Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mechanized Action

So, its the holidays, and I don't know about you, but I honestly can't think of a better way to ring in the new year than with a bunch of 30'-50' tall mechs blasting the hell out of each other. Now, Mech based games are nothing new to the table when it comes to RPGs. Many fans of RPGs were/are also fans of Japanese animation, and in turn, fans of the Mech genre of Japanese animation. Even amongst those who claim they don't like anime, you'll find people who say they like Robotech (yes, I get the irony here), Battle Tech, and other mech influenced games such as Heavy Gear and 40k Epic. So, lets take a moment and talk about some mech games.

Now, much to my chagrin, I really only know of 3 mech RPGs that have been worth their salt as games in giving the feel of actual mech based combat. So I'm going to talk about those three a little bit. At the end, and in the comments, I'd absolutely love it if people could fill in the blanks with other mech games that they have played, enjoyed, or otherwise just think are neat.

#1 Robotech - Palladium Games
This one is the classic, and the one that in many ways got me into anime, and further into role playing games. For all of you out there who absolutely hate anime, Robotech is the series you can pin a lot of your blame on. Brought over to the states, Macross was re-edited, re-scripted, and re-dubbed before being released int he states as Robotech. The story goes briefly as such, an alien craft crashes into earth and stops what is effectively world war three. Through the study of the alien ship, they develop an energy source called protoculture, and also jump technology ahead multiple generations. This technology than gets put to the test when the alien invaders who shot down that ship show up to recover their prize.

Now, the system itself is Palladium's basic system, so if you've played Heroes Unlimited, or Rifts, then you probably have a good idea of how the system works. Now, there has been a recent revision of Robotech by game designer extraordinaire Jason Marker, which I haven't tried, but what was there to work with was already good stuff. The combat rules for Palladium just worked better, and smoother, in Robotech than I recall them working in any other system, and let's face it, any game that gives you rules for shooting missiles out of the sky has got to have at least some things going for it.

#2 Mutants and Mastermidns - Mecha and Manga
Mecha and Manga is a supplement for Mutants and Masterminds that lets you make anime and manga inspired games, instead of the more western comic focus that Mutants and Masterminds normally has. The book has sections for martial arts anime/manga (like DBZ), monster catching ones (Pokemon), classroom romance (drawing a blank here sadly), and of course, mecha based action.

Now, in a game I ran with this the system handled the mecha action fairly well. Simply put the mech based stuff on a higher power level, and go nuts with the power levels. Nothing quite gets the point across to players like having a Blast 35 on the mech piloted by their Power Level 4 pilot. However, the game doesn't handle the out of mech action - or transition between - as well in my experience. The action here is also a lot more on the comic bookie side, as that is what Mutants and Masterminds is built for. Still, it is definitely worth a look over, if only for how seamlessly the mech creation is blended into normal character rules.

#3 Mecha
Now, I haven't had a chance to play Mecha yet, but that isn't for lack of trying. I've read through the rule book several times after the game was suggested by none other than Robotech author Jason Marker. The combat system, and the way the character blends with the mech is both fantastic and original, and I've been dying for a chance to try it out ever since. Not saying it is the perfect game system mind, they all have flaws and there are a few design choices I disagree with (minor stuff mostly), but it is a solidly built system.

This system is also focused on the anime series, but also brings tools to the table to encourage players to play those stories. Mechanical benefits for doing social scenes, research, practice, and all sorts of things are there in force, and also seem like they could work very well. Though, on the down side, could keep things more GM/Player 1-on-1 instead of Group of PCs/GM like some people like.

What Else?
So, what else is out there for good mecha games? What have I missed out on, or just forgotten to mention? I just know I'm forgetting one right now that I also really liked for more "serious" mecha action, as opposed to the more cartoony stuff I've listed here. If it comes to me I'll post it in the comments below. (Assuming I'm not beaten to it)


  1. For me, the quintessential 'mecha' game is, and always will be, Battletech. Though I'm well aware that Battletech blatantly stole mech designs from Robotech, there has always been something about the setting that really appeals to me. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the wargame aspect of this setting, but not nearly as much as all the political machinations going on behind the scenes as five noble 'houses' struggle for control of the remains of the once proud 'Star League'. I'm one of those folks who don't particularly care for anime, and Battletech has little or no anime 'feel' to it (save for a few flashy maneuvers in the wargame where you can leap-kick other mechs). That isn't to say I can't appreciate the beauty of the Robotech series- I love the LOOK of the technology. Its just the melodramatics (which probably come across a lot worse in the american translation). Unfortunately for me, Battletech soon became 'unplayable'. With a slew of popular novels coming out, the entire setting became so locked in stone that you couldn't really game in the world and have any effect on the 'main story'- unless you want to ignore all of the established canon from a certain point- and that's what I generally do. But in any case, Battletch is still a great mecha game that is very far removed from its anime roots, except, perhaps, in that some of its mechs look... quite familiar to veritechs... odd that.

  2. Battletech is one of the systems I knew about, but didn't mention too much, because I never got a real chance to play it. Even owning the boxed set for beginners for a few years, I just never got around to playing it. The world, what I heard about it - and saw in the cartoon - was awesome, and had a major impact on a Robotech game I was running at the time, but I never got to play it directly.

  3. I'd throw in Heavy Gear. Heavy Gear benefits from using the Silhouette Core system which is an excellent system. It works well for gritty mech combat (unless your players won't stop rolling sixes! I'm looking at you A.L.). It gets the swap between human and mech scale very well by having it on one damage continuum. It has only slight nods to anime style mechs in the form of Duelists and their fancy maneuvers. Mostly though it's much more in the ethos and tradition of Battletech. Much like Battletech though, it really does seem to do better with a battle mat and treated as at least partially a tactical game than I usually prefer with my role playing games. That said, what it does, it does well.

  4. That was the system I was forgetting, heavy gear/silhouette core. Great system, lets you build your own mech too - and see how much it'd cost. Plus some random character flaws like slow start up, strange smells, etc, etc.

  5. I have Mecha! but never really played it. I was told it was excellent for mecha combat. I still have my copy of Battletech next to my desk. Although it's a derivative of Battletech, the actual RPG is Mechwarrior.

    Most of our Mech RPGs were either in Mechwarrior or Robotech. We found the world of New Generation or Invid Invasion to be the most open to free roaming independent characters.

    There is also Mekton. I've know a few groups that ran Mekton and loved it but I've never been able to get my hands on a copy.

    If you want good Mecha anime where the plot is complex and intelligent look for Mobile Suit Gundam. If you want a quick fix, find the movie Char's Counterattack. I used to watch it in Japanese before there was an english dub available.

    If you want insane hilarious Mecha action look for Gurren Lagaan, they may still have it on Hulu. I would also recommend Megas XLR if there was a legal way of getting it. The creators and cartoon network are at odds with each other.

  6. I have an 8 page Mechwarrior game that I've used at conventions that worked out well. It simplied the first edition of Mechwarrior down.

    Mechwarrior being the RPG game for Battletech. I've used a very simplified "Quick Startish" combat system for Mech v. Mech as well - includes heat, takes out some of the other drek.