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.


  1. bossrush gamemode?

    Anyhow, yeah, the game does give a table of approximate mixes of grunts, rivals and bosses, of all sorts of combination possibilities, so I can imagine all sorts of battles playing out. Personally, I'd love my GM to eventually field a "zerg rush" mission where lots of low threshold grunts are trying to get to an objective. ;) ... If it were me, I'd have the enemy grunts have 1 base movement, but overbooster in their legs, and frantic "kneecap them! Shoot them in the legs!!! no, no headshots, they're not zombies, the legs! The legs!!!" shenanigans.

    1. Boss-Enemies-Only is a different way to play the game that turned out to be very popular. I called it a 'gamemode' because I was feeling cheeky when I wrote that.

      You can field up to 7 Grunts per PC, of PLs 0 and 5 respectively. Toss in another 7 and some Reinforcements and it looks like a very large scale battle. It's a fun setup, especially with the legs bit to add another layer of strategy beyond blowing them all up ASAP.

    2. Oh those who love boss rush mode can do that thing we were talking about. 4 PCs power level 2 PCs vs 4 power level 0 bosses... and the boss's all have Make My Monster Grow as their boss power.

      ... now I think of it, the "lots of PCs ganging up on 1 boss" is probably ok when the team is just DPS, but if it's a bunch of debuffers vs 1 boss, boss is in trouble...

    3. Yeah, that's a big problem with a game balanced around most PCs being very good in some scenarios and very bad in others.

    4. yeah I have that issue with abilities like Flyer... great when it's an alternate form and such, but when a newbie sticks it on a standard mecha, it either turns into a 0 MP 0 energy anti gravity, or it turns into this delibitating handicap that ruins his day.

      Same for Unstable Reactor, and several other things I guess... they're a bit too "feast or famine" for my liking... and the thing is, it's not "random" whether the liability part of the equation kicks in or not, it's strictly up to the GM whether he wants the liability to kick in or not. (far too easy for GM to disable flight, or to choose to target the UR guy and blow him up) ... I feel those abilities would be more suited to a CRPG, where everything is already pre-set or just random, and the player is either "taking his chances" or "read an FAQ", but for BCG, it can feel like "the GM put that in JUST to give YOU a hard time".

      Conversely, I really like how certain other abilities balance the risk reward equation, like overheating/unreliable (RNG, and you can try again or other abilities to offset this), Design Flaws (though I felt some of them didn't give enough MP to balance out the flaw, like Berserker and Limitted Battery Time), most of the features, and a lot of the genre powers and such.


      Oh, the thing about "boss rush mode" scenario where it's a bunch of players against 1 boss... IMHO, another thing is, with mid-scene upgrade, a lot of scenarios where the PCs would have had huge problems against the boss, can be easily overturned with that. ... for some bizarre reason, I am reminded of Sound Force, those super amplifiers that get launched to the team/ band. haha. It's an energy dependant boss, command ship, launch the Electromagnetic Detonaters! ... it's a beatstick boss, everyone, summon the stun rods/ rapidfire machine guns. ;)

    5. Yeah, 'feast or famine' its definitely something I'm keeping in mind for the future. It's just the way things go with systems that give you freedom to build whatever you want, sadly.

      To be fair, the GM puts EVERYTHING in there to give EVERYBODY a challenge all the time. Some counters are subtler than others though, and I think hard counters are worse for the game than soft ones. On that, we proably agree.

      Its why I'm such a big fan of mid-scene upgrades and other ways to adapt in the mdidle of combat. If your scissors can't beat rock, just summon paper and turn the tables. At least in theory. In practice it is not an optimized way to win most fights, so I guess it the execution needs some more work.

    6. "To be fair, the GM puts EVERYTHING in there to give EVERYBODY a challenge all the time."

      Exactly my point!

      Where things like flyer and reverse thruster sniper builds are concerned, the feast or famine thing is a bit extreme. Especially for the reverse thruster sniper. For my flyer build, I'm not so worried about abilities that negate flying for a round. That would be pretty fun. ... I'm more worried about a scenario from Super Robot Wars Alpha 3, where the team fights in a cave, and ALL your pure flyers just sit on the floor and can't move the entire fight. (meaning you probably shouldn't use them in that stage)

      The reverse thruster sniper, it's very binary. Either he has a gala time shooting with impunity and never even being shot at... or he gets caught in close quarters/ duelled, and finds himself just struggling to survive.

      As you noted, the ideal situation is more like, the player should be facing a reasonably challenging situation, all the time, instead.

      Well, then again, maybe it's the players fault for making an imbalanced glass cannon in the first place? hmm...

    7. It's implicit that the extreme builds are going to be hard countered sometimes. But it is not explicit, and it should have been.

      It's something to keep in mind. If I ever enable all-in gimmicky builds again, I'll make sure to attach a bunch of warnings to them.

    8. "GIMMICK-y builds"? ;)

      I started off with an extreme gimmicky build, but then I realized it wasn't going to be fun for the group. ... or rather, it might turn out to be the wrong type of fun. haha.

      Normal build: party fights together, struggles together, wins together. A good time is held by all.

      Extreme build (non-countered) : Extreme mecha goes in and pulverizes stuff like Kratos in Olympus, as the rest of the party struggles and grumbles enviously.

      Extreme build (countered that operation): Extreme mecha flails around ineffectually and gets blown up, leaving teammates to struggle harder with 1 man down. Rest of the party still has a fun time as they are amused that the munchkin got his comeuppance.

      3rd fight,the GM has to decide whether to throw in the hard counter or not. hmm. tough choice.


      The worst cases are where the extreme builds are not "intentional"... as in, new player, just making his first mecha and it just happens to be extreme cause he's not familiar with the rules, and it turns out to be a glass cannon. (some new players joined my group, and they didn't realize guard and threshold are so important, and 1 guy has 0 energy and no active defences)

    9. Guilty as charged, I like gimmicks. Not necessarily in roleplaying, though. Gimmick builds do have their fans so I'm not saying I'll ditch them in future projects, but I'm thinking about it.

      The worst cases like those you point out are what I want to avoid in the future. But I don't want to overreact either, so we'll see.