Finishing Blow started off as a Melee experiment when we were working on solutions for what to do with units who were able to break past 20d10 Melee dice. At the time we were coming off with different ideas for what to do with those extra dice and what could be a good universal option that would applicable to a Real Robot as well as a Super Robot.
We eventually settled on “Glory” as our solution for units with high dice pools, thanks to a suggestion from one of our players but we kept Finishing Blow in a design notebook for use later. While we were prepping for the G Gundam release and working on VER 8.8, in particular the Focus action we decided to consider looking over the Finishing Blow system again.
Initially Finishing Blow was one of several contenders for a melee system revision involving a third dice pool. The most recent draft had players splitting up their dice pools between Attack, Defense and Finisher, where Finisher was essentially a follow-on second attack. It had a few limitations, such as the Finisher pool could not exceed the attack dice pool, and it would only trigger if a certain condition was met during the melee combat since only one party would be allowed to strike a Finishing Blow.
There were two competing ideas for this condition, one was a simple and straightforward condition where whoever scored the most unblocked Hits would deliver the Finishing Blow. This is a fairly common item in the mecha genre where two giant robots are wailing into each other, even though both takes hits one of them manages to connect it into a heavy hitter and often beat down the protagonist before they surge backwards.
We liked the idea but it was rife for abuse with units that had very high HP and could simply dedicate all their dice to Counterattack. The goal of this third dice pool was to also encourage making the Melee DEF dice pool more important. Thus we have our second idea, whosoever gets through the Melee clash unscathed may strike a finishing blow.
In this system if you hit your opponent, and fully block them in return they you may strike a Finishing blow afterwards. To use GaoGaiGar as an example, after defeating EI-01 and encountering the 31 Machine Primevals, GGG is damaged greatly and in one last show of Courage Guy pushes forward and attacks with the drill knee on his remaining limb. He is countered with a drill by a Machine Primeval who then proceeds to destroy GaoGaiGar.
For game rules this would have been an attack by the Primeval, a counterattack by Guy that was foiled and fully blocked, followed by a Finishing blow from the Primeval. For those who really get into the narrative side of your games always be on the lookout for moments like these and how you can recreate these moments of courage and dramatic tension in your games.
Option 2 ended up being the best balanced approach, but when it came to the third dice pool we were running into issues. Namely it was just too slow, cumbersome and a lot to remember. We were also trying out different variants of Focus, either a Melee+2d10 or Melee ATK&DEF+1d10 option to see what effect that would have. Combine that with dice bonus from weapons and pilot skills and we had a bit of a cluster when it came to assigning dice to each of the three pools and keeping track of them all.
The biggest difficulty was that even units that have a Melee stat of 10d10-15d10 such as GaoGaiGar would quickly balloon their dice pool to having more than 20 dice. Not to many players of MechaStellar bring more than 20d10 to a game match so that runs into a lot of logistical problems, with rolling and scooping dice, remembering how many successes you had and then remembering how many dice you had assigned to the next pool. While the system was fun overall (and let to some great come from behind victories) it ended up being a bit of a pain in the end. We couldn’t foresee the system being used on a large scale and so tucked it into a “optional module” for later consideration.
While we were working on G Gundam the question came up again about how we can add another dimension to Melee and incentivize Defense in particular. One evening of playtesting we decided to dust off Finishing Blow again, but this time see if we could include it as a mechanic without using a third dice pool at all.
We kept the same condition, of dealing damage while taking none in return, and then scaled back the power on it such that it is only a flat 1000 damage. We then locked it behind Skilled & Ace Pilots to ensure it wouldn’t slow down the game (or cause any unintended side effects with the grunt balance between Zakus and GMs) and voila, a nice addition to the Melee system that adds a bit more strategy for both players.
With the new dimension to melee combat, our battles using G Gundam units started to feel a bit more like the show and we had a fun time haughtily narrarating Sai Saici striking a finishing blow after miraculously rolling a surfeit of Blocks on defense and several criticals on Counterattacks.