MEGALOS Midway Point Recap

As our adventurers flee the Atlantean encampment in the Unshrouded Lands, we come to the midpoint in their journey. Along the way they’ve bested Barry and his Mist Miners, made friends in the city of Foothold, disrupted the plans of the Arlyte Empire’s Custodian, and become Champions of two of the three Umbral Elemental Temples. And all along the way, we’ve learned more and more about the system and gameplay of Megalos. So what has our journey so far taught us?

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Pre-Game Prep

I’m going to be the first to admit that I think I dove into things a bit too quickly with Megalos. I was super excited to try things out, marveled by the system and the setting of the Oradam Rift. I had a couple of ideas put together, mainly having to do with the idea of the Elemental Temples and this game’s Team Rocket, the Mist Miners, but otherwise figured that my improv was going to carry things the rest of the way.

This was, as it always is, a mistake. Improv is not a replacement for prep work, they are complementary to one another. Good prep work leads to easier improv and gives you something to lean on when the ideas just aren’t coming. Additionally, improv can help fuel questions and ideas on what prep work needs to be done.

I also didn’t communicate some of the game and setting expectations, leading to having to kludge in all the stuff with Atlantis on the side to support Seirus’ background and motivations. Part of this was me not prepping for Session Zero adequately and some poor assumptions on my end regarding what everyone knew.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to course-correct most of these issues and while I think we’re still experiencing some tremors occasionally from building on a poor foundation, we’re still in a good place.

Takeaways: Build a stronger foundation for the game. Even if we deviate as the game goes on, that foundation is still going to help prop up everything else and give us something to fall back to whenever everything else fails.

Encounter Difficulties

Now we’re going to dive into the Megalos system. While I’m going to focus on struggles I’ve run into, I don’t want this to be an attack on the system. I’ve very much enjoyed the game and I see these more as places where either I have difficulties understanding or implementing the ideas presented, or just rough spots with the system.

First major hurdle is, and always has been for me, using zones for combat. I am fairly certain I completely overthink this part, but I can never seem to get these to feel “right” in play or preparation. It might just be me being used to grid maps and more free-form systems (Warhammer and breaking out the tape measurers and the movement guides). I think my biggest issue with it and Megalos specifically is that freeform movement of zones seems incongruent with the tactical depth Megalos wants to present with its other options. Like I want to build giant set pieces, but the way zones and movement through them work, I can’t have the fidelity of “this corridor is full of archways that can be used as cover” because that’s not a product of the terrain, it’s a product of the Take Cover action. Minor squabble, but I just never feel like I’ve ever used zones effectively in any game and that’s probably a skill issue, but it is what it is.

Another thing that I’ve slowly become aware of is that I don’t like how enemies are generated. Lots of parts to this. First is foes never grow in power. While the players are going in power (gaining new abilities, artifacts, ect) the rubric for how enemies are generated is static throughout. There’s a bit of mental friction in the fact that the final boss of the campaign mechanically should be similar to an enemy faced at level one. Every Elite has the exact same HP and Defenses, barring Talents. This is one I’m adapting to, but there is very little assistance in the book for a less experienced GM.

Similarly, making Actions and Talents for enemies usually comes down to “Look at existing examples, season to taste,” but Actions and Talents are not created equally. An Auto-Hit CD+1 physical damage attack at range 3 has the same opportunity cost as a melee attack against Dodge that deals CD physical damage.

There is some slight humor to the fact that I came into this game with the explicit goal of “I don’t want to have to make every single bad guy mechanically” and it has instead turned into “I am going to rebuild how bad guys are created mechanically from the ground up.”

Also, and this has nothing to do with anything else here but I wanted to bring this up, but damn does the Sick status do everything you could want. It lowers the enemy’s defenses and makes it harder for them to get rid of it and other statuses. And because you can only save against a single status each turn you’re going to prioritize the thing that makes it harder to get rid of statuses instead of trying to get rid of the other statuses that are also killing you. Can lead to quite the Sucks to Suck spiral.

I think Zones might be situational, as I love them and don’t have too much trouble attaching stuff to them. Example battle map from my first game on Friday:

For assigning behavior to zones, the easiest thing is to follow the power terrain example. Just say “while in this zone you are SHIELDED” and you can qualify it with stuff like “if you interact with the cover options”. You can include more difficult and hazardous terrain areas as well.

All that said, I think you’ve done a great job making interesting battle maps with logical and interesting zone layouts.

I agree with this, but the rules text of Megalos doesn’t support it. Per the text, there are only three kinds of special terrain: Difficult Terrain, Lethal Terrain, and Power Terrain (created by MC and enemy Powers). Now before you get your pitchforks up and say I can just do what I want, that is true but I also want to run the game as closely to the rules as possible until I figure out the friction points before I start changing the game, which is what this is. And some days I don’t want to do that. Those days I just want to take a set of Legos and assemble them as the instructions tell me to.

As for my own personal foibles with Zones, as I think I’ve said before I like to make set pieces, so let me share one of my favorite set pieces:

Deep within a dam, the PCs have sabotaged its main flow control so that the dam will burst and flood the adjacent valley, wiping out an invading army. As the PCs finish sabotaging the dam, a group of enemy elites appear, ready to undo the sabotage.

This set piece has two parts: first the PCs must protect the controls until the dam has gone past the point of no return. Then, as the water pipes surrounding them begin to burst and water floods into the room, the PCs must flee to the emergency exit at the top level of the station while also having a running fight with the remaining foes.

It is, in my opinion, a fun time. But how to I zone this out?

The simplest answer is that all three floors are their own zone. But that means a single Megalos MC could take a Slow Turn and Sprint and Dash from the bottom floor to the top floor in a single turn. Well then I could start partitioning out the floors into zones. But what’s a reasonable amount of effort here? Is it make each floor two zones (East and West zones) so that someone focusing only on running to the exit can make it two rounds? Because the more you divide that gap, the worse the separation between players who decide to make a run for it and players who decide to stand and fight and only maybe take a Dash action each turn.

Probably the best answer is to not even run the second half of the set piece as a running combat, but instead make it a challenge with the Rising Water and the Enemy Forces be other competitors in the contest trying to hinder the players. But then that kind of makes the higher floors superfluous unless have foes coming from it during the Defend portion of this set piece.

Complicated questions that can done many ways and you can only evaluate the results after the fact, which I accept as a fact of life with any creative pursuit but it’s still difficult when you’ve got two-three hours to prep for two or three hours of game time once a week.

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I want to be clear that this question, and the comment about “the system doesn’t permit this”, is absolutely valid. Every game should try to anticipate what its players will do with it. Matty’s successor game, Arise, has 3D battle maps on an 8x8 grid, but I’m sure you can imagine how hard it for people without Warhammer terrain to make a map that exploits the 3D elements the game rules include. And that matters.

So I could build a system toolkit for you here, but you could do that too. Instead, I’ll try to answer the question as written, and turn it into a suggestion for the system.

For me, every map starts with a story. Your version of that is “the map is a set piece”, so I think we’re aligned. Great! You’ve given us a sample story as well.

You’ve also raised an objection to executing that story smoothly (“it’s too easy to get between floors”). Let’s try to solve that as a starting point. My pitch is to make each floor one zone, then make the stairs one zone as well. Furthermore, the stairs are difficult terrain - there’s a cost to use them, but not if you have Liftoff or some other kind of flight/teleport move.

The game gives us difficult and hazardous terrain. You as MC can declare that the floors slowly change into that as the water begins rising. You’ve also mentioned that power terrain is an option. But you get to say that “the dam” is an enemy, and give it a move that creates power terrain. The tools to do this in the rules, but the permission and structure of it isn’t.

Fate and derived games like Atomic Robo also uses zones, but does more work in answering things like “how do I stage this”. There’s combats and non-combat challenges and competitions and so on. But Fate has something called the bronze rule, which is “you can turn anything into a character”. I feel like one of your comments on MEGALOS would be solved by writing a similar rule - “the encounter can have non-creature challenges with their own powers”.

Never a bad message in any game, though I think your inside perspective is quite different from how things look from mine, as a player, where it felt like you had a pretty solid setup and were easily adjusting for the tweaks and foibles we brought to things.

I think you’ve gotten more refined in your use of them, but (as was brought up in this week’s game) they’ve worked pretty neatly. And while I am a tactical hex-map kind of guy, I think they’ve been effective in this game. The tactics are not really about where you are standing, precisely, but about the moves you make and the combos you throw, which means that, sure, you use a Take Cover action rather than move your token behind a barrier, and that work quite nicely.

I think, again, a lot of the nuts and bolts there weren’t as obvious to me as a player. And part of the nature of a game like this is that homebrew mods (even replacing a major subsystem) are a bit easier than in much more heavily trafficked systems like D&D (which, on the other hand, have the advantage of a thousand pages of debate on any individual tweak one might want to make). At any rate, the baddies last time seemed to work fine, and I appreciate your work in making them so.

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To be fair, I over think a lot of stuff and this might just be one more of those things.

I had this conversation with Bill previously, but my plan going forward is to just get as weird as I want with things. Rules not support things? I’m going give you guys a heads up before hand and make my own.

Will it always work out? Probably not.

Will I be able to adjust on the fly? Probably.

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