March 31, 2013

Climax! GGG's Final Form!?

So this one is huge, and that's because I've had more time than usual to devote to the game over the course of two months and change. I've examined nearly every ability in the game and adjusted, tweaked, or rewritten all that needed a touch up, optimizing them their intended role, and even added some new ones. There might be another update a few months from now on to tinker with some numbers here and there - because no one is perfect. But I'm confident I've found the sweet spot for most of the mechanics added from 1.4 until now, and I've got just enough of them that I can finally call these core rules complete.

Of course, I will probably end up making a supplement with things like variant chassis types, support for different settings, systems for madness and insanity, and so on. But it'll be, you know, in the future. And supplementary.

Enough talk! Here's 1.7 On to the changelog, which is going to come in abridged version today because there's just been waaaay too many small changes everywhere to list everything. Honestly you should doublecheck all the rules that matter to you, or take your time looking at all the changes from the start. On the plus side, there's not going to be any more changes for a loooong time.

General Changes:
-Added a Table of Contents and Index.
-Some more layout improvements.
-More sidebars with advice and optional rules, plus expanding many of the existing ones.
-I think I'm finally done fixing technical errors like typos and cropped images and whatnot. No, I can't believe it either.

Character Creation:
-Added New Traits, some old Traits adjusted in terms of price or power level.
-New category of traits: Anomalies.
-Tweaked the Equipment rules, added more Equipment to the list, powered up most existing equipment as well.
-Powers that require you to make a choice can now be taken multiple times. Rebalanced several Powers and renamed some of them as well.

Mecha Construction:
-Made small adjustments to the starting Attributes of some Chassis types. Renamed Personal and Titanic Chassis classes to Eagle and Shield, the former for readability issues and the latter because the sheer irony of their name has long overstayed its welcome.
-You can now only have a total of 2 Archetypes, so the one you start with plus buying one if you want. Added two new Archetypes, tweaked others, and rewrote Superior Alloy to Invincible Frame.
-Rewrote or buffed all Evasive Systems and Defensive Barriers.
-Slightly nerfed Reload, rewrote Overcharger.
-Most Special Modes were rebalanced and some even renamed to better represent their function.
-Rebalanced or tweaked most Sub Units. Slightly buffed Component Unit.
-Clarified how Alternate Forms, Sub Units, and Combinations work together - which is to say, they don't.
-Tweaked the Custom Weapon Tables to encourage more diversification. Added a new drawback for Melee Weapons. Renamed several abilities to make more sense or be easier to distinguish from each other namewise.
-Rebalanced several premade Weapons. Added four new such Weapons.

Playing the Game:
-Improved the rules for stacking Advantages and Disadvantages. Added guidelines for handling Advantages and Disadvantages against multiple targets.
-Added more ways to use Resources.
-Blasts now interact with more rules, and now get around things like cover.
-Several clarifications concerning Tension and Duels.
-Tweaked the Aim and Delay Actions, buffed Maneuver and Disrupt, renamed Disrupt to Suppress.
-Streamlined and improved Base and Defensive Terrains.

Running the Show:
-Bosses can now have two Boss Archetypes starting at Arc 3 and 3 Boss Archetypes starting at arc 5
-Tweaked several Powers, Archetypes and Weapons.
-Grunts can now use Specific Weapons and get a static bonus to Systems as they progress.
-Nerfed the Squadron feature, and tweaked the Cryptid feature.

The World:
-Added several Example Non-Combatants, Allies, and Enemies.

So let's talk a bit about the big picture. Blasts, movement and positioning are more important than they used to. Apart from ignoring cover, Blasts and other area of effect weapons can now ignore half of the Evasive Systems out there, defensive Aid Another abilities, and certain Boss Archetypes among other things. As a result most abilities with area of effect abilities got their costs increased or were weakened a little, and both the Over-Booster and Telescopic Sights (now Artillery Mode) got a small cost reduction. Ballistics, whose in-built advantage require the decision to forego movement entirely, got a small buff. Missiles, which are all about being on the move constantly, got a small nerf.

Then there's the news on the Evasion/Armor front. Simply put, starting high Evasion is too hard to counter and a lot more frustrating to deal with than high Armor - with high Armor at least you might be dealing Damage in small bits here and there, but Evasion completely nulls way too many attacks, and for far too long given that Accuracy is also more expensive than Penetration. I did not want to have to do this, but a starting Evasion of 13 is too much so just to be safe it is going two points down, but to compensate for it the Personal Eagle Chassis is getting another point of Armor.

There's also a lot more clarifications on how specific rules interact with each other, and whole paragraphs being rewritten not to change rules but to make them easier to grasp, and ensuring the rules are tighter. Between that and the various new sidebars with advice on how to use various game mechanics play should be a lot smoother.

What next? Probably small things here and there like editable pdf sheets, separate chapters printable in black and white, and whatever other stuff I can come up with that'll come in handy. Concerning bigger projects, I'll say something when I have a clear idea in mind, but this is definitely not the last you'll see of GGG.

March 24, 2013

We're Approaching the next Release!

That means it is preview time! Exclamation marks! I'll show some of the modifications and tweaks to the things mentioned in the last post, plus some of the new toys that will be in the next version and I did not mention at all last time. Today I cut the crap and get to the good parts right away. Except for this one paragraph, I guess. Let's not make it two paragraphs and get started right away:

General Traits

Some Traits got sorta-buffed through cost reductions, and some others had new shoes to fill (Modern Ninja became Invisibility Device and moved to the Equipment section) that left space for adding some new expensive and awesome Traits in, and one of those is there to compensate for the "loss" of Modern Ninja.

I was Here all Along
Cost: 10
Effect: Once per Episode you may Test either Stealth or Deception against a DN of 10 to reveal that you were present in a Scene that did not include you, either in hiding or disguised as an unnassuming background character as appropriate to the Test in question.
Description: You are insidious and sneaky, everywhere yet nowhere, and generally in places someone else wishes you rather weren’t there.

Useful, flashy, and badass. The Test is more of a formality than anything, since the kind of character who would take this will likely pass more often than not. And that is good, because you only get to do it more than once per Episode, so you better not fail when you do!


New Trait type! These are a mix of Miracles and Features for the weirder PCs out there, like Cyborgs and Mutants of various types. Anomalies don't have a Cost - much like Mecha Features - but have a downside to go with their upside - again, much like Mecha Features. Here's an example.

Effect: You gain an Advantage to all Awareness Tests and uses of the Survival Skill. You may speak with Earth animals, translating sounds they make into simple and short sentences in your head - think “Master is angry” or “Timmy fell down the well”. This grants you an Advantage to interactions with them. All Tests using either of Intellect or Resources that don’t fit the previously mentioned criteria are at a Disadvantage.
Description: Ever since the first Cryptid sightings, there have been reports of ‘wild childs’ in some of the lesser populated islands of the Far West with a surprising ability to survive in the wild, in spite of radiation, and communicate with the little wildlife in the area.

Pretty self explanatory, really. Great in an outdoorsy game or if you fight aliens that are not actually at all alien. The most important thing about Anomalies is that they open the way for more varied character concepts, and now anyone who wants to homebrew a different type of character into their games can use the existing ones as a template.


Equipment got a touchup to the general rules, owning cool things is more permissive to anyone who didn't start with a 6 on Resources, in addition there's also loads of new toys to play with. Are they any good? Well don't just take my word for it, go and have a look.

Ether Drive
Cost: 3
Effect: Choose a Miracle at the Amateur Level when you take this Trait. You may use said Miracle as if you were trained in it, but only with the chosen Specialty with no other possible use, and the Ether Drive will act as a Proxy taking the Damage in your stead. The Proxy cannot be repaired with any kind of Heal Test, and once broken only time will make it function again.
Description: After endless testing, the Clarke Foundation has found a way to weaponize the harvested organs of Cryptids. They will not tell you what exactly the items in question are, but their origin is obvious to anyone who has dealt with the original creature in the past. Its not like the put much effort in trying to disguise alien eyes as ‘experimental lenses’ anyway.

Simple but effective, representing anything from a stockpile of freezing grenades to a telepathic helmet as necessary. Not only is it a very useful tool, but depending on the application, it even allows the games without superpowers to access Miracles in a limited fashion.

(By the way, you can now heal your Proxies with Craftsmanship. Just not this one.)  

Genre Powers

A number of Powers were tweaked mechanically, and some even have better names now (for instance All Weapons, Full Power is now called Last Ditch Effort) but the important thing here is not that. The new cool thing is that you can take Powers that require you to make a choice when you grab them multiple times. That means you could have more than one Signature Weapon, yes, but it also means you can get trickier. Case in point...

Hidden Power
Setup Power
Effect: Choose up to 15 UP in Upgrades or Weapons when you take this Power. Activate it to gain the chosen abilities until end of Operation. These abilities are not allocated to any particular Areas, and as such may not be disabled as a result of Maiming. You may not use multiple instances of Hidden Power in the same Operation.
Description: “Give up, you’re out of ammunition and surrounded, be reasonable!” T he enemy shouted.  “NO, I REFUSE!” Came the reply from the silver-coloured mech as it flew into the air and began bombarding its enemies with some kind of devastating heat ray. “I TOTALLY HAVE ICE MISSILES TOO!”

It is like having Frames, but entirely on the spot! Megaman would be proud. Because it does not actually use the rules for Alternate Forms, this means you can have multiple One-Shots and the such at your beck and call, as long as you did not take any with your default form and they each use a different Hidden Power.


Yes, there's been tweaks to Archetypes, and there's also two new ones. Both of the new Archetypes are more general-use rather than directing you towards a specific build - I figure there's already 7 of those so it is fine to have three for the all-rounders. Because nearly everyone would want to take them, there's also now a limitation on how many Archetypes you can have to give them an opportunity cost.

Custom Blueprints
Effect: Increase your Chassis’ Evasion, Armor, Accuracy and Penetration by 1 point each. This bonus point does not count as purchasing an Enhancement to those Attributes.
Description: Instead of getting all fancy and gimmicky, your Gear sticks to what works and has an improved structure over its contemporaries.

There you go. It cannot get more general-use and simpler (and boring-er) than that. Note that it is super efficient in that not only is it cheap for what it does but in that it cannot be disabled, so the opportunity cost in limiting how many Archetypes can be taken is really important now.

Active Defenses

Upgrades that improve Evasion or Armor in response to an enemy attack in exchange for energy have gotten some serious buffs. A good number of them were rewritten from the ground up, and most importantly, they have their own unique functions and roles now. Take for instance this new version of Oscillating Armor.

Oscillating Armor
Areas: Any non-Core
Cost: 3
Effect: Choose a Weapon Type when taking this Upgrade. If you would be dealt Damage by a Weapon that is not of the chosen Type, you may spend 1 Energy to increase your Armor against that Offensive Action by 3.
Description: Gygravagnite-powered repulsion fields are not as uncommon as the Gravagne Field is, the key difference is their unstable yet minimal output. Not only do they fail to protect against all sources of incoming damage, but they only strengthen specially-made composite alloys rather than creating a barrier on their own. They sure make even the most dull Gear fabulously colorful though.

That is a lot of coverage for very little UP, and nothing else short of Gravagne Field at the very top of the ladder is going to offer as much general protection. What is it you are saying? 'Face Shift' something or other? I can't hear you oh look it is time for the next category.


Numbers on the custom weapon tables were tweaked to encourage more diversity. Of particular importance is that Blasts and other area of effect Weapons have more interactions with other rules (they ignore cover, for instance) and because this led some of the design to make mobility and range more important than it used to be, the power balance between Ballistics and Missiles has shifted noticeably.

Lux Cannon
Range: 0-10
Accuracy: 0
Penetration: 5
Energy: Special
Special: Beam. This Weapon always gets a result of 10 when Testing Accuracy. Using it will drain all the remaining Energy from the user, but granting a bonus Accuracy of 1 for each Energy point lost this way. You may not use Lux Cannon if your Energy is of 0.
Description: A honest to God giant laser cannon. Not only is dodging light rather hard, no matter who you are, but it is obscenely powerful. Unfortunately for users it is extremely prohibitive concerning energy efficiency, leaving Element G reserves completely empty.

Lux Cannon was, as mentioned in the last post, not very good at its job of countering ultradodgy types. The new version can miss, but that's not very likely to happen, and it packs one mean punch too. Because it can, potentially, murder the hell out of the squishier Grunts with a single shot; a single shot is all you're going to get without building around getting repeat shots.

Weapons, Again. Wait, what?

Did I mention there's new weapons? Because there's new Weapons. Also a new drawback for custom melee types. In my quest to ensure that there is no such thing as a perfect defense against anything, I've concocted a little something for Incinerator users who shake their fists at those pesky flying enemies that dare not burn to their deaths.

Anti-Air Missiles
Range: 1-7
Accuracy: +1
Penetration: 1
Energy: 0
Special: Missile. When using this Weapon against targets with Flyer or using Anti-Gravity, you may add all of the surplus from your Accuracy Test to Penetration instead of halving it.
Description: Air dominance is still very much a thing even in this new era of Gears. Everyone in Earth understands this, and provides their troops with necessary countermeasures against their enemies. The RUF has to be careful of those pesky Majesty types, Hiryu has to worry about flying Outsiders taking advantage of how complicated it is to fight giant monsters in the middle of the ocean, and the GAF wants the Wagner destroyed by yesterday.

Bam! Grunts everywhere may now rejoice, this unassuming little baby gets much scarier against those Players who think they're above playing with the rules for terrain and cover like us lowly pedestrians have to do. Too bad that it might well be a One-Shot for how likely it is that someone will stay up in the air after you've hit them once with this. But hey, it keeps them on the ground where they can be Overfreezed by your Boss! Just don't, you know, expect anything but a below average gun the rest of the time.

And that's that for the previews. You can expect the wording to be clarified a little here and there, and for the fluff descriptions to be touched up a bit maybe in between now and the release proper, but the mechanics are pretty final.

To continue from last time's topic on balance, GGG definitely aims for the kind of balance that is asymmetrical in nature. See, symmetrical balance is what happens when a game is fair because the rules are the same for each player. This includes games like chess, most traditional card games, and pretty much every sport recognized as such. Asymmetrical balance on the other hand permeates most nerdy hobbies from Magic to Starcraft to, yes, GGG. Starctaft in particular is one of the so-called better balanced games ever. In Starcraft the three playable factions each have their own completely unique strengths and weaknesses, but players of equal skill levels will have an even match against each other no matter their choice of Terran, Zerg or Protoss.

Note that Starcraft has had two years of constant patches and literal thousands of competitive players providing feedback to balance the three factions. Even then it took Blizzard eight more years to iron out all of the game's unintended advantages in its various exploits. Also Starcraft is a videogame, and thus a lot more limited in what you can do with it. It is common to see people talk about balance in games like it is a hard science, but those are mostly competitive videogames about dudes shooting each other or about managing dudes who shoot each other. It turns out that those have very different needs from RPGs, which tend to be cooperative and much more open ended in the kind of activities you can engage in them.

Achieving this kind of balance in a tabletop RPG is, to put it lightly, kind of hard. So what a designer can do is instead make sure that player options are all usable and good, even if some of them turn out to be slightly better in most situations. Asymmetrical balance has a crucial advantage on symmetrical balance, and it is that it makes everyone distinct and unique. It is a lot more fun to play with if you are a creative, imaginative type. Would you happen to guess what the core features of the RPG hobby are? Three guesses, and the first two don't count!

When everyone can contribute meaningfully to the group effort, yet all characters are the best at their own thing. When everyone has a distinct role that they like because they chose it with its pros and cons. When those things happen, even if the one carrying the team to victory is usually the same player, then you've got something that is fun.

I cannot aim for balance, but I definitely can aim for fun and make balance the secondary goal.

March 10, 2013

A Balancing Act

Making a quick post before a whole month goes by without any word on what's coming up. 1.7 is not going to have any fundamentally big changes, but there's going to be a lot of little ones, because I am taking the trouble to double-check and examine nearly every mechanic in the game.

I could talk about those, but I'd rather wait until I'm pretty sure I got them right to do so. Instead, let's get a little more abstract, I'm going to talk about the philosophy behind balance changes, or at least the ones that I tend to do. Then I will bring up some of the changes I've got in mind.

So what is Balance in Tabletop RPGs? Well, when gamers talk about 'balance' they usually refer to all player options (usually classes, races, or their equivalent) being more or less equal in capability. The thing is, the only way for characters to be truly balanced right next to each other would be to make them identical to each other. And because that is not a very attractive idea, we tend to focus on the balance of the game around its primary method of conflict resolution - usually combat.

But in practical terms balance is different things to different people. Some want to be always able to contribute to all kinds of conflict (combat, social, investigative, or any other type) even if it is only a little, while other Players want to have a single scene every once in a while where they get to save the day entirely on their own. But it gets more complicated than that! To some a balanced character means one able to overcome any challenge through carefully managing the game's subsystems, while others just want to keep things simple and roll some dice then see where luck takes them - yet both of those playstyles need to be equally good choices.

It is a complicated issue.

A lot of games with balance issues can hide those pretty well until characters grow in power level, only then the cracks begin to show, with the gaps getting larger the more time passes until finally the whole thing falls apart. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but one good way around them is by not relying on what I call Vertical Character Growth.

Think of all characters as standing together next to each other in a line, each of them is good at one or two things, and the more they grow in power at those two things the taller they get. If the balance is good, then they will keep the same height, but if the balance is not good then one of them will tower above the rest. Vertical Growth is about pushing you forward on the same path you started during character creation, and assuming all starting options are the same in power level.

Things are easier to balance if you promote Horizontal Growth instead - Characters step into each other's spots and sort of merge together, while still having things that are unique to themselves. Wherever it is possble, I try to promote Horizontal Growth while still making Vertical Growth a viable but difficult option.

Note how in GGG there's Evasion and Armor as two perfectly viable methods to defend your character, as well as Accuracy and Penetration to give you two ways to go on the offense. You can be the hyper-dodgy super-accurate guy, but you also can make the character a better-rounded one instead. In most games not being uber-specialized is a terrible idea, but in GGG being good at only one thing is a risky proposition - you can gimmick your way to victory against unprepared foes, but the moment you walk into a counter it is going to hurt.

Of course. That is all in theory. To get to that point where things are balanced for both Horizontally and Vertically-minded Characters I need to make sure all options are good in the first place, and that means giving some of the game's weaker areas a push. Here's a (very, very brief summary) of what I've got in mind:

-More ways to use Resources. Plus more and better Equipment to go with it too.
-Improving Active Defenses, that means Evasive Systems and Defensive Barriers, but mostly Defensive Barriers. All eight Upgrades are either getting a buff or being rewritten.
-Better counters to highly Evasive Units. Currently some of the answers to annoying turbododgers don't work as well as they should (Lux Cannon can be ECS'd and Ensnaring Wires need you to land a hit with them in the first place, and the Aim Action is just kind of not worth it unless you have a Long Rifle.)
-Toning down a lot of gimmicky weapons that also had high penetration as a bonus just for the hell of it. Bombardment I'm looking at you.
-Adjustments to various Enemy templates. Mostly this means tweaking Grunts a bit and Boss Archetypes a lot.
-The return of Premade Enemies, now with more advice on how to craft them to better challenge PCs.

Plus other stuff that may or may not include the ToC and Index I've been dreading to redo since 1.4's big change. To cap things, ultimately balance is - at least to me and for the purposes of this system - about making everything good and allowing for a better distribution of power so that even the most obscure of niches is satisfying to play with. You do not need all options to be exactly as powerful or generally useful as each other, in fact that is nearly impossible to accomplish without a ridiculous amount of resources. Some things are going to be better than others in a general sense, but those things can be countered, and this creates a metagame. In a vacuum one character might seem much stronger (or weaker) than others, but out there against a wide variety of challenges they are going to have their own unique role in the team.

Expect 1.7 sometime March or April.