Monday, July 9, 2012

God From The Machine

I've got quite a bit to cover this morning so let's get started...

I've finally decided what my next campaign is going to be.

It was a long, winding and none-too-smooth process to come up with this bad mamma jamma but I really think my group and I have a winner on our hands.

Over the course of our last few Champions sessions and several one-shot side games, I really tried to analyze what I was doing right, wrong, not as good as I could do and what elements I wanted to add in that I wasn't adding in and why.

I also paid close attention to my players, their likes, dislikes, personal styles and I had a pretty powerful Q&A with them in this regard a week ago and a report on my 'findings' a week later (this past Saturday).

To a small extent, there are definitely elements of our gaming techniques that are different enough to rub each other the wrong way on occasion. I am just as much at fault in this regard as anyone else (except my good buddy Dave, who we all agreed is the one person in the group whose approach to gaming sits well with everybody), if only in that I need to show a little more patience with those whose styles are most different or contrary to what I find fun. Honestly though, I certainly acknowledge that there are other elements of my style of GMing that may not be perfect for everbody.

With all of our sins laid bare (er, so to speak), I was able to begin putting together something that would appeal to everyone...even me.

While the concept for this game was surely the result of the efforts I mentioned above (as well as being the fulfillment of a long time pet project of mine), it was just as surely cemented by a conversation I had with my girlfriend this past weekend about atheism, spiritualism and quantum physics (Yes, she's THAT awesome. Yes.). In that conversation, which also discussed different approaches to the creative process and how communicating with someone passionate about their craft can inspire the desire to create in yourself, I realized that depending on ones perspective, the Art Film can be viewed as a Blockbuster and vice versa.

I wanted to create a game with a very unique atmosphere, a 'look' and 'feel' very different from what we've been playing over the last year or so. At the same time, I definitely didn't want something unregoinizable, where my slightly more conservative players would find themselves lost. I needed action, intrigue, grand vistas and awesome 'special effects' complete with my signature big explosions. I also needed and wanted there to be Human passions, philosophies and a perceived meaning behind it all. This campaign idea called for a grand epic across disputed stars, where survival of a people was at stake, not just a quest for fame and glory.

Sounds exciting, no?

The end result, is something I have been wanted to do for some time. I really like the Battletech universe, always have. It's Great Houses, Clans, various political, economic and social factions battling for control of a massively large space opera setting is the perfect backdrop of an action/adventure game with the potential for a bit more character depth. Plus, it has giant robots. Mecha are like bacon. Everything is better with mecha.

Except...Battletech mecha suck. They just one-hundred-percent-no-ifs-ands-or-buts suck the big wazoo. Slow. Limited in function. Ugly.

First things first. Replace all the images and designs with ones that are actually in the style of Japanese mecha and look cool.

Excellent. Moving on...

And the rules to Battletech and Mechwarrior? Clunky, wargamey and definitely not what I want. I want Battletech as if it were an modern Anime or Manga series. I want fast, kinetic with cool robot designs that can do what robots in Anime do.

Got it!

A little while back I brushed off my ol' Mekton book and my homebrewed alternate version of the free RPG
Extended Mission and created a very fun kitbashed frankenstein of a game I call the Extended Mecha system. I have decided to clean that up a little and use it for this game. Essentially a simplified Mekton, the key difference is that weapons don't do points of damage, they do 'rolls' of damage. When you score a hit, the targets armor removes a numbers of rolls. If any rolls get through, the attack rolls on a chart to see what damage was done to the enemy mecha, vehicle, etc.

So let's say my Particle Cannon does 5 rolls. I hit my target, who has an armor of 3. I scored 2 rolls. I roll twice and get:

- Component Damaged. Operates at -2.
- System Offline. Skill action needed to restore.

Based on where we were in relation to each other and the way I worded my attack ("I am not letting him get aways again!"), the GM decides the Component Damaged was the Flight Jets in his left leg. The System that went down was the enemy mech's Enhanced Maneuver System and he can't really steer right now. The enemy pilot needs to rolls his Computer Skill or Mecha Engineering to get the system fixed and the system back up and running.

While I am normally not one for charts, I have used this system in the past to excellent effect so I am willing to go with it for this type of setting. By defining a mech's operational capacity as made up of Components (Physical Parts like Hands, Feets, Weapons, Rockets, etc.) and Systems (Functions programmed into or handled by the computer such as Communications, Targeting, Sensors, etc.), players get the feeling they are operating a robotic vehicle and not just a tower of numbers.

I have a lot more to say on the subject and rest assured I will be detailing the campaign elements and how it all plays out here on Barking Alien.

Oh before I go...almost forgot...

New summer session has begun at the learning center in Brooklyn where I run a combo Creative Writing/Storytelling/RPG Playing class on Sundays. We just started and it looks like it's going to be a blast. I am running a sort of humorous horror game based on the Japanese TRPG 'Peekaboo Horror' where the kids play Middle-School club of supernatural investigators who each have an otherworldly companion/side kick - played by another player! So each kid is playing two characters, their own club member and some other members 'Boo'. I am using InSpectres crossed with Monsters and Other Childish Things.

RIP Ernest Borgnine. Sad to see him go but he left us with a great body of work.

I'm sure I am forgetting something...oh well, I guess I'll just have to blog more. ;)

Barking Alien


  1. Actually, I've found that with some groups adding mecha actually causes problems with a game. The trick is to make sure that the person doesn't become less important to the game than the mech.

    But when done right, it's awesome. We even added small mecha to a d6 Star Wars run. And learned why a crotch mounted flamethrower was big fun. Even more fun when it was hit (except for the one player).

  2. More details really soon, please!

  3. Thats interesting as I have been looking at running Mekton again.

  4. @Philo - Certainly with Mecha games ( as with any game that features a unique item, ability or plot element central to the story and/or action ), the danger of characters coming in second fiddle to the gimmick is something the GM of such as game must constantly be wary of.

    That said, I think the key is to start with the characters, having the mecha (or like feature) introduced a least a few beats later and then, only as atmosphere. Move into playing up the feeling that these awesome, 40 ft. metal monsters are no more important (or less important) then a Cowboy's sixgun, a Soldier's tank or modern day news crew's helicopter.

    Then slowly, ever so slowly, still a few beats behind the PCs, give the robots some character of their own.

    More on that in an upcoming post...

    @RavenFeast - Well...I'll think about it. Gotcha! Was gonna do that all along.

    @Frank - If I can get one person a month to look at Mekton again or for the first time, I sleep better at night.

    Mech On My Brother!

  5. I like where this is going. :)

    Also, I want to audit your class.

  6. It's been nearly ten years now since I ran my Battletech/Mekton campaign. We used the Japanese Battletech designs (from the Japanese edition of the game, not the original Macross/Dougram/Crusher Joe designs FASA swiped) and my friend Jeremy came up with rules for converting the 'mechs to Mekton. I like the sound of Extended Mecha, I'll have to check out the original system.