November 24, 2013

Pacing in Battle Century G

Last week I started talking about what my next GGG-esque project is going to look like. I went into the most basic rules of the game: Tests, Attributes, Damage and Advantages. We've still got some pretty fundamental things to cover before we get into the real meat of the rules, so let's get on with it already.

Why Pacing?

The pacing of the game was an important part GGG's rules. On the micro level it balanced how often some abilities could be used and how much pain a PC could take before they had to start worrying about it. On the macro level it made characters gain more points and powers as the game went on and threatens characters that make one too many mistakes with terrible consequences. The Scene/Episode structure governed the pacing of Intermissions and Operations. The Episode Arc structure governed the pacing of Character Advancement.

A control of the pacing structure allowed the GM to keep a better grasp on how much danger the PCs were in and the rate they grew in power at. It also had a few downsides: Distinguishing between Episodes and Episode Arcs can cause some confusion if you're not actively keeping track of when one ends and another begins. Even if you do, it is easy to forget exactly how many Arcs have ended and how much you should buff up NPCs. Lastly, it just plain makes it weird to run games that don't start at low power and end much higher than that. The system works, but it could be better.

I am making a few changes to the pacing rules. The most important of which goes by the name of Power Levels.

As expected of Battle Century G, it is on a whole new Level.

What are Power Levels? In short, they are a scale that grades your Power based on how much XP you have. Like so:

Level 0: Faceless (0-29 XP)
Level 1: Talented (30-59 XP)
Level 2: Heroic (60-89 XP)
Level 3: Elite (90-119 XP)
Level 4: Mythical (120-149 XP)
Level 5: Godly (150+ XP)

At 30 XP your Power Level is 1, at 100 XP your Power Level is 3, and so on and so forth. The interesting thing here is that your Genre Points and Powers would not be tied to the Episode Arc structure, but to your Power Level. Went up a Power Level? That's great, add another Point to your stock and another Power to your pool.

You can run a game about low-power characters and keep it there without story progression forcing power advancement. You can also run a game where everyone starts out as gods of war and only gets stronger from there. So that's cool. More interestingly, you can now mix and match NPCs of various Power Levels to better challenge a group of PCs. Add up the Power Levels of the PC cast to get the Squad's Power Rating and compare it to the Power Rating of the Enemy encounter to see how they measure up. Like this:

Grunt Power Rating: 1 + Power Level
PC/Rival Power Rating: 2 + (Power Level * 2)
Boss Power Rating: 4 + (Power Level * 4)

So while everyone is at the same Power Level, two Grunts are still the equivalent of a PC and two PCs are the equivalent of a Boss, yes. But a single Level 1 PC is the equivalent of a single Level 3 Grunt or a Level 0 Boss, eight Level 0 Grunts are the equivalent of two PCs at Level 1, and four PCs at Power Level 2 are a match for a Level 5 Boss.

The math makes it pretty easy to build encounters full of Grunts that die in one hit, which GGG wasn't built to handle with its rigid Chassis system. It is also now possible to craft superbosses that can take on the whole party on their own, though not beyond a Power Rating of 24. After that they're still going to need a few Grunts or Rivals... At least by default. I will probably end up writing a few sidebars with suggestions for Bosses beyond Power Level 5 anyway.

Speaking of sidebars, I also will be including one with guidelines to replace the Scene/Episode/Arc structure with Hours/Days/Weeks of in-character playing time. The current system works well for keeping a handle on how often characters can use their special abilities or how long it takes for their wounds to heal. It is more or less entirely on the GM's court though, and some groups might want to let the Players have a say in it to add some tactical depth to Intermissions.

The Elephant in the Room

I've brought up XP, Genre Points and Genre Powers but haven't actually talked about them yet. That would be because they will largely stay the same from GGG, just with some of the math reworked. Characters still have their own XP track (Now called Character Points) and the same goes for Mecha (Who have Mecha Points). When we get to the other types of heroes with their own unique abilities, those will also have their own tracks (Under the name of Summon Points or Arcana Points or whatever). I am keeping things this way because GGG's separation of Intermission/Operation rules proved that it worked very well for anime-themed heroics. We're aiming for a similar feel here, so it will stick around.

So let's talk about this math getting reworked thingy. Or rather, let's talk after I show you in bullet point form.

  • Characters start with 60 XP to distribute between Attributes and 30 XP to use in purchasing abilities. Yes, this means 90 for the Pilot and 90 for the Mecha. These do not count towards Power Levels, but further XP earned will do. 
  • Attributes cost their new Rank in Points to enhance. Increasing your Awareness from 0 to 2 will cost 3 Points, because first you purchase the 1 and then the 2. The starting 60 XP is just enough to get 4 (low-end average) in every Attribute.
  • Most abilities will cost 5 or 10, with the really big stuff having a cost of 20. There won't be more than a handful of the really expensive abilities, not going over 20 total for Pilots and Mecha combined. No abilities will cost 3, 7, or other numbers that make them weird to juggle.
  • This means each Power Level is between 3 and 6 new abilities, or an average increase of somewhere between 4 and 6 to your Attributes as a whole. At Power Level 0 you are strictly average and can do a few things. At Power Level 5 you are very good at everything and have quite a few number of abilities.
  • You still gain Genre Points for roleplaying or getting beat up and you still have six Default Genre Powers for free. Other than that, it is tied to your Power Level. A Power Level of 2 means a stock of 2 Genre Points and 2 more Genre Powers.
  • A Genre Power is the equivalent of an ability with a cost of 10 XP that can only be used once. This also means that Power Levels are kinda sorta worth 40 XP instead of 30. And Power Level 5 characters are virtually over 200 XP from their Power Level 0 counterparts.

That is pretty much the whole of it. In general it is a similar take on GGG's ideas but the focus is on making them simpler and faster to work with. You also have less choices to make concerning your Powers in both their selection and their use, so you have to make them count more.

I'm keeping the ready-made Attribute templates (Natures and Chassis) as examples, but I will also write new packages of pre-selected Skills and Traits to go with those. It should still be relatively fast to make PCs and NPCs (There will be a table with recommended Attribute boosts based on Power Level).

This brings us to what will be the topic of the next post: Skills, Traits and Powers. What is happening to Skill Levels? How will a reduced number of Points and Powers affect the pacing of combat? Why can't I come up with any interesting questions about Traits? Don't miss the exciting conclusion* to the epic saga of Battle Century G next week!

*not actually a conclusion.

November 17, 2013

Introducing Battle Century G

As I mentioned last week, I'm crafting a new RPG system from scratch. The idea is to take a lot of what makes GGG work and streamline it so it can cover a better variety of action genres. My goal is to make a game where sentai heroes, giant robots and monster trainers can work under the same ruleset.

That is Battle Century G, and it will be the focus of my efforts from now on. Until it comes out I'll be posting about how exactly it is going to differ from GGG, enough to merit being its own thing. The first version will be about giant robots as a proof of concept, then I'll write the corresponding system hacks around it for the magical girls and the kaijus and whatnot.

Today we start it off with the building blocks of the game, the Test system and Attributes. There's a lot to talk about so let's jump into it.

The Core Mechanic

To decide whether a character succeeds or not at what they're doing we are going to keep the Test system more or less as you know it. You roll 1d10 and add your Attribute (ranging between 0 and 10) to it, then check against a number in a range of 1-20. 5 is for trivially easy tasks, 20 is for things that you're lucky to see happen once in a lifetime.

This is how Intermissions worked in GGG, but Operations were only vaguely like that. This time we're going to try and make the giant robots stick to this idea too, for the sake of simplicity.

There are also Advantages and Disadvantages, accounting for things like specialized training or lack of proper equipment. We are going to simplify them a bit too, so that when you have an Advantage you get to choose whether you use it to roll two dice and keep the better result, or to transform it to a +2 bonus. Likewise the GM may choose to transform Disadvantages into a +2 increase to the DN.

This should greatly simplify things, without having to juggle conversions into additive dice or the such. Don't get me wrong, I still love the idea of having to choose whether to roll three dice and keep the best, or two dice and add them up. This is just going to be much simpler to play with, and the game is going to be complicated enough already.

Similarily, I am going to keep the rule where Damage dealt to someone is equal to the amount you bypass their defenses by. It is fast to play with, it rewards you for rolling really well, and it is simple enough. More importantly, it works very well with Tension.

Speaking of which. Tension is one of the GGG's most defining and unique rules, and it will have a place in Battle Century G. Combat is probably going to be a bit too fast for Tension to be a decisive factor by itself, but it does what it needs to do.

Math Time!

I am going to balance combat around the following formula:

(Attack Attribute + 1d10 + Tension + Other Modifiers) - (Defense Attribute + Base Defense + Other Modifiers) = Damage dealt.

We'll start by assuming there's no modifiers from abilities in play. We'll also assume both characters have average corresponding Attributes (Ranked at 5) and that the 1d10 roll nets us an average result of 5. This gives us 1 damage against a Base Defense of 5 during Round 1. Then 2 Damage during Round 2, 3 during Round 3 and so on. Essentially, the Damage dealt will average around the current Tension. Sometimes they will roll higher and will deal even more Damage, while other times they will roll lower and hurt the enemy less or miss the attack entirely.

That's pretty cool, I think. The math is pretty transparent and you can tell how effective an Advantage or Disadvantage to your Attack Attribute is going to be right out of the gate.

Let's assume our characters also have less inflated HP totals. Let's say the average character has their HP Attribute at 5... Now that's not very much. Why, a good enough roll would destroy them on Turn 1! But let's see how that works with four HP Bars like GGG's Threshold Levels.

If we keep the formula where Tension = Damage dealt then characters will deal first 1, then 2 (3 total), then 3 (6 total), then 4 (10 total), then 5 (15 total), and lastly 6 (21 total) points of Damage to take out a character with 20 HP during their sixth attack. That's a goodish number, I think.

This is ignoring all the wacky abilities that grant advantages to using Weapons, increase the benefits of Tension, raise your Defense, or flat out buying more HP. But we'll get to that some other day. For now, our conclusion here is that health values can be lower and the focus of the math can be more on whether you get hit or not, rather than how many hits you can handle.

We've been tiptoeing around Attributes for a few paragraphs, let's fix that and take a look at them.


We are keeping the current six Attributes for Characters, because they work well enough. Awareness would still be tied to Defense, and Willpower to Plot Armor. The only difference is that I want the six of them to be equal to each other in power. That means giving them all the same costs, rather than having Awareness, Willpower and Resources as the 'support' Attributes that cost less.

But Mecha Attributes are getting a major rewrite. There is no going around that. Let's take a look at them in order.

Might and Guard are your Attack and Defense Attributes. Might is used to punch things and shoot guns, Guard is used to parry blows and evade shots. I'm doing away with the Speed/Power divide of Evasion/Armor and Accuracy/Penetration because they're too mecha-specific. The game is meant to make it easier to play things that aren't giant robots, and that division was mostly there to have the Mazingers feel different to the Gundams.

Threshold is the Attribute you know and love, and because it is essentially multiplied by 4 it can afford to be a lower number without being completely worthless. A low rank of 1-2 is obviously suicidal, but an average rank of 4-5 is good enough to grant us 6 turns to live assuming we've got an average Guard. More than that, and you get considerably beefier.

Energy also joins us one more time, as the Attribute that can also represent Spiritual Energy or Mana Pools. The big change here is that Energy regenerates back to full every Round. This means that energy-dependent abilities are less about a long term plan and more about choosing how you want to spend your Energy each Turn. In order to make a high Energy Attribute an appealing choice, the game will need more abilities that let you dump extra Energy for more power.

Systems is something of a new entry to the list, in that it previously existed as a sub-Attribute of sorts but has been promoted now to full Attribute status. It does not directly contribute to combat, but instead powers up support abilities and increases the range of some Weapons. If you want to take a support role and heal your buddies, modify the battlefield terrain, and manage NPC sidekicks then Systems is your primary Attribute.

Speed is a completely new Attribute, though it is one that has been requested as part of GGG several times, and some groups even added it into the game by themselves. Well, now it is official. Giving characters different movement speeds is more important when you've got giant robots right next to regular-sized folk. Speed also handles Initiative and works together with Systems to get around Extreme Terrain and Defensive Maneuvers.

Of these, the first three are going to be more important than the latter trio the majority of the time. But they're all important, and you would do well to invest a little into each. Grunt Enemies can get away with having no Systems or Energy, but they're nameless mooks and are not expected to survive most things you throw at them anyway. Specially since Grunts can now have a Threshold of 0, letting us finally have simple throwaway enemies that die in a single hit.

Wait. Attributes can be at 0? Yes. Thanks to years of progress in game design technology, we have a point-buy Attribute system where you can customize your mary sue and accompanying giant robot to your heart's content.

There will be templates to pick from to simplify things, but I figure this was well overdue.

The Templates

My original plan with Natures, Archetypes, Power Packages and their ilk was to give Players lots of pre-balanced options they could play with. The game would start having a handful of them, then I could later expand it by adding more Chassis types, Natures, and so on. That went slightly against the effects-based nature of the game, not to mention it was harder to balance after PCs earned enough XP. And so we ended up slowly making things more customizable over time.

The logical conclusion of this process is to finally let Players customize their PCs however they want through a point-buy system. Most games like that generally don't bother with making the options balanced, largely because it is really difficult to pull off. My biggest challenge will be making sure that Battle Century G is a fully customizable point-buy system that remains balanced.

The tradeoff of this streamlining is that we lose cool bits of rules here and there that make mecha different from each other. The Speed/Power divide was kind of a big part of GGG, following the Super Robot/Real Robot logic. But Battle Century G is not just about robots, and if I want spellcasting support wizards in the game, then I can't make four out of six stats devoted just to see how much damage they do and take through attacking.

So that's what is happening with the game's foundations. As you can see Battle Century G will borrow a lot from GGG, but if you think it already looks different then just you wait until the next few posts. Next time, we will go into Experience, Genre, and character growth or advancement in general.

I leave you with just one two words: Power Levels.

November 10, 2013

Good and Bad News

So I wrote a mecha game once, and it was alright, you might have heard of it. It works pretty well for this whole anime robots thing, and also works for other anime action things with a little bit of creative interpretation of rules. And I really want to make it work even better for those other things! I want intelligent robots that don't need pilots, I want magical girls with all sorts of elemental-themed magic powers, I want to command platoons of ghosts, demons and pocket monsters with a single PC.

And I want to pull this off without making the system collapse into a black hole of incomprehensible rules or one type of character being obviously more powerful than the others. It would be pretty cool if it were possible to have heroes in costumes and giant atomic lizards fighting side by side as allies of Tokyo Justice.

But the current ruleset wouldn't work for it. It pains me to admit that a supposedly generic system doesn't really pull it off, but without some major rewrites to the rules the magical girls won't get along very well with the giant robots.

For the most obvious example I can think of, consider that Mecha moving at similar speeds and being virtually always faster than humans is fine by itself. But things get more complicated if you're going to include human sized characters into the mix, suddenly we either have some PCs being always slower than others or the average guy in a powered suit running as fast as a plane can fly.

Yes, I am saying we would actually need a Speed Attribute.

To make the Mecha work well together with the other character concepts I need to touch up the rules, simplifying them in places and adding complexity in others. It would keep a lot of what gives GGG its distinctive feel, like Genre Points and Tension, but some of the rules that are obviously only meant to work with giant robots in mind would most likely have to go. The four Weapon Types are the most obvious offenders here.

In short, I would need to rewrite the entire darn game. On top of that, it would not necessarily be a better game, it would for the most part be a different game.

And now the Good and Bad News

The good news is that I'm basically writing a new game altogether that can handle robots and non-robots better, because GGG works for the whole "robots only" thing. It will be similar in parts but aiming for genre versatility rather than variety of robot-themed options. I also don't want to be working on it forever either, so I want to get it done right without having to spend two years of rules fixes after the initial release.

Time flies, doesn't it? But I digress.

This means a more intensive design and development process than what I've been doing up till now, and as many delays as it takes to only release it when I am positively sure that is ready.

The bad news is that it also means no more more updates to GGG. Not even any supplements.

So today's post is a little short, but over the next few weeks I'll be explaining with more detail what I'm doing. I'll go over what I am going to keep from GGG and what I'm changing, plus the whys and hows of the process. Expect a lot of game design theory (and some playtesting stories shenanigans) until, at the very least, the holidays.

Next post will be about the basic mechanics of the game: Tests, Advantages and other general conflict resolution matters plus Attributes and the fate of Natures and Chassis templates. Hopefully that sounds like fun.