Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Downtime in the Survival Paradigm

Not every day is a pitched battle against titanic monsters clawing their way out of the hidden places of the earth to menace the populace. You still need to eat, shower, fix your mech, fix your sleep schedule, go to your second job, and if you're lucky you might still have time for a much-abbreviated social life and/or therapy. This post contains the unglamorous half of the game - when you aren't melded body-and-soul to twenty tonnes of metal and lightning, when you have to realize that global capitalism is just as crushing and punishing as the monsters it demands you face.
You are just as important as your mech, no matter what TacNet's corporate policies imply. Gameplay during downtime - i.e. whenever you're not in a kaiju battle - is much more freeform, but you have a few stats and defining characteristics that let you resolve actions with unclear success chances and interesting consequences of failure.

To resolve such an action, the GM picks one of the Pilot stats and has you roll a d6 under your stat to see if you succeed. If you roll the exact value of your stat, you critically succeed, and get something extra for your trouble. If you fail the roll, that doesn't necessarily mean you lose everything - just that the GM gets to add a complication to your action. If you roll a 6, however, you do unequivocally fail.

Each stat has a value from 1 to 5. You start with 10 points to distribute between them. They don't model specific physical qualities of your character; humans tend to be more alike than you'd think (especially when they're all mech pilots eating canned noodles and getting way too little sleep). Instead, they represent your character's strengths of personality, and what talents you rely on when all the chips are bet against you.

Cunning: Actions that require cleverness, trickery, guile, or subtlety. If you have high Cunning, you can think circles around anyone else, and know exactly what (and what not) to say to get your way.
Grit: Actions that require stubbornness, determination, sheer force of will. If you have high Grit, you can face adversity head-on and weather any storm.
Prowess: Actions that require training, skill, general excellence through practice and achievement. If you have high Prowess, you excelled in the academy and can put those lessons directly to use in your life.
Pilots also have a Background, where they came from before becoming a pilot. Backgrounds are freeform descriptors that let you automatically choose to succeed with complications (as if you'd rolled above your stat, but below a 6) instead of rolling a stat and risking failure whenever they apply. For example, if your background is "Delivery Driver", you might apply that to any time you're in a car chase, or looking for a hidden location. If your background is "Physics Degree", you might use that to fast-talk a scientist into giving you information, or to interpret kaiju attack data to predict the next one.

Finally, each pilot has a Crisis that determines what Debts they start with (in addition to their initial mech core loan). All pilots need a Crisis - there's a reason you got into this vital, lethal, awful, essential business, and it's not for the adrenaline rush.
Sample Crises
Addiction: Living expenses debts are incurred at Category 2.
Car Debt: Start with an additional Category 3 debt and a new car.
Credit Card Debt: Incur Living Expenses debts each season you didn't have at least two fights.
Inherited Debt: Start with a Category 4 debt that can be reduced by 1 each season in which you hire Accountants (see Debt rules).
Kids: Incur an additional Category 1 debt each season.
Medical Debt: Start with an additional Category 2 debt and a Category 1 injury.
Nice Pad: Living expenses debts are incurred at Category 3, and you have a prime apartment in a building with kaiju-grade reinforced plating and defenses.
Student Loans: Start with a Category 4 debt and an additional Background from your degree (or whatever chunk of it you completed).

Instead of currency, you have debts. Breaking even is a win condition. Debts have categories, like kaiju. They're about as devastating to your personal life. You can pay off a debt with the reward money from a kaiju attack of that category or higher.
Category 1: Ambulance ride. Bail (minor crimes). Living expenses (one season).
Category 2: Buying a used car. Funeral expenses. New mech system or weapon. 
Category 3: Core loan to build a new mech. Gender affirming surgery. 
Category 4: Student loans for an undergraduate degree. Immediate life-saving medical intervention. Experimental mech system. 
Category 5: Home ownership. Cancer treatment. Paranuclear weapon, single shot.

Debts don't combine to create debts of a higher category, but you also can't pay off multiple lower-category Debts with a higher-category bounty. Every debt you incur means you're gonna have to fight one more kaiju.

You can go into debt of your own volition, and will have to in order to stay on your feet. Mech repairs, medical debt, living expenses, and extra Core loans can be of whichever level's necessary to keep you moving and fighting.

If cumulatively the categories of your Debt ever sum up to 10 or greater, you can't take on more. If you don't clear a debt that season, your character is forcibly retired. You have to sell off your mech, move into an even tinier apartment, and start working minimum wage.
Your Credit Rating is based on the category of the largest kaiju you've defeated. Debts for equipment, training, housing, etc can only be voluntarily taken on if their category is less than or equal to your CR. Medical debt and other involuntary debts happen anyway regardless of their category.

In a season you don't have at least one fight (perhaps you took a well-deserved vacation, or have an injury you don't want to exacerbate), you incur a Living Expenses debt. Every subsequent season you haven't paid it off, and don't have a fight, it increases by 1 Category.

There's predatory payday loan companies around every corner. If you want to, you can use them to pay off a debt this season in exchange for a debt one category higher next season.
You can get accountants on payroll to fiddle with your debts and make payments that violate the rules. At the end of the season, this incurs a new Category X debt, where X is the number of times you've had the accountants perform their financial wizardry.
    - Pay off multiple debts with a higher-category one
    - Take on a debt of a category higher than your Credit Rating
    - Take on a new debt when you've got 10 or more cumulative points of debt
    - Stay solvent and in your mech if you have 10+ debt and didn't pay off a loan this season
    - Something else, if you can think of it and they don't see why not.
Once you've finally cleared all your debts, you finally gain the option to retire and take on a less dangerous profession. You can't do so earlier without facing total destitution - if you had other lucrative marketable skills, you wouldn't be piloting a mech. Good luck.

A Season is a unit of time. There's roughly 4 seasons in a year. They don't correspond to seasons, they correspond to financial quarters. The weather's fucked anyway, "fall", "winter", "spring", and "summer" don't mean much when global climate catastrophe has been in motion for half a century and kaiju are manifesting natural disasters we don't even have names for yet.

In a season, you can take on as many kaiju deployments as you want, but you can't pay debts until you decide to stop fighting and end the season.

When a season starts, and between kaiju battles, you can engage in any interactions or systems you want. Acquire gear, take on debts, follow plot threads, repair your mech, etc. This is open-ended pilot-scale RP, like any other tabletop role-playing game. Often during this time, the GM will let you know that there's a local kaiju attack, and give the party the opportunity to suit up and fight it (you can choose not to, but to paraphrase a great man - "Where do you want to die? Here, or in a mecha?").

You can and should also seek out kaiju to fight on your own. It's your job, after all. When you do, the GM will give you d4 options; you must choose at least 1.

When players decide they've had enough and need to lick their physical and financial wounds, they can choose to end the season, and Payday occurs. On Payday, players are awarded bounties and use them to pay off debts of their choice. You can't stockpile bounties to pay off higher debts later unless you have accountants - your creditors are calling and knocking on your door.

Repairs and Injuries
Compared to your body and your mind, mechs are a trivial fix. Order some spare parts, put in the elbow grease, bill it to the company as mission-critical expenses (thank the unions, they fought hard to win you that benefit). At any time between fights, you may restore all damaged systems to maximum capacity. However, attrition is a slow but efficient killer - every 10 damage you take to a stat over time will reduce its maximum by 1 due to overall wear and tear.

You don't have health insurance. If you want medical care, it'll cost you. During fights, any Overflow damage over your core systems' remaining stats is applied directly to you (if one of your systems takes 4 damage when it's only at 3 remaining, you take 1 damage personally). 10 Overflow is instant death unless you immediately take on a Category 4 debt.

Otherwise, healing your damage requires taking on a loan equal to Damage/3, rounded up - 1-3 is a category 1 debt, 4-6 is a category 2 debt, etc. If you're strapped for debt and taking on multiple fights per season, you can save paying your medical debt for later - but if you haven't healed it, Overflow carries over between battles and you're that many points closer to instant death. You can always take on debts above your Credit Rating for medical care.
If you don't take on debt to heal Damage by the end of the season, you get a chronic injury that nothing but time can heal (well, time and money and physical therapy - but the point is, the docs can't do anything for it in the short term). Injuries let your GM inconvenience you in a variety of ways inside and outside the cockpit, and also come in categories - dictated by the category of debt you'd need to go into to heal it (but chose not to). You can accumulate multiple of the same Category of injury.
Category 1: GM can force you to reroll a die once per fight OR GM can make a Strain roll fail once per fight OR GM can force you to reroll a die outside of combat once per session.
Category 2: GM can immediately have you fail a roll once per fight OR GM can reroll a damage die against you once per fight until it's higher  OR force you to fail a roll outside of combat once per session.
Category 3: GM can make a damage die deal max damage against you once per fight OR GM can make you go last in the initiative order once per fight OR reduce one of your Pilot stats by 1 permanently.

You can spend a Season resting and recuperating to decrease an Injury's category by 1. That means no fights, and this can't reduce it below 1. It's not a particularly cost-effective option, but someone needs to fight off kaiju - and if everyone decided to lick their wounds instead of going into the meat grinder, we'd all die a horrible death.

When your mech is cratered, with all its stats reduced to 0 and you crawling out of its crash harness broken and bloodied, you can refurbish your mech by upgrading the category of your Core loan. If you've paid off your Core loan, or your existing loan is already Category 5, you'll have to take on a new one.
Equipment and Progression
Someday, you're going to need a bigger boat. When you do, there's plenty of options - from TacNet's Direct-To-Pilot lifestyle weaponry brands, to old Air Force surplus missiles auctioned off by ranking officers turned arms dealers, to the Lockheed-Northrop-Boeing conglomerate's maximum-collateral line of bleeding edge systems. All mech systems and weapons suppliers are more than happy to sell you the latest and greatest - with repayment plans they describe as "more than fair, generous really, you'd be lucky to find anything better at this bargain price".

Buying new equipment incurs debt, and is the only way to advance your mech's capabilities.
Weapon: Category 2. Comes with a free mod. You can have a maximum of 4 weapons on your mech at any time, and may swap between them during down time at will.
Additional Weapon Mod: Category X, where X is the number of mods on the weapon already. Can't be moved between weapons without some risky tinkering.
New System: Category 2. Category 3 if it costs 6 or more points. You can only have a maximum of 20 total points in systems, and may swap between them during down time at will.
+X points in a stat: Category X. Can't get more than 10 points in a stat, or more than 20 total points in stats overall.
Experimental Tech: Always incurs a Category 4 or greater debt. You need high-up connections with corps or militaries or academies to look at this gear in person, and it goes without saying that you don't break it in the field. This is the good stuff - weather inducers, miniaturized paranuclear weapons, orbital drop systems, flash-clones.
Temporary Gear: You can rent gear for a much cheaper price - just make sure you give it back in one piece. If you rent a new weapon or system, decrease the Debt category by 1. This might even be free for special high-level deployments - you can't fight a kaiju in the stratosphere without an air frame, for instance. While you can return the gear immediately after the fight to pay back the debt, you can keep it until the end of the Season and add that debt to your increasingly long pile of bills. On Payday, it'll get repossessed whether you like it or not.

By default, you have a deal on a garage that serves as your warehouse and hangar bay. These come rather cheaper for mech pilots - it's considered part of lifestyle expenses - but are as bare-bones as you'd expect. There's a variety of lifestyle extras you can shell out for, if you're willing to pay.
Health Insurance: Incur an extra Category 1 debt each season. You can heal the first 5 damage you take per season without incurring debt. May be bundled with life insurance to take as one lump Category 2 debt each season.
Life Insurance: Incur an extra Category 1 debt each season. You do not incur your first debt for lethal damage each season. May be bundled with health insurance to take as one lump Category 2 debt each season.
Launch Bay Access: You have access to a proper mech bay, with rapid-response launch tubes and high-quality comms systems. You can deploy to any sector of the city your bay is in at the start of a fight, and get +1 to Response Rolls to determine how the rest of the fight is going (this doesn't stack if multiple people have launch bay access). Incur an extra Category 1 debt each season. Can be bundled with Warehouse into a lump Category 2 debt.
Warehouse: Your average garage is a tight fit for one mech frame; even tighter considering all the loose boxes and machining equipment and tools scattered all over any surface you can convert into a temporary workbench. If you want, god forbid, another frame - or even just to share space with another pilot - you'll need to rent something bigger. Incur an extra Category 1 debt each season. Can be bundled with Launch Bay Access into a lump Category 2 debt.
Accountants: See Debt rules. Category X debt, where X is the number of times you have them break the rules. Minimum 1.
Disaster Insurance: 20 years into the Kaiju Era, nobody's counting giant monster attacks as "acts of God" anymore. Paying for this means you won't have to upgrade your mech's core loan (or get a new loan) if it gets cratered. Incur an extra Category 1 debt each season.

Second Job: You get to pay off an extra Category 1 debt each season, but only have the time to do one of the following between each mech battle:
- Repair one of your mech's stats.
- Swap out weapons and systems.
- Buy and install one new weapon, mod, or system and install it.
- Seek medical treatment for damage suffered in combat.


  1. The survival paradigm setting is super appealing to me!

  2. Really enjoying this and honestly feeling like the debt-centric system hammers home who the real monsters are...

    Options for therapy and hobbies and having a social life?


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