Thursday, August 25, 2016

MEKTON - MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: GOD OF WAR

One of the most successful and memorable Campaigns I Have Known was a Mekton campaign we set in the long running Japanese IP of Mobile Suit Gundam. While organizing my notes for this post I realized that I've never specifically dedicated a post to Mobile Suit Gundam. That qualifies this post as both a Campaigns I Have Known post, and a Thorough Thursdays post.

If that isn't enough awesomeness, this year August 25th, my 39th Gaming Anniversary, falls on a Thursday making this a triple treat for me.

I am absolutely serious when I say I am almost as big a fan of Mobile Suit Gundam's original Universal Century timeline as I am The Original Series of Star Trek.

How has this not come up before?

It's difficult to imagine that prior to this post I have only referenced Mobile Suit Gundam, the 37 year long (up to this moment) Japanese Science Fiction media franchise created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, and produced by Sunrise/Bandai about a dozen times in the past 8 years. I've never, ever prior to this post, tagged an entry with the Mobile Suit Gundam title.

That's just wrong.








Mobile Suit Gundam now has (like Star Trek, and other popular franchises that have been around for a very long time) numerous versions, parallel universes, and alternate timelines, but the one that matters to me is what is referred to as the Universal Century timeline.

The Universal Century refers to the in-universe way people measure time, having adjusted the traditional calendar sometime after a major space colonization effort went into effect (some point after the year 2000 AD). The One Year War, which is the focus of the first Gundam story, and animated series, occurs in U.C. 0079. Later series move through this future history leaping ahead (The Counterattack of Char film came out in 1988, and is set in U.C. 0093), or filling in gaps in the past (the OVA series Stardust Memory came out in 1991, but tells a story set in U.C. 0083).

The main focus of the story is a war in which the Earth Federation (consisting of the United Nations Earth government, and it's orbital colonies) is in conflict with the Principality of Zeon, the most powerful, and influential of the space colonies. Although smaller, and technically less capable than the Earth Federation, the Zeons gain an advantage by developing humanoid robot war machines called Mobile Suits, and piloting them with the next evolutionary stage of mankind, the Newtype.

Newtypes are Humans born in the perfectly adjusted, controlled environments of the O'Neil style space colonies. Usually, a Newtype is born to people who themselves have been living in the space colony conditions for sometime, and almost certainly if the parents were born there themselves.

In the early series Newtypes display only limited telepathy (though it's rare), and a spatial awareness that makes them incredible pilots, and combatants. Their instinctive understanding of the environment around them also makes them move more naturally in zero gravity than normal Humans. Finally, the best of the Newtypes hone a sort of precognitive ability that allows them to anticipate the actions of those around them. Before you draw your weapon, your Newtype opponent has shot you, as they knew you were going for your gun almost before you did, drew theirs, fired, and are now moving on to someone else.

In addition to the Science Fiction concepts of orbital colonies, psychic powers, and giant robots, Mobile Suit Gundam focuses on the horrors of war, and is in many ways an allegory to creator Tomino's feelings about the Second World War. Common themes of Gundam are honorable bad guys, ruthless 'good guys', lovers, and family separated by being on different sides of the conflict, and the fact that in the end, even victory can fill one with sorrow.







Villian, Hero, Anti-Hero - 
One of the greatest fictional characters in Fandom

Char Aznable
The Red Comet



I LOVE Mobile Suit Gundam! No really. I do. I was a fan of it even before I knew what it was. My dad would take me to New York City's Chinatown where I would go to this store that sold Gundam model kits. They were/are plastic kits in the same vein as building a model car, tank, or plane, but they feature the various Mobile Suits from the different Gundam series. I had no idea what I was buying, having never seen the show (in those days it was only in Japan and a few other Asian countries). 

Years later I would work at comic book, and toy stores that would carry Gundam kits. Between employee discounts and a very weak Yen, I was able to buy a lot of kits, modify them, paint them, and often resell the finished works. Yes resell. I got very good at it, and even did custom ones on request. I'd keep some, and we (my friends and I) would use them as props/miniatures in our Mekton games.

So it was in 1990-1991 or thereabouts that I got together with a group of friends to run a dedicated Mobile Suit Gundam campaign. I'd run one-shots, and two-parters in the past, but never a complete campaign prior to this one.



***




Campaigns I Have Know
Proudly Presents...

MEKTON (II - Modified)
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: 0081
GOD OF WAR



Title: Mekton - Mobile Suit Gundam: U.C. 0081: GOD OF WAR

System: Mekton II - Mekton Second Edition (R. Talsorian Games), Modified and House Ruled.

Circa: It had to be 1990-91 based on the fact that I was working at the Forbidden Planet, and which Gundam series were out at the time. In addition to the original series, GOD OF WAR was heavily influenced by War in the Pocket (1989), and the Manga/Visual Story Gundam Sentinel (1990).

There were exactly 12 sessions, each one having its own title, reminiscent of the way Original Video Animation (OVA) series are done in Japan. Each session was roughly 8 hours long. All participants were available for all the 'episodes', and this campaign featured no drop-in guest stars. 

Player Base: Four males, one female, all around age 21. I was also 21 at the time. It was a very interesting mix of ethnicities. Two of the male players were Indian (parents from India, they were born and raised here). One was Filipino (Born in New York). The last was half Black, and half Japanese. The female player was Japanese, born and raised in Japan, and went to college here in the U.S., returning to Kyoto in the Winter months. 

Characters: 

Ford Cross, EFSF Lieutenant, Pilot, Mission/Squad Leader (played by Alex R.)

Lt. Ford Cross was a career officer of the Earth Federation Space Forces, normally attached to the Magellan Class Battleship Copernicus. Following the 'Burroughs Incident', Lt. Cross is reassigned to the top secret ARES Project. Once transferred to the hidden Earth Federation facility on Mars, Cross is put in charge of the Mobile Suit squadron testing (and protecting) the new prototype Federation Mobile Suit Gundam RX-78-6A*, nicknamed the 'ARES'.

Cross was a very serious, no nonsense type of officer. He took his mission objectives very seriously, and rarely put up with his team's antics for very long (which was a running bit in the game as two of the other pilots were real jokers). Cross served as our source of tactical thinking, our voice of reason, but also the deep, emotional viewpoint when it was revealed toward the end of the series that...well...read the summary. I don't want to spoil it.

Ford Cross is a physically fit, but slim male of British origin in his late 20s, or early 30s. He is about six feet tall, but appears taller because he is slight of build, and the rest of his team is shorter than he. Cross has light brown/dark blonde hair, and grey-blue eyes. 

Cross initially pilots a GM-C 'Space Type', but upgrades very quickly to a GM-FD 'Desert/Land Combat' variation customized for operation on Mars. Nicknamed the 'Mars Command Custom', this remains Cross' Mobile Suit throughout the majority of the campaign. Eventually the mecha is damaged pretty much beyond repair, and the player spent his PC's many saved up Construction Points** to upgrade to the GM-FP 'GM Striker'. Further modified for both the environment, and the player's specifications, his final suit is referred to as the 'Mars Command Striker Custom'.








Lt. Ford Cross' Mobile Suit Evolution - Left to Right:

RGM-79C Space Type
RGM-79FD Mars Desert Combat Type
RGM-79FP Mars Desert Combat Striker Type



Ran Daisuke, EFSF Pilot, Test Pilot of the Gundam 'ARES' Prototype (played by Raj H.)

Ran is a rookie pilot of some fame, or infamy depending on how you view his situation. During the first action he saw after graduating the Academy, Daisuke deliberately defied orders to retreat in order to save his friend. In the process of doing so, Ran single handedly took out three enemy Mobile Suits - two Zaku Mk. IIs and an officer's Dom. 

In desperate need of talented pilots after The One Year War ended, the EFSF top brass knew they couldn't drum Daisuke out of the service, or court martial him as would have happened in the past. In light of the situation, and show of talent, Daisuke received a milder reprimand than he should have. One particular Admiral took great interest in the young man, and assigned him to the squadron led by Lt. Ford Cross. The initial story was that the disciplined and serious Cross would be a good influence on the cocky and rebellious Ran.

When Cross was reassigned to the ARES Project on Mars, Ran went will him. 
Tragedy strikes Daisuke early in the campaign, when he is seriously injured during the first major combat the Mars Base Squadron has against Zeon spies. It is through this incident that the true nature of ARES is discovered, and Ran is selected to be the test pilot of the Gundam ARES prototype.









The Gundam 'ARES' RX-78-6A
A modification of the Gundam 'Mudrock' RX-78-6


Additional elements and armaments not depicted include:

Chobham Command Armor
Booster Pack 
Additional Thrusters and Verniers
Shield

1x 50mw Beam Rifle
2x Beam Sabers
Hyper Bazooka

Experimental Beam Spear




Ran is a good looking, Japanese man in his early 20s, with a runners build. Initially cocky, and a wise guy, he settles down a little after receiving injuries in battle against a Zeon spy in a customized Dom Cannon Mobile Suit. The conflict was mentally, and physically traumatic, as is the follow up operation that saved his life. Eventually, Ran comes back to his old self, as a way of saying 'screw you' to the situation he is in.

Ran begins the game piloting a GM-C 'Space Type', and then switches to a GM-FD like the rest of the team. His GM is totally trashed in the third session, and he is chosen to be the new test pilot for the RX-78-6A 'ARES' Gundam. He remains the ARES pilot until the end of the series, although the mecha gets a number of upgrades a lot the way.


Dana Smart, EFSF Pilot, Mobile Suit Engineering Specialist (played by Rina N.) 

The only female pilot assigned to the Mars Base Squadron, Dana was 'one of the boys' during most of her time serving with the Copernicus, and later the ARES Project. At the same time, she was more seriously minded, with a near obsessive focus on Mobile Suit Design, Construction, and Engineering. Her knowledge of the workings of enemy Mobile Suits provided incredibly valuable intel during several of the campaigns major battles. She was also able to effect field repairs (to some extent) on the Mobile Suits when damaged.

Smart was sarcastic, with a dry, sometimes biting wit. She was very physical, and it wasn't unusual for her to engage in hand-to-hand combat both in, and out of her Mobile Suit. She had a ongoing rivalry/romantic tension with Donovan, but it never advanced beyond flirting, and teasing each other.

Dana is shorter than the rest of the team, a bit stocky, and often seen wearing her hair in a pony tail. She is dressed in engineer's coveralls as often as she is her pilot uniform, or space suit. She has green eyes, and red hair if I recall correctly. Smart is in her mid-20s.

Dana pilots a 'Space Type' GM-C at first, then moves on to the desert combat GM-FD. Smart's suit go through the largest number of custom changes during the series, with modifications for mobility, weaponry, and even armor occurring several times. Unlike the guys, she never actually switches to another Mobile Suit type, sticking with the GM-FD to the very end. Of course, by the end her FD is very different from the out of the showroom specs.

Her suit gets the nickname 'Manhunter', due to Smart's tenacious nature, and the numerous rough, and tumble modifications the GM has. The name is also an in-joke reference to the DC Comics character J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter. 








RGM-79FDc - Mars Desert Combat Custom
'The Manhunter'




Ward Castro, EFSF Pilot, Sniper, and Long Range Support (played by Matt M.)

The team's comedy relief, and possibly deadliest member, Ward is Ran Daisuke's best friend from the Academy, and the fellow he went back for when ordered to retreat. Ward remains in Daisuke's debt, feeling he can never fully repay Ran for risking his career to save Castro's life. A practical joker, and clown of the highest order, it becomes clear over time that his humor is his mechanism for coping with his job as a soldier. He is the heart of the team as a result, feeling every injury, or death inflicted and sustained very deeply.

Castro is visually patterned after such Anime characters as Ryu/Tiny from Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets, and Tsuyoshi/Hunk from Go Lion/Voltron. He is young, like Ran, and in his early 20s. He is tall, but slouches a little, and is very stocky. While many believe him to be overweight, a great deal of his mass is muscle. While very tough, and having a high endurance, Castro is not an especially skilled hand-to-hand fighter. He is incredibly accurate, and lucky, with long weaponry and as such becomes the team's sniper and long range support specialist. 

Ward starts with a GM-C 'Space Type', and moves on to the GM-FD like the rest, but soon begins a project with Dana Smart to convert his Mobile Suit into a GM-SP 'GM Sniper'. A true GM-SP model is not available at the Mars Base, but using parts for a SP's targeting sensor, and other bits, the two are able to repurpose a GM-FB into a 'Sniper Custom'.






RGM-79FD-SP 'Mars Desert Sniper Custom'



Donovan Ito, EFSF Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist (played by Daniel W.)

Of mixed descent, Donovan Ito was a recent transfer to the Copernicus at the start of the series, and was only transferred along with the rest of the team to the ARES Project on Dana's insistence. An Earth Federation loyalist, Donovan was actually born on the orbital colony 'Side 1', also known as Zam. Donovan is a Newtype, and the only one serving with Mars Base.

Donovan is the traditional Western hero, with good looks, a heroic, dedicated, can do attitude. He is less of a joker then Ran, and Ward, although he does share Dana's dry sense of humor. Donovan ignores much of what appears to be wrong about the situation at Mars Base, buying into the idea that the ARES Project is indeed necessary. He feels for his injured comrades, but like his superiors he thinks the ends justify the means. That is, until the end of the campaign, when it becomes clear that the enemy isn't exactly who he thought it was. (See Synopsis).

Donovan has a sister who serves as Chief Sensor Operator on an EFSF ship that brings supplies to the Mars Base a few times during the campaign. She is younger, and he is overprotective of her, especially when Ran, and Ward are around.

Donovan also has an estranged brother who serves with the Zeon Forces. His brother leads an attack on the Mars Base in an attempt to steal or destroy the ARES Project toward the middle and end of the campaign. The two engage in a major fight that requires Dana to assist so that Donovan can land the decisive, and fatal blow.

Donovan is a tan, tall, very well built man of mixed ethnicity in his mid-20s. Unlike the rest of the team (except for Cross) he always wears his uniform to proper standards, makes his bunk, etc. He develops a relationship with Dana, though it is less overtly romantic and more a sort of flirting rivalry. 

Ito pilots a 'Space Type' GM, and then goes to a GM-FD like everyone else. When he gets the chance to go for something more to his liking, it ends up being a modified RGC-80 'GM Cannon'. During the campaign's grand finale Ito pilot a souped up version referred to as the 'GM Cannon Custom'. 







RGC-80 GM Cannon

The custom version had a different side arm, a shield, and a Beam Saber.



Synopsis: It's been roughly two years since the end of The One Year War, and although things have settled down for the average citizen of the Earth Federation and its colonies, the threat of an uprising by terrorist forces sharing the former Principality of Zeon's ideologies remains a constant concern for the United Earth government, and its military.

The EFSF Battleship Copernicus, a Magellan Class vessel refitted to carry Mobile Suits, is assigned to escort duty, watching over the cargo transport Burroughs. According to the information the Copernicus has been provided by the Federation, and the EFSF, the Burroughs is transporting supplies, and equipment to the outer colonies. Part way along their journey, the Burroughs is attacked by a squadron of Mobile Suits baring Zeon iconography, and insignia. The Copernicus intercepts, and their squadron of Mobile Suits, under the command of Lt. Ford Cross, engages the enemy. 

During the battle, the Burroughs is damaged, causing Cross, and Dana Smart to render aid. While the others fend off the attacking 'Neo-Zeons', the Lieutenant and Smart discover that the Burroughs is transporting the damaged remains of a Gundam prototype Mobile Suit. 

Following the battle (in which one or two of the attackers manage to escape), Cross and his team are informed by EFSF Admiral Heinlein Chase that the Burroughs is headed for a secret base on Mars. The Martian base houses the 'ARES Project', which is designing a weapon to help the Federation counter the superior combination of Mobile Suit Technology, and Newtype gifts often displayed by enemy forces. While it is true that the EFSF has Newtypes of their own, and their tech now includes the awesome Gundam series, the enemies of the Federation have far more of both Newtypes, and Mobile Suits at their disposal (or at least they have in the past).

Admiral Heinlein Chase offers Cross and his team the position of being the Mars Base's new defense squadron, charged with defending the base against spies, or overt enemy attacks. The team agrees. Initially the Admiral doesn't want the newly assigned Donovan Ito to be included, but Dana Smart makes a solid case for him, and the Admiral Chase warms up to the idea. Ito is in.

After getting acclimated to the base on Mars, the team sets up it's schedule of patrols, training, etc. On the third day after their arrival, the team is running through a teamwork building practice simulation in their Mobile Suits, when there is an alert at the base. The group returns to find out there are spies, and possible saboteurs skulking around somewhere. 

Following an investigation, the team discovers the spies and gets into hand-to-hand combat with some of them. Meanwhile, the spies have back-up in the form of a group of very tough Mobile Suits on the way to rescue them. The team eventually switches to their own Mobile Suits to battle the enemy ones, and stop the one or two spies who escaped capture. During the giant robot battle, Ran Daisuke is mortally wounded when his opponent's power plant explodes after being hit by one of Ran's attacks. The EFSF forces defeat the rest of the enemy forces, who claim to be part of a pro-Zeon Empire terrorist group.

Now the real purpose of the ARES Project is revealed. The remains of the destroyed RX-78-6 Gundam 'Mudrock' are incorporated into an improved design called the Gundam 'ARES', RX-78-6A. The ARES has cybernetic linkage components that allow a special equipped pilot to interface with the Mobile Suit in an unprecedented way. Unfortunately, that way is through cybernetic implants in the pilot. With his arms, and legs damaged beyond traditional repair, Ran is offered the chance to be the pilot of the ARES, if they can perform the operations needed to give him the bionic parts. Reluctantly he agrees. Cross begins to think there is something deeper going on, but isn't sure what.

The rest of the series was a heavily character driven story delving into the personal relationships of the PCs, the NPCs, and the nature of cold war paranoia. It was of course punctuated by Mobile Suit, and ground battles, and a bit of comedy hijinks to lighten the mood when necessary (this was a pretty dark campaign).

 It is eventually revealed that the power plant explosion that injured Ran was a set up, remotely activated by order of Admiral Chase. The entire 'Neo-Zeon' and 'Zeon Empire Rebellion' was fabricated by him. He is obsessed with the belief that the Zeons will return, and wants to have an ultimate weapon ready when they do. In the last few sessions, the PCs manage to uncover, and reveal Chase's conspiracy, and Cross and Chase have a one-on-one fight with both words and physical blows. It was quite a great scene.

Donovan is the only true casualty of the campaign, dying in a battle against Chase's right hand man, Ito's estranged brother, who turns out to be a Zeon loyalist. The elder Ito believed the lies Chase had told him - promises of a resurrected Zeon Empire ruling over the Sol System. Great fight that ended with both combatants crashing into a mountain on Mars and exploding (Ito used his Mobile Suit with a Jump Jet Pack to launch them both up into the Martian sky and then into the mountain). 

The epilogue featured Cross as a Captain, with Smart as his Lieutenant. Ran is seen retired to civilian life, happily living in a cabin near a river, and fishing. Ward is also retired, and visits his friend Ran, though we don't know more than that about him post campaign.

Donovan is immortalized by a monument and plaque on the Martian mountain, speaking of his bravery and heroism.

Appendix N: The Gundam series that most strongly influenced this campaign, aside from the original, was the OVA series War in the Pocket, and the Manga/Visual Novels Gundam Sentinel.

Additional inspiration came from the Gundam model kits themselves, a number of early Cyberpunk novels, the Cyberpunk 2013 and 2020 RPGs (which like Mekton were also by R. Talsorian Games), and articles on cybernetics and robotics in various Science and Science Fiction magazines.

Bonus Features:

Each of the robots were represented by a plastic model kit I built and painted. When three MS-09K Dom Cannon Mobile Suits appeared in the game there was only one on the table. I didn't build every robot that appeared, but I did build one example of each. 

The kits were 1/144 Scale, making them about 4 1/2-5 inches tall. They were painted with a variety of paints including available paints for metal miniatures. Additional modification and kitbash parts came from different Mobile Suits, broken G.I. Joe, and Zoids toys, and items I found in the streets. 

* One of my favorite expanded universe Gundam robots is the RX-78-6 'Mudrock' (sometimes written Madrock, or Murdock). I decided to convert a RX-78-NT1 'Alex' and an old MSV series kit to build the ARES, which was essentially an upgrade of the Mudrock.

Rina and I dated off and on for a little while. We ended friends, but it was hard knowing she had to eventually return to Japan. She was very 'American', with virtually no accent, and I always imagined returning to Japan permanently at some point would be hard for her.

This group only existed for this game. I never got to game with any one of the players who participated in this campaign before this, nor ever again. Pity. Great group.

As noted above, each session (referred to as an 'Episode') had its own individual title, something I usually reserve for Star Trek campaigns, but which absolutely fit the Japanese Anime OVA theme. I kept records of the episode titles. They were (in episodic order):


Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Life on Mars
Little Green Men
The Red Planet
Warlord of Mars
My Favorite Martian
Stranger in a Strange Land
Phobos and Demos
Mars Attacks!
Devil Girl from Mars
War of The Worlds
Requiem for the God of War


OK, whew, long one.

Hope you all enjoyed this. Looking forward to telling more Mecha tales of the future, in the future.


AD
Barking Alien








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