September 16, 2012

Character Power-Ups and Growth

One of the subtler, yet most notable ways in which fiction and Roleplaying Games differ substantially is in the growth and development of main characters. See it is RPG tradition to have characters 'go up a level' or otherwise earn their Experience offscreen in-between all the fun stuff happening, which is mostly because that's just how D&D always did it. Whereas in fiction characters often power up or learn new techniques in the middle of it all, or even stranger, don't actually ever change.

There is also the fact that in fiction a character is often good at a couple things and maybe picks up a couple new ones down the line, while the by-and large trend in RPGs is to have dozens upon dozens of little abilities that give a +1 here and a +10% there every single session and before you know it you've picked up a second character sheet just to keep track of it all.
Now I'm not going to say this is wrong (though it is, at least for me, annoying) but it certainly doesn't represent any kind of fiction I can immediately think of. And yet I will justify it, up to a degree, because giving Players new toys often is an excellent idea. When you're in the middle of a dungeon romp, defending your home from relentless aliens, investigating a series of murders, or in the middle of any other kind of story arc, it feels great to actually look at your character and get a feel that you're getting somewhere awesome even if the current storyline is not anywhere near completion.

And that's the short story behind the division of Upgrades and Enhancements. You can pick up Upgrades right as you need them in the middle of a battle, and they're all pretty darn significant (and expensive) so as to avoid a glut of easily-forgotten abilities. Enhancements meanwhile let you power up your base stats or make your Upgrades stronger, either way you never feel like anything you really want to get is off-limits until it is the arbitrary time to level up..

So I like it. It is dynamic without being all over the place. Then again I am biased. But like oh so many things with this game I'm going to fine tune it a little. First of all, Enhancements to Upgrades sound cool until you realize, after spending those Genre Points to save the day, that the Upgrade in question isn't very good without pumping more UP into it. Then there's Common Enhancements, which increase your performance at an absurd degree by increasing base stats for a very low cost.

Which is funny because the former was meant to be flashy and awesome and the latter is there to give people a way to spend the UP they don't know what to do with. For this reason Upgrades are going to be bought at full power right from the start, no more Enhancements to individual Upgrades. Common Enhancements are still going to be there, but because they are so powerful and make it so easy to specialize, they will have incremental costs.

So basically, Enhancements are becoming an UP-sink when you're done getting cool Upgrades and Weapons. You can get them from the very start if you really want them now, though. The changes should replicate the dynamics of anime action that much better.

September 9, 2012

What is to Come

Before today's post proper I'd like to point your attention towards something really cool, chances are that if you're reading this you like both gaming and japanese media in general, so I would like to point you towards the Tenra Bansho Zero Kickstarter. There is not really much that I can say that the page doesn't say better, but I am honestly thinking that once it comes out it will be my system of choice for most anime-themed games. It sounds that good.

Most anime-themed games. Not all. I mean that would be silly given the contents of this blog and all. Also it might actually not be that good. Anyway, robots!

An issue with balancing asymmetrical systems is that some options will inevitably end up as better than others, but it is in the rest of the metagame to have enough counters and niches to make all options legitimately viable and not the most obvious ones unstoppable. Making sure everything works, isn't too overpowered, and is ultimately fun is what I've been trying to do here for a while and a lot of things have been shuffling around as of late. As such, with all the talk of what is changing or being cut out, I figure I should list out what exactly is changing and how.

The Intermission/Operation divide:
This one is staying as is, mostly. As I've mentioned before, I would like to have a small influence from the Character side to the Mecha side, but it would be optional and only specific builds would really need it.

Customization and Generic-ness:
The ease of reflavoring is another biggie that mostly stays as-is. The one change here is that with more customizable Weapons (and a couple of Upgrades too) it is much easier to adapt to anything that suits your fancy.

The Evasion/Armor and Accuracy/Penetration distinction:
Currently, stats aren't as balanced with each other as I'd like them to be, and Armor/Accuracy builds are a bit better than others than they should. That said, it does play a part in representing the Real/Super Robot divide, and adds depth to the mechanics of combat that would otherwise be about a linear attack axis. They just need some rebalancing. With the better stats starting out lower and costing more to increase, the issue is mostly solved.

Tension and Timing-based Combat:
It has some issues currently, since each point is 1.5 damage, it spirals out of control pretty fast for anyone who hasn't spent a lot of UP on defenses. It does, however, do a lot for the anime feel of the game and makes combat more fun than the usual spamming of the same stuff over and over, so it stays. Though it will only affect Accuracy, and Penetration will no longer be rolled bringing it down to a +.5 Damage per point of Tension. Tension raisers are still too strong.

Genre Points and Powers:
A surplus of SP GP will steamroll the hell out of anything, in true SRW fashion. A lack of them will make routine fights a pain, again in true SRW fashion. Figuring out the middle of the road is a bit difficult currently, so there will be better advice on handling that plus a bit of streamlining to make it easier to gauge.The grand majority of methods to earn Genre Points only give Temporary ones (including Themes) but in exchange Powers are all being rebalanced so that they all cost a single Genre. That should make the average battle more exciting and do away with the hoarding issues. Also a lot of Powers are going to be built into the default array (such as Live Another Day and Data Scanner) while others are being made Actions (Disarm, Show some Mercy) because that's what they should always have been.

Attributes, Skills and Traits:
Separate Plot Armor values are out, as is adding up Genre Points to calculate Defenses. The new Attribute of Awareness adds to each of the three old Attributes to calculate individual Defenses, and Willpower does the same for Plot Armor. The last new thing here is the Resources Attribute which handles rules for Equipment and Social Networks, mostly its function is that you make a Resources Test when you are looking for an object or information.

That's mostly it. In all honesty the brunt of new content is for Intermissions, to add a little more depth to conflicts there and make sure the rules for them are fun to use. Operations will remain largely as they are, but with a better back and forth flow to them. I don't have an ETA on this, but I've done the proof of concept tests already, so it is somewhere in the horizon.

September 7, 2012

Areas, Threshold, and Maiming

The Area subsystem helps give the game a sizable part of its Mecha feel, you get to build your robot however you like it, and you get to hack those of your opponents apart. Everyone has a large(ish) pool of HP, but taking Damage weakens them and hampers their performance as they lose access to their best offensive and defensive abilities. In addition, this mirrors (mostly) how Plot Armor works with its increasing damage and lasting Consequences.

That said there's a couple of issues with it. A lot of the time the first Maim is the most defining one, taking away the things that are most important to the enemy and making the rest of the battle snowball from there. Because of this abilities that repair Areas back to normal are crucial against an opponent who knows where to hit.

Which is a bit of a problem because there aren't that many of them, and it basically boils down to having to eat up one of your Genre Power slots with Determinator just to be safe. You can fix it by making the Area to be Maimed a sacrifice on the part of the receiver, thus drastically doing away with the snowball factor, but that creates a problem of its own in that you want to stack up all your stuff in one or two areas and always leave those for last. So until I do my extensive rewrite of all these little things, here's a pair of workarounds that can be implemented without much trouble.

One Step Away

-When an Area would be Maimed, the defender chooses which one. Genre Powers such as Called Shot can ignore this.
-The First Upgrade or Weapon to any non-Core Area can go anywhere, but further ones must go to Areas that don't have anything yet.
-No Area can hold more than two Upgrades or Weapons in excess of the one that holds the least.
-Remember that Gears are still bound by the limits of Area Capacity.

Gears Upgrades and Weapons during construction in a way that keeps all non-Core Areas balanced in the number of things they hold. You can still game the system a little by slapping cheap stuff to the Areas that you don't mind that much, or give them one-use stuff. Still an improvement if Maiming has been a thorn in your side.

Two Steps Away

-When an Area would be Maimed, the defender chooses which one. Genre Powers such as Called Shot can ignore this.
-No Area can hold more than one Upgrade or Weapon in excess of the one that holds the least.
-Area Capacities are gone and all have effectively limitless space.
-Upgrades and Weapons that can normally go only in specific Areas can ignore this for an additional cost of 1 UP and go to any non-Core Area. Core-exclusive Upgrades do not benefit from this potential reallocation.

This one is more strict on the balancing, but you also have more freedom of where anything can go, and no longer have to worry about running out of space anywhere. It is less gameable, though it is much easier to stack Core stuff now, and encourages having different sets of abilities in different Area for different needs.