September 15, 2013

Recycling Old Junk

From the first day the game was out there it changed a lot, and whole lots of individual mechanics got rewritten, merged together, or got entirely lost somewhere along the way. Today is about the last bunch of those, the ones that vanished entirely, or at least the most memorable ones of the bunch. I'll make the token attempt to bring them back here, plus some attempts at content that I've been trying to write in since forever but never felt it was good enough to make the cut. Let's start with some Mecha stuff.

Hidden Power's Missing Family Tree

Once upon a time, there existed the Potential line of Upgrades. It was a series that increased your Attributes after you reached Tension 10, then they got rewritten to work off of Tension 5, then ceased existing entirely. What happened? First off, Attribute changes are overwhelmingly powerful, and because you had to wait for ten whooping turns to get them, they had to be some really good Attribute boosts. They were just fundamentally flawed.

But couldn't they just do some more interesting stuff instead than Attributes? I tried that, and the game was pretty close to having something like this:

Awakened Power v1
Areas: Core
Cost: 5
Effect: Choose two Upgrades or Weapons worth 5 UP each and assign them to any compatible Areas. After Tension increases to 5 you may now use one of said abilities, and after Tension 10 you may use another. You choose which one is enabled when you reach the corresponding Tension bonus.

This doesn't look too bad, does it? Well, it kind of still sucks, because it has to be balanced around something the Player has no real control of: Operation length. Depending on the playstyle of the GM and the size of the group, it is either a guaranteed free 5 points, or a net 5 point loss for most of the combat sequence.

What about using Tension as a resource? Early on there was stuff that increased your Tension specifically (there's still a reference to that possibly happening in the manual, in case I ever want to go back there) but I never had anything that just ate up your Tension as if it were a Limit Break gauge. So what happens when we do that?

Awakened Power v2
Areas: Core
Cost: 5
Effect: Choose any number of Upgrades or Weapons worth a total Cost of 10 UP or less and assign them to any compatible Areas. At the beginning of your Turn you may reduce your Tension by 5 until End of Operation to gain use of said abilities until then. You may not do this if your Tension is under 5.

So why didn't it work? Well, it is almost always a strict downgrade. Odds are a bunch of defensive abilities, utility upgrades, or new weapons won't make it easier to win than a flat bonus of 5 to Accuracy does. And 'fixing' it by having it grant more UP just makes you want to pick Eagle Chassis so you can rack up on free UP, because your Accuracy is already high enough.

Tension-based abilities are neat, and I want more of them, but they have to be very limited in scope to keep them balanced. Anything that boosts your Attributes directly or grants UP is too versatile for its own good.

Speaking of dangerous versatility, Transformation and Expansion Pack had a bastard child that I never quite put out there on the web for that same reason...

Secret Equipment v1
Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: Make two ‘sets’ of Upgrades or Weapons worth 10 UP each, and choose one Area to house all abilities within. One set will be usable normally, while the second set will be 'hidden' within this Area and unavailable. You may have the chosen Area purged at the beginning of your Turn, Maiming it and losing a Level of Threshold in the process to enable use of the second set. Once first Maimed, the first set is done for and will not be compatible with abilities that let you use Areas as if they weren’t Maimed.

So what is the problem with it? First, if you have any kind of regenerative ability, this is free points period. Second, even if you use this as intended and the choice has any legitimate tactic to it, the hidden Area is completely immune to Maiming, which last time I checked was what Expansion Pack did, and that one costs 10 UP. I mean, what are you going to do against the hidden area, Double Maim it? Hide the equipment in a completely different Area? Then why isn't it available regularly?

Attempting to fix either of those issues rules placing conditions of what you can do with it would result in a pile of words messy enough to make Combinations blush. As long as there is any way to heal you from the Damage you've dealt to yourself (even if we make the specific Area and Levels unrepairable) this is still free points. And I straight out have no idea how to even handle the thing with the hidden Area being a free Expansion Pack. Let's tackle it like a straight benefit instead because this is not quite working.

Secret Equipment v2
Areas: Core
Cost: 25
Effect: Make two ‘sets’ of Upgrades or Weapons worth 10 UP each. Both sets will be assigned to one of your non-Core Areas, but one of them will only be available after the chosen Area was Maimed. You may have the chosen Area at the beginning of your Turn purged, losing a Level of Threshold in the process. Once first Maimed, the first set is done for and will not be compatible with abilities that let you use Areas as if they weren’t Maimed.

Now we're talking. This one is less susceptible to abuse of various types and is much better balanced, but... There's something else that is wrong, isn't there? Yes, because this already exists. It is pretty much a more complicated, and essentially worse, rewrite of Expansion Pack. Well okay, because it only costs 5 extra UP, it is not strictly worse, it is just generally worse.

Oh well, can't win them all I guess. This is printable, but is complicated and bad enough that it looks like a trap choice when put next to its progenitors. As you can see, this kind of 'midfight powerup' stuff is tough to pull off well. Hidden Power is a tad too strong as a Genre Power, but it has a lot of slack to pick up for all the mechanics that don't exist.

The Big Fish in a Small Pond

Some NPCs used to be stronger than Grunts but weaker than Rivals, being either low-rank named characters or just faceless groups with a pedigree. Fittingly enough, they were called Elites. The problem with Elites is that they were at an odd cross with Grunts, because the existence of the former meant the latter had to be weaker, and that meant balancing Grunts so that they were worth even less than half a PC. And that was really weird to balance.

So I now have decided they don't necessarily need to have their own spot in the ladder. Elites could continue to exist if they are promoted to being up to par with PCs, bringing all the simplicity of Grunts to the power level of Rivals. Like so:

Elite Non-Combatants
Nature: Any. Choose one of Fitness, Intellect or Empathy and another of Awareness, Willpower or Resources. Enhance the chosen Attributes by 5.
Skills: Up to 30 PP worth in Skills
Traits: Up to 30 PP worth in Traits.
Genre: No Genre Points or Themes.
Progression: Choose one of Fitness, Intellect or Empathy and another of Awareness, Willpower or Resources. Increase the chosen Attributes at the end of every Episode Arc by 1.

Elite Combatants
Genre: No Powers.
Archetype: One Boss Archetype.
Chassis: Any. Choose one of Evasion, Threshold or Penetration and another of Accuracy, Armor and Energy. Enhance the chosen Attributes by 5.
Upgrades: Up to 15 UP worth in Upgrades.
Weapons: Up to three Weapons with a Cost of 5 or less.
Progression: Choose one of Evasion, Threshold or Penetration and another of Accuracy, Armor and Energy for each type of Enemy Elite. Increase the chosen Attributes along with Systems at the end of every Episode Arc by 1.

As Mecha these guys have high stats and enough wiggle room to fit in a Boss Weapon or another Boss Archetype, making them pretty good for their complete lack of Genre Powers and slightly weaker Systems than Rivals. Even non-combatants have more than enough PP to burn with Skill training and Equipment, or Miracles and Psychic Power, to be a challenge. These guys are alright for something that got thrown away, let's say their recycling has been successful.

A Genius for Every Field

Another thing that got lost in the shuffle were the various Upgrades that let you Enhance Attributes past the regular mark and granted some kind of ability with it. Removing the limiters is just too strong to exist, as even Modules have proven. The special abilities fared better, getting recycled into Archetypes and being standardized into general rules for the most part, but some just disappeared. The biggest losses here would be Supercharged, which granted a static regeneration of 1 Energy per Round, and the Weapon Specialization line that rewarded you for sticking to one type of the four.

Now this here might be a shocker, but originally I was going to have all Mecha regenerate Energy naturally like with Supercharged. The reason I didn't was that I found out it made you want to bleed the most out of your Energy capacity every Turn, making things repetitive and dragging out fights longer from infinite use of Active Defenses. But after earning more than 40 XP most character builds require some kind of Energy regeneration if they're going to grab any more fun stuff, so the tradeoff wasn't all that good. I might go back to change back that thing, letting everyone restore 1 Energy each Round for free, we'll see.

Weapon Specializations got split up into being basic Keyword Abilities, the Weapon-based Genre Powers, and there's a Melee/Everyone else split with The Beast and Artillery Mode. These do encourage specialization... Slightly. I tried several things here, starting with the most obvious buff one can give them:

Weapon Specialization v1
Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: Choose one type of Weapon when you take this Upgrade. If it is Melee, Ballistic or Missile, then whenever you take an Offensive Action with the chosen type of Weapon you can add all of the excess bonus to your Penetration instead of halving it. If it is Beam, then you gain an Advantage to all your Offensive Actions with Beam Weapons.

I kind of like this one for the sake of simplicity, but it does make all Custom Weapons play very, very much the same. Then again, it could be argued that being different is what Specific Weapons are for, so I remain uncertain. Let's try something more creative and see what happens.

Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: When using a Melee Weapon in a Duel you may shift the battle one Zone away in a direction of your choice.

Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: Your Ballistic Weapons increase their Maximum Range by one half of what it normally is after you take the Aim Action with them. If you would lose out on the Advantages from using a Ballistic Weapon because you cannot normally Move, then you don't lose the Advantage.

Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: When using a Beam Weapon you may do so for half its regular Energy cost, but doing so grants it the Slow ability until used regularly again, or until end of Operation. You may still only have one Slow weapon at a time.

Areas: Core
Cost: 10
Effect: You gain an Advantage to Offensive Actions with Missile Weapons used while you Move.

Creative names, I know. With Duelist you can now effectively control the movement range of your Enemies forever, barring constant Disengaging. With Sniper you strike accurately and from beyond the horizon, specially now that Artillery mode no longer takes away your Advantage. Blaster seems overpowered, but it is only really notable with Weapons that cost 5 Energy and above... And that opens its own can of worms. Dogfighter makes your missiles pretty darn strong if you can keep your Enemies at medium range while you fly about.

These are alright. Ish. They do what they do and that's that. Perhaps the best move would be combining the previous entry with these other four ones to keep it expensive (We're talking at least 15 UP here, possibly 20, maybe more) but make it genuinely rewarding.

Man Against Machine

The game used to have Anti-Mecha Mines as a piece of Equipment you could buy. When detonated they would deal 1d10 Damage to Mecha (which meant more back then than it does now) and murder the crap out of pretty much any people in the Zone. They make sense to want to have around, as they're a common thing to use in fiction against giant robots when you don't have any of your own. But when PCs can buy them, scattering billions of the things all over the place every single time you get the drop on your Enemies gets old fast.

Also, we already have Extreme Terrain to represent them.

So uh... Yeah. I guess I now have material for a sidebar, if not any new Traits proper. Test Resources as if to obtain Equipment at a DN of 20, lay one Zone's worth of a mines. Yep. That's pretty much it.

But there's another Trait I can still make, one that I've been avoiding forever, simply because every time I pull it off I look at it again and realize it should not exist no matter how cool it might be on paper. I think I'll just leave it here so you can see for yourself and I'll and close off for the day week month time being.

Toppler of Titans
Cost: Your heart and soul.
Effect: Increase your Defense against Mecha by 10. When you strike down a Level of Threshold, the Core of a Mecha is an eligible Area for you, disabling them immediately if chosen. You may use Deathblows against Mecha while on foot, and your attacks add together the entire excess bonus from the Combat Test plus your Genre Points as Penetration.
Description: When your enemies see a person with a scarf they run away screaming. They are the prey and you are the hunter.