but doesn't make them the near-invincible monstrosities you'd think a defensively optimized Boss would be .

Another problem they have is that some of these are so powerful they're borderline broken and multiple Bosses with them at the same time would likely provoke a TPK. It's dangerous to have too many abilities like that in the game, but Bosses have a lot of trouble handling 2 PCs on their own otherwise, let alone 4 or more. Like with Grunts, many things about Bosses rely on implicitly trusting GM's to not purposefully design unwinnable scenarios. It is not easy to optimize your Bosses by accident to the point where they can do that, thankfully. It's not my favorite kind of approach, but I'll take a game that is accidentally too hard every now and then over one that is almost always too easy.

Overall, I think these are a step in the right direction for tabletop RPG boss monsters. It's not quite as dynamic as bosses having multiple forms that all play differently, because all the Boss Upgrades do is strengthen the same ability the longer the battle goes. It's still better than the usual, though.

I would like to figure out a way to codify multiple forms into a single Boss someday, though it may take so much space and be so complex that the end result may not be practical.

Next: Boss Weapons.

Gimmick Out.

Jan 8, 2017

BCG Retrospective XXXVI: Boss Powers.

Last week it wasn't until the middle of the night that I remembered it was a Sunday and I was supposed to update. RIP my half-year+ streak of regular updates.

Boss Powers are different from PC Powers in that they're much stronger, but having less of them makes Bosses less versatile. Powers are a big part of their identity, providing a repeatable trick that can be used from the beginning of the battle and doesn't spend a Turn, unlike Boss Upgrades and Boss Weapons. Some Boss Powers are defensive, others are offensive... All of them are strong enough that the PCs will have to adjust their plans accordingly after seeing them.

The defensive Boss Powers generally prevent Damage while the offensive Boss Powers usually do direct Damage to PCs, they don't buff attack rolls or the Defense substat because that's something Upgrades already do and I didn't want bonuses that could stack too high for PCs to beat.

But all that pales in comparison to my favorite thing about Boss Powers: Their names that encourage you, the GM, to go full ham while calling them out. I like this feature so much that I will be reviewing the Powers not just on their flavor and mechanics, but also on how awesome and fitting the names are. Mechanics and gameplay are cool and all but overdone theatrics are the heart and soul of playing an antagonist.

Behold my True Power
We begin with one of the oddest Boss Powers, because while doubling up energy is a very powerful effect in specific circumstances, it doesn't actually achieve anything by itself. In the proper build though, BmTP (if there is one downside to the amazing Power names, it is how long they are and how ridiculous they sound made into an acronym) works both defensively and offensively. It is defensive because it lets the Boss use its special abilities after they're targeted by an Electromagnetic Detonator or similar effect. It is offensive because it works with variable energy costs like those from Power of Despair, Telekinetic Strike and Final Beam and makes those abilities absurdly powerful. Perhaps the classic villain line it is named after would have been better given to a more obviously powerful ability like, say, a Power that granted Might/Guard bonuses... But, as mentioned above, that risked a serious problem in making a boss accidentally too difficult. This makes the name worth a good 4 out of 5 Hams, so calling it out is always a solid choice.

Do you Desire the Power?
DyDtP offers a choice between losing 1 GP and taking 5.5 Damage on average, or gaining 1 GP but doing 11 Damage to your Allies. At low PLs, this is devastating because everyone has a low GP total, often being forced to take the second option. Worse, PCs often have low Threshold scores at that point, so an unlucky roll of 2d10 could take out two Threshold Levels of two Allies at the same time. That's kind of brutal and a little too swingy for my taste... But the choice should have a degree of randomness to it, so that the 'deal with the devil' aspect of the Power makes players uneasy. I'd rather keep the high lethality and randomness if it means the Power isn't a 'safe' business transaction. Hamwise, this is one of the best of all the Boss Powers, it doesn't just fit the mechanics like a glove but you have to ask the chosen player to take one of two options to use it already, so playing the role of campy corruptor happens naturally.

Die for Me!
This does between 3 and 6 Damage per activation and there's no real way to mitigate it outside of Damage prevention. It's simple, but effective, and works well for the high Systems builds that may not have the Might necessary to hurt PCs the traditional way. Looking at it like that, it is like a more reliable version of DyDtP that packs less of a punch and doesn't mess around with GP. I like the name, though it isn't from mecha fiction but rather is a Shin Megami Tensei reference. It's not a bad name to call out, but the low damage keeps it from being as impactful as you'd think it could be.

I Accept your Offering
A very, very flavorful and delicious Power. Eat up those minions to heal and do Damage at the same time! What's not to love? Well, for one, the values are kind of low. You need to sacrifice a high PL Grunt or one at full Threshold for a respectable amount of health or damage. Speaking of that, it might seem strange at first that this Power does Damage instead of just healing, but it would be very easy for the PCs to ignore the Boss and render the Power useless by destroying all the Grunts first. This way, at least they get a single okay effect no matter what. In hindsight, it probably should have just healed double the amount and left the weakness of blowing up the Grunts as is. The ham level is also quite low, as the line itself doesn't have a lot of impact and is mostly directed at an NPC. The idea is cool but the execution could have been better.

I Believe This is Yours
This is ridiculously strong. Its like Die for Me!... Except it also gives a Defense boost! The problem is, of course, that you need to take the Power twice in order to be able to use it against everything. The name also works very well for what it does, though it is not as theatric as that of its Boss Power brothers and sisters. I think the concept is cool and the execution is solid so this gets an A.

Make my Monster Grow
MmMG is, in addition to one of the funniest acronyms in the game, a Power that makes the Colossus Capstone much more common than it would usually be. In a way, this devalues Colossus because it is going to be less special when a Boss shows up with it... But the idea of turning a random Grunt into a miniboss and echoing Rita Repulse is too good to pass up. The healing will not help the Grunt survive much longer than it usually would (read: not very long) and the fact that the Grunt is going to be probably focus fired doesn't do much for its survivability... But all it has to do is stick around for a Round to hurt a PC or two enough to make it worth it. Overall, a cool power.

That will not Work Again
Inspired by monsters that adapt to attacks like the Devil Gundam or the Gilgilgan, this is one of the strongest defensive Powers available to a Boss that has enough staying Power to make use of the healing factor. The problem with that is... Well, much has been written already about BCG's combat being rather fast and brutal more often not. It doesn't do much against Techniques and Oneshots that don't get resupplied, either. But against PCs that rely on repeating the same attacks over and over, like Beast and Boosted Lance builds? It works like a charm. Not very showy, though, it just heals you. It's alright.

This Power used to be a weaker but repeatable Power that could be used in reaction to attacks. Why? So you could go MUDA MUDA MUDA! like Dio Brando of course! The original intent was you would spam it to block out any given attack with a flurry of punches Genre Powers. That was a bit too powerful though, allowing the Boss to fully negate attacks as long as it had GP to do so. The Boss could calmly take it easy until they were at their final Threshold Level then basically gain a shield for 20+ Damage points. The current version is easier to play around and the effect is not as oppressive. It is, however, a lot less memetic. Still works though. And I do like that this version plays much better.

You are too Slow
By far the best defensive Boss Power in the core book. The reroll is a great effect but it also grants plenty of utility value with the repositioning. The cherry on top is, of course, that the name makes a great taunt when you say its name out loud. The worst thing I can say about it is that it is probably too good at being the best defensive Power, but its power level is fine, if anything else the other Powers should be slightly stronger to catch up to it.

Your Fate is Sealed
YFiS is the final nail in the coffin for Techniques and Restorations in the core book. Not only are both underpowered abilities without the expansion, but this Power completely negates them. It should have been a debuff to Might and Guard. With all that said, it is an okay Power now that the expansion has buffed those builds considerably, allowing you to call it out smugly to let the PC know in just how much trouble they are.

And that was Boss Powers. As you can see, I was not kidding about the Ham Factor being my favorite thing about them. It was a nice change of pace to write about style for a bit more than just substance like usual. Next week we're back to normal with Boss Upgrades.

Gimmick Out.