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.

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