It Doesn't Fucking Work

posted by Lynx Winters Original SA post

Hold on to your asses, ass-holders!
It's 1998, and you're just getting off the school bus. Life in the 7th grade is rough, but every day holds the promise of coming home to screaming and energy blasts on TV. You and your friends bathe in the shoddy animation and almost non-existent plot progression every day, wishing you could be like your heroes Goku and the bald guy who dies all the time. After a trip to the game store, your pal Jimmy has brought you the answer to your wishes!

Jimmy knows not what suffering he brings!

Hi, I'll be ruining your day by filling your brain with the knowledge that this game exists! None of you deserve this and I'm sorry. I'll get this out of the way right now: this game doesn't work. The rules fall apart from the word "go." Since this isn't a game with an original setting, and since nearly everything laughable about this game exists in the mechanics, this first post will be glossing over a lot of the setting stuff because it's DBZ and everyone just wants to know how to do backflips and throw fireballs (spoilers: very poorly!). I can certainly go back later to cover what I zoom past, so if anyone wants to know more about something, just let me know. As much as I'm going to make fun of this, I still like the show. This is mostly because I'm easily entertained by bright colors and motion, much like a small child. That's why I have to share this game with you all, because I feel like people need to know how something could possibly not live up to the lofty standards of the Citizen Kane of Anime.

Some History
Much to the surprise of anyone who doesn't seek out disappointment, R. Talsorian made a tabletop RPG out of Dragon Ball Z in 1999. Written by Mike Pondsmith of Cyberpunk fame, the game was an attempt to cram an already-shoddy cartoon into a simplified version of their Fuzion system. Fuzion was a mix of Cyberpunk's Interlock ruleset and some edition of HERO, and R.Tal used it for a few different games. It wasn't the first anime-based RPG the company had released, but I can hardly imagine that it wasn't their worst.

The Fuzion system was Talsorian's attempt at a universal system, and had two levels complexity depending on how much crunch a game called for: Total Fuzion was the default ruleset and was fairly crunchy but too overwhelming, while Instant Fuzion was meant to be very simple and lighter on rules and chargen options. DBZ used Instant Fuzion, since you probably don't need a lot of stats for such a one-note game.

The Books
The DBZ RPG had three books (the core book and two supplements) that each covered one of the show's major story arcs (sort of). The core rulebook covers the first arc, the Saiyan Saga. The first supplement carries through the Frieza Saga, and the second one covers Garlic Jr. and the Android Saga. It's sort of the weird book since Garlic Jr. was pretty much just filler in a show that already goes nowhere, and the "Android Saga" is really just the first half of a major arc, and furthermore alright let's just move on.

Dragon Ball Z, Abridged
The book opens with a bunch of background about the show, since they are at least trying to pretend that someone who buys the game might not have actually seen the show. The first ten or so pages is a synopsis of the Saiyan Saga, followed by stats and summaries of the show's main characters that appear during the episodes the book covers. The character write-ups aren't bad, and there's some sidebars that explain puns or references in character names or mannerisms. It's interesting if you're a fan of the show, and if you're not a fan of the show then you probably don't have this little bundle of regret in the first place.

After the character write-ups is about 30 pages of information about the rich, detailed setting of the Dragon Ball universe. Like the previous chapter, it's really more of a reference to the game's intended audience. There's a couple spots where it goes into detail for the heck of it, but everything important is made pretty clear in the TV show. I'll go over the basics:

Good gravy, just tell me how to roll dice!
After all the setting stuff, the game finally gets around to telling you how the rules work. This is the worst decision the book ever makes, and it never gets better from here. Strap in!

As I mentioned before, the DBZ RPG uses the Instant Fuzion rules. Rolls are resolved by Stat + Skill + 3d6. This seems reasonable at first but we're going to find out why this just won't do. Anyway, characters get four Basic Characteristics and three-ish Derived Characteristics. Your basic stats are:

Your derived stats are:

Power Level being randomly determined is pretty weird since it's the only part of chargen that is random. You'll also notice that it's possible to have a Power Up higher than your Power Level. That just means you'll gather all your available energy at once. Good luck with that! Next, you have six skills. Each skill is linked to a basic stat, though some rolls might allow you to use a different stat than you normally would. The skills are:

The rest of the chapter is about combat, but since that's where the bulk of the game's problems start I'm going to hold off until the next post to give it the attention it deserves. Instead, let's jump ahead a little bit and look at how to make a character.

I want to be a Super Saiyan 5 and I'm stronger than ten Gokus put together!
Chargen starts with a very important question that every player is going to ask: can I be a Saiyan?!? The answer is probably not! In order to make a Saiyan character, you must roll a 2 on 2d6. Rolling a 2 or 3 on 2d6 lets you make a Namekkian, since weird slug dudes are the next best thing to fearsome monkey warriors. Otherwise, you're a standard human. Like I mentioned way back in the setting portion of this post, "human" also includes all the animal people so you can be a wolf-headed guy or whatever. Mechanically, though, you still don't get any special treatment if you didn't Roll To Be Better. After that is a bunch of stuff about having a basic personality and background. It's DBZ, you really don't need a detailed background.

Now you finally get to throw some numbers around! The first thing is your basic stats. As above, you have four of them. You get 40 points to distribute however you want. In Fuzion, a stat of 3-4 is average, 7-8 is going to put you in the top 1% of human ability, and going above 10 is clearly superhuman. That being said, basic stats are very rarely used alone, so having a high skill can make up for a low basic stat. That's a good thing, because the Dragon Ball Z RPG never lets you increase your basic stats! Whatever you assign now, that's what you've got forever. Spending XP allows you to raise skills and derived stats, but not basic stats for whatever reason. This is even dumber when you realize that the updated stats in each book for the show's characters increase their basic stats with everything else.

After assigning your basic stats and determining your derived stats from them, you get 50 points for your skills. You don't have to put points in every skill, and rolling a skill you don't have just uses your basic stat like any other roll.

Finally, you can make up special techniques. Special techniques are hand-to-hand attacks with a goofy name you get to make up, a sweet description of how you want to maul your opponent, and a skill cost. The skill cost can be whatever you want, but when you use your special technique you take a penalty to COM+Fighting+3d6 equal to the cost. The tradeoff is that for every point you reduce your skill, your attack will do one extra die of damage. Basic melee damage is a number of d6s equal to your PHYS+Fighting, so special techniques are a good way to make up for a low PHYS. You can make up as many special techniques as you want, there's no point cost. That's all there is, your character is done!

In the next post I'll get into the two things DBZ is really about : punching dudes and throwing energy blasts. Here's a teaser, it does neither one well at the start and only gets worse as the game goes on!

I cast Destructo Disk at the darkness.

posted by Lynx Winters Original SA post

Alright, so last post I went over the character stats and how to make a well-written, compelling character with realistic motivations. Today we're going to learn how to throw a punch. It's harder than it seems!

As a quick recap, the Fuzion system's core resolution mechanic is Stat + Skill + Dice vs a target number or opposing roll. DBZ uses 3d6 for dice, so for those who are math-inclined you've got an average roll of 10 and a range of 3-18. This is pretty important! Rolling a natural 3 is an automatic failure, but rolling a natural 18 is NOT an automatic success. That is also pretty important!

As a reminder, during chargen you have 40 stat points for four stats and 50 skill points for six skills. Some of you with high power levels might be sensing a strange and evil power on the horizon.

I cast Destructo Disk at the darkness.
So it's DBZ, you've done the standing around posing and trying to intimidate each other with vague threats of cartoon-friendly violence and blasting your opponent into the Other World. Now it's time for action! FINALLY! Initiative is determined by highest Mental stat, ties are broken by highest Combat stat, and further ties go simultaneously, because that's not a giant clusterfuck or anything. The basic attack roll in DBZ is Attacker's Combat + Fighting (or Weapon) + 3d6, and the defender rolls Combat + Evasion + 3d6. In most cases, the defender has the chance to roll defense against all attacks in a turn and there is no penalty for multiple defenses.

Let's take a second to look at some math. The rolling seems pretty simple, but there's a little problem that can crop up just about the second you start the game. As stated above, most any character can roll on a skill check is Stat + Skill + 18, and there's no automatic success. That means that if the difference between two characters Stat + Skill on any given roll is 19 or more, the only way for the character with the higher total to fail is to roll a 3. That wouldn't be so bad if having a skill difference of 19 was a rare thing, but it's pretty common for it to come up while you're making your characters and only gets worse when people start spending XP.

Let's say you manage to kick someone in their stupid mouth. I think I said this in the last post, but damage from melee attacks is a number of d6s equal to your base (PHYS + Fighting) for unarmed attacks, or (PHYS + Weapon + (weapon's bonus damage)) for armed attacks. Special techniques add to the base total, not the adjusted skill total. Ranged attacks, including energy powers, do a specific amount of dice related to the method of attack. Roll all those dice somehow and add them up, then subtract the victim's Defense. Any damage left over is subtracted from the victim's Hits. If a character's Hits drop to 0 or below, the character is either knocked out or dead, depending on what the GM thinks makes sense.

Combat is divided into Phases of the game-standard, oddly specific 3 seconds. Four Phases make up one Round. Rounds are important because at the end of each Round, everyone gets, uh, hmm, some amount of lost Hits back. See, this is where the game does not work as written. On page 67 you hae the following text:


Every 4 Phases is called a Round. At the end of each Round all heroes and bad guys get back any Hits they have lost, up to (2 x their Physical) in lost Hits, if the attacks have not been especially lethal (such as bullets, knives, or lasers). If the heroes or bad guys have lost more Hits than they recover, they are still hurt. They must wait until the end of the next Round to get back more Hits.

All fine, except that bit about "lethal attacks" for reason I'll cover later. But then on page 70, under a section called Recovering, you find this:


Generally, each Round in which you are resting or being healed, you will get back as many Hits as your Physical Characteristic. Example: Karma has a Physical of 5. He gets back 5 Hits every Round. However, if the GM has determined that the damage you have taken is especially deadly (you were stabbed, shot, etc.), your recovery rate may be in hours or even days instead of Rounds.

Which is it? Who the hell knows? I lean towards the PHYS x2 rule because the combat quick sheet on page 97 also says it. As far as I can tell, this has never been errata'd in the books. If it was ever clarified on R. Tal's website, that shit's dust in the wind because they dropped any mention of this game a long time ago. The Androids book has a small FAQ but it doesn't say anything either. You have to house rule this right out of the box, because it's going to come up almost immediately.

Before we move on, let's go back a second and look at that whole "lethal wounds" business because that seems a little out of place. Before we even look at numbers, let's just think about it in terms of the source material. The show has people throwing around nuclear bombs that they make out of yelling and believing in themselves. Nappa cuts a fighter jet in half with his bare hands as a way of stretching after a long car ride. Piccolo kills the moon to keep Goku's son from going King Kong in the empty countryside. Frieza blows up an entire planet (eventually) as a distraction. Even Yamcha could level a city if he had time and motivation.

Is this book really trying to tell me a gun or knife is a serious threat?!?

Well, probably not. See, I'm almost certain that is standard Fuzion stuff they just tossed in there. Total Fuzion products have similar explanations, so they may have just copied and pasted to fill space. Then there's the sidebar on page 70 with some example weapon stats. Weapons in DBZ don't really do anything other than add extra damage or range. A sword adds 6 dice of damage to your melee attack, while a rifle would do a straight 10 dice at up to 350 yards. On average, 10 dice will be around 35 damage, which means any starting character with PHYS 7 (which grants 35 Defense) doesn't have to worry a whole lot. PHYS 12 gives 60 Defense, which means even a perfect damage roll from small arms gets ignored entirely.

Despite what game text implies, there are no different types of damage. Total Fuzion games have Hits and Stun for non-lethal attacks, but DBZ just mashes it all into one thing. (More specifically, a sidebar notes that if you were to convert DBZ into Total Fuzion, energy attacks would do a shitload of Stun damage, which can still kill someone if you apply enough.)

Fuck it, this is DBZ! Only chumps use guns! The few times someone brings a sword to a fistfight, it either breaks or just gets ignored almost immediately anyway, so let's move on. Every Phase, you get one-ish action. For reference, here's the action list:

Most of those are fine, but I took the liberty of rewording them for clarity because this game needs all the help it can get. I marked two of them, however, as being worthy of a little more attention. Let's start with Block.

Block is weird because of the complete lack of timing on the action. Nothing tells you when you are supposed to use this action. To go back to Total Fuzion for a second, there's an action called Abort that's missing from DBZ. Abort lets you forfeit your action to make a defensive action (Block or Dodge in this game) if you haven't taken your turn yet. Total Fuzion's Block also makes it so that a blocked opponent must act after you on the next Phase, regardless of turn order. All that neat stuff is missing in DBZ, which means you have to use Block preemptively I guess? The Androids book actually introduces the Abort action into the game but doesn't add the bonus effect for block, which would make it extremely useful.

Then we have Grab, which is notable for only being mentioned in the core book in that list above. It isn't mentioned again until the Androids book that came out three years later, which does provide the game-pace-crushing rules for combat hugs that us nerds crave. In general, the rules section of the Androids book makes a noble attempt at damage control, but it was too little too late. I'll cover the Frieza and Android books to show what happens when you pretend a broken game works fine and then throw even more shit into it.

In the next post I'll cover how Energy and Powers factor into this hot mess. It's not DBZ unless there's bright lights and yelling and zwee fighting, so I think it's best that I focus on that in a separate post instead of cramming it into this already-long post.

This game will explode in five minutes!

posted by Lynx Winters Original SA post

In the last post we learned about beating people up with your hands and feet, which is what happens when the animators had some money to work with. Today's kung fu lesson is about the thing everyone knows DBZ is really about : flying and fireballs! So far, you might have been thinking that some rules are poorly-designed but still maybe a little workable. Today I'm going to send that idea into the Other World.

This game will explode in five minutes!
In the character stats, I explained that you have a Power Level (determined by dice) and a Power Up stat (PHYS + MEN x10), as well as a Power skill. In the combat basics, you saw the Power Up action. Let's see how all of this works.

When a fight starts up, all characters have no energy available to use. To get some ki to work with, you use the Power Up action on your turn. It's never really defined whether or not you can power up before a fight or how long you can hold it after a fight, so I guess the moment someone decides to gather power is when combat time starts. When you use a Power Up action, you get energy points up to your Power Up stat. You keep those energy points until you use them up or get knocked out, and it's sort of implied that you let it go after a fight's over but they never really say.

Your Power Level is the maximum amount of energy points you can gather until you have a chance to recover outside of combat. For example, if you have a Power Level of 600 and a Power Up of 200, you could Power Up three times before you hit your maximum unless you pace yourself and don't take the full 200 energy with each action. Also of note, to make the math a little faster you can only gather energy in multiples of 10. Powering Up for 130 energy is fine, but 145 isn't. If your Power Up is higher than the amount of energy left in your Power Level, you just get whatever is left. It is possible to have a Power Up higher than your Power Level, especially at character creation, so Powering Up just gets you all of it at once.

Outside of combat you recover used energy at a rate of your Power Up per hour. The GM could also grant ways of recovering used energy faster, like a Senzu Bean to instantly recover your full Power Level.

Now that you have some power ready, let's see what you can do it.

Of course, it would be ridiculous if you could just dump as much power as you wanted into any attack, so powers have a skill check to use properly. The difficulty of a Power skill check is (Power Cost / 10). A 400 energy blast has a difficulty of 40, for example. As mentioned above, the special effects on energy blasts increase the difficulty of the Power roll, not the actual energy cost. This is where the game starts to house-rule itself, suggesting that to speed up play you might want to only require the Power roll the first time a a character uses a specific power in a fight, then assume they pass the roll for the rest of combat. While that would speed up play, it also just blows away whatever semblance of balance the Power rolls might have tried to implement. In the case of targeted powers like blasts or some of the powers introduced in later books, after you make the Power roll to control the power, you make another Power roll to hit.

Hitting with a massive energy wave is pretty cool, but now it's time to roll damage. This is another spot where the game house-rules itself. Rolling 500d6 is not really as fun as it sounds with real dice but it's a central part of the game so they give you options to speed things up. The first option is the fastest, but also the dumbest: ignore the dice and just apply the points. This ends up fucking with the game's already loose math by making fights take longer due to attacks doing less damage and also forcing players to spend more energy to get as much damage as they could by rolling. The second option is more reasonable, and should have just replaced the first option entirely: multiply the number of dice by 3. That's much closer to what an average roll will be, still pretty quick math, and avoids the problems with the first option. The last option is also pretty reasonable while letting people actually roll damage because rolling dice is fun: drop the zeroes, roll however many dice are left and add them up, then add the zeroes back. For example, a 500 dice attack would become 5d6x100 while a 22,000 point attack would become 22d6x1000. You'll still need a buttload of dice but it's way more feasible than rolling 22,000 dice.

Nerds of Earth, lend me your power!
Goku's Spirit Bomb gets its own sidebar on page 87. The way that they rule it, you get a multiplier to your Power Level and Power Up based on how many people lend you power. A few thousand people gets you a x2 bonus, a small country gets you x10, and if you can get a whole planet to kickstart your attack you get a nice x100,000 multiplier. That's a shitload of power, so naturally nobody but Goku gets to do it unless you convince the GM to let you learn it.

In the next post I'll be covering what happens when the game manages to survive the first combat: GETTING HUGE!


posted by Lynx Winters Original SA post

It's been a little while, hasn't it? As a refresher, last time I made words about this game I talked about how to just punch a green dude a couple dozen times a turn before anyone gets the chance to throw a fireball! That's good, because it prevents the game from locking up the first time someone actually defends themselves from an energy attack, thanks to the Infinite Death Tennis scenario. Today's post is about what happens if you manage to actually complete a fight without the game imploding: Get Huge or Die Trying!

So I know I've been hammering this point home pretty hard, but clearly nobody actually playtested this game because the math doesn't work. In an earlier post I talked about how the 3d6 roll for skills means that it's possible to make someone that's untouchable or can't possibly miss another starting character by having a skill difference of more than 19. Today we'll turn "possible" into "inevitable," and also look at how R. Talsorian suggests you balance enemies in an environment where balance is a polite suggestion at best.

For some reason they decided to cram the Experience section into the middle of the Powers chapter. It first details the ways you can gain XP:

They also suggest that the GM might just give you bonus XP for whatever reason seems appropriate. Oddly, the math on getting XP from fights basically favors keeping your Power Level stat relatively low for maximum XP gain. Since the most useful powers are "going first" and "going more" and both of those are pretty cheap, not spending a lot on raising Power Level is pretty doable.

Once you have some XP burning a hole in your weighted clothing, it's time to apply it to your stats. Since this game tries to be pretty easy on the math, XP is spent on your stats on a one-for-one basis. However, you must spend XP in increments of 10. No splitting it up to get 5 points in a skill and 5 points to boost your Defense. You're allowed to spend XP on Power Level, Power Up, your skills, your Defense, or your Hits.

I said this in the first post, but at no point are you allowed to raise your four basic stats. Spending energy lets you temporarily boost those stats for a short time, but that's it. You can raise your Fighting and Evasion skills all you want to make up for a low starting Combat score, but a crazy-high starting Mental will let you get the first turn at the start of just about every fight and nobody can really do anything about it.

So to put everything together: the core resolution mechanic of the game (stat+skill+3d6) doesn't work well once people have a difference in skill totals higher than 19. There is an auto-fail roll (natural 3) but no auto-success. Character advancement in skills is done in multiples of 10, which means it only takes takes two Evasion skill boosts to destroy any chance the GM had to balance enemies. The moment any one PC has 20 more Evasion than another, any enemy with a real threat of being able to hit that PC will only miss the other PCs on a natural 3, which is roughly a 0.5% chance. How does the book suggest you balance villains when the math is that delicate? Add up all their stats! Here's a sidebar from page 114:


One Man Gang
For example, say your players have Combat Characterists of 20, 30, and 45 respectively. A bad guy with a total Combat of 95 (20+30+45) is really going to make them sweat.

I, uh... hmm. That's all there is in the entire GM chapter of the book. The rest is all just the standard "how to make a game plot" stuff we've seen a million times. That helpful suggestion does nothing to address the problem, and might just end up making a bad guy that never misses and flattens the PC . It also doesn't help that they don't tell you what to make the the villain's skills or defense or anything. The fact is, there is no real good way to do it. Major enemy NPCs will have to have extremely high Defense and Hits to endure more than a couple Phases of a group of PCs going to town, while not having enough offensive capability to vaporize someone with a glance. Buying extra actions with energy means that whoever goes first will probably win, and since that's probably going to be the GM's galaxy-threatening alien supervillain they'll probably just wipe the whole team. At least that means everyone gets to train under King Kai!

The second-smartest way to stat out enemy NPCs is decide roughly how many minor and major hits they can take before dying, decide a rough percentage of a player's health to take away on a failed evade, then just fake-roll some dice and tell the players "you need to roll a 12 or better to evade his attack" on his turn. The smartest way to stat out NPCs is to put this book away and just watch the show with your friends. It's not high entertainment, but it's a damn sight smarter than this game ever was.

Your wish... is granted.
That about does it for the core book of the Dragon Ball Z Anime Adventure Game! Thanks for reading, and I'm sorry. There's still two supplements to cover, but I'm not sure if I want to jump on them right away or if I want to write about Capcom World Tournament, the d20 Street Fighter RPG that almost was. When ever I decide to get around to the Frieza and Androids books, they'll definitely go much faster than the core book. If anyone has any thoughts on the matter, please let me know!