Back into my Element
Once upon a time, before we had periodic tables and knew the difference between protons and electrons, the great minds of the time thought the world was made of a different set of elements. The Greeks made Fire, Wind, Water and Earth the gold standard for this in the western world, we know them as the four classical elements - with Aether in the middle as a fifth element that could tie them all together. Different cultures had different ideas of how this worked, though. For example, the Chinese equivalent (known as the Wu Xing) has Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Often these elements are at odds with one another, water and fire don't get along, for example.
Fantasy roleplaying games, especially those of the videogame variety, love elemental systems. It is easy to see why in gameplay terms, they are an intuitive way to add depth to the options for PCs and NPCs in a game. Going adventuring inside a volcano? Prepare your fire resistance and grab some water-themed spells and weapons. Facing a necromancer? The undead are often weak against fire, so you should take advantage of that. Some games make engaging the element system an integral part of the experience, while others include it more as an afterthought you can more or less ignore. Some games use as few elements as possible ( like just fire, ice and lightning) while others start with the four Greek classics and then add everything from metal to psychic power to gravity on top.
I want Elements to be part of the Fantasy mod in BCZ, but there are a lot of decisions to be made figuring out just how to implement them. Starting with...
I have to figure out which Elements I want to have and how many of them. Considering BCG draws primarily from anime and manga influences, I decided to use the Japanese Godai as a starting point: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void. The first four don't need an explanation (I hope), but the fifth represents pure energy and is the highest of all the elements. While the other four are earthly powers, Void is outright divine power, and in fact could also be translated as Sky or Heaven instead of Void. Sounds good, right?
Well, not really. It might be thematically appropriate, but having one of your five Elements as outright superior to all the others is a pretty bad idea in gameplay terms. I considered splitting up Void into two opposites like Light and Darkness or Life and Death, but around that time I realized the number of Elements was starting to get a tad too unwieldy.
You see, the more Elements you have, the thinner each one of them is spread out and and the harder you have to try to make them all equal. If you have only four Elements and the enemy is weak to one of them, you have a 25% chance of being able to exploit it. If you have six elements your odds are (roughly) 16% then 12% if you have eight. I didn't like the sound of that. I would rather have only four Elements but guarantee that they're all equally as powerful and all get the same amount of screentime. Five or six (preferably six) could have been a good number too, but I decided to play it safe early on and see from there if I could add more later.
Using only four Elements means that, assuming every enemy has at least one weakness and one resistance, you have a 50% chance of any elemental shenanigans will be either more effective (or shall we say super effective) or less effective than normal. Because if I'm going to add an optional subsystem to the game, I want it to be relevant more often than not, dang it.
Another positive side of sticking to the basics instead of having three zillion Elements is that a good chunk of the fancy stuff like lightning and ice can be rolled into the very broad definitions of the classical four. Fire can be used for light-based attacks and spontaneous explosions. Wind is often reskinned into electricity or kinetic force in other RPGs. Water goes naturally with ice-themed magic along with fancier uses of humidity like fog. Lastly, Earth grants control over metals and plant life.
The theory seemed solid. What about the execution?
Three Elements to Success
I knew I wanted the Element system to make the game play differently. Exploiting weaknesses and maneuvering around resistances should be a big thing, enough to enable new character builds like single-element specialists or support users who switch the resistances and weaknesses of others, without disrupting the rest of the game. So that if you want to play the game without every battle being like an elaborate game of rock paper scissors you can still do it.
I figured out pretty early on that I was going to have to include ways to convert Core content into the Element system, which is to say making old Weapons into Elemental ones. Likewise, instead of coming up with new Upgrades and Weapons exclusive to each Element, I'd just write a bunch of universal content and let the user choose which Element to assign to it.
I decided the best way to do it would be through three simple rules:
An Elemental Weakness grants two Advantages to all Might Tests made using the corresponding Element and an Elemental Resistance has the inverse effect, giving two Disadvantages instead. In the case of Elemental Damage from sources like Extreme Terrain, the Advantages and Disadvantages are applied to the Test made to resist their effects instead - A Weakness means two Disadvantages to the Test and a Resistance means two Advantages instead.
All characters, PC or NPC, start with one Elemental Weakness and one Elemental Resistance by default. They can have more than that, but no less. This means that everyone will want to engage the system somewhat, even if only to mitigate its effects. Covering Weaknesses through temporary Resistances is fine, but passive Weaknesses stay.
All Beam Weapons are now Magic Weapons and must be aligned with one Element, chosen when purchasing said Weapon. Surprise Minefield, Fire at Will and The Beast can be made Elemental (The Beast alters your Default Weapons) when taken but otherwise remain neutral. This basically means that Elemental Weapons are some of the hardest hitting in the game, and through Weaknesses they can hit even harder, but you have to build around having access to them. Element-neutral physical builds have a place, and have a much easier time surviving attacks on their Weaknesses.
Elementary, my dear Reader
The end result is a system that makes spellcaster-type Mecha feel very dangerous but also very vulnerable. It does need a critical mass of Elemental damage options to keep things varied, but that's what the rest of the expansion is for.
With any luck you'll be able to play with a preview version of aaaall these things by the middle of this year.