May 19, 2013

Mechanical Make-Up VI

I went over a lot of the math behind the mechanics for Pilot rules in my Tribute to Player Agency during January and February, so I'll be commenting on the utility of the specific options today and comparing them balance-wise. But before that, a question for those who would want to print out their own copies of the finalized book: Would you prefer a grayscale version with everything exactly as it is right now, or grayscale but with images removed and formatting looking kind of awkward as a consequence? Leave a comment!

And now, to finalize an analysis of character creation:


There is not much to say about these other than Professional kind of gets a bad rap for not being the best at anything. In a game that encourages generalism, though, that is kind of undue. As is, they are the only characters who will never roll under a 5 for anything, saving them from worst case scenarios unless there's some serious Disadvantages stacked against them.

The secondary Attributes (Awareness, Willpower, Resources) do a pretty decent job of balancing the other three with each other, though of course that depends on just how many rules you're using. Resources gets better if you're allowed to have your own battle tank, and high Willpower is oh so much more desirable when you can use it to fuel superpowers.

Skills - Mundane

Some Skills are more generally useful than others. Investigation and Medicine will usually be more useful than Presence and Survival, the latter of which will need a concept that focuses on them to bring them up to par with the likes of the former. The neat thing about Skills is that they are cheap enough you can get some of the worse ones for 3 or 5 PP without really hurting your character in the process, and there simplified skill system gives any Adept or Master skills a lot of value.

A few Skills might merit being split apart into different categories, and strong cases have been made for Craftsmanship to be divided into say, Arts and Industry. On one hand, defusing a bomb and composing a sonnet are very different things. On the other hand, the line between crafting something for practical or aesthetic purposes is an easily blurred line, such as when customizing a motorcycle, which is both of them.

In rules terms, splitting them up would also likely make Craftsmanship Tests considerably easier to anyone who can argue that whatever they're doing takes both Skills, assuming they have purchased both that is. Then again, maybe rewarding people who really, really want to be the best at crafts & arts is an alright thing.

Skills - Miracles

Balancing these is tough, not to mention that there's so many neat ideas for superpowers that avoiding a glut of them was its own problem. To avoid the issue of spell lists taking up hundreds of pages, I've tried to make each Miracle do the most things it could reasonably get away with conceptually. You can have Pyrokinesis and Cryonesis or Life and Death as one package, because he who giveth can also taketh away.

Some of them get away with a lot though. For instance Somatics and Sight provide tremendous value at Adept level alone. The trick is that the rest do things that are impossible to replicate through mundane means, such as shooting lightning out of your hands or making people see ghosts, thus making themselves worth it just for being unique.

Traits - General

Generally Traits worth between 3 and 5 PP tend to be rather conditional or depend on the GM more than usual, while the high-end ones are a lot more powerful and straightforward, but of limited use. Some of them are Traits because they're simply not worth being Skills (like Animal Person or Gamer) though they can be rather fearsome when combined with existing Skills to grant them extra Advantages (Such as with Intimidating and Weapon Expertise) but they pale in comparison to the sheer ridiculousness you can get away with when you build around Traits such as Leadership, Psychic Power and Spirit of Steel.

Traits - Deathblows

The most powerful of these by raw damage output is Multitargeting, multiplying your Damage by the number of enemies you've got. Though of course it does nothing 1v1. Tearing follows up, which, assuming you deal at least 1 point of damage on your own, can take out a baseline Coordinator with an average roll of 5... But needs 5 turns to do so. Precise is about the only one worth combining with other Deathblows if you want a crazy powerful finisher, as the Disadvantage more or less cancels out after a couple turns' worth of Tension.
Stunning and Defensive are alright on their own, but if you add Multitargeting to them, a single action can turn around an entire combat scene.

Traits - Assets

These are all mechanically the same so there is not that much to say that hasn't already been covered. Maybe the standardized debt mechanic could be taken out and all of them could be given unique mechanics, but I'm not sure about that.

I also like having hard(ish) rules for relying on your network of contacts and money a bit too much, and don't think coming up with specific mechanics to represent being indebted or putting your career at stake would be much of an improvement over what we've currently got.

Perhaps the one thing that I do regret a little that you can grab all four of them and use each in turn to pull yourself out of a jam, without ever repaying the debt back. Then again, someone who slowly gives up on everything they've got as a story progresses could be interesting in its own right.

Traits - Anomalies

Cyborg, Reanimating and Wild are the most interesting, with the last one even potentially letting you communicate with the giant monsters you're fighting if the setting allows for it. Flight and Nightmare can also serve as 'rules to represent pilot-scale monsters'. Technobane can range from extremely useful to absolutely terrible depending on the game

An Anomaly that was considered but ultimately discarded was 'Ghostly'. And it did not come to pass simply because the ability to pass through objects either has no downside because you can control it at will or the downside is absolutely crippling and kills you dead the moment something goes wrong. Maybe one day I will come up with a better way to go about it.

Traits - Equipment

These are the least effects-based of the bunch, with most having abilities highly tuned to represent being specific objects... Which is kind of the point, anyway. The cheapest ones (Ether Drive, First-Aid Nanomachines and Omni-Counter) are all very useful and a fantastic bang for your buck, though they don't really have as big an effect as some of the others.

An Invisibility Device is much more efficient than the Phantasm Miracle at adopting Plan B, though it is more limited in use. A Digital Aide is not just useful, it can spice up scenes as a helpful NPC that is always in your pocket. The Masterwork Tool and Personal Facility are both very useful for their cost, though thinking about it, the former should be able to act as a Proxy. That also makes the Resources-based opportunity cost worth it when compared to just grabbing a Skill.
 The Energy Shield, Icarus-Class Powered Armor, and Armored Land Vehicle all can spice up ground-level encounters, either in the hands of PCs or NPCs. The Miniature Chemical Weapon is also a good replacement for Extreme Terrain-esque rules for walking into a supervillain's lair full of traps.

Last but not least is The Cloneforge Backup Bodies. Which is just plain awesome, but could use the rules text being a bit more clear on its use. It makes a lot more sense if it is used between scenes... but not between any kind of Scene. At some point I forgot to add this clarification and now it is kind of wonky by the rules as written even if, ironically, the rules text is extremely simple.

So that's character options. Next time I examine the mechanics in chapters 4 and 5. And after that, the (hopefully) final revision with some extra goodies.

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